The crowd enthusiastically chanted, “TEN! NINE! EIGHT!”
“SEVEN! SIX! FIVE! FOUR!” The smoke from the smoke machine filled the auditorium as the strobe light flickered with increasing intensity, and the giant screen above the center of the stage continued the countdown.
“THREE! TWO! ONE!” Everyone immediately erupted in a glorious uproar as five hipsters ran onto the stage and began playing loud music with ripping guitar solos, cool sound effects, and a light show that would make many a poor and starving indie band jealous.
The thing is, I wasn’t at a rock concert. It was a church service. Unfortunately, in the modern era, it has become progressively harder to tell the two apart. Society’s drive for individuality at the expense of real community and the insatiable demand for the severe revisionism (or the total removal of tradition) has successfully infiltrated many segments of the contemporary Church. The dramatic increase in the number of Christians who claim no affiliation to any specific expression of the faith—clinging instead to vague terms like “Christian spirituality,” “nondenominational,” or “none of the above”—has created a large swath of Christians who lack real accountability to larger body.
This isn’t to bash every contemporary church or to say they have nothing to contribute. My goal isn’t to somehow exclude members of these churches from the larger Body of Christ or devalue the people who attend those types of worship services. This is not a plumb line by which to judge an individual’s faith commitment. However, these trends should be troubling to most believers, who seek to maintain the faith as it was handed down to us (Jude 1:3). These trends represent historic deviations from traditional expressions of the faith.
In the atmosphere of raucous music—accompanied by smoke machines and shallow three point sermons that have more in common with stand-up comedy routines than historical preaching—attending a traditional, liturgical service can be a breath of fresh air. In a world bent on disrupting norms and destroying structures, it is incumbent upon Christians to understand the necessity of the Church’s structure and to cling to it.
Some may point out that there is no biblical formula laid out for worship in the New Testament. That is true. However, that does not preclude or diminish the importance of liturgical worship. Even if there is no Scriptural formula for what we do on Sunday mornings, everything in the liturgy is absolutely a reflection and reminder of Scripture, from the incense (a sweet aroma offered to God, reminding worshippers that they are sweet smelling sacrifices), to the crossing of oneself after prayer (an invocation of the Trinity). The liturgy features the gathering of the community where the recitation and acclamations of Scripture along with rich creedal statements are made. The culmination of the liturgy is Eucharist, one of the most beautiful moments of the Christian walk because it is a chance for congregants to remember and actively participate in what Christ did for us through the cross and resurrection.
The history of the liturgy begins in the Old Testament. It is centered around the program of sacrifices laid out in Leviticus, making it a paradigm for the agenda of the Mass. The New Testament may not offer a specific program for worship, but we do know that the Eucharist is one tradition that can be traced as a norm of the Early Church. It remained one of the most vital practices for Christians, even through the Reformation.
Through the traditions of the Church, we gain wisdom from those who came before us. If a tradition, like liturgy and Eucharist, came from those who were taught directly by Christ and His disciples, we should be incredibly wary to dispose of it, especially if it’s just to listen to the kind of music we are used to hearing on the radio.
Currently, our larger society dictates much of what goes on within the walls of the Church. That should not be so. Tradition is a countercultural method of resisting the cultural decay that seeks to penetrate our worship. Instead of deferring to the newest, shiniest, most popular thing, we should heed ancient wisdom, uniting ourselves to those members of the Body of Christ who came before us while tuning out those contemporary influences which can distort our view of God and His Church.
Liturgy is not entertainment. It’s not a consumeristic product. It must be theocentric. That which pleases God and puts him at the very center should be considered the wisest expression of worship. Shifting to liturgical modes of worship represents a denial of the way the contemporary church has slowly taken the focus off God and placed the spotlight on the glam and glitz of their own worship “production.” Liturgy is a way to re-focus on the Christ.
I live in a college town where churches tend to bend over backwards to cater towards the growing college population. My generation is the next one to take over the helm of the Church, and these are troubling signs. With the rise of the seeker-friendly church, believers are fed milk (1 Cor 3:2) and taught not to confront culture but only to compromise. Instead, we ought to retreat to liturgy because it resists this compromise and cuts directly to the heart of Christ’s teachings. We need to take seriously the way our Christian forefathers worshipped. We need to celebrate the Eucharist in a more traditional and orthodox way.
Liturgy has been an important topic on Conciliar Post. For more of the discussion, check out TJ Humphrey’s piece, “Modern Liturgical Denial and UnBiblical Anthropology,” “The Gift of Ceremony” by Nicholai Stuckwisch and my article, “The Crisis in the Architecture of the Modern Megachurch and How to Fix It.”