Modern worship, the early church and tradition.
In many ways, liturgy is the opposite of modern worship forms. Let me describe modern worship for a moment. (And I really am attempting to describe rather than criticize.) Today worship in most of evangelical America follows what is known as the “Relevant” model – “worship” as several songs and a sermon. This model utilizes the connecting points of our culture in order to be “outsider friendly.” The connecting point where today’s culture engages with one another are the coffee house, the concert hall, and the comedy club. When you think about your church, how many of those are present? The “relevant” liturgy is essentially horizontal and aimed at relating to the unchurched. It is referred to in many churches as a worship “experience.” The goal of “relevant” worship is to alter the delivery method toward the styles and events people prefer without altering the message. The standard objection is, “What is wrong with that? Don’t you want non-Christians to be comfortable in church?” The answer, and this is coming from a missional person who has spent his career in evangelistic ministry, is “Not really.” Let me explain…
Liturgy in many ways is exactly the opposite of the modern church. Liturgy is focused, not on the outsider but the insider – the person already committed to Jesus. Not that liturgy doesn’t sometimes speak powerfully through symbol to the non-believer, especially in this post-modern age. However, the goal of liturgical worship is to make believers specifically uncomfortable; To involve us physically in order focus us vertically on the greatness and grandeur and holiness of the triune God. In that way it is a Romans 12:1 experience “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” From that uncomfortable worship that unraveled our idolatrous image that we are the center of the universe, the early followers of Jesus went into the highways and byways telling the world the Good News of Jesus that was transforming them in their daily time with God and their practice for heaven each week in the liturgy.
The liturgy isn’t mine or yours. It isn’t endlessly malleable by the church staff to do whatever they want in church. In short, it’s not about what we like or what we “prefer.” The shape of the liturgy was handed to us by the earliest Christians. They borrowed the pattern of Word and Sacrament from the Jewish synagogue and temple. We find hints of it in the New Testament and see it laid out in detail by 150 A.D. And don’t miss the significance of this – when we read what those writers describe, they describe it as already ancient, established practice. (You can read Ignatius from 110 CE, Justin Martyr from 150 CE, Clement from 200 CE, and Hippolytus from 225 CE.) Most of the church has followed that pattern since then, because, when your heart is surrendered to God, liturgy works.
Perhaps you have a sense of curiosity about the ancient ways of the faith. I would encourage you to go experience those ways at a church that is thoughtfully liturgical. I would be most surprised if you do not find it spirit-lifting, even though much of the symbolism is subtle and will probably be missed the first few times through.
So go old-school this year: Come worship with us!