How we worship…and does it matter? (Pt. 1)

Henri-Le-Secq-Chalice-ca-1850-painting-artwork-printWhen the subject of worship “style” comes up, people generally start getting antsy. We stop listening and begin forming our objections. The young among us say, “I can worship any way I like.” The more mature, recognizing the self-centeredness of statements like this, will rightly counter with Paul’s limitations on Christian liberty, (1 Cor. 10:23-33) but go on to say, “How we worship is optional, subject to the preferences of the unbeliever, and not mandated by Scripture.” Whether or not that is true will be the subject of a later post.

Let us suspend those arguments for a moment and ask why worship matters… Passages of Scripture that immediately come to mind include the first two commandments, the Psalms, the practice of Jesus both in private and corporate worship (In the gospels we often see Jesus in the synagogue, temple, & private prayer. Jesus begins his ministry at Baptism and ends it with instituting the Lord’s Supper before going out to pray on his way to the Cross to lay down his life. The life of Jesus is surrounded and ordered by worship.) In the book of Revelation, the last thing we are doing is engaged in the “chief end” of humanity, in the words of the Westminster Confession, “to worship God and enjoy him forever.”  Indeed, It appears an inescapable fact that all humans, regardless of religion or irreligion, worship something. We were made to worship.

How then, I wonder, can we say, that the manner in which we worship does not matter? Unless, of course, the object of our worship does not matter.

What if we assume three things about worship, simply because it is true of all of the Christian life: First, that what other Christians have done and thought through time is relevant. We stand on the shoulders of giants. Asking how those who stood closest to Jesus worshiped, is surely wise. Second, that the aspirations of our youngest members is relevant, since they will carry the baton when we are gone. Third, that we are part of a universal church, “one holy catholic and apostolic,” …that we are umbilically tied to every Christian in every corner of the globe, so their practice is also relevant.

Interestingly, On all three of those assumptions, the question arises, “What about liturgy?” After all, It is the way the first Christians worshiped and is the worship pattern enjoyed by 90% of all Christians who have ever walked the earth. Liturgy is also making a comeback among young evangelicals in unlikely places like PhoenixOne, a 1000 person young adult gathering, and on the stage of the church that invented the non-denominational “seeker movement,” Willow Creek. Third, it is the form of worship utilized by 2/3 of the Christians on the planet today. So you might want to check liturgical worship out, if only to see what the cool people are doing. Ok, so I’m joking. Sort of.

The most important thing about liturgy is that it isn’t taught, it’s caught…or, more accurately, something you get caught-up in it…like being tossed into a cold swimming pool by the older kids in elementary school.

The Greek word leitourgia comes from two root words – laos, “the people”, and ergas, “a work”. Therefore, you will hear it said that liturgy is “the work of the people.” That’s a little bit true since liturgy is participatory…the term “pew aerobics” comes to mind. Liturgy does involve all of you in worship – your whole body, which is important because our hearts and heads follow our bodies. You know that intuitively if you have raised your hands or bowed down in worship.

But “work that people do” is not really the meaning of “liturgy” at all. leitourgia was the word to describe an act of public service initiated by a wealthy benefactor. For instance, a person of means might build a temple and foot the bill, but the work itself benefited the community. Any public work done in service to the gods, but for the benefit of the community was liturgy. So liturgy is work dedicated to God, initiated for people, and which serves to transform the worldand that is the big meaning: liturgy is about the faith community being transformed for the purpose of going out and transforming the lost world. And a transformed community that couldn’t stop sharing the Good News is exactly how 11 scared dudes turned the most powerful empire in the world upside down in less than 300 years.

So liturgical worship is for God, transforms us, and benefits a lost world. Who wouldn’t want that?


9 thoughts on “How we worship…and does it matter? (Pt. 1)

  1. Excellent, excellent post. With post-modernism and emerging church movements, it wasn’t just orthodoxy that came to be questioned, but orthopraxy…how we worship and live out our faith…suffered, as well. It’s a conversation I have often amongst my evangelical friends…I grew up in the UMC; ordained as a Baptist pastor; walked the Canterbury Trail to Anglicanism; and eventually found my way back to the UMC…largely because there wasn’t a local Anglican body, and the local community we live in is well loved and served by the local UMC. I’m hoping for the liturgical revival to hit our small church, and am doing my part by leading a discipleship group that is focusing on related topics…the church year, the sacraments, liturgies, historical roots, etc.

    • Thank you, Lee! It is a beautiful thing to find a community loved and served by the church. What books are you using for that? Maybe I can get you to warm up our local UMC guy. We are trying to move our church plant. While several large evangelicals are asking us to come for free, the local mainline churches don’t want to take our rent money. Pretty weird. We would gladly go with the big evangelical friends but they are located a ways from our neighborhood and many of our folks don’t drive, so it makes it difficult for them to see it as “their church.”

      • The church I attend is well-established in a rural community…about 100 people normally attend. It was, and remains, pretty much the social center of the community. As our population has grown more transient (we’re a bedroom community for Athens, GA, home of UGa), we’ve had several church members take on the responsibility of visiting, along with building and maintaining relationships. Honestly, they didn’t follow any model or have a system, other than doing what they saw their parents do as representatives of the faith in this area….caring for folks. There’s also an emphasis on meeting felt needs…active food and clothing ministries, toy and backpack giveaways for kids annually, etc. I also see that there isn’t the typical desire to reach commuters…even though we don’t call our community a parish, it definitely operates within a well-defined, small geographic area.

        As far as lessons I’m teaching…I like writing my own lessons…I find I know and teach the material better if I do. We’re currently in the series on the church calendar, and I’ve used Robert Webber’s “Ancient-Future Time”, Sister Joan Chittister’s “The Liturgical Year”, and also use, my favorite website ever, as a great resource.

        Next, I plan to cover the sacraments. I love David DeSilva’s “Sacramental Life”, and plan to use it as a resource pretty heavily. I am a liturgical nerd in the truest sense, and hope to be a quiet force that helps lead our congregation toward traditional practices…weekly Eucharist, acolytes, smells and bells :o). I remind our discipleship group on a weekly basis that our roots are Anglican, and these are things that Anglicans, and Wesley, do and have done.

        I actually took a year off from ministry, studied church history and practices during that time, and was eventually ordained as a deacon within a new province in the ACNA (don’t worry…as an outsider coming in, I didn’t have any animosity toward the EC). I was preparing for the priesthood, doing training at a church a little over an hour from home, and babies started coming. My wife and I just found ourselves unable to participate in the life of the church. We were working on a church plant ourselves for a while, but it just didn’t get off the ground. Or, maybe I just wasn’t the guy for the job. Maybe I’ll ask God about that someday…We’ll see. Eventually, we decided to attend the local UMC that I grew up in.

        There is an ACNA plant in Rome, GA…St. Andrew’s…That has very successfully built a relationship with an established UMC in that area, and rents space from them on Sunday mornings. From what the priest tells me, it has been a mutually beneficial relationship…attendance has increased for both, the UMC receives a small portion of their tithes.and offerings, in addition to some set rent, and the two bodies have had a few shared events that were enjoyed by all. Even though the UMC doesn’t always use their liturgies, the ones they have are almost identical to the 1979 BCP. There is a great deal of common ground between Anglicanism and Methodism.

        I’m sure you guys have strategic goals for growth and that type of thing, as a plant. My personal desire was to see a neighborhood church in Athens, where families could walk to church…kind of a throwback. I read a quote from Robert Kennedy a few years back, talking about the incredible advances of American culture in relation to the rest of the world, and he said “Our goal should not be bigness, but to invite people into the warmth of community.” This kind of flies in the face of church growth models, but I think it’s what we, as a community, should do. I can tell by your writing (I’ve followed a while) that you likely feel the same way.

        Wow, I just wrote a blog post. Sorry about that.

        • Hi Lee,
          Nice blog post! I have a personal commitment to be friends across judicatory lines, so no apologies are necessary on this blog. Heck, some of my best friends are ACNA. :o)

          I actually came in just after the split, so I have very little skin in the game. I think that in 20 years, we will probably be on the way to being reconnected anyway.

          You are right on my being sympatico with warmth. I have an old-school YL background. The old YL mission statement had the image of a community of people who were so loved by God that they love each other and are constantly inviting others into that community with them.

          I like all of those books, but have not seen the website. Have you read Mark Galli’s “Beyond Smells and Bells”?

          How did you stumble across an Episcopalian in Arizona’s blog anyway?


          • Love Galli. My niece, who is Catholic, has laid claim to my copy of “Beyond Smells and Bells”, and I’m not sure I’ll ever see it again. Actually just added his book on the Church Fathers to my Amazon wishlist.

            How did I find your blog? Well, again, I am a complete nerd for liturgy. I found your blog during lunch one day when I did a google search for some phrase that likely included some combination of the words “eucharist”, “liturgy”, “Anglican”, and “blog”. In other words, by either complete chance, or perhaps, through divine providence. I think the post I found was the first in the “cool church” series, which was very well-received by several of the young adults at our church.

            I think you’ll enjoy Full Homely Divinity. Lots of good info on Anglican liturgy and tradition, and more than you ever wanted to know about Lady Julian of Norwich.


  2. Hi. I’ve only recently come across your work via a MeetUp notification that I recently received by email. A google search brought me here. I’m not a believer, but do hold that it is important to engage these things in a civil, compassionate and generous fashion. So, just a couple of questions based on this:

    “Indeed, It appears an inescapable fact that all humans, regardless of religion or irreligion, worship something. We were made to worship.”

    First, I’d be interested in how you’re defining “worship” here.

    Second, on the matter of the “inescapable fact;” what is the rationale for how you came to that conclusion?

    Thanks, very much. I’m looking forward to talking with you.

    PS: Coincidentally, I’m sitting in Lola Coffee Bar having a pot of tea and doing some work, as I found you and write. I have fond childhood memories of the cathedral down the street.

    • Hi Wade,
      I was just meeting someone in Lola. I’ll bet we were there at the same time! Thank you for your respectful question. I think the universality of religiosity in humans is relatively near to self-evident…as is our desire to give ourselves to something greater than ourselves. The question then becomes are we giving ourselves to the right things and people. Maybe we can grab coffee some time since we are in proximity.

  3. Hi Matt – I apologize for the delay in my response. I have a number of these kinds of things going on and if I’m not getting email notifications, it sometimes takes a while for me to remember to get back here. Your suggestion regarding coffee sounds great. I’m out of town next week, though accessible via email and – of course – through this site. I’m give myself a reminder to check back. Otherwise, I’m not sure how you feel about people dropping their email addresses here. I look forward to addressing your intriguing ideas and questions. In the meantime, take care. -Wade

    PS: It appears that “dropping an email” is part of the required submission process. Please feel free to email me directly if you like 8)

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