Does Anglican Worship Make Sense?

It makes sense if you understand its purpose.  It makes even more sense if you embrace the goal for which it was designed.

The Anglican way of worship that we encounter in the Book of Common Prayer is designed for Christians.  It is designed not to entertain us but to change us and to keep us changed into the likeness of Christ, individually and corporately.  If you are not interested in or do not feel a need for soul-transformation then Anglican liturgy really would not make much sense or hold much appeal.

I have found that most people object to traditional liturgy not because they do not think it is sound and Biblical but out of concern for what non-Christians will think.  They say that liturgy is a stumbling block for non-believers.  But liturgy is not intended for non-believers and should not be laid in their path.   In fact the service of Holy Communion is dangerous for any one who is not deeply repentant and fully intending “to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in His holy ways.”  The invitation is clear.  It is only for those who “repent of their sins.”

Once you have decided to turn from the ways of “the world, the flesh and the devil,” as we do in our Baptism, then Anglican worship makes perfect sense.  Only then can it fulfill its purpose and become a powerful aid in our new goal to be like Jesus, to “evermore dwell in Him and He in us.”  A sincere, repentant seeker will find in the liturgy a great help and a powerful means of grace, even if the form is unfamiliar.

Authentic Christian worship should both please God and encourage our sanctification.  The two are inseparable; you can’t have the former without the latter since God longs for us to experience the incomparable joys of holiness and the fellowship of self-giving love. Any form of worship that does not contribute to our becoming more like Christ, more holy, cannot ultimately please God, no matter how aesthetically beautiful or theologically sound it might be.  All worship that fails to lead us into deeper humility, repentance, dependence and gratitude will soon become to us an idol.

The Anglican Prayer Book provides a regular pattern of potentially sanctifying worship, built on regular exposure to Biblical truth — read, sung, preached, and memorized.  Through it we regularly receive the Sacraments, particularly the Lord’s Supper.  And if we prepare for Holy Communion as we should through rigorous self-examination and confession, this whole experience will have a deeply transforming effect.  We orient our lives around the life of Christ and His saints through following the Church Calendar, reminding ourselves that we live as part of a story much bigger than ourselves.  And as we worship together week by week, year by year, we are unified as God’s people and experience a slow but sure renewal of our minds.

We will be disappointed if we think Anglican worship is going to have mass appeal among sinners or even nominal, lukewarm Christians in today’s world where image and entertainment are king and any suggestion of need for forgiveness and transformation might qualify as hate speech.  But if we, as Christ’s people, become more like the One whose name we bear, there will be some who notice and wonder.  The presence of Christ in ordinary people always has a magnetic affect.  Light shines in darkness. And we will find increasing confidence and motivation to tell others what Christ means to you.

People that would naturally be left cold by liturgy themselves will be drawn to what the liturgy has done in us–if we let it do its work.  Don’t expect the world to be attracted by Prayer Book worship.  But don’t be surprised if people are drawn to the person of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit growing in your life as you follow the Prayer Book way.

Still, we all know people who have gone to Anglican-style churches all their lives and not become much like Jesus.  The fruit has not always been sweet, it is true.  The liturgy won’t do its work automatically.  There is little benefit in just going through the motions and mouthing the words.  Familiarity can breed contempt.  And sometimes the devil diverts even the sincerest pursuit of beauty and reverence into stuffy religiosity. How easily we become snobbish connoisseurs and eagle-eyed critics.  But don’t blame the Prayer Book for that.  Satan corrupts informal worship too.  To be transformed we must give ourselves to the Scripture, the prayers, the hymns, and the Eucharist heart and soul in deep humility and a sense of our profound unworthiness.  Our repentance must be sincere.

Some might say that it would be more effective to offer a simple crowd-pleasing event on Sunday morning (or Saturday night) where folks would come for the music and the show, hear a little Gospel and perhaps believe in Christ.  Maybe so. But there are lots of folks already covering that territory.  And even those who sincerely specialize in this approach realize its limitations in producing transformed lives.

As true Anglicans our goal is to go from believing in Christ to becoming like Him, together.  There is not a huge market for that at the moment, but there never has been.  Nevertheless this is our commission.  Jesus did not call us to make spectators or even believers, but to make disciples, people determined to become like Him from the inside out. And the Anglican way — when fully and humbly embraced in loving community — is as good a means as you will find to accomplish this purpose.

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