Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The christological shape of liturgy?

I keep thinking about worship services and the liturgies we use to shape and structure them. Sometimes this has a professional urgency (e.g. tonight, weather permitting, I am leading a training session on worship), othertimes it is my mind perambulating along, perhaps reflecting on a service I have participated in, or attempting to penetrate the inner theological sanctum of the mysteries of the eucharist (Was Cranmer right?!).

A couple of themes these days are recurring in my reflections about services. One I will describe as 'missional': is what we are doing in worship services helpful in the mission of the church? Primarily our worship services are gatherings of faithful believers, but often a non-believer is present: is what is said and done a proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ? That is, does the content and the style of the service communicate the reality of Jesus Christ alive and reigning in the midst of the congregation?

Another theme is 'christological': is what we are doing in our worship services centred on the Lord Jesus Christ, and does it flow out from Christ - his teaching, his commandments, and his life (example, death, resurrection)? It is (in my experience) remarkably easy to 'miss the christological mark' in worship services. A certain chatty casualness can easily centre the service on ourselves. A prissy fussiness about getting details right (from ritual matters through musicality to Powerpoint backgrounds) can easily centre the service on performance up front. A christologically shaped service will subsume everything said and done to the presentation of Christ and to enhancing Christ's presence in our midst.

The commitment of Anglicans to liturgy is a two-edged sword. It is often attractive because it offers excellence, dignity, and indefinable qualities in the experience of worship. But our Anglican ways can be shaped by ambition to be properly Anglican. That is not what Christ calls us to do and to be in worship: he calls us to himself, to be with him, to watch and pray with him, to listen to him and to break bread at his supper. Anglican liturgy must serve that end, not be an end in itself.


liturgy said...

Greetings Peter

Thank you for this post which I affirm.

I’d like to expand on a couple of your points:

“is what we are doing in worship services helpful in the mission of the church?” Worship IMO is an essential component of the mission of the church. It is a grave error IMO that it is not present in the Anglican five-fold mission statement, for example.

We, the church, as the body of Christ, worship God in and with Christ our head.

Clearly we are constantly in danger of minimising to losing this reality and insight; hence, my concern about the illegal planned NZPB revision which further waters down this perspective.

When we have the worship of God in Christ as clearly our goal then we are far less likely to be tempted by constant novelty or other current Anglican tendencies – whatever shifts the focus away from the God we worship to the means.



Anonymous said...

Liturgy must not be an end in itself. Absolutely. This is why in my mind to have liturgy without the expounding of the Scriptures and proclaimation of Christ crucifed is perverse.

Reminds me of a great quote by Pressie minister Rev Douglas Wilson, who writes:

"Doctrinally conservative Anglicans can be tempted by certain kinds of liturgical "relevance"...ditching the prayer book (or as much of it as the authorities will let you ditch), and substituting pop culture worship may juice the attendance for a short time, but in the long run it will pall, just like all other relevance fads so.
Marrying doctrinal orthodoxy to insipid cultural traditions is a short-term rear-guard action, one that is ill-advised, especially when you have a cultural tradition that has lasted for centuries."

Peter Carrell said...

Thank you Bosco and Joshua for helpful comments.

One point about Anglican liturgy-and-preaching is that sometimes the balance goes the other way: it appears as though the preaching (of Christ) is all that matters, the liturgy is just an appendage to the sermon. At that point my plea is that the liturgy also might be Christ-centred and as important as the preaching.

Andrew Reid said...

Hi Peter,

Thanks for this helpful post. I think it's helpful in this discussion to remember that the end goal of mission is not church growth, or new converts or becoming more relevant to society, but rather the glory and worship of God. For both believers and non-believers, church based worship ought to give us a glimpse into the heavenly reality of worshipping God in fellowship with His children.
My low-church friends and I usually err on the side of turning worship into a nice, feel-good experience where fellowship trumps worship. Those further up the candle tend to err by emphasising form and ritual over the substance.

Anonymous said...

I call it Anglican-lite or Diet-Anglicanism. This is tantamount in my humble opnion to throwing out the Crown Jewels.

Father Ron Smith said...

Your comment, Peter, on the need of a Christological focus for our worship services is absolutely on the ball.

It surely is no coincidence that the only worships service that every Anglican is directed to participate in is the Eucharistic celebration. all other public worship should be supplementary to the Word-made-flesh in Christ at this particular form of worship enjoined on us by none other than Jesus himself. "DO THIS to remember ME"

Or, as a visiting American liturgist once taught us:
"Do this to re-member Me" - in other words, to make up the Body of Christ.