Liturgy and “The Church”

I promise I will get back to teachings that must not be lost, but I’ve been on a trip. I need to get in a blog, and there’s nothing like a good Roman Catholic apologist to stir me up to write. Besides, this is on the topic of what the church is.

It’s probably worth noting that I wrote this before I wrote my last two posts. I forgot about it, though, and I am just now plugging it into the scheduled posts several days after my Massachusetts trip.

This answer to a Roman Catholic blog is every bit as applicable to Protestants as it is to Roman Catholicism.

The blog was an argument against sola Scriptura (Scripture only). The history the blog gave was subtly off enough to sound accurate yet still bolster an untenable argument. We’ll skip all that, though, and get to the point.

In the midst of his subtly false history, he said that most early Christians only heard the Scripture (and which books belong in Scripture) from the “liturgy.”

In some other age, I might not object to the use of the word “liturgy” in reference to an early Christian meeting. Between Pliny the Younger’s description of an early Christian church meeting and Justin Martyr’s, I can understand describing both as a “liturgy.”

The problem is, most liturgical churches offer liturgy and liturgy only. The Catholic Mass is a liturgy. Many Lutheran and some Presbyterian services are liturgies. Anglican churches have a liturgical service, and all the Orthodox churches are liturgical.

Liturgy is from a Greek word meaning worship (latreia). In modern liturgical services, for all practical purposes, it is an order of worship that includes Scripture readings, psalms, confession of sin, and confessions of faith and theology.

That happened. I agree. Justin Martyr’s description of a Christian meeting is very simple. Scripture is read, the “one presiding” (usually an elder?) expounds on that Scripture, and then the fellowship meal is eaten. A collection is taken, but only from those who are willing and able, and bread and wine is eaten, then delivered to the infirm who could not attend the meeting.

Very structured, though very simple.

But that was not the extent of their worship or their meetings! It was not the extent of their exposure to Scripture!

1 Corinthians 14 describes a meeting of Christians who exercised their gifts. They came with a psalm, a hymn, a revelation, a tongue, an interpretation. They did not always do this decently and in order, but they were supposed to.

A century and a half later, Tertullian describes a Christian feast where everyone ate moderately, maintaining their self control, and each brought a song, a Scripture, an admonishment for the body. There they consecrated themselves to God, and they admonished one another, and there, on occasion, they carried out “sacred censures” when they were forced to remove someone from the fellowship of the church.

Today, the liturgical churches have liturgy, and the “free” churches have freedom … to sit in a pew and watch a show performed by professionals.

Okay, some Protestant churches are small enough that they watch a show performed by only one professional along with a few volunteers.

We’re trying to correct that. Catholic and Protestant alike are using various forms of small groups, whether at home or at the church building, to attempt to recreate a 1 Corinthian 14 type of meeting where everyone can participate.

Mostly, it doesn’t work, unless you mean that it keeps people whose lives are still their own and whose families are still more important than God’s family happy and feeling like they have gone as far as they can for Jesus.

I mourn the loss of understanding of the power of the church. I mean the church which is your family more than your parents, more than your grown children, more than your brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles. The church in which you can obey Jesus’ command not to store up treasures on earth because you know will find lifelong support in the family of God. The church in which no one feels alone because the disciples know that every member has to grow together and not be left out (1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:11-16). Everyone is called not just to be attached to the head in the heavens, but also to the body of Jesus on earth.

Jesus is a many-membered body (1 Cor. 12:12). He has arms to hug with. He has eyes to share tears with those who come to him. He has many arms, many eyes, many feet, and he calls those who will forsake all to enter his family.

Listen, O daughter! Consider, and incline your ear! Forget your own people and your father’s house, and in this way the King will greatly desire your beauty. (Ps. 45:10-11)

When we argue about liturgy versus free churches and how much Scripture is included in the liturgy, we are talking about a tiny, tiny percentage of what is at the heart of “church.” While we determine whether three songs (or twenty), an offering, and a speech are better or worse than a carefully choreographed recital of faith and Scripture, we send people “home” from those meetings, as though they had some other home than the family of God.

I’m quite certain this all could be said better, and maybe more sweetly (not that Jesus or the apostles left me any “sweet speech” example to follow. I think, however, if you want to, you’ll get the point.

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