From “God and me” to “God and us”: Church Worship and Traditional Liturgy Made New

From “God and me” to “God and us”: Church Worship and Traditional Liturgy Made New

I am still far from proficient when it comes to talking, or writing, about traditional liturgy in Christian worship. I often feel like there is a really good, fancy word for how to refer to something but I simply don’t know that word. Regardless, I think I am starting to better understand the power of liturgy in Christian worship and I am finally able to describe it and talk about it in a way that I definitely wasn’t able to a few months ago. Thank you, C.S. Lewis.

My entire life, I have attended what most Christians describe as contemporary Sunday worship services. I am not just referring to the musical part of worship, but to the whole pie. Whether collective church worship happens on a Sunday, Monday morning, Wednesday night, Friday night, or Saturday at noon, it doesn’t matter because I am referring to the entirety of church worship.

To make a long story short, about four years ago I hit a wall in which I no longer understood what was the point of “church worship.” What was it about? Is it a collection of my Christian brothers and sisters doing stuff in the same place? Is it a tool to deliver the Gospel to people? Is it a musical concert with a nice message at the end? I was asking myself all those questions because “church worship” had lost its meaning. Was it just a place where we hang out together, because if it is, then isn’t that what we do in small groups? Is it a place for just teaching, because if it is, then why is it so seeker-friendly and why do we put so much emphasis on “new people?” Isn’t church worship for…the church?

I was at a bad spot. I was in a really bad spot and, instead of hitting automatic and cruising through it, my wife and I decided we were going to ask God to show us what was the point about “collective church worship.” This decision led us away from what had been our home church for many years. I had been attending that church for twelve years! Twelve years! But looking back on that decision, I am overjoyed by the journey that we have undertaken alongside the Holy Spirit, which brings me back to the point of this writing.

Even though each Christian’s experience is somewhat different, God has used traditional liturgy to powerfully reawaken my walk with Jesus and my desire to be part of worship alongside a church community. Having only experienced contemporary church worship for 28 years, it has been through liturgical worship that I have come to actually see and feel what it is like to “collectively” worship as a church and not as an individual. Let me give you some examples.

The first time I sang out loud the Doxology, I started crying and I don’t know why, but all I knew was that the entire congregation was declaring these short, simple, but powerful truths together in a way that united us as a flock and a community. The first time that I saw a pastor perform a “collective prayer” and ask the congregation for prayer requests, I understood that Sunday morning could be a time in which I could actually learn and help carry my brothers and sisters’ burdens. It was through Sunday after Sunday of a pastor or priest explaining, in detail, the significance and symbolism of the Eucharist or Communion that I finally understood why it is so important to church worship. I had never knelt to pray in church, but now we do, together as a church before the Holy Spirit, and it is a rite that brings me closer to my fellow Christian. As a final example, I have never felt the power of collective church worship more than each time that at our current church we kneel and bow to pray the Lord’s Prayer, to declare out loud the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds, to pray a Psalm together, or to read a prayer out loud as a congregation, and to receive the Eucharist.

Yes, traditional liturgy is old, and to many Christians it reminds them of the “old way of doing church.” Trust me, I thought that way too. Liturgy was just “too Catholic” for a neo-Calvinist like me; however, it has been through a journey in Presbyterian, Catholic, and Anglican churches and services that I have finally understood the power it has to bring a community of worshippers together. God used traditional liturgy to help me grasp what it is like to be in a room on Sunday morning and actually feel that we are all, collectively, as a body, and not as individuals, engaging, worshipping, and having community with the Trinity.

Having said all this, traditional liturgy maybe isn’t for everything, and I totally get it. If you’ve asked me 7 years ago to be part of an Anglican, Lutheran, or liturgical Presbyterian church, I would have laughed at you and told you why all those traditions and rituals are “too Catholic, and they are getting between you and your personal walk with Jesus.” I would have definitely said or thought something along those lines. But then I realized that the contemporary, individualism-centric, mainstream, and upbeat church worship that I had been experiencing for many years wasn’t really leading into church worship at all, because if church worship doesn’t draw your closer in fellowship with your brothers and sisters across the aisle and across the sanctuary, then why even call it church worship?

Final Thoughts: There are a lot of comments in this post to make a lot of people angry. I have a lot of friends that would question my faith knowing that I am now “down with the old school liturgy.” Additionally, some of you will read this and say, “he is bashing my church,” but that is not the case. If your contemporary church worship actually leads you into collective, communal worship, then that’s awesome. It wasn’t doing it for me. It wasn’t doing it for us.

When I think of C.S. Lewis, I used to most often think about his classic books like Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and The Chronicles of Narnia. However, it didn’t hit me until I started reading Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm that C.S. Lewis was an Anglican, and that every Sunday he went to church and worship in a traditional liturgical style that, for many years, I looked down and judged. I find it extremely humorous that God is using an element of ancient Christian worship that I ridiculed in order to bring me back into the fold, to help me better understand church community and worship, and to better grasp the role that as believers, we have in one another’s lives.

 

Advertisements

Seeking God’s Heart for This City

Seeking God’s Heart for This City

We’ve recently moved across the country and a source of constant stress and worry has been finding the right church. When we began this blog, we didn’t know we would be moving to another location so soon. Yet, here we are: new state, new city, new neighborhood, new home, no church.

Now, this is silly because we are part of the universal church. Kat and I, as Christians, belong to the world community of saints and believers that have placed their trust in Jesus Christ and God’s grace. Knowing this, we are also never alone for we have communion with the Holy Spirit and the Word of God; however, I am a “church man,” and not having a new home church has been a source of concern in the back of my mind.

The Holy Spirit spoke to me a few mornings ago, while reading Psalm 40, specifically verses 9 through 11, which read:

“Go up on a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”

This passage is a prophecy from Isaiah to the Hebrews, threatened with conquest at the hands of the Assyrians. The Hebrews faced doom, war, destruction, and the conquest of their homeland. Yet, Isaiah proclaims “behold your God!”

Kat and I aren’t facing the same situation the Hebrews and the Kingdom of Judah faced at the hands of the Assyrians. Not remotely close. However, we have had to leave our home and come to a new land, a new context, and we’ve had to leave behind our church, community, and friends.

As someone who was raised in the church, I don’t enjoy this phase of being church-less. Once again, I highlight that we are never without a church in the sense of the community of believers and that the Holy Spirit is with us; however, sainthood was meant to be lived in community. Kat and I have each other, but we have always thoroughly enjoyed being in the presence of brothers and sisters, being part of small groups and life groups, feeling at home in a church, and leading whenever we are called to lead. We share a strong conviction, depicted in the Gospel and New Testament, that fellowship is at the core of the Christian life, and that even though God is there for Christians without fellowship, we are called to seek and enjoy fellowship centered on the Gospel and the Holy Spirit.

However, we haven’t found that community yet. We have attended two awesome churches, and we even volunteered at a local food distribution center with one of them. We attended a small, non-denominational church-plant that meets at a local school. We also attended an Anglican congregation that is in the process of planting an inner-city church. At both of these congregations, we were welcomed with incredible love. The preaching at the small church plant was excellent and the liturgy at the Anglican church was truly fantastic. This weekend, we plan to attend a church that congregates at the local university—we are excited to experience their form of worship and learn of their work in this city. We hunger for community and fellowship.

The passage in Isaiah spoke to me because it reminded me that God is sovereign, regardless of our condition. Yes, we don’t yet have a local church, but God is looking out for us. Yes, we don’t have a solid community that we can plug into, and yet the Holy Spirit is constantly here ready to have fellowship with us. In the midst of my quiet time reading Isaiah, the LORD said to me: “You are set on finding the right church, but remember that I am at work throughout this whole city. I am not bound to one church or one building, for my passion is for this whole city. You are set on finding the right church, but I tell you to focus on being salt and light and understanding how much this city needs the Good News. Seek first my passion, my desire, and will for this city, and you will find fellowship when the time is right.”

I don’t claim to have the gift of prophecy, but I am certain that the words that were spoken to me were the Holy Spirit intervening. I was convicted of fixating too much on finding the right church, prior to setting my heart on learning the work of God that needs to take place throughout this whole city, across all churches, congregations, urban villages, neighborhoods, and communities. This conviction is mighty yet comforting, because I immediately felt all the anxiety and worry exit my soul. I understood, once more, that God cares more about Kat and me understanding His heart passion for this city and its people, more than the limited and often short-sighted goal of finding the right church.

If you are in the same place we are, church-less or seeking a church, be comforted by the fact that you aren’t alone. I would love to run a nationwide survey of Christians. I think we would be amazed by the thousands (if not millions) of Christians that don’t have a current local church. Additionally, I’d encourage you to look beyond the objective of finding the “right church,” and instead focus on understanding God’s passion for your city, town, community, and region. Today, I have to walk to the bank and then to the local FedEx store and my hope is to walk in prayer, seeking to learn God’s heart for this polis.

The end of Isaiah chapter 40 states that they who wait for the LORD “shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (v.31). I know that the prophecy here is context-specific—we aren’t the Hebrews facing conquest. However, take faith that God is ready to engage with us in fellowship whenever we are ready to sit down and listen. He will renew our strength and we shall not faint. Seek first His kingdom here, and all else will be added.