Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The "liturgical" church

(Moody Standard) - “Liturgy” is a word that by virtue of its mere obscurity seems to be dropping out of the common vernacular altogether, just as churches that keep the prescribed calendar and hold traditional services have been left stranded by the mainstream of evangelical culture. Liturgy, however, is more than merely a calendar, and several Moody students would assert that it offers believers the opportunity to experience worship and the church in a fresh way and to grow as believers and future ministers of the gospel.

Hattie Buell, a sophomore ethnomusicology major who attends services at Church of the Resurrection Anglican, believes Moody students stand to gain a lot from exploring liturgical worship: “Moody’s a very practical school, but because of that practicality it loses out on a lot of the richness and worship when it forgets the liturgy and the church calendar,” she said. “You can do nothing wrong with learning about liturgy, about the Book of Common Prayer,” she said. “Worship and beauty go hand in hand, and Moody is so mission-focused that it misses out a lot on worship.”

The connection between liturgical worship and the historical roots of the Christian faith are deep, with practices and creeds that reach back millennia, according to Dr. Bryan Litfin, professor of theology. “Once you get out of the first century, when you had a loosely-organized house church movement, the ancient church quickly became liturgical,” he said. “If you plopped an ancient Christian down in modern times and eliminated the language barrier, he would most easily recognize the Eastern Orthodox service. If he entered a contemporary Evangelical church he’d probably think he had visited a service of Gnostic heretics.”

According to Buell, rather than deadening worship, the antiquity of most liturgical services connects believers in a unique way. She said, “When you bring in high church and the liturgy you open it up to the whole world,” she said. “You feel connected with the saints of the past, with your brothers and sisters. It’s really opened up my eyes to how much bigger everything is than just us.”

“I think it’s given me a more holistic understanding of the gospel, if you will, or of salvation, and helped me realize the communal aspects of it,” said Andie Moody, senior communications major, about the liturgical services she attends at Redeemer Anglican Church.

Liturgical services, Litfin argues, carry with them a sense of reverence that other service types lack. He said, “I also think liturgical worship, when it’s done properly, is solemn and otherworldly and mystical and even scary. Why do so many churches try to make their services ‘comfortable’? Why should we be comfortable if the living God is breaking into our world as the gathered body worships him? We should be trembling.”

Ultimately, Litfin argues, the liturgical church remains the root and foundation of the Christian faith, despite the popularity of contemporary worship with modern evangelicals. “At some point you’re going to get sick of the crappy architecture, and the rock bands, and the infiltration of pop culture into the entire philosophy of ministry,” he said. “And then, if God is gracious to you, you’ll find a Bible-centered liturgical church still doing what has always been done.”


  1. Is it even accurate to say that the early church was a loosely-organized house church movement?

  2. As a former Evangelical, I'm very glad to read this, indeed! CJ is right, though. He got the "house church" part right, but if I understand things correctly, "loosely organized movement," though technically correct, glosses over the consistent sacramental shape, form of spiritual disciplines, and hierarchical continuity (referenced in the "Didache" and all consistent with the biblical sacramental and liturgical life of the OT Judaism from which it sprung) with later developments of the Church's organization and liturgy.