Fish Out Of Water – Can Liturgy Thrive In The Contemporary Church?

On July 27, 2012 by Eddie

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A few weeks ago, my wife and two kids piled in a car and drove to Long Island, NY to visit my family. On Sunday morning, we were driving to the church my dad pastors and on the way passed by a beautiful Catholic church in the center of downtown. The church bells were tolling from the steeple, and as we rolled down the windows a bit to hear them we both said, “I wonder what that church is like?” Something about it was mysteriously appealing, and we were both left wondering why.

Later that day, as I talked with my dad he brought up an interesting idea. In the area where they live, liturgical churches (specifically Catholic ones) are what everyone grew up with. Most of their church memories come from places with bells, incense, and a rich liturgical history. In their town, the church my dad pastors is totally new and different. To attend an evangelical church with contemporary worship is like watching an episode of National Geographic, and it’s very appealing and intriguing.

Contrast this with the south, where I currently live. There is a church on every corner, many of them mega-churches. The non-denominational church, once taboo and out of the ordinary, is now a sort of denomination unto itself. “Modern” worship has become largely the norm, and the influence of Baptist theology and style is everywhere. In this world, liturgy is almost a forgotten concept. Surely we’ve grown out of that “phase,” right?

All of this has made me wonder, is there a place for liturgical worship in the South? Are there things we should learn from liturgical churches and re-interpret into our current context?

What do you think? Is there anything about liturgical worship we should reclaim in the contemporary church? What would it look like?

9 Responses to “Fish Out Of Water – Can Liturgy Thrive In The Contemporary Church?”

  • I, for one, love Scripture videos using kinetic type. This is a great, modern way to bring more Scripture into a service. The guys at Passion do this really well. I wish places like sold more of that style of video. We’d be a buyer, for sure!

  • Eddie I have lots of thoughts regarding this. I come from the reformed tradition and left for a short stint then came back. And by reformed I mean the reformed tradition so we use what you are referring to as liturgy to guide our whole church service.. and a growing number of churches (I believe) have once against begun to incorporate. Locally in Atlanta I know of many PCA churches that have really good and meaningful liturgy.

    First, liturgy means “work of the people”. So even though NorthPoint and all “modern” worship style churches mainly just sing songs and listen to a message they are still doing liturgy. If people are singing in corporate worship that is “the work of the people”. Liturgy is often boiled down to the reader and congregation responding, but its much larger than that.

    Second I would employ modern style churches to use ancient creeds and confessions APART from cool video elements. And i’m not against video, at all:) but to say and “confess” what you believe is a powerful element that should be apart of corporate worship, and connects a church to the historical element of the church in the past. People need a standard to confess, and to confess it often in a world that pulls people to believe many things. And I actually think one of the most important parts of a worship service the Confession and Pardon would not happen without a call and response element.

    A GREAT book by Jamie Smith “Desiring the Kingdom, Cultural Liturgies” is great on this subject.

    So yes, I think to incorporate this type stuff in modern worship would be great, and really helpful. It does not have to be produced, and “fun”. But something profoundly meaningful, and repetitive. To confess corporately and hear your sins are forgiven every sunday is not boring but a true ad in spiritual development. If you are ever off one sunday you should go visit All Souls or City Church EastSide.

    peace bro

  • I would hesitate to add too much old fashioned church to “modern” worship, lest you disenfranchise the people you are trying to reach. The folks that are rebelling against old fashioned church. As a church insider, your perspective is VERY different than the currently unchurched person looking for God, but not the past.

    • Bill, not sure if you were replying to me or not?. I’d challenged you in a few points, and respectfully so because you certainly have a point. But to call liturgy old fashion is really to miss the point and the purpose. The Church has confessed what they believe in liturgy along with creeds and confessions since the start of the church, it not been until late that the Church/church has felt the need not to do this.. lots of reason probably, but the large assumption is an “unchurched” person would not like it or be connected to it because its not fun or attractive… and I just don’t see that argument lasting. Just because large modern mega churches don’t do liturgy does not mean its not effective in reaching an “unchurched” crowd. We go to a small church in comparison to something like NPCC but we see lots of new Christians and young converts really impacted by our liturgy and confession. Its something that I think the modern church needs to honestly ask themselves if they’ve left out of arrogance and a false pragmatic approach to ministry.. ON the flip side I do hear you, these historic elements to the church can be done with very poorly, and with little meaning (much of what people rebel against).

      • See, this, to me is a really interesting question. What kind of church are people in the south rebelling against? I grew up in a Southern Baptist tradition, so I’m always going to push against that grain a bit and hold onto it a bit as well. Are there a lot of people in the south who, like me, have not had extensive experience with a more “high church” form of worship, and thus don’t feel compelled to rebel against it? I honestly don’t know, just curious to find out what other people think.

  • For me, and I think others in the current generation, the ritual of “old” church feels inauthentic. The “stand up, sit down, cross your heart, repeat after me” stuff. Does God really need me to recite the same thing every week to earn points? NPCC is compelling because there is no ritual, and the messages are applicable to your life, even if you don’t believe in the dogma. That’s what keeps the skeptics coming back. Skeptical people will not embrace old fashioned ritual.

    My opinon only, yours may vary.

  • Eddie. Thats a great question, and probably does not have just one strait fwd answer right? I would not hesitate to say that folks growing up in a south baptist tradition probably could easily shift into and appreciate NPCC. Correct me if I’m wrong but most SB churches are not really creedal or liturgical anyways, right? I grew up in a fairly dead theologically PCUSA church (thats the liberal presbyterians today). I deff. rebelled against it! I found my way back to more of a liturgical formatted service, but one that I see as a gospel driven. Although in general I think people are always going to rebel against what they see as in-authentic or something they don’t understand. The beauty of what Keller has done in NYC for example is incorporate a very historically driven Christianity into a largely skeptical NYC crowd, they are a liturgically driven church. And obviously some of this will always go back to what one sees as the purpose and function of the church.

    Do you think its fair to say one day (if its not already happening) people will rebel against the 3 songs, a message + closer “tradition”.

    and Bill, for me its not really an “old” church thing. You may not like it but you yourself are still apart of that older church. You can’t separate yourself from Christianity in the past as you are a Christian today. Its the historical aspect of the Christian faith, something in large part the modern church has tried to loose. And if you hear anything from me liturgy in the protestant world liturgy is NOT about earring points. It actually serves the purpose of giving people words that they often do not have. So Sunday after Sunday you have the great opportunity to confess your sins via written words and hear yourself pardoned in the gospel, along with confessing what you believe with the church thats gone before you (to name a few things). Both of witch are deeply biblical things. Skeptically deff goes on both sides of the coin. A skeptically person can easily look at the lights, flash, video, rock band of something like NPCC and be skeptically of it. But, a skeptic can look at something historically connected to Christianity thats not built around 1 man but built around the word, and sacraments as authentic. I think you see both! And probably more so outside of southern Christianity.

    All in good conversation, feel free to disagree.

  • I was just thinking about this same topic/issue/question yesterday! Liturgy is not in my church background and the few times I did experience it as a youth (Christmas Eve service at the Episcopal church, visiting a friend’s Catholic church) I’m pretty sure I was confused by it’s purpose and felt it to be boring (the looks on the congregations’ faces assured me I wasn’t alone). However, I feel there is a strong sense of corporate unity when the idea of liturgy enters my mind now – particularly if the group participating truly believe with passion in what is being professed. I don’t see it being a part of a Sunday environment at the non-denominational and even “modern” baptist churches I have attended (primarily because it such an insider-focused activity and most churches I’ve been a part of want Sunday to be relevant to non-church people), but I do think it would have tremendous power and significance for me and others to do within a community group setting… in fact I think I’ll pursue this idea with my group in the coming weeks. Thanks Eddie!

  • Using it in a community group setting is a very interesting idea. I agree completely that it’s more of a church insider thing, and worth using to build community among the faithful.

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