“Why are you writing about the renewing the liturgical church?”
That’s a question I have been asked by several friends. Another question may center more on why liturgical churches need renewing. The first question is the subject of this introduction. The second question will require you to read what is written here or elsewhere.
To begin with, I was born in South America to North American missionaries. My parents were part of a non-denominational mission, starting back in the 1920’s. As you would imagine, some of my earliest recollections have to do with church members, meetings and activities. My first 7 years in school were at a school operated by missionaries who had served with the board of a liturgical church denomination.
During those years, I was schooled in a sound theology coming from a liturgical church perspective. We heard preaching twice on Sunday and regular chapel services during the week. What we heard was based on the Scriptures. The teaching came alive with a wealth of principles supplied from both Old and New Testaments.
As an adult, I have been an active member in liturgical churches for nearly 15 years, in three different denominations. Much of that experience touches responsive chords in my soul. But somewhere along the line and over the years, these churches look as if they have lost traction with the people they were called to minister to and evangelize.
My hope is to throw some insight into the mix of current conditions that can help restore vitality into what now appears to be declining churches. As you will later read, the view that liturgical churches are in trouble is not an independent conclusion: it is derived from data the denominations themselves publish. And for everyone involved, it is not the desired outcome. But that’s where we are.
Can we go back in history when things were different? There was a time when the existing church was an open threat to the religious world. The Apostle Paul, along with his friend Silas was preaching in a Greek city, Thessalonica. They had traveled there from Philippi where they had been beaten and thrown into jail. In Thessalonica, they had similar results. After being threatened by the local population, they were dragged before the city authorities with the charge, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too” (NKJV).
Just what were Paul and Silas doing? They were growing the church—they were reaching out beyond the boundaries of Jewish tradition to touch people with the teaching of Jesus. (See Acts 17:4-7).
In the same chapter of Acts, we find the Apostle Paul also visiting the city of Athens. He discovers that they were a very religious people with many gods and idols. But they didn’t know about Jesus the Son of God. He continued his travels, and along with others, by the end of the first century CE, the known Roman world had heard the gospel and many had become followers of Jesus.
By the third century, Christianity was the dominant religion of the empire. But in the statistics you will see as you read on, the reports from liturgical churches today point to quite a different outcome. We are trying, without much success, to hang on and slow the decline of people leaving our churches. It should and can be different.
As a final point, what we are observing today didn’t happen yesterday. There is history, often long forgotten, that is parent to what we are seeing. Yet our course is not irrevocable. We can choose to alter our direction and change the destination to which we are headed.
What you will find written here can be implemented at several different levels. The ideas can be evaluated and responded to by a single member of the clergy or body within a local church. Some changes may take time to implement, and that’s all right. Others will get pushback from individuals or groups within the denomination.
There is, however, the ultimate question each denomination needs to answer: Do we keep doing the same things yet expect different results? We strongly suspect the negative answer to that.
This writer is optimistic about the liturgical church: The Lord of the Church did not come to create a church to be in decline. Recall the Apostle Paul’s word to the Jewish people—while he was saddened they had rejected Jesus as the Messiah, they had a great advantage: they had “ . . . been entrusted with the very words of God” (Romans 3:1). Liturgical churches are positioned to be in this world and to preach from Scripture every week. That is a singular advantage in any age.
In the following pages we will look at what that means to an individual, to a parish and to a denomination. Ultimately, what we do with Scripture as opposed to other sources of guidance, will determine if your church and denomination will continue and grow in our aggressively secular culture. It can, but it needs your participation to make it happen.
Don Parker Decker