Raised in a Conservative Baptist church that practiced a style of worship very much influenced by the frontier free worship tradition, I will never forget two of my first experiences with liturgical style. The first was at a mainline Presbyterian Church in New Jersey where my mother’s sister and her family attended. After quite a few series of standing and sitting for unison prayers and creeds, all of which I was very unfamiliar with, I said “This is crazy!” a bit too loudly and received a stern look from my parents. About six years later, now a college student and bit more mellow, I attended a cousin’s wedding in an Episcopal Church. One feature of the ceremony was communion, first for the couple and then for anyone else who wished to participate. My dad decided that our family would not participate. I remember feeling quite relieved as this church’s sights, smells and sounds were very foreign to me, and thus uncomfortable. I didn’t want to have to experience its venture into the sense of taste as well. What if it was…(gasp)…wine! But I suspect my dad had us abstain due to theological reasons, feeling we shouldn’t align ourselves with the Episcopal Church.
As I reflect on these two occurrences and many subsequent forays into different Christian liturgies, it is clear that the corner of the world of worship that I grew up is just that, only a corner, a small expression of a much larger body. It is interesting how quickly we can assume that our particular expression of worship is the only one, or at least the only right one. Still more interesting is that God never inspired a biblical writer to direct us into one particular liturgy. In that we see his genius, allowing worship that can change from one time to the next, and from one culture to another. At times I wish I could see exactly how the earliest Christians worshiped, or perhaps discuss my church’s particular liturgy with Paul or Peter. Do we have it right? What could we change? Would we even like what they did?
Does your church have an order of worship? Is the order of worship printed in a bulletin or program so people can follow along? Does the order change much week to week? Does it matter?
Should a church allow space in a worship gathering for the people to choice on the spur of the moment how they want to express themselves in worship? Or should everything be planned in advance, following an order?
Frank Viola in his book Pagan Christianity, which I have currently loaned out or I would be able to quote directly, talks about the history of the order of worship as having been born from pagan gatherings. Viola points to a few lines of Scripture that seem to teach a much more open, participatory style of worship. Those verses are the next section of 1st Corinthians, 14:26-40. The first few lines are compelling: “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.” Does that mean no one was leading the service, that there was no order of worship that they followed? Viola thinks so. He suggests that worship gatherings are actually damaging to discipleship when most of the people sit passively while a couple paid professionals do all the work.
But if we don’t have an order of worship, won’t our worship services get out of control? They sure did in Corinth. Can we possibly open the worship service to let everyone be involved? What if someone talks too long? What if they say something crazy? What if the same people monopolize the time every week? What if they are obnoxious? What if they teach something that isn’t true? Isn’t it really better to have an order of worship that is led by a few people while the rest join in by singing a couple pre-selected songs, giving, and following along with the rest?
What is the purpose of worship? To give everyone a chance to get involved?
Join us Sunday at Faith Church as we talk about this further!