As the man walked into the church he noticed that it was typical of what you might expect a rural Baptist church to look like. Let me interject here for a moment to say that I do think there is still a need for rural churches. If you've ever lived in a state like Arkansas, then you'll understand exactly what I mean. There are still places here that are a long way from any sort of real town, let alone what we would call a city. So, let's not forget the need for rural churches and faithful pastors to shepherd them.
Anyway, this particular rural church only had two people at church that day, and they were siblings. One led music and the other played the piano. Both were considerably older. But, here is the most interesting part of the story in my opinion: the man said that if he would have closed his eyes, the service was ran just like there were 100 people there. In other words, they stuck to the liturgy!
- A Welcome was given
- Announcements were read from the Bulletin (Yes, a bulletin for 2 people)
- The Offering was taken up during the middle of the song service
- Prayers were prayed at the appropriate places
- The preaching was after the song service
- An invitation was given after the preaching
- And then Dismissal
I'm sure there are a few things you could add to the above list for your Baptist church, like 'Special Music right before the Preaching' or 'A Meet and Greet song to start the service.' Now, it is not my intention to say that any of those things listed above are bad per se. But it is my desire to press us just a little bit on our liturgical hypocrisy. As Baptists, we scoff at other denominations for their 'formulaic' worship and the liturgy which we say feels forced, too Roman Catholic, and not genuine.
And yet, so often, Southern Baptists are as liturgical as they come!
It is true that there is much danger in bad liturgy. Liturgy that becomes formulaic, or that is all truth (which is good!), but no Spirit (which is not good - John 4:24). I think it's possible that bad Baptist liturgy (see the bullet points above) has stifled church health. When we have these set things that we do in our church gatherings we begin to think that we've 'had church' as long as we've checked off all of those boxes above. I think that's why so many churches are so averse to change in the worship service. I've seen deacons get upset before simply because you move the announcements from the beginning of the service, to the end. The reason? I think one is because when we begin to mess with 'Baptist Liturgy' people really begin to get uncomfortable because that's not 'church' to them.
So, week in and week out, year after year, we have churches that will continue to gather each Sunday to practice their liturgical obligations, but never meet with God. Younger generations begin to leave because what they see the church saying, singing, and praying, they don't see the church living. All the way to the point where you get down to just two people left. The people are gone, the pews are empty, the harvest is still plentiful, and the liturgy remains.
Like King Hezekiah, Baptist Liturgy has kept many saying for years “There will be peace and security in my days" (Isaiah 39:8), while Babylon sweeps away the next generation. Prayer meetings are poorly attended, gospel outreach is poorly done, many Bibles are left unread...But the liturgy remains!
Now, if you are reading this and think that I am against liturgy, you are mistaken. Paul tells us But all things should be done decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40). I am not against liturgy. I'm not against Baptist Liturgy! I'm against bad liturgy. Liturgy is inevitable. Every church has a 'way' that they do Sunday services week in and week out. Therefore, this is not "Will we or won't we have liturgy?" as much as it is "Will we practice good liturgy or bad liturgy?"
I challenge all pastors, music leaders, deacons, and laypersons reading this to consider the why of each element of your Sunday service. Why are we doing the things we are doing? Are there any elements that need to be excluded from our services? Are there any elements of worship that need to be added in our services?*
Also, let's not forget that the gospel must have the right place in our liturgy. If we understand our services only as things we are doing 'for' God so that He might bless us, we've confused Law and Gospel. The New Testament Church met on Sundays because Jesus rose from the dead on that day! And His resurrection changes everything. The foundation of our meetings then must be the gospel and what God had done for us! What we do is a result of what God had done for us in Christ and our union with Him. If ever we walk away from a church gathering and think 'we had church today!' only because of things we've done, sung, recited, preached, or heard, with no connection to what God has done for us in Christ, we've miss the entire point of the why we need to meet together in the first place.
So, do our people own the liturgy, or does the liturgy own them? In other words, is our Baptist Liturgy a means by which we help people meet with God on Sundays and to be reminded and rejoice in what He has done, and to consider our appropriate response, or is it a slavish order that we feel subconsciously obligated to abide by so that when we leave we can 'feel' like we 'had church' that day? It's ironic isn't it? That we scoff at what we might call 'liturgical' denominations because there's no 'feeling' in their services, while as Baptists we have to have our liturgy so that we can 'feel' like we have had church!
Is everything we do grounded in Scripture? Are we conscious that it is sin to not only be worshiping the wrong god, but also to be worshiping the right God in the wrong way?
It matters the way we 'do church.' While it is true there are no parameters on when we might think it's best to give the announcements (or if we even have them at all!), Scripture is more specific than you might think on what elements we must include in our time of gathering together. Our worship services are not to be 'anything goes' or 'let's do whatever feels right.' We must get back to the sufficiency of Scripture for our regular worship gatherings.
I'm not picking on Baptists. I am one! But I want to encourage our churches, especially in the SBC (of which I am a part), to not be liturgical hypocrites. Don't scoff at other denominations for too much formula, while we are guilty of some of the same things, just clothed in a different hat.
So, how's your church's liturgy? No, I'm not advocating mindless chants or a particular way to kneel, stand, kneel, stand, kneel every week. But I am advocating that as Southern Baptist churches, we must be intentional and biblical in the way we lead our people to worship. Every church is going to follow some sort of order (and rightly so!). The question is, is your approach biblical, grounded in the gospel, and being used to serve the chief end of leading people in glorifying God, and enjoying Him forever?
*two immediate suggestions would be more Scripture reading, and more prayer