July 10, 2013

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What a Good "Liturgy" Does (Or, Why We Shouldn't Pit "Form" Against "Content") I've been writing for a bit now on how worship--specifically, corporate worship-- forms us as the people of God. The central idea of my short new book, Discover the Mystery of Faith, is that worship is not simply an expression of our faith; it is what forms it. What's at stake in our decisions about Sunday services are not simply matters of "programming" the service or attracting the lost. In fact, this claim moves the conversation beyond the matters of style-- rock, folk, organ, etc-- to matter of form and substance. While my writing on this has explored-- non-academically-- the historical-theology roots of this claim, there is a far weightier voice in the conversation (thank God!) who has taken this up from the philosophical anthropology side and set it in "conversation" with an Augustinian theology (all big words I'm not qualified to use!) of love. His name is James K. A. Smith. His core claim is that a "liturgy" (used broadly as a ritual, communal, embodied practice) shapes and aims our love at a particular vision of the good life. Here is an excerpt from a recent interview with Trevin Wax over at The Gospel Coalition: *(all highlights and bolds are my notes for emphasis) Trevin Wax: You speak of the power of a liturgy in terms of what is caught, not just explicitly taught. How does this truth influence the way we conceive of worship services? James K. A. Smith: A core claim and outcome of Imagining the Kingdom is to help evangelicals see that we have bought into a reductionistic view of worship. When we say “worship,” many of us just think “music” or “singing,” which is already a reduction of historic understandings of worship that comprise the entire service. But more generally, we have also largely reduced...
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The Liturgy: What the Community Builds Together We stood for most of the two-hour service. The only time they instructed us to sit was during the priest’s homily. Even then, there were no chairs, just a woven rug on which to sit. And when we stood, we did not watch or listen. We participated, waiting for our turn to sing the replies. Fortunately the choir, which flanked the room on either side, standing perpendicular to the congregation, was well versed in the responses. Their voices were beautiful, echoing in the small dome-roofed room. The dome. I kept looking up at it. Every inch was painted, and the pictures told a story. Paintings of the saints lined the walls, moving in chronological order from left to right. In the center, up in front, was the altar, and behind it an inner chamber of sorts, modeled undoubtedly after the Holy of Holies. The service also included responsive music and specific actions and symbolic gestures. The priest wore robes meant to recall images of the high priestly robes. His going into the inner chamber to bless the sacrament and coming out to present it to us reenacted Christ’s coming from heaven to earth for us. Even his beard and long hair represented a living portrait of Christ. It was our first time to an Eastern Orthodox church. Holly and I talked about our impressions on the way home. “They didn’t cater to us,” she observed. And she liked that. It’s not that the people didn’t care about guests. Quite the contrary. This was the most welcoming community of people we’d been in as guests. They greeted us warmly at the door and were genuinely sad that we couldn’t stay for their weekly after-service potluck lunch in the adjoining room. But no part of the service put the worshipper at the...

Glenn Packiam

Lead Pastor, new life DOWNTOWN, New Life Church, Colorado Springs, CO. Author and songwriter.

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