April 7, 2013

Why I Like Liturgy (Well, Some Of It)

Growing up in the Churches of Christ, I had zero exposure to any sort of liturgy or church history. Even though I attended a Lutheran school for grades K - 2, they weren't teaching us liturgy, the religious part of our education was learning the big stories of the Bible, (it was the early seventies, mind you, so it was probably different than religious schooling before and after that time.) We did have Chapel services on Wednesday mornings, but it was just some singing with an interactive Bible lesson afterwards, for us kids; pretty much the same as a CoC Wednesday night meeting, just in the morning. Still, it was far more progressive a school than what I would imagine most church schools to be; we even listened to and discussed Jesus Christ, Superstar in the Easter season of my second grade year. I doubt you'd find that happening in any Christian school today!

But, back in the conservative Churches of Christ in which I grew up, (sectarian, rather than ecumenical ones, as Richard Beck would put it) there was never any mention of liturgical calendar holidays. In fact, the only times Christmas or Easter were mentioned were in parts of sermons explaining why Santa Claus and the Easter bunny shouldn't be taught to kids as having any relation to a holiday. The only reason that we didn't have any observances of those Holy Days was simply sola scriptura; they weren't expressly mentioned in the Bible.

So, a few years ago when I first started attending a Disciples of Christ congregation, the observance of liturgical holidays had a very incongruous feel to me. But at the same time, there was a welcoming comfort there, too. The anticipation and hope of the Advent season with the dimly-lit Taize styled services, the Lenten season of reflection and remembrance beginning on Ash Wednesday, the exuberance and joy of Easter Sunday, the energizing missional feel of Pentecost; they all felt fresh and new, yet somehow familiar.
But we didn't have any of that in the CoC; we had the same stuff every single Sunday: welcome and opening prayer, a few hymns, another prayer, a couple more hymns, The Lord's Supper, another hymn, sermon, the invitation song, and a closing prayer. It was almost exactly the same in every Church of Christ I ever attended. At the last CoC of which I was a member, our evangelist caused a bit of a kerfuffle when he preached a series of sermons on the Lord's Supper and we separated the collection from the Communion, keeping the collection at the time in the midst of hymns, and moving the Communion to the end of the service.

That felt right to me. After all, the remembrance of Christ in the Communion was not only the reason that we meet, but also the pinnacle of our worship services. Yet as new and refreshing as that felt in that congregation, I found that same order of service in the DoC congregation I attend now.

There is a paragraph from the eminent church historian Jaroslav Pelikan's book The Christian Tradition, A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 1; The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition that is very apropos here:
 "Tradition without history has homogenized all the stages of development into one statically defined truth; history without tradition has produced a historicism that relativized the development of Christian doctrine in such a way as to make the distinction between authentic growth and cancerous aberration seem completely arbitrary. In this history we are attempting to avoid the pitfalls of both these methods. The history of Christian doctrine is the most effective means available of exposing the artificial theories of continuity that have often assumed normative status in the churches, and at the same time it is an avenue into the authentic continuity of Christian believing, teaching, and confessing. Tradition is the living faith of those who are dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of those who are living."
That is precisely what I have found. Forgetting tradition imposes a conformist GroupThink, while forgetting history produces a No-Think; to degrees, of course. Looking at and practicing both together has produced a desire within me to seek more in Christ while seeking more outside the Church. I think that is precisely one of the things Christ was trying to teach us in His preaching against the Pharisaic establishment.

As far as the "(Well, Some Of It)" part of the title, I've always seen the liturgy of the saints that I've seen recited at Papal funerals (and I suppose they do it at other times, as well) as the Christian equivalent of the Tibetan Buddhist recitation of the lineage of the lamas. While the contributions and thoughts of the Church Fathers is certainly invaluable, and should be studied, I can't see that they are worthy of veneration in a service or recitation. But a true Christian faith should be more than just the five solae,  a subset of those five, or any of those plus only tradition; it should also be open to God's Holy Spirit working in, speaking to, and changing the hearts of the people that are in pain, doubt, and confusion, seeking the Higher Love.

After thinking about these things for a while, I now also have a greater appreciation for the "death of God" -- a/theist type of thought that Peter Rollins writes about. There is more than just a grain of truth to the idea that to step into a different and deeper faith, we must have an existential crucifixion and death of doctrines and ideas about God to come to the resurrection of a real and living faith in Him.

I know that I'm going through that now.

Pray for me as I pray for you.
Pray for His purifying fire in our hearts, and His refreshing waters of Life.
Pray for His Love to dwell within us all and to conquer us all.

Lamb of God, you who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. I'm also a fan of Rollins. If you're interested in exploring radical theology (a/theology), I stumbled across this link the other day. It's a good read. http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=537&C=587