Now, Contending for the Faith. In this regular feature, Dave and Tom respond to questions from listeners and readers of The Berean Call. Here’s this week’s question: “Dear Dave and T.A., What do you two think of liturgy in the church? One of my friends has left our fellowship to join a church, an Orthodox church, because he wanted more liturgy—something richer in the worship service, I believe he said. Is he off base in thinking that way? Or am I off in my thinking that he’s heading in the wrong direction? Thanks for your help in sorting this out.
Tom: Liturgy, Dave. I grew up with it. Lots and lots of it. But you didn’t.
Dave: Well, Tom, maybe you ought to explain. Liturgy would involve probably three things. The vestments of the person involved.
Tom: Wardrobe, almost.
Dave: Yeah, well it would involve more than three things: Paraphernalia, the ceremony itself, and the words.
Tom: Music, stained glass windows, statues, candles, Gregorian chant, I mean that’s my background.
Dave: Tom, I don’t need to tell you, but some other people out there may not know, Vatican II, the very first page in Volume I says it is through the sacred liturgy, especially in the sacrifice of the Eucharist, that the work of our redemption is accomplished. So, the Catholic Church thinks that it is—the work of redemption wasn’t finished on the Cross. They’re in the process. So the person who is doing the liturgy, and the organization behind it, they literally think that this somehow is helping draw us closer to God—that it is helping in man’s redemption.
Tom: It makes you feel closer to God.
Tom: I mean incense, and so on. But, Dave, what about you’re upbringing? I imagine walking into your fellowship would just be like walking into a room. Did you have anything there?
Dave: We didn’t even have a cross. And the first church meetings were in the home. “The church that is in his house,” Paul talks of. See, Tom, I can’t remember, I’m sure we must have dealt with it to some extent some time ago, but this is the underlying lie of the serpent in the Garden. This is what Eve swallowed. You know there are a number lies that he told. You can become gods, you won’t die, and so forth. But the really underlying one was that this physical fruit had some spiritual power that would make her wise. And that is what you have all down the line.
And the Catholic Church of course, sadly is one of the worst offenders. Well the Orthodox Church probably outdoes the Catholic Church. The idea that this wafer can’t just be a remembrance of Christ, of something that happened 1,900 years ago, which Jesus said was finished, and the Scripture says there is no more sacrifice for sin. But if we could just turn this into the physical body and blood of Christ, and then we have this wafer that represents—not only just represents, but it really becomes Christ. And now you ingest him into your stomach. Just think of the power of this. And if we can have these robes and….
You know, Jesus hung naked on the cross. There was nothing there in this regard that would work out our salvation. It was the fact that He paid the penalty for our sins. So liturgy, sacraments, Tom, they actually detract. Because now you’re looking to this physical thing, as Eve did, for some spiritual power. And it actually turns you away from the truth. It’s sad—it’s a tragedy. Instead of getting to know the Lord myself, meditating upon Him, thinking deeply of Him, being in communion with Him—suddenly I think, Wow! if we could have a little incense, if they could have some really terrific vestments….
Tom: Dave, the phrase is “bells and smells.”
Dave: “Bells and smells.” Okay? That this is going to draw me closer to the Lord. I sometimes liken it to this Tom. I don’t think I’ve ever used this illustration on this program: We go to a baseball game. Well, let’s say a football game. And, wow, fantastic action out there. The crowd is screaming and yelling and it’s just right down to the wire. It is so exciting! And we think, Man, this is fantastic. Why don’t we come back to the stadium tomorrow? There’s no teams out there, but we’ve got the cheerleaders whipping us up and everybody is yelling and shouting and so forth. See, that’s the difference between knowing God and really being in touch with Him. And just trying somehow to get something down here that represents and takes me away from the spiritual. Jesus said to the Jews in John 6—when you have the Catholic thinking when He says, “You must each my flesh and drink my blood,” it literally means flesh and blood. Jesus says, “The flesh profits nothing; the words that I speak, they are spirit and they are life.”
And, Tom it reminds me somewhat in evangelical circles, we’re going more to sound. Get those drums going! And get a snappy beat! And we’ve lost the words of some of the old hymns that really draw you close to the Lord—that really express your love for Him, and it has become empty, although you’ve got some substitute here that appeals to the flesh. That’s the liturgy, and we have that to some extent even in evangelical churches today. It’s very subtle.
Tom: Yeah, we’re to worship God in spirit and in truth. And to the degree that we see the flesh gravitating to other things, it’s not in spirit or in truth.
Dave: It’s like Jesus said to the woman at the well: “You drink of this water, you will thirst again. You drink of the water I give you, you’ll never thirst.”
She thought He was talking about some H2O. In fact, he was not. He was talking about the reality of Himself and the salvation He would give her. That’s the difference, Tom. We’ve gone back to the physical; the things that appeal to the sensual. And that is not going to help us. It is counterproductive. We need to get back to God himself and to His Word.