Liturgical vs. Non-Liturgical

My pastor mentioned the word “liturgical” to the congregation tonight and asked if anyone knew what it meant. I’m never actually allowed to answer these questions. Drats! Anyway, one member said, “wordy” while another said, “legalistic,” while another said “organized.” In short, liturgical is the adjectival form of “liturgy,” which has to do with the order of service. When I use the word I generally have Christian service in mind but I suppose it can be applied to other religious rites and rituals as well.

Anyway, my pastor proceeded to mention the differences between so-called high and low church worship but then he said that if we want to get down to it, our church is liturgical because we do have an order of service. In our church we begin with prayer, move into singing songs of praise and worship, then we hear the sermon, make an altar call, receive the offering, and finally dismiss. But every service is slightly different and we’re not locked into this particular order of service.

In my book, so-called low church traditions are non-liturgical, at least as I think of liturgy. When I think of liturgy I think of an order of service that has deep roots in tradition. I think of something that stands the test of time. I think of something that remains fairly consistent throughout the ages. This isn’t to say that there’s never any change (twas a time when the Catholic Mass was all in Latin; no more), but the changes are small and incremental (sorry for the redundancy).

Now I don’t particularly care if my church is to be considered liturgical or non-liturgical. We can play with words and discern an order in any service. Fine. Then call all churches liturgical if you must. But as far as I’m concerned, Orthodox, Catholics, and certain Anglicans fit the bill. I have no idea what those rascally Lutherans do so I can’t be sure where they fit on the spectrum and I’ve seen enough variation among Presbyterians to confuse me as to where they’d go as well.

So that’s that. I’d be interested to hear from people of different traditions and see what you think about the whole liturgical vs. non-liturgical distinction.



4 thoughts on “Liturgical vs. Non-Liturgical

  1. To be honest, the whole liturgical vs. non-liturgical distinction is a bit of a red herring. Every church has a liturgy of sorts, be it written or unwritten, the real question is whether the liturgy is consistent with biblical principles. Tom Wright has written a helpful essay entitled ‘Freedom and Framework, Spirit and Truth: Recovering Biblical Worship’ and I’d second the recommendation of James K A Smith. Also check out Robert Webber’s material on Ancient-Future. :)

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