On the "road to Rome"? (Part II)

OK, so why would a dyed-in-the-wool Protestant evagelical who longs for liturgical worship, and who finds liturgical worship in a Presbyterian church somewhere, nevertheless “jump ship” for Rome (or Canterbury)?  Does that “prove” that liturgical Protestants are “on the road to Rome”?

No, but it may prove that a lot of Reformed people who try to “do” liturgical worship are really lousy at planning and executing such worship.

Scenario 1:  The Brooks Brothers/Talbots Church

Some Reformed churches seem to decide to “go liturgical” because they think it will help them attract a tonier class of people.  (Please allow me to digress and say there is nothing wrong with shopping at Brooks Brothers, or Talbots for that matter.  I’d shop at Brooks Brothers exclusively if I had the money.)  Such “liturgical for hire” churches are pretty common in Reformed circles.  They are usually located in white, upper middle class subdivisions.  The Brooks Brothers/Talbots church is fond of using the word “the” a lot in the order of worship, even when it doesn’t quite make sense to do so, to wit:

The Prelude
The Hymn No. 364
The Invocation
The Prayer, etc.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with “the prelude” as far as that goes, except that all the “thes” really clutter the place up.  But “The Hymn No. 364”?  That’s beyond pretentious:  it’s ridiculous.  No one talks that way.

The Brooks Brothers/Talbots church is usually going to be pretty clueless when it comes to liturgy.  They will do things that they saw other churches do that they think are classy.  Example:  the church that lit the first candle on the Advent Wreath (on the First Sunday of Advent) and then proceeded to sing “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” Such an action shows that not only is there no understanding of the liturgical year, but there is no desire/no perceived need to understand it:  liturgy is being used to try to create a certain feeling, a certain atmosphere, that one thinks will attract a certain type of person.  Or the “aromatherapy” church that lights more candles than any Roman Catholic church, without any rhyme or reason for doing so.  No theological reason for lighting candles at all : “it just looks pretty.”  Or the church whose choir director wears a tux on Sunday mornings.  I am not making this up.  (A tuxedo is never liturgical garb.  Besides, one does not wear a tuxedo before sundown for any reason, unless one is a waiter or a theatre usher.)

Such an arrangement satisfies no one.  It may not satisfy the pastor at all, as he may be sheepish about the whole liturgy thing and is just doing it to “reach his target group.” He may personally hate liturgical worship.  I have known more than one minister in conservative Reformed circles who fall into this category:  they don’t like liturgy, they don’t “get” liturgy, but still they do liturgy for demographic purposes.  And it shows.  The pastor looks ill at ease, even embarrassed to be up there.  He talks the liturgy to death with endless patter (a malady that overtakes Reformed pastors of many different stripes).

And while the pastor is ill at ease, those who truly desire meaningful liturgical worship are really put off.  They can sense that the thing is done half-heartedly.  They can tell that things are not well thought through.  And the worshipers who don’t care one way or another about liturgy just know that something isn’t quite right.

If you’re doing liturgical worship and it’s for any other reason than that you believe it is a healthy spiritual practice, you shouldn’t be doing liturgical worship at all.  Worship that is liturgical in order to pander to the country club set is as hard to take as the church that tries to be “relevant” by having an octogenarian from the choir sing a Newsboys number “because that’s what the young folks like.” Doesn’t work.

If you want to do liturgical worship, do your homework first.  Learn about the history of worship, the shape of the historic liturgy, and the reasons for various liturgical practices.  Don’t simply ape the practices of another group because you think it looks sophisticated or will attract sophisticated-looking people to your church.  That is destined to fall flat.  And those who are looking for historic, participatory worship will not stay with the Brooks Brothers/Talbots church for long.


About revjatb

I am a father of six who is trying to do his best! My interests are varied. I have one blog, KnowTea, that is primarily focused on liturgy and worship and another one, Bengtsson's Baking, that is about, well, baking! I hope you enjoy both of them, and if you have any questions, please contact me!
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9 Responses to On the "road to Rome"? (Part II)

  1. Cap'n Whook says:

    Why just the other day Gant and Fluff were telling me, outside of Brooks Bros., that they had visited a church where the minister, The Very Reverend The Dr. Skippy Some-thing-or-other, had no idea WHAT he was doing. And The Director of The Massed Choir (of twelve people) was wearing a white dinner jacket. 🙂

  2. Mo says:

    When thou rantest, thou rantest eloquently and well.

  3. Tim says:

    I dunno, I bet you’re just a year or two away from praying to Mary. You’ll try to make others feel better about this by also praying to Calvin or something.

  4. cancerman says:

    Could we have a little statue of Calvin dressed like a buddha?

  5. Mo says:

    Statue? Calvin would smash it to bits if it were in stone, burn or melt it if wood or bronze. Especially if it were connected with a fine musical instrument like a pipe organ.

  6. Cap'n says:

    Premeditated transcendestination? Isn’t that the topic of Elaine Pagels’ next book?

  7. cancerman says:

    Luther would make a better buddha because you could rub his belly.

  8. RevJATB says:

    So maybe German restaurants should have little Luther statues by the cash register so people can put pennies on them for good luck.

    (I would have said Pfennigs but, alas, no more Pfennigs. Just those bland Euro things.)

  9. John McEwan says:

    I love these 2 posts … would you write more about this topic and send me a link???

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