02 December, 2007

Contra-Liturgy

I have been reading my absolute favorite theologian some more, NT Wright. I love the way he orders his arguments, and I love his priorities. So far as I'm concerned, he does as good a job of putting important things first as anyone I've read. He's a joy to read.

He's an Anglican.

That's cool. I love Anglicans, and I dearly love the Truth of Christ that he spells out so patiently and lovingly. Still, I have to admit I have trouble with his view of liturgy. He's a practitioner and mild advocate of high liturgy. He does a really good job of presenting a core Christianity that doesn't require him to dwell on liturgy, and when he does he's quite amiable about it. I respect his viewpoint deeply.

Still, after reading his stuff for a while I need to vent about the pain liturgy causes me - Anglican, Episcopal, Baptist, Assemblies of God, PCA, all of it. After all these years, I still assert we will not see all the church should be until we break through the wall of liturgy again.

Oh, I know all Christian services are allegedly "liturgical," and the only difference is whether they are "high" or "low" in their liturgy. Whether you meet in a living room or a cathedral, whatever you do is supposed to be a liturgy of some form.

Balderdash.

Allow me to quote 1 Cor 14:24-33, and you tell me where the liturgy is.

24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. 26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

I beg you to come up with one single denomination on Earth today to which Paul might have to write anything remotely similar to this. Each one has a hymn? Each one has a lesson? Let two or three prophets speak? Let others weigh in? Let the first prophet speaking pause to allow another prophet with a "breaking revelation" to interrupt?

And these instructions are Paul's "corrections!" These are not the problem. These are the cure. In our age, we have applied the cure where there was no disease and ended up with a patient who is so "well" she can hardly speak any more.

Analogy:
I bring my car to the mechanic and tell him that it's shaking at 65 mph. A week later I pay him my money on his good word that it doesn't shake at 65 any more. And sure enough, when I get on the road the car won't go over 25 mph.

The car no longer shakes at 65, but I am emphatically not a happy customer.


Even so with liturgy.

Paul had a problem with the church in Corinth. It was not their biggest problem, by any means, but it was one that needed handling. They were so puffed up with knowledge that their meetings were circus shows, three rings rollin' 'round the clock. They had people drunk at love feasts, people interrupting, and people just flat talking in unknown tongues during the whole affair.

That's a heap o' problems.

So Paul cured them. And then he stopped. We didn't stop, though. We kept going until we got to where we are today. Paul did not tell them to restrain all worship to that led by a minister of worship. Paul did not tell them shut up and listen to one man speak - "you can all prophesy one by one." Well, you could in one of Paul's churches, but you certainly cannot in the 21st century.

My problems with the liturgy are these:
+ A man determines when the meeting will end - and makes the call before it even starts. You cannot possibly believe the Spirit always takes exactly 65 minutes to say to the church what needs to be said?
+ A man determines who will speak and what roles each will play. Could this be any more directly against scripture?
+ A man determines the content of the meeting.

Have you ever had a revelation during a church meeting? It hurt didn't it? You saw something beautiful that would have been helpful to everyone, and you had to stifle it. That feeling of pain is called "quenching the Spirit," and it's supposed to hurt. Pain is a natural warning that something is happening to you that is not good for the body.

The correct response to pain is not to ignore it, and yet that is the only option allowed us.

Ever wondered what it must be like to come to church expecting to share something sometimes, instead of receiving everything week after week after week? It feels like responsibility, and responsibility feels good.

I recommend it to anyone.

8 comments:

Lynne said...

You must REALLY like liturgy-optional Anglicans (like me!) :)
Seriously, I dream of a church that is Anglican in theology and at least semi-house church in style. We do have sharing times in quite a few (unfortunately not all) of our services when people can share anything from a prayerpoint to a word they just received from the Lord -- our minister is also really open to people telling him during the service that they have something they want to say. it doesn't happen often (after all, we Aussies can be a reticent bunch)but when it does it works well. Certainly the sort of thing I'd like to see more of! We also, at least every 2nd Sunday have times when we break into small groups with the people around us and spend 5-10 minutes praying for one another. And quite often someone will grab someone else after the service and find a quiet corner to pray through a particular problem. So, i think we're working on it, but we aint there yet!

Milly said...

we aren't even try'n :-/

karen said...

AWESOME word, CP!

codepoke said...

Lynne,

> You must REALLY like liturgy-optional Anglicans (like me!) :)

I like 'em better every time I hear about 'em.

Yep. That's once so far. :-)

It sounds like ya'll have a good thing going. I think I'd like it very, very much. I'm truly jealous. :-/

codepoke said...

Milly,

It's tough in a really mainline denomination to go liturgy free. People need order, and that goes both above and below.

codepoke said...

Thank you Karen. It was great to hear that. :-)

Mike said...

Found your blog through Kansas Bob and I love it.

N.T. Wright is amazing, got to see him in person a few years ago. His influence made it easier for me to go Anglican when the PCA no longer wanted me.

But I realized I was going deeper down the rabbit hole of religion. Once I got turned around and could see the sunlight I bolted out of the hole for the kind of freedom you're talking about here.

Anyway, keep up the good work. I'll certainly be reading!

codepoke said...

Glad to meet you, Mike. I hope I can live up to this post. :-)

KB is quite a brother. I'm always amazed at his open heart.