Liturgy? Every church has some type of liturgy. The ancient Greek definition for liturgy is “the work of the people.” But our modern era has caused some confusion by relating the word liturgy to the traditional worship that is more structured and responsive; as opposed to the modern worship that only involves singing and preaching.
|The Rev. Mike Spreng|
Many say that liturgical worship is “canned” and “dry.” But the truth is that liturgical celebrations is only canned and dry to those that are unwilling to involve themselves in it. The Liturgical church worships regardless of who is and is not worshiping. It does not change its form because of one man or many men’s unbelief.
The traditional Church worships regardless of how you worship, regardless of whether you worship or not! The traditional church assumes a worship service for the mature Christian to worship with all that he/she has. It also assumes worship for the new believer but the new believer, at first, may not feel like they are giving their all, since their “all” is not nearly as whole as the mature believer that they are worshiping with.
Worship is not discipleship (although it does instruct and edify), or even, in many ways, evangelism. In discipleship the Church comes down to the new believer’s level, giving certain amounts of attention and information as the person grows. But worship does not involve the Church fragmenting down to the unbeliever’s level, it involves raising the Church “up” to God. This is why the calling of the priest is so important! He is bringing us up to God to worship and serve God - to give him our hearts, hence the Prayer Book’s Sursum Corda: “Lift up your hearts. We lift them up unto the Lord. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is meet and right so to do.”
I love the way St. Paul describes Christians as “bondservants.” Other translations besides the NKJ use the word slave, but bondservant seems much more appropriate since the word is not associated with modern slavery. To be a bondservant of Christ means that we are indeed bound to our servant-hood. We are not slaves in the modern sense of not having freedom, but we are slaves in the spiritual sense of having freedom yet under the certain care and tutelage of Christ.
When we worship God on the Lord’s Day we become bondservants to Christ through the ordained liturgy of the Church. There is indeed a difference between ordained liturgy and just good liturgy. Good liturgy is good because it looks good on paper, like in a thesis. But ordained liturgy, which we shall refer to as bondservant liturgy, is good because one really and truly becomes bound to it - covenantally speaking. Bondservant liturgy is done under the succession and law of Christ’s Church-historical under the care and authority of a bishop. Some may be a little leery on the use of the bishopric here, so please allow me to explain.
It is not the bishop in and of him self that makes the liturgy valid. It is not even his office that makes the liturgy valid. It is what’s behind the office of the bishop that makes the liturgy valid. It is what a bishop does that makes the liturgy valid.
You may have noticed that within Christendom those churches that have no bishop have no standard of liturgy that lasts any longer than one generation. Some churches will use some parts of different liturgies for their service, but this piecemeal type of liturgy does not last. It may seem theologically correct when it is on paper, but is it theologically correct when it is within the Body of Christ? Liturgy, like all ethics, is to be covenantal: Liturgy must be able to be handed down from generation to generation. ONLY THE BISHOPRIC HAS PROVEN ITSELF TO BE ABLE TO HANDLE THIS TASK. The other modern forms of ecclesiology have not been able to sustain a standard of liturgy, and thus have not proven them selves to be covenantal liturgies. There is a liturgy that is bound and a liturgy that is not bound. The liturgy that is bound is the liturgy that is under the bishop (episcopate).
Let’s take this a step further by including just what liturgy leads us to: grace! Vernon Stanely, in The Catholic Religion (p. 27) says:
“The episcopate is the warrant or guarantee of sacramental grace. Those bodies of Christians who have lost the apostolic succession, have lost with it the divine warrant of such grace. God may excuse those who act in ignorance, and He may reward their faith by some gift of grace; but if so, it is as outside the covenant, and such grace is ‘uncovenanted’ grace”
Traditional liturgy involves a very tight structure that, although sometimes may seem uncomfortable to us, is able to form our character and lead us to appropriate behavior (great for both adults and kids). We become bound to this particular form/structure. It is a form that is so tightly woven that almost no personality can seep into the service. Almost none of man’s sinful nature can come in to strut its arrogance and manipulative suave. Suave is not all bad, though, right? No, it is not, but suave and personality have their place. They especially have their place in conversation, where the receiving end has the freedom to shoot back, creating lively and eventful fellowship. BUT ONE SHOULD NOT HAVE TO BECOME A BONDSERVANT TO ANOTHER MAN’S PERSONALITY, ESPECIALLY WITHIN WORSHIP. Think of the ramifications of this! And does God desire to be worshiped in personality, especially that of one man’s?
Bondservant liturgy is liturgy that has succeeded multi generations and is in itself bound to Christ’s message and redemption; past, present and future. When we give ourselves to Christ’s worship we are becoming bondservants to something very particular within the framework of sanctification. When we submit ourselves as bondservants in worship, we demonstrate our ability to submit ourselves as bondservants to the entirety of life in Christ. If one cannot submit to worshiping God how much more could they possibly be able to submit themselves to anything else Christ asks of them?
The Rev. Mike Spreng is pastor of Trinity Church, 2402 N. Usery Pass Rd., Mesa, www.anglicanmesa.org.