Today I had reason to read Orthodox theologian Bradley Nassif's article "Reclaiming the Gospel" again (click on title to read it), and again I was impressed by what he has to say in regard to Eastern Orthodoxy in both its Eastern and Western milieus. But I also think it may be relevant to all liturgical churches. I love liturgical worship, it is second nature to me, such that I feel uncomfortable, even unable to pray aright, in non-liturgical worship services (e.g. your average Baptist church). That no doubt says a lot about my personal history, my personality and my aesthetic sensibility, and a Baptist might well respond with a "different horses for different courses" type of argument, but in the end I think the matter of worship style is about more than personal preference and that there are good theological reasons for liturgical worship.
But I love the Gospel even more than liturgical worship, and being present in liturgical worship services where the Gospel is absent makes me even more uncomfortable, and it could even destroy my faith if it was my weekly fare. Splendid high church liturgical experiences may please my aesthetic sensibility, but in my experience at least, they are all too rarely vehicles for the Gospel.
Of course, liturgy and Gospel need not be set in opposition to each other, and that is one of the joys of being Lutheran. But at a time when many Lutherans are enamoured of high liturgical churches like Rome and Orthodoxy, partly at least because they appear to offer sanctuary, beauty and stability at a time when many Lutheran congregations and church bodies are struggling with the question of their identity, Nassif strikes a warning note.
In fact, Nassif sounds to me very much like a Lutheran, or at least very Evangelical in the best sense of that word, i.e. a Gospel person. May God bless his work of bringing a deeper knowledge of the Gospel to Orthodox people. Here's how he concludes his article:
"if we Orthodox wish to possess a truly incarnational, trinitarian faith, we will constantly need to recover the personal and relational aspects of God in every life-giving action of the Church. Failure to keep the gospel central will constitute an experiential denial of our own faith. We must stop our religious addiction to "Orthodoxy" and its "differences" with the West. We need rather to recover the evangelical dimensions of our total Church life. The liturgy itself exhorts us to that end. The four Gospels are the only books that sit upon the very center of the altar because in them alone do we hear the Good News -- all else in the Church is commentary. It is the Bible which guides and judges the Church, not the other way around. Thus, in the words of St. John Chrysostom, whose name our liturgy bears, "The lack of Scriptural knowledge is the source of all evils in the Church." I fear that many converts are coming to the Church through a revolving door, quietly leaving because their lives and families are not being sufficiently fed. Only a gospel-transformation will make the Orthodox Church healthy enough to sustain the lives of parishioners who seek spiritual nourishment in our communities."