This post isn’t about the state of my faith but the state of how I worship. I don’t like to sing. And in fact cannot. I’m tone-deaf and cannot keep a beat. So if you want to irritate me, call singing in a church service “worship”. I rarely worship through music. But I’m an evangelical and our services have been stripped of all liturgy. There’s some mistaken idea that if you do responsive reading, it’s meaningless and people just recite the words, and it doesn’t touch them. Guess what? I do that every single week. To music. It’s called singing.
From the beginning of organized Christianity and even from the Jewish faith, God’s word has been repeated as responsive reading. With or without music. A portion of the Psalms called the Songs of Ascents were recited in correlation to Jewish holidays. Can you imagine a group of evangelicals reciting a Psalm in unison? A Capella? There are a good number who probably think that’s so ritualistic that it puts them on the church bus to hell. Because you know, it’s wrong to recite Bible verses in unison.
For two millennia, there have been two churches the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. They have rituals, they have creeds. Martin Luther came along. He split from the Catholic Church but retained liturgy in his new sect Lutheranism. Same for the Church of England when it broke from the Catholic Church. John Wesley never broke from the Church of England when he founded Methodism. They kept the liturgy as did the Presbyterian Church. I’m sure other denominations did too.
I’m not really sure where the idea of not having liturgy came into practice. Whether it was specific evangelical denominations that gained influence or is a modern concept that evolved when guitars, drums, and tambourines showed up at church. More musicians. More performers. Less room for responsive reading. Sometimes it feels that way to this snarky girl. But I know that is so not true. Church musicians use their gifts to glorify God. And I enjoy listening to them.
Anyway, I grew up in the Methodist church and loved having an order of worship. Songs we sang every week. “Gloria Patri” and “The Doxology” which for years I thought was the same song. They sound alike to my ears and end with “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”. We said the Lord’s Prayer every week and always had responsive reading. My favorite was when we recited the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed. There’s nothing like reciting those words that distill our faith into a few dozen words. Because here’s the thing. I have a relationship with Christ but I also worship God the Father in a religion called Christianity. I like religion. It’s how I worship God.
At fifteen, I joined the interdenominational church where my family are still members. I would be too if I didn’t live 1500 miles away. I remember when we first joined in the late 1980s we said The Lord’s Prayer. We recited creeds. We did responsive reading. We still had hymnals. At some point that went away replaced by 7-11 praise choruses and singing at tops 2 verses of a 4-verse hymn. My current church and pretty much every church I’ve attended in my various moves is like this. When did we become so afraid a few words repeated out loud or beautiful poems set to music would turn people off? I love contemporary Christian music. On the radio. Not as an act of worship. Although I admit sometimes I do truly enjoy it. See, I’m not a total old-before-her-time curmudgeon.
What is a girl who only wants to recite the Apostle’s Creed (skipping over “descended into hell” more out of tradition than scriptural interpretation) just once in this millennium to do? What she does every week. Sets a good example for her non-musical son. Pray the music moves her. Mouth the words to the insipid praise choruses. Enjoy the one verse of the traditional hymn and wait patiently for the sermon.