Behind the Liturgy

Why we do what we do on Sundays

June 22, 2017
4 min

As part of our Missio On Ramp process, newer people to the Missio Family are asked to submit three questions to the elders about Missio.  They can be theological, biblical, or practical.  Chuck Schwartzmann recently asked a great question about our liturgy.

“I am very comfortable with Missio Dei but I have been surprised to see that your format is more “high Church” than most Bible / Non-denominational churches are.  The routine use of lectionary readings, confessionals and creeds are sort of unusual for evangelical churches. Frankly, I don’t have a problem with a format using these traditional tools (and I kind of enjoy it) as part of the worship service, but I was wondering what led you to use this format?”

I suspect a number of you have wondered about this too. We started out with worship gatherings that were by far more informal and organic. Yet we have moved towards a more formal and intentional liturgy over the last 5 years. And I confess, I have not done a great job of explaining our liturgy to you.  This is my attempt.

TWO REASONS THAT ARE NOT THE REASON

1. It is a hip reaction to the low church  worship services that are common in our American Evangelical culture. It is certainly different than the “contemporvent” service.  But we are not just swinging a pendulum.  As you will see from the reasons below, they are very principled moves.

2. We are trying to become Catholic or Lutheran. I’ve heard this from a few people.  First, I want to caution us to be careful in our language and not put ourselves up against other traditions from within The Church.  Second, no, we are not becoming something else.  We are, however, admittedly learning from our Christian sisters and brothers from other traditions.

FIVE REASONS FOR OUR LITURGY

I could give about a million reasons, but here are 5 good ones.

1. Everyday mission throughout the week makes a rich and robust Sunday worship more vital, not less.  At first we wanted to deemphasize Sundays because for so many of us they had become the end all of “church” for people.  But the more we started to mix it up with the other narratives in our culture, the more we realized we needed to be re-gospelled, re-storied each week when we were all together.

2. The liturgy should tell and draw us in each week to the True Story.  The worship that many of us have been accustomed to pumps up our emotionalism, promotes our individualism, and plays to our consumerism. We know that in order to fight these idols, we need a liturgy that rehearses the true story.

MD_TrueStorySymbols

Each week we have a call to worship and opening song that draw our attention to the God of Creation.  We confess our sin together, acknowledging the reality of the Fall.  We are assured of our forgiveness, hear a gospel-centered sermon, and come to the table all re-minding us of Jesus’ Redemption.  We are equipped to live as God’s people in the world and sent with a missional benediction.

3.  Habits Create Loves. James K.A. Smith’s work has been influential.  He talks about how we all have liturgies in life that form what we love.  There is something powerful about doing the same thing regularly to where the rhythm becomes a habit.  Our habits form what we love.  And we are shaped by what we love.  Each week we come back to something that is familiar. For example, the fact that each Sunday we stand and do the humiliating act of confessing our sin together, there is something formative in that.  The fact that we come each week to the communion table to receive a visible representation of God’s grace to us, that has the power to form us.

4 Connecting to Our Roots.  Mike Goheen and I were talking about forms of worship.  He made a statement that much of the church for much of her history has had set forms of liturgy.  If we were going to deviate from this, we better be quite sure there is a good reason to do that.  That really got stuck in my craw. Why did we do what we did?  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that our informal church liturgy might owe more to us acquiescing to the individualism, consumerism, and obsession with the “new” in our current cultural climate than it had to do with a faithful contextualization in our culture.

5. Sitting Under the Word. We have been influenced by a few Anglican biblical scholars and theologians (John Stott, Chris Wright, and NT Wright).  There was something about the way that these men love and cherish the Bible that we loved.  As we listened to them talk and read their writings I kept hearing them talk about the importance of the public reading of Scripture for the life of the church.  Things like the daily office and having scripture readings be an integral part of the service rather than just a set-up for the sermon seemed to help form this love of the Word.

CONCLUSION

Our liturgy each week is not simply put together haphazardly.  The repetition, the structure, the communal nature of it are all done on purpose.  Our prayer is that the Spirit continues to use it to form each of us as disciples and to shape us as faithful missional communities.