Monday, January 7, 2013

The past is prologue

At The Gospel Coalition three evangelicals are asked "How Do You Use Liturgical Elements in Your Church Worship?" I found their answers encouraging. From Scotty Smith of Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN:
We in Christ Community Church (PCA) are increasingly enjoying the richness of responsive readings and creeds as we develop our liturgy week to week. In our first years we pretty much decried the use of such aids, but we now realize their doxological beauty and benefit. In fact, for many years, the word liturgy was almost a four-letter word in our reactionary infancy as a church family. We wanted to cultivate a free, Spirit-led worship culture, and wrongly assumed that creeds would lead to formalization and dead orthodoxy. In our current calendar year, we are praying our way through the Heidelberg Catechism. We also include prayers from the Book of Common Prayer, responsive readings from the Scriptures, and confession and professions from the pen and hearts of our leadership family. In recent years we have also celebrated the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed as a part of a gospel-driven liturgy. Let me be clear: we still want a “free and Spirit led worship culture,” but now we clearly see the place of responsive readings and creeds as a means of helping us offer our Triune God the worship he deserves and in which he delights.
Bob Kauflin of Sovereign Grace:
For years most of our singing came up front and lasted about 35 to 45 minutes. As we studied congregational worship throughout history, including in the Bible, we saw that every church has a liturgy. The question is whether or not that liturgy helps people focus on God’s glory in Jesus Christ. While prolonged singing has its advantages, one of the dangers is cultivating a perception that the Holy Spirit only shows up when music is playing, and usually for a long time. So we started occasionally using elements like responsive readings, pre-written prayers, public confession of sin, and creeds. These helped us accomplish a number of ends, all of which are helpful. Scriptural responsive readings root us directly in God’s Word, which fuels our response of singing. Pre-written prayers can bring clarity, specificity, and comprehensiveness to our prayers. Confessing our sinfulness together reminds us all that our need for a Savior didn’t stop when we were converted. Creeds connect us to a long history of saints who have confessed their common faith in an unchanging triune God who has redeemed a people for himself through Jesus Christ. All that to say, we’ve found it immensely helpful to benefit from practices of believers who have gone before us without feeling bound to one particular liturgy or way of doing things.
And from an article about Ken Myers, the editor of the Mars Hill Audio Journal:
.... One of Myers’s recurring themes is the ways in which the dumbing down of the general culture has infected American Christianity and conservatism. These are two spheres where we might expect the work of “preserving cultural treasures” to be taken up. Yet wander into a Mass or worship service in any suburban Catholic or Protestant church and you’ll hear “praise songs” that might have been lifted from Sesame Street or, if the service is High Church, the soundtrack of Phantom of the Opera. It’s hard to believe this is the same religion that inspired Bach and Palestrina, whose choral works are no more familiar to the average pastor or parishioner than the chants at a Kikuyu circumcision ceremony. The liturgy, what’s left of it, is either pedestrian or absurd. (The Shepherd who used to maketh you to lie down in green pastures will now, if you’re a Catholic, “in verdant pastures give you repose.”) Among clergy no less than the laity, a desire for beauty and reflection is deemed prissy and dull.

“I’ve always thought that beautiful art was a great apologetic resource,” Myers says. Beauty is the chief attribute of God, said Jonathan (not Bob) Edwards. “Beauty points to a Creator.” Yet the church, Myers says, “capitulates more and more to the culture of entertainment.”

“It’s a way of keeping market share. But they’re digging their own grave. There’s a short-term benefit, but in the long term the kinds of cultural resources they need to be faithful to the Gospel won’t be there.” ....