Archives For The Church

Matt O’Reilly has a good reflection on why he loves liturgy in the church services. He gives three reasons for liturgy.

First is that liturgy presents the order of worship in the form of the gospel.

Perhaps the most striking thing I’ve discovered about liturgical worship has to do with the structure of the service itself. As a self-described evangelical, I was excited to learn that the very form and progression of the liturgy is designed to proclaim the gospel…As we progress through the order of worship: Adoration, Confession, Pardon and Assurance, Thanksgiving, Petition, Intercession, Word, Table, and Sending Forth, we tell the story of the gospel and the work of God’s grace in our lives.

Second habits like liturgy shape us.

Another concern that those of us with limited experience of the liturgy have voiced is that doing the same acts of worship in the same way week after week has a tendency to weaken them by making them common, casual, and a matter of rote memorization. My perspective on this has changed quite a bit through the years, due not least to the influence of James K. A. Smith’s Cultural Liturgies project. Smith recognizes that the world is full of liturgies, both secular and sacred, and these liturgies are deeply formational. They shape our desires. They shape our habits. They make us certain kinds of people because they define what we love. In truth, there are lots of important things we do repetitiously. We do them because they are important, and they grow in importance because we do them with regularity. Repetition makes something part of who we are, whether it’s exercise, work, shopping, social media, or even worship.

Finally liturgy points to the endless beauty and glory of God.

One of the most exciting aspects of this journey of ever deepening appreciation for liturgical worship is the knowledge that the path will always lead to a deeper and deeper experience of God, because the infinite depths of his mysteriously matchless beauty are inexhaustible. The journey of worship to behold the glory of God is always forward moving, and even when we see him face to face and worship in the full light of the glory of the presence of the Lamb, the invitation shall always be: come further up and further in.


Kevin DeYoung had an excellent post about the new evangelical liturgy arguing that it is not an improvement of what came before. The new liturgy looks something like this in most churches.

Casual welcome and announcements
Stand up for 4-5 songs
During the set, or at the very end, add a short prayer
Closing song

The old liturgy had the following elements:

I’m talking about an order of service that included a call to worship, multiple Scripture readings, Psalm singing (along with old hymns and new songs), a Scriptural benediction, historic rubrics like the Apostles’ Creed and the Ten Commandments, and many kinds of prayers (e.g., invocation, prayer of adoration, prayer of confession, prayer of intercession, prayer for illumination). I’m talking about what Mike Horton calls “the drama of Christ-centered worship” or what Bryan Chapell calls “gospel ‘re-representation’”–a carefully constructed, though flexible, liturgy which progresses with a distinct gospel logic: adoration, confession, assurance, thanksgiving, petition, instruction, charge, and blessing. The traditional Protestant liturgy has an Isaiah 6 movement to it where the gospel is not just preached in the sermon or even sung in the songs, but embodied in the entire order of the service.

DeYoung then says:

For whatever appeal the New Evangelical Liturgy may have in American culture, and for whatever abuses or doldrums may be associated with a more traditional liturgy, I don’t believe it can be argued, by objective measures, that the new is superior to the old. Which liturgy has more prayer? What one has more Scripture? Which one does more to accent sin and forgiveness? Which ones anchors us better in the ancient creeds and confessions of the church? Which one is the product of more sustained theological reflection? Which is more shaped by the gospel?

As I was finishing James Smith’s book Imagining the Kingdom he had a couple of golden paragraphs about Protestants and their “built-in allergy to repetition” in worship. Maybe a renewed emphasis on repetition may be part of the answer to to DeYoung’s analysis. Smith encourages a new appreciation for repetition.

Protestants have a built-in allergy to repetition in worship, although we are quite happy to affirm the value of repetition in almost every other sphere of life, from study to music to sports to art. We affirm the value of ritual repetition if we’re learning piano scales or learning to hit a golf ball but are curiously suspicious of repetitive ritual in worship and discipleship

Smith traces this allergy to three primary causes.

First, the heritage of Protestantism is that we associate repetition with dead orthodoxy and trying to earn salvation by going through the motions. Smith says:

Ritual and repetition are bound together in our suspicion of “works righteousness”…We see repetitive ritual as bottom-up effort–and it’s just that notion of “effort” that starts to sound like “work,” and it doesn’t take long before this all seems part of an elaborate system of “salvation by works.”

Second in modernity worship tends to be thought of as only an “upward” act of the people of God who come to offer their sacrifice of praise. Obviously there is a lot of truth to this, but it can turn into a “swirling eddy of individualism.”

Gathered worship is then thought of like a collection of individual, private encounters with God in which worshipers express an “interior” devotion. It is precisely this model that prizes authenticity so highly. If worship is only about expression, then sincerity is the highest good, and we have this lingering sense that doing the same thing twice—let alone over and over again–is not sincere. Thus we feel the need to encourage novel modes of expression week after week.

Third, we have bought into the cult of novelty. We disdain the “old” and constantly pursue fresh expressions.

Smith concludes:

The wisdom of historic Christian worship runs counter to all three of these assumptions precisely because it sees worship not only as expressive (what we offer to God) but also as formative (what God is doing to us in the encounter)… Quite simply, there is no formation without repetition. There is no habituation without being immersed in a practice over and over again. There will be no sanctification of our perception apart from a regular, repeated recentering of our imagination in the Story of the gospel as rehearsed and enacted in the ‘practical logic’ of Christian worship. So it is precisely our allergy to repetition in worship that has undercut the counterformative power of Christian worship – because all kinds of secular liturgies shamelessly affirm the good of repetition. We’ve let the devil, so to speak, have all the repetition. And we, as liturgical animals, are only too happy to find our rhythms in such repetition.

Unless Christian worship eschews the cult of novelty and embraces the good of faithful repetition, we will constantly be ceding habituation to secular liturgies.

The NYT has a piece about churches trying new tactics to attract followers.

Life in Deep Ellum is part of a wave of experimentation around the country by evangelicals to reinvent “church” in an increasingly secular culture, and it comes as the megachurch boom of recent decades, with stadium seating for huge crowds, Jumbotrons and smoke machines, faces strong headwinds. A national decline in church attendance, the struggling economy and the challenges of marketing to millennials have all led to the need for new approaches.

“It’s unsettling for a movement that’s lasted 2,000 years to now find that, ‘Oh, some of the things we always assumed would connect with the community aren’t connecting with everyone in the community in the way they used to,’ ” said Warren Bird, the director of research for the Leadership Network, a firm that tracks church trends.

According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans who are not affiliated with any religion is on the rise, including a third of Americans under 30. Even so, nearly 80 percent of unaffiliated Americans say they believe in God, and close to half say they pray at least once a month.

One pastor in Tampa Florida dressed up as Easter Bunny.

One Sunday before Easter, the pastor at the Relevant Church in Tampa, Fla., wearing a rabbit suit, whisked the unsuspecting congregation away on chartered buses to a nearby park to build enthusiasm for the coming service.

“For us, it’s all about being interactive,” said Paul Wirth, Relevant’s founder and lead pastor.

I agree wholeheartedly with Rod Dreher who says, “I don’t know if there’s anything that would make me take my pastor as a spiritual leader less seriously than having him dress like an Easter bunny and do a surprise road trip.”

From the younger generations perspective, I cannot see these tactics working for long.

Increasingly, the newer generation is looking for less gimmicks, more straightforwardness, and simple truth.

It is related with our frustration with two-faced nature of politics, and we can see through the smoke screens better than the leaders realize.

We are happy to see things thought through anew; to meet in an old school, or an abandoned movie theater, and to have some more modernized music.

But this is no longer youth group, so stop the bells and whistles.

We are not into it.

The world does it better, so don’t try.

Don’t try to make the Bible relevant. Its relevance is axiomatic.

Do not defend God’s Word, but testify to it…Trust the Word.

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer





As I have said before, Ryan Fullerton is one of the best preachers I have ever heard.

Immanuel just rolled out their new website and the best thing about it is the ease of use of the sermon archive. They have the sermons tagged by both book of the Bible and date.

One of my favorite series was his messages through Galatians.

So put it on your podcast so that you can listen to it in the car, on your run, or at home.

Right now he is going through the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14.

Here is the feedburner link (


Novelty in Worship

October 16, 2012 — Leave a comment

Marc Cortez linked to this fascinating paragraph from C.S. Lewis. He argues that novelty in worship is not a good idea.

Although he overstates his case (see the Psalms where it says “sing a new song to the Lord”) it would be good to consider his advice. When the newest, but not much different, iPhone becomes the talk of the month, a brief reflection on the value of “newness” should be evaluated.

It looks as if [pastors] believed people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service. And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain — many give up churchgoing altogether — merely endure.

Is this simply because the majority are hidebound? I think not. They have a good reason for their conservatism. Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best — if you like, it ‘works’ best — when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about the worship is a different thing from worshipping. The important question about the Grail was ‘for what does it serve?’ ‘Tis mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the god.’

A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the questions ‘What on earth is he up to now?’ will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, ‘I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.’

Thus my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity. I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever, if only it will stay put. But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship. You give me no chance to acquire the trained habit— habito dell’arte.

C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (Mariner Books, 2002), 4-5.

The fathers argue that biblical interpretation is an ecclesiastical activity to be practiced in the church and for the church within the context of prayer and worship. It is a communal act rather than a private, individualistic endeavor.

In short, the fathers consistently treat the Bible as a holy book whose riches can be mined adequately only by those prepared to honor and obey the message Scripture contains.

Christopher Hall, Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP) 1998, 9.

There are two different ways one could take this statement. Either this is in opposition to the academy, or in light of the reformation, lay people could not interpret, but only church authorities.

It seems that the fathers consistently meant what the last sentence of the quote says. It can be interpreted by those “prepared to honor and obey the message.” Thererfore, although this idea may have been abused throughout church history, its origins were different than its outcome.