Honest Q & A: Church (1) – Liturgy, or Not?

A few of the questions submitted in Honest Q & A have fallen within the very general category of church. Here’s the first question in this category:

What is the appropriate balance between the conflicting trends in the church of the return to tradition (“liturgy is hip,” etc.) and the disillusionment with any kind of structure at all (“church is just people”)?

To give a short, pithy answer, we might say that the appropriate balance is to “make sure we are striving for balance.” Period. For those with the patience for something far less succinct, that answer can be explained. It hinges on the fact that both sides in this discussion have strengths and weaknesses to keep in mind.

In one sense, liturgy, meaning “a prescribed form or set of forms for public religious worship” (Houghton-Mifflin), or the lack thereof, is a neutral issue. We might suppose, therefore, that we can do whatever we want. The Bible doesn’t demand a great deal of liturgy or any particular type. This can be deceiving. Self-deceiving, in fact.

The problem rests in our motivation. Some people are prompted to exquisite heights of worshipful delight via more formal practices and surroundings. Others, in the same setting, feel inauthentic. They need something considerably more “homey” to get the same vibe.   It’s when liturgy turns into “mere” formality that it becomes a cover for hypocrisy. And, let’s face it, saying “church is just people” can be misleading, since church also includes God and the awe we should rightly have in his presence.

We may find the answer to our question in Acts 2:42, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (ESV). The worship and practice of the earliest church was admittedly not very formal, but it was not “without form and void.” If these things mentioned are in place and are sincerely practiced, infused with the power of the Holy Spirit, then all should be well. It’s when we cast off all restraint in the name of authenticity, or adopt liturgy to create a religious feel and then confuse that with an actual love of God that we get into trouble.

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