Evangelicals and Liturgy

Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral

Last week, whilst in Salisbury, I attended choral evensong at the cathedral. Such a service is not traditionally where I would be found; as a Bible-believing, evangelical Anglican I place great importance on the faithful teaching of the Word. Consequently, I usually attend services that would generally be described as somewhat ‘lower’, with more emphasis on funkier worship songs, and a lengthy, expository sermon.

Over the last few years, however, as I have got older, I have found myself drawn more and more to traditional, liturgy-heavy services. Whilst at the service in Salisbury, I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to sit in silence, let the music and spoken word flow over me, and reflect on the words of the liturgy. The whole experience was both refreshing and spiritually uplifting.

In the light of this, I was interested to read this post (from July 2013) on TheChristianPundit.org which suggests that, in America at least, many young Christians are leaving ‘low Protestant’ churches and moving over to Catholic or high Protestant churches. The writer suggests that this might be because the experience seems dated, perhaps associated with their parents. She also quotes Andrea Palpant Dilley who says that liturgy reminds her that she is “part of an institution much larger and older than myself.”

One paragraph is worth quoting in full:

The kids who leave evangelical Protestantism are looking for something the world can’t give them. The world can give them hotter jeans, better coffee, bands, speakers, and book clubs than a congregation can. What it can’t give them is theology; membership in a group that transcends time, place and race; a historic rootedness; something greater than themselves; ordained men who will be spiritual leaders and not merely listeners and buddies and story-tellers. What the kids leaving generic evangelicalism seem to want is something the world can never give them–a holy Father who demands reverence, a Saviour who requires careful worship, and a Spirit who must be obeyed. They are looking for true, deep, intellectually robust spirituality in their parents’ churches and not finding it.

I happened to write a piece for Crossring yesterday (published today) on Matthew 5:13, a verse during the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus states:

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

In my reflection, I stated:

Jesus warns his followers of the importance of maintaining their distinctiveness. Christians must not seek to conform to the world or to limit their Christian-ness around their friends and colleagues. We must be wary of ‘making Christianity more relevant’ to the world of today.

Now, I’m not for one minute suggesting that ‘generic evangelicalism’ is in any way an example of the Church losing its saltiness – my own faith has been bolstered, and indeed continues to be bolstered – through the ministries of many evangelical churches – but I think such churches do need from time to time to reappraise their strategy. Perhaps by conforming too much to the prevalent culture of the day – singing led by big, guitar based bands, lattes after the service, and a dress down culture in which anything goes – churches might be losing some of their distinctiveness. Perhaps, by stepping away from the liturgical tradition of the Church, which stretches back hundreds of years, as well as from the sense of shared experience across the generations, the Church may in fact be taking people away from the opportunity to meet with Christ in commune with other Christians.

I’ll give the final word to my good friend, Phill, who mentioned in a comment on Facebook:

I wonder if liturgical services invite participation and reflection, whereas ‘generic evangelical’ churches tend to have a service more as performance?