Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Liturgical Theology

So...I couldn't really find a picture to put on this there...

Liturgy is theology applied to worship and even to all of life. What do I mean? What we all believe is encapsulated in how we worship. This is part of the reason the so called "worship-wars" have happened in the church throughout the past two generations. There has been a struggle to determine if how one worships affects how one believes. I think that in the long run, it does. If you water down the worship, it will be extremely hard to overcome what you are indirectly teaching (or learning). If worship is flippant, then our view of God becomes flippant. If worship is all about experience, then we become convinced that the Christian life is built on experience or how I feel that "my faith" is doing today.

Of course, my use of liturgy here is narrow. When I use it, I mean an explicit liturgy, one that follows the contours inherited from the church of the first 500 years or so. Because, as I said previously, all churches have a liturgy. It's just that some don't have an explicit one.

In Anglicanism, our liturgy is located in the Book of Common Prayer. I think that most people have heard of this book. If you have ever been to an Episcopal or Anglican church, there are as many of these as hymnals. This book contains all the regular services that occur in the life of the church and all of them have been thought out over a vast number of years in order to maintain the faith of the people properly (some would disagree with this statement in regard to the 1979 version, which does have its share of problems for those of us of conservative persuasions, I think, but it is still one that can be used and interpreted well, it's just that it can also easily be interpreted in the other direction too!).

Okay, so what? "You Anglicans have a book that tells you all the details of how to worship. What does that have to do with theology?" It has everything to do with it! Thomas Cranmer, the original translator and compiler of the Book of Common Prayer took the dictum "The law of prayer is the law of belief" seriously. What one believes is located in one's liturgy. He was convinced that there were many problems with the Medieval Mass and so he re-did it along Reformation lines, emphasizing the unique nature of Christ's atonement and justification by faith, to name two points of theology. He also put it all in English for the purpose of using it to teach the people what they should believe.

This is where the habitual nature of liturgy really comes into play. As we continually do all of this over and over again, it "gets into us" and we come to more fully believe what we have been praying. This was an aspect of how all the reformers worked. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc all did this. They put the liturgy in the known language of the people and reworked it according to the theology that they were convinced of. Their parishes came to believe better along the lines of Protestant theology.

In my previous post I spoke of the Collect of Purity and the depth of theology that it contains. This is a prime example of what I mean. As I pointed out, it directs our attention toward God's omniscience and his omnipresence, our need for the Holy Spirit to lead us and direct us in loving and glorifying God. These are things that all Christians believe, but it continually reenforces that belief. Thus, that reenforcement teaches us the theology that we should believe!

Another part of the liturgy is the creed. We have a creed every week. Usually it is the Nicene, but since less people are familiar with it, I'll use the Apostles' Creed as an example: It points us toward God's triune nature by our saying, "I believe in God the Father...and in Jesus Christ...and in the Holy Spirit..." It also states the historical narrative of Christ's death and resurrection, as well as his second coming. It directs us toward our belief in the forgiveness of sins, our resurrection from the dead, and eternal life. This is a key summary of our faith; of what we all, as Christians, are to believe. It is a summary of the faith and we should be able to quote it when people ask what we believe. And once more, our repetition of it, as well as the Nicene, should lead us to know it by heart and thus have a ready explanation of the faith. This repetition of it also means that we don't have to try to remember it because it will have become a part of us if we understand the nature of the liturgy.

The creeds teach us theology without our necessarily realizing it. All of the liturgy does this. Take a look at the section prayer in the prayer book sometime. Notice the topics that are covered and read some of them. All of them for the natural order of things teach about God's providence, that our sustenance is from His hands, that He cares about even the tiniest details of our lives. They reveal to us what kinds of responses our lives should contain, how we should act in light of faith, how we can speak of thankfulness and reverence toward God. A good use of these prayers is a supplement to what we learn from study of the Bible theologically. They are the practical application of all of our theology and reveal to us much that we would not necessarily think to ask!

So all in all, I love Anglicanism because of the explicit liturgy and how that liturgy informs what I am supposed to believe. I have the prayer book as an important resource for what I believe, as well as Scripture. My faith and understanding are deepened and my devotional life is enriched through the prayer book. For these reasons and even more, I am thankful for this book and liturgy that I have come to use so much in my life (though I can always use it more than I do!).

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