October 25, 2020

Frank Schaeffer: Progressive Christianity is Broken Too


Frank Schaeffer has been an outspoken critic (to say the least) of the Christian Right since he left the movement many years ago. He found a spiritual home in Orthodoxy, and blogs at “Why I Still Talk to Jesus — In Spite of Everything.” In a recent blog post, he widened his critique of evangelical Christianity in America to include “progressive” Christianity. Here, he takes on the Phyllis Tickles and Diana Butler Basses of the world who see a new era emerging in the western Church — an age that stresses spirituality rather than religion, community rather than institutionalism, inclusiveness and diversity rather than a “bounded set” mentality, and orthopraxis rather than orthodoxy.

He lays his cards on the table right at the outset of his piece:

I don’t think there will be some new age of religion dawning in America anytime soon unless a lot of people change their minds about worship. The dream of progressive Christians whether they call themselves “emergent” or something else will fizzle along with the slowly collapsing evangelical/fundamentalist juggernaut unless the basic mistakes of North American Christianity are addressed.

In summary, he asserts: “The problem with North American Christianity is not the window-dressing– it’s the whole package.”

And the whole package, as far as Schaeffer is concerned, is the liturgy.

  • Dispensing with the liturgy, churches have abandoned the primary signpost that forms people into a community.
  • Dispensing with the liturgy, churches have lost “something to show up for that was different than the rest of your life, special, set apart.”
  • Dispensing with the liturgy, churches have forsaken the unity that comes through shared practice and tradition.
  • Dispensing with the liturgy, churches have lost the sense of being “home” — “…the point was you showed up and it was always reassuringly the same. It was to worship what the Manhattan skyline is to born and bred New Yorkers: home.” Instead, Schaeffer asserts, churches have replaced the real New York with a Las Vegas imitation.

He concludes:

It’s no wonder then that a generation of evangelicals and disgruntled fundamentalists wandering away from evangelical communities have zero idea about what to actually “do” in terms of worship and practice when they start up their own churches as a counterpoint to the bad experiences they suffered through in times past. They may think that they are rebelling against the straitjacket of right wing fundamentalist “culture war” Christianity, but in fact they’re just simply continuing it by other means. The sign posts are still gone. They are still in a head game of ideas about God, not in the world of worship of God. Until forward thinking Christians are willing to look back at what’s been lost no one is going to be able to get anywhere past just being another fad.

For Frank Schaeffer, the problem is not primarily doctrinal but practical. No matter what our doctrine may be, if our churches look like the rest of the culture, feel the rest of the culture, speak like the rest of the culture, and act like the rest of the culture, we will not “do” Christianity as it was meant to be done. We create consumerist Christians who are ever after the latest and greatest thing.

Frank Schaeffer at table IHere’s what’s actually needed, according to Schaeffer (and I paraphrase):

  • Mystery and open-mindedness in our theology
  • Rediscovery of Eucharistic sacramental tradition in our worship
  • Seeking out the old, the mystical, and the monastic for spiritual formation
  • Abandoning “relevance” and  trying to be “modern” and instead reconnecting with our historic traditions of worship
  • Practicing NT freedom in being more inclusive and recognizing the ever-expanding trajectory of the Gospel, which welcomes the marginalized — minorities, women, gays, etc. — and allows them to serve and lead in our congregations

Schaeffer critiques us for abandoning the wisdom of tradition to live out the human proclivity for “free-thinking” and autonomy that has been at the root of our civilization since the Enlightenment (and which, by the way, was the original sin). If we abandon this “progressive” mindset, he says, and instead intentionally “build communities around ancient worship practices that would be recognizable to any other Christian in history, we’ll be on to something.”


  1. I like and appreciate what Schaeffer’s saying, for the most part. I’m a high-church Lutheran and I think he’s onto something.

    But here’s my problem: what liturgy? If you look at a history of liturgy, such as Frenk Senn’s “Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical,” there have been probably hundreds of liturgies in the Church’s past.

    Which liturgies would pass Schaeffer’s smell test? East?West?Catholic?Protestant, high or low?

    And: is liturgy the same as “form?” Would a Baptist church that still plays hymns and has a set format still be liturgical?I think the answer is yes.

    So I wonder if the devil here is in the details. I guess I’m leery of any one “solution” that’s proposed and if we follow it, everything else will just fall magically into place.

    • I think when he says “liturgy,” he is referring to a communion service, not just any service. So it would depend on your tradition: Divine Liturgy for Orthodox, Mass for Roman Catholics, Divine Service for Lutherans, Holy Eucharist for Anglicans. These four are identical in many, many ways.

      • And it might be added that every item on that list have more in common with one another than they do with “contemporary” worship services.

  2. This seems like a strange argument to me since most of the progressive Christianity I’ve experienced has been in liturgical churches.

    I’m an Episcopalian, so liturgy is what I know and love. Diana Butler Bass and Phyllis Tickle are Episcopalian; I find it hard to fathom that they would want to dispense with liturgy. I do think there’s something amiss in progressive Christianity, but I don’t think “liturgy” captures the problem in the slightest. Episcopalians still believe that praying shapes believing. In the American church, we begin the renewal of our baptismal vows by promising to “continue in the apostles’ teaching, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers.”

    So I have to say, I’m completely nonplussed as to what progressive church Shaeffer is talking about. It’s not the one I’m part of.

    • Thanks for expressing my thoughts as I was reading this piece better than I could have.

    • I think he’s referring to the emergent, Rob Bell type megachurch.

    • Laura makes a very good point. Liturgy in itself (although a marvellous corrective) will not solve problems if it’s treated as a kind of window-dressing or role-playing. You may retain the maniple but if you’re equating Jesus with Buddha as two guys who were just regular Joes (or even that Buddha is a manifestation of the divine but Yeshua Bar-Yosef was a culturally-bound Jew who needed to be instructed in what his real mission should be by the Syro-Phoenician woman), then you are not dong any better than Pastor Billy-Bob and his 5,000 seater complex with full rock stadium sound system and national chain franchise coffee served to your very seat.

      We’ve had some roiling over the liturgy in recent years in Catholicism, what with the new (old) translation and small but definite moves by Benedict XVI to bring back some of the things that were tossed out in the first heady days of the Vatican II reforms; you will notice, if you watch any of the broadcast Masses from St. Peter’s, the return of the altar candles and crucifix on the altar, the use of Latin in the Novus Ordo rite, and the re-introduction of kneeling to receive Communion on the tongue.

      Some love it. Some hate it for varying reasons – both because it’s not going far enough back to the Mass of St. Pius V or because it’s going too far and is betraying the conciliar intentions of Vatican II. Some don’t much care one way or the other.

      • Liturgy is a tool, in my opinion. I like a church with liturgy, but I know far too many for whom liturgy has become a means to an end, almost a god in its own right. This bothers me greatly. The liturgy should point believers to God, not be its own end.

    • I’m late to edit this, but I thought better of my reference to Bass and Tickle. I was trying to point to things they have been saying about others, not their own practices, which actually fit nicely with Schaeffer’s prescriptions.

  3. MattPurdum says

    It’s not the liturgy that’s our problem; it’s the heart.

    • Yes. +1

    • Matthew 15:18. I agree, but truth be told, bad liturgy is revealing. At least, according to Jesus. If our hearts were in the right place as a community, our gathered prayer would be the words of and about Christ.

  4. David Cornwell says

    There are many things wrong with progressive Christianity, but I think both Bob and Laura are correct. Many of the progressive churches I know about are good at liturgy. Thus the faith of the fathers/mothers is affirmed again and again. This is one of the good things.

    On the other hand progressive churches get tied up carrying on about certain issues that can end up being a distraction from Christ. It isn’t that the issues themselves are necessarily bad, it’s how they are addressed by the church. But this isn’t any different from how evangelical churches do the same sort of things, except about different concerns. To me this is disheartening.

    My feeling is that some pastors know this, but feel caught in a kind of trap. Others are clueless.

  5. Just as an aside, I want to direct the collective readership’s attention to the LCMS president’s own apology regarding the Newtown interfaith service. I think this needs to be considered here given the many folks here and elsewhere that attacked his motives and accused him of being a self-righteous legalist.



    • Thank you Boaz. The fact is, I would expect a post evangelical to be the first one to condemn being part of syncretistic, “flag and cross” televised American civil religion. It seems dishonest to me for anyone to condemn Jerry Falwell for participating in things like this, but then condemn this pastor for apologizing.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      I don’t think it really helps. He pretty much says that the purpose of the apology was for internal consumption, while outsiders should notice that it was a carefully crafted non-apology apology. It is a truism that in any church body, once you reach a certain level in the hierarchy you tend to see more politicians than pastors. I don’t blame the LCMS for this: it is part of the human condition. If I am going to criticize a church leader for being a politician, I will stick closer to home with the ELCA. On the other hand, I get the impression that this guy isn’t actually very good at it.

      • Don’t kid yourselves. It’s an election year in the LCMS and Harrison was hoping to pump up the conservative base, but it got out of hand. He’s the one who asked for a public apology, isn’t he? And then is shocked that he got bad press out of it? The only sympathy I have on this one is for the people of Newtown (esp. the young pastor) who get bad heaped on top of bad. It could well be a case of the LCMS power- that-be winning the battle but ultimately losing the war as even more of their people head for the exit…

    • Marcus Johnson says

      Not sure how boaz’s post relates to this current discussion.

  6. Tom Huguenot says

    I have great respect for Frank, but I need to say I am not convinced at all.

    First, as a low church Lutheran, I am not impressed by the call to “Liturgy”. As Bob said: which one? The Divine Liturgy of John Chrysostom? The Book of Common Prayer of 1662? Or its 1979 US edition? The 1962 liturgy of the French Reformed Church? The St Pius X Mass?
    The appeal to THE liturgy is, in my eyes, typically Eastern Orthodox. The only problem is that THE liturgy has never existed…

    I also do not believe that many churches in history would have recognized themselves in communities who now openly advocate homosexuality…

    • I second your concerns, Tom.

      While incorporating liturgy may solve some practical matters, I think the main concern of most progressives/emergents is ideological.

      Does liturgy (of any kind, referring back to Tom’s point) have the potential to transcend so many of the ideological hot-button issues that dominate theological conversations these days? I doubt it — but I would be impressed if some thought that answer was “yes.” After all, worship should have the power to transform.

    • I disagree. The Divine Service, the Mass, and the Divine Liturgy are all strikingly similar. The shape and the elements line up, its in the details that the differences are seen. I propose he isn’t calling for detailed uniformity, but rather, for uniformity within your tradition. It’s not getting all the words just right that is a magic potion for doxological success: It’s about having continuity and connection.

  7. If what Schaeffer is talking about is giving up the insights of the Reformation in order to join what he considers the one true and undivided church, he can count me out; and I believe that is what he is suggesting, because what I know of him is that he carried his fundamentalist psychology into the already conservative EO Church when he converted. No one is ever going to put the genie of denominationalism back in the bottle, short of the Parousia; and its very unlikely that Euro/America will be reconverted to Christianity by better liturgy.

  8. SJ Gonzalez says

    I have to echo alotta folk’s comments about progressive churches and liturgy. A lot of the mainline folk do liturgy, like the Epicopalians. The non denominational (or post?) church I visited that was influenced by that sorta emergent thought has liturgy.

    Now, I do think it’s something deeper. The songs were still the same nonsense CCM songs that makes God’s love look amoebic. The pastor still thought he was hot stuff for thinking he was so cool. Oh, and because they’re an independent congregation the dude can be all like “Accountability? Pfffft”. Honestly the whole service felt like it was seeker sensitive; except that it was directed towards people my age.

    The preaching was weak too. It preached horizontal reconciliation without any focus on vertical reconciliation. The ironic thing is that he likes NT Wright too (just like me!) and stoof. The worst part was when sang a Native American worship song (mind there wasn’t a Native American in the congregation).

    So I agree. What liturgy? And how should this liturgy be carried? What about preaching?


    I go to a PCA church and we use a simple liturgy. A call to worship, singing in praise to that call, confession of sin and absolution where we hear the Law and are forgiven because of Grace, singing in response to that grace, the sermon of the Gospel that feeds us, and the Lord’s Supper where we remember the sacrifice given and sacrifice our resources for the Kingdom, after which we sing and go out with a benediction. It’s simple, but, it works and seems Biblical. Word and Sacrament.

    • David Cornwell says

      “we use a simple liturgy”

      I like it.

    • Josh in FW says

      sounds nice. I like how you do offerings after the Lord’s Supper. The transitions seem smooth and sensical.

    • I serve a very Evangelical congregation of the LCMS, so a lot of the time our liturgy looks like this. When I get my “ruthers,” we do a full blown Divine Service, including the ordinary of the Mass, even with a praise band. Presbyterian/Reformed folks have acces to much more depths of richness in their tradition than is typically explored. While I get these simplified services, there are two other streams worth pulling from if you are in a Reformed church. The PCUSA’s Book of Common Worship has forms for a communion service that can be done in a simplified, low church manner, but is very similar to the Lutheran or Anglican rites. Also, early reformed services were actually called “the Divine Service,” which can be found in the Geneva Psalter and easily adapted to a modern context. If I worked in the PCA I’d be having fun with that kinda stuff.

      • SJ Gonzalez says

        I agree! I like the liturgy we have, though I wish we’d do more Psalms and the Creed. Still, I think the congregation I’m a part of has a better liturgy then the hymn//sermon sandwich so prevalent in low church Reformed churches.

        (Or so I heard.)

  9. I appreciate Frank’s contribution, however much given he is to hyperbole. However, I think the “orthodoxy/orthopraxy” dichotomy is unhelpful. We need both. I realize that the issues of symbolology and signs are kind of esoteric, so I won’t branch off too much, but the symbols we use, while important, also have to have content. For example, anyone could baptize, even with a trinitarian formula, only to explain to the confirmand that baptism was a special rite whereby a tea-tree in Uganda was exorcised. Or whatever. So, I think a more wholistic picture is that many churches who emphasize orthodoxy but tend to ignore orthopraxy; on the other hand you have churches who emphasize orthopraxy and end to ignore orthodoxy. We need both. And I don’t think that any liturgy will do, either. There is latitude, but also boundaries. Good conversation, but I think a bit too deep for a blog comment.

  10. Richard Hershberger says

    I think what we have here is a problem with basic vocabulary. I expect my ELCA church to fall into the “progressive Christian” category, and I consider Frank Schaeffer someone with interesting things to say, even when I don’t agree with him, so I was girding myself for having my tradition criticized. Then he went and essentially said the problem is that progressive Christians aren’t enough like my church. I think boaz is right when he suggests that what Schaeffer means by “progressive Christian” is the Rob Bell emergent megachurch model. And I have no real disagreement with this. I also don’t mind my ELCA church losing the label “progressive Christian”. There are some aspects of the ELCA for which that label makes sense, but many others for which it does not. But it does get rather confusing.

    • I think you’d find that a lot of the people who attended Mars Hill, Bell’s church before he resigned, were actually pretty conservative. I guess that’s what gets me. I really have no idea what people really mean when they say “progressive”. If they mean a theological “liberal” and all the trappings that come with that, as far I’m concerned much of that is so far removed from historic, orthodox Christianity, that most of what those people are doing is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I read some blogs where self-professed progressive Christians comment, and to me, once you start going down the road of questioning Jesus’ resurrection, His miracles, etc., you’re left with something seems like little more than a social club.

      If by “progressive” people mean more closely aligned with the political left, than you can count me out as well. I don’t think it does the church any good to hop out of bed with on political party and into bed with another. Sadly, I see this a lot, too.

      • As somebody who lurks on Patheos since Slacktivist moved there, “progressive Christianity” is a category specific to Patheos. It’s an eclectic hodgepodge of mainline Protestants, emerging church names, and basically anyone whose blog would be a hopeless flamewar if it was classed sensibly.

        tl;dr Frank Schaeffer was basically trolling his neighbors there.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Well, the guy IS known for in-your-face rants. Kind of a shock jock.

          I remember the first time I heard him interviewed on the radio, when he was using “FRANKY Schaeffer” as his pen name. Fifteen minutes (one talk-radio segment) of rabid anti-Catholic rant. I’d just read his Addicted to Mediocrity, and was expecting a talk on Evangelicals and the Arts, not a rant that could have come from Jack Chick or Raul Rees.

    • I read (and even comment) on some atheist blogs every now and then. A while ago, Prof. Coyne over at Why Evolution is True, was asking about the ELCA synod as he was going to debate an adherent. So Prof Coyne asked everyone on the site what we knew about ELCA. He, himself, had read the statement of belief and was of the opinion that it was a very conservative organization as it believed in a literal resurrection, something like the Real Presence, etc. It was a rather humorous posting with a lot of your ELCA alumni adding points and comments.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        I have never read that blog before, but I pulled it up and found that discussion. My main impression is that reading it regularly would be exhausting, in the sense of “tiresome”. My second impression is that while I have no idea what the numbers are, and their objections to the study they discussed may well be valid, anecdotally it is unremarkable, even commonplace, to find members of university science faculties regularly attending a local church. The distant third impression is that this guy really doesn’t understand American Christianity. In fairness, part of it is legitimate confusion over labels like “liberal”. The ELCA is liberal in some senses, and conservative in others. How these aspects relate to one another is complicated. Anyone inclined to use a word like “liberal” without supporting context to make its meaning clear is going to have a lot of trouble figure it out.

        • Prof Coyne is, in my opinion, somewhat unusual as he is an atheist without ever having gone through the process of rejecting a belief system. Most of the atheists I know personally are former Catholics (it’s Chicagoland, that’s the predominant religion here), for instance. Prof Coyne appears to have been reared without a faith.

          The other interesting thing about his site is that he posts some incredible photos and stories of wildlife (he is a biologist). In fact, he, like Dawkins, seems to have become engaged in public atheism over evolution and the teaching of it almost entirely. He is the author of the book “Why Evolution is True” which is a pretty good overview of evolution and the classical and modern evidence for it.

          He also got a shout out from Dawkins in one of his works as having written “the” book on speciation (“Speciation”).

  11. He obviously didn’t grow up in any liturgical church, or he wouldn’t be so quick to think liturgy will solve everything. It is all too easy to go to a liturgical church, know all the proper responses, when to sit, stand, or kneel, sing the Gloria Patri by heart, etc. and still not know Jesus. That is exactly what drove much of the evangelical movement in the first place. Now we may have a pendulum swing, because those worship elements are a bit exotic to those who grew up in churches without them. But to expect liturgy, in and of itself, to fix all that’s wrong in the church, shows me that he hasn’t looked much at church history at all.

    • To be fair, I don’t think he is simply talking about what happens in Sunday morning worship, though that is critical. He is also talking about a liturgical life built around the Church Year through which a congregation lives the Gospel through shared traditions and practices. Sunday worship is a key and integral component of that, but it is not the whole.

      • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

        That’s important. One of the things that many of my fellow Anglicans seem to be unaware of is that the non-Eucharistic Daily Office services are just as important to Anglican spirituality as the Eucharist. If the Eucharist is most regular the Sacramental aspect of our congregational life, the Offices are to be the regular Word aspect of our communal life (based as they are on medieval monastic practices).

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      He obviously didn’t grow up in any liturgical church, or he wouldn’t be so quick to think liturgy will solve everything.

      I wonder if that’s why he went capital-O Orthodox fanboy for a period. As far from non-liturgical Evangelicanism as you can get, and from that radio interview I mentioned above, the last place he’d go for a liturgical church would be Rome.

  12. While I think the question of “which liturgy” is a good one to ask, and makes for valuable conversation, but I don’t think we all need to agree on a nailed-down definition of liturgy in order to consider the value of pursuing that path.

    I was raised Eastern Catholic, so I worshiped with the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, just as the EOs do. That was decades ago. Currently I alternate between worshiping at an EO church and an Episcopal church (different parts of the country). In the past (I”m old), I’ve worshiped at Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, and ELCA. They all have the liturgy, or “a” liturgy, but while they differed in many respects, I easily recognized them all as liturgy.

    These were all quite different, in my mind, from the 1/2 hour of worship (ie, praise music) followed by 1/2 hour of an expository sermon at an evangelical, non-denom church. This church had many excellent offerings and I very much cherish the years that I attended there. However, I’ve come full circle, as maybe Shaffer has, and I want worship – I want the liturgy. To me, this praise band/long sermon thing is just entertainment plus blah, blah, blah. I just want to say – stop talking. At this point on my journey, I yearn to pray the same prayers and sing the same hymns that are being prayed and sung around the world every Sunday. I yearn to have a deep experience of God. I yearn to shut out the noise of the world, not replicate it. I yearn to resonate with the rhythms of God, his church, and his people. I yearn to be still and know that he is God.

    • Beautifully put, Dianne.

    • +1

    • “At this point on my journey, I yearn to pray the same prayers and sing the same hymns that are being prayed and sung around the world every Sunday. I yearn to have a deep experience of God. I yearn to shut out the noise of the world, not replicate it. I yearn to resonate with the rhythms of God, his church, and his people. I yearn to be still and know that he is God.”


  13. I’m getting pretty tired of the idea that one THING can really change the church for the better. There is no magic bullet that will kill the church’s many problems. Just because we reclaim some historic form of liturgy doesn’t mean all our woes would end. We are at the cusp of an unprecedented information and technological revolution. What havoc and blessings it will bring, no one can really know.

    The times they are a changing! The best we can do is weather through it with humility and integrity.

  14. As you summarize Schaeffer’s prescription at the end, what is interesting is that the third bullet point stands in quite a bit of tension with the last one. Schaeffer’s preference for the ancient tradition of the church applies to the liturgy but gives way when the issue becomes the politics of gender and sexual orientation, where he is, ironically, a bit more modern than the evangelical tradition he has come to loathe for its modernity.

    • You are right, Aaron, and I’m not sure how he reconciles that. I know how he presents it, which is by appealing to a common hermeneutical principle that I myself have respect for: that the Bible and NT Gospel plant seeds of social change that have grown over time on a trajectory of more freedom and more inclusion.

      • I am not sure how he reconciles (pun intended) his stance on the meaning of Jesus’ call to reconciliation with the strong Orthodox rejection of homosexual practice and women in the priesthood. Schaeffer is no longer considered to be a good representative of Orthodox thought in several areas. However, it is important to note that the Orthodox do not line up as a “we must be capitalist in order to honor God” group.

  15. Chaplain Mike,
    I scanned some of the posts on Schaeffer’s blog and was a little surprised. If I remember correctly, when I read some of his work a number of years ago, shortly after he had joined the EO Church, he was extremely conservative about social/sexual issues; I’m sort of surprised to see him embrace more inclusion for gays. Does his endorsement of more inclusion for gays and women in leadership positions include advocating for their ordination to the priesthood? Is he more open to ecumenical efforts now than he was then? I seem to remember him excoriating certain EO theologians who took an ecumenical approach to other churches because he saw them as betraying the purity of apostolic belief and practice that he believed the EO church uniquely contained.

    • Frank is never dull and he seems to have become as polemical about progressive issues as he was about conservative ones years ago. I’m not as acquainted with his positions on EO matters.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        “he seems to have become as polemical about progressive issues as he was about conservative ones years ago.”

        This is an all-too-common phenomenon, with people moving in both directions. Or, more accurately, leaping from one extreme to the other. Whenever i see someone at the far edge of either side, I am never surprised if I wake up one morning to find they have switched teams. (My brother once commented of Glenn Greenwald, who is about as far left as anyone receiving any attention nowadays, that in ten years he is going to be a fascist.) There is a personality type which is attracted to the extremes, without much regard to which one.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Don’t forget the “Hardening of the Attitudes” with age.

          There is a personality type which is attracted to the extremes, without much regard to which one.

          Communism begets Objectivism.

        • +1

          Sometimes it seems his first name should be “Cranky.”

  16. This is a niggling point, but in both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy there is more than one liturgy that is used. While in the East the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom is the main one, it is not the only one used. During all of Lent (and some other special days), the Liturgy of Saint Basil is used. On the weekdays of Lent the Presanctified Liturgy of Gregory the Great is used. And, there are even Western-Rite parishes.

    Among the Roman Catholics, while the Liturgy of Saint Peter is the main one, there also exist the Ambrosian Rite, the various Eastern rites, and the Mozarabic Liturgy that are used on a regular, though limited, basis.

    Having said that, I think Frank Schaeffer’s point is twofold. Both Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics would argue that liturgical worship is not merely a human innovation but is a continuation of the heavenly worship as expressed here on Earth, from the Old Testament through today. Liturgical worship is not a human option, but a heavenly requirement. That would be point one.

    The second point would be the loss of historical continuity through the ages, and the authority of the ancient community in our lives. I guarantee you that all RC and EO clergy are well aware of the various historical developments, as is Francis Schaeffer. But, that is not the point. As Benedict XVI is pointing out by the very return to some of the older forms, it is that historical continuity and acceptance of the authority of the ancient community throughout history that is so lacking in so much of the megachurch-seeker-what-have-you experimentation going on today.

    I would not agree with him on some of his points on diversity, however!

    Finally, for those who point out that they have known liturgical churches in which few know Jesus, the problem is in how one defines that, is it not? After all, which is actually worse, to have a person speak “Jesus language” but go out and behave like everyone else during the week, or to have a person who simply “attends” a Sunday worship yet goes out and behaves like everyone else during the week? I would argue that it is worse to have someone who speaks “Jesus language.” The reason is that such a person is known as a hypocrite. The “attender” is only known as a nominal Christian.

    “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” — James 2:18

  17. I would simply offer that liturgy means “of the people”. Whatever form it takes – Mass, Divine Service – a liturgy expects our participation & necessarily points to historical tradition because worship reflects the many becoming one in God. The loss of this understanding has opened the door to the worship service becoming more performance oriented, to sermons becoming longer, to applause after every musical offering, to a very self-conscious service. True liturgy always directs us away from ourselves. We enter into it; we do not create it.

  18. Could it be that Schaeffer’s definition of liturgy is congruent to that of Jame KA Smith’s? I’m surprised with all this talk of liturgy on this site, that his comments on liturgy and worship haven’t been mentioned. In Desiring the Kingdom, Smith argues that liturgy is worship and that liturgy is everywhere – especially three: the mall, the stadium, the university. These cultural liturgies form our heart’s desires towards things other than the Kingdom of God. Humans are desiring creatures, primarily, and thinking ones secondarily, therefore, what we desire is what we worship. Every church has a liturgy, though, many churches have abandoned the types of liturgy which separate the church from the culture, which significantly changes its ability to counter-form our hearts and desires away from the culture and toward God and the Kingdom of God. One of the commenters above mentioned how she yearned to shut out the noise of the world, not replicate it. What an incredible statement. I think what Schaeffer is getting at isn’t so much what type of liturgy (high vs low, Orthodox vs Catholic), but that liturgy is worship and if we’re worshipping the wrong things via our liturgies, perhaps we need to adjust and reform what we’re doing.

    Here’s the link to Smith’s book. Is anyone familiar with it? I just read it a month ago and it changed my approach to a lot of things.


  19. I am reminded of Brother Lawrence in the kitchen having to interrupt his conversation with the Lord while washing dishes or peeling taters because it was time to go pray the liturgy.

  20. After being raised fundamentalist and spending most of my adult life trying to find out which ring of the evangelical circus I belonged in, I had an accidental brush with a liturgical church that changed my life: My kids’ violin teacher started holding lessons in the library of an ELCA church near our home. While waiting in the narthex for lessons to end, my wife and I began talking to the pastor.

    It was so refreshing that he seemed to see his job as actually ministering to peoples’ needs. It was also pretty cool that he didn’t seem obsessed with being cool, which in my experience was rare for a pastor. We started attending there on Saturday evenings so we could still go to our “real” church on Sunday.

    The idea of the liturgy drew us in. I experienced for the first time the idea that Schaeffer is hinting at of “home”. After years of being distracted by the show at church and finding it difficult to focus on Jesus, it was so nice to get into the rhythm of this patterned approach to worship that freed my mind up to dwell on Him. After a couple of months, we became regular attenders and are moving toward membership.

    What sealed the deal was when my 12 year old came home from confirmation class last fall and said, “Confirmation is kind of like youth group, except Pastor Scott teaches us how to become a grown-up in the church. At youth group, it was all about Pastor Jeremy trying to pretend he was a kid.” Out of the mouths of babes . . .

  21. Interesting. I enjoyed the comment section here as one of those “progressive” but recovering evangelicals who has never experienced the liturgy.

  22. Liturgical does not equal community or even like mindedness, but that’s the goal. It is when the worshipper enters into liturgy with a penitant heart and the idea of maintaining a highest view of God, the One God of Israel, then He is most glorified. This has personal and corporate benefit, when our eyes are off “me” and “them” and on the One who created and sustains us all. And this interaction with the Almighty leads to the fruit of the spirit being practiced in community with one another, in but especially outside of a church service. This is the point at which societies are transformed, when a group of people take their “liturgy” to the streets, to the poor, to the least, to the meek.