The Benefits of Liturgy

 The benefits of historic, Bible-saturated, Sunday morning liturgy are many.  Liturgies protect the congregation from the pastor’s (or worship leader’s) whims and hobby horses. With a solid liturgy, you don’t have to put up with those odd songs or ideas that “moved” your pastor (or worship leader) in the days before worship.  Solid liturgies remind us we’re not of this world, they kill narcissism, they help us join voices with the saints of old, they remind us God is a Triune God of order, majesty, and constancy, and solid liturgies do not cater to certain age groups or ethnicities.  In Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy, Anglican Mark Galli talks about these benefits and more.  The following quotes are some that stood out as I read this book.

“In an individualistic culture, the liturgy helps us live a communal life.  In a culture that values spontaneity, the liturgy grounds us in something enduring. … In a world demanding instant relevance, the liturgy gives us the patience to live into a relevance that the world does not know” (p. 11).

The liturgy takes “us into a strange world, one that is not about the self, which so easily becomes banal,  but about a glorious God” (p. 29).

“…The liturgy puts a break on narcissism right up front. …We are forcefully reminded that we are not worshiping an idealized form of the self, but a God ‘in heaven,’ a ‘holy’ God, a genuine Other” (p. 43).

“The liturgy does not target any age or cultural sub-group.  It does not even target this century (it does not assume, as we moderns are tempted to do, that this is the best of all possible ages, the most significant era of history).  Instead, the liturgy presents a form of worship that transcends our time and place. …It has not been shaped to meet any particular group’s needs.  It seeks only to enable people – people in general – to see God” (p. 57-8).

Liturgical worship “is a form of worship that is especially suited to not getting distracted” (p. 59).

By the way, ‘liturgy’ here means things like the votum, salutation, benediction, confession, absolution, prayers/collects, Scriptures, alms, doxology, and so on.  Galli is even more ‘high church’ than I am, so there are parts of this book with which I didn’t agree (i.e. his appeals to Rome).  I wouldn’t give this book to just anyone; I’d give it to thoughtful Christians who are wrestling with worship, who need to learn some good reasons for liturgical services. 

I’d also recommend it to our readers who are in a liturgical tradition but have doubts about it or who need to be reminded that biblical liturgy is good for the Christian church.  Finally, for pastors or elders in old-school, confessional Reformed, Presbyterian, Anglican, or Lutheran churches, I do think this would be a good one for you to have on the shelves.  Even if you may not want to hand it out to everyone, the book will help keep you liturgical in an anti-liturgical age.  And it’ll help you explain to others why biblical liturgy is indeed a blessing.

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

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6 comments on “The Benefits of Liturgy

  1. Richard says:

    Hi Shane, I would also suggest Liturgical Theology by Simon Chan and God’s Pattern by David Stancliffe.

    • Reformed Reader says:

      Thanks, Richard; I just checked them out on Amazon and added the Chan one to my wishlist. The other one seemed to be quite a bit broader than liturgy, though I admit it does sound pretty interesting.

  2. Richard says:

    Yes Shane it covers more than just liturgy. He demonstrates how the Emmaus pattern which shapes the liturgy also shapes how we live. Very interesting reading. Of course the classic on liturgy is Dix’s The Shape of the Liturgy.

  3. I have never been part of a congregation with what I call a historic liturgy. All churches have some sort of liturgical pattern. Most of the congregations I have been a part of had the the loosy-goosy what is hip today type liturgy. The longer I follow Christ, the more benefit I see to a real liturgy. It does protect against the things you mentioned.

    Quit recommending so many good books. I can not keep up! lol

  4. Alan says:

    The use of a traditional liturgical framework does not preclude the use of inappropriate music within that framework. While on vacation a few years ago we attended worship at a Missouri Synod church. They did seem to follow the traditional liturgy, but most of the “music” was by a “praise band” and with idiotic words; an exception was the use of the pipe organ for the Doxology. The pastor wore an open-necked plaid shirt but then donned his stole for the communion.

    • Reformed Reader says:

      True enough, Alan, good point. I realize some churches water the liturgy down. When I said what I did about liturgies, I was talking about historic, Bible-saturated, solid ones (songs included). If a pastor or congregation merely gives lip service to liturgy, it quickly loses its biblical, historic, and solid aspects.

      As you said, it doesn’t work to jam pop-praise songs into a historic liturgy. I bet that worship service gave you something like Christian schizophrenia! Solid liturgies are historical, doctrinal, serious, transcendent, and they cover many biblical themes. Pop-praise songs are none of those things. Probably we could argue that pop songs in a historic liturgy take away the ‘historicalness’ from it (along with those other things mentioned above).

      Thanks for the note, Alan.
      shane

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