Questioning our Worship (intro): Why Liturgical Worship?

The following is an article I wrote for the people of my church.

As a relative newcomer to the “Anglican Way” and the Episcopal Church, I have lots of friends and loved ones who view the liturgical worship of the Episcopal Church with puzzlement and confusion (sometimes mixed with boredom). “Why all the pomp and circumstance?” they often ask, with glazed over eyes, perhaps in not so many words. Some of these friends are still in more “evangelical” churches such as non-denominational “megachurches” or the Baptist church like the one just around the corner from your house. Some of them, quite frankly, are not in any church at all (hence I think of them as more “secular types”).

Perhaps you can relate to this experience of mine. Perhaps you have brought friends to Christ Church and they have been confounded by (what they perceive to be) the lofty pageantry our worship. Whether it is the bishop’s mitre (one friend at my ordination service exclaimed, “I can’t believe bishops nowadays really wear those hat thingies!”) or the procession of the choir and altar party at the beginning of the service, the liturgical aspects of our worship can seem deeply foreign to modern people.

So why do we persist in doing these strange things? After all, perhaps our church would grow faster if we focused more on entertaining people. Maybe if we stopped fussing about all this liturgical stuff, we could get busy doing “real work” like feeding the hungry or assisting the poor.

Good questions, all. And I think that if we are not asking them and struggling with the answers, then our Baptist and megachurch friends might actually be in a more healthy place spiritually than we are!

In light of all this, I want to introduce you to a series on liturgical worship which I will be doing in The Crucifer during 2011, called “Questioning our Worship” (see below). I hope that you will take the time to engage in these and other questions you have about our worship at Christ Church.

  1. Question #1: Why come on Sunday if I can read my Bible at home? (The role of community in worship.)
  2. Question #2: Why ruin my weekend (I need to sleep in on Sunday morning!)? (Sunday as Day of Resurrection.)
  3. Question #3: Why is Worship so boring sometimes? (The role of discipline in an entertainment culture.)
  4. Question #4: Why all the standing & kneeling? (Worshipping with our Bodies).
  5. Question #5: Why all the Words, Scripture, & Creeds? (Anamnesis as re-membering the Story.)
  6. Question #6: Does the Bible tell us to worship this way? (Worship as prior to Scripture.)
  7. Question #7: Why Sacraments? (The Importance of Christology in Worship.)
  8. Question #8: C’mon, is the Bread really the Body of Christ? (Anglicanism on the Eucharist).
  9. Question #9: Why water in baptism, and why babies? (Anglicanism on Baptism.)
  10. Question #10: Why so much repetition? (Worship as the development of habits which train us in virtue.)

For now, though, I wanted simply to discuss this strange word “liturgy.” What exactly does this word mean, and where does it come from?

The word “liturgy” comes from two Greek roots. The “lit” part comes from a Greek word that means “people.” The “urgy” part derives from the Greek ergon (think of an “ergonomic chair” which helps one perform work more effectively). So “liturgy” means, literally, “the work of the people.”

This idea reminds us of the words of I Peter 2:9: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood.” When St. Peter wrote these words, he was not writing to some elite class of “super spiritual” people, and he was not writing only to priests or bishops. He was writing to “ordinary” Christians just like you, who have been baptized into Christ, and who are members of his body by virtue of that baptism and your faithful participation in the Gospel.

As priests, as a priestly people, our primary work or service, then, is to worship God, and this is why we worship the way we do.

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Sounds very interesting! Let me know when this will be kicking off!

[…] This article is part of a larger series, the introduction to which is here. […]

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