Can Liturgical Worship Parallel Spiritual Worship?

See here and here.

The new NLT Mosaic is centered on the use of the Mosaic material, which is designed to work with the Church’s calender in a liturgical manner. Coming from a Baptist, Fundamentalist, Pentecostal-like background, I was taught of the vileness of the ritualistic Catholics. To have an agenda was paramount to worshiping the Pope. (No, I am not kidding) But, does Liturgy really fall into a ritual category? (Keep in mind, anything can be made a ritual if you work hard enough at it.)

Liturgy is derived from λειτουργία (leitourgia) meaning a ‘public work’. Jews, Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox can be considered liturgical, although the differences in liturgy may surprise you. From the very ritualistic Orthodox to the daily prayers of the Muslims, liturgical rites differ according to Traditions. In the New Testament, the word is used for a public religious service, such as a ministry (See Luke 1.23; Acts 13.2; Hebrews 10.11) Since that time, it has come to take on a different, although not altogether different, meaning, in which we can find elaborate ceremonies. Typically, the liturgical services are those with a proscribed method, or program, of worship, devotion and teaching.

Charismatic/Pentecostal churches tend to be less formal, focusing instead on ‘movements of the Spirit’, characterized by ecstatic bits of ‘tongue-talking,’ joyous singing of modern styles and songs (or stylistic updates to old hymns), and a focus on individual experience.

Are they mutually exclusive?

To be honest, I have come to a place that I am tired of services which are more about physical exercise than the exercise of the Spirit, more about hearing God’s word than singing a song. It seems that too often, only one avenue is taken – to the detriment of people who might enjoy the other. Can we be liturgical and spirit-filled (in the Charismatic/Pentecostal sense)? Does corporate worship through such things as liturgy hinder the moving of the Spirit in congregational, or individual if necessary, settings?

We know that in the biblical world, most people were illiterate, with some estimates stating that roughly 6% of people could read. Further, we read in Scripture,

God blesses the one who reads the words of this prophecy to the church, and he blesses all who listen to its message and obey what it says, for the time is near. (Rev 1:3 NLT)

There are differences of opinion here, but given the historical facts, the reader was most likely someone who could read the Scriptures while the others could not – not because of ritual, but because of necessity. Would it then be a stretch of the imagination to see missionaries memorize these Scriptures, regardless of reading ability (more so, because hand writing the bible was a tedious and time consuming task), to carry the word of God to the world? We know that in the 2nd century, memorization was employed, if even in the rule of faith in the absence of writings. It is rather safe to say, that the reading of Scripture in the early Church was less than an individualist moment, but more about a corporate experience.

We know that the Jews had a liturgy, commanded by God,

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.

“You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.

“You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

“You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deu 6:4-9 NKJ)

Imagine an early congregation, with a single epistle – or perhaps an epistle or gospel (especially considering the history of canonization). Relying upon memorization, the congregation would stand together, read or say from memory the passage, and the minister(s) would take it from here. (Note, this is not that far stretched considering that Christ participated in such an activity in the synagogue in Luke 4.) But, even then, know that what Pentecostals would seem spiritual movements still took place at least until the time of Irenaeus who noted those who spoke in tongues. In Irenaeus, we have a focus on memorization, the Rule of Faith, and speaking in tongues. (Was Irenaeus a charismatic liturgist? Rather, a liturgical pentecostal?)

The goal of the liturgy, as I understand it, is a corporate worship of the Body of Christ, of which we are individual members (Eph 5.28-32). Would a liturgical service necessarily destroy the freedom of the Spirit, the liberty of Christ? No, I do not believe it would. As a matter of fact, I believe that liturgical services, such as weekly readings, celebrating the Church calender, and even an organization celebrating sacraments on the same day, same time, could lead to a revival of the Spirit. In Ephesians 2.20-22, we are called the house of God, His dwelling place, and He dwells here by His Spirit. We are individual members of the Body of Christ, and it is in us the Spirit dwells. I believe that we must find the balance between the corporate experience of Church and the individual life with the Spirit.

I note in Galatians 6, we have an admonition to bare one anothers burdens, but in the end, we are judged for our own works,

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct. (Gal 6:1-5)

Couldn’t the same be said for the mixing of liturgy and charisma? Could we first share together in a corporate experience and then each with an individual experience?

Again, in Paul’s writings, we see the corporate first and then the individual,

Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. (1Co 12:13-20)

So again, we have the corporate first, and then the individual. The same should be said of our worship service. We can find great freedom, I believe, and a spiritual awakening, in standing with our brothers and sisters, across time and miles, as we do something the same way they did it, perhaps in the same method, not as a ritual tied to dead works, but as a unifier. We can find great spirituality in the freedom of the Spirit of God, as we let God work in us, and through us – not just I.

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15 Replies to “Can Liturgical Worship Parallel Spiritual Worship?”

  1. I know I comment here quite often, but this subject of the Liturgy is quite important to all Anglicans and Christians. It is not an added extra, but the way the Church worships itself, as the Incarnate presence of the Risen Christ is in the Body of the redemptive People of God, both collective and individual. Acts 2:42, shows us that the very first Church at Pentecost was involved deeply in spiritual worship, thru the Apostles doctrine & teaching, and in that common reality of “fellowship” or (koinonia, Gk…participation & sharing) in the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist, prayers, etc. The Lord Jesus was present and in the midst!
    Fr. R.

  2. I think the rigidity and ‘reverence’ of a Catholic Mass, and of almost all other Catholic services, make it difficult for the Holy Spirit to move. And the sometimes focus on Mary, and various other saints at times impacts too. At my local Church one Sunday last year, the priest asked during the sermon for people to passionately and randomly shout out the great Amen at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer. As expected, barely an Amen was whispered let alone shouted.

    Having been to Mass more than a few thousand times over the years, I know the Order of the Mass off by heart, and for instance know what readings will be read on the feast of Mary Magdalene. When I go to Hillsong every service is different and the Holy Spirit is there – you can feel Him.

    1. I would agree, NT, that a rigid Mass service is a hindrance to many, however, a corporate worship should not be. We know that the early Christians made public corporate prayers, and corporate readings (out of necessity sometimes) and yet because of the unity, we know the Church grew.

  3. “God blesses the one who reads the words of this prophecy to the church, and he blesses all who listen to its message and obey what it says, for the time is near. ”

    I particularly liked this.. there’s something about, “for the time is near.” that expresses the urgency of spiritual awakening and prophecy to me.

    I’ve posted some articles on my blog related to the topic of spiritual awakening and Christianity. It’s great to see others spreading the word of Christ and spirituality.

    Luke.

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