Worship and “Other” Churches

The reflections in this article are inspired by two sources. The first is from Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology by Gordon Lathrop. He writes, “to see what the assembly actually says about God, go into the gathering place.”[1]

The second source is Michael Driscoll’s chapter “The Conversion of the Nations,” in The Oxford History of Christian Worship. In setting up methodologies for characterizing the liturgy in early medieval Europe, Driscoll poses the question, “What about those great numbers of laity for whom Latin was unintelligible, yet who nonetheless were nourished by the liturgy?”[2]

1. Both authors are operating an assumption that anyone or any church might benefit from. Lathrop assumes that you cannot truly know or understand what a church believes until you worship with them.

You can read all the books you want on a given Christian tradition or denomination and determine that respective local churches reflect your reading of that information or you can go worship with those local churches and enact what they believe, then you will know what the church and her congregants truly believe. I, of course, recommend the latter.

2. Secondly, Driscoll operates under the assumption that at least some of the laity are genuinely nourished by the church’s liturgy, or public worship, regardless of critiques from the inside or the outside.

Maybe you disagree with how a given Christian tradition or denomination worship, or maybe how they worship is simply not your preference. The reality is, however, that for anyone who is united to Christ the worship of their church will, in fact, strengthen and quicken them in their faith.

3. These two assumptions, first, that to understand what a local church believes you must worship with her, and secondly, that a local church’s worship nourishes the faithful, will go a long way in your ministry in a number of ways; two that are outlined here.

First, practically, these assumptions will allow you to engage in beneficial discussions with leaders and participants from other churches, including and especially churches from other traditions and denominations. Rather than disparaging each other, these two healthy assumptions will provide a foundation for the pursuit of understanding the worship of each other’s churches.

4. Secondly, we can affirm the doctrine of the communion of saints in and through time. There is now space to celebrate the nourishment that liturgy has brought to all Christians at all times, even when the Church has not been at her finest. This can also be true for liturgies across the world today.

The language of primary and secondary theology may be fruitful here. Primary theology, participating in the liturgy, can be nourishing, even when secondary theology, reflections on the liturgy, may not be the most biblically founded or historically informed. Thanks be to God for his mercy to use our liturgies as means of grace first for His glory and honor and secondly for the strengthening and quickening of our faith.

[1] Lathrop, Gordon. Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology. Fortress Press, 1998.

[2] Driscoll, Mark. “The Conversion of the Nations.” The Oxford History of Christian Worship. Oxford University Press, 2005.

Featured Image: By Mattana – Mattis (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Jason Palmer is the Administrator of TalkingWorship.com. He has a Bachelor of Science in Ministry and is currently studying for the Master of Divinity degree. Jason leads worship for Glenn Street Church. He has lead evangelical churches in worship for 9 years and desires to see worship leaders become confident in their calling.

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