Sydney Anglican diocesan synod recently had a debate about liturgy and mission. I think it is a good place to start to discuss what I think are very confused positions about liturgy – positions not just held in Sydney, but in many other places. Rev. Raj Gupta writes:
…It was around 40 years ago now that we learnt that liturgically based church services were having little impact, and probably not the way to reach new generations with the Gospel of Jesus. …Is the central issue the content or form of the liturgy, or is issue the liturgical nature itself?… I only run highly liturgical services for congregations that are targeted at those from a generation who appreciate that form. Others are free to come, and do. But I have heard so many in other generations associate the liturgical form with an ‘out of touch’ church…. It is sometimes said that those from other denominations can get caught up on matters like baptism, which the Bible does not speak clearly about. Maybe our issue is particular liturgy forms.
[Interestingly in the first comment, Moore College lecturer, Rev Dr Michael Jensen challenges Sydney's "paranoia about looking Catholic [as] the strongest rationale for service design”]
It may help the discussion if I’m crystal clear about my own position and you might agree or disagree in the comments – who knows I might change my mind…
- I understand liturgy to be community worship, worship of the body of Christ, head and members, members in Christ. So to talk about “liturgical worship” is like talking about “worship worship” or a “service service”. “Non-liturgical worship” is an oxymoron. A service which has some worship choruses, a sermon, and a collection and altar call (with or without an actual altar!) is a liturgy – the liturgical rite is: choruses, sermon, collection, altar call.
- It is our duty and our joy as Christians to meet together for worship. The primary goal of worship is… worship; God. It is not the goal of worship to be “reaching new generations with the Gospel of Jesus”. There may, from time to time, be a service with a particular focus on reaching new generations with the Gospel of Jesus – but such a service is not the regular gathering of Christians. “It is the joy, right and responsibility of all who have been admitted to the Holy Communion to receive the sacrament regularly.” (NZPB p.729)
- The Holy Communion is not something the church “puts on” to cater for our “religious” needs and feelings. It is the way appointed by Christ.
- It is important to be welcoming to visitors and new people to our communities. What I see happening more and more is communities treating all people, including regulars, as if all are visitors and newcomers. Please stop this.
- The primary place for reaching new generations with the Gospel of Jesus is outside the church building and outside our worship – through the way we live, through what we say. Jesus said people will see our good works and be drawn to worship.
- A church is not ‘out of touch’ if it reads the scriptures aloud, prays the psalms together, celebrates the Breaking of the Bread – if this is being ‘out of touch’ now, we have always been ‘out of touch’. This is what we do as Christians, it links us to other Christians alive today, to Christians across 2,000 years of our history, to Christ, alive in our midst, and through Jesus back into our Jewish roots. There is nothing wrong with being counter-cultural per se.
- Although reaching new generations with the Gospel of Jesus is not the primary goal of worship, conversion is part of what happens to us as we worship. Worship is formative and transformative.
- Liturgy is not simply where we are empowered for the mission of the church. Liturgy is an essential part of the mission of the church (the inadequate Anglican 5-fold mission statement notwithstanding).
- The Bible alone is insufficient for the description and prescription of our worship life. Rev. Raj Gupta rightly declares it inadequate for baptism and for other aspects of our liturgical life.
What do you think? Agree… disagree…