Monday, October 12, 2009

wardrobe turns 4! and C. S. Lewis on formulaic worship

Well, today marks the 4th anniversary of through the wardrobe. --confetti-- We've come a long way in four years... I'd standardized the color of the font, and my name is no longer at the end of each post. There have, hopefully, been other changes as well.

One thing that has not changed over the years has been Lewis's influence on me (and by extension, the blog... just look at the name) and his frequent presence here--check out the 'Lewis' tag at the bottom of this post if you want to see more of him. So I thought it would be appropriate to bring in year four with a word from C. S. Lewis.

First, a prefatory word.
Southern Baptists are not the most uniform bunch.
In fact, that's one of the hallmarks of the denomination: there's no centralized Southern Baptist authority on... well, almost anything. Even those statements
which are intended to cross congregational lines, such as the Baptist Faith and Message, are not imposed on any body. Indeed, sadly, with many Baptists, doing things the way you feel they ought to be done is *much* more important than any uniformity... or unity.
This is one gripe, however, that I have heard from many a Baptist over the years--perhaps something that can be tentatively said to be 'agreed upon.' The gripe goes like this: those denominations with formulaic worship have got it all wrong; how can you honestly praise God if you're just reading words out of a book, or just repeating things without ever thinking about them? You get the gist.

Lately I've been reading Lewis's Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, and this is a topic that Lewis broaches almost immediately in the letters.
Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don't go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best--if you like, it "works" best--when, through long familiarity, we don't have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don't notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.
... every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping.

Most of those who engage in the afore-mentioned griping have probably not ever asked someone who truly enters into liturgical worship what they think the good of it is, or why they prefer it to something more spontaneous and amorphous. There are many answers that might be offered, but this would at least be a part of Lewis's. As is often the case, a perspective from the other side may force some serious reconsideration of the question on almost every level. After all, you don't want to seem to support a 'church service where our attention would not have been on God.'

Any responses? Agreement, staunch opposition, further questions?

1 comment:

Ryan said...

Reminds me of something Auden said about how "if we will not be guided by tradition, we must submit to be guided by fashion" (or fad or something like that). Which is of course what we as Baptists tend to do, the newest literature from Lifeway, the newest song from Passion guide our worship more than centuries of church practice. More than that, in a lot of Baptist churches it would be more acceptable to talk about the A.C.T.S. prayer model than the Lord's Prayer. I really don't get it, but I think at least some of it is residual animosity to Catholics and a view of liturgy as being both tied to Catholicism and somehow false because of it's lack of spontaneity. After all, we can go having Communion every week (or even calling it that, much less mass) because people might think we were Catholic, despite our lack of vestments, altar, confessional, ect. Oh and the Creeds are out too, I mean really they say catholic right there in the words, can't have that...