Why I Kinda Like Liturgy - Strange title?
First of all, I want to explain that I'm writing this post from the context of British Methodism. If you happen to be an expert in the history of Christian liturgy or a Vestment Vixen, this post is definitely not for you. This post is my explanation into a denomination where I perceive that congregations generally don't have have much regard for formal, written liturgy and often look down upon it.
Secondly, I use the word 'kinda' because I want to explain what I think is good about formal, written liturgy. Often, I think, Christians assume that if one likes liturgy, one will also hate a service with extempore prayers and/or charismatic worship. I do not hate informal or extempore worship; For me, personally, these two forms of worship serve different purposes; I suspect that they may also reach different types of people and that some people are best reached by formal, written liturgy and others are best reached by extempore worship.
So here is why I 'kinda like' formal, written liturgy.
1) Most worship has 'liturgy' or ritual in it anyway. When I attended a church with informal worship, we always began with three praise songs, two which built us up into praise of God and one which quietened us down a bit to come before God in a prayer of approach. Believe it or not, that's actually liturgy. As are the words 'Oh Lord, we just want to come before you today and bless your holy name.' That's liturgy too. This is probably how the first ancient liturgies got written. People found patterns of worship and words that worked and these were repeated until they eventually got written down.
2) Formal, written liturgy has good theology and is well-written. This is important to me. I don't think I've had any 'bad theological experiences' in Methodism, but I've had them in other informal contexts. What can you do when someone says something in prayer or leading worship that is simply incorrect doctrinally? Not a lot, really. Also, in my experience, the theology expressed in informal worship almost invariably centres around 'having a personal relationship with Jesus' or possibly with 'healing' if it's a healing service. Both are well and good, but somewhat limited. Formal liturgy references all three persons of the Trinity and their work, Christian discipleship and stewardship as well as having a personal relationship with Jesus.
3) Formal, written liturgy links us with Christian tradition. I suspect that for many this might be an argument to abandon formal liturgy altogether! But I don't actually think that Church Tradition has gotten everything wrong all the time. When we use formal, written liturgy, we are not only linking ourselves with other Christian brothers and sisters who are saying those prayers right now, but we also link ourselves with our Christian brothers and sisters who went before us into glory.
4) Formal, written liturgy helps us to pray when we don't have the words to pray ourselves, especially those of us who have not been given the gift of speaking in tongues. People often testify to being held in the practice of prayer during times of emotional distress by saying the Daily Office. Also, one benefit of saying the daily office is that you get into the habit of praying whether you 'feel like' it or not.
I think that the number one criticism I hear of formal, written liturgy is that it is rote and insincere and done by people who don't 'really believe'. As someone who values liturgy and who believes and feels that she is 'really and sincerely worshipping' when she uses it, that can often be hard to hear. That said, I know I've certainly seen and heard liturgies where it appeared that neither the worship leader nor the congregation were getting much out of it. But I think that flags up a danger with respect to written liturgy. I don't think it's correct to say that all practice of formal liturgy must necessarily be insincere.
One of the things I love about Methodism is our 'wide church' approach. We are theologically wide and liturgically wide. I hope that Methodists can respect each other no matter what form of worship they prefer.
N.b. This post is not a criticism of any individual or any group in Methodism. I hope it's not perceived that way. It's been born of some discussion about 'worship styles' both on the internet and In Real Life.