October 22, 2020

Riffs: 1:08:07: Mark Galli: Liturgy Beyond the Rat Race of “Relevance”

logo.gifThanks, Mark Galli. If these two paragraphs summarizing the thoughts on liturgy in your current book project are any indication, I may buy twenty.

Why do post-evangelicals like myself find such a comfort and a shelter in liturgy? Because liturgy refuses to be part of the various rat races that evangelicals conduct under the guise of church growth and evangelism. Heeeere’s Mark:

The liturgy, as such, exposes the narrowness and superficiality of our fevered search for relevance, and exposes the youth cult that is the subtext of all relevance. The talk of relevance, of incarnating the gospel in a specific cultural context. is usually talk about twenty-somethings and, at the most, “young families.” You will not find many “missional churches” seeking to craft their worship to reach the poor, the homeless, welfare moms, drug-addicted men, or those trapped in nursing homes and convalescent hospitals. These are not cool target audiences. These type of people do not shop at Abercrombies, and they are anything but upwardly mobile. In fact, get too many needy people in your church, and you’ll find they may stall the church’s upwardly mobile growth curve.

The liturgy, by contrast, does not target any age or cultural group. It does not even target our century, defying the narcissistic notion on which much of modernity hangs: that this is the most important era in human history. Instead, the liturgy presents a form of worship that transcends our time and place in history. Its earliest forms developed in ancient Israel centuries ago, and its subsequent development took place in a variety of cultures and sub-cultures—Greco-Roman, North African, German, Frankish, Anglo-Saxon—and has been prayed meaningfully by bakers, housewives, tailors, teachers, philosophers, priests, monks, kings, and slaves. As such, it has not be shaped, designed, programmed, fashioned to meet any particular group’s needs. It seeks only to enable people—people in general–to see God, because the liturgy knows something that our age has forgotten: people’s greatest need is for God.

My first movement toward post-evangelical worship was for many of the very reasons that Galli describes. I continue to dialog with Christians who believe liturgy is dead and Brother Billy Bob’s stories are “being free in the Spirit.”

Some will always point out that liturgical churches have often gone liberal, while non liturgical churches have a more orthodox view of the Bible. That’s not cause and effect, however; that’s irony. Liberal leaders have hidden behind the liturgy and the Bible, all the while selling the store. Evangelicals have kept the store, but turned it into a Chuck E. Cheese’s.

Post-evangelicals need to promote voices like Galli’s that are articulating liturgy in a positive way. Liturgy is a preservative and an antidote, and we need both.

One quibble: I believe some missional churches are embracing liturgy in order to get out of the the embarassment of cultural captivity. The jury is still out.

Write that book, Mark, and send me a preview copy.


  1. Very promising. I might buy his book…

    As I was growing up, I spent much of my time in a European Reformed church where liturgy was the least concern of most people.There was an order of service,we did things that way, period. At that time, I was far from impressed by the post-Vatican II liturgy of the Mass. To me, “liturgy” was the stuff before and after the sermon, which was the only thing I really cared about.

    It took me a discussion with a retired Reformed pastor, after I had joined the evangelical movement,to realize what liturgy was all about. He is the one that pointed out to me that the proclamation of the Law, the confession, the forgiveness of sins, etc…were deeply rooted in the Bible and retraced the story of salvation.Reading Webber helped me greatly, too (I’ve never said I was original).

    I now serve God in a (very, very small) Lutheran denomination. We are “liturgical”, but I am called to preach in the future in a fairly “low church” parish. It’s fine with me. I love the liturgy because, if one understands it, it brings us back constantly to the great facts of the Bible and links us with those who have worshipped God in the centuris before us.

    It is a treasure I cherish, trying not to fall in a sort of “better-than-you-redneck” snobby attitude. I often fail, but that’s another story!

  2. i’ve always believed that worship, though needing to be “informed” by tradition and scripture, must be uniquely indigenous. at its worst, liturgy has been exclusive and high-brow. at its worst, free or modern worship has been exclusive and silly. i don’t think there’s one litmus test to apply to all congregations. each one is unique and responsible for its own expression to God, but all in the broad context of grace.

  3. I have grown up in the Lutheran church (LCMS) and though I’ve never regularly attended evangelical churches as Mark is describing, I’ve certainly visited them periodically and gotten a taste of what they’re serving.

    This culture is in dire need of as many writers as possible, especially ex-evangelicals like Mark, to produce clean and succinct text like this in droves. Great stuff.

    I can’t tell you how saddening it is to watch this culture take hold with so many (Lutheran) churches which have been liturgical for decades, converting one by one to a contemporary service. Such a thing is an idol which does not save.

    Even at its worst, the liturgy does a fantastic job of protecting me not only from the culture, but from sermons-gone-awry as well. If I’m not getting law and gospel in the sermon (or worse, law-gospel-law, or just law), I can count on getting the right stuff out of the liturgy.

    I’ve been making sure to praise pastors and churches over the last few years that stick the the traditional liturgical and confessional core. Oh, that more would do this. This is what people are finding they are thirsting for, and thank God for people like Mark for writing such great stuff highlighting the importance of fighting for the old and casting out the ‘new’.

  4. I quit trying to find an evangelical/missional/ liturgical church in my city. I’ve visited many Episcopal and Lutheran churches, both conservative and liberal. I love the beauty of the liturgy, but in over a year, I never heard one sermon that could compare to the kind of excellent preaching I hear regularly at my evangelical Presbyterian church. Typically, what passed for the “sermon” was a 10-12 minute pep talk, or story, totally unrelated to either scripture passage which we had just heard.

    It was amazing how many members I spoke to at these churches who commented about the excellent preaching they got! I honestly don’t think many of them have ever really heard consistently good preaching.

    Another problem I see with high liturgical churches (at least with the conservative ones) is that they seem to be so in love with the liturgy, they place little value on commuity outreach and mercy ministry in general.

    So for now, I’m willing to listen to all the praise songs/sermon/more praise songs, which characterizes the evangelical “worship” of today.
    I hear the gospel every Sunday and the poor people in the neighborhood would be very sad if the church moved.

  5. I grew up in very non-liturgical churches; sort of Mom’s backlash to growing up Catholic. Her complaint was that when you’re going through the liturgy, you’re “going through the motions” and not really interfacing with God.

    Of course, as a teenager, I quickly learned how to go through the motions of worship in spite of my church’s non-liturgical nature. God was deliberately made the furthest thing from my mind. I discovered church was a really great place to sit and quietly plot about what I was going to do later that day, or week. (Eventually I snapped out of this behavior, thank God.)

    When I finally did visit a liturgical church, I found the service profound and deeply spiritual. When I shared that experience with my mom, she wisecracked, “Did you notice how [spiritually] dead the people were?” Honestly, I didn’t. I didn’t feel they were dead.

    I think she was instead reading her personal attitudes of the time into the worship environment she was in. I see this all the time in people that used to go to liturgical churches… but I also see it in people who used to go to Pentecostal churches like mine. They were spiritually dead, not the church.

  6. “Some will always point out that liturgical churches have often gone liberal, while non liturgical churches have a more orthodox view of the Bible. That’s not cause and effect, however; that’s irony.”

    Keep writing this, Michael. It is not necessarily cause and effect. So many people point out things like this and then sit smugly as if they have discerned all the great problems facing different denominations. The problem with the liturgical churches is not liturgy and the problem with the non-liturgical is not necessarily lack of it. The problem with both of them is…us.

  7. “It is not necessarily cause and effect”

    Absolutely. Many non-liturgical churches, after all, have gone liberal.

    This being said, the Anglo-catholic movement has very quickly shown a tendency not to care about what some men taught as long as they used the proper liturgy and wore the “correct” apparel.

    But,to speak honaestly, I am not convinced of the doctrinal soundness of the Anglos anyway.

  8. One of the better examples I’ve seen of liturgy meets evangelicalism is the Church of the Holy Spirit in Roanoke Virginia. They’re a part of the Anglican Mission in America. While it may be too evangelical for some and not enough for others…its pretty darn good. This particular church has planted three congregations in the area over a 5 year period. The Mission is also rapidly expanding through adoption of theologically orphaned ECUSA congregations. You may see one coming to a town near you….

  9. I really loved what was said here and definitely appreciate the sentiment. Often, in less heady language, people decry culture chasing and hope to lead Christians to being God chasers. However, perhaps it is my ignorance, because I have rarely participated in services one might characterize as liturgical, but what is wrong with a contemporary service so long as its foundation and focus is the Scripture? What truly points us to God is His Word. If Christians are being led to live and believe the promises and commands of His Word…to let go of every idol in our lives, including the idols of self and cultural relevance, well, that would seem to be demonstrating that our greatest need is God.

  10. In visiting a few contemporary ‘mega-church’-style churches, as well as at least one liturgical church which is trying to offer a contemporary service for those who prefer that, there has been a consistent issue regarding the core of what is being preached and/or what meaning is coming across through the service itself.

    I know many Roman Catholics are drawn to the more contemporary types of services when they’ve been damaged by the church in some way. The unfortunate part, and this is the core that must be analyzed, is that the large majority of contemporary churches tend to have a “me”-focused theology rather than a Christo-centric one. Ironically, this is the SAME core as in Roman Catholicism.

    The lyrics of the praise songs, the sound of the composition, and often the ‘message’ or sermon all tend to focus on me loving God, my choices and actions and dedications to God, rather than a Christ who came to wash MY feet and His dedication to HIM saving me from damnation. I’ve run into many an ex-evangelical who has eventually come to understand that they’ve been getting fluff without real substance, and they need to find a place that takes the focus off of them.

    In addition, I’ve been to at least one church’s contemporary service where I could hear a very Christo-centric sermon, but the rest of the service was a contemporary one. Such a service has always come across to me as one that focuses back on me and me ‘feeling’ God in my heart. And I think that’s a bad thing. Imagine if Christ had chosen a minitry of glory or miracles, based on making me feel good or feel impressed. But He knew that type of ministry can not last with us sheep and would not save. In the same way, I don’t believe a service which tries to make me ‘feel’ the theology, rather than simply hear it and speak it, is one that will maintain my faith in the long term.

    This is why what Mark Galli is writing is so important and so powerful. Ultimately, a service focused on “me” and not on Christ is very dangerous to one’s faith. It can very easily be a stop-off on the road to unbelief, but most people aren’t experienced or well-read enough to make the connections as to why something like that would happen.

    Whether you like the sound of it or not, don’t ‘feel God enough in your heart’ as you do when there’s an electric guitar and a set of drums, the liturgy ensures that you will be able to confess your sins, receive forgiveness, confess your faith and pray to the Father using words that were not written in the last hour-and as a matter of fact have been used by people for hundreds of years… for a reason. I can also be assured of what I will hear if I visit a liturgical church and more than likely won’t have to pick up a hymnal, except for hymns, because I already know what to do at what times and when and what to sing or chant or speak. I have always found that very comforting.

    But the best part is that a liturgical service has nothing to do with me. A litugical service ensures I hear that what Jesus did was done FOR me, it’s not ABOUT me or anything I do. It’s ABOUT Christ and everything He did for me. And if I’m not hearing that in ANY church, you won’t find me there very long.

  11. Hi Michael, sorry I’m jumping into this late. After almost 18 years in an Anglican church, I find myself as a worship director in a Pentecostal church ( does God not have a sense of humour ). At first, the change was some what refreshing…but with time I soon realized something was missing. It would be a tragedy, for the church to loose the language of liturgy. It is an incarnational languge of community, it is a subversive alternative language…as opposed to the corporate, political,and cultural language that surrounds us. It is a language of unity, and tradition…a communal story and langauge through the generations. Anyway, where I’m at now…I’m slowly introducing liturgy into Pentecostal worship…and they love it.