Sunday, July 15, 2007

Oddball Rites

A couple months ago I read a web page written by someone who was big-O Orthodox and describing what goes on in such a service. It seemed quite strange to me. I thought about how I was raised and thought, no way. But at the same time, I also thought, this is probably as close to whatever it was the apostles did on Sunday as anything I'm ever going to see in this lifetime. It is strange to take the forms and customs of two thousand years ago and look at them through the eyes of a 21st century American.

And I realized that we'd look just as strange with our powerpoint slide shows and our seven-eleven praise songs. But this morning after the first couple songs, they turned down the lights. I knew what was coming. When I was a kid we called them "skits" but in today's worship services they are called "dramas" and there's a drama team and one particular person in our church who is really into that.

My wife is a thespian and I think she sacrifices a lot being married to me. I happen to despise skits in church. I'm not saying they're evil, just that I don't like them. I suspect that if I was merely indifferent about skits in church, she'd really like to be involved. And it's not that there was anything I could pick apart as being unscriptural or untrue about the skits at church. They're just not what I like.

When I look at the "value equation" for church, the repetitive praise songs and the skits don't contribute any lift to the airframe. Same goes for "liturgical dance." What gets my blood pumping are those centuries-old anthems, and content-rich sermons that are sharp enough to cut spirit and soul. I'm OK with the powerpoint slides because they're handy. But it bugs me that the only way I know when the song is done is the copyright notice on the last slide.

This term, "value equation" is one I started using for church when I drank the Rick Warren, "Purpose Driven Church" kool aid. I like it because I am an evangelical. I think I've got the truth and I'd like to make sure everyone else gets a chance to hear it. And if you've got a church service that's chock full of stuff nobody understands, there's not much "worship with understanding" that Luther advocated.

What got me thinking about is that the Pope has decided it's OK to do the "Tridentine Mass" without permission from the local bishop. The first time I heard "tridentine" I thought about chewing gum. I've used the Latin Mass as an example of "what not to do" back when I taught Sunday School. I wasn't ragging on Catholics: I don't think Evangelicals should speak in code that only we understand. We have to translate what we say and do into terms others understand. This is the main reason why I was attracted to a church that does a lot of "dramas" and has "liturgical dance."

Blythefield do a good job of speaking in the language of the people who live nearby and saying things you don't have to be a lifetime Baptist to find important. I think this is more important than whether the church service has the same smells and bells of a 1st century Middle Eastern church service. And I don't think I should stay away because others want to do skits or have dancing girls in church.

I think church liturgy is very important today. Congregations are looking around for ways to use the service to communicate something transcendent to those in attendance. In a more modern era, we saw a greater focus on teaching and the sermon. I'm fine with that. But in these post-modern days, a lot of people are looking for something that communicates transcendence. I think that's why Orthodoxy and the Latin Mass are doing well right now. The trouble with going through motions prescribed a thousand years ago is that it doesn't engage the rational faculties. Yes, there's a feeling of transcendence, but is there any thoughts worthy of it?

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