Glenn Packiam’s The Mystery of Faith – Another Testament to Modern Worship’s Increasing Embrace of Liturgy

Zac HicksConvergence of Old and New in Worship, Worship Theology & Thought2 Comments

Pentecostalism Meets Historic Liturgy

Several years ago, while still in Colorado, my wife, kids, and I stopped by New Life Church in Colorado Springs one Sunday evening to worship with the saints there.  Glenn Packiam was pastoring the community of Christians what would regularly gather in one of their smaller spaces on the megachurch campus.  I was taken aback by how much historic liturgy and practices were incoprorated into that service, especially when it was coming out of a church strongly seated in the Pentecostal tradition and well-known for their contemporary/modern worship output with New Life Worship and Desperation Band.  I posted about the experience here.

Since then, Packiam has taken a New Life congregation to downtown Colorado Springs, and it appears that they’ve even more deeply embraced the historic Christian worship tradition, because Packiam’s latest album, The Mystery of Faithis loaded–absolutely loaded–with rich, ancient liturgy.

The Album is a Worship Service

The album, especially the first eight tracks, loosely follows an historic Christian liturgy:

  • Call to Worship
    • “Victorious God”
  • Creed / Statement of Faith / Preparation for Confession
    • “For the Life of the World”
    • Nicene Creed
    • “Grace flows Freely Down”
  • Confession of Sin / Assurance of Pardon
    • Prayer of Confession
    • “We Confess” (which ends in an assurance)
  • Preparation for Communion / Eucharist
    • “The Lord Be With You”
  • Communion / Eucharistic Affirmation
    • “The Mystery of Faith”

You could literally run this album from top to bottom and suddenly be immersed in a trans-denominational, historic Christian liturgy, all set to modern, singable melodies and arrangements.  Needless to say, I love it.  Let’s just briefly unpack what’s happening in this album and why it’s so significant.  But just know that these are my observations and may not necessarily reflect Packiam’s intent in all places.

Dissecting the Liturgy of the Album

“Victorious God” celebrates Christ’s kingship and resurrection, inviting heaven and earth to join as one in worship.  It’s a beautiful Call to Worship, distilling the worship theology present in Revelation 4 and 5:

O sing, you heavenly choir,
Come on, Church, lift your voices higher
Look what our God has done
Rejoice

 “For the Life of the World” immediately makes me wonder whether Packiam has been reading Orthodox theologian, Alexander Schmemann’s work by that title.  Regardless, its loaded with Nicene allusion:

For us and for our salvation
You came from heaven to earth

That this connection to the historic Creed of Nicea is intentional is obvious from the fact that following the song is a beautiful recitation of the Creed, with many voices leading the proclamation of our faith. What this does is effectively ground a worship service in the objective person and work of Christ, not our subjective feelings.  This is nearly the opposite of what sometimes characterizes modern worship (songs which reflect how I feel about God, without adequate grounding in the gospel).

(Interesting sidenote: Packiam chooses to leave out what is called the “filioque clause,” the statement that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son [filioque].  This isn’t a small matter. In fact, it’s at the center of the division between the Eastern and Western Church.  Perhaps Packiam sides with the Eastern church [leaving out the filioque clause] simply because it’s more historic/original as a rendering of the Nicene Creed, but it might also be that Packiam is planting a theological flag in the sand.  The issue sounds a little silly at first, but there are important implications for Trinitarian theology in the debate.) 

The Prayer of Confession is straight from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, followed by a song, “We Confess,” that basically versifies the original language of the confession and then adds an Assurance of Pardon in a beautiful musical and melodic climax, moving from minor to major tonality:

As far as the east is from the west
So far have I removed your sinfulness
I carried your guilt and shame upon Myself
You are forgiven, forgiven 

The song then ends with an incomplete cadence, on the V chord, leading climactically (as if to say, “It’s not complete yet”) into what follows, “The Lord Be with You.”  Those familiar with historic Christian liturgy know this as the Sursum Corda, that classic congregational response that prepares the people for Holy Communion:

Leader: The Lord be with you
People: And also with you
Leader: Lift up your hearts now
People: We lift them to the Lord
ALL:
Let us give thanks to the Lord, our saving God
It is right and good
Always and everywhere
To give thanks to the Lord 

 It then moves into the next stage in the historic Christian liturgy, the Sanctus:

Holy, holy, holy
God of power and might
The whole earth is full of Your glory
Hosanna in the highest

The final song in the liturgy-section of the album is “The Mystery of Faith,” which is a beautiful, historic proclamation that summarizes what is known across liturgical traditions as the “Memorial Acclamation“: 

Christ has died
Christ is risen
Christ will come again
This is the mystery of faith that we proclaim 

Why this Album is Important

What I love about what is transpiring in this album is that Packiam is attempting to honor the Great Tradition while seeking to contextualize its expression to his local body.  Would to God that we had more thoughtful pastors and worship leaders who truly grappled with the reality of being a Church rooted in history yet planted in a particular time and context.  Many times, this double-call of the local church creates a tension that feels too intense, and we run to one side or the other–shirking tradition, or running from all things that smell like the culture.  The Mystery of Faith is a testament to one pastor’s journey in boldly standing in that tension, refusing to let go of the rope yanking from either side.  No doubt, this means that Packiam will receive criticisms from both sides, but I salute the work and am inspired by its model for my own church and context.

Taking one further step back, know that this album comes from a fairly mainstream worship artist/leader and on a definitively mainstream worship label–Integrity.  It may very well be a drop in the modern worship bucket, but it still signifies that a tiny tributary is routing off the main river, and that tributary is pouring into some fabulous territory.  Something’s happening.

 

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