No, not moron church lists, thought that could make an interesting post as well.
In response to a post about 10 ways to hinder your church, a commenter made some good points about other things that should be on the list:
The list is excessively focused on doctrine and public meetings. This is only a very small part of the church; it is also ‘leader’ centric; another very small part; because, you see, without love, its just empty. How to kill a church is to not love: to have selective friendships, to play favourites, to not support the weaker or needy brother or sister, to not commit to and engage in prayer together and for those in need; to not share your lives openly, unremittingly, sacrificially and joyfully, without pretence and preening.
. . .
It seems to me that in some churches, if its not nice and neat, suitable for polite conversation, it’s avoided.
I thought the original list didn’t mention enough about doctrine. Whole denominations are getting killed by poisonous liberal theology that denies so many essentials, such as Jesus’ deity and exclusivity, the physical resurrection, the authority of the Bible. If you can’t get the essentials right then you have no business calling yourself a church at all. It is false advertising of the worst kind.
That aside, the commenter was dead on about how churches can miss the point and get caught up in superficial concerns.
Even though our denomination (United Methodist) has some serious problems due to false teachers that worked their way into leadership positions, our local church is quite good. I could give countless examples, but here are a couple.
The love and care that get poured out isn’t just for long time or even active people or even members. One visitor lost his wife while she was delivering their second child. He was showered with countless hours of help, child care, meals, etc. for many months. It was touching when he joined, especially as he felt very welcome as a minority in a largely white church.
An Indian couple, now good friends of ours, had been ignored at a different church but were immediately embraced at ours. They have a thriving home Bible study and have led many former Hindus to Christ. They are very grateful for how welcomed they felt at our church.
Side note: Being in a small group — Sunday School classes and accountability groups in particular — is crucial to really feeling engaged at church. It is too easy to get lost, especially in large churches.
What would you add to the list that churches need to focus on so their work for the kingdom isn’t hindered?
34 thoughts on “More on church lists”
That is a good point, but one thing that is lost in our society today, and many in the “Christian” world is a false concept of love.
Most people now believe love is never confronting people, allowing them to do what they want, never becoming angry, hippy peace and love feelings, and generally just never condemning sin or sinful behavior.
That is not love. True love is telling someone when they are wrong. True love is disciplining when discipline is necessary.
For example: your child runs towards a busy street. Does love allow him to do what he wants? Or does love stop him and let him know he is headed for trouble and maybe even death if he doesn’t learn that running towards a busy street is not safe?
Same with church matters. If people have gone off the path and get involved with sin, does love let them continue unchecked, or does love demand trying to win those people back?
True love is sometimes being tough. Think Jesus tossing out the money changers, or dealing with the scribes and Pharisees.
The ‘love and church’ thing resonates with me. In my own case my whole family feels quite alienated from our conservative middle class church because of serial pastoral failure and practical lack of love. This is not a theoretical love, but started with my wife and putting before the minister our new baby via IVF. It failed. Our last embryo, but the minister didn’t seek any news at all. My wife was devastated, I was deeply sad that our little life (potential?) had not come to fruition.
This was just the tip of the iceberg, but signal of an attitude. So this church has ‘great’ sound doctrine, but because it seems to us to fail the love test, we don’t turn up for the doctrine: the clanging bell syndrome is at work there, I think! We’ve not been to a church meeting for a couple of months as a family because it sickens us. Do we join the ranks of the ‘loose’ Christians? We go to a home group where we study the Bible together, but even there there is no real sharing of lives. Too mechanical, and a failure of love, it would seem.
Hi Clive — thanks for sharing that. I’m sorry to hear you were neglected in a time of need.
All that said being right doctrinally without love is meaningless. That is the whole point of 1 Cor. chapter 13.
Regardless of a person’s opinion of Roman Catholicism, there is a tremendous amount to be learned by all from Catholicism’s near total meltdown in the United States in the span of basically 1 generation.
At the core of much of that was a real feminization of everything. This lead to a real loss of focus on the doctrinal core.
Being a very liturgical person, i think it’s also important that we consider liturgy. It’s no accident that many of the Old Line Protestant churches were liturgy heavy, nor is it an accident that a good number of Evangelical churches are rediscovering various forms of more stylized and formalized liturgy.
To this end, doctrine and liturgy go hand and hand. Stop and think, for a minute, of Catholic liturgy, of a priest in attractive vestments taking the liturgy incredibly seriously (preferably in latin). Is this activity reconcilable with very wishy washy doctrine of “I’m-okay-you’re-okay?” The image of a latin mass with a homily about how Jesus wants us all to feel good about ourselves, dude, is more than a bit laughable. Liturgy, the way we worship, really matters.
But when liturgy was watered down, the doctrinal center was abandoned, just about everything was feminized (from Church design, to vestments, to music, to doctrine, to activities), and in the span of a generation American Catholicism experienced near total meltdown.
It’s said that actions speak louder than words, and in the case of our collective worship, that means liturgy.
Hang on a second, your response to the feminisation of Catholicism is…………………dress up the priest?
To be simplistic, dress up the priest correctly
This: This is bad
This is even worse Warning, this link contains pictures of liturgy with puppets. You have been warned.
What will liturgy be like with such activities and vestments? Will it be focused on God or on man? Will it focus on the sacrifice of Christ, or will it be focused on us and our feelings? Will such liturgy be pointed towards God, or pointed towards us? Will it challenge us and elevate us, or will it make God seem banal and desperate to be part of the cool teenagers club? Is it beautiful? Men are attracted to beauty.
Consider, in turn, these pictures:
A typical image, a version of which has been (until the feminization of liturgy) used for several centuries to teach children about the mass. The vestments aren’t a joke, they are sublime and beautiful but also serious. Further, the image expresses how the purpose of liturgy is to be directed towards God entirely and the sacrifice of Calvary specifically.
Then we have this image Again, beauty is very important. Humans need and appreciate beauty. But it isn’t feminized.
By the way, in the last picture, the reason the priest’s chasuble is being held while offering the sacrifice? It’s symbolic. So he doesn’t run away like Judas at the last supper. Such a theological symbol in feminized liturgy and feminized Christianity is simply unthinkable. Since Judas was just misunderstood.
You may disagree with Catholicism, and even with the mass itself, but I feel these are very important cross denominational lessons.
I do find myself in agreement to some extent. I have read a lot recently about European history in the early modern period, and of course that includes the Reformation. I think pre-Reformation Christianity is poorly understood. Catholic imagery often seems over the top (and as you’ve just showed us often goes there too; Catholics have a knack for kitsch like nobody else), and is criticized by Protestants as being idolotrous or verging thereon. But the reason the churches were so visual was partly to provide a focus for worship for people who couldn’t read, or if they could, wouldn’t have had access to much reading material.
The advent of the printing press (spurred on by the Reformation) did much to change that of course.
With all the information overload of today it’s too easy to just dismiss it all as unnecessary.
“I think pre-Reformation Christianity is poorly understood.”
It is terribly misunderstood.
“(Catholics have a knack for kitsch like nobody else), and is criticized by Protestants as being idolotrous or verging thereon.”
I am not opposed to burning those responsible for puppet liturgies, or the building the liturgy took place in (just to be on the safe side).
“But the reason the churches were so visual was partly to provide a focus for worship for people who couldn’t read, or if they could, wouldn’t have had access to much reading material.”
Partly. But the role of beauty was also important, from the simple perspective that beautiful things were a good. People wanted beautiful Churches. The glories of this world are fleeting, but we can still build glorious things to point to God’s glory.
Also, consider that humans are visual creatures. Sound and vision are the main ways we experience beauty. People watch tremendous amounts of television and surf the internet in massive amounts. People clearly want and desire visual stimulation.
Again, the overall point I’m trying to make is that good liturgy is important. Consider it this way:
What should we give to God?
The very best of what we have.
I agree with almost everything you have said except the ‘preferably in Latin’ part. Can you elucidate on that, please?
Are you Catholic? I ask because it totally changes how I explain.
Yes, I am.
Okay. Quick over view of Catholicism (for this overview we’ll ignore our sadly separated Eastern brethren).
Catholicism believes itself to be the one true and universal faith. Within Catholicism (which is headed by the Pope) we’ve got a bunch of different Rites (a rite is like an almost entirely independent branch). There are something like 32 of these, but I’d have to look up the exact number. Roman Catholicism (also called Latin Rite) is one of those branches. It’s also the largest. Each Rite is headed by a Patriarch, who essentially has total authority over his Rite (the Pope is also the Latin Patriarch). Among the other branches are Eastern Rites that have returned and united with the Pope, ancient Rites that never left union with the Pope (like some that are found in the middle east, including some that still conduct liturgy in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke). But, it suffices to say that Catholicism does not = Roman Catholicism, it’s bigger than that. And that’s okay. It’s alright for folks in Rome to do an activity one way and folks in Jerusalem to do it a different way. They’re doing the same activity in different ways. Unity and diversity are not opposed.
So why this overview? Firstly, to recognize that each Rite has its own ancient and traditional form of liturgy, dating back centuries. Secondly, each Rite has its own language that it has always conducted its liturgy in.
Continuity with the past is a very important part of Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. The shift to having everything in vernacular (which, btw, was not called for by Vatican II) represents a significant and massive break centuries of tradition.
So, look at it from this perspective, say in the year 1975. In less than 6 years
1) The liturgy has totally been changed
2) The language has totally been changed
3) The focus of the worship has totally been changed
4) The music has totally been changed
5) The vestments have totally been changed
And you’re a regular Catholic in the pews. You’ve probably been pretty massively shocked by this. All of these things change… what about Doctrine? And hey, the Pope said some stuff about contraception and my priest says “Nah you don’t gotta listen to no Pope, contracept all you want! Doesn’t it make you feel better about yourself?!”
So in just a few years a tremendous shift has taken place. A faith that once prided itself on being a rational faith (infact, one of the prayers in the latin mass references this “Accept this rational sacrifice”, as compared to the irrational emotional-frenzy based faiths of the pagans) has, on a practical level, embraced pure emotional thinking on the local level.
It’s okay for liturgy to develop and change gradually (the best term to use is organically), but this doesn’t represent an organic development. It represents a sudden break with the past (a rupture). And the liberals used that and ran with it to the point where you get folks talking about “The Vatican II Church” and “The Church used to believe X, but now we believe Y.”
So, what have I tried to do here? I’ve tried to provide enough of an overview of the situation so non-Catholics can make sense of it, and then I’ve tried to use those examples to illustrate how changes in the liturgy produced a loss of faith.
So, why in Latin? For starters, because that was how it had always been done. Organic development of liturgy is fine but to organically develop from the past we have to pick up where we left off and develop from there. That is why Pope Benedict has worked to spread the Latin Mass, because the more that Latin Mass takes place, the more it informs the current vernacular mass and brings reverence back to it, bringing it into line with the continuity of the past centuries.
There are a whole lot of other reasons that are more nuanced, and if the community is interested in that discussion I’m glad to outline them a bit more, but I am a tad concerned that getting into the nuances of why the mass should be in latin may go slightly beyond the purpose of this blog.
I certainly wouldnt want to digress from the purpose of this blog. But am still genuinely curious about the subject. ‘Cause I know for a fact that my parents attended Latin Mass and it still amazes me that they had actually attended Mass in a language they had no clue of, all those years before the Second Vatican Council. Could people be really involved when they don’t understand a thing beyond reciting their prayers and responses in Latin. If there is no involvement of the heart and mind, what’s point of reverence? I mean, sure they would have attended the liturgy with reverence but would that really please God when we even recite the prayer Jesus taught us, a prayer which has the most personal effect, in a language which is not even our own? Just totally confused.
Anyway, I’ll digress no further.
Great questions, and they actually allow us to turn away a bit from being hyper-Catholic focused, why still using Catholicism as an example to benefit persons of all faiths.
Will give a full set of answers and discussion later, but in the mean time, I would suggest considering this:
One of the components of liturgy is entering into mystery, regardless if it’s Catholic liturgy or not. By entering into a mystery, we are participating in the mystery, becoming a part of it. The mystery isn’t a human production, rather, it’s a divine production. This is important, it means we don’t make the mystery happen, the mystery doesn’t depend upon us.
So, to fully participate in any sort of liturgy is primarily a spiritual activity, not a physical activity.
Recognizing things like this is helpful because it allows us to evaluate liturgy as “good” or “bad” and talk about what is “better” and “best.
So let’s take the principles above, and add to it the reminder that the liturgy is not about us. Liturgy is primarily about God. Not about our experience of God, but God himself.
Now we have a good baseline, and let’s start ‘constructing’ an ideal liturgy. What does it consist of? What are its parts? How is it structured? Where do people stand? What direction do they face? What should the building be like for this liturgy? How do we conduct a liturgy that, though humans do the physical activities, is not a human production?
I ask these seriously and look forward to your (and others) replies. Once we start filling in these answers, we’ll have a much easier time seeing the role latin plays in liturgy.
I will try answering your questions based on my understanding and knowledge of the only liturgy I know of, the Roman Catholic Mass. The Mass begins with the priest greeting the congregation with Sign of the Cross. Then there’s the declaration of sins, recital of Act of Penitence basically. Then we sing Gloria. That is followed by the Gospel reading and the sermon based on the readings. Then the actual Eucharistic celebration begins with preparation of the sacrificial offering and is followed by the consecration. After the consecrated bread and wine is shown to the people gathered, we declare the mystery of faith which is followed by the Praise to God the Father (doxology I think). Then we say the Lord’s prayer followed by sharing of peace. Then we sing ‘Lamb of God’ and the Communion distribution. Finally the conclusion. In broader terms, the structure of the Mass is divided into 4 parts: Introductory rites, Liturgy of the word, Liturgy of the Eucharist and the Concluding rites (I figured this out during the Good Friday liturgy when I was a kid). As for where the people stand, well, facing the altar. As for the building question, I am not sure I understand. And the next one, with the true realization that during the consecration, the bread and wine really does become the flesh and blood of Christ. By realizing that we stand in the presence of the Lord truly and should worship just the way angels and saints worship the Lord in heaven?
This is my basic understanding and I am truly sorry if I was not coherent enough with my reply.
It’s fine, don’t worry. I was aiming to touch on broader matters, but you have a solid understanding of the order of the mass. So let’s talk in general for now (since these general comments can apply to any liturgy).
With the guiding principles above, and the principle articulated earlier that we should give God the very best of all that we have, some clear approaches appear.
Where should liturgy be conducted? Well, it can be conducted anywhere, but if we have the choice of where to conduct it, we should choose nicer buildings. If we design buildings for liturgy, they should be conducive to that liturgy, the building’s architectural focus having the same purpose as the liturgy.
So if we’re Catholic, and the focus of our main liturgy is what takes place on the altar, then the altar should also be the architecturial focus of the building. We can safely say that one building is superior to the other since it better fulfills its purpose.
There are other forms of liturgy besides the mass. For example, the liturgy of the hours, which monastics pray as a community. Their sacred spaces should be designed a bit differently. So you’ll find chapels that have rows of seats facing each other in some fasion. Because when they pray the psalms, they take turns going back and forth reciting the prayers.
Now, would it make a whole lot of sense for those prayers to be said in a circle? Not really. How about the mass? Do churches in the round make a whole lot of sense?
Well, no. If the focus is going to be the activity at the altar (which, traditionally, was where the scriptures were also read from) or in some protestant churches the activity of reading scripture and having sermons, a church in the round doesn’t make sense.
Why doesn’t it make sense? Because the architecture doesn’t indicate what the main activity of the main activity should occupy a clear and central location.
What we’ve done so far is apply principles to a situation and draw out the specifics of what an ideal situation would be Obviously we won’t always have ideal situations, but we can still try and do our best. Let’s shift gears again.
What about music? What should the role of music in liturgy be? Remember, we’re talking about in liturgy, so we’re not talking about music in general.
Well, if music is not the PRIMARY focus of the liturgy, but in some way secondary, then music ought not to distract rom the primary focus, but instead contribute to it. So let’s use a Catholic Church and a (high) Presbytirian Church as an example. If the primary focus is the offering of the mass or the reading of the word, where should the musicians be and what should they be doing there? Would having the musicians right next to a person reading the Word make a whole lot of sense? Well maybe if they’re singing Psalms, but other then that no. You’ve just got people standing around. The same goes for the mass, if the primary activity is the activity at the altar, does having the ‘band’ right next to the altar make a whole lot of sense?
This is how we start to talk about worship being logical and reasonable. Some may reply “but the band will feel bad that they’re not up on stage”– ahha, but it’s not a stage, it’s an act of worship, and it’s not about their feelings. Once we start making our liturgy decisions based on emotion, we’re really making the entire liturgy about ourselves.
Quickly going back to architecture, that’s one of the problems with churches in the round. What, exactly is the focus? It seems that the focus ends up being US.
Let me know when you’ve read through this, and I’d like to hear your thoughts and responses. Starting to think ‘properly’ about things like liturgy is a tricky process, because our entire culture is based around emotional thinking and emotional self-satisfaction, which is exactly the opposite of what liturgy seeks to do. Liturgy serves to take us outside ourselves, outside our rugged individualism and bring us before God as a community. God is the focus, not us.
I’ll be able to get more into the specifics of the topics of mystery and language once I hear back from you.
I have read what you wrote, LCB. The part of music and musicians makes a whole lot of sense, yes. The altar should be central focus of a church, but that still doesnt explain why a structure of a church would affect our worship. I mean, say my church is a circular structure ’cause of architectural limitations. (It’s built on a hillock, and we have to accommodate a lot of people. Two thousand families, approximately) But I assure you, that no way acts as an impediment to the central focus, the activities in the altar in this instance. But as for music, it should be more in the background. I agree on that. In fact, that’s always been my view on music during the Mass. You’ll have to convince me more on the churches on the round, though. I personally have experienced that the structure of my church does not affect my view and focus of the sacrificial offering. I, for one, the focus should never be on us when attending a Mass. That makes me come to the point where men constantly complain about the feminization of the Church. They complain there’s nothing that would entice them, don’t they? If the focus is entirely on God, why are men complaining about their needs not being met?
What would you add to the list that churches need to focus on so their work for the kingdom isn’t hindered?
Humanitarian aid (“social justice” if you prefer that term) should be done in conjunction with preaching the Gospel. Unapologetically. Many churches tend to focus on either evangelism or social action at the expense of the other.
In the first century Church, we didn’t have this disconnect.
Oh that’s just lovely. “We’ll help you recover from this earthquake, but you’ll need to accept Jesus as your savior first, and we’ll be spending most of our humanitarian aide money on this brand new church”
“done in conjunction with preaching the Gospel.”
Conjunction does not mean “on condition of.”
Nice strawman, but I am unaware of *any* Christian-based relief organization that only provides relief upon acceptance of Christian doctrine.
What would you add to the list that churches need to focus on so their work for the kingdom isn’t hindered?
At some point the concept of church discipline seems to have been lost. I think there were some bad examples set and no one really wants to go there any longer. As a result there doesn’t seem to be a standard that is expected, honor is so passe now that most cringe at the thought of the “church” of all institutions, calling them to account. Leave your wife for that young secretary, be a rotten parent, rip your fellow church member off, live with your girlfriend; while all would agree that these are a sin, beyond possibly being denied a leadership position, it is doubtful that the church qua church is going to do or say much. I think there is currently an unhealthy fear of being seen as judgemental, or worse yet, unloving. But how will the American church ever survive without discernment, and a Godly love for each other?
I think that you bring up excellent points, and that is why I feel liturgy is so important.
There is an ancient phrase “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi” which means “The law of prayer is the law of belief”, as we pray, so too shall we believe.
Our primary activity as human beings is to love and serve God, and this is done most perfectly through worship. When our worship is done correctly, we will believe the correct things, pray well, be open to hearing God’s call, and then live out the Christian vocation in the world properly.
Working for the Kingdom is a moot activity unless it’s done in the way God wants it to be done. And so it all goes back to prayer and belief.
You and others on other blogs I read have been stressing liturgical worship. This has given me reason for pause. As far back as I can remember I have been averse to anything that smacked of liturgy, and I don’t know why. My current church, which is opposite of liturgical worship, conducts an advent leading up to Christmas, and I don’t enjoy it one bit. Others do but for some reason, that I can’t put my finger on, I just don’t. I think because liturgy “feels” too much like the thinking that “if I go through certain motions, and say and do this and that at the right time within the environment of a worship service, I am, somehow, accomplishing something. This aversion, you must know, served me well through my heathen years because I toyed with new age some and rejected it for similar reasons. Not for a second to make a connection between the two, for I know many well grounded Christians who worship in a liturgical style who challenge me in their life style to live a better life myself. I have begun to take another look at a more liturgical worship style because of the emphasis I’ve seen placed on it as of late. So I guess what I’,m saying is, tell my why this is important.
You wrote: “If you can’t get the essentials right then you have no business calling yourself a church at all. It is false advertising of the worst kind.”
Very Very Well put!
You wrote: “If you can’t get the essentials right then you have no business calling yourself a church at all. It is false advertising of the worst kind.”
Very Very Well put!
Starting a new thread down here since we’re getting close to the margin. Going to do one in response to Shalini and one in response to Dan. I really feel this is something that is not just a Catholic issue, so will make some edits to Shalini’s comments at various points in [editor’s brackets].
IMPORTANT: In my response I am going to introduce a concept that will likely ruffle some feathers, that in almost all forms of worship all individuals should be facing the same direction together. You’ve been warned 🙂
Thank you for your reply. I’d like to consider the following points:
1) Worship vs. Performance AKA: Active Participation
2) The role of the community
3) The direction of the community
4) In the Mass, the role and the position of the priest and what implications this has for non-Catholic liturgies
5) The questions you asked at the very end of your post.
1) We’ll start in general and work towards the specific. With that in mind it is important we recall a general principle, that worship is not an activity of man, it is an activity of God that he allows man to partake in. We can not even worship God unless he allows us to. So, worship is NOT a performance. This is important to stress because many in our era, across all denominations, don’t understand this. I’ve been to many a mass where the priest, afterwards, has taken the time to thank just about every single person involved, and especially the ‘band’, and started a round of applause. That is bad. That tells people that “this worship activity was a human achievement, it is something WE did, on our own
So, before moving on, this is a point I wanted to briefly stress again. It is important to consider the ‘performance quality’ of worship, in that it should be done well, but when that’s the goal (as it often is), well, it’s being done wrong.
When we discuss active participation we’re not talking about “everyone having something to do so they feel like they helped make the show happen.” Later down the road (in a different post) I’d like to discuss what it means to spiritually participate in liturgy more, but I think we can all agree that spiritual participation is superior to physical participation. Physical participation may AID spiritual participation, but the goal is to enter into the Divine Mysteries.
2) Let’s turn to the role of the community.
So, we’ve got 1st Evangelical of Ispy-Dipsy, which happens to be right across the street from St. Diversity Catholic Church. Though both are Christian in the general sense, the content of their beliefs is very different. St. Diversity (with Fr. Feelgood as the pastor) is very liberal. There is no sin. Jesus just wants us to be more fully ourselves and never wants us to change. Ever, under any circumstances. 1st Evangelical is far more conservative (read, correct).
But that’s all about the pastor, and we want to chat about the community. I propose that the role of the community is simple, to collectively worship God in and through their liturgy. By doing this the individuals in the community enter into the Divine Mysteries. Notice how this is different from what the pastor preaches. What the pastor believes will impact the liturgy, but his beliefs aren’t the liturgy.
If St. Diversity has a band on ‘stage’, and the prayers are changed from what they’re supposed to be to something else, and the music is all about feelings, and the experience is oriented towards everyone having something to do, it doesn’t seem like the community is entering into a deep spiritual participation with the Divine Mysteries.
Alternatively, 1st Evangelical’s worship is not focused on themselves, their emotions, and so on. Rather, the focus is on God, who He is, what He has done in the past, and what He is doing now. The choir may be in the front, but they are not serving as a counterweight to the preaching of the Gospel, but rather as a supplement to it and a support of it. Even though the liturgy here may not consist of much, it serves to bring people into the Divine Mysteries.
Notice how, using the general criteria established earlier in this thread, we can now say that 1st Evangelical has a superior liturgy than St. Diversity, in that it is doing what liturgy should do in a better fashion? One is focused on God, the other is focused on ourselves.
3) The direction of the community.
Oh this one will make waves.
Let’s put all our principles together. What direction should the community face? If they are entering into the mystery together, if they are worshiping God together, if they are praying together… they should face the same direction together.
When people are facing each other, it’s a natural habit to start focusing on… each other. Pretty young girls catch the eyes of handsome young boys. Children are distracted by all the neat hats and faces of other people. Men with receding hairlines compare their hairlines to other men with receding hairlines. Women fume over other women who are wearing the same outfit. This is one of the consequences of Churches in the round.
BUT, as an extension of this, in most instances the worship leader should also be facing the same direction as the people. They should face God, together. Let’s use the Catholic Mass as an example:
Now that the priest often faces the people, one often has the sense that the prayers are offered, in a way, to the people. The prayers become more emotive. Many priests feel that they can change the prayers to fit “what the people want.” Many priests base their entire set of actions throughout the mass on a decision to make it more ‘entertaining’ or ‘engaging’ to the congregation. Notice what just happened here: prayers are now being offered for some reason OTHER THAN simply praying to God and doing His will.
Now that everyone is facing everyone, the focus us on ourselves, prayers and activities are being decided upon based on us, the music is often about our emotions… how, exactly, is this a form of liturgy oriented towards God? When we are focused on ourselves, how are we focused on entering into the Divine Mysteries?
As Pope Benedict writes in his book “The Spirit of the Liturgy”, we seriously risk making a closed circle between the minister and the faithful, a circle that excludes God and makes us the object of worship.
Let me be clear, in many places worship has degraded into self-idolatry, we are worshiping ourselves.
4) So above I discussed why the priest should face the same direction as the people when prayers are being offered to God. That does not mean “his back is to the people”, it means “they are facing God together.”
And I think this is an exceptionally important point for non-Catholics. In many non-Catholic liturgies there is a clear divide between those who are conducting the worship and those who are participating. And this is a divide that should not be. Those conducting should be part of the community, but merely acting on the community’s behalf. Once liturgy is viewed as entertainment, this has absolutely stopped taking place.
It is also here that sacred artwork is important. Things like crosses and crucifixes especially so. They can provide a focus for our visual senses, provide a focal point for the community, when we are facing God together. There should be some considerable time spent in any liturgy where everyone is addressing God together. “Lead us in prayer” has devolved in many places to mean “I will listen to person X pray.” It’s easier for this mindset to form when the person praying is facing the congregation.
This whole section is a bit abstract. For an interesting intellectual exercise, consider the role of direction in prayer from around the world. For almost all history direction has been viewed important in prayer (for various reasons in various places, some of those reasons being idolatrous, some of them not). But, it’s no accident that when the temple still stood, Jews in synagogues would pray in the direction of the temple. It’s no accident that for most of Christian history, Churches faced east, for many important symbolic reasons.
The direction we face really is important, and even more important is that we face it together.
5) Finally, you asked some questions:
Men complain about the feminization of the Church because that often means the Church has shifted to no longer being focused on God, but rather the circle has closed and the focus is now on ‘us’ and ‘our feelings’ and ‘our experience.’ It ceases to be challenging (to demand hard things from the people in the name of God the Father), and starts to be self congratulatory and self assuring (like an episode of Oprah), and when it does talk about change it is simply ‘self-improvement.’
Their needs are not being met because the focus isn’t on God. When the focus is God, when we are called out of ourselves and enter into the Divine Mysteries, then our needs are being met. Spiritual needs are different from emotional needs, and this is something that men are generally more in-tune with than women. When a liturgy is focused on emotional needs, it is most assuredly NOT focused on God. Only when a liturgy is focused on God are spiritual needs met.
I have serious doubts regarding what you’ve said. I have a few views on the topic myself, and my brother said to think that way we need a greater spiritual maturity and it’s not possible for all. I want to talk more on this but I somehow feel guilty that I might go off-topic and Neil would be forced to kick me out.
I suspect that if our host didn’t want to allow this exchange of ideas he would have put a stop to it a bit earlier. He has indicated he goes to a Methodist Church, so I think liturgy (in the general sense) is a fair game topic to discuss.
I, for one, look forward to hearing your thoughts, doubts, concerns, and views on this matter further. Don’t worry about ‘pulling punches’, I’m pretty sure you won’t offend me 😉
But our host, as he himself said, is busy and is not reading all the comments!!! 🙂
Anyway, tell me LCB, why do you think Christians go to church? And also tell me why should they really go to Church?
I think the reason why Christians go to Church is often different from the reason Christians SHOULD go to Church.
Christians should go to Church to worship God by entering into the Divine Mysteries the way God intended and the Apostles taught, as a community.
I will gladly tell you why I think it’s important.
1) Firstly, I think your criticism is a valid one. Folks should not be in the mindset of going through the motions. They should be in the mindset of entering into the mystery. BUT, I’d also like to pause here. Is going through the motions ALWAYS a bad thing?
Let’s take an example of a married couple. There will be times in their marriage where it’s REALLY hard staying married, where they might not even be in love for a while. But what do they do? They should continue going through the motions (while of course speaking with someone like their pastor about their marriage difficulties) of being married. They don’t just stop living together, sleeping in the same bed, eating meals together, etc because the marriage is struggling.
Sometimes, in a time of spiritual dryness, going through the motions is the best you can do. You still read scripture every day, pray every day, do the right thing every day, go to Church on your usual schedule, and so on.
So, I think you make an excellent point. Going through the motions is NOT ENOUGH, and a person should not think that’s all they need to do. But, the flip side of that coin is sometimes going through the motions is the best you can manage. And when that is the case, it is the right thing.
2) The entire concept of liturgical worship is to approach God as a community and enter into the Divine Mysteries. Let’s use the Catholic Church as an example. We have what’s called the “liturgical year” and a “liturgical calendar.” This includes a set cycle of scripture readings at every mass (daily and weekly) and major saints and events from Jesus’ life being commemorated. Even if you disagree with the mass and the concept of commemorating saints, I think you can probably see how it is important that the rhythm of the scriptures and of Jesus’ life become the rhythm of our life.
So over the course of a year we go through the rhythm of Jesus’ birth (with the next day commemorating St. Stephen the first martyr, reminding us where this whole thing goes to– the cross), his ministry, his teachings, his journey towards his Most Sacred Cross, his death, his Resurrection, and so on. That’s part of what liturgy is supposed to do, help us to walk Jesus’ journey with Him.
3) Liturgy is about the community, not about the individual.
Advent is a time of waiting. We wait together for the coming of Christ. Commemorating Israel’s watiing for the Messiah (“O Come O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel… who waits in lonely exile here… for the Son of God to appear… rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel, has come to you O Israel”) reminds us that we are also waiting for Christ’s 2nd coming.
4) Ritual and symbolic actions are a good thing
In the most general sense, every culture has its own secular liturgies. Ritual actions that express shared values, etc. Fireworks on the 4th of July with certain music are a good example in America. Giving Christmas presents has become a secular liturgy too.
Ritual and symbolic actions are good, because they have deep expression and deep meaning. They say things in a way that words can not, and express things in a way that words can not.
5) Beauty. Good liturgy is beautiful (even very stark liturgies for days like Ash Wednesday have a stark beauty to them) and all beauty is a reflection of God. Good liturgy helps us turn towards God and see Him in new ways, and contemplate his greatness in a deeper fashion.
6) Liturgical time, part 2. Liturgy organizes our life around God’s time, not our own time. When we are liturgical individuals not only does the calender year change in its meaning, but our week is modified in its meaning as well. The act of communal worship of God is the greatest act a human being can engage in. It is the pinnacle of our existence.
When you die and go to heaven you will spend all eternity in commune with God, worshiping him with everyone else who is in heaven.
All of a sudden we have to ask, golly gee, what is the absolute most important part of our week? Going to our liturgical worship. Worshiping God truly become the center of our existence. Therefore, the Catholic practice of daily mass starts to make a lot of sense from the liturgical stand point, of setting aside time to worship God as a community every single day.
CONCLUSION: There are other reasons, but I think the above will help you start to see the importance of liturgy and start to understand what I mean when I talk about “thinking liturgically.”
It’s kind of ironic, liturgy got a bad reputation in some protestant/evangelical circles when Catholics had good liturgy. Now that Catholic liturgy is mostly in the toilet, a lot of protestant and evangelical groups have started to discover the importance of good liturgy, and how it really adds a new deep spiritual dimension to worship.
I think it’s good that the discovery is being made, and that it will help bring us together as Christians and will deepen the spiritual lives of many. Even if a person doesn’t believe what Catholics believe about the mass, it doesn’t mean that they can’t participate in good liturgy of their own. It makes me happy that liturgy is coming to be more important for many, regardless of their particular beliefs.
Thanks LCB, you make good points.
In everything I do I tend to migrate. AS C.S. Lewis said about his becoming a Christian, (I paraphrase his words from “Surprised by Joy” from memory) “I don’t know when exactly I became a Christian, all I know is that when I got into the car to go to the zoo one day I was not; when I got out of the car I was”. I’m no C.S. Lewis, but I relate with his entrance into the Kingdom as a sort of migration of thought until one day he realized that he had migrated. Liturgy, as you mention, is something I’m seeing more of, and rather than reject it out of hand, which is my natural disposition, I have been examining myself, and the concept. So thank you for taking the time to expound, you are very generous.