Without Form and Void: The Usefulness of Liturgies and Written Prayers -- By: Monte E. Wilson
RAR 12:1 (Winter 2003) p. 23
Without Form and Void: The Usefulness of Liturgies and Written Prayers
I still remember my first “liturgical service.” I’d been preaching in an evangelistic crusade in south Florida. Hundreds of young people attended every evening. One of the young people went to an Episcopalian minister and encouraged him to invite me to speak in their church, which he did. I was a bit nervous about the venue, to say the least. My father was a Southern Baptist pastor, so all my life I had heard about these “Whiskypalians” who utilized the smoke and mirrors of prayers by rote and sermonettes by mini-popes to mask the reality that God was nowhere to be found. I decided to go ahead and minister—after all, these folks obviously needed the pure gospel.
I was humiliated. In all my years I had never witnessed such fervent devotion, depth of commitment, or so high a degree of biblical literacy. Not only did the service contain more use of the Scriptures than in any service I had ever attended but it also dripped with God’s presence.
I had always considered “forms to be devices of the Devil, instruments with which to quench the Spirit. Of course, the fact that my Baptist service followed an unwritten-but-always-followed-form never crossed my mind.
One of my chief arguments with any notion of “form” was that I believed it to be a substitute for “content.” Worship
RAR 12:1 (Winter 2003) p. 24
could have one or the other, but not both. The Pharisees had their forms, but they—both Pharisees and forms—were without the Spirit. End of discussion.
Moreover, how could the church blindly embrace practices that were nowhere to be found in the Bible? First Corinthians left no room for misunderstanding: everyone was to arrive to worship with something to offer, whether it be a gift, a psalm, a spiritual song or a reading from Scripture. This seemed to me to mean that the congregation must be led of the Spirit, which meant that forms were of no use. “Spontaneity” was to be the ruling principle.
To Form ...
I remember the day God began to reshape my approach to worship and the idea of forms. I was reading the creation account in Genesis chapter one. “The earth was a formless void.” Did God leave the earth in this state? No. He spent the next days giving form and filling the void. After he created Adam, God told him to take creation and shape it into something even more beautiful than it was in its present condition. Mankind was commissioned to beautify creation, to subdue the earth and all it contained for God’s glory. Adam was to bring “form” to creation.
When Solomon built the temple, God gave ...
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