Have you ever asked yourself why your church worships the way it does? Would you call the worship style contemporary or traditional? Some might say it’s possible that the method or medium of worship is neutral, but I would fancy to say that at the heart of every form of worship, there is a theology driving it. If that is true, then the real question is what is the theology that drives it? My background as a fundamentalist, then evangelical, and now Lutheran has given me a deeper look into many and varied forms of christian worship. There are parts about them all that I think have some redeeming qualities, but I have never been challenged to think as much about the mode of worship and its implications as I have since becoming Lutheran. I thank my pastor and IssuesEtc. for that. There was a recent segment on Issues, which you can listen to here that seemed to sum it up so well. This segment was based on a article written by Bill Cwirla titled 10 Reasons Why We Use the Liturgy which you can read here. I’ll just give you the cliff notes but I highly recommend you listen to the very informative discussion.
1. We have handed down to us a tradition that is 2,000 years old with elements dating back even to Jewish worship in the synagogue. As Pastor Cwirla points out, ‘we are not the first christians to walk the face of the earth’—and those things handed down to us, which do not obscure the pure gospel of Christ, should be preserved. This is why the Lutheran church ‘looks’ so Roman Catholic. The conservative reformation only did away with elements of the worship that obscured the gospel. Every thing else stayed.
2. The liturgy (historic form of worship) is Christ-centered. From beginning to end, it is filled with direct passages of scripture, songs and hymns that are either directly from scripture or paraphrases of scripture (the creeds), with the culmination being the Lord giving us His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. It might be possible to have a contemporary style service that is Christ-centered, but I’ve rarely seen it done. The focus tends to be more on the people–the singers, the pastor—rather than on Christ. Often the focus of the sermons are man-centered instead of focusing on the objective work of Christ for us. In most Lutheran churches, everything from the placement of the pulpit off to the side to the central location of the cross and the Lord’s table, teaches us that Christ is the focus of our worship.
3. “The liturgy teaches the whole counsel of God – creation, redemption, sanctification, Christ’s incarnation, passion, resurrection, and reign, the Spirit’s outpouring and the new life of faith. Every liturgical year cycles through these themes so that the hearer receives the “whole counsel of God” on a regular basis.” This seems like such an important point to me–moving stepwise through scripture, so that by the end of the cycle, all of scripture has been covered in some form. Otherwise, it seems that our own chosen ‘themes’ seem to become the focus—-a 10 week study on ‘the family’ or ‘ 12 weeks to a better marriage’ . It seems strange that we have a wonderful, inspired Word of God, chocked full of stories of redemption pointing us toward Christ, and yet we think we somehow know better or can do better than that. His word is sharp and active and never returns to Him void; it is the perfect template for how to order our worship and how to systematically instruct believers.
4. “It is repetitive in a good way. Repetition is, after all, the mother of learning. Fixed texts and annual cycles of readings lend to deep learning. Obviously, mindless repetition does not accomplish anything; nor does endless variety. ” This is probably the number one complaint I here about liturgical worship. But I can tell you that with two little ones learning the liturgy along beside me, there is something so special about your children being able to sing and say the liturgy by heart. And because most of the liturgy is taken directly from scripture, they are ‘hiding God’s word in their hearts’. C.S. Lewis compared the liturgy to a dance. Only after memorizing the steps is one able to truly dance and enjoy it; those things which we memorize or learn ‘by heart’ are usually those things which we really know in a deep and lasting way.
5. “It rescues us from the here and now”. Following the historical liturgy removes us from following the headlines of the news in our church life. We follow Christ’s word instead, which never changes, and is always pertinent to our lives.
“In the liturgy, the Word sets the agenda, defining our needs and shaping our questions. The temptation is for us to turn stones into bread to satisfy an immediate hunger and scratch a nagging spiritual itch, but the liturgy teaches us to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
6. “It is external and objective.” We are given God’s word and His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. We come empty-handed to His table, receive the gifts He gives and then we give Him thanks for those gifts. None of it depends on us or how we ‘feel’ about the worship service. And what a relief; to know that know matter what pitiful unspiritual state we are in, we leave church with God’s greatest gifts, poured out to us freely, for the sake of Christ alone. We don’t have to gin up any super-spirituality. We are completely on the receiving end of life and forgiveness. It changes how we look at our whole life of faith. We are beggars at His table. All of us. We never leave saying, “I didn’t get much out of it.” We leave the Lord’s house and His table satisfied with what He has provided, lacking and wanting for nothing; the blessed recipients of His very life poured into us.
I hope Pastor Cwirla forgives me for butchering his list a little, but I think it behooves us to see the theology behind what we do. If we think we come to worship to ‘give something to God’, then the worship style will reflect that. If we come knowing that He is the giver of all good gifts, then we come ready to receive the wonderful redemption He has bought for us in Christ; given to us in Word and Sacrament. Going from contemporary to liturgical worship is a bit like learning to listen to Bach after spending twenty years singing catchy praise songs. It does not appeal instantly to the emotions. You can’t ‘get it all’ in one or years, let alone one or two visits. It is deep and layered and will certainly take a while to seep into your soul. Eventually, you will find yourself spoiled. Ten verses of “I Surrender All” won’t hold a candle to “A Mighty Fortress is our God”. You will find yourself asking the question, “Am I really the one who surrenders all…..or is it Christ…..who surrenders all for me?”
I realize that in this postmodern world where church growth is king, posts like this will not be very popular. But it does give us cause to think. The methods we use are not neutral—they carry with them an implied message. We should at least ponder the ramifications of that message. I would love to hear your thoughts.
Wow! Thank you for sharing that insightful list. I must say that my family is charismatic. And while I’m not going to bash the liturgy I will say that I haven’t really understood it until now. Your list was very elegantly put. Whenever I have been in a church that follows a liturgy it has seemed dead and with out life to me. But you paint a very rich picture. I do agree that basic memorization is gone from the ‘modern’ church as well as a lot of churches do focus of ‘growth’. But as my husband and I discuss often what is the point of growth and tons of salvations every week if you aren’t going to train them up in the word of God? If you aren’t going to instill in them how to live a victorious life in Christ?
The church in our new town that we are attending I think is doing an excellent job of just that, as well as indepth Bible study.
I really appreciate you post and I love you blog. I’ll be checking back to see what others say. Have a beautiful day.
I was raised in liturgical churches (Lutheran and Episcopalian). It’s easy to just go through the motions during the liturgy, but I miss some things about it.
Which liturgy do you use, Edie? When was it last updated or revised?
I grew up with a fundamental/evangelical background. My husband and I are not trying to find where exactly we’re called to be. Thank you for posting this list and explaining some of the reasons in favor of liturgy.
Thank yo for your thoughtful post on Worship. I’m a lifelong ELCA Lutheran and adore Lutheranism. Our church became more contemporary in worship, the bones of liturgy were still there. I’ve taken a sabatical from organized religion. Three years ago our family was blown out of the water by a son’s addiction. Our church offered plenty of judgement and blame. This wasn’t just perceived as I was a worship leader and part of the innerworkings of the administration.
But, thanks be to God, I’ve found Al Anon and am far down this road of recovery and healing. Only recently (after more than a year away from organized religion), have I begun thinking of finding a church family. I know one thing for sure, I will never go back to a church of judgement. We know, Luther was all about Grace, so I’ll start with my dear Lutheran branch of the church and see where I’m lead after that. Thanks again!
Magic Brush says
I gotta be real here… I don’t even know what “liturgy” is.
I go to a spirit filled non-denominational church where the the contemporary worship centers on Christ….. “bring unto Him a new song”. The message is straight from the bible.
I think it is unfortunate that you have obviously had negative experiences in my style of church.
On the other side of that, I was raised Catholic. And I got virtually nothing out of it. Perhaps it was my particular Catholic church… but I never even heard the words “relationship with Christ”, etc. there.
Funny side note tho. I had my 3rd baby last year. When I was in labor and the anesthesiologist was inserting my epidural, I was in a ton of pain. I tried to pray, but over and over all I could do was recite Hail Mary’s over and over. And I haven’t been to a Catholic church in over 20 years. It was funny.
Liturgies only bother me when I know the person who wrote them. Our Baptist youth director is pretty sure his purpose in life is to erase all Baptist traditions and replace them with Catholic traditions. He writes his own liturgies and they are pretty dumb – as his interpretation of scripture is tainted with women’s rights and the abolition of racism and the need for social justice.
As a Baptist, I do not mind liturgies written by Martin Luther, et. al, or the ones chock-full of appropriately applied scripture. (Did Martin Luther write liturgies, ?? I could be way off).
My husband and I find great comfort in singing the hymns written years (even centuries!) ago – a sort of kinship/fellowship with believers of past generations.
It is important for kids to memorize scripture – and hide the truth in their hearts.
With my last comment – since we don’t know each other, personally -I need to clear up what I said-
I fully believe Catholics can be Christians, (and even some Baptists can be Christian!). The teller at my bank has this sign in the window –“Sitting in church doesn’t make you any more a Christian than sitting in a garage makes you a car.”
We just all have different preferences with denominations – and my qualms with my youth director are with his reflexive disdain for Baptist traditions, while serving in a Baptist church. (well, okay – maybe you sensed a few other problems I have with him, but lets not go there…..)
I go to a baptist church which is very contemporary with their music and teaching styles. I have to say that I am glad that you found a worship style that suits you well. I do believe that as long as you are a Christian, then the different styles really don’t matter. Our church has brought hundreds and hundreds of people to Christ this last year, and I think it is wonderful! God is using our church for a wonderful purpose. I love how we learn what the Bible says, and then how to apply it and make it work in our own lives. The contemporary style is what actually brought me to wanting to get to know Christ. Before I went to my church I was lost.
Jen - Balancing Beauty and Bedlam says
Oh Edie – this is why I love you! You can go from the best every kitchen redo to making us think.
There is such beauty in pondering all different forms of worship, and even though I lean towards contemporary, there is nothing that lifts my soul more than meditating and relishing the majesty of A Mighty Fortress is our God. I love to unpack those layers as well.
(still laughing that I thought for a moment you had left the faith. Come on…same blog title and it started with how she was leaving the Luthern religion. How coincidental is that…don’t worry, it was only for a few minutes before I was shaken to reality. 🙂
Jen - Balancing Beauty and Bedlam says
Oops – and that’s best EVER kitchen re-do….
And I just want to encourage you to keep up with this great mix of posts. It’s so easy when we get lots of comments on decorating to just stick to those posts. This might not get the same reaction, but you’re going deep here and quite possibly making a difference in someone’s life for eternity. Keep on, keeping on. 🙂
I’ve had to remind myself of that after I get a gazzillion comments about spray painting and then a handful on being intentional with our kids…it’s just where blog land is at, and I love both.
I absolutely love Catholic Mass. I love the beauty behind it and the God-based tradition. I have a degree in music, so I spent a lot of my college career studying the Mass and the meaning behind it all. I always love attending Mass any time I can, because I hear the beauty in the words and the honesty of the author/composer.
My husband, on the other hand, can’t go to Mass without remembering how no one he knew actually listened to the words when he grew up in the Catholic Church. Too much baggage.
We are in the praise band at our church (The Vinyard – a relatively new movement), and we praise God with contemporary music. I love that there are so many different ways to worship!
Darlene - Our Creative Life says
We go to a spirit filled non denominational church and our worship is very much centered on christ. Our church is know inour community to have very powerful worship! The holy spirit is always present when we worship. Very Powerful!
Religion is not Christianity
Relationship with Jesus is Christianity
I absolutely love your blog, I visit it often although I have never posted before. Our families seem to be very similar in the love that binds us together.
We are a loving Catholic family and Catholics are Christians, the first Christians.
The point of your blog that most grabbed me was the theology behind our religions and why they are so important to us. I can tell you that we respect everyone, if we do not worship as they do or believe everything that they do. We can do that b/c we know that we all love the same God.
For us the mass is centered on the body and blood of Christ, everything leads to that monumental moment when we accept and are thankful that Jesus died for our sins. We do say penance 3 times before that happens, we do listen to a reading from the old testament and another from the new testament and a homily from our Pastor too. Often times this become rote for people. They say the words w/out contemplating the meanings behind them. But when someone puts as much thought into it, just like you Edie, and prays on why we say aloud “Father, I am not worthy, but only say the word and I shall be healed” before communion – God provides the answers.
I love that you love our Lord as much as you do and that you demonstrate it daily in your life, family and blog. And that is one of the reasons you have so many people who come to your site. You are a good person, a Christian.
Rhonda in Pgh
Having now tasted a few other religions, I’d have to say there’s something I like about the contemporary sermons. They keep my attention and tend to spell it out a little better for me than the those that use a lot of memorization. While I also liked the contemporary music, I missed the traditional hymns and felt that they brought in the spirit better. It seemed strange to me when people wanted to dance and raise a hand in the air. I am not making fun in any way, I just was a little uncomfortable with it. I think it’s because I was not raised in a church like that.
While I still have some questions about my faith, I’m sticking to it for now and putting in more study time. To me, it just feels right and that’s what I have to go with. One thing I like about it is on any given Sunday, at any given location (around the globe) we are learning the same thing and the feeling is the same. I’ve heard so many say when they moved, they had to go ‘church shopping’ or that their church decided to take a new direction so they had to find a different one.
Wish I had more time to blog and I miss the daily chit chat with you. Hope you’re loving home schooling as much as I am. 🙂
Hi Edie – I stumbled upon your blog a few weeks ago (probably around the time of you kitchen redo – which is gorgeous by the way:) and have been really enjoying it. I LOVED this post. I am a life-long Lutheran (Wisconsin Evangel. Luth. Synod) and couldn’t agree more about the benefits of using the liturgy. Having a dependable, solemn yet joyful Christ-centered worship service fills me up much more than trendy contemporary one ever will. I share your concern that focusing on the performance side of it can only distract one from the real reason you are there, hearing and learning about God’s perfect word.
Thank you again for posting this!
~ Your sister in Christ
Thanks for your well thought out post–see I’ve come back again. I do like a mix of blogging, as it keeps it all interesting.
I appreciate tradition and liturgy more and more. Our church has a “blended” worship style though it is becoming more traditional. Our contemporary songs have to have real “meat” to them or we don’t sing them. We use a lot of Getty’s songs/hymns. We use Scripture, the book of common prayer, the apostle’s creed, the catechism, other writings, but primarily Scripture in our worship. Our worship pastor works hard to plan with the teaching pastor’s sermon in mind, so our times of worship are rich. The problem with worship “wars” are that they are more about our pleasure than God’s pleasure. And our worship is meant to give God glory and pleasure.
I am a former Lutheran (38 years) that became Episcopalian. I am very much a traditionalist when it comes to liturgy. I think of the liturgy as sort of a dance at the altar. I love the way it ebbs and flows. I am a sucker for anything that is chanted. I love Eucharist and need that to feed me during the week. I still feel very much at home in the Lutheran church as I think the worship styles are much the same.
Miss G says
Edie, I think this is a great post. At our church we are presently talking about our heritage, what has brought us to the place where we are today. A document that was written 200 years ago was shared with us and it talked about how God has given us the ability to think and reason and that is a good thing but if in this process of reasoning we come to conclusions that other Christians haven’t reached and then that causes us to judge and reject them, then we have been deceived by the evil one. I have been chewing on that this week. As much as it seems to be human nature to want everyone to think the same way we do when we think we’ve come across something good (whether it’s a blog we love and think everyone else should love too or a style of worship or a way of serving or whatever) I am challenging myself to remember that God created us all uniquely and one person’s most beneficial way of meeting with Him and learning His ways may not be the exact same as someone else’s.
I am glad you have shared these thoughts and I have enjoyed reading the comments that have been made. I think that God can use “blogland” as a tool to bring unity among Christians as we are all out there communing with one another outside of our church walls.
A huge thank you to everyone brave enough to comment on what is surely a controversial topic. I appreciate your kindness and thoughtfulness in sharing part of your own story. I have a few more thoughts to share as a way to clarify or explain myself more fully.
1. The term ‘spirit-filled’ often comes up when discussing worship. Where is the ‘spirit’ of God to be found? Is it a ‘feeling’ we have? Is He really present at church? He has promised to be where His word is proclaimed and at the Supper (this is my body…). He COULD be anywhere He wants to be because He is God, but He has promised to be in those two places. Why does He choose to reveal himself in that way? He is the hidden God, who has chosen to hide Himself in His word and in,with, and under the bread and wine. We must take Him at His word and find Him where HE has promised to be.
2. My purpose for posting is twofold. I like to share and inform people of things I’m learning. Part of my motivation for blogging has been to document my journey to Lutheranism. I certainly don’t expect that people will run out and join a Lutheran church, but I think it’s good for us all to think about those things we support and teach our children. I think our culture’s focus on visual media and the drift away from word-centered learning has been detrimental to our ability to think critically. The entertainment style worship with lights and speakers and big screens may not be the best way to communicate a serious and demanding, yet freely given faith. We didn’t want our girls to expect to be ‘entertained’ when attending church. Church is a hospital for broken and sinful people and we go there to receive healing for our souls.
3. Even the historic liturgy was arranged by sinful men. It’s not perfect. I marvel all the time that God would trust His holy things to such sinners as us. But He has. And He knows that no matter what type of worship service we attend, we will fail to receive it rightly, we will screw it up somehow. He is the One who will make it right. He will enfold it in His righteousness and present it to the Father blameless. He will do for us what we could never do for ourselves.
I am thankful for you all. I love these ‘discussions’. It helps us all to articulate and defend our beliefs and practices.
P.S. For those of you who have emailed instead of commenting, thank you too. I’ll try to respond to you individually.
Hugs and love to you and yours!
I love your point of view and honesty. I really enjoy your blog!
I myself was reared as a Catholic and went to Catholic schools. However, I didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus until I was 19 and confessed my sins and asked Him into my life. My husband and I have attended evangelical churches, a Methodist Free Church, a Methodist church, a non-denominational Bible church, and a Lutheran church as we made moves in our marriage. We look at all our church experiences as an opportunity to be a witness for Jesus and are not that concerned with the whys and wherefores of that particular church. However, I do think that I had the best friends in the Lutheran church where I was considered an “evangelical!” That being said, I didn’t feel that I could stay long-term in the Lutheran church because of fundamental differences in basic beliefs. I did enjoy singing the wonderful old hymns though!
No matter what church we have been in, I am reminded of what Jesus said in the 14th chapter of John. “Believe in God. Believe in me also.” No matter what church we attend, the gospel message is really so clear and simple! I never want to lose sight of that amidst the particular trappings of any church I attend.
I’ve been lurking and came up to comment. Love your kitchen!
This is great. I am a PCA kid all grown-up and the “higher” form of worship is just manna for my soul. I find that after years and years of singing old and dusty hymns, I can sing them (from memory) with passion and joy. The entire focus of worship being on God and glorifying him rather than what I can get out of it means that I can go to worship, struggle with a toddler halfway through and end up leaving early (like yesterday, no less!) and still say that “it was good to go to the house of the LORD.” This is a bit un-eloquent, but just a hearty amen from a sister in Christ.
JOYfilled Family says
May you continue to seek the fullness of Truth.
THE Stephanie says
Just a thought – If some form of entertainment is needed to attract lost people to church, why not use it?
As long as you never compromise the Word of God, why would you not want to use any means possible to draw hurting, lost people in, so that you had an opportunity to share the love of Jesus with them?
I’m in no way “bashing” your style, but for someone who is lost and un-churched, if they had a choice to go to a place that would “entertain” them in some small way and hold their attention in this day and age, or the choice to go to a place that repeated liturgy that they couldn’t understand and sang songs from years past, which do you think they would choose?
Just a thought?
I truly hope that didn’t come across wrong. I honestly meant it as just a thought a ponder.
I obviously worship at one of these “entertaining” churches and believe whole-heartedly in what we do. At the same time, I also believe that every Christian is free to worship God in whatever way they choose. Where we differ, I suppose, is in our view on the best way to reach un-churched souls who wouldn’t step into church if we paid them.
My parents both grew up in the Lutheran church but both found Christ through a non denominational Bible study. So I grew up in a non-denominational church. When I went to college, I attended a Presbyterian church and I found the liturgy to be extremely beautiful and profound. It caused me to think about things in a new way. And yes, it made church less about what I got out of it and more about Him. That was an important step towards maturity. He must increase, I must decrease!
I appreciate your heart…
I wish I had this to read 30 years ago when I was “born again”, again. I yearned for structure and instruction. I landed in a “new, evangelical ” type church and it ended a few years later with me turning my back on anything that resembled religion. I am thankful for your posts Edie. You shine a light.