Liturgy or the Spirit?

Worship at a Hillsong event. Image: Mark Beeson

Sometimes odd coincidences occur that make one think one might be onto something. On Thursday I did a seminar asking “Does Anglican liturgy help or hinder charismatic worship?” which, if nothing else, sparked a free-flowing discussion.

One question provoked particular debate: “What would happen if someone gave a word of prophecy in the middle of choral evensong?” Clearly it would be highly disruptive of a form of service which is intended, in part, to be a polished performance. By contrast, if it happened at a charismatic church, such as Trinity Cheltenham, it would be likely to be received as something which enhances the spiritual atmosphere, enabling people to deepen their relationship with God.

Anglicans do have a love of liturgy which is often perceived to be a barrier to the deeper experience of God which charismatics seek in a worship service. A key question, then, is whether this necessarily needs to be the case. Can liturgy be used as a springboard into charismatic worship, as opposed to being an obstacle or a barrier?

Later in the evening I went to the annual Vasey lecture, given by Steve Croft, Bishop of Sheffield and former Principal here. Curiously, his talk ended up covering similar territory to my seminar – apart from being from the mainstream side. He complained about large Charismatic churches which have essentially dispensed with Anglican liturgy, so his plea was for its virtues to be appreciated. He gave five reasons for this:

  1. it provides a balanced diet;
  2. it offers a deep engagement with scripture;
  3. it allows expression of deep emotion;
  4. the liturgical year is beneficial;
  5. it’s the work of the people.

I agree that, on a given Sunday, a liturgy does provide a more balanced diet than a New Wine service. I also agree that it can offer a deeper engagement with scripture, although – as with any service – this depends on the preacher to expound the scripture with simplicity and clarity. However I have serious doubts about whether liturgy allows the expression of deep emotion: for that, little else can beat Spirit-anointed prayer ministry at the front of a charismatic church. I’m not convinced by his last two points but do not think they are major issues, either way. 

Overall, though, I am looking forward to trying to use liturgy as a springboard into charismatic worship, largely for the first two of Croft’s five reasons…

Golden plovers and a lapwing - not a great pic but better than I expected when I took it!

Today I went with James Menzies up Weardale. There was much more snow on the top than we’d expected, some of it quite deep – each step you’d sink about a foot into it! But the scenery is magnificent up there. On the way down there was a birding treat… a mixed flock of lapwings and golden plovers! Then just as we were about to move on, a black grouse flew across: spectacular!

A bleak Swinhope Moor, with James Menzies

p.s. amazing football score from my home team: Burton Albion 5 Cheltenham 6 – and we came back from 4-2 down!

5 thoughts on “Liturgy or the Spirit?

  1. Re your comment: “However I have serious doubts about whether liturgy allows the expression of deep emotion: for that, little else can beat Spirit-anointed prayer ministry at the front of a charismatic church.”

    Yet – as your own leading of the intercessions at Cockfield shows – there is space in the liturgy for just that. I felt the anointing on you, as I said at the time. The anointing CAN be quiet AND powerful at the same time.

    I’m no longer a ‘card carrying’ member of the charismatic movement, but mainly because of the weaknesses that I perceive in it when it becomes unaccountable or sits too loose to rootedness in the apostolic tradition.

    I’m valuing more and more the beauty of the liturgy and the strength of bible based preaching and their power to move. I see that happening on a weekly basis. I have on the other hand frequently ministered using the gifts of the Spirit in both trad and ‘new’ churches and have seen the benefits to each. The main thing, isn’t it, is to keep open to the prompting of the Spirit whether that happens thro’ ancient or modern material.

    • Hi David, Thanks for your kind comments – and you put your case well. I was hoping the post might stir a little discussion so thank you for responding! To be honest I’d love to be able to combine the best of both, to use the liturgy as a springboard into a deeper charismatic experience. It’s too often an either-or and I am not convinced that it needs to be that way. I would have been a bit happier if Steve Croft – who did give an excellent talk – had been more alert to the strengths of charismatic worship, and perhaps had explored why that approach is successful.

  2. Personally, I feel it’s important we engage with the discomfort of this either-or situation, because there’s so obviously riches in both. I think the devil himself splits them up and it will take gifted and self-sacrificial peacemakers to knit them back in special ways but I’m sure we’ll know when we’re managing it, just like I get goosepimples and tears at really good Churches Together services. God knows how the details get worked out, but we have to try…
    Interesting-looking link below to Michael Harper interview, charismatic turned orthodox priest, who kept his links with the charismatic movement until his death two months ago. Having just been to an Orthodox service this evening I had a fascinating chat with one of the cantors about this precise matter afterwards. He talked about ‘background liturgy’ against which people offer extemporary prayers to God in their hearts, and spoke of seeing this parallel praying most vividly in a poor Romanian city church. He himself is Bulgarian and a wonderful soul. Being ‘ecumenical’ (nasty word, great concept) is so rewarding.
    Shalom, good blog Richard – you’re a man of integrity and great humour (and far too many boring jumpers), T

  3. Hi Tom,

    I often visit Romania and can confirm the scenario your friend described. Within the Nave, worship can seem like a kaleidoscope, always moving as people do different things, such as venerating icons, or kneeling at a place of prayer, yet always ‘contained’ within the whole. I particularly notice the attentiveness to God that there is, and the dialoguing between God, his Word and his people that is at the heart of Liturgy. I’ve been privileged to be invited behind the Iconostasis many times during worship, where the same basic dynamics apply and some how the Iconostasis is not a (man made) barrier but an enabler, depending of course on how well the Priests and deacons lead!

    I’m glad to hear that blessed Michael Harper kept up his links with charismatics

  4. a lateral thought, following a facebook conversation with a colleague regarding the ‘joys’ of administration (he moans a bit, and I sympathise). This is one of the areas that can be a real trial, not so much during a Curacy but certainly at incumbent level. Not many medium or small-sized parishes have a dedicated Administrator (though creative work in sharing resources across deaneries etc can be done). It seems to me that Clergy need to believe that and behave as if the HS can be blessing and guiding these seemingly ‘non-spiritual’ aspects of the calling. Filing, planning, keeping records up to date, producing the parish mag or pew sheet etc etc, are all vital to making the church ‘work’. What do others think?

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