Some Christians think that liturgical worship is insincere, mechanical, non-Protestant, and therefore vain worship. Although liturgical worship can become mechanical and vain, so can any form of worship. Vain repetition takes place when we “amen” a prayer to which we have paid little or no attention. It happens when we mindlessly sing a hymn without concentrating on the actual words. However, when we are mentally, emotionally, and spiritually involved in what we are saying and singing, even if the prayers and hymns are pre-composed, there is nothing mechanical or vain about our worship.
If you were to ask most church-goers when they feel the most involved in worship, most would say they feel the most active and involved when singing well known hymns and scripture songs together with other members of the body of Christ. Few of us could write our own meaningful hymns from week to week, and it would surely be difficult for us to praise God together unless we had a pre-composed hymn of praise in hand.
Pre-composed hymns and scripture songs give opportunity for all in attendance to worship both corporately and intelligently before the throne of God. Although most of these hymns were written by others long before any of us were born, as long as we sincerely mean what we are singing, then singing these hymns is certainly appropriate when it comes to corporate praise. Why then do so many consider it inappropriate to take this same approach to corporate prayer?
Liturgical worship in the form of pre-composed prayers, orthodox creeds, canticles of praise, and antiphonal responses take up where hymns and scripture songs leave off. They provide the opportunity for all in attendance to fulfill their priestly function of praise and prayer before the throne of God. Worshipers use the liturgy as a tool to fully participate in all aspects of the worship service. And while it is most certainly true that the liturgy can never and should never replace the sermon, neither can the sermon nor any other activity performed by one or more persons ever adequately substitute for the congregation’s call to pray in agreement and in unison as a priesthood of believers.
A liturgical format serves to maintain a certain level of integrity in worship by providing rich Biblical content along with a logical structure. Like hymns, the liturgy provides a theological grid and context by which to better understand and interpret the scriptures. As long as the Church remains committed to the inerrancy and authority of the scriptures, the liturgy will serve to guide and instruct participants in Biblical truth while they are in the very act of worship. Children in particular benefit from the continual use of liturgical prayer. The liturgy serves to reinforce the basic truths taught at home and in Church. By becoming familiar with the liturgy, they also learn a great deal about the nature and substance of prayer which will eventually help in the formation of their own personal and individual prayers.
On one side are Christians who stress liturgy and sacrament and written prayer. On the other side are Christians who stress intimacy, informality, and spontaneous prayer. In the words of Richard J. Foster, “It is here that we need the holy conjunction ‘and.’ We need not be forced to choose one over another. Both are inspired by the same Spirit. We can be lifted into high, holy reverence by the richness and depth of a well-crafted liturgy. We can also be drawn into breathless wonder through the warmth and intimacy of spontaneous worship. Ours is a spirituality that can embrace both.”