Let’s say your pastor is the psycho pastor from Hell:
Your pastor shows up to the service riding an elephant up the aisle. He begins the service by leading the creed: “I’m smart, I’m beautiful, I’m rich, I want it all, and I deserve it!” Perhaps Metallica makes a guest appearance during the service. The children put on a professionally-produced skit portraying Jesus as a black girl living in a 21st century housing project. A prayer begins with a dramatic and breathy “oh Jesus, beautiful wonderful Jesus, brother sister Jesus…” The sermon, which lasts for 45 minutes, is based on a single verse misquoted from The Message Bible paraphrase, and seems to have something to do with God being the God of all religions and how Christians are sent to lead the charge for world peace; next week we begin the series of Christian sex. Or maybe the sermon exhorts us to live more moral lives to be pleasing to God. The offering is accompanied by trained dogs jumping through fire hoops. The benediction is led by a set of cheerleaders chanting “G! O! D! He’s For Me!” and whips the congregation into a post-Biblical frenzy.
Now drop him into a good liturgical service.
He begins the service with the words of John: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” He goes on to absolve the congregation of its sins. This liturgist and the congregation sing the words of a psalm, ending with a doxology to the trinity. The service includes substantial readings over which the pastor has no choice, being dictated by the lectionary and including old testament, epistle, and gospel, read from a sound translation. The hymns, rather than short fluffy phrases repeated over and over, are theological tomes about what Christ has done to save us undeserving men. The prayers are either dictated word for word or else fill-in-the-blanks style, taken from scripture. Communion is likely, with the words unchangeable and coming straight from the Bible. Even to the benediction, his liturgy is scriptural.
When the liturgy is ignored, the pastor is free to craft a complete service’s worth of false teaching and man centered theology, ignoring or misusing the person and actions of Jesus. In the context of the liturgy, the pastor’s only latitude comes in the circumscribed timeslot of the sermon. The rest of the service is dictated in writings and actions going back to the days of the apostles – that is, you have 20 minutes of garbage sandwiched within 40 minutes of word, sacrament and doctrine from the scriptures. The liturgy inoculates us to bad preaching and protects us from false doctrine. Like the keel of a sailboat, by sinking deeply into the waters of the historic church it stabilizes our services and keeps them pointing in the right direction – at Christ.
A blessing indeed.
Thanks to Rod Rosenbladt of White Horse Inn who made a throwaway comment about this in a recent program.