Friday, May 2, 2008

It's not about meeting our needs

Mark Galli, at Christianity Today, explains why he appreciates liturgical worship. All who worship have forms that we follow, whether intentional or not. It is better to be intentional and purposeful and to offer worship. Galli:
.... It is precisely the point of the liturgy to take people out of their worlds and usher them into a strange, new world—to show them that, despite appearances, the last thing in the world they need is more of the world out of which they've come. The world the liturgy reveals does not seem relevant at first glance, but it turns out that the world it reveals is more real than the one we inhabit day by day.

By "the liturgy," I mean the prayers, responses, and shape of worship one finds in Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox services, and to a lesser degree, in Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, and other mainline churches. If you examine the full service of each of these traditions, you'll find a surprisingly common worship order, and prayers and responses that are identical in many places. The shape of this liturgy has its origin in the early church, and has been molded by the history of the church up to the present.

Worshiping in the liturgical tradition is no panacea. When not approached wisely, it can be misused and abused; it can tempt participants to substitute mere religious ritual for a vital, personal faith in Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, this tradition does have much to offer contemporary evangelicalism. Take our fascination with relevance: the first thing this liturgy asks us to rethink is what we mean by "relevant" worship. ....

...The liturgy does not target any age or cultural subgroup. It does not even target this century. (It does not imagine, as we moderns and postmoderns are tempted to do, that this is the best of all possible ages, the most significant era of history.) Instead, the liturgy draws us into worship that transcends our time and place. Its earliest forms took shape in ancient Israel, and its subsequent development occurred in a variety of cultures and subcultures—Greco-Roman, North African, German, Frankish, Anglo-Saxon, and so on. It has been prayed meaningfully by bakers, housewives, tailors, teachers, philosophers, priests, monks, kings, and slaves. As such, it has not been shaped to meet a particular group's needs. It seeks only to enable people—people in general—to see God. ....

In this regard, the liturgy is more relevant than we can imagine, because it's a place where God is taken seriously, and therefore where we are taken seriously. A liturgical service is by no means the only service that does this, but it is a form of worship that is especially suited to not getting distracted. The Anglican liturgy I participate in begins and ends like this:
Celebrant: Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
People: And blessed be his kingdom, now and forever.

Deacon: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
People: Thanks be to God.
The liturgy, from beginning to end, is not about meeting our needs. The liturgy is about God. It's not even about God-as-the-fulfiller-of-our-need-for-spiritual-meaning. It's about God as he is himself: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is not about our blessedness but his. The liturgy immediately signals that our needs are not nearly as relevant as we imagine. There is something infinitely more worthy of our attention—something, someone, who lies outside the self. ....

The liturgy begins by saying that our culture needs not so much to have its "presenting needs" met as to be gently and calmly invited into a wiser culture—the culture of a Trinitarian God and his kingdom. This is what is blessed, now and forever. Our culture is the transitory thing, an apparition that will someday have to pass away, just as childhood has to pass away. The liturgy says to us as we enter, "You're in the culture of God and his kingdom now. Things will be different from now on." (more)
C.S. Lewis: "All that is not eternal, is eternally out of date."

A Deeper Relevance | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

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