I hope you will continue to put up with my ongoing journey into understanding the Lutheran way of practicing the Christian faith. In a comment the other day, someone asked if this is now a Lutheran site. Well, no. But since I’m walking on that path, what I’m learning is bound to show up here. I hope I can write about it in a way that is accessible to all my brothers and sisters, and that will help us all grow in our faith in the various places we find ourselves at the moment.
One of the big issues over the past generation in many church traditions has been termed, “The Worship Wars.” You will find plenty of posts in the Internet Monk archives reflecting on these skirmishes fought within the “free churches” of evangelicalismâ€”the non-liturgical churches that do not follow an established order of worship (at least intentionally), that are non-sacramental, and which mainly grow out of the revivalist tradition which follows a pattern of: (1) Preparation, (2) Message, (3) Invitation.
Despite all the bluster, conflict, split churches, new movements, experiments with various methods, and the ongoing frustrations in many evangelical churches, nothing has really changed with regard to the fundamentals of what evangelicals think about worship. The “Worship Wars” have been about style, not substance.
Most battles over worship in evangelicalism are about personal preferences with regard to style. What kind of music? Can we dress casually? Is the building and “worship space” marked by Christian symbols? To what extent should we use media and technology? Can I sip my latte while attending the service?
Bottom line, however, the nature of the service has changed little in the fundamental approach to its purpose. There may be (a lot more) singing, a praise band instead of organ, piano, and songleader, inclusion of drama, PowerPoint or video clips, and a casually dressed pastor who doesn’t stand behind a pulpit, but the “big event” remains the sermon, the “worship set” continues to prepare people to listen to the preacher, and the message is still designed to prompt a response. Today’s culture has replaced yesterday’s, that’s all. And this has led to conflict that has mainly erupted along generational lines and/or between those who are more “traditional” in their preferences vs. those who want church to be more “relevant.”
Veteran evangelical churchman Gordon MacDonald wrote a fine book about thisâ€”Who Stole My Church: What to Do When the Church You Love Tries to Enter the 21st Century It tells the story of a pastor who tries to bring peace between those who long for “the way it used to be,” and those who insist that “this is how it is now.”
At the same time, many people have left revivalist traditions to join liturgical traditionsâ€”Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, and others whose worship is based on an entirely different foundation.
It’s not that liturgical churches have “forms” whereas non-liturgical churches don’t. It’s not that liturgical churches always use traditional music. It’s not that liturgical churches do exactly the same things week after week whereas free churches are “spontaneous” and change things up all the time. The non-liturgical churches are often just as repetitive in their own patterns. These are all “style” matters, and while there are some generalizations that might be made about stylistic differences between liturgical and non-liturgical churches, this is not the main distinction between the two worlds.
At root, the difference is between a sacramental understanding of how God works, and a non-sacramental view.
This distinction is explained in the following words from a 2008 message by Peter Mills, Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Akron, Ohio.
When the gospel is reduced to being an item of information, the effect is the almost complete exorcism of God’s word from the church; and a concomitant deconstruction of her Liturgy. Essential to the objective gospel of forgiveness is that God’s word has as its natural context the Liturgy of the church. Outside of an orienting liturgical reference, God’s word and gospel cannot be rightly comprehended.
. . . A result of word of God as mere information is that congregations devolve into loosely associated gatherings without substantive unity. The question of whether to join a particular congregation becomes not so much, whether the gospel is purely preached and the sacraments rightly administered, but an array of other, tertiary, and personal concerns (“How friendly is the congregation?”, “Do they conduct optional contemporary and ‘traditional’ Services?, “Is the music uplifting?,” “Are there children activities?”).
But the gospel in its catholic understanding is more than informational factoid of sin forgiven for Christ’s sake. Instead the gospel comprehends the Word as power of God (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18) which is spirit and life (Jn. 6:63). By the Word, forgiveness is not obtained in an abstract, disembodied, self-serve way; but delivered as the cleansing, healing, enlivening activity of God in the flesh of Christ for his people gathered by his word and ministered in sacramental presence.
A “liturgical service,” then is sacramental. That is to say, it is the objective means God uses by which his people continually receive the Gospel and its benefits. It is the “natural context” in which Christ saves us.
Friend of Internet Monk and frequent commenter Steve Martin puts it this way:
This is where I return when I feel unworthy, day after day (I return to my baptism as Luther said). I return to the Lord’s supper. It is there that I am accepted. It is there that I am forgiven. It is there that I am declared worthy. It is there where the last will and testament is read, and lo and behold, I am included! It is there that I receive a full share of the inheritance.
We also receive these gifts in the preaching and teaching of His Word, and in the words of Christian encouragement spoken between the brethren.
But the sacraments are something tangible. Something that we can actually see, feel, touch, smell, and taste.
These things, along with God’s Word of Promise (we mustn’t forget that!) are not rabbit’s feet that we rub like some superstitious pagans. These things carry God’s Promises when we exercise faith in what God promises to do, He will do.
As you can see, these two approaches to worship reflect not a difference in style but in actual substance.
- The revivalist tradition calls people who have a “personal relationship with Jesus” to come together voluntarily, “get fed” through learning the Bible, and then go forth inspired to serve God. It assumes that people have made a conscious decision to receive the Gospel (or, if it is an evangelistic meeting, it gathers them to hear and make a decision for Christ). It calls them to choose to come together to learn how to know Christ better, grow in their Christian lives, and serve him by being his witnesses.
- The liturgical tradition calls the church together for a much different reason. It holds that God’s family needs to live in the Gospel through regular sacramental gatherings. In worship we actually, literally, objectively receive the benefits of Christ’s finished work through Word and Sacrament, are nourished for our ongoing journey, and strengthened to live in new obedience by the Spirit who fills us through the tangible means God has provided.
Liturgy is not a style. It is the way God comes to us in grace.
161 thoughts on “Liturgy Is Not a “Style””
I agree that it comes down to understanding the Eucharist.
Since the bread and wine physically become one with every member partaking, one way or another, you are forced to confess that the elements of bread and wine physically BECOME the Body of Christ, the Church.
There’s just no way around it.
When does a drink of water become part of your body? When you hold it in your hand? When you pour it into your mouth? When it enters your stomach? When it enters your bloodstream? You can debate WHEN it becomes part of your body, but you cannot debate the ultimate fact that the drink of water DOES become your body.
Likewise, the bread and wine are received physically by the Church, and thus, the bread and wine become the physical Body and Blood of Christ. Who can deny it since they become part of Her? People may debate when and how they become such, but the fact remains: They DO become such.
Anyway, consciousness of the Holy Mystery concerning the physical relationship between Christ and His Church (Eph 5:32) along with an understanding of the traditional means Christ established in order to reach out and express Grace and Love to His Church definitely influences liturgical form.
Hi again, Pattie. I was one of six children and know what you mean about parents mixing up our names. I talk about “in those days” we were allowed to do things like sit on the tailgate of the car while the car was driven by a parent. I joke that our parents could afford to lose one or two of us! My goodness, I even had an uncle that would pull us on a toboggan behind his car on a road. Granted, it was a road that had not yet been plowed and maybe there would not be any cars coming, but still…can you imagine that being allowed now? Actually, if the cops saw him doing that, maybe even then he would have least been spoken to.
Thanks for the welcome, my new friend.
As the youngest of the family, I got used answering to Theresa or Mary (my sisters) and even James or Tommy (brothers). However, by the time they got to Bonnie or Megan (the dog and cat) I could start to feel a bit lost in the crowd. However, as a mom I mixed up my TWO sons, so I learned about maternal brain cramps!
Oops, sorry I forgot the “e” at the end of your name, Pattie.
I agree with you, Patti. I have enjoyed the comments you have written here so far. Welcome to internetmonk! I look forward to seeing a lot of you here. My local church will soon be doing a 6 week small groups session in which the Catechism is going to be studied. I think that’s a good idea. I have gone through parts of it myself during the past few years and I can’t say I am 100% in agreement with all of it, but most of it.
May I add the sense of continuity, that many have proceeded me in this faith journey, and many more will be seeking after I move on at the end of this life.
Similar to the sense I get visiting historial sites…we are part of an endless stream of humans, who all have to learn their own way through this maze we call human life.
Perfect explanation of the IMPERFECT pilgrim church!
It is not going up to see the queen, it is going up to touch the KING!
Joanie, a large number of our fellow Catholics stopped Christian education and reading in 8th grade after they were confirmed, and consequently have an understand of the Faith that is suitable for a teen but not for a mature adult. They SHOULD reject this childish sprituality and find a “grown-up” faith, in or out of the Church. Frankly, we need some remedial Catholcism 101 for folks who reject the CHurch that they do not KNOW!
The Meg-Church in my little town doesn’t have a sanctuary, they have a 3000 seat auditorium and “performance stage” with weekly changes in backdrop, props, and A-V effects (and I only am aware of this because they run detailed commercials all day Friday and Saturday, and extra ones during the week if the”theme” changes !) The cafe and children’s indoor playground is lovely , however. I’ve been in the looby of worse Hiltons and Sheridan Inns.
How very true. It has always puzzled me, as a Catholic, to see the number of storefront and garage churches with a handfull of members than pop up here in deep fundamentalist country. Many seem to me, from my view, as a ragged patchwork of questional thelogical understanding, all following “Pastor Tom” to his brand new church that will have NONE of the problems of other churches. They tend to be very limited-issue based IMHO.
Martha, I appreciate your well thought out response. I am a very new member here, and didn’t want to ramble on about my faith of 45+ years, lest I get something wrong. You know well versed in guilt we Mackeral-Snappers are. 🙂
Although I am a cradle Catholic, I wrestled into my adult faith as a young woman and having been cultivating it in fits and starts ever since. Ironically, I live in a city that houses a HUGE mega-church and university that is clearly Fundamentalist Southern Baptist. Less than 7% of the locals are Catholic, and one cannot turn around in the grocery store without being asked “Where do you go to church?” which is polite local code for “Are you saved?” When we moved here six years ago it was a bit unusual to be in such a minority, but I have come to appreciate the faith and vigor of the locals, if not their theology!
So, having outed myself I trust that, here, I am still welcome to listen and learn?? Because as frequently mentioned, we are going to be surprised by the company in Paradise!
A very different view is apparent, I think, whenever the bread and the cup follow several songs and precede the sermon, as is the practice at my church. What Iâ€™m still trying to figure out is whether such an order of worship makes actual sense in any theological system.
One of the beauties of a good liturgy, as I see it, is that it can be done equally with no music (unless Cranmerian prose is music) or with the most intricately woven but prayerful musical settings of Tallis and Byrd. As for the bells and whistles on either end, I share high churchman G. W. O. Addleshawâ€™s abhorrence of any measures (such as the high-heeled shoes that some Baroque Romanist priests wore) that make the liturgy into a show.
As a conservative liturigical presbyterian, I greatly enjoyed this article. Thank you for your insights and your simple explaination. Those who are interested in furth liturgical studies might enjoy I book I recently finished titled The Lord’s Service by Jeffrey Meyers. Meyers is a ministerin the PCA who also studied in a Lutheran seminary. He has some great insights.
Soli Deo Gloria
I love “For the Life of the World”!
Suzanne writes, ” And, as people of God tend to do, those who preside over either one believe they are doing it just the way the good Lord wants them to.” Good point, Suzanne. I think we need to be humble enough to admit that we don’t know everything that the Lord wants us to know and that we don’t do everything the Lord wants us to do. We just do the best we can, given what we know, and we keep on praying and coming closer to the mind and heart of Jesus.
Suzanne, this is not about style preferences. It is about theological substance.
I’m just now reading all these comments, but I truly think what type of service you prefer boils down in many ways to personality and where you are in life. I’ve never liked the rambunctious, happy clappy evangelical service, but I can’t really pinpoint why. It just makes me uncomfortable, but I would be uncomfortable whooping it up at a rock concert, too. Fact is, I don’t like much “rock n’ roll” so I really don’t want rock n’ roll church. I’d rather attend the symphony or see Verdi’s ‘Othello’ rather than ‘Oklahoma’ (Oh, what a beautiful morning!). But that is a personal preference. As I stated below, I think services on both ends of the spectrum–the rock concert, whoop it for Jesus model or the hyper-liturgical, incense ridden, chanting, genuflecting service–are both very theatrical, just in different ways. And, as people of God tend to do, those who preside over either one believe they are doing it just the way the good Lord wants them to.
I should have also included at third Category
Methodists in the Historical Black Protestant Tradition
They make up .6% of the U.S. population and are composed of:
African Methodist Episcopal
African Methodist Episcopal Zion
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Missionary Methodist (if black)
Methodist, not further specified (if black)
Methodist, ambiguous affiliation (if black)
Do you. You believe it is his body and blood physically there received with the mouth?
You believe that one is save through baptism? you believe that baptism regenerates?
And yet you still commune with baptists, who by their very confession call that into question, With Zwinglians etc? And see no difference?
For the Canadian story which is quite different – read this article
Rightly or wrongly, the Pew Forum divides it up this way.
On a personal level – Evangelical Methodists include:
â€œMissionaryâ€ Methodist (if non-black)
Methodist, not further specified (if nonblack and born again by self definition)
Methodist, ambiguous affiliation (if nonblack and born again by self definition)
Mainline Methodists include:
United Methodist Church
Evangelical United Brethren
Methodist, not further specified (if nonblack and not born again by self definition)
Methodist, ambiguous affiliation (if nonblack and not born again by self definition)
Under these classifications 5.4 percent of Methodists would be considered Mainline, and less than .3 percent Evangelical.
About the hymns. Our church (it’s Methodist, and thanks for asking) has both “the words on the screen” and hymnal numbers printed in the weekly bulletin. This is either the best of all possible worlds, or the worst, depending on your perspective, I suppose.
I was Methodist from age 7 to age 19 (I was Methodist before the Methodists were United), then I became “born again” and left, spending 50 years in Baptist, non-denominational, charismatic, and pentecostal churches. Along the way I have been dispensational, non-dispensational, cessationist, non-cessationist, and so forth. As of last September, through a series of events I am still in awe about, I’m back with the Methodists. I especially like that we repeat the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s Prayer together every week.
One thing I have never been able to glean from the iMonks website: Are Methodists part of the dreaded “mainline”? Are they “liturgical”? Are they “evangelical”? Are they “revivalistic”? A computer programmer friend of mine used to respond to every question put to her with the same answer: “It depends.” Maybe that answer also applies to us Methodists.
If you really did believe what the Nicene Creed confesses concerning Christ, you wouldnâ€™t be so quick to say he is not present in the Lordâ€™s Supper.
I do believe what the Nicene Creed confesses concerning Christ. I even wrote a post about it. And I do believe that he is present in the Lord’s Supper.
I also believe in one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism. Which is why I am willing to commune with anyone who believes the same.
additional thoughts: the John 6 passages about the Bread that came down from Heaven seem to be the same moral/ethical conundrum Abraham faced with the command to sacrifice his son Isaac…
That same pivotal point of faith for Abraham, repeated for the New Testament saint weighing the very visceral language Jesus used. He was not being cannibal lite, but was very graphic with HIs use of chew & gnaw. The hearers knew exactly what He was saying. Same with Abraham. He knew exactly what God was requiring: human sacrifice…
These 2 events are intimately connected in my theological understanding. And Jesus did fulfill everything required of Abraham centuries later. As the ram was provided to substitute for Isaac, so the bread+wine substituted for Jesus’ body…
This is not fully developed in my mind, but is the basis of my understanding of how communion becomes central in our worship practice & is also a focus of faith as it was for Abraham. He was sold out to the command & God intervened. Same with Jesus. Anyway, some more food-for-thought regarding this very central aspect of Christian faith & practice…
Thanks, Suzanne. That is sad. God forbid any of us become the “liturgically correct.”
Don’t get me wrong. I, too, like the repetition, the fact that the parts of the liturgy are taken from scripture, that the hymns, etc. are chosen to fit in with the readings, and all that. That was what church was growing up, but without all the bells and whistles. What I object to is the current hyper-liturgical stance that so many churches take. One retired pastor actually told us he would not return to our church because we didn’t do liturgy correctly, which meant there is little liturgical chanting because the pastor doesn’t sing well, and the spoken liturgy seems to work just fine. But, in some camps of what I like to call “liturgical nazis”, that is simply doing it wrong. An acquaintance of mine had to battle with the powers that be at a church she was attending because the incense that they insisted on using sent her into an asthmatic fit. They finally stopped using it when she went above the pastor’s head and pleaded her case. And this is what I am seeing over and over, at least in Lutheran circles. We can’t just have a service with a liturgy. It has to be either patterned after the Joel Osteens of the world, or set up to out-orthodox the most orthodox of the world. I am simply seeking the middle ground, which seems to be shrinking fast.
Headless, I love the story (can’t remember now which biography of Yeats I read it in) about the Golden Dawn schism of 1898/99 when Crowley tried to assert control of the London lodge in 1900 by means of grandiose magickal operations and staged attempts such as turning up at the headquarters in “a black mask, Highland dress, and gilt dagger” but was foiled by Yeats – not by out-performing him in any of the rituals, but by doing the mundane and practical thing of changing the locks.
(Not to mention the kind of ‘magical warfare’ he got involved in with his former ally: “Mathers sent an astral vampire to attack Crowley. Crowley then counterattacked with an army of demons led by Beelzebub. After this latter attack was launched against the quarters of the Second Order the London lodge expelled both men.” Well, naturally they would do so.)
I don’t think Crowley ever forgave Yeats; if you ever read his novel “Moon-Child”, there’s a character who’s an Irish poet by the name of “Gates” who comes in for dog’s abuse (not only is he a bad poet, a dabbler in the occult who thinks he’s more advanced than he is, but he’s portrayed as being careless in his personal hygiene) who eventually comes to a very sticky end in a magickal duel. I rather got the impression this was wish-fulfillment on Crowley’s part.
Did your God School teach you that the early Christians were sometimes considered cannibals because of eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Christ. That was a fairly common attack before Constantine’s conversion.
I can appreciate the need for vetting someone carefully before opening the Church to them, in times of persecution. I would imagine that our brethren in mainland China are in the same kind of situation.
I admit that it can be very hard in a closed communion situation, but the Southern Baptists that I was raised in seemed to practice it, so converting to Catholicism that wasn’t an issue.
As a very devout altar boy, the entire participation in the Mass was, well, mysterious…
This is when the altar faced forward & the Mass in Latin…
Communion was very serious for both the altar boy & the recipient. And we were very careful with our task.
However, the actual taking of communion was never a ‘spiritual high’ point for me. As much as this part of Roman Catholic teaching stressed its importance, the associated spiritual component was not there for me. And so was my disappointment during my Confirmation. That little slap/tap on the cheek by the Bishop did not infuse me with Holy Spirit infilling to where I was aware of this spiritual reality. And Confession never left me feeling, well, forgiven or clean…
I was a very serious Catholic & thought my participation in daily Mass as an altar boy more than just getting out of class (parochial school) to do so. I was taken with the ritual & the vestments & the preparation in the sacristy. It was dark, all wood paneling, smelling of incense & candle wax. And no, there was no craziness or abuse I or my friends ever experienced. Fortunately for me, that part of the Catholic reputation not one I had to weather…
NOTE: although I do participate in communion intermittently @ Mass, or in my sisterâ€™s Lutheran Church, I simply observe how others receive communion & follow their lead. Since I grew up in a liturgical setting, I am far more aware of the differences. I am sure I could pass off very easily as either Orthodox or Anglican. I was married in a beautiful Episcopal church. During communion my new bride & I received the host which was a brand new experience for her. She kept her composure, but was visibly surprised. And she did mention that â€˜cardboard wafer thingyâ€™ more than once during our reception. Ah yes, the differences of traditions can have a â€˜shockâ€™ value to the uninitiatedâ€¦ 😉
So, if the disciples/Apostles actually believed this literally, then they would have made deliberate arrangements to dine on Jesusâ€™ cadaver after the crucifixion? Seems logical in its simplicity to meâ€¦
All I can say is to quote a “Zombie Christian” from one of the threads on this site:
“ZOMBIE BEST MONSTER. JESUS SAY EAT FLESH. ZOMBIE FOLLOW JESUS.”
Just look at the Theological-parsing fights you get in the comment threads here at IMonk.
The theoretical end state: MILLIONS of One True Churches, each with exactly ONE member, each denouncing all the others as Heretics and/or Apostates. The original IMonk used an “A.W.Pink” as his type example of this, but you can find similar stories all over the Bible Blogosphere.
Since Martha brought up the subject, I’d like to share my favorite Creepy Crowley quote, a comment regarding the occult antics of Jack Parsons and L Ron Hubbard in the Forties:
“I thought I had a most morbid imagination, as good as any man’s… But it appears I have not.”
Admit it; haven’t you felt the same way at times?
* The youth program leader melted chocolate onto a diaper and invited the teens to eat it. (Christian Church)
First reaction to that: “He’s Kinky…”
Second reaction: “When ‘Am I Not Edgy (TM)’ Goes really, really Wrong…”
* . . . . and then the senior pastor absolutely refused to meet with my wife and me to discuss how the youth program was being managed. (Christian Church)
Well, now we know who else is Kinky or Edgy…
* Instead of a sermon, the pastor projected 10 minutes of violence from a Rambo movie on the wall of the church. (community church)
The Gospel According to Rambo?
* The words were projected on the wall, but it was impossible to participate in the congregational music because the slick, professional worship team kept throwing in “spontaneous” repeats and ritards that they’d obviously practiced before hand. (community church)
In other words, it’s a concert performance and you’re just the audience. Did anyone pass out glowsticks or flick their lighters?
Note that if you were to take communion in an Orthodox Church and answered Amen as you formerly did in the Catholic Church you would “out” yourself.
Just curious – do you take a “Real Presence” view of the Eucharist or has this changed for you and it is now more of a participation because we are christians thing?
Maybe its an age thing. As I have gotten older I’ve grown to love the liturgy.
1. It’s ancient
2. There is lots of scripture – not only in the readings but intertwined through the rest of the service
3. The homily is focused on the readings and Gospel
4. I am not spending a lot of time listening to a person’s interpretation of a few lines of scripture
5. I am worshiping with a community
6. I like the engaging of other senses besides sight and sound
7. There is a feeling of reverence – no one is going out for food or talking during the service and there never is a feeling of winging it.
8. I can walk into any church enacting this liturgy and be able to follow along.
9. No one is whistling in the choir (yes – I have experienced this).
When I was younger i was bored with the repetition. Once I went back and spent a lot of time in scripture and ancient church history I grew to love it – my preference I know….
Jesus said to them, â€œVery truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.â€
So, if the disciples/Apostles actually believed this literally, then they would have made deliberate arrangements to dine on Jesus’ cadaver after the crucifixion? Seems logical in its simplicity to meâ€¦
I suppose one has to determine just how far the concept of eating Jesus’ body & drinking His blood has to get to before the squeamishness sets in. The original hearers were no different. Cannibalism definitely not a kosher dietary option for the Jews of the time. And wasnâ€™t this very accusation what the Romans used as a derogatory reference for the early Christians & their communion worship practice???
In order to meet this command, does Jesus then substitute bread (unleavened cracker bread) & wine to avoid the impractical requirement of eating His physical body? Multiplies it ‘spiritually’ like He did the other 2 miracles of loaves+fishes physically? And at the Last Supper did the actual bread+wine also become Jesusâ€™ body+blood even though His physical body was still with them?
Thinking this thru has been the cause of how The Eucharist/Communion is viewed within the different faith expressions. All of them limited in this: the bread+wine remain bread+wine. And only the spiritual aspect of the elements is what is claimed to be the underlying â€˜realityâ€™ of the sacrament. Something than can neither be quantified nor proven.
For all of us, I believe the exercise of faith is the key factor in our participation. And how that is presented to us in the faith expression we â€˜connectâ€™ with the way we worship by doing so. How I take communion & the form it takes (unleavened wafer/host & wine, or leavened bread & grape juice) still must link us to the community of saints we worship with. It is that common union dynamic that does help us remember Jesusâ€™ passion & also helps us identify with the greater Body of Christ. Is grace â€˜infusedâ€™ in this practice? Is it my faith that is activated in the participation, or does the consecration of the elements by a priest need no faith on the part of the partaker?
Just writing out loud here. These & more questions I had during my journey within Catholicism & continuing throughout my faith journey within Protestant Evangelical worship expressionsâ€¦
PL, it’s great that you find meaning in liturgical posturing. I don’t, partly because I was raised (in a Luth. church and school) that it was showy and Catholic and just plain something unnessecary. Now, in many LCMS churches, it’s not only expected, but more or less required. I can’t make that jump. It’s been explained to me as “our tradition” but my grandparents, parents, and I all were raised in the same church, and probably farther back than that. Liturgical posturing sure wasn’t ever our tradition, so I don’t know how far back you need to go.
But I feel equally uncomfortable at a church with the hymns on a video screen, (which, most likely, I can’t sing because I don’t know the tune and have no notes to go by) with people swaying. Both are some interesting theater, but I don’t attend worship for the show.
Thank you for your comments, Suzanne.
I will say that, for me, I find much meaning in liturgical posturing (kneeling, genuflecting, crossing myself, etc.). It helps to remind me that God created me with a body as well as a soul and spirit, and that I can use my body to worship him. As with anything, if I perform liturgical actions to make a “big show” or do them without being mindful, it is unedifying. But if I do them in a spirit of humility and adoration, they add much to my worship.
I grew up in a liturgical church (LCMS), and really had no clue there was any other kind. We had services with organ, communion twice a month, and sang hymns out of the red hymnal. I liked my church. Now, I am middle aged and barely recognize my church on both ends of the spectrum. There are some LCMS churches who have praise bands, video screens, and a “whoop it up for our star player, JC!” mentality and others that hold to the “extreme litugy” model; communion as often as humanly possible, holy water (although they would never call it that, but that is, in essence, what it is), incense, genuflecting, prostrating themselves on the floor, etc. In other words, just as big a show, but a different show. In both, the medium seems to be the message. I’m not sure what happened to the church of my youth that taught respectfulness and reverence in church, but disavowed extremes on either side. On the one side, I see people worshipping a good show; on the other, I see not the worhip of God, but of liturgical practices. I find it increasingly difficult to find God in either place.
Yes, “both/and”. Some find their place in the traditional model, in its many variations. Some, however, for a variety of reasons, do not. Millions of Christ followers no longer identify with or attend traditional churches. Many more millions admire Jesus, but have no interest in churches because they don’t find Jesus there. They do love it when they run across Jesus in the street, in the cafes, at a party, among the poor, with the orphans and in so many other places. This is where Jesus speaks to them. “Remembering” Jesus can look a whole lot different than one of the ways communion is celebrated in a traditional church. It may look like sharing my bread with someone who is hungry, in Jesus name. Some people may think that’s not the way it’s supposed to be done, but the hungry person almost always “gets it”.
I got saved out of the counter culture and my early Christian roots were PAOC. We thought it was a real sign the spirit was moving if the preacher laid aside the sermon to go with the flow. Unfortunately there was (maybe still is) a stubborn root in the thinking that the type of planning that you speak of is unspiritual.
I think you are correct, the Spirit can inspire you to plan, but old PAOC culture would have thought of that as not really trusting God. The only people that plan the service are the United and Anglican types, whom we absolutely knew they were lost. Even an order of service was a slight compromise.
As I grew older, I realised that the difference between the more structured churches and us, is that in the structured churches everyone had a copy of the order of service, in ours only the pastor had it.
Since you are a Canuck I will tell you, the fellowship I attend was the one the Arnotts called on for help when things happened at Toronto Airport (because it had started here before TO)
But I do not think the overall underlying structure of the service is all that different than many evangelical churches.
In the end, it is the message that becomes the high point, and because of its overemphasis on the message, the church tends to be a personality cult.
I will take a look at it, thanks!
Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I agree that the Church coming together around the bread and wine is an obedient offering of man to God. I like the tie-in to our priesthood, which is a proper expression of “service”. In the OT, worship and service are commonly tied together. Jesus referred to an instance in his exchange with the devil in the wilderness.
It is this context and others to which I refer in the broader sense when I ask for examination of Greek and Hebrew translations. I invite you to take an informal examination of my point at my blog. http://www.biblicalquality.blogspot.com
Thanks for your time.
“The gospel ends in humble and confident joy because of the power of Jesus at work for me, in me, through me, and sometimes in spite of me.”
Those are great words, Darrin, whoever said them.
Did not get anything about afterlife out of that phrase. Ones Understanding of the gospel can possibly lead to that conclusion though.
The Gospel is the good news about the person and work of Jesus Christ. The best summary I think is found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 (The Message)
1-2Friends, let me go over the Message with you one final timeâ€” this Message that I proclaimed and that you made your own; this Message on which you took your stand and by which your life has been saved. (Iâ€™m assuming, now, that your belief was the real thing and not a passing fancy, that youâ€™re in this for good and holding fast.)
3-4The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says.
As sinners, (Those who build their lifeâ€™s identity on anything but God) we are prone to pursue a relationship with God in one of two ways. The first is religion/spirituality and the second is the gospel. The two are at odds in every way.
Religions says that if we obey God, he loves us. The gospel says that it is because God has loved us through Jesus that we can obey. Religion says that the world is filled with good people and bad people. The gospel says that the world is filled with bad people who are either repentant (remorseful) or unrepentant (unremorseful). Religion says that you should trust in what you do as a moral person. The gospel says that you should trust in the perfectly sinless life of Jesus because he alone is the only good and truly moral person who will ever live. The goal of religion is to get from God such things as health, wealth, insight, power, and control. The goal of the gospel is not the gifts God gives, but rather God as a gift given to us by grace. Religion is about what I have to do. The gospel is about what I get to do. Religion sees hardship in life as punishment from God. The gospel sees hardship in life as sanctifying (purifying) affliction that reminds us of Jesusâ€™ sufferings and is used by God in love to make us more like Jesus. Religion is about me. The gospel is about Jesus. Religion leads to an uncertainty about my standing before God because I never know if I have done enough to please God. The gospel leads to a certainty about my standing before God because of the finished work of Jesus on my behalf on the cross. Religion ends in either pride (because I think I am better than other people) or despair (because I continually fall short of Godâ€™s commands). The gospel ends in humble and confident joy because of the power of Jesus at work for me, in me, through me, and sometimes in spite of me.
(These are not all my words, I forget where I first ran across this summary)
I expressed myself badly. I meant no disregard for the various catechisms or confessions or the people who adhere to them. I certainly didn’t mean to refute anyone’s belief about the sacraments.
I was only saying, and I think it is evident, that all proofs and arguments that “God’s grace is given by means of the Lord’s Supper,” compelling and authorititive though they may be, are found in those confessions and catechisms. Nowhere in the Bible is there a direct statement like, “God’s grace is given by means of the Lord’s Supper.”
Michael, Attitude and feelings aside.
Thanks for posting our debate from two years ago. I’m taking from that that you haven’t changed your thoughts. If I have changed mine it has been but marginal.
You still see this as a secondary issue?
For us Lutherans this is a matter of Confession, indeed the Bible makes it such. When people commune together they confess to be of the same mind and judgment. And as I said in our debate two years ago, what you confess about the lord’s supper colors everything else you believe. If you really did believe what the Nicene Creed confesses concerning Christ, you wouldn’t be so quick to say he is not present in the Lord’s Supper. Zwingli’s reasons for doubting this and Calvin’s reasons for staying with Zwingli go against everything the Nicene Creed says about Christ. Those two said Christ can’t be there bodily, but only spiritually. Which either denies God ever had a body, or that Jesus is God.
differences like this play out in the rest of worship, and indeed the lives of believers.
So whether it is feelings, or attitude, I don’t care. What I do care about is your confession, and precisely here because it is where rubber meets road.
Nate, I think you’re on to something here. I recommend reading “For the Life of the World,” by Alexander Schmemann, to explore further your view of the relationship of liturgy and life.
Off topic, and probably very naughty of me as well, but I always get a kick out of the fact that Aleister Crowley (described by the newspapers of the time as the “Wickedest Man in the World”) was raised Plymouth Brethren.
Yeah, us Papists got the Borgias, but you lot got the Great Beast 666 (as he titled himself)
Mills’ first paragraph:
“When the gospel is reduced to being an item of information, the effect is the almost complete exorcism of Godâ€™s word from the church; and a concomitant deconstruction of her Liturgy. Essential to the objective gospel of forgiveness is that Godâ€™s word has as its natural context the Liturgy of the church. Outside of an orienting liturgical reference, Godâ€™s word and gospel cannot be rightly comprehended.”
He seems to be getting at something important.. If I understand correctly, the word liturgy means “work of the people.” Imagine, for a moment, we’re talking about the actual day to day work of the church members, rather than a church service. It’s in this context of everyday work- the work of relating to one another, cultivating the earth, caring for our gifts, that the Word becomes flesh among us. In other words, ongoing, robust faith comes not by merely hearing items of information, though that’s the beginning. It’s by recognizing these items as woven into the fabric of our reality and relationships. A cross is borne every time a wife has to bear with her husband’s failure to be gentle with her. The result is, over time, a far more intimately believed “word” when one speaks that Christ bore the cross on his behalf. He’s got his wife’s pained expression before him each day to see at least a shred of what it means to have a cross borne for you. It’s grasps him in a far more fundamental way than endless Bible studies and sermons. This seems to be the design God has for making us in his image, if I read things right.
He seems to be warning against a paradigm that treats faith as something that happens after a reiteration of information followed by the expectation that we’ll get real hyped up, or grit our teeth and just buh-leeeeeeeve more. Which seems the case in the crasser versions of revivalism, and leads to nothing but shallow, unrooted faith. If by liturgy we mean the church service is a microcosm of the life and work in which “the word dwells among us,” it’s because we’re trying to give evidence to the reality that God is making his word known and believed through daily life and activity, not simply as items of information that we check off as articles of belief. Understood properly then, could it be said that the liturgy is something which decentralizes services/leaders/styles in order to draw attention to the daily reality of crucifixion and resurrection among the community of Jesus? Something which fills you with the expectation that God’s redemptive work will be put on display in your personal history among the real people with which you live? A redemption that takes REAL hold of your imagination because you’ve seen it a thousand times in real life, rather than just studied it in the abstract philosophies of smart people who talk a lot?
I don’t know if this is what Mills means, but it helps me understand liturgy a lot more. Can any liturgical types attest to validity (or not) of this observation?
Shucks, no ‘reply’ button to my own post…
Let me add that I can understand why anyone with a high view of communion might be reluctant to let it be a potential convert’s first step. The disciples walked with Jesus for three years before it was offered to them. (I assume they’d eaten Passover together before.) But THAT LAMB was only just then going to slaughter.
My God School training taught me a little about the mystery religions that circulated about the time of the early church and the effort the Apostles exerted to confront such teachings. Perhaps that lead me to an excessively naive view that Christianity should be very open all comers, with no ‘deeper mysteries’ to be offered later. I think I can see both sides.
Andy Z, you said
“I join Daniel in asking, â€œIs the Lordâ€™s Supper taught to be the means by which Godâ€™s Grace is given?â€ And of course it IS taught to be the means according to the confessions and catechisms of the liturgical churches. In the Bible, on the other hand, salvation is taught to be a matter of belief and confession and grace.”
If you are going to disagree with the Sacramentalists at least do it for the right reasons, not the straw man and false dichotomy you present above.
Here is the quick tour of what we believe.
How does God’s gift of faith (Eph 2:6-9) come to us? The scriptures say faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. So the Word of God is the instrument or “means” by which faith comes to us, or is given to us. When God’s command/word/promise is attached to a physical thing like water, bread and wine, we say these things become the visible, tangible Word, capable of creating and sustaining faith. Hence Paul talks about baptism as a “washing with water through the word” joining us with Christ in His burial and resurrection, and Peter talks about baptism which now saves you. (Cut that one any way you like, the apostle says that baptism in some way saves.)
In respect to the Lord’s supper, which was Jesus’ last will and testament, the Apostle Paul says that through the bread we are partakers of Christ’s body, and through the wine we are partakers in His blood, therefore anyone misusing the Lord’s Supper is sinning against Christ’s body and blood.
Feel free to disagree, but please do not paint the disagreement in simplistic and misleading terms.
Martha: I appreciate the apology and even more the conviction behind the original statement. That I am not currently plugged into a single local church is a failing, and one I hope will not endure. On the other hand I am deeply connected to a wide network of Christians in the metropolitan area that I’ve called home for the last twenty years. In an area like this, people move around among churches. Churches come and go. You learn that the connection to the Body of Christ goes much deeper.
I suppose it’s possible that as a life-long American protestant, I see churches as basically human institutions. This bias in place, it just chafes that they would draw lines or ‘fences’ around the Gift of Grace. I know communion is replete with connotations of covenant community tracing all the way back to the first passover. I do think it is appropriate to rehearse the full meaning and ramifications of communion at every service. I can understand why a congregation in close fellowship with each other (closed service?) might choose to abbreviate that. And I am pretty sure that if I were in a position to serve it, I would not want to refuse anyone, walk-in or otherwise, provided I’d read them the ‘contract.’
“6 part series on how a man should be like Daniel”
Hah! Ain’t it the truth.
“All weâ€™ve gotten so far is â€œthe gospel is in the liturgyâ€ and â€œthe service is for believers.â€ I cannot accept either of those.”
“From the answers given so far, with the exception of CMâ€™s ECLA church below, not only are visitors/non-believers not given room to experience or understand what is happening in the service, but it seems like there isnâ€™t even a theology for outreach.”
Maybe I am missing your question. Lutherans have a theology of evangelism and proclamation. Are you asking what people and Pastors personally do to help newcomers navigate the liturgy? Are you asking how we shape or interrupt the flow of the liturgy to offer explanations to those unfamiliar with it? Are you asking what we do to make it interesting to non believers? Lend us some clarification here.
There is a learning curve to worship, and different congregations handle it in different ways, but eventually people have to jump in and participate and learn the ropes as with any new endeavor. Even after twenty years I am still coming to new understandings of different facets of the liturgy.
This should be your first discussion as “iMonk – Ireland Chapter”!
I’ve always considered the Eucharist, Lords supper, communion, whatever it may be called, the way that great southern catholic writer Flannery O’Connor did, “If it’s just a symbol, then the hell with it” (in a letter to an anonymous friend), although I’ve always been a member (until recently)of denominations that considered it “just a symbol”.
I think part of the issue here is that many Hebrew and Greek words are translated ‘worship’ when they actually refer to various service/activities that go beyond what our English word conveys- praise, ascribing worth or any humble demonstration of love and obedience.
Historically the church has not gathered to worship in the abstract.
Rather the church has gathered by divine appointment so as to to be formed by God’s creative and effectual word where God has promised to speak. She offers to God that which mankind owes.
God gives us himself in the person of Christ…
…and as priests of creation the church offers to God that thanksgiving for which men and women were created.
Mankind does this in and through the person of Christ.
Both this gracious giving to man and obedient offering of man to God is accomplished in Christ. It is incorporation into the great high priest’s worship that we come together for. This two way exchange takes place in the body and blood of Christ- wherein God gives himself to us and we (through him) give ourselves and all we are to him.
This (and much more) is why the church has always come together around the Lord’s table. It is because it is there that God gives us his Son, and because it is there that we proclaim to God the Lord’s once and perfect offering on behalf of mankind.
There. With bread and wine.
If that is what every congregation is gathering to do, all of these questions are finally about style. If congregations meet without the Table and an expectation to hear God speak as nowhere else, then we obviously mean to be doing different things
Great post! Let me start by saying I attend what would be considered a â€œlow Churchâ€ but love going to â€œhigh Anglicanâ€ services when I can.
One thing I noticed that was not mentioned is that most Liturgical Churches were started by & are connected at some level to the State. (Roman Catholic â€œVaticanâ€, Orthodox â€œRussia, Georgia, & otherâ€, Anglican â€œEnglandâ€,& Lutheran â€œScandinaviaâ€ . When you say â€œfree Churchâ€ you are not just talking about â€˜freeâ€™ worship but also â€˜freeâ€™ from the State. Liturgical Churches almost universally still have some connections to the State, though they may be very nominal. Liturgical Churches have problems in that they are very â€œEuro-centricâ€, often they have a â€œclosedâ€ communion, & they tend to believe that they are the ONLY true Church.
All of these problems (I believe) come from being (or having a history of being) State Churches.
OK enough about the State (the Anabaptist in me is coming out, sorry)
Also I think Liturgical Churches need â€œblessed simplicityâ€!
– too much Gold!
– too much â€œstuffinessâ€ (that is NOT a revivalistic complaint!)
– too many expensive robes & â€˜requiredâ€™ attire
– Less is More!
Since I am a ‘lapsed Catholic’ by definition, I will take communion when attending a family member funeral without any problem of conscience…
When I attend the Lutheran services of my sister’s church, I actively take communion there also…
My relationship with God sufficient to dispel any paranoia about participating in sacramental rituals. This is not to be misunderstood as being insensitive or disrespectful. My understanding of communion is very sober & theologically aware.
If asked to make some confessional statement or agree to same prior to partaking in communion at any one particular faith expression, I suppose I would avoid it as to not cause any confusion within that particular setting…
Now, I have attended both an Orthodox & Episcopalian service where I chose not to partake in communion as I was simply a visitor wanting to experience their worship expression. But then if there were either friend or family that invited me, then that part of being ‘communal’ would allow me to partake with no concerns…
N.T. Wright has talked about students he encountered in his previous teaching life have been so surprised and delighted when, having been raised in one “substantive area”, they encounter the other one. Some who were raised in a sacramental tradition found new meaning in their Christian commitment when they found a non-sacramental expression of Christianity that explained the Gospel and where people are committed to one another as Wolf Paul describes; others who were in the “free church” tradition found theological depth and a freshness when they encountered a liturgical expression, as CM defines it here.
My history is similar to Joseph’s except that I was a Protestant for 30 years, with some exposure to Episcopalian & Lutheran expressions. I agree with him in that I haven’t experienced “a significant difference in behavior, attitude, charity, piety, etc.” among all the different Christians with whom I’ve lived & worshiped. I think that ultimately, the workings of God in people, and how people allow God’s work, and “work with it” as God empowers, is a great mystery and cannot be completely understood, much less explained in words and/or guaranteed by following certain steps. Life in Christ is not magic(k).
Since Fr Ernesto hasn’t commented yet, I would like to say that the Eastern Church approaches sacramental understanding differently. We can count seven sacraments, but lots of other things are viewed as sacraments, too, because we have a much stronger (in my perception) concept of what being “in Christ” means. For example, being sprinkled -more like lightly soaked- with water specially blessed on Theophany (Jan 6) is “sacramental”. (There’s not the distinction between “sacrament” and “sacramental” -as a noun- that the Roman Catholics have.) It’s not that God’s way up there and we’re down below and every once in a while, when we do a particularly dedicated action in a prayerful Christian setting, he sends “objective grace” into our lives from where he is. When we have been baptized, we have been united with Jesus in such a way that we actually participate in who he is and what he has done. “Grace” is understood as the very action of the Holy Spirit within us, not something that is given “from outside”. So for us, the Liturgy is our participation, because of our Union with Jesus, in what happened on Calvary, as the past folds over onto the present. The priest prays, on behalf of all of us, “Thine own of Thine own we offer to Thee, on behalf of all and for all.” We are participating in offering Jesus, and in Him, offering ourselves and all of creation in worship, as God originally intended humanity to do.
Just before that, the priest says, “Remembering this saving commandment (the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper) and all those things which have come to pass for us: the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the Sitting at the right hand, and the second and glorious coming…” How can we “remember” the second coming as having “come to pass for us” when it hasn’t happened yet? Because the future also folds over into the present. (Wright explains this in his excellent Calvin College talk from 2007 on “Space, Time and Sacraments”; anyone interested can find it on the N.T. Wrightpage.) That’s why in the liturgical poetry of our feasts we sing, “Today” such and such an event is happening. We are participating in worship of the Trinity, focused on Jesus, in the fullness of time (not really “outside of time”).
For most Christians, eastern and western, including Protestants, down through the history of the church, Christian worship, especially the Eucharist, has been “for believers”, however one defines that. As laudable as service to others in Jesus’ name is – and many in my parish are involved with the local homeless shelter/food bank, rescue mission, outreach to pregnant women in crisis, and other charitable work sponsored by both Christians and non-Christians (we don’t need to re-invent the wheel- none of that would have arisen without the existence of the Church anyhow), I can no longer define charitable work done on Sunday as “worship” -as in a public assembly of Christians at prayer, with the intention of “ascribing worth to God”. It does very much fall into the category of ascribing great worth to other human beings, as we love them in following the second part of the greatest commandment, and is a non-negotiable for a Christian. But I believe the first Christians continued in their Jewish worship tradition, redefining it around their understanding of what it was that “the Christ Event” meant, in light of their experience of the revelation of God as Trinity. There’s not much written down in the New Testament about exactly what that looked like, but it can be found in other early Christian writings. And it was “liturgical”, as in a well-defined, already-known Jewish prayer service pattern, with the Eucharist added: the framework underlying the RC mass and EO liturgy as they have come down through the years.
As for how we welcome someone with “the Gospel”, in my parish, anyone can visit any service any time. If you stand through the whole Liturgy, you’re going to hear what all this is about through the words spoken and sung; if you make an effort to “be present” and pay attention, you can get it. The first words are: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages- Amen.” So we start right out with The Kingdom of God and the Trinitarian Godhead. I heard from one Orthodox person who counted them, that there are more than 90 direct quotes from scripture and scriptural allusions in the typical Orthodox Liturgy, so one is going to hear a lot of bible, including most or all of three Psalms, all the Beatitudes, a chunk of an Epistle and a chunk of one of the Gospels. (There are very chunky Old Testament readings during Vespers, especially in the Vespers services on the eve of feasts.) Mostly the words of St John Chrysostom are used, but on special occasions and all through Lent we use the words of his older friend, St Basil the Great. In the Anaphora, the prayer of the consecration of the gifts, is presented the entire narrative sweep of salvation history. It can be read here:
We have our share of folks who show up only at Christmas and Easter. There are some Orthodox who only want the “religious goods and services” that mark significant life occasions. It’s messy. But we’re ok with the messiness; we’ve lived with it for 2000 years 🙂
If I happen to err on my theology, it is this: God’s grace is far greater in scope than I can honestly claim to comprehend…
If God, for whatever divine reason, decided to carry on our race even after the fall, then I believe all the issues of miscarriages & childhood deaths for whatever reason, is lovingly taken care of…
My now ex-wife experienced a miscarriage. It would have been our first. I always felt it was a girl. Ended up with 3 strapping young men. I believe I will meet that first child no matter the reason(s) for the miscarriage. Just my own personal conviction…
Blessings on your grieving process. Thanx for sharing…
According too nearly every OT and NT entry for the word “worship” in the Strong’s concordance of the KJV, the word means to prostrate oneself as before a king. There is no mention of music or style or war. How are we missing this simple, humbling demonstration of love and obedience towards our Lord?
Some years ago, when I was attending an evangelical community church, I happened to visit an Orthodox service. It was in Old High Slavonic, so I can’t say I got much of it, but I was struck by what The Seeker calls the Christ-centered nature of it. I asked my pastor when I got back next week, “If no one in the congregation showed up next Sunday, would you still do all the same things? Because they would in the Orthodox church.” He couldn’t tell me that he would — the service at that evangelical church serves the people; the Orthodox service served God. It’s not bad to serve the people, so long as God is also being served. I still think it’s a good test of the center of our worship to ask how much we’d do if we were the only ones in church.
More Christians should do what your group does, Sam. I would love to see “both/and,” though, not just “either/or.” I love the liturgy and the sacraments, but I know I’d love them even more if I also were doing more of what you describe.
Reminds me of I attended briefly. The Easter sermon was on the sign of Jonah. (Which I thought would have been a good pre-Easter sermon.) (at the time Lent wasn’t part of my vocabulary, much less spiritual landscape)
That is my single biggest frustration as a Catholic is lack of evangelization. (and a very close second is welcoming the stranger.)
But, once a person expresses interest, there are some ways for the person to become more knowledgeable. Some parishes have a class that just answers questions for those who are curious etc.
The formal way in is through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). This is generally from early fall to Easter, and one can drop out at any time. We touch on most topics, with the level and emphasis dependent upon the student’s level and interest.
The students enter the Church at the Easter Vigil and will go through Baptism (if necessary), First Communion (if necessary) and Confirmation.
Good stuff Brother.
How well I know this. When I miscarried my baby last year, this was a great dilemma and sorrow for me. My very dear Lutheran pastor pointed me to this scripture to hold onto. Isaiah 65:17-25, read particularly vs. 20. No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days or an old man who does not fill out his days….
While I realize it does not give a direct statement that babies go to Heaven, being part of the new creation, it gives me great hope.
Hmmm… did I mention I was charismatic and my pastor calls himself a Bapticostal…
…and that in my previous pentecostal church I used to spend 8 hours a week, on planning the flow of the service. I figure the Spirit could inspire me as much when I was planning, as he could on the spot during the service.
It’s probably hard to identify THE Evangelical position on anything, considering how big a tent Evangelicalism is. Shoot, I know quite a few churches and people who are in one of the mainline denominations and also Evangelical (like my Anglican parish). In my experience, groups that have some sort of traceable history (and thus tradition) tend to have thought out this Eucharist thing more than those in the more non-denominational vein. What typically ends up happening is that while reluctant to go all the way to a sacramental understanding (an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given as a means whereby we receive that grace), they get really close.
When floating around what a friend of mine calls “big box generic” Evangelicalism, by contrast, the BEST I heard was that the Eucharist is special because Christ said so and that he’s present in the two-or-three-gathered-in-his-name way, but only more special because it’s Communion. At worst, the only thought given was to be sure we were right with each other lest we die ‘cuz Paul said something about that and if there was that kind of danger why were we doing this again oh yeah Jesus said to how weird. Usually, it was done out of obedience as a memorial, but kind of awkwardly because we really didn’t know what to do with it all.
Ultimately, though, I’ve gotta ask what makes Baptism and the Lord’s Supper more than a symbol for non-sacramental folks? What do they do for the believer?
…the almost ubiquitous modern…
Ubiquitous: one of my favorite words! 🙂
I understand your point. Repetition can be mind-numbing. But every style (and I do mean every) has drawbacks and will be more or less attractive to different people. One reason people move the other direction is to escape the casual approach, which seems irreverent or tacky to them. One thing I’ve long felt as an evangelical is that people can put too much stock in the emotional satisfaction a service should bring. But hey, that’s my personality coming through.
The problem of children and salvation is a conundrum all Christians face
I happen to prefer a “low church” service vs. the “high church” more richly liturgical type. However, I will not argue for one being more spiritual than the other, or how much more grace is bestowed+received, or how much more accurate the rituals are based on earliest church traditions.
I suppose my rationale, if that is actually ‘permitted’ for a believer to exercise, is more from observation: if the Catholics or Orthodox or high/low church Protestant or Evangelical/Charismati/Pentecostal faith expressions really did have a corner on the market of grace & the supposed transformation of those practicing their faith faithfully, wouldn’t there be a noticable difference in behavior/fruit???
Sorry, but raised Roman Catholic for 20 years, then various Evangelical Protestant versions the past 16 years (no High Church Protestant experience), has not resulted in me personally experiencing a significant difference in behavior, attitude, charity, piety, etc. between faith expressions. And the super-charismatic types that really advertise their “Holy Spirit filling” usually the worse offenders of the whole group. All their super-duper spiritual short-cuts sure as heck aren’t making them into better Christians IMHO, just more obnoxious hyper-saints.
If it is true we are all broken, needy people, then I would think the distribution of such people within the wide variety of faith expressions close to being the same. Why isn’t there a greater proportion of transformed saints within any one faith expression than another? Can this even be quantified? Does anyone out there really care???
And it may be worth discussing the ‘church surfing’ that does happen, or the lack of greater involvement in the lives of others of those more consistent saints remaining committed to one particular fellowship. I know I could not return to a high church liturgical format. Just my own preference although I also believe it was Holy Spirit directed early in my revitalized faith journey. My involvement in the faith community I am part of much more than the Sunday service experience. It is a far greater commitment to specific individuals & particpation in neighborhood ministry projects. I suppose I am at a place where the sacramental part of worship is more wholistic since I do not feel closer to God or more connected to Him engaging in one particular ritual/activity/sacrament. I am meditative by nature, so I am closest to God when I am alone in quiet reflection. And this doesn’t happen during a communal gathering/expression…
You just need to go to a Charismatic Evangelical non-liturgical church where things are more flowing with the Spirit and not subject to the traditions of men. winkThen you will know what I speak of.
Sorry, but I want to push a little further.
Chaplain Mike left the door open for some of the more “seasoned sacramentalists” to answer this question. All we’ve gotten so far is “the gospel is in the liturgy” and “the service is for believers.” I cannot accept either of those.
When I think about my Christianity, and the hope I have in it, I cannot help but link it to the fundamental human condition which I share with all of my neighbors. It’s not just about me. It’s about us.
From the answers given so far, with the exception of CM’s ECLA church below, not only are visitors/non-believers not given room to experience or understand what is happening in the service, but it seems like there isn’t even a theology for outreach.
Please hear me: I’m not comparing anything to seeker-sensitive, have-it-your-way, sign-a-card, just bring your friends, altar call, pragmatic church. I’m talking about real life. I always think in terms of the homeless kids I work with at my job at the teen crisis shelter. Whenever I encounter a book/sermon/outreach, I think “would my kids receive this? Would they understand? At the very least, would they be loved through it?” That’s because they are the least of the least, and that’s who the Gospel is for. That’s who I want to shape my heralding of Gospel too (and yes, I do understand that’s my specific context, and it colors my preferences greatly).
What I participated in heavy online debate with ardent Catholics, they always chastised me for leaving the Catholic Church once I became born-again. They would always say things like “The Gospel is always in the liturgy, every week. It’s your fault you didn’t hear.” Maybe so. But I was a dumb kid who went to church every week, punch-in punch-out style. Maybe if someone actually explained why we did the things we did, things would have been different. But I hate the ASSUMPTION that everyone gets it, everyone is in.
So again… in this setting, what do we do with real life, broken, unchurched people? If you say the worship experience is not for them, or they should start the process of catechesis in order to understand, then fine. But if so please tell me there’s at least a practical theology and strategy for Gospel proclamation and service that is regularly preached and practiced.
This is the missing thread for me as I learn about liturgical churches. If this element is there, I could see myself as “all in” one day.
While I understand what you’re saying, after 40+ years in the Catholic Church, I realized (via a long story) that the liturgy was killing me spiritually. In the RC church, there’s a whole lot of focus on liturgy and church law. And yes, there are 3 readings, and yes, I knew my bible (in my head). But week after week, I felt like I was in the spiritual Sahara desert. The prayers became rote, the readings didn’t tie together meaningfully, and the two parts of the mass that I loved best – the Lord’s Prayer and communion – went by without a notice from me.
A spiritual desert can be the result of many things, and it would be wrong of me to pin it entirely on the liturgy, but there was so much sameness each week that it was spiritually numbing in me. And I will be the first to admit that I didn’t swim in the Word between Sundays, so I am absolutely sure that was a huge contributor. All that said, taking a pause from the liturgy and exploring how the other half worships helped wake me up externally, among other things, while the HS was working on things internally.
I do miss certain parts of the mass (especially communion every week), I do think the Catholics have a lot more of their theology right that the evangelicals give them credit for, and I do go back to the Catholic church (I harbor no spiritual grudges) for mass every once in a while. I can handle structure and rhythm, I’m a lawyer for Pete’s sake! All that said, I do connect with God in a worship setting in a much deeper way when things are a little more free form. For whatever reason, the HS moves that way in me.
Perhaps the sacraments are still very present in some “free form” churches and people just connect differently.
So, this is my experience. It’s different from yours and probably a lot of others on the site. But for me, this issue is connected a little more to style for me than for you.
I was reared up in my first few years as a Christian by “open” Plymouth Brethren as well. For the last two years I’ve been attending my first “standard” church ever (i.e. with a lead pastor, who I dearly love btw), and I certainly miss that Lord’s Supper meeting every week, since we only do communion monthly. Ugh.
FWIW, it seems like the Young-Restless-Reformed crowd are getting into communion every week. I know Driscoll is big on it. That’s a good sign.
Chaplain Mike wrote earlier, “Iâ€™m more convinced about baptism than I am about the Lordâ€™s Supper at this point, for example.” That’s interesting, Chaplain Mike, because I spent some time today online investigating what Lutherans believe in regard to non-baptized babies dying. I found statements ranging from “Unbaptized babies will spend eternity in hell” to “Unbaptized babies of Christians will be saved, but not babies of non-Christians” to “We don’t know, but we hope that God has some good plans for these babies.” I also read sections of the Lutheran cathechism.
It seems like with baptism, Liturgy, and so many other things within Christianity, in the end it just comes down to people deciding where they want to make their stand. We can say we are basing our decision on the Bible, but other people with opposite views base their decision on the BIble, too. Or, we can just get confused and decide that we are going to believe however (insert your denomination here) believes.
I can often relate very closely to people who say, “I just try to follow the golden rule and leave everything else up to God, if there is a God who cares about such things.” But I know that is too simplistic. If it weren’t for Jesus, I would be tempted to just forget about it all. But there Jesus is, born to Mary, learning and teaching while still a child, talking to his disciples that just don’t get it, healing the sick and the sinful, dying a terrible death, rising with a special kind of body, telling his disciples to not be afraid. So I, and we, continue to pray, study, and learn from one another as we continue to grow in the love of Jesus. I just wish things were CLEARER sometimes!
Chaplain Mike says:
>”I do think quality pastoral leadership covers a multitude of sins. It may also be possible, however, that the theology matters too.” <
It is just that when I think about why my family and I don't attend various churches, the reasons are things like this:
* The pastor had a habit of paraphrasing and editing the scripture off the cuff, without much regard for meaning. (ELCA)
* The pastor couldn't get through a session in the orientation course we were attending without making mean-spirited jabs at "Those Calvinists." (LCMS)
* The youth program leader melted chocolate onto a diaper and invited the teens to eat it. (Christian Church)
* . . . . and then the senior pastor absolutely refused to meet with my wife and me to discuss how the youth program was being managed. (Christian Church)
* Instead of a sermon, the pastor projected 10 minutes of violence from a Rambo movie on the wall of the church. (community church)
* The pastor told me (and every other Western missionary), "There is nothing for you to do here. Just give all your money to me and stay quiet." (Kyrgyz Baptist Church)
* A shocking level of anti-Catholic hate poured forth from the pulpit week after week. (SBC)
* The words were projected on the wall, but it was impossible to participate in the congregational music because the slick, professional worship team kept throwing in "spontaneous" repeats and ritards that they'd obviously practiced before hand. (community church)
Theology and doctrine matter immensely. That's why I wish the other stuff didn't get in the way so often,
“This is my body broken for you. ” Most evangelicals do not consider it a mere “symbol”. But we would not have a fully sacramental view either. Evangelicals are probably like Anglicans in that there are a variety of understandings that exist among us, everything from “just a symbol” to “real presence” but mainly everything in between.
The Seeker, I enjoyed reading your comments, particlarly, “In fact, the priest seems more like a midwife assisting in the birth of something rather than the center of focus” and “And then they have communion (and they take is so seriously youâ€™d think you were going forward to see the Queen!)”
For those who are interested, here is a summary of the discussion that Bror and I had nearly two years ago.
Are “sacramental” and “non-sacramental” modes of worship or are they points of view?
As far as the Eucharist is concerned, the discussion in the latter half of John 6 is really what did it for me (especially v53). The way I figure, if he was just speaking metaphorically, why didn’t he say so, especially considering that his teaching on this matter drove so many away that he even asked Peter if the Twelve were going to leave.
I agree. Which is why I don’t see Bror’s point. But Bror and I already had a dragged out affair over this topic two years ago.
Michael Spencer’s post on the topic is here.
Michael: Glad you “get it”!
Cunnudda: We often do Bible reading (and discussion) and prayer when sitting down in a cafe or park. Especially in the cafes the people around us listen in. Sometimes we pray with people in the street, cafe or wherever, especially in response to their situations. For example, “Would you like me to pray with you for (that situation)? Would you like us to pray right now?” The answer is usually yes.
I feel like liturgical churches have a ton to offer by way of evangelism. People want an experience, an encounter. Liturgy is tactile. God is to be present in the liturgy/sacraments (correct?)
And the liturgy/sacraments (and sacramentals) are expressed as something physical and tangible. Acts as a damper on Spiritual Dualism; hard to get all incorporeal and spiritual (TM) when you’re expressing it through physical objects and acts.
I wasn’t talking about feelings. I was talking about attitude.
Oh, I should add, that while we definitely believe in “Real Presence” we do not believe in transubstantiation. The exact nature of that “Real Presence” is left unexplained on the grounds that Christ does not seem to explain it in the Gospels. That said, Eucharistic Adoration is believed to be nigh idolatrous in classical Anglicanism, though I’m sure that there are groups within ACNA that would not object to it (we’ve got a few clergy that are so Papist that the Pope seems Protestant in comparison!)
What struck me strongly was just how Christ centered the whole service is.
In time I came to realise that the elements of the service were much more thematically tied together than what I had seen. The message was about the scripture that is read. The hymns fit the topic. And the topics are often tied into the Christian calender, so yesterday was Epiphany. The priests message was just one part of the service, but not the most important part. In fact, the priest seems more like a midwife assisting in the birth of something rather than the center of focus.
Hmmm….. Sounds like my Evangelical non-liturgical church. Maybe we just get it?
Over the years many in evangelicalism have lost the concept of a believerâ€™s meeting, and evangelism is all too frequently reduced to; â€œInvite your friends and neighbors to church so the Paid Professional Staff can get them saved.â€
Provided they actually KNOW any “unsaved (TM)” friends and neighbors. I’ve seen that one for real — “Oh, No! How do I make unsaved friends so I can invite them to the Billy Graham Crusade and get them saved?” (Campus Crusade, Cal Poly, 1976-77. It was like “The Gospel Blimp” for real…)
We need to recapture the idea of a believerâ€™s meeting, and if going to a liturgical church is the only way to accomplish that, then that may be the route I need to go.
The liturgy, both Eastern and Western Rite, has a long track record. As the guy wrote in Evangelical is Not Enough, “The refuge of rich and poor, aristocrat and commoner, sage and dunderhead for centuries.”
My parish (ACNA Anglican, International Diocese) practices communion of all the baptized. The idea is that it’s Christ’s Table, not ours, so we should not prohibit Christ’s family from eating. We always refer to it as a sacrament and we usually prefer to call it some variant of “Holy Communion,” though the rector often also refers to it as the Lord’s Table, Christ’s Table, or something to that effect.
For the most part, I’m in favor of open communion for the reasons my parish practices it. That said, I definitely understand the value of limiting it to those who have been Confirmed or otherwise properly catechized.
This is exactly how I feel. The problem in every type of church is leadership. If liturgical churches were producing such great fruit then they wouldn’t have left so many starving…and if revivalist churches were producing such great fruit then they wouldn’t leave so many honest disciples starving for more. Substance or preference both fail under poor leadership.
Chaplain Mike, what you are saying is crystal clear to me.
But I guess it depends on where we are at in our lives.
For the better part of the past decade I have attended a evangelical charismatic church. The service looks like this:
We start worship with our band and get people feeling good. It is a time to push all the thoughts of the world and distractions aside and ‘enter in’ to the throne room of God.
Once worship is at its peak people are ready for a challenge. So we take up an offering and then wait for the main part of the show, someone will deliver a word. The preacher of the week steps up and has about 40-45 minutes. At the end he/she is likely to ask us to commit to the challenge, which often means a time up front where we pray or are prayed for.
After its all over, even later in the day we may ask others in our community ‘so how was the service?’ If we liked the sermon we will respond that we were really fed today and it was great.
In our spiritual lives, we go on Sundays expecting that we will hear from the Lord and be fed. Sometimes it is great, sometimes it falls flat.
Over a year ago I started going to an Anglican church. I was attracted immediately because of the amount of the bible that was in the service. Even though they did not name verse and chapter, 30 years of reading the Bible gives me the background to see where the liturgy originates. I was lost at first, it did not make a lot of sense. And there is so much explicit reading of scripture (they get longwinded, not just 3 verses but like 15). Enough standing up and sitting down I would think I was at the gym. There is a Psalm, an Old testament reading, a reading from the gospels, and from one of Paul’s letters! The poor priest can only speak for about 10 minutes. And then they have communion (and they take is so seriously you’d think you were going forward to see the Queen!). All in all, pretty but confusing. But as I processed, I could see nothing wrong with it, it all seemed centered in biblical concepts.
What struck me strongly was just how Christ centered the whole service is.
In time I came to realise that the elements of the service were much more thematically tied together than what I had seen. The message was about the scripture that is read. The hymns fit the topic. And the topics are often tied into the Christian calender, so yesterday was Epiphany. The priests message was just one part of the service, but not the most important part. In fact, the priest seems more like a midwife assisting in the birth of something rather than the center of focus.
The climax of the service is the Lord’s table. And I remember the Sunday that I finally ‘got it’ and I was quite taken aback by it all.
For me, I see that in the liturgy I can love God with heart and mind during worship. I am there with members of the body of Christ around me, together as a community we walk through a Christian service as they have for almost two thousand years. It is not about how I feel, or a gifted priest’s message. And the high point of the service is to come to the Lord’s table, rembering how Jesus died for us, and that we can walk in newness of life.
Sorry for being so longwinded, but is this what you are talking about?
It matters because often what we call communion is a reflection of how we view/understand it. From a sacramental perspective, Christ is present in the Eucharist in a special way. Because of that special presence, there is an objective grace that is conferred on the believer by reception of the Sacrament. From a non-Sacramental perspective, Christ is no more present in the Eucharist than in the preaching or any other act of worship. The Eucharist is a symbol or illustration done in obedience to Christ’s command. Partaking of the Eucharist is a symbolic identification with Christ. Any spiritual value from participating in the Eucharist is subjective and relative what the participant gets out of it.
Of course, the descriptions of the Eucharist as “ordinance” or “sacrament” are not ultimately the issue. After all, someone who takes a sacramental perspective would agree that Christ “ordained” the Lord’s Supper. The real issue is how we view the world, how we view worship, and how we view God’s interaction with the world and with worshipers.
Is that typical? Where do Bible reading and prayer come in?
Michael Bell’s point still stands in my book as no one has answered his objections thoroughly. If its not about us but Christ then why does it matter what we call communion?
Interestingly enough, the denomination which which I was accredited (deemed worthy to be be a minister), the Christian and Missionary Alliance, calls it an ordinance in its official documents, while its President calls it a sacrament. His concern is that he wants to get away from the language that refers to it as “just a symbol”, because in his mind (and mine), and to the vast majority of evangelical churches with which I have been associated with, it is much more than that.
It is our remembering of Christ, and all that he has done for us, it is our way of saying we identify with him. Most evangelical churches I have been associated with believe in a Presence. Not in the Catholic sense, but in the sense that when we meet together and share communion, Christ is present in a very real way. Most would see it as a spiritual presence.
I am a strong proponent of open communion. My preference is for baptized believers, but our church does not make baptism a requirement. I have known of several people who took communion for the first time as their way of saying “I now identify with Jesus Christ, and trust him for my salvation.” Baptism followed soon after.
As for the name: Communion, or the Lord’s Table or Lord’s Supper are the terms I most commonly hear.
Andy Z wrote ” For every person who leaves shallow, crass, commercial evangelicalism to find profound truth in Orthodoxy or Lutheranism or Catholicism, there is another who has escaped the dead corpse of medieval superstition and been refreshed in a spirit-filled contemporary fellowship.”
That is very true, Andy. I was brought up Catholic then got involved with an non-denominational evangelical/charismatic group for a while when I seemed to need some kind of turning back to God that I didn’t think I could find or was finding in the Catholic church. As I got older and maybe wiser, I found that there was much within the Catholic church that I was previously unaware of and I was happily able to return to my Catholic roots. I also missed much about the Mass including, of course, the Eucharist. I did participate in some communion services in an Assembly of God church which SEEMED very sacramental, but I don’t want to use that word too lightly, as I know it can mean different things to different people based on my reading of the comments above.
Bob, I hope the discussion is not sad. Having stood in both worlds, I think it is important to recognize substantial differences and be able to discuss them with each other. I don’t see how any kind of genuine unity can be achieved if this does not happen.
I continue to visit daily, but this is my first time to comment since our brother Michael fell asleep in Lord. Thank you, Chaplain Mike, for the important observation. I think youâ€™re exactly right.
I suspect that the same thing would be seen, if we were to compare the catholic titles for what takes place on Sunday mornings (when the church gathers as the church) against the almost ubiquitous modern designation of â€˜worship.â€™
Historically the church gathered for â€˜the Mass, the Liturgy, the Eucharist, Divine Service, etc.â€™ Today the church gathers to â€˜worship.â€™
The peculiarly English word â€˜worshipâ€™ has swallowed up activity that goes way beyond the act of ascribing â€˜worthship.â€™ It seems to me that when we think of what we are up to (when we gather as the church on the Lordâ€™s Day) primarily in terms of â€˜worship,â€™ we end with the sorts of questions Evangelicals struggle with: In addition to the â€˜styleâ€™ category confusion you mention, someone might consider that we can praise God anytime and anywhere, so why bother with the â€˜legalismâ€™ of Sunday â€˜worship.â€™ Sunday worship might be nice or helpful, but not radically central to following Christ.
The Mass, the Litugy, the Eucharist and the Divine Service include ‘worship’, but my â€˜worshipâ€™ (of whatever ‘liturgical flavor’) neednâ€™t involve the promised ‘trysting’ rendezvous with God or being grasped by the effectual creative word of God as found in the Mass, the Liturgy, the Eucharist or Divine Service.
Its not a matter of style. People are meeting for different purposes.
On second thoughts, I would like to apologise to Roger. I hopped off him in that first reply of mine, practically accusing him of insincerity and being a dilettante in church matters, which was unfair, ungenerous, and much too rushing to judgement of me.
However, I would like to invite anyone who wishes to give me an idea of their opinion of what the Eucharist is – a sacrament? an ordinance? How do you even refer to it – Eucharist, Holy Communion, Lord’s Supper, the Table? What do you think about it?
Open communion of all the baptised – recognising the invisible Church in practice or leading to letting unbaptised, unconverted, and members of other religions approach the sacrament?
And most essentially of all – is it a Who or a What for you? I know what my Church teaches and what I believe; this is not just a ceremony or a rite, but a Presence and a Real Person. So is it Who for you or is it What?
I’ll throw my two cents in here as well. As others have pointed out, my experience has not been that there is more unity in congregations where a sacremental view of salvation is held. There may be unity in the sense that it is harder for individuals in these to break off and start their own church (something I’ve seen far too much of), but I generally don’t see the type of community where people are intimately involved in each others lives and operate as a body. There may be a small core of dedicated people in an individual congregation, but there’s also plenty of members who simply show up at Christmas and Easter. I was actually talking to a Catholic friend of mine who was telling about how many people showed at their Christmas Eve services – people who are members of the Church, but who are uninvolved.
I’ve also seen plenty of non-sacremental churches where the members would give their lives for one another. I have seen that a faith that becomes all about the individual in these churches can be a danger, but to me, I don’t know if that danger is bigger than people feeling they can’t have a personal relationship with God.
Ideally, I guess I’d like to see churches sort of split the difference, if that’s possible. I do believe the Gospel is more than just a transmission of information, that the Church is the body of Christ, and that salvation is being in Christ. But I also think there is much to be said about the power of preaching and personal repentance.
We have experienced these approaches to worship and find value in them. We know others who also find value in them.
But we also know many who would never think of entering a church building. Some are followers of Jesus who are done with the institution. Then there are those who admire Jesus, but are not what some would quite term followers. Our worship is not what readers of this forum would term typical. It is, however, most meaningful for us. To give another perspective may I describe our Sunday worship from yesterday?
Our little group of Christ followers gathered in a neighborhood cafe, then moved to the streets to pick up trash. We are commonly mistaken by the church folk (those who drive into the neighborhood to attend church – they site their churches in this somewhat poor neighborhood because real estate is less expensive here) as convicted criminals who are doing our community service or perhaps as some service group, but many of the people who live here are figuring out who we are.
The neighborhood, almost none of whom have anything to do with the churches, asks us who we are and why we are cleaning their streets and parks. When we tell them that we are followers of Jesus who are trying to show the love of Jesus to the neighborhood, something happens. We and our neighbors enter into a holy place. Sometimes tears flow. Stories spill out. There is no â€œusâ€ and â€œthemâ€. There is only â€œweâ€. We see Jesus. We enter into His presence. There. On the street.
After the trash walk, four of us met again in the cafe for a couple of hours. We were surrounded by people in a very public venue. The four of us talked about â€œWhy did God become human and walk among us as the man Jesus? Can we have a personal relationship with (know) Jesus? How do we respond to His love? How do we love our neighbors? In addition to serving people in vocations dedicated to helping and serving, is there more? What about the AIDS orphans in Africa? What about the homeless people in our own streets? What about the lonely, sick and addicted in our neighborhood? How do we show them the love of Jesus? Should we spend a thousand dollars on that new flat screen television weâ€™ve been eyeing, when those same dollars could feed a thousand orphans in Kenya for a month?
As we talked, the people sitting at the tables around us listened. Twenty minutes for coffee and a sandwich turned into two hours. (Sometimes those around us ask if they may join us and the conversation.)
We worshipped. The building: the street, the park and the cafe. The congregation: all of us for whom Jesus came and all of us whom Jesus loves. We did not â€œgo to churchâ€. â€œWe the churchâ€ met together and included our neighbors.
We are talking about Christ and His promises when he communes us or baptized us. Our feelings are irrelevant and do not invalidate Gods promises for us. Lutherans trust or take Gid at His word not our feelings.
“…sacramental churches could learn a few things from evangelicals in the area of mission…”
Indeed. I realized this even thirty years ago. Just try to get Lutherans to serve on the Evangelism Committee. We tend to recoil in horror at the thought.
Makes sense when you put it that way!
Michael, that you ask this question sums it up for us Lutherans. And then everything revolves around how you feel, your “heart attitude.” as I tell the Mormon’s around here, I really don’t care how you feel or what you felt. You can’t get over yourself and your emotions enough to see that we are talking about two different things. It’s quite annoying to us.
Good thoughts, Andy. Much to ponder here.
The forgiveness of sins is “healing, freedom, and restoration.” It is, in fact, the only “freedom, healing, and restoration” most of us will ever experience this side of the grave. To equate “the objective Gospel of forgiveness” as a get out of hell for free card is unwarranted and misses the point and fails to grasp the magnitude of what is dismissed “mere forgiveness.”
What did Jesus tell many of those whom He healed? He said “Your sins are forgiven.” In the healing of the paralytic he equates forgiveness with healing saying “Which is easier to say? Your sins are forgiven, or take up your mat and walk?”
John the Baptist summed up Jesus and His ministry saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
We so easily want to move past “JUST the forgiveness of sins” and on to other more ‘relevant’ and ‘beneficial’ (at least to us personally) aspects of the Gospel like healing (for whatever ails us at the moment) and freedom (from whatever crappy situation we find ourselves in, or from our own weaknesses) that we fail to realize that it is all the same thing. Forgiveness of sins is all one package that covers the whole nine yards.
Good point, Andy. I do think quality pastoral leadership covers a multitude of sins. It may also be possible, however, that the theology matters too. I quoted Rev. Mills because I wanted people to read a strong statement by someone who dogmatically holds that there are substantive differences between theological/liturgical traditions. I’m not sure evangelicals are really aware of how seriously some Protestants take these matters. They want to simply chalk it up to “different strokes for different folks.” I for one would like more substantive discussion about the distinctions. Hence, the post.
“The idea of worship as primarily evangelism and the â€˜welcomingâ€™ of the unchurched is relatively new in the history of the church. Worship may function in a secondary or tertiary sense as evangelism, but that is not its main function.”
To me this is a crucial distinction. Over the years many in evangelicalism have lost the concept of a believer’s meeting, and evangelism is all too frequently reduced to; “Invite your friends and neighbors to church so the Paid Professional Staff can get them saved.”
I think we do ourselves a grave disservice when we make the Sunday morning service into a weekly evangelistic meeting. And yes, for those who doubt, I’ve been in services where the entire sermon was nothing more than a 45 minute lead-in to an altar call.
We need to recapture the idea of a believer’s meeting, and if going to a liturgical church is the only way to accomplish that, then that may be the route I need to go.
This very sad thread is an illustration of how the “post-evangelical wilderness” is still, after all is said and done, a wilderness.
It’s not as though Chaplain Mike doesn’t “have a dog in this fight.” He does. He’s moving toward Lutheranism and sacramentalism and liturgy. For every Chaplain Mike doing this, there is someone else going in the opposite direction.
Andy Z. is right, and he is very much on-target.
Just because the hand says the foot is not part of the body, or the eye the ear, or whatever (with a nod to St. Paul), doesn’t make it not part of the body.
I’m just sayin’….
I think one point he is making, WP, is that the non-sacramental traditions can lead (and actually have led) to more and more schisms as people pursue individualistic and even consumeristic ecclesiologies.
In the evangelical churches I have attended, and there have been a large number from different denominations, it has always been made clear at the start of communion that those who have put their trust in Christ are welcome to participate with the rest of the congregation. In essence, it is saying that the church belongs to Jesus Christ, and extends far beyond the four walls of the current building. Those who have communion with Christ are our brothers and sisters. They are family, even if we don’t know them very well, and they are welcome to sit and eat with us.
I had similar thoughts about my “open” Plymouth Brethren upbringing.
It was not in any intended to imply what you are saying here.
I’m afraid that Rev. Mills is guilty of setting up a straw man when he says, ‘forgiveness is not obtained in an abstract, disembodied, self-serve way.’ I don’t know anyone who thinks forgiveness is obtained that way. Rev. Mills may be right in much, but he is being petty in this.
I don’t think the “heart attitude” that Michael Bell speaks of ought to be the touchstone on this matter. And I’m not even sure that feeling “at home” as Sean mentions is of the first importance, either. Those are good things, but by themselves they aren’t sufficient to indicate a proper church.
I confirm Wolf Paul’s observation about those who would use a “drive-through communion rail,” as exemplified by the people (one of ’em sat right in front of me yesterday morning) who regularly grab their bags and coats and beat feet out of church as soon as they are served communion. But I would counsel Kristin that her scorn for “bells and whistles, sounds and smells” is matched by the scorn others feel for church services that owe their efficacy to the successful model of the pop concert.
I join Daniel in asking, “Is the Lord’s Supper taught to be the means by which God’s Grace is given?” And of course it IS taught to be the means according to the confessions and catechisms of the liturgical churches. In the Bible, on the other hand, salvation is taught to be a matter of belief and confession and grace.
For my own part, I have to posit another idea:
liturgy + bad leaders = bad (1)
liturgy + good leaders = good (2)
revivalism + bad leader = bad (3)
revivalism + good leader = good (4)
1. Except, perhaps, in the hearts of those few saints who see more good than is evident.
2. Except, perhaps, for those who approach them without due reverence.
3. No exceptions here. This is the worst.
4. But, without the focus and balance of the liturgy, this is oh-so-hard to obtain and sustain.
For every person who leaves shallow, crass, commercial evangelicalism to find profound truth in Orthodoxy or Lutheranism or Catholicism, there is another who has escaped the dead corpse of medieval superstition and been refreshed in a spirit-filled contemporary fellowship.
Almost every Christian you know has changed churches once or several times, except in those countries or communities where there isn’t a choice. If most people were moving in the same direction, we could conclude that the Spirit of Truth was leading them toward right doctrine and practice. But as long as people continue moving in all directions at once, tjhere’s got to be something else going on. (I think the something else is bad leadership.)
There’s a fundamental presupposition at the very beginning of the article that I have to take issue with, because most everything else flows out from there. It’s this phrase: “the objective gospel of forgiveness”.
When the gospel is reduced to the forgiveness of sins so I/we get out of a bad afterlife and into a good one instead, I believe it misses the point. Jesus’ first declaration of the good news was a quote from Isaiah 61, which was the good news of healing, freedom, restoration… and he then followed that up with several years of doing just that. Then the disciples continued that after the resurrection.
This modern understanding of the gospel as a kind of “get out of hell free even though you’re unworthy” card does injustice to the breadth and depth of the good news Jesus brought and that Paul built upon.
Sean, I do agree with you that sacramental churches could learn a few things from evangelicals in the area of mission. They tend to stress vocation as the Christian way of living in the world and extending God’s love. I think that is under-appreciated in evangelicalism. On the other hand, I think the NT also encourages us to go beyond vocation at times and engage in intentional mission. I think that is under-appreciated in some of the sacramental traditions. Although, I must say that the Lutheran church I attend at the moment was a church plant, designed to reach an area where there was no vital ELCA Lutheran witness. The pastor spent a year going door to door inviting people, and he regularly encourages us to be outgoing, inviting, and hospitable to those who need Christ.
Actually that is how my wife grew up, in one of the most non-liturgical groups conceivable, the “exclusive” Plymouth Brethren in the UK.
Every Sunday morning there would be the “Breaking of Bread”, and I have rarely been in a more reverent service, either in liturgical or non-liturgical churches, than the Sunday morning “meetings” of the various Brethren Assemblies she has taken me to (I was never allowed to partake, btw).
Then in the evening there would be the “Gospel”, a meeting where outsiders would be invited and an evangelistic message preached.
The “words” given by various brothers in the morning would always focus on Christ and our relationship with him, never on “moral re-armament” or “how to live the Christian life”. Those subjects were treated, rather, in the “reading” (short for Bible reading) during the week, i.e. a mid-week service.
And coming back to this phrase which irks me so in Peter Mill’s message quoted by Chaplain Mike, â€œloosely associated gatherings without substantive unityâ€, my wife grew up in a close-knit fellowship of people who visited each other, went on holiday together, hardly had any social contact, certainly no friends, outside the various assemblies that shared their vision of the local church.
As an Assemblies of God worship pastor who has been following (and greatly encouraged by) internet monk for quite a while now, I have to respectfully disagree with the view that revivalist traditions (like the AG) don’t participate in sacramental worship. As many have pointed out, all churches, regardless of denomination, have liturgy even if they are not considered liturgical. And the sacraments, while perhaps performed differently, are still there, followed, encouraged, and have done the same in the 3-4 AG churches I have served in as Pastor Mike points out in the end of his article – “It holds that Godâ€™s family needs to live in the Gospel through regular sacramental gatherings. In worship we actually, literally, objectively receive the benefits of Christâ€™s finished work through Word and Sacrament, are nourished for our ongoing journey, and strengthened to live in new obedience by the Spirit who fills us through the tangible means God has provided”
Of the seven sacraments:
Baptism (Christening) – yes, either as Dedication or Baptism, depending on how you look at it.
Confirmation (Chrismation) – Adult Baptism
Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion, The Lord’s Supper, or the Blessed Sacrament) – Communion
Penance (Confession) – though not done between priest and confessor, the act of confession and repentance is definitely practiced around altars at AG churches
Anointing of the Sick (known prior to Vatican II as Extreme Unction (or more literally from Latin: Last Anointing); part of the “Last Rites”) – I actually think many pentecostal traditions take this further than most “liturgical” churches, anointing those who are sick and seeking healing and not just as part of Last Rites”
Holy Orders – this is one that I don’t perceive, because I can’t really equate ordination with Holy Orders, if I’m even understanding them correctly.
Matrimony (Marriage) – definitely a sacrament performed in our church.
And yes, I know that there are earlier non-liturgical traditions, like those with roots in Calvinism and the Anabaptist traditions. But most of the non-denominational world with which I am acquainted, and to whom I addressed this essay, have patterned their services after the revivalist model.
Daniel, at this point I am just trying to explain the difference. I’m not sure I myself have come to fully understand or “take a side” on these matters. I’m more convinced about baptism than I am about the Lord’s Supper at this point, for example. But I’m learning and growing, and at this point I will say I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the sacramental tradition, as well as a willingness to participate in it that I may learn more.
I am going to preach this week on the Gospel passage John 1:35-42. When John’s disciples come to inquire of Jesus, he tells them, “Come and see.” I think, as commenters have suggested, that this is the way churches in the sacramental traditions invite and welcome non-believers into the way of Christ. They don’t ask people to “make a decision,” they ask them to “come and see;” that is, they invite them to participate in the life of the church so that they can learn Jesus’ way and encourage them along that way to develop and affirm their faith.
What do you mean revivalistic?
Is not the gospel proclamation the revival. Is not a service where the gospel of Christ crucified for the sinner clear articulated revivalistic? Christ crucified delivered to the sinner, in word and sacrament is revivalistic. Its not fancy, its not outwardly emotional, its not decisional, but it is the message.
You know what’s interesting to me, Kristin, is that each side considers the other to be counting on works for their salvation.
The sacramentalists believe that God’s salvation comes to us by grace alone, from outside ourselves, objectively, through God’s means of grace, and all I do is receive. They consider non-sacramentalists to be counting on their own works of “making a decision” and what they say, think, feel, and do to be counted righteous.
On the other hand, non-sacramentalists like yourself look at those who you consider to be ‘dead and rotting corpses, holding on to the vain hope that their church attendance would carry them through to eternity on some sort of insurance policy plan, satisfied in worshiping the bells and whistles, sounds and smells of religion in the hour on a Sunday they came to â€œreceiveâ€ all that God was so eager to hand them in exchange for a token placed in an offering plate passed during a special number.’ Non-sacramentalists tend to think of those in the sacramental traditions as doing works of religion to be counted righteous rather than exercising bare faith in Christ.
At any rate, thanks for reading and commenting. Please understand the purpose of the post. I am merely trying to explain the difference between the two points of view. I do this because I think many evangelicals think it’s just a matter of style when in reality, it’s a matter of a very different theological understanding of church and how God works toward us.
At times in Christianity, there has been a concept of two different services. One for everyone, and one for only baptized believers existing in full community with the local church. In theory, a church could have a ‘revivalist’ type of service for everyone, and a ‘liturgical’ service for those living in community.
In reality, this may be impossible in most societies. Those that have been tried tend to always merge the two into one.
I always had a ‘dream’ that the Sunday service could be revivalistic, with small groups liturgical. I finally gave up on my dream, believing the two are incompatible.
My experience liturgical has been about receiving and non-liturgical doing.
The verbage at the Lutheran church I am a member of consists of Christ died for you, His forgiveness is for you. This word is delivered by sermon, in communion, baptism, and corporate confession/absolution. If you listen to the routine words and scripture quoted every week they bleed Christs blood and forgiveness. These gifts are for YOU. A subtle point that gets missed is that the general gospel proclamation, instead of only being stated as a general proclamation is proclaimed to YOU. He has died for YOU. This is the diet of the members and the “new” good news to non-believers. This diet of gospel saturated service has consequences as the bible states, “the gospel is the power of God”. God promises it will bear fruit. Lutherans trust that and don’t focus the sermons on how to make fruit.
In the non-liturgical services I have attended the focus was not on the above but on did you make a decision and then what are you doing to strengthen your relationship with Christ. 6 part series on prayer, 6 part series on bible reading, 6 month series on how a man should be like Daniel.
Someone above stated that the liturgy is a barrier to hearing the gospel. I disagree. I have sat through many (most) non-liturgical sermons and podcasts that talk about the Christian without talking about the Christ and what he has done FOR US. My wife and I attended a large, very successful free evangelical bible church sometime ago over the holidays. After the sermon I asked her “what did you think?” She said “I did not hear anything about Jesus or especially His cross”.
Sean asked how liturgical churches welcome people from other traditiions. In many Catholic churches, most of us would not know that there are people attending the Mass that were non-Catholic or even non-Christian because Masses can be large and people from outside the community will attend if they are in the area on business or pleasure. Maybe the person sitting/standing beside the stranger would guess that the person is not familiar with the liturgy if the new-comer appeared confused by the sitting/standing/kneeling routine. In my particular local church, they may feel welcomed during the reading of the Lord’s Prayer in which we all hold hands as we pray. After that, we shake hands with the people around us and say “Peace be with you.” At the end of the Mass, before we leave, my local priest asks any visitors if they would like to introduce themselves and as they do, we applaud them. But I have never heard any non-Catholic stand up and introduce themselves. It’s always something like, “My name is Bob Smith and this is my wife Mary and my child John and we are visiting our family here. We are from the Sanford area from the ___________ parish.” There is a note in the bulletin giving people a number to call if they are interested in becoming Catholic. There are also office hours given and they could call to set a time to meet with the priest to talk about Christianity/Catholicism. The priest may refer them to the person who does more of the teaching within the parish.
Throughout the Mass itself, they will hear the Gospel message in the prayers, the readings, and hopefully the homily. They may not know that they are not supposed to receive Communion, but if they DID know that, they could still go forward and receive a blessing from the priest. I understand the idea of “closed” Communion, but I also feel that it does feel unwelcoming and I have heard of numbers of people who became Catholic after receiving the Eucharist a number of times and feeling that there was something happening to them that led to them becoming Catholic.
I would also contest the assertion that non-sacramental worship produces “loosely associated gatherings without substantive unity” where decisions to join or not are based on “an array of other, tertiary, and personal concerns” any more than does sacramental/liturgical worship.
I live in a country where Roman Catholicism still dominates the religious landscape, and generally, the non-sacramental, non-liturgical free churches are more about committed community than your typical Roman Catholic or Lutheran parish (where 90% of the people on the rolls show up only for baptism, first communion, confirmation, weddings, and funerals; where no-one is denied confirmation for not having set foot in church before, etc.).
The free churches are committed communities, not because they believe that only through the sacraments they can obtain salvation, but because the “informational factoid of sin forgiven for Christâ€™s sake” is not all they take from the Word of God, but also the equally important “informational factoid” that the Body of Christ is manifest in their local congregation, and that it is in that community that God intends them to live as those forgiven for Christ’s sake.
Over against that I see Roman Catholics who are strong believers in the efficacy of the sacraments, but who disagree with various stances of the church, who go to mass the way I go to McDonalds: as a source of “spiritual fast food”. It is no more community to them than the other diners at McDonalds are to me. If the church had a drive-through communion rail, they would avail themselves of it.
The standard protocol in most Lutheran churches would be to catechize (instruct) those wanting to join the congregation in the meaning and theology of liturgical worship and the Sacraments.
As to non Christian visitors, technically, the worship service isn’t for them in the sense that the worship of the Lord is not dictated by their tastes, understanding, comfort etc. The idea of worship as primarily evangelism and the ‘welcoming’ of the unchurched is relatively new in the history of the church. Worship may function in a secondary or tertiary sense as evangelism, but that is not its main function. Worship is an intimate thing between God and His children. Efforts are made in most churches to make the service clear and easier to follow by printing the whole service in the bulletin, or with verbal prompts from the pastor in conjunction hymn boards and such.
Also, roughly 90% of the liturgy is Scripture passages strung together in a particular order, so those hearing are immersed in God’s Word. God is able to speak through His word to anyone who hears it.
In the congregation I attend, and the previous one, no words of welcome or any such thing were uttered at the beginning of the service. The music stops and the Pastor says “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” to which the congregation replies “Amen!” and we hit the ground running. Announcements and words of welcome usually come during the offering or after the final Amen.
It took me a few years to memorize the services, but now I don’t really need the hymnal except for the hymns. It opened up whole new dimensions of worship when I could put the book down and worship in unison with the congregation. Its like a language, the best method of learning is immersion.
A brilliant essay of stunning clarity. Thanks.
How about non-Christians? Do you expect them to come? Do you invite them? How would you explain the liturgy to a person who is potentially interested in Christ for the first time? Should it be a part of the conversion experience?
With the western thought is going, postmodern with emphasis on authentic experience and community and art rather than objective truth, I feel like liturgical churches have a ton to offer by way of evangelism. People want an experience, an encounter. Liturgy is tactile. God is to be present in the liturgy/sacraments (correct?)
So, is the Gospel being offered to the world through liturgy? Is this a conversation that takes place in liturgical churches?
Obviously this is an important question to me. I know enough churches that are too much of the social club variety, always worried about keeping their own house in order while neglecting the mandate of the great commission. For all of the beauty and transcendence that can be offered, I would hate for Gospel believing liturgical churches to be the same.
(For the little I know about it, this is why I love the AMiA, for example)
And here’s where I’m cold, unwelcoming, divisive and basically chasing you out with a broom.
So you’re not a member of any particular church, but you call into whatever one is convenient as you’re passing, and if you feel like it and more importantly, if you feel like they’ve made you feel valued and welcomed, you’ll stroll up to take the wafer in whatever method it is distributed in that particular congregation.
This is not partaking in the family meal, because they’re not your family – you’re not a member of that church/parish/congregation. This is not the visiting relative, because you’re not a member of any church, so you’re not a member of denomination X in town Y who happens to be working/visting town Z going to a sister church of that denomination.
This is not you declaring any particular adherence to any particular view of the Eucharist or the Church or what it might mean.
This is you – what? Saying that if they’re going to have audience participation, it should apply to everyone in the audience? Passing strangers who may or may not be baptised, Christians or even interested in becoming Christian but should still be eligible to receive the (at its most basic) symbolic representation that all here are members of the one Body, and are partaking of the Body of Christ?
It may be radical hospitality and it may be the ‘ultimate altar call’ but it is not the understanding of the Church from its earliest days, when the catechumens were sent out even before the consecration because the Sacred Mysteries were reserved for the fully initiated.
Even if we take what Peter said on Pentecost, it was “Repent and be baptised”, not “Well, come along to our next service and see if you like it, no conditions, no strings attached, no need to sign up for membership.”
Michael, it seemed to matter terribly much to those during the Reformation on both sides who were willing to go to the stake on this and other matters.
If it is a sacrament, then it is a tangible means of real grace.
If it is an ordinance, then it is like singing in church – part of the work of praising God, but nobody (I think) ever said that fifteen verses of a hymn granted you grace to persevere in the Christian life or forgave you sin.
Mike, well written essay.
Two points. First, I’m not sure it’s helpful to label non-liturgical churches as revivalist. Certainly both non-liturgical practice and non-sacramental theology predated Moody and Finney and the others.
Secondly, it should perhaps be emphasized that the fundamental question is not which model of worship (sacramental or non-sacramental) we find most helpful or best. The fundamental question is what the New Testament teaches about the sacraments. Is the Lord’s supper indeed taught to be the means by which God’s grace is given objectively and literally? And what precisely do those two adjectives mean in this context?
I, for one, have heard the arguments for this type of sacramentalism and remain unconvinced.
You present a beautiful picture of this type of worship (in fact, more clearly and compellingly than others I have read). It is a radiant cathedral you depict. But until I am convinced to trust the foundation it is built upon, I cannot enter.
Nice topic. Lots of thoughts, but I’ll stick to one: “Fencing the Table.” I’m throwing this out without claiming much knowledge.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple of decades in fairly conservative Presbyterian churches where Communion is reserved for “members in good standing of bible-believing churches” or some variation of same. I understand the motivation: prevent those who might take communion “in an unworthy manner” from “eating and drinking destruction upon themselves”. Did I get the quotes basically right? More about protecting the potential communicant than the sacrament. I think. And of course there’s a whole spectrum of views and practices.
Personally, I find it very unwelcoming. I’m not a member of any church, as it happens. Some of my favorite churches don’t practice membership. When I hear this, I often pass on communion just because it puts me in a foul enough state of mind that I think I’m in some danger of proceeding in a “unworthy manner.”
How much better to explain that by taking communion you are admitting your culpability in Christ’s death, even to the point of participating in breaking his body, yet without this, you have no part in Him? Communion should be the ultimate alter call.
First off, a caveat- as we all know, practices will vary from congregation to congregation.
That being said, how do you “welcome” anybody? You simply are friendly and welcoming. You do not give off a secluded air, nor proffer a cold shoulder. I have found that if you have someone, somewhere, in the church give a nice welcome, the ice breaks rather quick.
Besides, we should as Christians be welcoming- for all of mankind are creations of God, and God desires that all men might come unto salvation. And as those who have been and are being transformed by the Love of God, we who have been shown love must give it to all peoples.
Now, as to how newcomers and non-Christians are introduced to the mysteries? The overall answer is simple: Immersion. By having a person consistently attend the Liturgy, for the beliefs of the Church are expressed in her worship. By mentoring the person- hearing their questions and giving answers. By helping them develop a prayer life which is not so much separate from the Liturgy, but rather is an extension of it throughout the week.
And now for the not-so-simple answer. Each individual is different, and thus they must be taken care of individually. For some, it is merely an explanation of various rituals and gestures. For others, it may be an in-depth theological wrestling match. And even for others, it is merely preparing them for a new life, of which they have never tasted before.
Like in cooking, timing is key. Liturgical worship is a unified worship: Hearing the same Word, praying the same prayers, partaking of the same Supper, etc. It is being united by the Spirit, in the bond of peace. As such, when introducing someone who is unfamiliar with liturgical traditions, one does not wish to merely rush the experience, nor does one want to take so long that you burn the person out. One must “grow” into it, so to speak. To paraphrase what a pastor once said:
“Learning the liturgy is like learning a new dance. At first, it is really awkward; you’re not quite sure what you’re doing, what others are doing, and what you’re supposed to be doing. You fumble around a lot, and you make some mistakes. With practice, however, you discover the rhythm of the dance and you learn its steps. Eventually, it becomes second nature to you, and you find yourself wondering how you ever did not know this dance.”
Like many northeast Evangelicals, I was raised Catholic (and was a good, church-going Catholic boy at that), then had a conversion experience under the preaching of the Gospel at age 19.
For a few years I was very, very angry with Catholicism, since I never heard my need for Gospel and to know the Lord personally there. EVERYBODY I knew was born & raised Catholic and, and nobody ever had any hint of caring about Jesus. I felt betrayed and liked to for the first 19 years of my life. I participated in Catholic forums online trying to figure out what it was I was *supposed* to be believing that whole time. The strong Catholics railed at me for never owning it, and that my poor catechesis was my own fault. Maybe so, but I still couldn’t buy it.
Only in the last few years, after some maturing and deeper reading and studying have I begun to understand that catholic/liturgical positions. I definitely owe my renewal/awakening/born-again experience to the Evangelical/revivalist stream. Doesn’t mean I’ll stay there; doesn’t mean I won’t. But I value drawing from stream from which the Gospel is proclaimed more than I ever have before.
oops, I said “harmonies” when I meant to say, “homilies”! Excuse me; I think it’s past my bedtime! 🙂 Blessings, friend.
Mike, phrases like the one you are quoting above, â€œBy the Word, forgiveness is not obtained in an abstract, disembodied, self-serve way; …” and “When the gospel is reduced to being an item of information, the effect is the almost complete exorcism of Godâ€™s word from the church” strike me as severe and judgemental barbs meant to hurt. I have to wonder from what terribly negative experience the “Rev.” Mills’ hostility originates. I appreciate your humility as you set forth your views and invite dialogue, and I understand that perhaps Mills was not writing with dialogue in mind, but as more of an authoritative essay to which he had a determined conclusion to espouse. But not only is his representation of nondenominational evangelical worship completely off-balance, it is a false representation and divisive for no purpose of edification for the Body of Christ, His Bride, which I pray you still agree we will one day find ourselves united in enjoying as one. Having been raised in liturgical churches, having continued to participate over the years in them as a professional singer, but having carefully and prayerfully continued to worship (and grow spiritually) in a revivalist church as you both refer to it, I have to say that I choose to stay in such a church precisely BECAUSE with the help of my church, the gospel is all around me, alive and permeating every aspect of my life, 24/7, AND I am convicted, encouraged and supported in pursuing time in the Word, time in personal worship and prayer, as well as vibrant corporate praise and worship with the Body. For me the liturgical church was for 20 years and remains whenever I go back and give it another go, primarily filled with dead and rotting corpses, holding on to the vain hope that their church attendance would carry them through to eternity on some sort of insurance policy plan, satisfied in worshipping the bells and whistles, sounds and smells of religion in the hour on a Sunday they came to “receive” all that God was so eager to hand them in exchange for a token placed in an offering plate passed during a special number. Do I sound hostile? I don’t mean to be, for I go intending to worship the Lord and find Him there in the rich passages of scripture, in the readings of prayers, the chanting of psalms, rich hymns and brief but poignant harmonies, and especially in the beautiful and powerful eucharist. I wish I could have both worlds, but I must choose the one which exacts the greatest change in the life of the sinner, and I have found it to be the revivalist tradition.
But if I am breaking bread in a Lutheran church (those that let me) or a Baptist church, my heart attitude is the same. In both I am saying that I identify with Christ and his suffering, and rejoice in the fact that through his death I have forgiveness of sins.
Not trying to be difficult here. Just genuinely trying to understand.
In sacramental understanding, Michael, God actually, objectively gives us salvation through the Word and tangible elements of the sacraments.
Read the quote from Rev. Mills again: “By the Word, forgiveness is not obtained in an abstract, disembodied, self-serve way; but delivered as the cleansing, healing, enlivening activity of God in the flesh of Christ for his people gathered by his word and ministered in sacramental presence.”
Sean, I think it would be best if some of our more seasoned sacramentalists answered that question. So, I’ll send the call out here. Those of you in sacramental churchesâ€”how are newcomers and non-Christians welcomed and introduced to the mysteries?
I think I should clarify further.
By evangelism, I don’t mean whether or not a person would hear a “gospel message” with an altar call. I’m interested in how a person would be received and welcomed, whether space was made for welcoming and explaining things to visitors (and not assuming everyone is a Christian), and frankly whether a person might feel as he or she experienced something of God.
I’m glad that I’ve been able to experience a lot of different worship settings in a relatively short time as a Christian. I’ve felt “at home” in different settings at different times in my journey so far. I have yet to delve into the liturgical understanding, but I am growing hungry for something on a deeper and more tactile level.
My biggest question is this- how does liturgy relate to evangelism? Whenever I measure the pro’s/con’s of different worship environments, I always end up coming back to evangelism as a deal-breaker of sorts (just my disposition/gifting I think).
CM, how does your church receive non-believers and new believers? Could someone who’s not a seasoned Christian and without a liturgical/symbolic mindset grab ahold of something about the Gospel? How do you think it would come off? Or is the worship experience something that only believers should be concerned about, leaving evangelism (relationally speaking) to the “scatter” portion of “gather-scatter”?
Very interested in your thoughts.
And just for fun, here’s a (badly paraphrased) gem from one of my seminary professors who loves symbolism & ritual, and teaches about it cross-culturally: “There are three levels to the Eucharist. The first is the literal level, for which we have the bread. The second is the metaphorical level, where we see Jesus as present in the Eucharist. The third level is Jesus’ suffering, which can only be expressed non-linguistically. Only in ritual and the arts can we touch something that human speech cannot adequately communicate.”
As you can see, these two approaches to worship reflect not a difference in style but in actual substance.
Quite frankly. I don’t see it. Is there a substantive difference between “fed” and “nourished”? Does it really matter if we call the Lord’s supper a sacrament or an ordinance?
Shei, it may be that some are moving beyond traditional distinctions. This has not been my experience. Where I am, there is a strong dividing wall between sacramental and non-sacramental churches.
I’m sorry if using the word “liturgical” was confusing. I was using it in the popular sense. I too believe all churches have a liturgy. But in common usage, liturgical refers to those churches who order their service around Word and Sacrament in a sacramental sense, whereas “non-liturgical” or “free” churches follow a more revivalistic pattern and are non-sacramental.
The reason I used the word “liturgical” is that in common evangelical usage, it represents to many a more formal style, akin to “traditional,” in contrast to what they would see as more free, spontaneous, and in many cases, contemporary.
Fantastic. This is just the clarity I needed tonight and adds on to everything I have seen today.
I do not quite understand what you are trying to say. How is Chaplain Mike setting up a false dualism? What do you mean by such phrases as “Euro-centric Western styles and forms” and “renewalist liturgy”? I am genuinely confused.
I find these words to be a summary of my viewpoint concerning this matter:
“The real “action” in the liturgy in which we are all supposed to participate is the action of God Himself. This is what is new and distinctive about the Christian liturgy: God Himself acts and does what is essential.”
– Pope Benedict XVI
I think you are claiming a false dualism. Many renewalist (pentecostal/charismatic) churches in practice have an embodied liturgy (all churches have a liturgy – Euro-centric western Christian styles and forms DO NOT own the word!).
The sacramentalism is in the rejection of gnostic tendencies regarding the body and in-filling spirit. Often the high point in renewalist liturgy flows out of preaching and the Lord’s supper into ministry of prayer one to another as people filled by the spirit.
Moreover many newer younger churches intentional tear down the wall you are constructing. My church is renewalist and liturgical (in your narrow use of the word).
Just sayin… it may have worked in for division in the 80s and earlier…but doesn’t hold much water in new churches not controlled by the church growth movements.
Well said. I have tried to describe this distinction to my non-Lutheran family members and have been unsuccessful.