The Evangelical Liturgy

liturgyThis post was going to be a followup to Friday’s post – , but then I got unexpectedly called into work for an extended period of time. I do want to continue on this theme, but with the time I had left I could not do it justice. I will be following up with Chaplain Mike on when I can best complete this.

Instead, I was drawn to one of the comments of Friday’s post in which the writer reminded us that Evangelicals have liturgy too: It just looks quite different. This in turn reminded me of Michael Spencer’s series on Evangelical liturgy which we have mentioned a few times over the last several years. I realized that we had no “table of contents” to the entire series, so I thought I would redeem the time and create one here.

1. The Worship Setting
2. The Tools
3. The Leaders
4. The Congregation
5. The Prelude
6. The Call To Worship
7. The Invocation
8. The Public Reading of Scripture
9. Singing
10. The Children’s Sermon
11. The Corporate Confession
12. The Assurance of Pardon
13. The Offering
14. The Sermon
15. The Creeds
16. Baptism
17. The Lord’s Supper
18. The Prayers of the People
19. The Pastoral Prayer
20. Silence
21. The Invitation
22. The Benediction
23. The Postlude

I would encourage you to read the introduction and then read and comment on whichever of the twenty three elements catches your attention.

21 thoughts on “The Evangelical Liturgy

  1. I’m glad that you’ve found a congenial church home. It’s good to have a home, as well as a direction home.

    Though I prefer traditional liturgical worship, I tend to agree with you, that God rocks one’s boat, whatever one may prefer. That’s because God is far more like a tiger in a boat (like that movie, Pi) than a veal in a box.

    But as far as spiritual evolution goes, well….I by no means dismiss the idea that at one time I was evolving spiritually. It’s possible, maybe even likely, that I was, though I’m not certain. One thing of which I am certain, though, is this: whatever the case may have been, whether or not I at one time was evolving spiritually, I’m most definitely at a stage in my life when I’m without question spiritually devolving.

    And I’m okay with that, I’m okay. I’ve relaxed into it, because I’m finding that devolution provides a great perspective from which to look forward to resurrection, and decline, as opposed to growth, is the necessary precondition of the death which issues in new life.

    “Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die…”


  2. I’m glad the tradition lives. The few times I’ve been in a Catholic church over the past decade or two, that was not my experience, but then again, they were special occasions, not Sunday Mass. My father was not a very religious or quiet man, but he was quiet as the proverbial church mouse at Mass on Sundays, when we went. I attribute that to his childhood spent in Italy, where a good part of his religious instruction must simply have been to be quiet and sit still, which, when you think about it, is a good part of any serious religious instruction.


  3. Have been in my new home one month now. Have been to church three times in that month, this after going to church probably two times in the last twenty years, not counting funerals. Were those twenty years lost and wasted? Not at all, I figure I ended up way farther along my path than if I had dutifully continued weekly church attendance, way closer to God, absolutely no regrets. Did the lack of communion hurt me, leave me worse off, weaker, less able to follow the Holy Spirit in my spiritual evolution? Not as far as I can determine. If anything I believe I’m further along.

    But this is entirely an individual reaction. I consider myself on a path totally unique and designed just for me. That is why I can’t resonate with most of the responses here and in this general ongoing discussion of liturgy vs “free form” evangelicalism. Different strokes. Different people need different settings and lessons depending on where they are in their spiritual growth. It’s all good in an ultimate sense. I think God is able to work with whatever rocks your boat.

    I went to a Methodist church first because it was closest. Extremely friendly people who apparently gather each week to love their neighbor. I went away hungry in my spiritual stomach, but bless the congregation for demonstrating the love of God. I have no reason to go back for myself but am glad they are there doing what they are doing. The community is richer for it as are the congregants, maybe fifty in number, maybe the youngest in their thirties aside from one high school age girl..

    I next went to the local ELCA Lutheran church and was one of a dozen worshippers, youngest in their fifties and many in their seventies. Very warm welcome, open communion, took me back to the last ongoing positive church experience in Oregon in an ELCA Lutheran church. Planned to go to the Evangelical church next but I went back to the Lutheran, taking right up where I left of twenty-five years ago. I still plan to visit around. but I think I’ve found a home.

    I think much of this discussion depends on who you are and where you are, both in your spiritual evolution and in the actual community you find yourself in. One size does not fit all.


  4. At the risk of falling into the “my church does it right” trap, I am somewhat mystified by this longing. Yes, hymnals and silence are out of fashion. But there are any number of unfashionable churches out there. You just have to go looking.


  5. Communion once a WEEK, max?

    Before St Boniface discontinued its 6:30 AM daily Mass, I took Communion every DAY during Lent.


  6. I grew up as a a Cold War kid genius.
    AKA just a giant brain in a jar, no kid attached.
    It can really mess you up.


  7. Oh, and Silence…. What was that again? Explain that to me… Oh, that’s too Mystical/Catholic/clericalist/stifling…



  8. When I was an Evangelical, in the congregations I was in the Presbyterian church was not viewed as Evangelical. All Mainlines were suspect; not as much as Catholics, but suspect nonetheless. I will therefore exclude my time in the Presbyterian church.

    I was involved at length in CoC, instruments allowed (my then fiance’s church, visited often), American Baptist,Calvary Chapel, Vineyard, and Evangelical Free Church, and visited many others. Here is what I found to be common to them all, what would be counted on to be done every Sunday, once the “action” had begun:

    Pastoral Prayer
    Postlude/Final Song

    None served Communion every week except CoC. Some had a prelude, others not. Baptism was done when there were people to be baptized; this also had a ritual, depending on the church – though the people in all those churches would have been horrified at even the suggestion that they were doing anything that was the “R” word. Rarely was there an Invocation at the very beginning, although the preacher would pray before the sermon. When done at all, the Call to Worship was an extremely informal exhortation to worship by the worship leader just before the singing started. The only public reading of scripture was the text for the sermon, or the pericope within which it was found, and only the preacher read it at the beginning of the sermon. (And the pastor/preacher **always** wore “street clothes.”) An assurance of pardon, when present, was part of the Invitation, not something connected to corporate confession; the only confession encouraged in most instances was the individual repentance involved with the transaction of “getting saved.”

    In the churches I attended, I never observed a Children’s sermon, corporate confession, formal “Prayers of the People,” recitation of the Creed (or the Our Father, for that matter), or Benediction (too Catholic – as many other elements in the above list would have been viewed to be). By the time I entered the wilderness, at the end of the EFree sojourn, for me the “Evangelical Liturgy” had become a very thin gruel indeed – could keep a person alive, but just barely. The “meal: was better in the Presbyterian church, especially after we switched to weekly communion, but the Calvinist origins of the Presbyterian church became more problematic for me as time went on (though my local congregation was hardly “calvinist” at all – I don’t think most of the people could have even explained what Calvinism was).

    In all those Evangelical churches, the idea that there was a “liturgy” of any kind would have been anathema. They would have insisted that what they were doing was “New Testament worship.” And since the only source of study for them would have been the bible, any attempt to show them otherwise re Jewish liturgical worship of the 1st century that the Christians inherited and modified would have been totally written off. They – and I – also totally ignored things like Acts 3, the use and meaning of the word leitourgia in the NT, and most especially John 6:50-57.



  9. “When we leave our Sunday services, what do we most often discuss?” So, where are we going for lunch???


  10. I have to agree Steve. I tend not to talk about the sermon except when the Pastor says something that I strongly disagree with, or really resonates with me, neither of which happen a lot.


  11. “When we leave our Sunday services, what do we most often discuss? I suspect it is more about what the preacher said and not what we experienced with God during that time.”

    For our congregation it is more than likely anything but what the preacher said.


  12. Torso without a head or a head without a torso, when you only are served communion once a quarter (and less if you happen to be absent that Sunday) I suspect there could be a severe case of malnourishment developing . . .


  13. So many things that Michael Spenser observes about the evangelical liturgy make me sad for what we have lost in our “contemporary worship gatherings.” I long for a return to the traditional hymnal, for silence and reverence before God as we focus our hearts upon Jesus, not the music of the praise team or the eloquence of the Pastor. When we leave our Sunday services, what do we most often discuss? I suspect it is more about what the preacher said and not what we experienced with God during that time.


  14. When I was growing up as a child in the Roman Catholic church, silence before Mass was the invariable habit of the whole congregation. If it was necessary to speak, words were whispered as briefly as possible. People actually knew how to be silent, our of respect to God, and to their pew neighbors, who, like them, immediately knelt to pray upon entering a pew and taking a seat.

    I think most of this has been lost, both in the Roman Catholic churches, and in the Protestant mainline (I’m pretty sure it’s not even a memory or hope in evangelical churches), assuming that it existed there to begin with. I don’t expect it to come back anytime soon. The habit of chattiness exhibits a real inability of people to recollect themselves, and the lack of any public space in our churches for those who want to approach God in silent and recollected prayer.


  15. In another sense, however, it could be said that all worship that ends without Holy Communion is like a head without a torso.


  16. 1)” Classic liturgy puts the Word earlier and the Supper later. This has much to commend it, but it is not required. In fact, creativity in allowing the Supper to “preach” as much as possible throughout worship is needed. It would be simple to re-orient the entire liturgy to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper from time to time.”

    I don’t think it’s possible, strictly speaking, to put sacraments before Word, since the sacraments depend on the Word, specifically, Jesus’ word and the Word Jesus, to be sacraments. Otherwise, they are just water, bread and wine.

    2) Of course evangelical churches have liturgies; that’s why in commenting I always talk either about churches with traditional liturgies or evangelical style worship. The difference is that, in traditional liturgies, the sacraments always play a more central part, the liturgy looks forward to them even when they are not celebrated every week, and the liturgy is almost always incomplete, in some sense, without at least one of them included. In the case of the Holy Communion, what Karl Barth said about a traditional liturgical service that ends without Holy Communion is very true: it’s like a torso without a head.


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