I love Rich Mullins, writer of “Awesome God”, and a dozen other songs popular in the 90’s in church circles. I love his music, his lyrics, and his story – he was a weird guy, but in an endearing way. One of his songs, “Creed” is essentially the apostle’s creed set to music, but with a chorus that goes like this:
I believe what I believe
It’s what makes me what I am
I did not make it, no it is making me
It is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man.
I did not make it – no, it is making me. There is something about submitting ourselves to beliefs and practices that are external to our own minds that shapes us in ways we would not have otherwise chosen. In that same vein, recently, I was reading JRH Moorman’s “History of the Church in England”, and I came across this blurb:
The Puritan party was active, self-confident, and aggressive. On the ecclesiastical side it represented those who wished to advance from the restrained conservatism of the Elizabethan Settlement to much greater liberty in both worship and in church government. It disliked both the Prayer Book and the episcopacy because each put a curb on the liberty of the individual.
Liberty! As Americans, we like that. But what did they dislike? Submitting their worship to the prayer book (incidentally, this wasn’t the case for all Puritans, just those who wanted out of the Church of England altogether) and submitting to the authority of the bishops. The Puritans believed that each individual clergyman, should be able to determine what was right for their church to believe and do.
This sounds great – but at what cost? Those faith traditions with formal liturgy are familiar with the Latin phrase, “lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi” – the law of prayer is the law of belief is the law of living. What you pray and how you worship shapes your beliefs, which shape your behavior.
There is something…freeing about submitting to liturgy, a liturgy that has existed for centuries, spoken and moved by the communion of saints in the church over that time and global space. There is a unity in practice, in worship, and in belief that cannot be achieved in a whim of liturgy that flows from the preferences and ideas of individual ministers. An insistence that we MUST be “free” to choose our individual churches’ worship methods on our own is chronological and individual snobbery, an insistence that I know better than those who have walked before me, and even those who walk with me. It is an insistence that the Holy Spirit wrote the Scriptures and speaks to me, and everyone in between had never been in communion with the Spirit of God.
There may be things about a historic liturgy that need changing, but there is a way to do it that keep that unbroken unity of faith, worship, and practice…and it isn’t each church doing what it wants.