One of my former teachers said ‘every church has a liturgy; it’s just a question of whether they’ve thought it through.’ This statement is absolutely true. Even African congregations have an expected form and order though it looks chaotic to the outsider. The real question is whether you’ve thought through your liturgy in terms of its telos – what do you want it to do?
As part of my studies I’ve been doing some work on the shape of Israel’s cultic life and the impact it has on the community, and then in turn and as a consequence, the outsider. Here’s a couple of quotes for you to chew on:
“Shared rituals symbolize the moral values that a group holds in common, and express the members’ commitment to one another . . . Religious rituals, in particular, serve to confirm the connection between a group’s religious and moral vision, and their understanding of the world around them.” (Andrew Mein, Ezekiel and the Ethics of Exile)
“That is the purpose of praise – to respond to the experience of God’s grace and power, to exalt the one who is seen and known to be gracious and powerful, and to bear witness to all who hear that god is God. In that sense the praise of God in the Old Testament is always devotion that tells about God, that is, theology, and proclamation that seeks to draw others into the circle of those who worship this God, that is, testimony for conversion.” (Patrick Miller, “Enthroned on the Praises of Israel.”)
In other words, there is a twofold aim in worship (and the guys I’m looking at are mainly focusing on OT cultic observance, mostly feasts and festivals). On the one hand corporate liturgy should visibly and physically reinforce corporate identity and call as the people of God. Secondly, others might see and be captivated by the genuineness of our praise. So the question for us is: a) does our liturgy and ritual (in particular acts of remembrance) serve to reaffirm and re-establish the identity and calling of the people of God? and: b) will outsiders be captivated by the heartfelt praise of God’s people? This is something to ponder, especially for us low church independent types is it not?