Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Why the Liturgy, Someone Asked

One of my wife's friends stopped by unexpectedly last night for a brief visit. They discussed what they needed to while I made chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen. But soon the friend pulled me into the conversation, asking "church questions." I also enjoy question-time with her: she's smart and inquisitive, respectful and lacks that nasty habit of asking leading questions in order to disagree. She genuinely seeks knowledge and not ammunition.

The conversation turned to how we worship, so Marjorie pulled out a hymnal and began walking her through the service (another reason to have one at home, friends!). The friend is Baptist, and had been for a long time, so the liturgy was very new to her. After getting her questions answered, getting a feel for what we did, she responded, "Say you were a 'worship pastor' and you want to be led by the Spirit. Suppose you want to sing a song again, or the Spirit leads you to do something else. Wouldn't it be good to have that kind of flexibility? To plan each service being led where the Spirit leads you, or being able to adjust it as the Spirit leads during the service?"

It was a question I hadn't heard in a long time. My members might ask why we do things, or may say they like it or not, or that the liturgy is what they grew up with and the way church ought to be, or they don't like it, complain, or leave. But they generally don't talk like Marjorie's friend.

I responded with an analogy to Scripture, that even if we feel tired of the Psalms, or suddenly want Scripture to say something else to us, we do not change it. Likewise, nearly all the liturgy is from Scripture, and thus we are speaking and singing what the Spirit has already given to us.

But the value of the liturgy in this case is also in teaching submission and obedience. As humans, we have disobedience down pat. We are very capable of innovation, of leading ourselves, of doing what we want to do. Using the liturgy teaches us to follow, to be obedient, to submit to worship that is not from ourselves. Even if we don't feel like the Spirit is working, He is. Likewise with Scripture: the Spirit is working even if we are not particularly moved at the time, but we don't go changing it because we can't feel Him. Billy Joel was on to something.

It wasn't like speaking a foreign language to her, but I didn't convince her in the least. Sadly, it was getting late, and the conversation had to end. But I invited her to "come and see" and check it out, and hope that the three of us can talk more in the future.


  1. Mike Baker said...

    Her question is built upon a false assumption on the part of many Charismatics (of which I used to be one). The will of the Holy Spirit is not a mysterious force that is chaotic and fickle. We are the ones who are chaotic and fickle.

    Often we attribute the whims of our feelings to be the prompting of the Holy Spirit. This is not a valid way to authenticate the movement of the Spirit because even pagans feel moved by spirits, possessed by spirits, speak in tongues, have ecstatic experiences, and seem to speak prophecy.

    Various spirits jerk people around all the time. In my experience, the more we listen to spirits in worship, the more chaotic, conflicting, and confusing the worship becomes. Clearly this kind of prompting is not from the Holy Spirit who only brings us comfort, understanding, and truth.

    The Holy Spirit's testimony is clearly outlined in Scripture.

    1 John 5:6-12: This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

    The Holy Spirit, the water, and the blood always agree in their testimony. They consistantly testify about the forgiveness of sin found in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. That is the measure by which all spirits are judged.

    When evaluated against what Holy Scripture says about the testimony of the Holy Spirit, the unchanging liturgy that holds fast to the Word of God, declares Christ Crucified, and presents God's gifts to His people is more Spirit-filled than a fluid worship service that follows the whims of some unknown spirit and never presents the clear message of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins.

    It is hard for charismatics to accept that the Holy Spirit moves in ways that they are unfamiliar with and through means that seem mundane and boring to their human perception.

  2. Mike Baker said...

    ...and as a former praise band musician, I can tell you that the decision to do certain things or repeat certain songs during a worship service is usually a calculated decision in response to very ordinary stimuli. It may be to build the dynamics in response to the emotional feedback from the audience, emphasize a certain melodic theme, execute a neccessary key change to flow into the key signature of the next song, fill the alotted time in the worship schedule, etc.

    If you like eating out, don't work in a resturant. If you like the spirit-sensitivity that you find in modern praise and worship, don't be a musician. You get to see how the spiritual food is really prepared and served. Many times, it isn't what you think.

    We see what we want to see... not what is.

  3. Tim Kuehn said...

    Those who think such behavior is "moved by the Spirit" should examine OT worship practices - which didn't leave much room for improvisation, and one case resulted in some people being killed for the 'simple' of offense of using "ordinary" fire.

  4. William Weedon said...

    It's like trying to describe what something tastes like. Best answer is: well, try it and then we'll talk!

  5. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    This would be the point that I would add on - she is operating with a separation between the Spirit and the Word. The two go hand in hand. The purpose of the liturgy is so that we can precisely know that the Spirit is present at worship - so we can know that it is His worship, not a worship of our own devising.

  6. Rev. Eric J Brown said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.