Liturgical Prayer

Much of this series on spirituality focuses on what we do when we are alone with God. But what about when we are with other Christians? What of our common life of prayer?

For Adventists, times for corporate prayer include the Sabbath worship service, the prayer meeting, weeks of prayer, camp meeting, and the like. In most of these, the dominant activity is not prayer, but preaching or teaching. Besides the sermon or sermons, there are the other exhortations, like the one before the offertory. There are announcements, greetings, and explanations. But we do pray.

We are not a liturgical church, but our services remain predictable, with well established patterns of what happens, and when it happens, and how it happens. The pastor will go out on the platform with elders. They will kneel in silent prayer. There will be an opening prayer, which is said with ministers and people standing. It will be short, and will invoke the Holy Spirit. There will be a prayer after the offering, thanking God for his blessings (again, with ministers and people standing). There will be a pastoral prayer, with all kneeling; it will be the longest prayer of the day, and will cover a multitude of topics, but with a familiar pattern of praise and petition. The preacher may pray before or after the sermon (or both) and there will be a concluding prayer of blessing as we leave.

The communion service adds to this prayers of blessing over bread and wine, said by elders after they have read from the words of institution (rarely are these scriptures and blessings said by the ordained minister, for some reason).

The prayer meetings adds the custom of the “season of prayer,” with all taking turns praying aloud, in small groups of two or three or all together. We learn when we are small, incorporating into our prayer expressions that we have heard from others: “forgive us our sins and mistakes,” “bless the missionaries and colporteurs across the seas,” “heal the sick, if it be thy will.”

The Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal includes resources to break up these patterns of practiced informality, calling us away from our rote responses to the words of Scripture. Instead of just one person reading from Scripture, we have responsive readings, in which the congregation shares. Some are psalms, for use at the beginning of the service. Some are intended for the main Scripture reading of the service. Some are intended to be used as responses to prayer, or to lead us into confession. Some are to be read at the offertory. Still others are benedictions, to be said at the end of the service. The assumption is that we do not need to pretend to come up with something original at these times—we can let the words inspired by the Holy Spirit replace our awkward utterances. We can take our mind off the question of whether we are saying the right thing, and let Scripture speak for us.

What, then, I wonder, is really the difference between a “liturgical” church, like the Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran communions, and “non-liturgical” churches? We both use Scripture throughout the service. We both have orders of service with little variety. We both let our traditions guide us. We both take comfort from this when we are visiting a new place.

I spent a couple of dozen years living and ministering in liturgical churches, Lutheran and Catholic. They share a common form of liturgical worship, the Lutheran being an evangelical revision of the Catholic liturgy, removing references to human works and offerings. But the pattern remained the same, and the commonality is more clearly visible since the liturgical revisions of the Second Vatican Council.

The service in liturgical churches begins with an order of confession and forgiveness, and leads into a responsive singing of “Kyrie eleison” (“Lord, have mercy”) and then a hymn of praise, the “Gloria” (joining in the angelic song, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth”). An opening prayer, or “collect,” concludes the “entrance rites.”

The service of the Word follows, with roots in the ancient synagogue service. There are typically four readings: one from the Old Testament, one from the Psalms, one from an Epistle, and one from a Gospel. This is followed by the sermon, which connects the Word as read with daily life. A proclamation of the faith we share in common follows (the Nicene or Apostles’ Creed), and then the general intercessions, with prayers for specific intentions.

Attention then shifts from the pulpit to the altar, or communion table. The offertory is not primarily for collecting money, but for bringing forward the bread and the wine, which are placed upon the table and prepared. An offertory prayer and a responsive invitation to prayer leads to the “Sanctus,” the angelic hymn of Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4 (“Holy, Holy, Holy”), lifting us from the ordinariness of our life and gathering and ushering us into the heavenly throne room. Then follows a lengthy prayer that retells the story of salvation, culminating in the self-sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and, to connect that with what we do now, the reading of the Words of Institution. A hymn of praise is sung while the bread is broken, asking that the Lamb of God (“Agnus Dei”) show us mercy. We share in the bread and the wine. There is a final prayer and a blessing and we go in peace, “to love and serve the Lord.”

Another form of liturgical prayer is called “the liturgy of the hours.” It grew out of the Jewish custom (shared by Muslims) of praying at set hours of the day (for Jews, the hours of the main sacrifices in the temple). This form of prayer developed in the monasteries; at its root is a simple praying of the psalms. Historically, all the Psalms would be prayed by monks each day. Today, Catholics use a four week cycle. Three Psalms are prayed at each service, at morning, in the day, at evening, and at night, together with short Scripture readings, intercessions for the needs of the people, and singing of hymns.

As Seventh-day Adventists, we may not use this liturgy—but is there anything particularly wrong with it, if, like Lutherans, we are clear to remove all unbiblical elements? And, more importantly, isn’t it clear that though we may not use this liturgy, we still use a liturgy? We are not as spontaneous as we imagine.

Scripture gives little guidance about how to pray when we come together. We know that the apostles continued to go to the synagogue and the temple, so it is not surprising that early Christianity continued the practice of reading of Scripture, singing of psalms, praying for the people and explaining what was read. Pace George Barna and Frank Viola, these things are not “Pagan Christianity,” but Biblical practices that connect us to our Jewish roots.

Paul’s instructions are simple and few, allowing for both freedom and order, but emphasizing doing things decently.

How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. 1 Cor 14:26-33, NKJV

Within this simple guidance, that all things be done for the edification of all, there is much room for freedom. Freedom. What an idea! How many battles are fought in churches of every denomination over what can and cannot be done in worship? Paul’s only rules are that we look out for others, don’t bully or show off, keep silent at certain times. He says nothing about whether to use instruments or which kind, whether to have a set order of readings through the year (as Jews did) or whether to let the preacher pick Scripture as the preacher wishes. He says nothing about what kind of bread or wine to use, whether to have a single cup or individual cups, whether to have communion daily or weekly or quarterly or yearly.

But Paul does tell us to come together, so that we may learn from one another, edify one another, pray for one another, and worship God with one another. He knows no such thing as a solitary Christian. He could never imagine that a Christian might forsake the assembly to go off and pray to God silently in nature, undistracted by other people. For Christ is not, for Paul, a disembodied spirit. He has a body, and we are all the parts of it, all needing one another. And when is the body most visible? When we come together for worship. That’s the real intent, I’d suggest, of his warning about “not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Cor 11:29). It isn’t meant to draw us further into ourselves—but to draw us out of ourselves, and see the others around us who are, like us, members of the Lord’s body.

_______________________

Bill Cork is pastor of the North Houston and Spring Creek Seventh-day Adventist churches in Texas, and a chaplain in the Texas Army National Guard.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/3135

I am surprised this article has no discussion. I specifically searched for “liturgy”. I was raised mostly Baptist. Then as an adult I was pretty much no religion. After being exposed to SDA in my 20’s, I embraced it in my 40’s in an attempt to follow God and live my life in a way pleasing to Him, and if course I felt Sda is the closest church to what the Bible teaches. In worship, however, I fell like simply an audience member at a concert, play, anything similar. WE do not pray. A leader prays. A pastor or speaker preaches. The only time all are included is in singing. The majority of the service, most people are simply an audience. The church I attend maybe does a responsive reading maybe once a year, there is never a time of silence for private prayer. I understand that a lot of protestants stopped the use of prayer books likely because of Catholicism. I get the reasons. I really feel a need to be a participant in community in worship, but the SDA church service does not offer this. Yesterday I attended a Presbyterian service in which which I truly felt I was worshipping, not just listening/being the audience, because of the liturgy in which ALL participate in responsive reading. There was also a time of silence for personal prayer. I am now torn because I truly felt included in worship, and of course, I want to keep the true Sabbath but also enjoy worshipping with the “fallen churches following the beast”. I know there is no set way to worship and liturgy is my personal preference. We have the responsive readings in our hymnal, but have attended 3 SDA churches in 3 states over 9 years, and have not seen them utilized. It’s pretty much come in, sit down, listen, go home. Sing if you want to be a part of things, and that’s it. Am I the only person who feels this way? When I have tried to discuss feeling like an audience member as opposed to a worshipper with my SDA friends,I get yeah, but, the vain repetition arguement. I must also admit that I liked the sermon about using what you have for God(time, money, food, etc) and He will use it to bless others, with no mention of end times. I am so torn about worshipping elsewhere. Any thoughts?

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I invited anyone who showed up in my previous notifications. I do not know how to just ask a question or start a conversation, or if that’s even possible. Thanks. Don’t know if it worked, so trying this as cincerity instructed :@niteguy2 @GeorgeTichy @Paul62 @Harry_Allen @carolynhargreaves1

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Hi…I was notified through the Spectrum system of your invitation, Melissa. Usually if you are trying to get specific persons to respond to you- do the following @loubama77 (using you as an example). At any rate, what ever you did has worked. :smiley:

My personal position is that you go where your spirituality grows. If this means for you that you attend two churches (or services) to get what you need…then do that. SDAs do some things well and other things not so well. If you are looking for specific things you may have to attend other types of services. I, myself, don’t get anything out of the typical Adventist service unless it is more Post Modern. You seem to appreciate more of the “liturgical” approach. There is no right or wrong approach in my opinion- just what feeds you best. We do have others here who attend other faith groups and are blessed. They would be the best people to share their experiences with you. @niteguy2

Thank you for your response. Leaning towards attending two services/churches for now. I guess I am feeling that I am not getting what I need , but that if I go elsewhere, I am automatically on the road to being lost somehow. That’s exactly what I want is to learn of other people’s experience. I feel alone, the others I talk to in my church do not feel this way, or feel I’m doing something wrong( coming in with a wrong attitude, not putting in enough, things along those lines).

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These are typical of “Adventist” responses. Adventism will never “recommend” going outside of its walls for anything “spiritual” because of the absolute belief in having “The Truth”.

I have recieved much spiritually by going outside of the church. It is healthy to explore how others experience spirituality…take what helps you and discard the rest. The Spirit is more than capable of bringing us all to where we can grow.

I wouldn’t have any expectations that most church members in most SDA churches will understand.

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Thanks, @loubama77:

If you’re saying that you are feeling you’re getting what you need, and you want to go to another church, it’s hard to respond without knowing more about why you feel as you do. That is, what do you need?

Sometimes, what you need is outside of you. Sometimes what you need is inside of you, and if you keep searching for it elsewhere, you’ll never run into it, because it’s you.

What are your thoughts?

HA

Thanks for the response. After much soul searching and talking with friends, I think it’s something inside of me. I can’t continue in another church because it feels too much like denying what I believe to be true. I’m thinking at this point it’s not the church itself, but my relationship with God, which I was searching for AT church. I hope that makes sense.

Thanks, @loubama77:

I gave another, different response, above, but that was before I noticed that you’d written a rather descriptive post outlining your situation.

So, here are some questions that, as you answer, will help me to better address your very reasonable concerns:

• Are you currently praying, studying your Bible, and devoting time to God in your home life, during the week?

• What you’re asking for certainly seems in line with how churches should operate. Also, chances are, if you’re seeking it, there are others in that congregation who do, also.

So, what happens when you take these issues to other members, the church’s elders, or the pastor; all of them? In other words, when you ask about the possibility of adding these kinds of changes to the weekly service, what do other members say, as well as other members of the leadership?

• How long have you attended this church? How many people attend, and/or are members of it? Are you a member? Do you hold an office, and/or are you part of the board? If so, might you make suggestions there, or offer to run a department that would have oversight for the issues you deem important?

• Are there other Seventh-day Adventist churches in your local area that might hold services in the way that you desire? Have you attended any of them? (I mean besides the 3 churches in 3 states over 9 years.)

• The Presbyterian church you attend may offer a service that you desire. But the SDA church is the closest church to what the Bible teaches. To what degree does this give you pause?

• You don’t say anything about praying to God about this matter. What has praying about it led you to do? What has He told you?

• Have you considered starting a mission in the area? That is, a church company, in a rented space, connected to your congregation, that is doctrinally coherent, but one in which the worship style is more like the form you desire?

Being a lifelong SDA, I have little experience with liturgical readings, besides church scripture readings that are responsive; a leader reads, then the congregation.

However, I directly relate to the dryness one experiences when church is a performance, with little involvement by attendees. I am against this, as I think it creates the congregational version of ripe fruit rotting in a field.

Your goals sound honorable. The issue is how should you solve them. Often, the success of a goal is built into the manner by which we analyze the problem, and the degree to which we involve others in that solution; i.e., we design the outcome by how we analyze the issue.

For example, building a branch church might possibly sound appealing to a person who’s not getting what they want in their own. But a person who can’t move people in her own congregation with a vision might not be able to do it with others, in a new setting, either.

Again, your goal of revival and participation in worship is honorable, and, even more, biblical. How you solve it—even the way you’ve sought advice, here—is building spiritual muscles that you may need, and not yet posses, if you let God lead you.

Please use the reply button, under this, if you respond, and write my name, with the “at” symbol, in the text, like so— @harryallen — when you do.

HA

Hi. I will answer in order:
Yes, but probably not as often/thoroughly as I should
I have only mentioned it now to people at church at the same time I mentioned it here; they responded as you have–mention it to the leaders, which I have never done, the members I spoke with said they wouldn’t mind doing the responsive readings
I have attended and been a member here 8 years. We usually have 20-40 people in attendance, mostly members.I have realized now that even though my old church had the same style service, it did not bother me because there were so many ministries to be involved in. I have held different positions 7 of those years, but refused one last year (due to treatment by others who wish to run everything whether it’s their position or not) and was not offered one this year Fellow members that I talked to said stop letting people push you around and next year tell the nominating committee what you’d be interested in.
The only other SDA churches are at least 70 miles from my house, this one is about 10 miles. We have people that drive those 70 miles to COME to our church as opposed to the one where they live…
Yes, I know, and have decided I cannot attend there in good conscience
Yes, today I attended my church and feel that is where I belong. We seemed to have a better service today, and my friend pointed out that perhaps my perception and perspective changed a little, too
Now that it has been pointed out by others, I see that I should try to find a solution rather than leaving, and start speaking up rather than fearing confrontation. The bad feelings I have harbored have been partially my own fault, by letting a few people get under my skin and hurt my feelings. As a whole,the group is not unkind or pushy. Also, I need to worship more at home and not expect to develop a relationship with God based on church services. I see now that my issue was belonging. Our church is small, all members do not live close by, so we have no outreach ministries in the community to do together,(as we did in the larger church in another state)so I was looking for more togetherness in worship. I wanted to belong in a way that is just not possible there.
Again, thank you for responding. Your questions are thought provoking.
M

@Harry_Allen
Sorry. I replied above, but forgot the @

Thanks, @loubama77.

First, I’m thankful to God that you received my response in the spirit that it was intended.

You said:

In response:

If not, this is going to have to be your first point of change, because it is foundational. Everything affects, and is affected by, how you and God relate.

You said:

In response:

This tells me at least two things:

a) You’ve sought consensus, and found there are others who share your desires and goals. I’d urge that you keep building this group up, by talking to people and asking what they think. It will be far more compelling to the leadership if, when you meet with them, you can say, “Almost everyone in our congregation feels this way,” than, say, “I and six other people feel this way.”

b) You’ve not worn out your welcome on this issue; i.e., it’s not something you’ve talked to death, and about which people are tired of hearing. This gives you the opportunity to expand your base; i.e., those who want more interactive services.

You said:

In response:

It’s a very small church, and unless the leadership is dictatorial, cultic, and/or power-mad, they should welcome and be responsive to the changes you are suggesting, to the degree that they mean more lay involvement and participation in worship.

You said:

In response:

Your fellow members have offered good advice. These are issues requiring tact. They call for you to speak kindly and directly to others who are getting in the way of you managing your process, in the way you’ve been called.

In other words, if you were asked to take a position, that means the congregation wants your spin on it, not the spin of others “filtered through” you.

If you would avoid taking a position, and helping God’s work, to avoid this confrontation, it suggests that you don’t handle this problem well, and suggests that you may not do so, also, in your life outside of church.

If so, this could be a good place for a “global” development in your life; one that affects all aspects of it.

You said:

In response:

It’s not an untenable distance, in some places, but it may be, and it may be for you, even though others make it.

In any event, from your expanded comments, it’s clear that attending another church is not the issue. It appears that the issue is you using your influence and your gifts to change the outcomes in your church. Everything you need seems to be there, already.

You said:

In response:

Some say that you can, but I consider the same mostly a form of casual dating.

Churches are interactive entities. What you put in them is what you get out of them. And they are for development, as Paul said. So, those opportunities should be exhausted, utterly, before one moves on, or around.

You said:

In response:

These are sharp, cogent conclusions.

You said:

In response:

When I first read that, I thought that you meant staying at home, and not going to church. But I now see that you mean worshipping at home, in addition to doing so with your church family.

You said:

In response:

I suspect that you will find that, though small, there are ways that your church can help your community. In fact, there are probably lots of ways that you can do so, as a group, that are not yet obvious, and that will bind you closer together.

You said:

In response:

To God’s glory. Walk with Him. I am praying for you.

HA

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@Harry_Allen
Thank you :slight_smile: