Friday, 1 October 2010

How To Pray With The Spirit

"No man can assure me that the words of his ex tempore prayer are the words of the holy Spirit: it is not reason nor modesty to expect such immediate assistances to so little purpose, he having supplied us with abilities more then enough to expresse our desires aliundè, otherwise then by immediate dictate; But if we will take David's Psalter, or the other Hymnes of holy Scripture, or any of the Prayers which are respersed over the Bible, we are sure enough that they are the words of Gods spirit, mediately or immediately, by way of infusion or extasie, by vision, or at least by ordinary assistance. And now then, what greater confidence can any man have for the excellency of his prayers, and the probability of their being accepted, then when he prayes his Psalter, or the Lords Prayer, or any other office which he finds consigned in Scripture? When Gods spirit stirres us up to an actuall devotion, and then we use the matter he hath described and taught, and the very words which Christ & Christs spirit, and the Apostles, and other persons, full of the Holy Ghost did use; If in the world there be any praying with the Spirit (I meane, in vocall prayer) this is it."
Jeremy Taylor, An Apology for authorized and set forms of Liturgy against the Pretence of the Spirit (1649). (I thought for a moment about modernising Taylor's language, but how can one touch the prose of this "Shakespeare amongst the Divines"?)

I quoted this paragraph from the great Anglican divine over at an evangelical Anglican forum (Sydney Anglicans here in Australia) where they are kind enough to let this ex-Anglican participate. The subject of discussion is the need to re-consider the place of liturgy in their tradition in response to the subjectivism of the non-liturgical worship they are used to. But these thoughtful folk will have to overcome deep-set prejudices if they are to lead their people way back to the riches of liturgical worship. Just why do people who sing the same song chorus over and over baulk at the thought of praying written prayers, even when those prayers are taken from Spirit-inspired scripture? It is surely one of the great mysteries of modern church life!

I was reminded of something that was said following the baptism of our first son, which took place during a typical Lutheran communion service with a sung liturgy. My wife's uncle, a lay preacher (yes, I know it's an oxymoron, but I use the term purely in the descriptive sense) with the Assemblies of God, remarked afterwards that "in our service we hear mostly the word of a man, but in your service you hear mostly the Word of God." I couldn't have put it better myself!


Matthias said...

Pastor even though i enjoyed my church's thursday night service last night,except for the repetetive singing of hymns,I thought as the Pastor about the place of liturgy and how in the service i was at, it was just one person's speaking from his own notes,whilst the liturgy comes from a historical perspective

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Which is exactly what my wife's uncle was getting at, Matthias. And since what we say and do in worship always teaches what we believe, this is increasingly problematic, as my Anglican friends are evidently finding out. Of course, worship is always liturgical - even Pentecostals have a liturgy, in the sense of an ordered and customary way of doing things - the question is, will it be good liturgy or bad liturgy according to what it teaches and how it functions?

Melanchthon said...

Folks are often surprised when I show them that the majority of our liturgy comes straight from Scripture. In many ways, we are singing/ praying God's words back to him.

I sometimes come across a "comtemporary" liturgy from 20 or 30 years ago and it sounds so dated! The classic liturgy is timeless.

Matthias said...

The Churches of Christ in which i grew up had a liturgy especially on Sunday Mornings when it came to the Lord's Supper. Although the service was led by laymen-now women of course- it was orderly,with communion occurring in the middle and the sermon at the end.
My church on a Thursday nite,when communion is celebrated , is more haphazard,with singing repetitively,then the pastor or Lay leader gets up to speak about the reason for Communion ,then we take the Bread and Wine-grapejuice ,we are Baptist-.
why do i go you may say,well firstly the sense of Community is real and I have not expereinced anything like it in any of the Churches i have attended before.
Secondly,the teaching is Christ Centred
Thirdly the outreach is at a loca level-soup kitchenand a Homeless taskforce ,and global level-supporting church planting in india as well as an orphanage there and women developing skills as dressmakers,and then there is a myriad of projects in East Timor
out of curiosity Pastor,the first photo at the head of this section which showed a Pentecostal meeting,where was that taken ?

Pr Mark Henderson said...

I think even many Lutherans don't realise where the liturgy comes from. We had Daniel Preus out here a couple of years ago and he simply went through the chief communion service of the LCA (the Common Service) and showed people where it came from in the scriptures and how Jesus-centred it all was (and Trinitarian, of course) and how it proclaimed the Gospel. He also compared it with various "non-liturgical" liturgies. It was an eye opener for lay-folk.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

The pic came from 'Bartimaeus's Quiet Place', a charismatic Catholic blog. I just found it through a Google search. I don't know where it was taken, he didn't credit it. I took it down because I felt uneasy about a pic which showed people at worship perhaps without their permission - thought maybe it was exploitative.

I went to a Church of Christ service once when I was exploring different churches; they had the sermon after communion too. It seemed strange at the time. The sermon wsa also kind of tag-teamed between two preachers.

In the Lutheran Church we have the sermon before communion because it is intended to prepare us for communion. This is very ancient practice - the service of the Word in the Western liturgy goes back to the synagogue of Jesus' time. I suppose there is no absolute reason why one could not have the sermon after communion, especially if the latter was a reflection on the gift. It would depend on the context, and would be an exception rather than the rule. When you move things around in the liturgy, the function (i.e. what the liturgy does to/for us) changes, so one needs to think carefully about this.