I’m not the type to toot my denominations horn. As a matter of fact, until a year or so ago, I didn’t think denominations mattered. They do, but that’s not the point of this post. I grew up Baptist and I can’t remember ever attending anything outside of that—except one time when my family thought it would be a good idea to attend midnight mass at First United Methodist Church on Christmas Eve. I would probably think differently about that experience now if I could do it over again, but then I just wanted to go home, eat cookies, drink hot chocolate, and maybe convince my parents to let me open a gift early.
Recently, my wife and I have found ourselves church-less. We are in a weird transition period. I’m done with seminary and looking for open ministry positions, something along the lines of associate pastor, discipleship, connections, etc. So, we decided to step outside of our Baptist upbringing and visit some different traditions. On Sunday we visited Park Cities Presbyterian Church. For me, Presbyterianism is an obvious choice. Though I grew up Baptist, I was discipled in high school with the Westminster Confession of Faith, which heavily influenced the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. The theology between the two confessions is almost indistinguishable, except for a few differences in church order.
The verdict? We loved it. I’m not sure how “high church” it was because, like I said, I don’t have much experience outside of Baptist life—the priest wore robs, there were various forms of liturgy, and the choir entered from the back of the church in procession. So, needless to say it was the highest church form I’ve ever experienced. Here are a couple things that stuck out to us:
1. High church does not equal traditionalism. I read one author who said, “Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living and tradition is the living faith of the dead.” A common critique I hear regarding churches with high forms of liturgy is it’s wooden and rigid. Our experience was quite the opposite. In Baptist circles, I generally know what to expect: Opening Songs, Welcome/Greetings, Songs, Sermon, Invitation, Offering, Closing. This form is in just as much danger of becoming stale as high forms, and the same goes for edgy, contemporary communities as well. Now, before I go further I want to make it clear that I don’t necessarily think there is anything wrong with the Baptist form and I’m not saying that it is wooden. Knocking my upbringing is not an interest for me. However, at PCPC, there were more aspects of worship : Preparation, Call and Response, Singing, Prayer, Corporate and Private Confessions, multiple Scripture readings, Thanksgiving, and the Benediction. I’m not saying the Presbyterian way is better or worse, but simply that you can’t look at the liturgy on the surface and make a judgment call about the heart of the worship. There are churches that practice high forms of liturgy that are alive, as well as contemporary communities that are dead.
2. It was intensely theological. Every aspect of the service clearly taught something about the nature and character of God, as well as the nature and character of man. There was no question that PCPC is distinctly Trinitarian, because the first song we sang was a celebration of the God-head. I had never heard these words, but I was very familiar with the tune (To God be the Glory), which is popular in Baptist circles. Take a look:
Likewise, they believe in human inability (depravity) to do any godly work, as we confessed corporately from the Belgic Confession of Faith, “We are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not He to us, since it is He who worketh in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Article 24).” That article is worth your time to read. I very much enjoyed this about the service as each aspect of the liturgy was dripping with theological truth. Again, I’m not saying that Baptists have no theological truth in their worship, but perhaps we could learn something from our Presbyterian brothers and sisters regarding other worship forms that convey the same theological truths in different ways. Corporate confessions of faith and recitations of various creeds are a couple of things that I would like to see reintroduced into Baptist worship.
From visiting one Sunday, those are just a couple of things that stuck out to us. We will most likely go back this Sunday and see how it changes week to week. I encourage anyone who might be reading this to check out some other traditions if you have been locked into one your entire life. I’m not saying abandon ship, but there is so much you can learn from simply observing other traditions. At the end of the day, we are all a part of the one, holy catholic faith—united by the blood of Christ and sealed by the Spirit.
If you have visited some other traditions, what was your experience?