Aslan Is Not a Tame Lion: The Serious Mistake of Casual Worship | Jonathan Aigner

I fear we aren’t just guilty of domesticating the one true God, itself a grave error. In our petulant insistence on me-worship, we have shown where our ultimate allegiance lies. Scarier still is my suspicion that most of the church doesn’t even recognize what the hell we’ve done.

Source: Aslan Is Not a Tame Lion: The Serious Mistake of Casual Worship | Jonathan Aigner

In contrast to the pop-worship industry, Jonathan Aigner describes one example of what proper, traditional worship can look like, and why:

“Worship at Advent differs from common liturgical practice in the contemporary American church, to say the least. It is exceedingly beautiful, sublime even, evoking a sense of transcendence that seems strikingly out of place, even in one of the most historic cities in the country. Continuity and communion with the universal church is palpable.”

He goes on to quote The Church of the Advent’s Liturgical Customary:

“While the foregoing may seem excessively fussy, particularly in an age when manners are out of fashion and seminaries are apparently intent on turning the Mass into a rock-‘n’-roll show, remember that Divine Service is not a casual activity. The Lord’s Supper is a heavenly banquet, not a drive-thru lunch from a fast food shop. Lack of attention to deportment at Mass is as inappropriate as wearing torn jeans to a formal dinner. Sloppiness of appearance, movement or behavior will not show forth ‘the beauty of holiness and the holiness of beauty,’ which is what we seek to present.”

Now, there are times when a more casual (although still not sloppy, or careless) approach to worship may be appropriate. Summer camp comes to mind! Or outdoor services in general. But even in this more informal context, I believe, we still have to keep in mind the solemnity of what we are doing, and the majesty of the God we are serving.

In the words that used often to be found inscribed on the chancel arch or elsewhere in Episcopal churches of the more Anglo-Catholic persuasion (quoting Genesis 28:17),

“This is the very house of God, and this is the gate of Heaven.”

 

QOTD: “Believe it or not, tradition works…”

“Believe it or not, tradition works. So-called ‘old ways’ are quite popular among younger Catholics. Smells, bells, classic hymns, chant, prolonged silence, and, hold on for this one, LATIN are all largely embraced by the younger generations of the Church. Furthermore, when younger non-Catholics experience these traditions they are struck by how different they are from everything else they experience in a noisy, secular culture. These ‘old ways’ are beautiful to them, and beauty is a great place to introduce young folks to Jesus Christ.”

Fr. Edwin C. Dwyer, Our Lady of Peace Parish (Roman Catholic), Bay City, Michigan

Now, I am an Anglican, so while I personally like Latin in the liturgy (and a Latin form of the Prayer Book liturgy was, in fact, used in Chapels Royal as late as the time of Queen Elizabeth I), I’m not going to be pushing for it at St. Bede’s!

But otherwise, I am in complete agreement. What Fr. Dwyer says about younger Catholics I believe to be just as true for younger Anglicans; in fact, it seems to be the case across the spectrum of sacramental, liturgical Churches: the churches that are growing, that are attracting young people, are the traditional ones.

And traditional liturgy seems to be drawing more young people who have grown up in contemporary, non-denominational, evangelical, and “community” churches toward those Churches that are in fact rooted in historic, ancient liturgies, in the sacraments, and in traditional, orthodox understandings of the Christian faith.

As Fr. Dwyer puts it,

“we are going to make [our worship] more beautiful with tradition. We are going to look, and sound, and smell vastly different from the rest of the world on Sundays. It will be a religious experience that, at the very least, will be memorable to the young who encounter it.”

As the old saying has it, “what is old, is new again.” Thanks be to God!

50 Years of Effete and Infertile Liturgical Culture Is Enough – Crisis Magazine

“There is only one thing to do: for the future of the Church, we must build again, drawing on those cultural accomplishments that are timeless, in the service of Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, in saecula saeculorum.”

— Dr. Anthony Esolen

Source: 50 Years of Effete and Infertile Liturgical Culture Is Enough – Crisis Magazine

From the incomparable Anthony Esolen​:

“I am struck by the strange inability of the council fathers to do the very thing they were urging the Church to do, which was to take stock of the times. Again and again, they instruct bishops and priests to adapt the life of the Church, including her places and manner of worship, to the times and to the characters of the various peoples of the world.

“What they missed, and what was right in front of them to be noticed, was that modernism as an ideology, with mass entertainment and mass education as its main engines, was obliterating cultures everywhere. Romano Guardini had written of this loss in The End of the Modern World.

“It was therefore the task of the Church not to be enculturated in a vacuum, which would be akin to emptying herself of her peculiar character, but to be herself and thereby to form culture, i.e., to bring culture once again to people who were rapidly losing their hold on all cultural memory.”

He is speaking of the Roman Catholic fathers of the Second Vatican Council, but his words apply equally to most “mainstream” churches in this day, including mainstream Anglican ones. He continues,

“This did not happen. It would have required profound meditation upon the meaning of culture, by churchmen steeped in the learning of three thousand years of Jewish and Christian arts and letters, and of the Greco-Roman matrix wherein the Church, by the providence of God, was brought to birth. However, schools and universities were abandoning that learning by throwing it overboard as ballast.”

I have commented more than once, in more fora than one, on our collective tendency to throw out the baby with the bathwater! So it is good to hear a scholar with the eminence of Dr. Esolen confirming my intuition. Here he is again:

“I am aware that the Church has often had to prune back an excessive exuberance in the arts, so that the visible would not overmaster the invisible… [however,] we now have the worst of both worlds.”

In other words, mainstream contemporary churches have given up “the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome” – by which I mean both culturally, as representing the core of Western civilization and, if by Greece is understood Eastern and by Rome Western Catholic Christianity, theologically and spiritually – for a doctrinally and aesthetically diluted and diminished form of Christianity which fails to uphold “the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3), and which embraces vapid kitsch in what passes for liturgical art, music, and architecture.

In traditional Anglicanism, there is another challenge to be met: on the one hand a too-eager, overly enthusiastic embrace of Anglo-Catholicism to the point of seeking to become Rome without the Pope; and on the other, an Anglo-Calvinistic insistence on “Anglicanism as established,” which can almost make an idol of liturgical starkness and simplicity, and which theologically and spiritually threatens to thrust the Anglican tradition into Protestant sectarianism, rather than its true identity as a distinctive expression of the Church Catholic.

It is not as easy as one might suppose to maintain a healthy and fruitful “via media” (middle way) between extremes, “not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth,” in the words of a Collect for the commemoration of the gifted Anglican divine and champion of that via media, Richard Hooker! Yet it is a task worth undertaking even if we often fall short of its accomplishment. As the great conservationist Aldo Leopold put it, “In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve but to strive.”

The alternative is more of the same, the period and ethos which since Vatican II has transformed (and often not for the better) not only the Roman Catholic Church, but most of the Churches of the West; a period in which, as Dr. Esolen expresses it,

“we have endured fifty years of lousy church buildings, lousy music, lousy art, banal language, lousy schooling, dead and dying religious orders, and an unfaithful faithful whose imaginations are formed more by Hollywood than by the Holy One. We have been stuck in cultural and ecclesial neutral, i.e., rolling backward and downhill… neuter, effete and infertile.”

It is ironic indeed that a movement which was intended to make the Church more “relevant” to contemporary people and culture has had precisely the opposite effect: the more it attempts to ape popular culture, the less relevant it becomes.

For the relevance of the Church has always been in its critique of popular culture, pointing toward things which are higher, timeless and eternal: and ultimately, of course, to God the Three in One, Who is their Source – the perfection of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, of which our attempts at the same are always but pale reflections. Yet that does not mean we shouldn’t strive toward the higher things, quite the contrary:

“There is only one thing to do: for the future of the Church, we must build again, drawing on those cultural accomplishments that are timeless, in the service of Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, in saecula saeculorum [unto ages of ages].

The Oxford Movement Begins | Ritual Notes

https://c1.staticflickr.com/2/1456/25598318452_84d71e19f3_b.jpg

Most Anglo-Catholics know that 185 years ago today, John Keble ascended the pulpit at the University Church of St Mary’s in Oxford to deliver the sermon at the opening of the Assize Court. If the date is not remembered, the result certainly is…

Source: The Oxford Movement Begins — Ritual Notes

“Most Anglo-Catholics know that 185 years ago today, John Keble ascended the pulpit at the University Church of St Mary’s in Oxford to deliver the sermon at the opening of the Assize Court. If the date is not remembered, the result certainly is. John Henry Newman wrote that this sermon, easily forgotten during any other time, was the beginning of the Oxford Movement.”

The UEC, parent jurisdiction of the Oratory of St. Bede the Venerable and St. John’s Church, Westminster, is not located on the Anglo-Catholic wing of traditional Anglicanism, but rather considers itself Reformed Catholic, being devoted to the classic formularies of the Anglican tradition, and sometimes tends to look askance at the Oxford Movement (which admittedly, in its later manifestations, became rather ultramontane). Yet this essay makes some excellent points, noting that John Keble’s Assize Sermon of 1833,

“entitled National Apostasy, is unexpectedly good. Once you get through the dense beginning and understand the building argument, it not only speaks clearly to the times in 1833 but it has a remarkable resonance in 2018.

John_Keble.jpg

“In a nutshell, this is Keble’s argument:

“Like Samuel’s Israel, we prefer the lure to live in prosperity and so-called freedom like other non-Christian nations. Nations, and by-extension individuals, find justification for throwing off the yoke of Christ and the demands of discipleship. We look to threats outside and threats within to abandon godly principles (sound familiar?). We then blame government or religion for our ills and never ourselves. We rationalize and excuse every decision and act. We become so tolerant that we believe nothing and we persecute those who believe in the name of inclusion (oh my goodness!). This rebellion moves from individuals to public officials. The officials begin to attack Christ by attacking His Church, beginning with apostolic authority – bishops. This attack will come in the name of popularity and expediency…

“Keble calls the Church to follow the example of Samuel through constant intercession, which then gives grounding and strength to protest. Christians should continue to glorify God in their daily lives and routines and should not be so consumed with the concerns of the day that they neglect ordinary duties, especially prayer and devotion. This is an important point he makes. While we may not live to see wrongs righted, we are on the right and, ultimately, victorious side.

“Every one of his points deserves further reflection and exposition, but is this not the climate of 2018?”

I would certainly say that there are plenty of similarities and parallels! The article goes on to point out – cogently, I think – that

“The Catholic Revival in the Church of England had nothing to do with gin, lace, and backbiting, as is often caricatured. Yes, elaborate ritual and church building followed in the next generation, but this was a logical development of the belief that the Church is not the same as the Post Office. [Or, as I sometimes put it in defending the use of traditional language in worship, “The liturgy – the worship of God – is not Uncle Joe’s barbecue.”] The Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives and not the same as chicken tetrazzini at the weekly Rotary Club. The development of ritual and devotion was the servant, the handmaid, to the truths Keble turned our minds to 185 years ago.”

May they never be forgotten!

 


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How the Church Exchanged Worshiping God For Cheap Emotional Thrills

Worship is supposed to be the Body of Christ accepting God’s invitation into His life, the Divine Life of God as it is expressed in the selfless and absolute love of God lived out forever in the Trinity.

Source: How the Church Exchanged Worshiping God For Cheap Emotional Thrills

I am aware of the saying, often attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo (although it is not found in any of his extant writings), that “He who sings, prays twice.” As a former Methodist and continuing respecter of John Wesley, I am aware of the high premium he placed on congregational singing, as found in his “Directions for Singing.”

However, as I read the “Directions,” I am not at all sure he would find much to approve in a lot of what passes for “Christian music” these days. And I suspect he might share my suspicion of the assumptions underlying the concept of “praise music” – and the idea of “praise services,” generally: are not traditional services also filled with praise for God?

But they are not unbalanced in that direction; to use the oft-used acronym “ACTS,” traditional liturgies balance Adoration (praise) with Contrition (confession and repentance), Thanksgiving, and Supplication (asking God for His aid for the concerns of ourselves or others). And I am quite sure Wesley would look askance – as do I! – at blogger Sarah Koenig’s assertion, quoted in the linked post, that

“Praise and Worship time is a means of coming into close contact with the mercy and love of the Divine – one might even consider it a means of grace. It not only replaces the service of the Table as a primary ordering liturgical element, it also in some sense functions eucharistically for its participants.”

“Replaces the service of the Table”…? “Functions eucharistically”…? Hmmmm. I have a problem with that. Christ did not say, “Sing this in remembrance of me!” Rather, I agree with Patheos guest blogger Les Lamkin, when he writes,

“I do not question music’s power. I do not question that it touches us deeply and profoundly. I question its fitness for shaping us into Christ-like people both individually and as the Body of Christ. I question the idea that raw sensuality is what Jesus had in mind when he said that true worshipers will worship in spirit and truth. I question the idea that somehow drawing people into church with cheap, ‘sanctified’ parodies of Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga is going to shape us into the Bride of Christ, without spot or wrinkle.”

More generally, to quote Lamkin again, “here’s the problem: the Bible never connects worship to preference. Or emotion. Or music.” As a wise priest once commented to me, part of our problem, or at least challenge, as Christians is distinguishing between feeling our heart “strangely warmed” (a la Wesley)… and heartburn.

We live in a society that teaches – sometimes explicitly, almost always implicitly – “if it feels good, do it.” We are trained, by our current society, to associate “warm fuzzies” (to use the old ’70s buzzword) with what is good and right, “cold pricklies” with what is bad and wrong. “How does it make you feel?” is the dominant question – not, “is it right or wrong?”

This is problematic, when dealing with theology, and related concepts like morality. Because often, our faith teaches us – or should, if it is itself being taught correctly – that there are times when we need to feel bad!

We need to experience the guilt, pain, and sorrow of understanding ourselves as sinners, so that we can truly repent; we need to feel the awe – and even terror – of realizing the power of God, literally the Creator of “all things, visible and invisible,” even if we are also grateful and reassured by his goodness to us. We need to mourn the fact that our sinfulness led to the death of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, in order to fully experience the joy of His Resurrection, and all that it means for us.

We cannot do these things, we cannot have these experiences and the understanding that comes with them, if we equate worship with a giddy emotional high. And we cannot even understand and appreciate that we as humans go through times of spiritual drought – what has often been referred to as a “dark night of the soul” – if we key our religious experience primarily into being made to feel good.

“I really felt the Spirit’s presence there” can mean exactly what it says… and it can also mean that we particularly enjoyed the music and fellowship that day. Can you reliably tell the difference? Is your heart strangely warmed, or do you have a case of heartburn? Sometimes the Holy Spirit comes to us in the midst of that dark night of the soul. Sometimes His presence isn’t even discernible to us, except in retrospect.

And we also need to reflect on these things, intellectually, using our God-given rational faculties. We need to understand their implications. We need to internalize not only feelings, but the truths of the faith, and their personal as well as doctrinal implications. This requires rational thought, cognition, reflection – not just emotion.

I am reminded of an excellent essay by David Mills, which I posted here on the blog a few years ago, entitled “A Defense of Traditional Worship.” In it, he writes,

“The concert ended with everyone singing an old hymn, swaying gently from side to side, many holding hands with the strangers beside them. Someone turned out the lights, and people began holding up lit matches, as a feeling of brotherhood descended, it seemed, on everyone in the hall. Out in the parking lot a few minutes later, many of them were fighting, stealing, and selling drugs to small children.

“It was a rock concert ending in the then-popular style. It taught me, a new Christian, that feelings of worship were easily aroused and often almost completely transitory and insincere, in the sense that they did not reflect any change in the will, or any desire in the worshipers to turn from their wickedness and live. Such feelings may be spiritual, but they are not always Christian.

“People are easily moved but not easily changed. The most elevated feelings are no guide whatsoever to the formative value of an experience. To be changed people need to be made to see the world and to act in certain ways and not in others, and this is the reason that Christians ought to worship traditionally, that is, in formal, ordered, regular, heavily textual liturgies designed by a central authority in its historical tradition.”

This is as true now as it was when Mr. (now Dr.) Mills wrote it, which was a good few years before I posted it here on The Anglophilic Anglican. I strongly encourage you to read his whole essay, if you have not already done so! It is well worth the “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” treatment I recommend for particularly seminal readings.

To return to the present essay, Mr. Lamkin reminds us that

“Worship is supposed to be the Body of Christ accepting God’s invitation into His life, the Divine Life of God as it is expressed in the selfless and absolute love of God lived out forever in the Trinity. It is supposed to be formative and the experience derived from is meant as a means of grace in which the Divine Life of God is imparted to us, individually and as the Body of Christ,”

and then warns us, aptly, of the hazards of using emotion as a guide to this:

“Our emotions are powerful influences. Scripture encourages emotion as a response to God, His greatness, His glory, His love. But we must recognize that scripture also warns against allowing emotion to be our sole, or even a significant, guide regarding faith and practice.”

He even goes so far as to assert,

“I’m a musician. I led my church’s worship team for nearly 30 years. I wish I could take it all back; all the rock and roll from the stage, all the outpouring of raw emotion in the name of worship, all the—do I dare use the word?— idolatry.”

“Idolatry”? Really? Yup! Some powerful stuff here. And and he writes “from the inside,” as it were: from the perspective of someone who’s been down the road, and trying to dissuade other travelers from taking the same unproductive detour.

Here again, I encourage you to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.” I think you may find it interesting, helpful, illuminating, and perhaps even… to cite a “cold prickly” that is nonetheless an important part of faith… convicting.

“A Defense of Traditional Worship” by David Mills

This excellent piece was written not by me, but by David Mills, who retains all rights in it. Knew I had a copy of this somewhere! This was written back in the mid-90s, but it is at least as true now as it was then. I used to have it on my old website, with the permission of the author, and I hope I am not straining that permission too far by re-posting it here…


Traditional_Worship

A DEFENSE OF TRADITIONAL WORSHIP

By David Mills

THE CONCERT ended with everyone singing an old hymn, swaying gently from side to side, many holding hands with the strangers beside them. Someone turned out the lights, and people began holding up lit matches, as a feeling of brotherhood descended, it seemed, on everyone in the hall. Out in the parking lot a few minutes later, many of them were fighting, stealing, and selling drugs to small children.

It was a rock concert ending in the then-popular style. It taught me, a new Christian, that feelings of worship were easily aroused and often almost completely transitory and insincere, in the sense that they did not reflect any change in the will, or any desire in the worshipers to turn from their wickedness and live. Such feelings may be spiritual, but they are not always Christian.

People are easily moved but not easily changed. The most elevated feelings are no guide whatsoever to the formative value of an experience. To be changed people need to be made to see the world and to act in certain ways and not in others, and this is the reason that Christians ought to worship traditionally, that is, in formal, ordered, regular, heavily textual liturgies designed by a central authority in its historical tradition.

This claim does not apply to “seeker services” and the like, intended to reach the lost. It applies to the regular worship of those who have committed themselves to Christ, the Church, and the local community, in which they commit by word and action their minds and hearts to God. Formative worship is, like tithing and the other disciplines of the Christian life, for those who want to be transformed into the image of Christ and are willing to pay the price.

A jarring claim

For many reasons, not least the obvious holiness of many people who intensely dislike such worship, an argument for the superiority of traditional worship and (by implication) against the modern alternatives has to be prudential. The superiority of traditional worship is more than a matter of taste but less than a matter of principle. It will tend to make most people, most of the time, and especially most people over time, more Christ-like than the alternatives.

The claim jars, even so qualified. It is trying to be told by someone older (a late thirty-something) that you ought to want what he wants, but every generation will have trouble apprehending and practicing some crucial aspect of the Faith its culture or circumstances have obscured, as those people raised on too much candy and cake have trouble eating well, even as their aging waistlines begin to expand, or as those who were spoiled as children cannot delay gratification and run up enormous bills on their credit cards.

It is likely, I’m afraid, that a generation raised so much on television and educated by people who valued self-expression more than the gaining of knowledge and the disciplining of the passions, will be handicapped in worshiping traditionally — as some older people raised in a segregated culture of the fifties will have trouble accepting people of other races in their church. (Its culture and circumstances will help it see some aspects of the faith better than other generations, of course.)

In other words, it is not enough to say of traditional worship that one cannot use it or that it is culturally inaccessible. The Christian faith itself is not always culturally accessible. It assumes some maturity in the faith and maturity is not easily or quickly gained, and not gained without submission to a tradition and authority whose value is not always clear.

Much of the Bible itself is not culturally available at first, or without much study. Jesus had to explain his parables even to His disciples, and the books of Daniel and Revelation do not yield their secrets without some knowledge, gained only by study, of apocalyptic literature. St. Paul famously baffled even St. Peter. If the source and authority of our faith is such, so might be the expression of that faith in worship.

Worship is handed on

My argument is the simple one that believers are best formed through traditional worship because it is “traditioned” or handed on and therefore is wiser than worship designed anew or created on the spot, even if it seems more relevant and to better meet the worshipers’ felt needs. Traditional worship is the product of a long historical refinement, in which learned and holy people constantly refined a living tradition begun in the worship of the synagogue, itself founded in God’s revelation, and in which to some extent they responded to the experience of worshiping people. It is wiser than anything we could invent ourselves.

This claim is a bold one, best judged for oneself in practice. (As are most other Christian practices; for example, the need for daily devotions, calls to which sound like simple moralism till one discovers for oneself the joy and the need of beginning the day in intimate talk with the Lord.) I think it could be proved by argument, but in the space at hand it is best demonstrated by example.

Let me give just one. A few years ago I attended a conference held by Christian intellectuals who were both deeply grounded in their traditions — most were ordained and had doctorates in theology — and serious about bringing the Gospel to a changing culture. They had thought through the nature of worship in such a society. One of their services (only one, which is significant in itself) included a confession of sins, which ran:

Caring and compassionate Creator, we enter this place set apart for your worship, knowing that we have failed to see you in other places. We have ignored your beauty around us, in earth and sky, in plants and creatures, in the people who surround us. We have chosen to live more by our fears than by our faith, to be weighted down by what we do not have, rather than rejoicing in your gifts to us. In these moments together, draw us so close that we cannot help but know everyday that you are with us, wherever we go. Enlarge our capacity to serve, so we may see you in all whom we meet. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Compare this with the confession in the modern service of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer:

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

As I wrote in Touchstone, the first “is regretful rather than repentant. . . . The image it brings to mind is the shy, bespectacled little boy who just has to be encouraged by a warm voice and a soft hug to step up to the plate and swing for the fences, not (as seems to be the case) wild screeching children covered with filth and flinging filth on everyone within reach.” It was produced by people whose understanding of the Gospel one would naturally trust, but who, when creating a liturgy on their own, made up something so sentimental and banal and empty of distinctively Christian content. Prudence requires us to acknowledge that though we might not create something inadequate in this way, left on our own we are likely to do something equally silly and to be equally blind to our error.

I know “X-er” services often include corporate confessions with a much greater and sharper sense of sin than this one. They are not attracted to the sentimental, optimistic liberalism that still beguiles some of their elders and produces such confessions. Nevertheless, outside an historical liturgy, a confession made up from scratch will still express the wisdom and inspiration of the author, which is unlikely to be as great as that of the tradition, however holy the author may be.

In contrast, the Prayer Book’s confession is more explicitly, and therefore formatively, Christian. (And this is the modern Prayer Book, mind you; the older one is better at this.) It declares that we have sinned, not just failed; describes in outline the various ways we have sinned, thus giving us a form for reviewing our own lives and bringing to light particular sins we could otherwise ignore or repress; explicitly asks for God’s mercy and pleads Jesus’ work on our behalf, thereby acknowledging both our need for forgiveness and the only grounds on which we can ask it; and declares the effects of our being forgiven. This confession is not only truer, it is deeper; it gives the worshiper more guidance and helps him realize more deeply the nature and extent of his sinfulness and of God’s grace.

The problem with the form

The objection may still be raised that even if its content is more reliably profound, the form of traditional worship is still inaccessible to modern men and women. I don’t think this true, or if true, true because they have not been taught what it means. Traditional worship is or should be accessible even to modern men and women because it simply takes normal and natural human actions and directs them to the worship of God. Once this principle is grasped (consciously or intuitively), the traditional form is no longer alien but natural.

The instinct for regular and ordered worship is one [common to all humans], which is why the most informal worship takes on a set form if it is repeated more than two or three times. My argument is simply that this being so, we ought to rely on the wisdom of the tradition to ensure that the liturgy — for liturgy there will be — is the best it can be.

The use of gestures is a good example of this principle. Everyone, for example, traditional or informal, stands to sing. We stand for the same reason we leap to our feet at a game-winning home run or a wonderful violin solo: because standing is the natural posture for praise. It is what we do naturally when we truly feel the goodness of an action. Traditional worship simply plays out this principle more completely. Take kneeling, which puts off if not offends many people, and does not seem to be natural because we never otherwise kneel in the course of our lives. In the worship of the western Church, one traditionally kneels to confess one’s sins and to receive the Eucharist.

The natural symbolism of the first is obvious: we have offended against God, we have by our choice hurt someone we love, and we cannot look him in the eye. We tend to stare at the ground and shuffle our feet; in more expressive cultures, people actually drop to the ground before the person they’ve offended. Traditional worship simply asks us to similarly enact and embody our repentance to God.

We kneel at the Eucharist (during the Eucharistic prayer and at the altar rail) because we are asking God for a great gift of which we know ourselves to be unworthy, and one embodies this by asking on one’s knees. I don’t, myself, understand how anyone who believes that “This is my Body” can comfortably stand up like a traveler ordering a cheeseburger in a highway cafeteria. There is a cultural analogue even for this, in a man’s dropping to his knee to propose marriage to his beloved. He does not kneel because he’s asking her forgiveness, nor because he’s begging her to accept him. He kneels at her feet because he is asking for a great gift (a woman’s life) of which he knows himself to be unworthy. It would not be right, somehow, to do so while standing above her, or even sitting beside her. Such a gift should be asked for, even if it will surely be granted, from below.

The same is true even with the elaborate texts of traditional liturgies, supposedly so off-putting to people used to pictures and soundbites. People who truly know the truth will want to repeat that knowledge, in the way children love repeating the alphabet when they first learn it, or adults repeat beloved hymns or poems, or the adolescent boy in love for the first time may be heard besottedly repeating his girlfriend’s name over and over. And such knowledge as we have of the Gospel is only well-conveyed — conveyed completely and precisely — by a multiplication of words.

This in fact is what is done in the worship of Heaven, when the ecstatic heavenly chorus has to throw out word after word to praise the Lord: “Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever” (Revelation 7:12). If we speak of our God in few words, our concision may be less a matter of our being relevant to a sound-bitten culture as our being less excited by the good news and too complacent to want to repeat it — and such a failure will be shown equally in our failure to evangelize.

The same, I think, holds true for the order, formality, and regularity of traditional worship. They may at first seem unhelpfully rigid or because they are fixed and borrowed seem to be insincere, but they express some deep human instinct. In the end, God delights not in burnt offerings or in beautiful and wise liturgies, but “a broken and a contrite heart” He will not despise. Yet he whose heart has been broken will crave the help of his brothers and sisters from every age to grow more like the Lord whose body was broken for him.

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Mr. Mills is the director of publishing at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, where he edits Mission & Ministry. He is the editor of The Pilgrim’s Guide: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Witness (Eerdmans, 1998) is also a senior editor of Touchstone and the American correspondent for the English magazine New Directions. “A Defense of Traditional Worship” appeared in Re:Generation Quarterly and is reprinted here with permission.