11 Perils of Liturgy & 11 Possibilities

liturgical ministry-2I’m a Zero Liturgy sort of guy, or so I’d like to believe. There are many reasons for this, but I think I prefer the spontaneity and diversity of expressions when God’s people get together. Don’t get me wrong, I find high liturgies fascinating and know that practically every action has its ‘religious’ significance and purpose. Almost anyone who reads the Bible realizes that liturgy was an integral part of worship in Old Testament Israel. After the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-17), instructions for building the altar were set forth (Ex. 20:24-26), keeping the Sabbath (Ex. 23:10-13), annual feasts (Ex. 23:14-19) and the various offerings and furnishings in the sanctuary (Ex. 25:1-40). Later on, such matters as the design of the tabernacle, the altar, the outer court, the priests’ vestments their consecration, and instructions for daily offerings were laid out with detailed specificity.

The question as to whether these things were ‘mere shadows’ of something better or something fuller, is still being decided today by the church at large. Each person, community, church, etc., certainly has the liberty to choose how ordered their expressions of worship are, but as in all things, prudence and perils must be considered.  This represents a short list of the possible perils of liturgy:

1.  Format and tradition can be given equal authority to scripture.

2.  The recitation of repetitious prayers, responses, etc., can begin to be done in rote without thought or true worship from the heart.

3.  “Liturgy” itself can become too narrowly defined.

4.  It can reinforce an unnatural and unscriptural laity/clergy divide.

5.  It can create an unnecessary mediatory environment between people and God.

6.  It can keep us pegged to the past.

7.  It can be a tool used to build up the local church into its own image and in opposition to other local churches or communities. 

8.  It can settle us into a false sense of security.

9.  It can be poor stewardship, i.e. spending more for vestments, liturgical tools, etc., than for orphans, widows, and those in need. (James 1:27)

10.  It’s a weak form a discipleship. (2 Timothy 3:5)

11. Liturgy can tend to define our views of Christ, His Mission, and the Church instead of those things defining or informing our liturgy.

What do you think of this list? Are there other things that you would add? Which of these would you take away?

In Part II of this series, I’ll cover 11 possibilities/benefits/blessings of liturgy along with a thorough definition of the word and its use in the New Testament.

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0 thoughts on “11 Perils of Liturgy & 11 Possibilities

  1. David Woods says:

    The list of things I would add would be way too long to list here. But I will say this; I really don’t think any progress will be made on the subject until we are willing to take lists such as the one you’ve made here, and have the “gall” to make the one change to this list that I would suggest; and that’s to change all the cans and can be-s to haves and have been-s.

  2. Juan Carlos says:

    Honestly, I’ve never been to a church, any church, of any variety, that wasn’t steep in its own variety of liturgy. People thrive in an environment that they are familiar with, hence, even the most “spontaneous” worship experience, from one week to the next, begins to look and feel the same, because it becomes the tradition of the church in that location.

    I would like to expand on one thought, however. Not only was Liturgy, or ritual, or tradition, practiced by the Old Testament community, it was also the experience of Christ and the disciples in what they experienced and practiced as well. Further, it was the experience of the early Church. To add even to that, according to Revelation, it was John’s experience of the Kingdom of God as well (take the issue of the use of incense, for example, it was, is, and will be the practice of the worship of God).

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