Our time on earth is limited; our time shared in corporate worship even more so. Why, then, do we spend this valuable time on inanities? What each does in his or her “own” time is of course between him or her and God, but the seriousness of corporate worship is a matter for the concern of every member of the Body. Today I’ve identified a few areas where far too many churches accept—and even promote or insist on!—mere inanity when profound, meaningful forms of worship are readily available.
First, the greeting. In every church service I can remember ever attending, there has been some sort of greeting. More deliberately liturgical churches (I use that phrasing because, of course, every church has a liturgy) make this “God’s greeting” and perhaps then “the passing of the peace”, but in others this amounts to “Good morning, and welcome to …”—inanity. In the early church, I understand, the traditional greeting between Christians was “Christ has risen!” And “Peace be with you” was a traditional greeting even before the coming of the Christ. Why should we merely wish one another a “good morning” when we can invoke a real blessing by saying “The Lord be with you!” or (on and after Easter) “Christ has risen!”?
Second, the opening of worship. This is another area where I think the deliberately-liturgical churches—which is to say, the churches who follow the traditions that the Church has handed down, instead of their whims—have the right of it. Instead of a hymn or chorus chosen for no better reason than the leader’s preference—or its having lately become traditional—why not use a hymn or chorus designed to bring us into a proper attitude? We should begin with some sort of proper Introit or Opening Hymn or Gathering Hymn. (I even know one chorus that would address both this and my previous complaint at the same time.)
Third, the music of “worship” in general. The great strength of the hymns we have inherited from the past several centuries (up until the early twentieth century) is their weightiness—some of the poetry is somewhat inane (especially some of the less inspired Psalm settings), but nothing anywhere near the typical inanity of modern choruses. I would rather sing a somewhat ponderous and archaic, quite lengthy, but heavily (weightily) truthful text than repeat a very simple, simplistic contemporary … jingle … over and over several times. Why only include a few token hymns (usually taken from a list of no more than twenty, and most of which are twentieth-century texts anyway)—and only sing a few verses of each—and fill out the service with choruses? (Many of which are not inane in the slightest, and in fact utterly unobjectionable—but that “many” is not “most”, and doesn’t include many of the most popular choruses.)
And fourth, the approach to the sacraments (about which I wrote last week) and to the Word. Too many churches, apparently believing that the sacraments are nothing but symbols, treat them as mere symbols—something to be scheduled in and handled by mumbling rote—instead of with the reverence appropriate for a means of grace and a miracle. And if we believe (as I do) that God can and does use his Word apart from and besides its preaching and interpretation, why do we read only the sermon text (not even selected from a lectionary), and not (as has been the practice of the Church in most places for centuries at least) several passages from different parts of the Bible? On the other hand, if we believe that without the help of the Holy Spirit human beings cannot truly hear, let alone be changed by, the Word, why do some churches reserve what a more deliberately liturgical church would call the “prayer of illumination” until after the reading but before the sermon? (And one other niggling detail: As a post-scriptum to the proclamation of the Word, “May the Lord add his blessing to the reading of his Word” isn’t quite inane, though it seems to be used that way, but I strongly prefer the prompt and congregational response “The word of the Lord / Thanks be to God”.)
There is far too much inanity—words said or music played for the sake of filling time or because they’re expected, and for no other reason—in the communal, corporate worship of too many local bodies of the Church. Can we, with God’s help, change this?