Wednesday, January 23, 2008

#5: Historic Anglicanism is liturgical

Please read the introductory posts HERE. Here is #5:

'Fifth, this [Historic Anglicanism] is a liturgical church. Anglicanism employs liturgy to several ends: to secure regular acknowledgment from the church that sinners are saved only in Christ; to express the congregation's adherence to the catholic faith in the use of the historic creeds; to express the need of the congregation to hear the Bible in both Testaments read systematically, giving a special place to the Psalms as articulating biblical piety; and to provide for prayer which is carefully crafted theologically and which reflects international, national as well as local needs.

Liturgy is not used for art's sake (that is, aesthetically), but for truth's sake (that is, theologically), in order to retain the Bible, the catholic creeds and the reformed confessions at the centre of the church's confession of faith.

And it uses liturgy for the sake of laity, to protect the congregation from the whims of the minister and to provide for the voice of the congregation to be heard articulating the faith, and not just the voice of the minister.'

*** Dr Barnett has more to say by way of reflection. Click on the comments HERE.
A couple of thoughts from me:

For some, it wouldn't matter what good reasons were proposed, they will not get 'into' liturgy. But Dr Barnett's list in the first paragraph has some power for me. I find it interesting that a liberal church that employs liturgy may read more of the bible in their services than an evangelical church with not a lot of liturgy.

Here is where I am at: I have had a love-hate relationship with liturgy over many years. As a teenager, I found myself frustrated that liturgy seemed perfectly placed for lip-service only. I always wanted to be captivated in church and gripped by God and his mission, and liturgy seemed not to captivate me. I'm sure that I was not alone.

Then, at age 20, I went to St Barnabas Broadway. Barneys was relaxed and joyful and gripped by God's love. And yet they employed liturgy to good effect. The liturgy was a servant of the congregation, not its master. There was an energy and a momentum to the service. Things were explained, but not over-explained. There was talk, but no meta-talk. I invited my friends who didn't know Jesus, and many people become Christians there.

Here at Christ Church NYC, we are definitely liturgical. And we seek to employ liturgy as a servant of the congregation. We use it for many of the reasons that Dr. Barnett has listed above. While it doesn't come naturally for some to use set forms in church, there are many who come to Christ Church because of the liturgy (and especially the younger people!) They say that they are tired of listening to the ramblings of a pastor based on what came to mind while eating breakfast. And, as Dr. Barnett says, here, they are protected "from the whims of the minister".

In this case, me.

And thankful we all are for it. :)

Some questions you might like to comment on:
  • Are there any of you that have had positive experiences of liturgy? Let us know.
  • What do you think of the comment that liturgy is "not used for art's sake"?
  • What do you gain and lose by letting go of liturgical services?
Pic on Flickr by spamily.


Justin said...

Dr Barnett has more to say as a reflection. He goes on:

Cranmer wanted the people of the English church to know and love the Scriptures. To that end provision was made for systematic and extensive reading of the OT, NT and Psalms. It is to be regretted that this is today at a discount. Its a matter of only one reading, done badly. Contrary to one's impressions, the time taken by the actual liturgical content within a service is not great. Take out the Hymns, readings, sermon, anthem/solo and notices, and there may not be more than ten minutes in e.g. a service of morning prayer. In a crisply conducted service it is possible to have the liturgical content, two readings, a psalm, the creed, reasonable intercessions, four hymn and a twenty minute sermon and be out in an hour. How often I have attended a free church, by contrast, and not for the the pulpit in an hour and had neither OT, NT, Psalm, creed, not meaningful intercessions beforehand.

michael jensen said...

Trouble is, you can't say, oh, I had A great experience of liturgy last Sunday. All you can say is: the hundreds of Sundays accumulated have made a great experience.

Liturgy is like a habit. It is meant to be repeated so that you don't notice what it is doing (partly). Through liturgy, I know several great passages of scripture by heart, because I was exposed to it as a kid. But a single experience? Harder to pin down.

My kids won't have the same benefit, alas.

william said...

My Presbyterian church back home uses of an order of worship, responsive readings, creeds, spoken prayers, hymns, and scripture readings. It wasn't as liturgical as the Episcopal/Anglican churches I've attended - no Book of Common Prayer - but it had most of the elements mentioned here.

One advantage of a liturgical service, I think, is that it provides room for Christians to grow and mature in the faith. This is implicit in what is written here, but it's worth saying again. While it certainly protects the congregation from "the whims of the minister," it also draws on tradition to encourage people to learn more, to go deeper.

The church in which I was baptized embraced a seeker-sensitive model when I was in elementary school, and many, if not most, of the older members, including my parents, ended up leaving. When liturgy is, as you say, a servant of the congregation, it seems to be more inclusive of all sorts of Christians than a service which is pitched to just one demographic.

Thanks again for posting this list. Halfway through, and it seems to be a very good one.

Peter said...

I don't have a strong opinion on liturgy. I wouldn't make a decision on whether I would attend a church or not based on their view of liturgy. I've attended churches throughout my life that make heavy use of liturgy and ones that don't use liturgy at all and have good experiences both ways.

I appreciate the liturgy at Christ Church NYC but if you and John suddenly decided to drop all liturgy starting this upcoming Sunday, honestly, I wouldn't care.

Megan said...

I was raised in a liberal liturgical church, and since becoming a Christian, have attended a variety of churches with different 'worship styles.' And, given the choice, and assuming that the gospel is preached at both places, I will chose a liturgical church any day. Denomination doesn't matter to me as much. I found, though, that once I became a Christian, the liturgy made more sense. The creeds took on meaning, and I discovered that the gospel is woven throughout the liturgy sort of implicitly.
I think liturgy and the church calendar do two things for us as Christians: they serve to shape and form our worship and our time. I think it's the habits that are important: they're subtly transformative, and they help to mitigate against the whims of the pastor, or even the culture.
Without liturgy, and even the lectionary, it becomes too easy to skip the parts we don't like, such as the confession of sin.
Having said that, the liturgy needs to be a servant of the gospel, not subject to editing at whim. The church in which I was raised, for example, excised the confession of sin from the liturgy. That's a big deal, because acknowledging, remembering, and mourning our sin is critical to our understanding of and belief in the gospel. In that sense, liturgy is only as helpful as the pastor. If the pastor doesn't believe the gospel, then liturgy will only go so far.

byron smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
byron smith said...

"One reason why we Christians argue so much about which hymn to sing, which liturgy to follow, which way to worship is that the commandments teach us to believe that bad liturgy eventually leads to bad ethics. You begin by singing some sappy, sentimental hymn, then you pray some pointless prayer, and the next thing you know you have murdered your best friend." — Stanley Hauerwas, The Truth About God:
The Ten Commandments in Christian Life
, p. 89.

Love that quote - classic Hauerwas.

There's also a fascinating post here, which links use of liturgy to belief in justification by faith, since even the words we use to approach God are not our own.

Thanks for this series Justin.

byron smith said...

Here is another post reflecting on why liturgy from a slightly higher Anglican perspective.