The debate between “formal” and “informal” church continues. Some folks seem to think Jesus said “If thou wilt enter my Father’s house, thou must first don a three piece suit” while others apparently have a Bible that reads “In my Father’s house are many cabanas, so put on your favorite beachwear and join the fun.”
The same debates rage over music (stodgy eighteenth century hymns run through a wheezing pipe organ vs. three chord love songs for Jesus) and even furniture (hard wooden pews vs. comfy theater seats … ahh, heck, let’s just meet at the community theater).
I can see the logic for dressing up for church, but also the danger of enforcing dress codes. I get the appeal of hymns and pipe organs (don’t knock the pipe organ until you’ve taken in Easter at St. Paul’s in London; the music is a tidal wave and you never forget it), But I also see the appeal of contemporary pop songs. And while hard wooden pews may say “church” to a lot of people, they can’t be found anywhere in the Bible.
And then there’s prayer: liturgical or extemporaneous? As one who grew up in a low-church, non-liturgical environment where real prayers were always off-the-cuff, I have come to appreciate the profundity of liturgy. If you don’t believe me, compare the following two liturgical prayers from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer alongside a couple extemporaneous prayers which echo the content and structure (or lack thereof) of countless prayers I’ve heard prayed at non-liturgical services over the last four decades:
Sample Liturgical Prayer #1
The Officiant says to the people
Dearly beloved, we have come together in the presence of Almighty God our heavenly Father, to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at his hands, to set forth his most worthy praise, to hear this holy Word, and to ask, for ourselves and on behalf of others, those things that are necessary for our life and our salvation. And so that we may prepare ourselves in heart and mind to worship him, let us kneel in silence, and with penitent and obedient hearts confess our sins, that we may obtain forgiveness by his infinite goodness and mercy.
Sample Extemporaneous Prayer #1
The worship singer says to the people:
God, you’re like awesome God. We just, we just lift you up God. Like, … wow, God. We praise you. We lift you up! Make us like you God. Father God. Jesus, you’re amazing. You’re in this place God. Amen.
Sample Liturgical Prayer #2 (Eucharist)
The Celebrant prays
Father, we now celebrate the memorial of your Son. By
means of this holy bread and cup, we show forth the sacrifice
of his death, and proclaims his resurrection, until he comes
Gather us by this Holy Communion into one body in your
Son Jesus Christ. Make us a living sacrifice of praise.
By him, and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy
Spirit all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and
for ever. AMEN.
Sample Extemporaneous Prayer #2 (Eucharist)
The pastor, elder or congregant prays:
Father God, we thank you for shedding your blood for us. You died Father, and raised your Son, Jesus. We thank you for that gift. Amen