after synergy comes liturgy

Ok, before I go any further, let me state for the record that I enjoy liturgy. It is a helpful guide to contemplation and it draws my attention to the spiritual life. That being said, hold on to your hats, folks! What has begun this decade in the evangelical church will only increase in the next:

Liturgy is the next big thing

In common parlance liturgy denotes ceremony or ritual in church services -a far cry form the public priestly duty it originally captured. In particular, the Eucharist is the clearest liturgy, but increasingly, many traditional highchurch rituals and ordinances are encompassed when people use the term. The church calendar is replete with holy days; Lent, Advent, Good Friday, Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, etc., etc. All of these provide a different practice of life that points to God.

Liturgy as public service, liturgos, as the intercession for others, is almost never what is meant. It is mostly caught up with reenacting scripture stories through the holy days. Maybe it does folk good to see this, I dunno: The Crystal Cathedral packs a lot of folks in. I understand and value the church calendar and the helpful beauty of life's rhythm, but let's be honest: In the United States we don't need the church calendar to be our liturgy as much as we need the offering plate and confession to be so.

Why is it the next big thing?


I like vast over-generalizations.

Some of the thrust of the emergents as well as "postmoderns" has been to recall the connection to the first church and rekindle a desire for tradition. Coupled with an ecumenical impulse and perhaps the hazy uncertainty of so many denominations, I think the rediscovery of liturgy is a kind of protestant reaction to being cut off from our historical roots for so long, and they function as an aesthetic of certainty if you will:
"Look! We are part of the vine, and we can prove it!"
I think the historical nature of liturgy appeals to the feelings of displacement and uncertainty in our churches today, as if somehow, a ritual connection to the past grounds us in its truth and authenticity. "How do I know I'm following Jesus? Well, I do the same things the church has always done." In this, liturgy has become and aid to faith that classic apologetics cannot provide. To be critical, -this is the internet after all, where everybody is perfect- we sometimes ignore that all liturgy has a beginning and don't investigate the novelty at the heart of all liturgy. It is not uninterpreted connectedness to the past, and to the extent we act as if this is true, I think we are hypocritical. Wesometimes want a nice feeling of historical connectedness without the responsibility of hearing from God anew and establishing our own practices. It can keep us from taking responsibility for our own faiths. It is no surprise that liturgy has become more important to the evangelical world at the time that confidence in objective truth has begun to wane.

But hey, if it feels ambiguously spiritual and is something I may freely choose into without obligation, AND lets me feel more certain about everything I already believe, it must be the Gospel, right? I kid, I kid!

The emergent church and postmodern leanings have helped reclaim the embodied nature of Christ and put a renewed emphasis on the aesthetic and physical dimensions of worship. The banners, the music, most of it seems to recognize and celebrate all 5 senses and engage the whole person in the work of Christ. I find this aspect of worship delightful. If we include the charismatic churches who have historically valued the experiential nature of church formation along with emergents, there is an increased recognition that the shaping of the soul is more than intellectual material and blustery certitude on Sundays; that art and rthym and body are all part of the world Christ has saved and effective and important. Increasingly, things like Tenebrae services, Taizé prayer, liturgical readings, even *gasp* preaching from the lectionary amongst Baptists(!), have become more common, grounding people (ok, protestants) in the sensuality of tradition. Like everything the danger is that it becomes self-serving luxury, but in the end, it speaks to people without all the droning on and on about kerygmas and eschatons.


The Academy has found new reasons to see liturgy as a great way to form Christian character through a different practice of living. This version of liturgy builds upon arguments such as Foucault's; that Christian formation is the discourse of the church's life. It is the acknowledgment that how and what we do as church become (and are) a part of the situations and preconditions that shape all our statements (énoncé) about reality, the gospel we proclaim. So liturgy shapes what can and may be said. It shapes and gives form to how Christ is understood. (I should like to think a bit more whether or not it is possible for liturgy to be parrhesia at all, though.)

But I detect in the discussions about liturgy a funny kind of talk. It seems that the hope is somehow it might set our world in order for us. I hear in the advocacy of liturgy a welcome endorsement of spirituality and a hope that we can create a different space within this one to inhabit, one in which our desires and thoughts are ordered by something more Christ-like. Which brings me to my final observation about our burgeoning obsession with liturgy:

I just don't think it works.

Don't get me wrong, it really is a great and helpful thing but we are so quick to consider it that we divest ourselves of what we really need: discipling. With all the hub-bub surrounding liturgy we ignore the very object and means of Christ's instructions - "go ye and make disciples" (I added the "ye" to look traditional). I understand liturgy is formative, -I think it can be a part of disciple making- but if every scholar endorsing liturgy so warmly invested the time and effort in caring and shaping someone in their real life, was intentional in directing their love to someone else over a sustained period with the intent of building that person up, I daresay the result would be far more like Christ than 10 years of Lent. Which is ironic, because liturgy so often speaks to the corporate aspect of faith.

The church is very practically grounded on the personal investment of Jesus in the 12 apostles. To rehearse the work of Christ in liturgy and ignore His methods still available to us seems tragic. (As a cultural issue liturgy risks placing the church as épistémè instead of Christ?) In short, I worry that the emphasis on liturgy instead of personal discipling is a cop-out, because liturgy is easier. It "feels" spiritual on Sundays while meeting with someone once a week to share, challenge, serve, pray study, etc., is much more difficult for me. I find discipleship exponentially more effective, and it includes traditional liturgies. At the end of the day, we believe that it is the love of Christ that changes us. Love changes everything. So, for the love of God, stop posting and holding conferences, and writing books with Starbuck's colored covers talking about liturgies.

Go love someone.


  1. heh i'll be blunt, i think liturgy is dumb. It has never done anything for me. To me it is like putting the cart before the horse, or in this case the man before the heart.

  2. hahaha! because this is on public record, I cannot openly agree..... :P
    The issue with liturgy is not so much that it must be done, but that we are constantly being shaped by something: Liturgy says, "Let me shape you like a Christian" instead of the busy life you are living. But again, caveat emptor.


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