Archive: Liturgy and Evangelism Belong Together

By Ted Griner, Pastor, First Methodist Church, Statesboro, Georgia

The conflict between liturgy and evangelism has been one of disregard and distrust. Seldom have the proponents of each engaged in communication long enough to discover whether the two did or could ever harmonize. While each has been prone to advocate worship forms which are opposite, there is no longer a necessity to insist that they cannot meet. For each has argued that his is the only proper and acceptable manner of doing exactly the same thing!

Liturgists have insisted that nothing in worship should be extemporary. Every prayer, litany, creed and sermon must be written beforehand and read before the congregation. It has been argued that God is offended by the prayers of those who use incorrect grammar; that God does not listen when one prays what is at the moment on his mind. Some people think God will listen only when one has previously prepared himself and brought his thoughts (or those of others) to the place of worship. Liturgists have held that the prayers of the Church ought to be those which have seasoned over the years of use.

Some would deny that this caricature is fair to the liturgists. The fact is, however, that many evangelists do actually look upon the liturgists in this light.

The evangelists tend to believe that God is never real to anyone who just reads prayers. To read prayers written by other people is no better than walking on your knees up the stairs of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, saying “Hail Mary!” Evangelists insist that God does hear the earnest, fervent prayer of his children – even if they are said in incorrect grammar. For the words used are not as important to God as the true feelings in a man’s heart.

Both the liturgist and the evangelist are trying to communicate with God in worship. They are trying to do the same thing, but they cannot agree on how it should be done. Is there room for evangelism and liturgy in the same worship service? To say “No!” will do great harm to the cause of Christ. For if liturgy is divorced from evangelism, the church will be dead soon.

Much is being written today about the development of liturgical worship. There is a strong trend toward the use of more and more liturgical artifacts. Candles, robes, acolytes and such are being used by ministers who never thought of so doing only a few years ago. If there is a battle between liturgy and evangelism for popularity, then liturgy is winning by a tremendous margin, across the whole Church.

This ought to alarm us. Where is the teaching in the New Testament which admonishes us to be liturgists? Where do we find teachings that show us that proper liturgy will win souls to Christ and save from sin? On the other hand, there is an endless admonition in scripture to be evangelists and do the work of evangelism. We are called to preach, not burn candles. We are called to put on the robes of righteousness, not those of a particular season of the church year. (I say this even though I preach in a collar, cassock, surplice, and stoles every Sunday morning.)

Can we discount the evidence that many ministers are using liturgy as a substitute for their inadequacies? Winning souls to Christ is the hardest, most demanding task in which a man can engage. We are all tempted to take the easy way, and liturgy is an excellent way to do something “religious” without getting personally involved in the Gospel’s evangelistic imperative.

There is not a vital, dynamic, soul-winning denomination in all the Christian faith that is strongly liturgical. Liturgy without evangelism is deadening! There is little doubt that theology is directly connected to this. Liturgists are inclined to be liberal in theological thought. Their devotion to Scripture is not absolute and their Christology is usually not based on the New Testament. Evangelists, on the other hand, are more realistic in theology. They adhere to the doctrines of the Church as established by the New Testament.

The future of the effectiveness of the Church depends upon the Church being the Church for Jesus’ sake! This is not a plea for a horse and buggy theology, practice, or liturgy. It is a cry that we remember that Jesus was concerned that sinners be saved, not that preachers wear the right vestments.

One might be a servant of Jesus as an evangelist without being a liturgist, but one cannot faithfully serve Him as a liturgist without also being an evangelist. Evangelism without liturgy may be unattractive, but liturgy with­ out evangelism is not Christianity.

It is generally agreed that morning worship should be about one hour long. The evangelist argues that to have much liturgy makes it impossible to have time enough for a sermon and a call to discipleship. The sermon is held to be the outstanding evangelical device within public worship, bringing persons to conversion, rededication, and commitment. So, it becomes necessary for the evangelist to dispense with anything which takes away the necessary time for conversion. The use of more and more liturgy is seen as a weak device to shun the evangelizing responsibility. While liturgy may be pleasing to the converted worshipper, it is lifeless and without challenge to the non-Christian. For he cannot truly pray any prayers until he has been saved from sin and established in God’s family of the redeemed.

A properly balanced service can satisfy both liturgists and evangelists. Allowing the first half of the service for liturgy, there is ample opportunity for use of every type litany, creeds, prayers. The liturgy does not have to be monotonous and repetitious: it can be changed often enough to be fresh, alive and spiritually invigorating.

The second half of the service provides ample opportunity for complete freedom of expression and style. It should be truly evangelical, but if the first half of the service is true to the Gospel, the sermon cannot be in opposition to it.

For the sake of Jesus Christ, there needs to be a wedding of liturgy and evangelism. Neither the liturgist nor the evangelist is doing the best job by himself. Evangelism without careful, accurate expression and some cultural refinement is not going to be effective among educated and thoughtful people. And liturgy without personal commitment to Jesus Christ will never win sinners to Christ.

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