A generation of young Christians from different backgrounds and traditions are finding a home and deep connection in the church by embracing a liturgical expression of the faith. What are the roots of liturgy and how does it fit with scriptural worship?
Bible Gateway interviewed Winfield Bevins (@winfieldbevins) about his book, Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Allure of Liturgy for a New Generation (Zondervan, 2019).
What are “historic, liturgical practices of worship” and what’s the difference between “low church” and “high church”?
Winfield Bevins: To many contemporary Christians the term liturgy may be foreign. The origin of liturgy comes from worship in the early church and unites the body of believers in the essential work of the people: the worship of the one true God. The word liturgy comes from the Greek word leitourgia, which means the work of people.
Throughout this book, I use the term liturgy in a broad sense to refer both to something we do together in corporate liturgical worship and to individual liturgical practices, which are practices that help us root our daily in the worship of God. To divide corporate liturgy from the individual liturgical practices—and individual practices from the corporate—is to create a false dichotomy. Even private liturgical practices are rooted in the larger rhythms of the corporate liturgy. I use this broad meaning of liturgy, therefore, that includes both corporate and individual practices.
“High church” employs a more ceremonial and expanded liturgy, while “low church” employs fewer ceremonial practices. The reality is all churches have a liturgy; the question is whether or not it’s a good liturgy.
What are you observing about the interest of liturgy among young Christians?
Winfield Bevins: While a growing number of young adults are leaving the church, there are other trends as well. Many young believers, from different backgrounds and traditions, are staying in the church while embracing a liturgical expression of the faith. And while it’s most noticeable among young adults, this trend is true of people of various ages and backgrounds as well; believers who are seeking to recover ancient practices of the Christian faith.
For two years, I’ve traveled across the United States, Canada, and England visiting churches, cathedrals, universities, and seminaries. I’ve listened to dozens of young adults share how they’ve embraced Christian liturgy. I’ve heard stories about how liturgy is impacting many lives, and I’ve interviewed hundreds of young adults and leaders to hear their stories about how liturgy has impacted their faith. By interviewing young adults from across the United States, I’ve uncovered eight major reasons why a new generation is following the allure of liturgy which I discuss more in depth in Ever Ancient, Ever New.
- Holistic Spirituality
- Sense of Mystery
- Historic Rootedness
- A Counter Cultural Faith
- Belonging to the Universal Church
- Sacramental Spirituality
- Gracious Orthodoxy
- Spiritual practices
What is the “fourfold pattern of the liturgy”?
Winfield Bevins: There’s a historic four-part pattern of the liturgy—Gathering, Hearing, Feeding, and Sending—and how it forms those who participate in communal worship. To be more specific, the structure of liturgy invites those who are on a journey of worship to join in the story of God through worshiping in song, hearing the Scriptures, listening to a sermon, remembering the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus at the Communion Table, and being sent back into the world in mission. This four-fold pattern offers a unique yet simple way to structure a worship service and can be adapted to any context of worship, whether ancient or modern.
How does the Bible factor into liturgical worship?
Winfield Bevins: The Bible is at the very heart of liturgical worship. In fact, most liturgical services have four or five different readings of Scripture. In the liturgical service, the story of God is retold primarily through the reading aloud of the Scriptures and the recitation of prayers and responsive readings. These readings usually include passages from the Old Testament, a Psalm, something from the Epistles, and a passage from the Gospels. Saturating the service with Scriptures from the Old and New Testaments, the liturgy makes the Word of God the very foundation of worship. During the reading of the Word, we sit, listen, reflect, and remember that we belong to a larger story than ourselves. This posture of receiving the Word of God forms us because, as we hear the Word of God, the Spirit applies its truths to our hearts and minds.
How can liturgy factor into modern church planting?
Winfield Bevins: I’ve identified a growing number of new churches that are embracing liturgy for a post-modern context. I call them “neo-liturgical” churches. Their worship is an example for what liturgy can look like when combined with new forms of worship—instead of making it either ancient or new, it’s both. This convergence of old and new resonates deeply with the type of young adults we’re exploring in this book. These neo-liturgical churches have come to embrace the richness of the liturgical way of living out the Christian faith. Young adults have found these churches to be places of worship that have provided spiritual formation and deep community.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Winfield Bevins: I love the book of Psalms as a whole. There are exactly 150 Psalms, which expound and explore a wide range of diverse subject matter. Topics such as war, peace, repentance, forgiveness, joy, happiness, worship, praise, and prayer can be found within the pages of the Psalms. The Psalms have been the prayerbook for God’s people since before the time of Christ and they continue to provide comfort and guidance for thousands of pilgrims who share in the journey of life. The Psalms remind us that we are not alone in our pilgrimage, but that God is with us.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?
Winfield Bevins: I love it! Anyway we can encourage and empower Christians to read their Bible is a good thing, especially in our digital world! I encourage people and churches to take advantage of this amazing resource.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Winfield Bevins: I don’t think the recovery of liturgy is merely a trend among young people; it’s something much bigger than I first realized. The allure of liturgy isn’t just a passing fad or the latest gimmick; it represents a longing for roots that connect us to another reality; a world set apart that runs parallel to our modern age. It’s a longing for ancient practices that form our faith and connect us to the larger body of Christ, preparing us for God’s mission in the world.
Ever Ancient, Ever New is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: Winfield Bevins serves as the director of Church Planting at Asbury Seminary and as Canon for Church Planting for the Anglican Diocese of the Carolinas, director of Re-Missioning for Fresh Expressions US, and director of the New Room Regional Network. As a seasoned practitioner, he has trained hundreds of leaders from diverse backgrounds on four different continents. One of his passions is to help others connect to the ancient roots of the Christian faith for spiritual formation and mission. He is the author of Ever Ancient, Ever New and Marks of a Movement: What the Church Today Can Learn from the Wesleyan Revival. He and his wife, Kay, have three beautiful girls, Elizabeth, Anna Belle, and Caroline.
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