Giving Our Ancestors a Vote
GIVING OUR ANCESTORS A VOTE
G. K. Chesterton once defined tradition as "an extension of the franchise":
Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes,
our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses
to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely
happen to be walking about . . . . Tradition asks us not to neglect
a good man's opinion, even if he is our father.
After all, cultural considerations aside, some "Christian" churches today "worship" in a manner that would be hardly recognizable as CHRISTIAN worship by our ancestors in the faith. Of course, these churches may sing, read the Bible, preach, and pray, . . . but the context and the manner, to say nothing of the order in which these things are done is often not that of classical Christian worship. The modern context is often therapeutic, entertaining, or scholastic, but the context is all-important. The order often shows little or no resemblance to the biblical protocols so important for approaching God. Context and order determine what the congregation thinks they are really doing on Sunday morning. If the Church fathers of the fourth century were correct and "public doxology" is practically "a test of faith," how would the American evangelical church at the turn of the twenty-first century score?
For example, in order to make people feel more comfortable and ensure that they will come back next week, the atmosphere of a typical American evangelical service has become entertainment-oriented (TV-like or concert hall-like) because that's what people in our culture (supposedly) relate to. The people are conceived of as religious consumers. The role of the pastor in this new context is that of a businessman, a talk show host (always smiling!), or a psychologist, all of which explains the businessman costume of most evangelical preachers, the TV set appearance of the inside of their churches (auditoria), and the "help" oriented therapy ("how to do this" and "three ways to succeed in that") into which most of their sermons have degenerated.
I am reminded of something G. K. Chesterton said in his book WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE WORLD? It ought to be the oldest things that are taught to the youngest people," Chesterton wrote in 1910. The child, he complained, is oftentimes older than the theory he is taught, so that "the flopping infant of four actually has more experience . . . than the dogma to which he is made to submit." "Cranks and experiments," said Chesterton, "go straight to the school room when they have never passed through the parliament, the public house, the private home, the church, or the market place."
--Jeffrey J. Meyers, THE LORD'S SERVICE: THE GRACE OF COVENANT RENEWAL WORSHIP. Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 2003, pp. 317-18. ISBN-13: 978-1-591280-08-8.
[It is easy to stand back and take pot shots at churches that seem to be out of balance in one way or another. One church's meaningful use of historic liturgies may come across in another context as hopelessly out of touch; but it is wrong to say that context is everything. Content matters. Content really matters. Musical style, service orders, and the physical arrangement of the worship space are all important factors in shaping the way worshipers respond to the proper subject matter of Christian worship. May the Holy Spirit be our teacher in these important truths for the church; and may worship planners and leaders be good students.]
Have a great week,
Director, Institute for Christian Worship
School of Church Music and Worship
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
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