Monday, August 22, 2016

Paleo-Orthodoxy: Liturgy is Biblical

Liturgy as a form of worship has been one of the most bitterly contested points of controversy between many Protestants and Roman Catholics. Many Reformers, in their well meaning fervor to return to a simpler expression of the faith they felt more in keeping with Scripture, swept from their churches the altars, the statuary and storied windows, the ceremonies of the sanctuary and the appealing and inspiring tones of Gregorian chant. While one can certainly find problems with the Catholic worship and doctrine of the 16th century and today, this attempt to return to a more Apostolic form of worship failed. Research has shown that the earliest Christians did not worship as we see in many Evangelical churches today, but much closer to the style of Catholicism. 

Sacred Scripture does not forbid worship with all that is beautiful, rich, reverent and inspiring in nature as well as in humanity. Indeed, the arts (music, singing, painting) find their highest expression when they are used to glorify God. In the book of Exodus, we read: 

"Moses said to the whole Israelite community, “This is what the Lord has commanded: From what you have, take an offering for the Lord. Everyone who is willing is to bring to the Lord an offering of gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair;ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather[a]; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.
10 “All who are skilled among you are to come and make everything theLord has commanded: 11 the tabernacle with its tent and its covering, clasps, frames, crossbars, posts and bases; 12 the ark with its poles and the atonement cover and the curtain that shields it; 13 the table with its poles and all its articles and the bread of the Presence; 14 the lampstand that is for light with its accessories, lamps and oil for the light; 15 the altar of incense with its poles, the anointing oil and the fragrant incense;the curtain for the doorway at the entrance to the tabernacle; 16 the altar of burnt offering with its bronze grating, its poles and all its utensils; the bronze basin with its stand; 17 the curtains of the courtyard with its posts and bases, and the curtain for the entrance to the courtyard; 18 the tent pegs for the tabernacle and for the courtyard, and their ropes; 19 the woven garments worn for ministering in the sanctuary—both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests.”- Exodus 35:4-19
The entire book of Leviticus is devoted to the careful and minute description of the elaborate ceremonies which were to be observed by priests and people in their approach to their Heavenly Father. And Solomon with divine approval searched the known world of his day to obtain the most precious materials with which to erect the temple he built to the worship of the true and living God. For some reason we Evangelicals seem to think that churches must be bland, plain, and even ugly. We're more concerned with the color of hymnals than we are the beauty with which we worship our Lord. Surely Christian Churches should speak of Him more loudly in praise, manifest to Him love deeper and greater, and give such evidence of stronger faith in Him, his divine attributes and his boundless mercies, that whole world might be attracted to know and love and serve Him. Yes, I know our lives are to do this, but why do we emphasize only the witness of our lives and ignore the witness of our worship? Many of us put more beauty into our homes than we do our place of worship- the place where we gather together to glorify, praise and honor Him. What are we saying? That we deserve the best we can afford, while God simply gets what we feel like giving Him? Again, I'm not suggesting that churches need to be as garish as some of the cathedrals of Europe. We have to maintain a balance between our needs for ministering to those in need in our congregations, our commitment to ministry in our communities, and making our churches places that inspire, encourage, and uplift- not just in our presentation of the Gospel by sermon, but also by the arts and liturgy.

The reaction against liturgy is really a left over of the reaction against the excesses of Roman Catholicism. Just a little reminder here; the 16th century is long gone. We can stop "protesting" things that historically have been mistaken as patented Catholicism- like liturgy. The early church had several forms of liturgy, from that of Hippolytus of Rome, to the more simplistic Eucharistic liturgy of the Didache. And while we're at it, why not bring back our altar? You have an "altar call", but no altar. Again, early Christians did have altars, as is evidenced by the earliest Christian artwork and the catacombs. Those of us in the Wesleyan Holiness tradition should want this more than perhaps other Evangelicals who don't have their roots in a church that utilized liturgy in worship. Let's remember that John Wesley remained a life long Anglican and in his prayer book for the young Methodist movement bestowed upon us a very beautiful and Biblical liturgy!

I realize this article may raise the ire of a few, and I only ask that those who disagree understand my motivation is not to cause unrest, but to bring God glory and to be faithful to the shared heritage of all Christians as well as Sacred Scripture. If I am incorrect in some area, please point it out and let's discuss it. I am open to correction.

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