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What Is the Opposite of Liturgical?

I guess the first question should be, "Who is afraid of the word 'liturgical?'" Who bristles at the sound of it?

It may be that you hear the word "liturgy" and think of "those Catholics" who don't really love Jesus, but who just go through the motions or the works that the pope dictates or dead tradition tells them to do.

Seriously, if this is what liturgy is, who wants to have any part in it? But this is not what it means. Liturgy literally means "the work or service of the people." It comes from the Greek word leitourgia, which can be found in such places as Romans 12:1, where Paul begs us to present ourselves to God, to sacrifice our bodies, calling it our reasonable or spiritual service or worship (leitourgia).

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.
Certainly this type of liturgy is not confined to the church building or Sunday worship, but what about these gatherings? What of our solemn assemblies? Should leitourgia, this call from God, bear on our formal worship gatherings, what it looks like and what we do when we gather?

So, I have been posing this question to friends and fellow worshipers: What is the opposite of liturgical? Having similar predispositions to the above mentionedthat liturgy refers to dead, high church structuresome of their responses have been "charismatic," "free church," "non-structured," even "chaotic." I can understand these answers, having a similar view of liturgy in the past myself.

But I submit that the opposite of liturgical is not free church or chaotic; the opposite of liturgical is theatrical. If worship is not the work of the people, then it is the work of someone else, or the non-work of the people, right? I also submit that most Christians today approach worship in a theatrical way. The "work" is reserved for the paid pastors, or the clergy, the actors on the stage. Even the work of the kingdom outside of our formal gatherings is to be done by the church leaders. Most Christians assume the passive role of spectators, or cheerleaders, or, dare I say, financial supporters of the work that is to be done by someone other than themselves. This is not leitourgia.

I'm also afraid that I, a paid church leader along with most contemporary church leaders, am actually contributing to the problem. The system, the program, the machine, does not allow for the people to rise up in their gifts and callings to do the work God has for them. Even if there is room, we pastors are too busy maintaining the machine to truly love and pastor and disciple the people into the work they are called to. We are too big to focus on the liturgical lives of the people. We are forced to spend all our time making sure they keep coming to support our beautiful machine, our wonderful programs.

We must pay attention to how our people are being formed. We are being formed; there's no question about that. The question is, "How are we being formed?"

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Theatrical worship forms us according to the already prominent consumer systems of this world, built upon the media, entertainment, and pharmaceutical industries, among others. It invites people to enjoy the production (or hate it) and to take a dose of feel-good, audio medicine. Granted, good theatre, like good fiction, can lead us into a deeper understanding of reality. But that doesn't necessarily ensure we will do anything about it.

Liturgy, on the other hand, is transformational in that it counter-forms us to look different than what the world tries to make us look like. Liturgy ("the work of the people") conforms us into the image of Christ, the ultimate Liturgist. He already accomplished the ultimate "work," enabling us to do the "work" God is calling us to do. Jesus' act of worshiphis sacrifice, his work, his liturgymakes it possible for us to present ourselves holy and pleasing to God!

If this is true, then it's not liturgical worship that we need to be afraid of, but theatrical worship. Theatrical worship holds us back from doing the work of the kingdom; it keeps us from being Christ-like, it keeps us from being the church.

Theatrical = passive spectatorship.
Liturgical = active participation.

The contemporary church's reaction to liturgical worship has led us down a very dangerous path toward worldly conformation. Perhaps a holy confirmation is in order.

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Strong Words to Pastors, Worship Leaders, and Music Directors from Internet Monk

I usually get bored and stop reading long blogposts, but I couldn't stop reading this one: A Rant from a Loser in the Worship Wars. Thought I would share it with you. A few excerpts:

I would argue that we ought to find ways that people of all ages could be included and represented in a variety of ways in our worship services. When people come to worship they ought to see the whole family of God in action. They should not see a group of people that fills a market niche. That includes children, teens, college age young people, singles and family members of all ages, and adults from every available generation. We ought to learn to appreciate music that reflects what has been spiritually meaningful to people down through the years, as well as learning new songs of praise. Our church leaders should be courageous to challenge their congregations to obey the Scriptures and “accept one another” in these matters. We ought to see people from all generations “up front” and involved in the public ministry of the church.

The bottom line for me involves what it means to be the church, what it means to be a pastor, and what it means for God’s people to gather for worship. ...Many evangelicals have forgotten what it means to be a church for everybody. Many of their pastors have perverted their callings into something other than pastoral ministry. And many have no clue at all regarding worship, who and what it’s for.

Lacking a rich Biblical, historical, and theological imagination, we have surrendered unwittingly to our culture and followed its lead in all three areas. I may be on the losing side of the worship wars, but it is the church that is truly losing, as well as a world that needs more than another place to entertain them and keep them busy.

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Seating Arrangements in Worship

Rita Ferrone over at Pray Tell Blog posed the question to several teachers of liturgy:

Teaching liturgy today is both a wonderful opportunity and a challenge. There are so many possibilities! Where does one begin?
Here was one response that caught my attention. Richard Giles, a teacher in the U.K., says:

I always begin with how the assembly is seated. This wasn’t always so, as parishes usually have an idea for a new piece of liturgical furniture – often a new altar- and at first I was happy to go along with that (I love doodling new designs!).

Gradually however I came to realise that unless we can help a congregation to become a liturgical assembly – i.e. to gather in a configuration which gets them out of audience mode and into full and active participation — all the new furniture in the world won’t do much good.

A congregation seated in straight rows looking ahead to a liturgical ’stage’ up front is a group of people waiting to be informed or entertained, not an active community of faith about to do together the work of the people of God. Let’s get them looking as though they mean business, and the rest will follow.
What do you think about the significance of seating arrangements in worship?

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Why Lent?

Beginning on Ash Wednesday, March 9, when we are marked with ashes and hear the words “from dust you came and to dust you will return,” we begin a 40-day journey toward Easter. Before we can experience the joy of resurrection, we must experience the despair of death. In Lent, we remember that we are mortal humans, that we are destined to, one day, die – and that we are sinful. As we remember these two grim facts, we look forward to our hope in Jesus who defeated death and forgave us all our sins through his cross and resurrection.

In Lent, we have a time of self-examination, listening, preparation and repentance. It is important that we have 40 days to give to this vital work. We give little space in our world to this kind of attention, particularly to thinking about the gravity of our sin. This is why Lent involves choosing some discipline – an ordered way to obey the Spirit’s voice in our life and to identify with Jesus’ 40 days fasting in the wilderness, where Jesus wrestled with temptation and heard from the Father. We too must wrestle with temptation. We too are desperate to hear from the Father.

However, the focus of Lent is not on us or our sin. The focus is on Jesus. The focus is on mercy and renewal. Repentance leads us to the joy found in forgiveness. As Bobby Gross said, “In the solitary sojourn, we turn away from our sins and temptations and toward God and his great mercy.” This is why the 40 days of Lent do not include Sundays. There are 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter. Each Sunday we break our fast. Each Sunday is a mini-Easter.

We will encourage a Lenten rhythm of two practices for our church this year: A Lenten discipline, and daily Lenten prayer. The point of a discipline is not to prove you can do something hard or to show God how serious a Christian you are. Rather, the point of a discipline is to allow a way to practice what God is calling you into – or what God is calling you out of. A discipline is a response to the work of God’s Spirit in your heart. Click here to download a pdf including some examples of disciplines and some help determining what kind of discipline God may be calling you to this season.

We will be giving a "Lenten Journey" folder to every family or individual in our church with the above linked explanation packet, along with a card for our daily prayer. Click here to download a pdf of the prayer card. We are inviting everyone in our church to find 10 minutes in the morning, a couple minutes in the middle of our day, and 10 minutes in the evening to talk with God. Nothing too overwhelming here. The idea is for us simply and prayerfully to submit to God and one another, perhaps more intentionally than we might otherwise. The 10-minute “In the Morning” devotion includes a song, two short scripture readings, and a prayer. At some point in the middle of the day (or at a few times), just for a minute or two, we stop, silence ourselves, and re-focus on Jesus. The 10-minute “In the Evening” guide helps us attend to the Holy Spirit’s activity in our lives. We encourage families, small groups, and peers to do this together as often as possible. We are all on this journey with Jesus together!

I would love to hear how other churches are planning to intentionally participate in the death of Christ this Lenten season. Feel free to adapt the above resources and use them in your own church, just as I stole them from Winn Collier and All Souls Church, Charlottesville, VA.

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