Bridging the divide between liturgy and awakening

I recently posted a quotation from Bo Giertz’s essay Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening (itself a chapter from Bishop Giertz’s introductory letter, or herdabrev, to his diocese on becoming bishop of Gothenburg in 1949).

Pastor James Kellerman has written an interesting series of posts (1 | 2 | 3) in response to Bp Giertz’s essay. Pr Kellerman observes that Bp Giertz’s “high-church Pietism” often seems like a contradiction in terms to US evangelicals, for whom spiritual awakening has generally presented itself as “the mortal enemy of previously established churches and their liturgies and sacraments” – a tendency also found among UK evangelicals. However, Pr Kellerman argues that Bp Giertz’s approach in Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening provides a means by which we can come to see that:

the liturgy is not the enemy of genuine spiritual awakening and vice versa, but that the one leads to the other.

Sometimes, as Pr Kellerman observes in his second post, awakening’s dismissal of liturgy arises from “self-righteousness and egocentricity”, from an unwillingness of the “awakened” to submerge the self in the “common service of worship”. But often there is a more “humanly understandable” reason for people’s dislike of the liturgy: simple differences of taste and temperament, that make the liturgy more congenial to some than to others. Bp Giertz writes:

There are people who find it difficult to feel at home in the liturgical forms. … [T]here are forms for reverent worship which are very natural to some people, so that they immediately feel at home in them, while other people find it hard to become accustomed to them.

How should the church respond to this? One answer is a “levelling down” of the Sunday worship service to remove all elements which some might find difficult or alienating: in short, to allow “awakening” to supplant “liturgy”. However, as Giertz observes in the quotation I posted previously, the end result is usually only a new form of liturgy that is quite as regular and predictable as the old, but which is “poorer, less Biblical, and less nourishing to the soul than the discarded ancient order”.

Equally, though, no church or Christian who cares about the world around can ignore the fact that liturgical worship often is more alien and unfamiliar than it was to previous generations – making it “solid food” for those whose constitutions are only able to bear “milk”.

In his third post, Pr Kellerman summarises Bp Giertz’s alternative proposal for bridging this divide.

He suggested that the liturgy of the common Divine Service held on Sundays and other festivals should be kept intact, but he allowed greater freedom for other, more informal gatherings of the church. The Divine Service is the common heritage for all Christians and is rich in biblical quotations and symbolism that give real sustenance to the mature. It should not be abandoned or drastically changed. But the church also needs to “speak to the children of the age in the language of the age about those things which have been forgotten but need to be heard again” (p. 14). This will take place outside of the Divine Service, in informal Bible studies and prayer groups and other activities that bring the unchurched, the de-churched, and the unbeliever into contact with God’s Word.

In Bp Giertz’s own words, the church must be “generous, open-minded, and tolerant”, while never allowing anything to “displace or be a substitute for the great fellowship of the Sunday common service”.

I’d be interested to know what people make of this. Is Bp Giertz’s approach correct or workable? Can it be translated from the setting of the Church of Sweden in the 1940s to the very different circumstances in which the churches (not least Lutheran churches) find themselves in today?


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