Baptist Catholicity: Liturgy in Worship

Mark 3 of Baptist Catholicity: Utlizing Liturgy as a Means of Formation

In college I took a class on worship planning…

…that I would love to take again. You see, at the time I was familiar with one particular style of worship, and I wasn’t particularly open to new thoughts. Worship at my church during that time looked something like this:

  • Welcome/Announcements
  • Three contemporary songs
  • Sometimes a prayer
  • Sermon (45 minutes or so)
  • Song of Invitation and dismissal

There’s nothing wrong with this means of worship, and I suspect many Baptist churches would look something like this today. There is freedom in song selection when you go contemporary, and it opens up the worship team to a huge variety of options. There is space for God to speak through all things we do, and I have no doubt that God speaks powerfully in services like this (just as God did to me at this time in life). But this worship style might be leaving some things behind. In ignoring the tradition of the church in worship, who are we leaving behind? That church had a very large stage (that we couldn’t call a chancel) and a choir loft that could seat over 100, but in that service, we would see a total of about 7-8 people through the duration of the hour and a half long event. This church had about 1,000 weekly congregants, and of that large number, we only saw 3 paid staff and 4 lay leaders weekly. We left out the voices, opinions and faces of our diverse congregation. We pushed the worshipful act of giving and offering to boxes in the back of the sanctuary as we left. We glorified the words of our pastor as so important that no one else, and no tradition besides his interpretation of the Bible could speak.

So what can liturgy add to worship?

Communal Participation

Liturgical worship can be pretty scary to free church protestants. Clergy in robes, responsive readings. set times to sit and stand… it just seems so foreign at first. But, take a look at a typical Baptist liturgical service from a church in my neighborhood.

An Example of a Baptist Liturgical Order of Worship

This may seem pretty foreign, and use some odd words, that you don’t understand, but can you agree with me, that this style of worship welcomes more people onto the chancel than traditional Baptist worship? Between litanies and readings, prayers and reflections, not to mention a choir of lay leaders, a much larger portion of the congregation is represented each week in worship. You may also notice how many things are done in a liturgical service. If liturgical services are no longer than traditional Southern Baptist worship, where do they find the time for this? The answer is simple: it comes from the sermon. Far from being a denial of the sermon’s importance, this time constraint challenges ministers to reign in their message to be but one element of a multi-faceted worship service.

Connection to a Tradition

The church has been worshipping in some variation of the liturgy since the formation of the Didache in the early 200s. In the midst of this liturgy they decided certain elements were important, and created a calendar to remind us, year after year of the birth, life, teachings, death, and resurrection of the Christ. Beyond this, Christians eventually created a calendar of readings from the Scriptures. These readings assure that in a manner of a few years, the church will have read most of the Scriptures together. Not only does this link and form the congregation into the Great Tradition of Christianity, but it gives the heart time to prepare for our major celebrations, and our pastors reason to visit texts they wouldn’t normally visit; assuring that we receive the wisdom of the full canon of Scripture.

Now, you may not be sold on the value of liturgical worship, and that’s okay. To be honest, there’s plenty I miss from a simpler worship style. But the beauty of knowing and respecting Christian tradition is that it is our job as priests to bring this tradition to the next generation. If your church wants to observe the Christian calendar, with advent, lent, and Pentecost, but otherwise remain the same, that’s great! If your congregation wants to adopt a liturgical bendt within a contemporary style, awesome! This tradition is here for us to explore. I think it can really benefit a congregation, but our own priesthood allows us to hear where the spirit is leading our church.