On the "road to Rome"? (Part III)

Scenario 2:  General Liturgical Cluelessness

This scenario doesn’t describe any particular “flavor” of evangelical/Reformed church I’ve observed so much as it describes a characteristic common to many churches which are not from a long liturgical tradition (such as the Anglicans, Lutherans, etc.) but who are trying to “do liturgy”:  a general cluelessness.

Cluelessness is no respecter of persons.  A high-toned “brass and class” church may display cluelessness, as may a much less well-heeled congregation.

Some of the examples I mentioned last time fall into the category of cluelessness, such as singing “O Come, All Ye Faithful” on the First Sunday of Advent.  But I’ve seen much more egregious cluelessness.  We were visiting a church of our denomination several years ago.  Either the church practiced weekly Communion or it just happened to be a Communion Sunday–I can’t remember which.  At any rate, the pastor of this church, who had been in the ministry a long time and should have known better, proceeded to do Communion backwards.  In other words, he took the cup, had a prayer, and distributed it, then took the bread, had a prayer for it, and distributed it.  My wife and I did not take Communion that day.  That is the only time since I’ve been a communing Christian that I refrained from taking Communion.  Sometimes people discuss what constitutes a valid celebration of the Sacrament.  Doing it “according to our Lord’s institution and command,” as the Book of Common Prayer says, is not negotiable.  I don’t know what was more troubling, the veteran Presbyterian minister who thought nothing of doing Communion backwards, or the worshipers in that service who apparently thought nothing of it either.

Part of the reason for general cluelessness is that none of the conservative Reformed seminaries teach very much in the way of the history of Christian worship.  My own worship class in seminary consisted of several amusing anecdotes and the reading of a book on worship published by Moody Press.  Not exactly the heavy-hitting stuff.  We were taught to take offense if someone referred to a baptism as a christening or if someone referred to the Communion Table as an altar.  (I don’t freak out at either one of those things, by the way.)  For everything else, we were pretty much on our own.  We did not read Dix’s The Shape of the Liturgy or even Bard Thompson’s Liturgies of the Western Church.  No time was spent with Knox’s Common Order or Calvin’s Form of Church Prayers, works that one would think should be must-reads in a worship class at a Presbyterian seminary.  Indeed, I would not be surprised if most of my classmates to this day are unaware that Knox and Calvin even wrote liturgies.

Another type of cluelessness is the “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” cluelessness.  Some people in our circles read John Frame’s two lightweight paperbacks on worship and then think they know everything they need to know about worship, which is a little like reading the menu board at McDonald’s and thinking you know everything that can be known about food.  James Jordan has done much to introduce a number of conservative Reformed types to liturgical worship, but I believe he would agree that were he the only author one has read on the subject, one would not have a thorough enough understanding of liturgical worship to plan and execute such worship.  Going in guns-a-blazing with scant education on the subject is sure to produce great heaps of liturgical cluelessness.

One such example is the current rash of closing the service by singing the Doxology (Thomas Ken’s “Praise God from whom all blessings flow,” which is actually a Doxology, not “the” Doxology).  This idea was suggested in one of Frame’s books, and apparently a lot of people thought it was a cool thing to do.  Liturgically, it couldn’t be more awkward and clunky in that position.  This Doxology has a long history in Reformed worship as an opener of the service, and an almost-equally-as-long history of being sung at the presentation of the offering.  At the end of worship, it cannot help but seem tacked-on and out of place:  an afterthought.

Another example:  not calling things what they are.  Like the church that calls a responsive reading a “Collect.” Don’t use the term “Collect” just because you think it makes your bulletin look “High Church,” especially if you have no idea what a Collect is.  The same is true of calling every piece of sung music an “anthem” because you think it looks churchier.  If one person is singing, it’s a solo.  If two are singing, it’s a duet.  An anthem is a choral piece.  (But I guess calling a solo an “anthem” is better than labeling it “special music,” as if the singer has been marked down.)  A closing prayer is not a benediction:  it’s a closing prayer.  If you’re not going to pronounce a benediction, don’t list “Benediction” in the order of worship.  If you’re going to say a closing prayer instead, then list it as “Closing Prayer.”  Call stuff what it is.  If you don’t know what something is called, look it up.

“Liturgical” worship that is put together in a haphazard, Frankenstein manner is troubling.  At the very heart of the Christian theology of worship is that God deserves our highest praise.  Just cobbling something together, with no real guiding philosophy or understanding of how the various elements function, seems to miss the point of Christian worship altogether.  Given the vast number of good, reliable sources of information on the history and theology of Christian worship out there, there is no excuse for cluelessness on the part of those who plan worship.


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!
This entry was posted in Church, Liturgy, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to On the "road to Rome"? (Part III)

  1. Mo says:

    I reply again: when thou rantest, thou rantest eloquently and well.

    Everyone who knows me knows that the term “special music” is loathsome to me and steeped in vileness. My mentor Paul Richardson noted that in the South it often gets pronounced as if it were “spatial” music … music to take up space. I had never heard the “marked down” analogy, but I love it.

    I wholeheartedly concur with the admonition simply to call things what they are. One singer – solo. Three singers – trio. Choir – anthem. Not sure what to call it? “Worship in Song” will often suffice in those cases.

    And by all means, have things make sense where and when they happen in the service. Like a fine meal (and worship can be seen as a spiritual meal), there is a logical progression and rhythm to worship as well. There are myriad ways to prepare and serve a fine meal (and likewise, worship) … but there is still a progression and rhythm to what happens (and when and how).

    That’s not to say that I don’t occasionally enjoy just plain old Pizza Hut supreme pizza on thin crust. I do. I also like Chinese food … and Thai … and … well, you get the idea.

    To use another analogy, compared to the infinite creativity God displays, what we offer is all just toddler-scribbled artwork on God’s refrigerator, anyway … but that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t deserve our very best toddler-scribbles.

  2. RevJATB says:

    I’m with you on the thin crust! But try Pizza Inn’s Original Thin: much better than Pizza Hut’s IMO. (And if you’re sensitive to MSG, Pizza Inn’s pizza won’t send you to the ER like Pizza Hut’s will.) Had a thin crust pepperoni from Pizza Inn last night!

    (Oh well, looks like closest Pizza Inns to you are in the Greenville/Spartanburg area. Not exactly very close.)

    Love me some Pad Thai. There is no Thai food anywhere in North Louisiana, I’m afraid. Sigh.

  3. Mo says:

    Well, as far as thin crust goes … Domino’s isn’t bad either, but the very best I’ve had was Donato’s in Columbus, OH. The nearest Donato’s is probably at least a day’s drive from here. We used to have a Pizza Inn here, but the owner dropped the franchise about 6 years ago, then sold the restaurant about 2 years ago. It’s still good, but it’s not a Pizza Inn any more.

    My favorite food is stir fry that the lovely wife does with a terriyaki sauce she came up with. Our boys are very sensitive to HFCS (actually, to corn in any form other than corn oil … makes it very hard for them to control their behavior), so the lovely wife developed her own recipe (nothing measured, mind you … she cooks by instinct as well as anyone I’ve ever encountered) using soy sauce, honey, fresh garlic, and I don’t know what else … but it rocks my gustatory world.

  4. RevJATB says:

    Bruce Hill Wrote:

    “If the babies babble more at the end of the service than at the beginning, what does it matter to God? Is God offended? He is the Lord of heaven and earth and . . .is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything.” I’m all for “decently and in order.” But certain groups agree on a certain order, and their hearts are open to God, the … Read Moreliturgy and its form are secondary to intention and the heart of true worship. I particularly don’t like lots of clapping and percussion as part of my worship, but for others at different stages it may be vital to their experience of a loving God and spiritual community. Your thoughts?”

  5. RevJATB says:

    Hi Bruce,

    Hope you don’t mind my copying and pasting this from FB and answering here.

    No, I don’t believe at all that God is offended by where we put something in worship. There are many in conservative circles who seem to act as if God is waiting up in heaven to smite someone for putting candles on the altar, or for calling the Communion table the altar (as I just did!), or calling a baptism a christening, etc. As you said, I believe God looks on the heart and is not offended by sincere worship, no matter what form it takes. I’m only saying that ill-conceived or poorly thought-out worship makes it more difficult for people to join in and destroys the sense of catholicity that, I believe, should be a vital ingredient in our worship.

    For example, if we were to have the Gospel reading first, then the Epistle Lesson, then the Psalm, and then the Old Testament Lesson, would it be “wrong?” No. But wouldn’t it feel really weird to worshipers from a liturgical tradition? If I went to such a service, as hard as I might try not to let it distract me, I would be wondering the whole time, “Why did they do all the readings precisely backwards?”

    It seems to me that the conservative Reformed churches I’ve seen that have started putting the Doxology at the end do so for no other reason than “that’s what Frame said he does in his book.” Never mind what the larger community of faith does. Part of me doesn’t know whether that is just goofy or a particular kind of arrogance. I’m not trying to read the motives of someone’s heart, but that is the impression that I get.

  6. Bruce Hill says:

    Maybe by the end of it there will be the “Frame-rs” and the non-conformists, I mean, non-“Frame-rs!” Or would the “Frame-rs” be the non-conformists? I’ll never forget when I attended services that used inclusive gender-neutral language to the point where the “Father, Son and Spirit” became “Creator, Christ, and Spirit.” Pissed me off; I had to leave. It truly felt weird, yet for many there they received from the Holy Spirit. I think I get what you’re saying about these Reformed churches. Within their cultural and ecclesiastical heritage, why are they just “following the Pied Piper” ’cause it’s the thing to do these days? But trendy affects almost all congregations, don’t you think?

  7. RevJATB says:

    Bruce, oh definitely, trendiness is across the board. I mention that in the next installment of this (which I hope to post tonight). That post is about “overly-innovative” worship, which comes at us from the left as well as from the right (and other directions too, I guess).

    Gender-neutral language used to make my skin crawl too. I think we were conditioned that way, n’est-ce pas? I know of a large church in my denomination that chose a really lousy hymnal over a really good one, simply because the really good one had edited some hymns in the direction of inclusive language. Granted, it may be difficult for some to sing “born to raise us from the earth” rather than “born to raise the sons of earth,” but when we consider that the first version might be EXCLUDING some from that worship experience . . . well I guess that’s a whole series of posts on its own.

  8. Pingback: “On the Road to Rome?” (3 & 4) « Reformed Liturgical Institute

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s