Evangelical Christian conversations have a topical turnaround that competes with pop radio. One week viral articles are about topic A and the next week they are about topic Z. Conversations are discussed and then dropped as if they never happened at all.
One such conversation that I imagine will be out of the mainstream dialogue shortly is that of evangelical liturgicalism. Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future work (Baker Publishing) has breach
ed the spotlight and Melanie Ross has written a book about this supposed contradiction in Evangelical versus Liturgical?: Defying a Dichotomy (2014).
Some churches have simply passed over this dialogue believing that there is no place for such practices (the reasons for this can be numerous: Roman Catholics do that, liturgy is dry and boring, etc.), some have applied certain practices to be “hip”, and others have developed a genuine interest in a liturgical approach to worship.
Out of this newfound interest in a historical approach to worship comes a very Western
question: Does our congregation need to understand what we are doing before we introduce “liturgical elements” to our worship service
Does our congregation need to have a detailed historical and theological explanation of the Apostle’s Creed? How should we introduce our first prayer litany? Do the congregants really understand the Lord’s Prayer and therefore able to truly pray?
I believe these are very appropriate questions.
If you are reading this article to explore these very same questions, here are 2 things to consider:
Biblical Theology of Worship
First, do you have a biblical theology of worship?
If you do not have a framework for worship theology, then there is no context for which this conversation can take place. I know it seems like I just blew this conversation out of the water, but this is an absolute must for any conversation concerning the worship praxis of your church. How are you going to determine what to do without an understanding of what you are doing?
I have seen numerous churches make changes to their worship services for one of two reasons: first, they did not have a reason (it happens!), and two, to make people happy (a terrible reason, for the record).
This is ultimately going to require you to understand what you are doing now. Why do you do what you do and in the order that you do them? What is your biblical foundation for these actions? Until you can answer these questions, we will be unable to move further in this conversation.
Historic Worship Elements
Secondly, why are you wanting to incorporate new yet historic worship elements into your worship services?
If you are looking to incorporate new yet historic worship elements for the sake of incorporating them, you are going to try it out a few times, feel uncomfortable performing these during your worship service, therefore making everyone else uncomfortable, everyone is going to think well that did not go very well, and
If you are looking to incorporate new yet historic worship elements to try and be hip, just keep checking Facebook for that next viral blog post. By the time you finish this article you will be two fads behind.
If you are wanting to incorporate these new yet historic because you believe that they may have value for your worship experience and spiritual formation, then you are in the right place. This article looks to further this conversation beyond what the mainstream conversation will attempt to dive into.
So is there an answer? Is there anything in the Sacred Scriptures that the Word of God may illumine our spirits and provide insight and discernment concerning this question?
The Road to Emma’s
Let us turn to the 24th chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Beginning with verse 13 we see the story of “On the Road to Emmaus”:
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:13-35, ESV)
Let us consider the progression of this event and how it relates to a theology of worship and the implications this story has on our worship.
First, Jesus himself initiates the conversation with the two disciples. In the same way, the Father calls us to gather in the assembly to worship our triune God. Our worship is always a response, never self-starting.
Secondly, Jesus illuminates the Word. Jesus is the Word of God and the Sacred Scriptures is the recorded revelation of the Word Himself. By the power and work of the Holy Spirit Jesus transforms us by Himself.
Lastly, Jesus hosted the meal despite being “the guest”. This is crucial to our worship experiences. Although we gather in a building that the church may own and maintain, Jesus is still the host.
Here we begin to see the development of an order of worship or liturgy that we can base our services on. We gather together in the name of Jesus, listen to the Word, and respond by dining and communing with our Host.
It is within this setting of interacting with the living Word that the disciples were illumined and the grace of understanding was imparted to them. While an education may be beneficial, it certainly does not prove to be a necessity! It is within this dialogue with Wisdom Himself that we ourselves receive wisdom.
Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi
Having been raised in a home that was taught to love the Church in all her forms and schooled with an ecumenical-bent, I have no problem looking to our forefathers for insight in matters of theological conversation. After all, we don’t actually think this is the first time the Church has addressed this question, do we?
Now before you click your way to a different article or site because you saw a couple of Latin phrases, let me note this: other languages should not scare you; it is simply how other people like you and me have verbally communicated at a different time and place. So let us fight this fear of foreign and especially ancient languages and be okay with engaging other languages.
It is very likely, especially if you have formal theological education, that you have seen the phrase lex orandi, lex credendi (don’t click away!). The full phrase used in context is ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi (are you still with me?!). Now I am no Latin scholar, so I will need to defer translation to one who is qualified, so I am going to defer to Alexander Schmemann. In his book Introduction to Liturgical Theology (1966), he suggests that it would be appropriate to translate this phrase as “the law of praying establishes the law of belief”.
Certainly Prosper of Aquitaine wrote words that contain some truth! With worship grounded biblically, the faithful may participate in the worship and in dialogue with Christ come to understanding and begin to claim the truth that lies within the liturgy and worship.
I have one more idea that I would like to share with you that I shall pose as a question. Can our worship (or liturgy) be educational or instructional in and of itself?
There are different types of instructional or catechetical settings. These may include (but very well may not be limited to) baptismal catechesis, mystagogical catechesis, discipleship and liturgical catechesis.
Now I am not advocating an explanation for every part of the worship service. That is poor worship and poor leadership. What I am suggesting is that the worship itself is an education. You do not need a class because the people learn through the worship (the congregants are not mindless drones, they can think for themselves).
I believe our liturgies and worship can be instructional, and here’s the primary reason why:
There is no better place to learn than in the gathered assembly where Christ the Head will speak to His Body, the Church, and the Church will listen to the living Word of God, and then be invited by the Word to dine and commune with Him. By the power of the Holy Spirit Christ is present, is speaking, is hosting, and serving his priestly duties before the Father.
I don’t think that you are going to need that class after all…
Jason Palmer is the Editor of TalkingWorship.com. Jason has a Bachelor of Science in Ministry with a Worship Arts Major and Music Minor. He has lead worship for evangelical churches for 7 years and desires to see worship leaders become confident in their calling.