Okay, let’s get the title question out of the way quickly: The answer is ‘no.’ To adopt a liturgical form is by definition to do away with spontaneity completely. Why pose the question?
If you were a fly on the wall at our house last night, the discussion was about the churches that would call themselves “spirit-led” vs. the ones which follow a more “scripted” worship order at weekend services. There are advantages to both of course. Many — dare I say most? — Evangelical churches lack the richness and depth one finds in an Episcopalian or Anglican setting. But when it comes to prayer, particularly if the prayer is for you and some need you are facing, you want someone who doesn’t need to read a prayer out of book.1
In many Evangelical environments, every word that is spoken is not written out ahead of time.2 This produces a tendency to “wing it.” On the other hand, those same Evangelicals often enter a liturgical environment and find it too sterile. Let’s face it, you can tell when someone who is reading something is just reading it.
On the other hand, we have Millennials reporting to be preferring a more traditional worship environment. Does this do away with extemporaneous praying? Eliminate the pastor being led to introduce a new direction into the sermon? Or is the desired outcome more a blend of what we have now, and what we had 100 years ago? 3
Cruising the interwebs, we found a piece by J.C. Holsinger at the Assemblies of God website. It’s too long to post in its entirety here but I hope some of you will click through. (Click the title below.) I like the way — from the perspective of his denomination — this article bridges the divide.
…When the Assemblies of God was formed, the founders deliberately avoided using the words sacrament and liturgy. In fact, the founders carefully called the ceremonies of the church ordinances to avoid any sacramental connection. Hence rather than sacramentalism which the word liturgy historically brings with it, Pentecostals more accurately have ordinances and ceremonies. However, these ceremonies are important in educating and binding the generations of Christians together. Therefore, continuity and carefulness in performing these ceremonies should be practiced.
I attended a wedding recently where the pastor opened the ceremony with a prayer: “As we hear these young people repeat their vows, may those of us who are married be reminded of the same vows we once took. Lord, help us to reaffirm our vows to You and to each other.” When he finished the prayer I almost shouted “Amen” because that is one of the most valuable purposes of ceremony–to educate and reaffirm important truths held in common, not just to provide a private or personal experience.
Modern society attempts either to personalize or individualize everything… A common question is, ‘What does that mean to you?” The implication is that your experience and other people’s experiences are equally valid…
Can such tendencies to personalize and individualize everything ultimately destroy the purposes and continuity of ceremonies in a society?
Consider God’s command that Joshua require the leaders of the 12 Tribes to take a stone from the Jordan River to create a memorial. What if each of the 12 leaders or the 12 Tribes themselves had said, “We want to personalize our part of the ceremony.” Or, “I would rather bring a log,” or “I’ll pick up a pretty shell from the river that is special and meaningful to me.” Instead, they heightened the meaning with all the leaders repeating exactly the same ceremony. This made it possible for the next generation to ask, “What mean you by these stones?” and to be educated about God and their responsibilities to His purposes.
Repetition and consistency of common procedures heighten the meaning and importance of ceremony…
For example, if a respected Christian couple brings their child for dedication and the minister says, “I know you are good Christians, so I am not going to ask you whether you will bring up your child in church,” does that not destroy the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to prick the hearts of all parents present as to whether they are carrying out their vows?
Do we as church leaders affirm the importance of godly homes if at a Pentecostal church wedding the bridesmaids and bride come down the aisle more appropriately dressed for a nightclub than a church? Or music is sung at a Pentecostal church wedding that has sexual overtones more in keeping with a cabaret?
What about our ceremonies for the ordinance of water baptism? Is the meaning of “being buried with Christ and resurrected with Him” lost if we allow silly comments about the coldness of the water or ask, “Are you scared?”
Ceremonies need not be formal or stiff, of course. Given our church’s history and theology, ceremonies can be relaxed and natural. However, is it not easy to cross the fine line between relaxed and natural and instead produce silliness that destroys the basic teaching purposes of the ceremony? …
Also interesting was information about an academic book releasing in 2017 by Mark Cartledge and A. J. Swoboda, Scripting Pentecost. You can read about that at this link.
Your comments are welcome. We’ll return to this topic soon!
1 There are always exceptions to everything and one is a book that is a favorite among Pentecostals and Charismatics, Prayers that Avail Much which uses what would be termed Spirit-filled language, but consists entirely of pre-formatted prayers which can be used in a variety of life situations.
2 For a look at a brief period where something resembling liturgy overlapped Evangelical history, check out the Responsive Readings section of old hymnbooks.
3 For one approach to creating liturgy in a more current culture, check out my brief 2011 review of Common Prayer: Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne et al.