Why bother with liturgy?

There is an increasing trend in the Church of England, particularly amongst Evangelicals, away from using the formal and official liturgies of the Church.

Here are some of the reasons why a formal and official liturgy is good.

To Teach
The liturgy no less than a sermon is a vehicle for teaching. Where service leaders mutter inane comments linking hymns there is not much opportunity for this teaching to get across but a good sound liturgy is a great teaching aid.

In Churches where the Bible is faithfully taught, liturgy is a supplement, but also a safeguard against hobby-horse preaching and comments, it should cover a wide diversity of Christian doctrine.
In Churches where there is false or non existent teaching a sound liturgy may be the only source of true teaching, this is why the Church of England needs good faithful liturgy. Books of Homilies have also been used in the past where clergy were ignorant.
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s liturgy was written for a country where the majority of people could not read. With many inner city Churches facing this problem today the call is to produce short and insubstantial congregational parts. Cranmer intended that people learn certain texts by repeating each line after the Minister and by saying the same texts week after week.

To Prevent Error
When people make up their own liturgies not only is there a tendency to focus on their particular likes, they also ignore their dislikes.
Moreover it is easy to produce nonsense, or heresy.
Good liturgy will ensure that a congregation receive sound doctrine.

Common Prayer
Much is said about this and it is probably over-rated. Bishops particularly find that they are required to take part in liturgies in different Churches with little or no commonality. For congregation members visiting other Churches it is helpful (though not perhaps as interesting) to have familiar liturgy. This argument was previously used by the Roman Church to defend the use of Latin world-wide.

To Learn Texts
It is good to learn a store of texts, not just biblical texts but prayers that come to mind in times of
difficulty or which can be said together.
It is an extraordinary experience to say the Prayer Book Communion service with a old person who
can no longer read but knows it all by heart.
Having such texts readily stored up can be an aid in apologetics and evangelism.
Some have encouraged Christians to learn such texts in preparation for persecution. How would
you cope if imprisoned without Bible or prayer book? What would come most readily to mind - ‘If I were a Butterfly’?

God is a God of Order, not of Chaos
For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. (1 Cor 11.33)
Let all things be done decently and in order (1 Cor 11.40)

These verses show the principle that underlies a formal written liturgy, it is to ensure that a service has order and decency to it. A formal liturgy does not prevent points in it being more informal, but it provides a structure and it also ensures that essential parts of a service are not lost, or down-played.

© David Phillips 1995-2021