October 8, 2013

The Liturgy and the Gospel (@OfficialSeedbed)

The team at Seedbed.com was kind enough to publish an essay in which I recount three key reasons I am increasingly drawn to liturgical worship. Here's an excerpt:
I’ve often thought of my life as having been lived on the edge of the liturgy. I suspect that perspective will resonate with many in the Wesleyan and Methodist tradition. We observe Advent and Lent. The colors on the pulpit and the communion table change with the season. We usually celebrate All Saints Sunday, and sometimes our pastors even preach the lectionary. Elements of liturgical worship are sprinkled throughout our worship life. Many suspect there is more going on, that there is a deeper coherence to the liturgical form of worship, even if we are unsure of what holds it together. We stick close to the side, hesitant to jump out into the middle of the stream, cautious lest we are carried off by a current that we cannot control and do not fully understand. We are unsure of where it will take us. Nevertheless, and despite our caution, some are captured by the inescapable inclination that we stand on the edge of something great, simultaneously terrible and beautiful, and we begin to take small steps forward into deeper water in order that we might drink more fully of the riches of the mystery before us. I offer here a few reflections on the early stages of my own journey from the edge of the liturgical stream into deeper waters. Perhaps these reflections will encourage those who read to join this exploration of the beauty and mystery of the liturgy.
You can read the rest of the post at the Seedbed blog. Here I'd like to point to a couple of resources and add a comment or two as a follow-up to that piece.

The article mentions Bryan Chapell's book, Christ-Centered Worship, and I want to emphasize how extremely influential this book has been in my understanding of the liturgy. Chapell sets side-by-side the liturgies of the Roman Catholic Church and several Protestant traditions and, without overlooking the differences, shows how the form and structure of the liturgy in these various traditions is shaped by the gospel. This was eye-opening for me. I've long understood that the gospel should fill the content of Christian worship; it never occurred to me that the very form and order of worship should be governed by the gospel also, though having now encountered this idea, I can't imagine a better way. It seems so obvious, so clear, so excellent. How could anyone who loves the good news not desire that the gospel set the pattern and form of the Church's worship?

Another key book that was recommended to me is Mark Galli's Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy. If you have little or no experience with liturgical worship, then this is the book to read first. Galli's style is accessible and engaging. You don't have to hold a theology degree to get what he has to say. He will not only introduce you to the most basic structure of the liturgy, he will also help you begin to appreciate its beauty, relevance, mystery, and majesty.

I'll finish by saying that it is precisely that which I take to be central to my evangelical identity that drives me toward liturgical worship. The liturgy is all about Christ and him crucified. It goes to work in us by faith to draw us to Christ and to renew us in his image. It is saturated with scripture and, above all, aims ultimately to exalt the holiness, the majesty, and the glory of God. 

What is your experience with liturgical worship? Are there any books or other resources you've found particularly helpful? 

2 comments:

Rev. Daniel McLain Hixon said...

For me the "draw to liturgy" came to my consciousness in college when, after attending Baptist, evangelical, non-denom. ministries I caught a service at St. Alban's Episcopal Chapel at LSU. I was hooked by two things: the Trinitarian emphasis and the beauty of the service, while the faith I discovered in the Articles of Religion in the back of the Prayer Book and from Fr. Patrick's sermons seemed (to my surprise) completely consistent with my evangelical faith. And better though-through in many cases. This was part of my journey back to the United Methodism of my childhood.

A key book for me was "Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail" by Webber. Related (though this has more to do with doctrine, but the same movement also has a liturgical expression) to this was also Tom Oden's book "Rebirth of Orthodoxy." I wanted a Christian faith that was 'rooted' and not simply based upon my own personal opinions, preferences, or interpretations. Our doctrinal standards (themselves rooted in the conciliar faith of the early centuries and the Reformation) and our liturgy (as the received expression of that same faith) have kept me rooted in the great historic faith and practice of the church.

Now if only more United Methodists will give up "theology/liturgy of the week" ('every wind of teaching' and practice) and recover our doctrinal standards and our Books of Worship, we will really find some deeper ecclesial stability in this tempestuous age.

James W Lung said...


The Liturgy is a valuable resource for Catechesis. No Jewish child who grows up in an observant family could possibly be confused about who he or she is, and what makes that child a Jew. They learn who they are at the table.

So too, Christians are formed at the table of the Lord. We find our place in God's purposes for creation, and learn who we are as the people of God in time. Everything in salvation history points to who we are and what we are doing as we gather to worship and celebrate what God has done.

Excellent post.