Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Beyond Smells and Bells: the Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy

Paraclete Press provided me with a complimentary copy of this wonderful little book. It offers a nice defense, written in simple language, of the historic Christian liturgy. Mark Galli is an Anglican but focuses on the similarities between the historic liturgies in the Western church. He shows how the liturgy brings us into the Biblical stories and makes us contemporaries of Biblical events. He tells us how the liturgical calendar can help us order our lives and draw us into community with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It's the perfect antidote to the Jesus and me attitude of many American Christians. The liturgy shows us how to properly approach a Holy and Loving God. The liturgy keeps us from idolatry. Without the liturgy we are easily drawn into idolatry. We determine what is true and our own standing before God based upon our feelings and ideas. Apart from the historic liturgy we can easily get sucked into thinking that whatever makes us feel spiritual must be the best way to worship God. Our feelings become our god. The liturgy shows us what is important and what is objectively true and show us that God does not fit inside of our brains or heart. The Trinity is a great mystery and true Christian worship can only be worship of the Trinity and centered on the Trinity. Modern worship tends to be focused on the worshiper. Christian worship must be focused on Christ and His work. The historic liturgy is all about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

This book could be used for a variety of situations. A liturgical church could use it to educate their members as to why the historic liturgy is important. A non-liturgical church could use the book to try to transition itself into a liturgical church. Church bodies with a liturgical history that are departing from historical liturgy should seriously consider this book. There are plenty of seeker-sensitive non-denominational churches out there and they can probably do contemporary worship a lot better than you can. Pastor Baby-boomer man: I know you think you're hot stuff up there with your guitar and quite the rebel. I know you think you know how to communicate to the youth. But you're just preparing the kids to go to the mega-church down the block. Why would the kids want to see the Sha Na Nas when U2 is down the street? Meanwhile, there are lots of younger people who are really interested in worship that is more mysterious. If you want the kids to come, you might want to consider buying some incense and doing some processionals instead of the PowerPoint and the guitar. Kids are tired of watching their teachers at school fumble with the PowerPoint, they don't need to see you trying to muck with it. The historic liturgy is even toddler-friendly. Little kids that can't read will quickly memorize the liturgy.


Anonymous said...

Very well written and explained! You make me want to read the book! Love Mom

Grams said...

I couldn't agree more. I love all the action of the liturgy - seeing the plate raised, the cup raised during the celebration of Eucharist - the priest swinging the thurifer - watching the incense waft and rise - people walking to the priest to receive the Body and Blood - I love it all. I didn't grow up with liturgy, but it has been a gift to me that has deepened my faith! Away with the cotton candy.

FrJ said...

Hear! Hear! As an Orthodox priest finding my ministry in an intensely anti-liturgical Southern Baptist town, I confront here a hostile indifference to traditional worship. I wonder, if I just continue to chant, will they come? How will they even recognize the deeply-rooted validity of our worship when they are so full of happy-clappy? Speaking of 'smells' I hear people say they can't abide by even the lingering fragrance of incense burnt a half hour previously, even from down the hall. And these are Lutherans I am talking about, not Baptists.

Chuck Wiese said...


I've heard that most of the Lutheran churches in the Bible belt have abandoned the vestments and some of the liturgy. It's truly a shame. People think they are getting away from tradition but they're just following the tradition of the revivalists. We have incense at our church on occasion but there have been some complaints. Sometimes there are people with legitimate breathing problems but Romaphobia can get pretty ridiculous. Even from a simple marketing point of view, I don't think that Lutherans are very good at happy-clappy. We just don't have it in us. Why not go to the non-denominational church down the block.

The Anglican A.H Stanton when a visitor to St. Alban's suggested that the use of incense and processions and lights was not wise said, 'My dear fellow, not wise! Why, there are only two sorts of people called "wise" in the Gospels--the "wise" men who offered incense, and the "wise" virgins who carried processional lights." Another visitor objected to the smell of incense. 'Well,' said Stanton, 'there are only two stinks in the next world: incense and brimstone; and you've got to choose between them.'