Lit·ur·gy: noun, the order and structure of a formal church service.
1) The liturgy protects the congregation from the pastor.
Several years ago, I went to a funeral. It was a typical funeral with the Remembrance of Baptism, Scripture Readings, the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and so forth. Indeed, it was a very faithful liturgical service; that is until the pastor stepped into the pulpit. What came forth from the pulpit can only be described as what the Apostle Paul calls, "skubala." Yes, what the pastor said in the pulpit was theological dung - garbage. Not only did the pastor disgrace the person in the coffin but he also made a mockery of the Lord and His dear Saints in the pews. Now, one would think that such a display of incompetence, buffoonery, and stupidity in the pulpit would destroy a funeral service; however, the funeral service still granted comfort to the bereaved. How is that possible? The answer, the liturgy protected the congregation from the pastor. That is right; the pastor's 10-minute circus sermon was overshadowed by 30 minutes of the liturgy – the Scriptures, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the rest of the order of service.
Why do we love the historic liturgy? The liturgy protects a congregation from a pastor who has a bad sermon, two bad sermons, or weeks and months of bad sermons.
2) The liturgy is bigger and older than us.
At the time, my seven-year-old daughter was sitting next to Delores and Ruth in a church service (Delores and Ruth are sisters, and both of them are in their 90s). While my daughter sat next to Delores and Ruth, something hit me - they were completely unified. Yes, even though my daughter was around 90 years younger than Delores and Ruth, with the liturgy they were completely united. You see, the liturgy was not wedged into Ruth's, Delores', or my daughter's individualistic religious experiences. But rather, the three of them were inserted into something bigger and much older. Indeed, every time that all of us participate in the liturgy, we are implanted into the songs, melodies, singing, and theology of the historic church from the past, as well as the present. We attend Grandpa and Grandma's church, while simultaneously joining together with the voices of millions across the world on every continent and in every language.
Why do we love the historic liturgy? The liturgy is bigger and older than us. It is truly multicultural and multigenerational.
3) The liturgy is stable when everything else in life is not.
Kara is like any other young adult; she lives in a culture of great change. Each week she hears a new song on her Pandora music account. Monthly she updates her Hulu television watchlist. She is on her sixth new phone in the last four years. Regarding school, she has switched her major at least four times and is not quite sure when she will graduate. And her family? Well, her mom and dad were divorced when she was eight, which led her to live with her mom and spending time on the weekends with her dad. Life with her mom, though, was rather unstable. Kara seemed to meet one of her mom’s new boyfriends every 10-12 months.
For Kara, life seemed like a boat in a great raging storm. Up and down, to and fro, she bounced with the unpredictability of life. While Kara seemed to handle the changes of life quite well, deep down she knew that she was not able to survive long-term with such instability. That is why Kara needed an anchor; that is why Kara joined a liturgical church. The historic liturgy provided Kara with steadiness, consistency, and predictability. The liturgy was a stable anchor in the raging storm of her life.
Why do we love the historic liturgy? The liturgy is that which is stable and consistent when everything else in life is not. It creates order within a world of chaos.
4) The liturgy honors good stewardship of church resources.
In my more contemporary Evangelical days, I was a part of a church that designed their weekly church services from scratch. The Sunday theme, the music, the verses, the order of service, the PowerPoint slides, and so forth, had to be created from scratch. Yes, every week, church staff and pastors were faced with a blank slate, in which they had to create a new and unique church service. As a result, each week's church service required at least five to six hours of total planning of all parties involved. Now, keep in mind that this was 'just' the planning - it did not include the actual preparation and practicing. In other words, about $10,000 a year in salary expenses and over 350 hours of labor went into planning church services from scratch.
Now, contrast this with the historic liturgy. The historic liturgy follows the liturgical orders and a liturgical calendar that date back some 2,000 years. In other words, the planning of church services is already done. No need to recreate the wheel - this saves the congregation an extra $10,000 and 350 hours to devote to other needs.
Why do we love the historic liturgy? The liturgy honors good stewardship of church resources.
5) The liturgy prepares us for death.
Lloyd had been in assisted living for quite some time. He had severe memory issues. Most days he didn't even know his own name. And his wife? He couldn't always remember her either. However, the one thing that Lloyd could remember was the liturgy. He could sing the Gloria Patri, recite the Apostles’ Creed, pray the Lord's Prayer, and recite the Words of Institution.
Why was Lloyd able to remember the liturgy and not other aspects of life? The answer, the liturgy had been inscribed on him through 87 years of church services. The liturgy was with him during his early part of life - it was a part of his early memories, memories that are typically the last to be forgotten with Alzheimer's. In fact, the liturgy was with Lloyd, all the way up to his death, giving him comfort and assurance.
Why do we love the historic liturgy? Over time and through repetition, the words and music of the liturgy are impressed on our hearts and minds, so that we might draw upon them in times of trial.
6) The liturgy serves us.
Diane came up to me after the service one day and said, "Pastor, I hope God was well-pleased with our singing and worship today." To which I responded with a great lament, "Oh Diane, rejoice, God is already well-pleased with us because of Christ!"
The trouble that Diane was experiencing is that the evangelical church (that we were both a part of) saw Sunday Morning Services mainly as the Chrisitan's worship toward God. In other words, the Christian in the pew was the speaker, and God was the audience. The worship service was designed to serve God. But this is a pagan view. The Lord is ‘not’ the audience! We are ‘not’ the speaker! Instead, the liturgy teaches us that the rhythm is from God toward us, and then from us back to God. The liturgy serves us! The liturgy takes the emphasis off the Christian and puts it on the Lord who is for the Christian via the Word and Sacraments.
Why do we love the historic liturgy? In the liturgy, God is the speaker, and we are the audience – the liturgy serves us.
7) The liturgy does not give into fads.
The other day I was at my children’s school, and one of their classmates had ‘tight rolled jeans.’ Now, either this girl is about 30 years behind this 1980s trend, or she is on the cutting edge of the supposed renewed wave of pinrolling. The point being, depending on who you talk to, she is either irrelevant or relevant.
Unfortunately, churches can do the same thing with church services. For example, is it relevant for a baby-boomer praise and worship band to sing five verses of Shine Jesus Shine while wearing Hawaiian shirts and cargo shorts? Or is a millennial praise and worship band more relevant singing a song from Tree 63 while wearing skinny jeans and double-breasted blazers? Who is more relevant?
The liturgy, on the other hand, does not give into fads. That is to say; liturgical churches – with their vestments, music, service order, and demeanor – do not consult or care if they are keeping up with the fads of culture. Why? Because fads come and they go. The liturgy of the church is older, bigger, and unphased by fads. Furthermore, if a church tries to keep up with changing fads, it must reinvent itself every 5-8 years. And if it cannot keep up with the changing culture, it is supposedly irrelevant within just a couple short years.
Why do we love the historic liturgy? The liturgy is not distracted by the fads of culture but focuses on confessing Christ - Christ who is always relevant.
8) The liturgy has Christ and His gifts as first importance.
Perhaps the most important thing about the liturgy is that it clearly guides a congregation to confess sins and then receive Jesus and His gifts. Indeed, through the liturgy, we are freed from our sins and strengthened in faith and love. But how is this possible? Within the liturgy and after sins are publicly confessed, the absolution is pronounced - again and again. Furthermore, within the liturgy, the Holy Scriptures are read into ears, as well as preached into hearts and minds - again and again. And finally, within the liturgy, the Lord gives His own body and blood to eat and drink in the Holy Supper to forgive, nourish, and strengthen - again and again.
Why do we love the historic liturgy? The liturgy does not deviate from the person and work of Christ in the prayers, scripture lessons, songs, and service order. In the liturgy, Christ and His gifts are of first importance.
Why do we love historic liturgy?
The historic liturgy is not the only way, but it is the best way