Monday, November 14, 2005

Thoughts on worship

I just read this post over at Architecture and Morality, which was mildly interesting, if perhaps containing a number of misunderstandings about what the author calls "charismatic" Christians (although I should note here that what he calls "charismatic," I would call "Evangelical" or perhaps "Bible-Believing", and I don't mean either of those as a pejorative against the author, but rather to clarify what he's talking about since I largely consider "charismatics" to be focused to a very large extend on the external manifestations of the Holy Spirit's presence in a believer, which Paul himself tends to diminish). His primary thesis is that, within the next few decades, the "mainstream" protestant Christian churces (methodist, lutheran, presbyterian, etc.) will continue to decline and ultimately split along one of two lines: traditional, Roman-Catholic-like styles, and the style associated with evangelicals and their ilk. This article has inspired me to post a bit about the problem I see with the former style of worship.

Having attended a fairly decent number of Catholic masses (I attended and graduated from a Catholic highschool, at which we were required to attend a monthly mass, regardless of our own brand of faith -- the school was about 60/40 Catholic/protestant, with a couple of Jewish boys thrown in for good measure. To this day, I can still recite the Hail Mary in Latin), I can at least claim that I understand and am familiar with the process. The word that best describes it is "liturgical". Everything has its place, and everything is part of a rote process. Sit, kneel, stand, respond, cross oneself, lather, rinse, repeat. Is it possible to find this process spiritually fulfilling? If you consider every word you speak, and consider the meaning behind every symbolic gesture, sure, it could be. All words have meaning, after all. My own morning prayers tend to be fairly repetitive as I tend to pray for the same things on a daily basis; however, I put thought into them each time I say them. It would be interesting to compare the brain activity of someone reciting the Lord's Prayer or some other rote piece of ritual response, as opposed to those praying "freestyle." I know I can recite the the thing without thinking. I bet it'd be similar to the brain activity of, say, a trained pianist while playing a memorized piece.

The best (only, really) defense traditionalists ever musteris somewhat circular: traditionalism is best because that's the way people have been doing it for centuries. I think any Christian can agree that the model of the Church that most accurately reflects God's ideal is most likely that which is closest to the source: i.e., the 1st century church. It would be a great stretch to think that the apostles and the many many converts after Pentecost sat in an ornate cathedral and all chanted a litany of recitations in perfect unison. I don't think the Church would have grown if that is all it had to attract believers.

An aside, to the ultra-traditionalists: If you really want a return to the Latin Mass, consider your reasoning. After all, 1st century Christians weren't speaking Latin either! They were speaking Greek -- particularly, Koine, or common, Greek! Forget Latin, forget "the King's english", they were talkin' jive! Koine Greek was, after all, the language of the merchant class -- a way to get your point across wherever you were at any given time (in many cases, at least). Why is there no call within the Catholic church to return to the original Greek and Hebrew? It's highly likely that a large portion of the early church spoke Hebrew, given its Jewish roots, and certainly Aramaic as well -- and yet so much of it was written in a language that was most convenient to communicate the message! This is important to note. So why Latin Masses? Because, at the time when Jerome put together the Latin Vulgate, it was the language most commonly spoken. After all, "vulgate" and "vulgar", meaning common, share the same roots. Interia can be the death of progress, and the call for a return to a format that wasn't even there in the beginning is inertia in its extreme.

My aside largely underscores and illustrates my complaint against traditionalist worship. It is done merely because it was done, et in saecula saeculorum amen. For the growth and vitality of the body of Christ, we must thoughtfully consider every prayer we recite, every song we sing, and every word we hear. And now I'm running out of steam, so I'll just stop. My point has been made, I think.



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