Minister's Blog

Liturgical differences

By Steve Jeffery, 25 Apr 2018

Liturgical differences

In every congregation, there will be differences of opinion in relation to what we might call "liturgical practice". He raises his hands during the singing (somtimes); she doesn't. They raise their hands during the prayers, but you don't want to. She kneels to confess her sins and she won't sing anything apart from the Psalms, but you don't like kneeling and you're happy singing "abide with me."

These liturgical differences are remarkably difficult to deal with. There are lots of reasons for this. But one of the reasons is that, when it comes to how we worship God, the unity-disunity question simply won't go away. Here's how it works:

On the one hand, if you're responsible for leading a church, you probably don't want to make liturgical differences into a source of further disunity by raising them within the congregation. At least, you're conscious of the dangers of doing so, since (as it turns out) we're inescapably liturgical creatures, and therefore what we do with our bodies is really important to us (even if we deny it).

But on the other hand, if liturgical differences are manifested in the congregation then that is itself both an inescapable manifestation of disunity and a potential cause of further disunity. If Mr Smith simply refuses to sing anything that's not a canonical Psalm, and the Jones family remain standing while everyone else kneels for confession, then you've got liturgical disunity whether you like it or not. And if you 've got liturgical disunity, you've got disunity, period.

So liturgical differences, however they arise, present a kind of "Scylla and Charybdis" scenario: you get disunity if you do address them, but you've already got disunity if you don't address them.

I can't think of any simple solution to this. There are surely few areas of church life where "bearing with one another in love" is more important. Perhaps that's as close to a "solution" as we're likely to get. And if "love" is the solution, that'd probably make sense, wouldn't it?

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