In the previous post I argued that popular culture is among the greatest obstacles to reclaiming the Christian inheritance. By this I mean that many churches have adopted a false relevancy, which is actually a bald appeal to the popular and nothing more.
They argue that the church must give people what they are looking for. That, of course, assumes that people actually know what they are looking for. And that is a very large assumption, indeed. From that frame of mind, recognizing the great value of traditional Christian forms of worship, for example, is extremely difficult. Once the church has shorn itself of the authority and stability that were for centuries inherited in customs, rituals and practices, it is moved into the posture of iconoclasm, even sacrilege. It is also no accident that many of these churches use the term ‘non’-denominational’ in their appeal, itself a term of repudiation. These non-denominational expressions are in the business of persuading us that traditional Christian forms are out of touch, artistically and theologically irrelevant and therefore beyond the pale of acceptability. But they are wrong.
It is this narrow view that will not recognize or see that embracing the Christian inheritance and offering it in the present age calls for a far more imaginative use of the proclamation than anything that is now being offered in the name of crass popularity. It also calls for a sober, clear headed analysis of the critical situation people actually find themselves in.
I write this as a confessional Lutheran and a child of the Reformation. But I do not share in the culture of repudiation that so dominates much of the protestant scene today. The great inheritance of the Christian traditions is the legacy of of our Christian history. That legacy is ours and the reason why we should conserve that culture and pass it on to the young.
But can this really occur in an age when traditions have evaporated under the searing heat of the powers that detest them? Can the traditional curriculum of worship thrive in an age when the eyes and ears are saturated with cheap, throw-away stimulation? Can an age of rapid motion return to a time of contemplation and reverence? I believe the answer to these questions is a qualified ‘yes’.
The non-denominational voices need to be called out for what they truly are; radical, negative voices of repudiation who reject they very community that gave them whatever bits and pieces of the Christian faith they have managed to cobble together. They should be called to task, with no apology, for trivializing the faith and remaking the church in the image of a culture that could care less about the church and isolating the Christian community from its past. They need to be confronted with the truth that what is relevant is that which is true in every time and every place. As I have written before, the church has no business becoming an accomplice in people’s restless need to reinvent themselves.
The noise factories of much contemporary worship work against the very sense of worship. That music has no survival value and turns the worship of God into the equivalent of fast food consumption. It is a sterile force from which very little proceeds except the habit of distraction and the relief of boredom.
Worship is an experience that reflects a perception of value. The worship of God should be withdrawn from the marketplace and its values. Box office success is hardly the measure of the value of what passes for Christian worship. The great worship traditions of the church have survived because for generations Christians recognized the value of immortalizing the worship of God through word and song that would endure as lasting monuments to the vibrancy and depth of the faith.
It is precisely the framework of tradition that is called for in an age of increasing uncertainty and chaotic pluralism. The worship traditions and communal sentiments of the Christian community can provide what they have always provided – stability in an inherently unstable world. And that stability itself is a witness to the ultimate foundation underlying all things – Jesus Christ.
At least, this is what I believe. And I believe my voice is but one of many in a growing chorus of revulsion against the prevailing cheapening of our Christian witness. Those of us who feel these things and believe them may not succeed in placing them once again where they belong – at the center of the Church’s life and in the hearts of the people. But we may succeed in showing why the great inheritance of the Christian traditions matter, and why the battle to conserve them needs to be properly fought.