Our exploration of the Churches of Christ (hence abbreviated as "CofC") begins with liturgy, that is, the order of worship. This is one aspect of the free church traditions that sets them apart from many others. Christian groups with a hierarchical authority line, such as Roman Catholics, have a liturgy universal to their group. It is possible, almost regardless of which Catholic church one attends, to know precisely what to expect. There is a difference, though, for us.
For the CofCs, we have a liturgy of sorts, but not one that applies to all with such a title. For example, where I grew up, the order of worship went a little something like this:
- 2-3 Songs
- Communion/Lord's Supper
- Contribution (maybe preceded by a song to distinguish a separation between Communion and giving.)
- 1-2 Songs
- Invitation song (This is something like an altar call.)
- Closing Song
- Closing Prayer
While this doesn't apply to all other CofCs, I could almost always count on this being the formula each Sunday morning. There was an occasional deviation from this, but it was minor—like starting with a prayer instead of a song.
There are several issues at play in the CofC's liturgical processes, each of which will be dealt with in time. For the present, though, I will simply list them out.
- Communion is generally distinct from the receiving of funds from members.
- The sermon most of the time is considered the centerpiece of the worship service, though it is not considered a form of worship.
- Prayers are usually ad libbed.
- Songs are, about 98% of the time, a cappella. This differs from congregation to congregation. However, a vast majority of the CofCs stick with just their voices.
Now for some critique:
Although there is nothing wrong per se with this formula, we have found it difficult to actually refer to this as being a liturgy. Don't get me wrong; sometimes, it's wonderful to go to something completely surprise-less. I once heard a sermon by Fred Craddock where he claims that, sometimes, the expected, normal, and less-than-exciting routine of a thing makes it all the more meaningful (his examples were of the recently widowed woman or the college student home from his or her studies). In Disney/Pixar's Up, Russell states that the boring stuff is the stuff he remembers most. However, I think it will take some time, likely years, before we as a group can think about this as being formulaic, as liturgical. It might not seem as obvious or universal as Sunday Mass is, but we have some kind of liturgy nonetheless.
One aspect of a liturgy, however, we seem to be lacking is intentionality. Often it is easier to do something in a certain way simply because "we've always done it that way." More beneficial than doing a task for the sake of doing a task is to think about what is being done. Here are some questions I could ask about my childhood church's worship service: Why do we have announcements? Why do we separate the differing stages in the service by song? Is there a reason that we do things in this order? Is it better to end with a prayer than a song, or is there any difference at all?
Again, our liturgical choices, if they may be called such, are not necessarily bad. But at the very least, let's spend some time asking ourselves and others very simple questions.
May we never cease in the asking of questions, for the question is the birthplace of thought.
Grace and peace,