In a previous post I suggested that the opposite of liturgical is not free church or non-structured, but theatrical. Any kind of church can be liturgical, in that liturgy literally means "the work or service of the people." But most of the contemporary church has slid into theatre mode, with the paid pastors doing the "work," while the audience watches.

In this post [and one or two that follow] I'd like to put some flesh on what it might look like for a contemporary church to move from theatrical to liturgical. [I originally planned to include several practical ideas in this post, but the first one turned out quite long, so I'm breaking it up.]

Centralize Christ
First of all, foundational to this call is putting Jesus Christ back in the center of worship. He is the ultimate Liturgist, without whom we cannot worship God. It is HIS liturgical action that leads us into our Spiritual worship. But in the contemporary church that has accommodated consumers, the centerpiece of our worship has become a teacher/pastor along with a rock band or other elevated showpiece. The person and work of Christ has been moved to the periphery.

Now, if you ask most contemporary church leaders what is the center of their worship, of course they will say Jesus. But the problem is our words and space are communicating otherwise. We must do more than merely acknowledge behind the scenes the person and work of Christ. Christ must be the verbal and visual focal point of our worship. "I preach Christ and him crucified." Well, do we, or have we substituted Christ with an inferior message? "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church." Do our places of worship reflect this eternal truth, or have we replaced "the image of the invisible God" with inferior images?

I'm not an expert on preaching, so I'll leave the recovery of unabashed Christ proclamation to more qualified bloggers (read this, for example). I do have a couple ideas concerning re-centralizing Christ in our worship spaces, though. One thing we could do (something that Robert Webber advocated and others seem to point to, like Soren Kierkegaard and this guy), would involve abandoning the front-to-back orientation in favor of a round orientation with a prominent symbol of the person and work of Christ in the center around which everyone gathers. What this allows for, in addition to Christ physically being in the center, is people looking at each other as they worship, thus encouraging us towards communal participation and away from individualism. We are forced, in a sense, by our space to consider one another, maybe even to prefer one another over ourselves, seeing each others physical expressions of praise or grief. We might even be moved by the sight of our our sisters and brothers in worship to bear their burden with them in that moment or be encouraged to rejoice with them. Worship in the round puts flesh on the presence of Christ among us and can remove from us the temptation to worship God in abstract, detached ways.

I understand that most contemporary church buildings were built to accommodate the stage-play, front-to-back orientation, so you might be thinking, "Yeah, great idea, but impossible. What are we supposed to do with our permanent stage, our rectangular room, our pews?" If going round is out of the question, there are other ways you can centralize Christ. I might suggest de-centralizing the band, maybe even bringing the band down to the same level as the rest of the people. If Christ, then, replaces our former place of prominence, this move would silently speak volumes and subconsciously form people into participants. It would also open up a whole lot of room on the platform for art and symbol, giving more people opportunity to bring their gifts and contribute towards becoming a fully-functioning body. This gives room for Christ truly be the head of the church, leading us in worship. We, the elevated centerpieces, must dethrone ourselves so that Christ can be exalted and freely work in the hearts of all people.

Are we willing to do this? How might this look in your context?

Other steps we can take moving from theatrical to liturgical (which I plan to write about later) include 2) changing our language from theatrical to liturgical (e.g., is it a "stage" or a "platform," is it an "auditorium" or a "sanctuary"?) and 3) bringing the liturgy into our homes and daily lives (the work of the people never ends).

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