From Jonathan, at “Ponder Anew” – “Dear Church: An open letter from one of those millennials you can’t figure out”.
Ralph Martin writes: “The worship of the church means the pulsating of a ‘common life’ (koinonia) that flows through the body of Christ and in which the individuals participate through their baptism by one Spirit into one body (see 1 Cor. 12:13). To conceptualize the church at worship as made up of isolated units, however personal, each worshiping in a self-contained compartment, however closely associated, is really to mistake what the New Testament means by the church. As E. Schweizer well illustrates, the ideal set forth in the pages of the apostolic church is that of fellowship-in-worship. He deals critically with the latter-day notion of the Christian community as split between one speaker and a silent body of listeners; and equally his study rebukes the excessive individualism of what passes for worship in many modern churches. Recovery of the wholeness of the church’s life as ‘life together’ in Christ, in Bonhoeffer’s phrase, would go a long way to set our worship as a corporate exercise on a stable basis, and deliver modern congregations from ‘ministerial monopoly’ with one person conducting a virtuoso performance on the one side, and overemphasis on the narrowly individualistic–such as a disfigured Corinthian assembly where koinonia had tragically broken down–on the other” (The Worship of God: Some Theological, Pastoral, and Practical Reflections,12-13).
In the coming weeks, and months, I’ll be writing more about this topic, because it really goes to the heart of a shift I’ve experienced in my life and my theology. I’ll be posting more about the intersections of liturgy and practical ministry. God has given me many opportunities to get into the nitty-gritty, painful, work of walking alongside people in really messed-up situations. In a sense, I’ve been forced out of my “ivory-tower” of academic scholarship. In another sense, I’ve been encouraged that I’m in good company with many other faithful scholars who have gone before me. So, no new revelations will be forth-coming, but I will be sharing some of the wisdom that I’ve found, wisdom that’s been neglected.
Here’s a great piece by Jonathan, at Ponder Anew. Jonathan exposes some assumptions and problems with “contemporary worship,” but I especially love his conclusion. The way to grow churches is not through flashy concert-performances, but by living out missional lives in our communities. The whole article is worth reading, but here’s Jonathan’s conclusion:
“So what happens, then, if we don’t craft our worship services to attract unbelievers?
We’ll have to get serious again about Sunday. All of us. And then as the clock strikes noon, we’ll have to go.
Go out and feed the hungry.
Go out and clothe the naked.
Go out and associate with people who don’t look like us, don’t think like us, don’t act like us, don’t vote like us, and don’t usually like us.
Go out and fight for justice.
Go out and end oppression.
Go out and proclaim anew the old, old story.
Go out and reach out to those who are running from God and God’s church.
Go out and stop deflecting tough questions with our usual, tired cliches.
And do all of this in the name of the one who sent us.
And then open the doors wide again on Sunday morning.”
I recently discovered that one of the classic texts on Presbyterian & Reformed liturgies is now available for free on Google Books! Charles Baird’s A Chapter on Liturgies: Historical Sketches was a ground-breaking work published in the late 1800s, when many people were ignorant of the rich liturgical history of the Reformed churches. Baird’s project was so novel (given the anti-liturgical prejudices in the Reformed world at the time) that he published the first edition of the work anonymously. It bore the unwieldy title of Eutaxia; Or the Presbyterian Liturgies: Historical Sketches, by A Minister of the Presbyterian Church (now republished by Forgotten Books in a facsimile format). Although the research is dated and must be compared with more recent scholarship, it is well worth perusing. Unfortunately, much ignorance and prejudice about liturgy still prevails in Reformed churches. Baird’s even-handed and honest history will help many churches grow and appreciate the liturgical resources in their own traditions.
In his article, “The Emerging Divide in Evangelical Theology,” published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 56/2 (2013), 355-77, Gerald McDermott surveys theological and cultural developments in the Evangelical world. The article is helpful and illuminating throughout, but his three suggestions at the end of the article are directly related to the vision of the Reformed Liturgical Institute. These suggestions are given in the hopes of healing the growing divisions in the Evangelical world.
His first suggestion is, “evangelicals would have to look more seriously at their own tradition [and he then holds up Jonathan Edwards as an example of how to be faithful to both Scripture and tradition]” (376).
Secondly, “evangelical theology would need to renounce the triumphalism that has heretofore treated church history as little more than darkness before the Reformation or 18th-century awakenings. It would need to submit to a vision of the whole that can be found only by living in the whole (theological) tradition” (376).
“Third, evangelical theologians need to beware of the peculiarly academic sort of ambition that seeks acceptance and recognition by our liberal colleagues” (376).
His concluding observations are right on target: “I will go so far to say that if evangelical theology does not adopt these suggestions, it will not survive. But it will strengthen itself and preserve itself against internal dissolution if it sees itself as a reform movement in the church catholic. The monastic movements, the Christian reform movement, the Dominican preaching revival, the Franciscans, and the Reformation itself thrived and influenced the broader church by relating to and learning from the broader church. Only if evangelical theology sees itself as a renewal and reform movement raised up by the Spirit from amidst and for the purpose of the wider church catholic, and therefore learns from that universal church, will it save itself from disintegrating into even more subjectivist and individualistic sects, many of them neither evangelical nor orthodox.
“Evangelicals have always put a premium on the local church. If they have talked about the universal church, typically they have thought only in terms of the universal church of fellow evangelicals. It is time for evangelicals to look more broadly, at the universal church beyond evangelical boundaries, not only around the world today, but especially to the last two thousand years of rich theological reflection” (376-77).
In his wonderful book, The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath, Mark Buchanan muses on the meaning of “liturgy”:
“I was converted within a Low Church tradition … Yet over time I began to realize that the Low Church is just as bound by liturgy as any church, and maybe more so because we think we’re not. The Low Church enshrines–makes a liturgy of–austerity, spontaneity, informality. And we have our unwritten but nonetheless rigorously observed codes and protocols. We love our traditions, even our rigmarole, every bit as much as the next guy, only ours is earthy, rustic, folksy.
“So I changed my mind about liturgy. It certainly can become dull and rote, but so can anything … At its best, liturgy comprises the gestures by which we honor transcendent reality. It helps us give concrete expression to deepest convictions. It gives us choreography for things unseen and allows us to brush heaven among the shades of earth.
“Our most significant relationships and events have a liturgical shape to them. They have rites of passage. Birthdays and homecomings, graduations and good-byes. Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter, birth and death and marriage: all are marked by words and actions, songs and symbols, customs and traditions that enact them and complete them. And all these things also provide us with a means of entering them. What is a birthday without a cake, at least one candle burning on it, and a huddle of well-wishers, wearing clownish hats, singing in their ragged, hoary voices? What is a birthday without a liturgy?
“What liturgy accomplishes is nothing short of astonishing: It breaks open the transcendent within the ordinary and the everyday. It lets us glimpse the deeper reality–the timeless things, the universal ones, the things above–within this particular instance of it” (The Rest of God, 8-9).
Buchanan goes on to explain meaning of the Greek word for “liturgy” in its ancient context, and why it was “odd” for the early church to use it to describe its public worship. But, you’ll just have to get the book and read it for yourself. It’s well worth it!
We’ve all heard the romanticized story of how Jenny Geddes, the rustic Scotswoman, was so disturbed by the King of England’s imposition of English Anglican prayers on the Scots Presbyterians, that she threw her stool at the minister in St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh, in 1637.
Sorting legend from historical fact here is tricky, but I’ve always wondered why she had a stool in the first place. Seating in churches was a relatively late development–churches throughout the early church and medieval times would have been bare of seating, for the most part. Pews are a modern development. So, if you wanted to bring seating, you had to bring your own. But, there’s a more depressing side to Jenny Geddes and her stool. According to William D. Maxwell, the noted liturgical historian of the early 20th century, women were sometimes not allowed to sit with the men in Scottish Reformed churches. I will quote him at length, because he really messes with a few of our mental pictures for Scots Reformed worship:
“The attitude at prayer everywhere was kneeling, on both knees or on one knee; hats were removed for prayers, psalms, and reading, but were usually though not always worn during sermon by the preacher and the men, and the women wore plaids or shawls on their heads, and in many places sat separate from the men.”
He continues in a footnote, quoting the decision of board of elders in Glasgow, in 1589: “‘The session ordains that no woman sit upon or occupy the forms the men should sit on, but either sit [i.e. on the floor] or els bring stools wi’ them’. Forty-eight years later [Maxwell comments] Jenny Geddes (?) obediently brought her stool with her, but allowed it to be put to more aggressive use, and this method was not the last time stools were used as weapons in church, as records of this and the succeeding century show” (William D. Maxwell, A History of Worship in the Church of Scotland, 97).
So, not only did we have Scots Presbyterians kneeling to pray (I thought that was a Roman Catholic thing!) and wearing hats in church, but we had women often segregated from the men, forced to sit on the floor or on stools they brought to church with them. Well, hopefully their husbands carried their stools to church for them. Humorous at the least, but also revealing how much of our worship is dictated by our historical context and culture.
“Readings & Devotions for Lent” from the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches. Each day has meditations and prayers from various pastors within the CREC. I’ve been pleased with Christocentric focus and the attempt to rethink Lent in classical Protestant directions.