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Old Paths and New Ways

Negotiating Tradition and Relevance in Liturgy


Robert Lilleaasen

The relationship between tradition and relevance is a core feature in religious practice in general and public worship in particular. On the one hand, worship is a bearer of religious traditions, i.e. traditions are maintained in the practice of public worship, and the worship enables individuals to connect with these traditions. On the other hand, it is a quest for relevance in public worship. In order to maintain existing worshippers and attract new participants, congregations have to consider their ability to connect their core values to the needs and expectations of existing and potential participants. This dual purpose of the worship causes a need for negotiation, and it is this negotiation between tradition and relevance that this book investigates. Old Paths and New Ways is a case study of the negotiation between tradition and the quest for relevance in liturgy.

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Chapter One: Introduction


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1.1  Field of Inquiry

“For where two or three come together in the name of Jesus, there is disagreement.” I no longer remember who first shared this misquote of Matthew 18:20 with me, but I find the ironic comment both amusing and interesting. The original quote of Jesus, according to Matthew, is: “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” In my view, the original quote provides a good point of departure for ecclesiology and liturgical study; church is the coming together in the name of Jesus.1 In terms of liturgy this suggests the actual coming together is the most distinct and specific expression of local ecclesiology. To some extent the worship is an essence of the ecclesiology, in other words, if it is important to the congregation it is visible in the worship. This connection between church and worship is reflected in various ways and on various levels. In everyday language the link between ecclesiology and liturgy is expressed with phrases such as “going to church” which in most cases means attending worship. Likewise, the seventh Article of the Augsburg Confession, “Concerning the Church,” connects church to worship in the very definition of the church.2 These perspectives highlight the importance of worship practice, and suggest why in many cases it causes tension and disagreement. In my experience there is some truth in the ironic misquote above...

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