Monday, November 16, 2009

Can You Say,"Liturgy?"

When I say the word, “Liturgy” what comes to your mind? Maybe you envision a service in an Episcopal or Catholic Church where you see yourself participating in a service passively (i.e., being lead by an ordained clergy thru written prayers) rather than actively engaging in worship, such as in Chapel at IWU.

But could I give you a different perspective on the “liturgies” so you may see them in a whole new light. My definition of liturgy would be this: a Christian liturgy is a communal sacred activity whereby the participants are shaped and formed in godliness. Now, this could take pages to unpack, but allow me to simply state a few of my presuppositions.


First, I begin my definition of liturgy with the adjective, “Christian” as a principal modifier. There are all kinds of liturgies that we are involved in that alter our life and loves. Some are more overt Christian (Chapel MWF) others are more subtly secular (watching 8 hours of NFL football on Sunday). Notice in Romans 12:1-2 Paul writes,

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.


Paul talks about our lives being affected in one of two ways, conformed (by the liturgical practices) of this world or transformed (by the Christian liturgies) which leads to the renewal of your mind. Thus, I would argue that there are practices in your life that serve as liturgies for your good or for your ill. (More on this later.)


Second, I do not see sacred liturgy is not a private act but as a communal one. Yes, you can recite the Apostles’ Creed alone or pray in isolation or even sing a hymn privately. But I would see these privatized acts as more devotional in aspect. Spiritual formation certainly, but it may be limited in its affective value because it does not place you in a setting where you are making a public declaration of your faith. Moreover, praying the Lord’s Prayer is liturgical in its origin. Listen to the pronouns, “Our Father who is in heaven...give us this day our daily bread…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…lead us not into temptation…but deliver us from evil.” All the pronouns are plural. So, as we pray this prayer with sincerity it assumes a public audience whereby we offer forgiveness in order to receive it. Thus, liturgy can be an authentic public confession of forgiveness shaping us together into the Body of Christ or an announcement of a refusal to listen to the Sprit of Christ begging you to release the hurt of past sins done against you. A privatized faith would rob the Body of Christ of the corporate formation it could give. 

Third, liturgies can and do deeply shape and form the participants. Yes, I am certain that listening to a sermon on your iPod “informs” your mind and makes for sound cognitive growth. But when I speak of liturgy, I am leaning more towards its affective value upon a person holistically. As we experience well thought out liturgies, they do much more than “inform” our mind but wondrously “form” our hearts and ultimately “transform” our loves to adopt those of our Trinitarian Lord. 

So maybe I will ask the question this way. What liturgies play a shaping role in your life today? Here is the hard question which we will ponder further next week; as the liturgies that shape your life and loves the most, Christian or secular?

[To help with this soul-searching, I encourage you to delve into Dr. James K. A. Smith’s lecture in the PPAC @ 4pm Thursday Nov 19th for this semester’s Athens and Jerusalem Seminar lecture. Plus Dr. Jamie Smith will be speaking in the Thursday evening Chapel. His new book entitled Desiring the Kingdom explores the topic of how liturgy informs all that we do and love.]


Now, Go with God


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