Being a Protestant Calvinist in the high-church tradition is not an easy task in the deep south. Apart from the few scattered Anglicans and Lutherans around town, we are surrounded by a largely Baptistic culture. Within the Baptist stream, the word Church has all sorts of connotations. For some it is a place to discover your Potential; to others it is loyalty to missions (a noble task); to some it is the “old-time religion” of mom and pops. Some Baptist congregations are filled with life and casualness; lots of it. Others are known for their strong expository sermons. But rarely is a Baptist Church here in the south known for its robust liturgical expression. Liturgy –if understood–is highly offensive to the ears.
A friend told me recently of a visiting family who had to leave the service early because their little child was overwhelmed by the congregational participation in the service. There is nothing wrong with being overwhelmed by certain elements of the service, but again “what are we teaching to our congregation?” Are we making them replicas of 16th century worship with its passive congregants sitting back allowing the “experts” to do it all?
The problem with the liturgy to many in the south is that it demands engagement with the service. It is easier to be passive; to be a spectator; a un-involved member in a one-way conversation. But liturgy changes passivity. Liturgy is the antidote to one-way conversation. Liturgy is engaging, inviting, and challenging. Liturgy–faithful liturgy as opposed to dead liturgy–engages the mind and body. It is intellectually satisfying and emotionally fulfilling. This is all true because worship is warfare. Worshipers in warfare do not have a choice, but to participate in what is going on.
So, what is the solution to this dilemma? The solution is to strive for excellence, even with negligible means and small congregations. Liturgical churches need to be examples of life and joy. The unfortunate reputation of liturgy makes it all the more difficult for pastors to engage this culture. Yet, I am hopeful. Because I have seen families transformed. I have seen little children growing up to be psalm-singers; little ones craving to sing next to daddy and mommy the songs Yahweh wrote. And I have also seen adults change. I have seen the effects of a liturgical life. I have seen Christ wrapped around the lives of families in their rising up and in their going down.
But liturgy is not the goal in and of itself. Liturgy is a means. Without Christ liturgy is meaningless. Liturgy is a holy labor. God is pleased with our thanksgiving, and He cherishes acceptable praise (Hebrews 12).
So, come. Let us worship and bow down, and kneel before the Lord, our Maker.