Familiarity and Contempt

There are a number of problems with Jeremy's Owenian take on liturgy.

First, Owen himself must be read against the background of the way in which state imposition of liturgy had taken place within the English context.  This lies behind Owen's tendentious and, indeed, fallacious history of liturgy which prefaces his major work against the imposition of liturgy.  This is what makes Owen's statements on liturgy hard to apply to today: as someone who had suffered under state imposition of liturgy, he came to the issue with certain predispositions which were not entirely theological.

Second, the apparent equation of liturgy with ritualism and formalism is untenable, although Jeremy does not make it clear whether he regards all formal liturgy as ritualistic and formalistic or, if he does not, where he would draw the line. 

The Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Bucer, Knox, Cranmer) are scarcely evidence of an age lacking in 's/Spiritually substantial men' and yet each of them saw formal liturgy -- and quite elaborate liturgy, at least by English non-conformist standards -- as vitally important to intelligent, biblical worship.  And none of them advocated the 'four hymn sandwich' or any thing that comes close -- not that that makes the FHS necessarily wrong; but it might give pause for thought.

The difference is not between churches who have liturgies and churches who do not; it is between churches who have intelligent ones that are theologically informed, which they acknowledge and upon which they reflect, and those who do not.  Whether one writes them down or not, and indeed how elaborate they are, is irrelevant when it comes to the question of formalism.   Formalism is a matter of the heart, not of the written page.   After all, unless one speaks in tongues, one is probably using written liturgical tools such as psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

Enthusiasm and formalism are also not mutually exclusive categories.  As a student during a brief -- ahem -- 'enthusiastic' phase, I attended a Pentecostal church for a few months: I left because it was patently obvious that the minister spoke the same glossalalic utterance -- unwritten word for unwritten word --every week. .

In fact, the use of historic liturgy, like the use of historic creeds and confessions, can carry with it powerful biblical impulses: it can give the church service dynamic, intelligent, theological movement; it can prevent people from saying stupid and heretical things in public worship; it can teach people profound theology; it can give people exalted, appropriate, and beautiful language to express themselves; and it can remind us that we connect to a past.   

Thus, it seems to me unnecessary to see the arrival of liturgy in Colorado Springs asseedy searle.jpg necessarily representing some kind of formalist dust inevitably filling a vacuum left by the departure of megachurch evangelicalism.

And if familiarity does on occasion breed contempt, that is not the fault of the written liturgy we might choose to use on a Sunday, however elaborate it may be, as it is also not the fault of the written hymns we decide sing, or indeed the written Bible we love read.