In spite of what many Christians think, liturgy is not boring!
A common refrain you hear from ex-Catholics and Evangelicals is that church liturgy is rote, stale, un-spontaneous, repetitious and “not from the heart.”
What many Christians fail to realize is that EVERY church has a liturgy.
No matter how simple your church service is, it is still a liturgy, or you could even say, a ritual.
A liturgy by definition is simply a public order of service. Although some churches have come close (such as the old Plymouth Brethren), no church practices a totally random order of service.
The liturgy in your church might not be as “formal” as in some other churches, involving candles, incense, pre-written prayers, creeds and vestments (robes), but it is a liturgy.
Liturgy by itself is not bad, not boring, not old, not stale, not really anything. It is simply an ORDER of service. You might argue that the ELEMENTS of liturgy are old, stale, boring or whatever and you can desire your own preference.
The burden of Biblical truth is on each one of us to discover what God says about any or all parts of our church liturgies.
The first (formal) liturgy recorded in the Bible is found in Genesis 4:2-8
Then she (Eve) bore again, this time his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. (NKJV - Emphasis mine).
When it comes to liturgy, this passage is truly enlightening. There are several things we can learn about church liturgy from these verses.
1. There is more than one liturgy
Notice that Abel had a church liturgy and Cain had a church liturgy. The liturgies were not completely different, but in substance, they were worlds apart.
2. God accepted one liturgy and rejected the other
In this case, the “Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering.” Many Christians would argue that it is not the gift that is important, but the heart. In this case, we can see clearly, that is not true. It is true that without the right heart, God is not pleased with the gift.
Almost everyone that despises "formal liturgy" quotes 1 Samuel 15:22
And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (ESV).
What we see in Genesis 4 however, is that the two are not mutually exclusive. God wants both the giver and the gift to be right and proper and true.
Notice that God said he was “the Lord respected Able AND his offering.”
This liturgical story sets the foundation for all Biblical liturgies accepted by God
Nearly every Christian scholar agrees that the story of Cain and Abel is more than a story about the Hatfields and the McCoys (two feuding families).
The reason why Abel’s sacrifice was pleasing to God is because it pre-figured almost every other sacrifice in the Bible (a blood sacrifice) and ultimately, pointed forward to the bloody sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
In a very real sense then, this account (of Cain and Abel) is the foundation for what some Bible teachers have called the “Regulative Principle of Worship.”
The Regulative Principle of Worship is a principle that says in a positive way, that God is the one who defines what worship (liturgy) is pleasing to Him. The opposite should also be obvious. There is some worship with which God is not pleased.
Before I talk about which liturgy is pleasing to God and which liturgies are not pleasing to God, I want to address and dispel one very bad idea...
We should not participate in worship if it seems old and boring to us.
This idea is not rational and certainly not Biblical.
If you don’t think that Old Testament worship (water, washings, rituals, prayers, vestments, incense, oils and sacrifices) were not boring then you haven’t read Leviticus.
Of course they were boring! The priests and people did the same thing day in and day out. Month after month. Year after year.
Totally, mind numbingly, boring!
But God commanded it. You couldn’t just go to the Second Baptist Temple if you didn’t like the liturgy. There was only one game in town.
Ah, you say, “that was in the Old Testament!” In the New Testament, there is no liturgy. Worship should be spontaneous and from the heart.
The problem is, as I have already pointed out, you DO HAVE A LITURGY. Your liturgy may consist of only a few particular forms, such as singing, prayer and preaching, but it is still a liturgy.
My point is, and I am speaking especially to pastors here, the liturgy you have is the liturgy you choose.
The bigger question you should be asking yourself is, who decided that a “light liturgy” is a Biblical liturgy, accepted by God?
Allow me to use communion (or the Eucharist) as an example.
Many Evangelical churches practice communion on an occasional basis. Once a month, every other month, once every five weeks. Whatever.
First of all, where did this idea come from?
It did not come from the Protestant Reformation (at least not the Magisterial Reformation). The primary Reformers (such as Luther and Calvin) believed that Communion should be (MUST BE) celebrated by the church on the Lord’s Day (on the Christian Sabbath).
I would argue that the practice of Occasional Communion originated from two sources.
1. The Memorial View of Communion
In attempting to distance themselves from the Roman Catholic Church, certain Reformers (such as Ulrich Zwingli) argued that communion (or the Eucharist), has nothing to do with the presence of Christ and is merely a memorial practice to what Christ did for us on the Cross.
The Roman Church, as well as Luther and Calvin viewed the Eucharist as a Sacrament. Even though they disagreed about the nature of God’s presence in Communion, they all agreed that Communion was commanded by Christ and in some special way, communicates God’s grace to His people.
Zwingli and others (mainly Baptists and Anabaptists - such as today’s Pentecostals), got rid of this idea.
Nothing here to see (or taste). Just a memorial ceremony that we can practice or not practice.
The Biblical justification pointed to by Zwingli (and practically every Evangelical since) is that Jesus (and Paul) said, “do this in remembrance of me.” They also point to Paul who in 1 Corinthians 11:25 said,
“This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” (Emphasis mine).
This verse is used as justification for Occasional Communion. This argument however, is completely anachronistic (reading our modern views back into the interpretation of the text of Scripture).
Ask yourself a simple, Jesus style question. If Jesus and Paul meant this to implement a bare memorial and occasional practice of communion, wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect that at least one Church Father (early Bishops, Pastors and Theologians) would have made this argument? Just one!
The problem is, this argument did not exist until the Protestant Reformation. NOT ONE Church Father believed anything close to a Memorial View of Communion.
There is also another origin for this idea (of Memorial or Occasional Communion).
2. Circuit Riding Preachers
As the Protestant Reformation spread throughout Europe and later, to the Americas, a very practical problem arose. There weren’t enough Pastors to go around.
Most churches still believed that Bishops (or Elders or Pastors) needed to be the ones to administer communion (even though this is totally inconsistent with the Memorial view, but I digress).
Trouble was, there weren’t enough preachers to keep up with the Protestant church growth.
The solution… Pastors traveled from church to church (circuit riders). Because many of these churches were a great distance from one another, a Pastor might not get to a church, except once every four or five weeks. Thus, the church only celebrated communion once per month (or whenever the Pastor showed up).
This is where once per month communion came from. No kidding. It is justified by well-meaning Pastors who point to one single line in one single verse in Scripture and give zero evidence from the early church.
Once again, many Pastors (including myself in a past life) would argue further, that if we take communion every week, it will become boring and rote and scripted.
The truth is, it is not boring. Liturgy is not boring. If you go to church (liturgy), no matter how formal (or informal for that matter) and your heart is right and you truly desire to bring gifts to God, then your liturgy will never become boring. If it does, then look for the glory of God in the boring stuff of it.
Remember Cain and Abel though. It is not simply the heart that matters. It is also the gift.
If God commands us to celebrate the Sacraments (Communion and Baptism), then we ought to be celebrating those Sacraments with regularity, sincerity, reverence and awe.
The fact is, your Pastor (or if you are a Pastor… YOU) might be boring. But the liturgy of Christ, and Christ Himself who is called the LEITOURGOS - the officiating priest, or worship leader, who brings us into the very presence of God (see Hebrews 8:2 and Hebrews 12:18-28) is not boring whatsoever!
It is when, and only when we, through the literal and heavenly liturgy of Christ, taste and see that the Lord is good. Then, we can cast off our own inventions of liturgy… the fruit of our work, the boring vestiges of our own hearts and the vain imaginations of our fertile minds.
When I first thought about this years ago, I admit, I got mad. Like Cain, I didn’t want to give up my own clever inventions. I thought they were pretty good. But unlike Cain, by God’s grace, I listened to the gentle admonition of our Lord. It’s not about you. It’s about your wonderful Father, your beautiful Savior and the wonder-working power of God’s stupendous Spirit.
He really does want to lift you out of your boring, pedantic, pathetic existence, and He wants you to experience His love, mercy, power and glory. Come as you are, but come. Please come. Taste and see that the Lord is good! Literally.