Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Holy Spirit and Liturgy

Pastor Rick Warren at Saddleback Church.Image via WikipediaI follow Rick Warren on Twitter. Probably a mistake. Most of what he posts is pretty inconsequential. Occasionally, he's right on. Every once in a while, way off base.

The night before last he tweeted: "You cannot choreograph the Holy Spirit. Pentecost never happens in a completely scripted worship service."

Usually, he takes the position that different people need different "worship styles." This statement however seemed like a direct attack on the liturgy, and since this statement is often how non-liturgical Christians seem to perceive the liturgy, it seemed worth addressing. defines liturgy as:
  1. a form of public worship; ritual
  2. a of formularies for public worship.
  3. an arrangement of services.
  4. a particular form of the Eucharistic service.
  5. the service of the this service (Divine Liturgy) in the Eastern Church.
It's an order of worship. Something that is basically done every time. Loosely speaking, the nondenominational church that I went to when I was eighteen had a liturgy -- half an hour of music, an hour of sermon, fifteen minutes of music, altar call, another ten minutes of worship. (Yes, Lutherans, that's a two hour service, and I did say an hour sermon). Really, it was very scripted, and everyone there fully expected the Holy Spirit to do His job.

Every church has some amount of scripting. Even Joel Osteen's opening "This is my Bible. I am what it says I am. I have what it says I have. I can do what it says I can do. Today I will be taught the word of God. I boldly confess my mind is alert, my heart is receptive; Ill never be the same. In Jesus name, God bless you " is in this sense, liturgical.

In the Lutheran Church, we go by a liturgy that is generally in the hymnal. It is similar to the Catholic mass and has developed through the historic worship traditions of the Church. We have thrown out any practice that was against the teachings of Scripture. What it is, really is a constant flow of Bible verses being either recited, sung, or chanted back and forth between the pastor and congregation.

The liturgy follows a progression. First, we invite God into our presence with the Invocation : "In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." These are the words said at our baptisms -- the name of the Triune God -- our claim to the right to be in His presence, because we were made one in Christ through that baptism. It reminds us that God has promised us this.

Then, being in God's presence, which makes us aware of our sinfulness, we confess our sins through a corporate confession, and the pastor absolves us of our sins. Then, we launch into prayer that God provides for us (Introit) and the Hymn of Praise. Being forgiven, we can go to God in all confidence and expect that He will sustain His church and we can praise Him for the gifts He has given us. Then we hear His word through the readings, confess our faith together through the Apostles or Nicene Creed, and hear God's Word preached to us. Then, having been fed through His Word, we bring Him our gifts out of what He has given us, we bring our concerns to Him through the prayers of the Church, and then we prepare to receive His Body and Blood, where the Holy Spirit feeds us, sanctifies us, and sustains us. Then the pastor blesses us and sends us back out into the world. Interspersed in the service are hymns.

There is often criticism that a liturgical worship takes the brains and heart out of the worship. There are times I've felt that, too. But in reality, there are hundreds of Bible verses being said there. We are being nurtured there. By saying them over and over again, they are entering our hearts. Sometimes we don't realize this is happening. But God promises us that He works through His Word...whether we feel fully conscious of it or not. For " all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

It doesn't matter if you've said it before. Bring it into your heart and meditate on it. Learn it by memory. Scripted does not mean less authentic. In fact, it often means more authentic. It is harder to error when we are using the very inspired words of God, and the words and worship that The Church has used through the centuries.

The verb definition of "worship" is "to render religious reverence and homage to; to feel an adoring reverence or regard for (any person or thing)."

Often, Christians tend to focus on the nature of the 2nd part of that definition -- what we feel. And when we pay this reverence, we focus on what makes us feel that way, rather than what actually conveys reverence to the receiver. In our casual days, we have often eliminated our dress as conveying reverence, what we say, how we act (bowing, folding hands, refraining from conversation) are less important than the fact that we feel warmth, awe, etc. We lift up our hands rather than get down on our knees. We choose music that we enjoy, rather than music that conveys any sense of form or formality. And we focus on whether it matters to us, whether we think we need it. We look at traditions and because we don't understand them and weren't taught what they mean, we decide they don't matter, rather than seeking their meaning before we decide that, even though the Church throughout history has chosen to observe that tradition. We can even go so far as to say things that are in Scripture don't matter to God -- whether the pastor is male or female, married or not, homosexual or heterosexual.

We tend to view worship as something WE do. So in worshiping God, we are giving a piece of ourselves as we are. The historic view of the Lutheran Church and other confessional church bodies has actually been the opposite. The Sunday liturgical service is called "The Divine Service" not because it is a church service having to do with God, but because through the liturgy, the preaching, and Holy Communion, God is coming into our presence and SERVING us. Through these divine things (and I am defining the liturgy as divine because it is composed of Scripture), the Holy Spirit comes to us, assures us of our forgiveness, nurtures us, strengthens us, and sanctifies us. Our praise is the response to this, but the entire focus of the service is what God is doing for us.

That is also why the historic view of the church service is that the worship service is for the believer. What Pastor Warren is also failing to see in this statement is that the miracle of Pentecost did not happen in the church service, it happened in the streets. And as soon as the Holy Spirit created believers of the masses of people who heard the apostles preach, He then caused them to gather in Solomon's Portico to worship, learn, and strengthen each other -- to become a congregation.

Christ promised us that the Holy Spirit works through the Word and the Sacraments. Administering the Word and Sacraments are most often scripted. And whether it is loosely scripted or strongly scripted, if the Word and the Sacraments are there, He is working to create and strengthen faith in those who hear.

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Sue said...

Very interesting. I have to agree with you and disagree with Pastor Warren. I find non-liturgical worship very confusing and usually have a hard time figuring out what's going on. I attended a Church of God service while staying with a friend last summer. Strangest to me was the communion ware set up on tables on the floor near both ends of the stage. No words at all were spoken over it, not even a prayer. You could tell it was time for communion because the reader boards said so. My friend pointed out I was welcome to participate, but of course I declined. A lot of the service seemed more like entertainment than worship. My friend did point it was a contemporary worship, and not the usual more formal one she normally attends. But still...

What a said and uninformed comment he made.

Sue said...

I meant "sad"!

Gunfighter said...

Well done.

lettersfromnebby said...

Well, our church is not what I would call liturgical but we do have the samoe order of worship every week. We are big into the regulative principle which says we shoudl worship God as He ordains (even singing only the psalms). My comment would be that I think a very emotional church experience can often mask a lack of real faith or growth. What do you have left when all the emotion-inducing stuff is swept away? It is like a marriage--there are usually lots of frills in the beginning but over time there needs to be some substance there too.