Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Conservative Theology and Contemporary Liturgy-First off-my complements to yet another good Catholic blogger, Emily Stimpson's Fool's Folly. Belated happy birthday. It's good to see a growing list of theologically orthodox bloggers. We're getting "overrun" with these whipper-snapper mackerel-snappers. She's given me a permalink entry in the "Also Playing in Catholic Blogland" section. I'm not a Catholic but don't mind being associated with that bunch of solid theological writers in that block. Emily doesn't care for the use of conservative and liberal to describe theology,
The English language is a wonderful thing. It gives us so many descriptive words, which when used with precision help us to communicate with clarity and power. Words like “traditional” and “contemporary” work well when used to describe very different but permissible liturgical styles. “Faithful” and “orthodox” are more clear than “conservative” when describing Catholics who submit to the teachings of the Church. Likewise, “unfaithful,” “unorthodox,” “dissenting,” and “heretical” accurately depict the views of those within the Church that oppose her teachings.
There are pitfalls in a lot of those words. Orthodox can sound like traditional, and also creates problem if the big-O Orthodox church is in the mix, while unorthodox will have the secular meaning of novel or quirky rather than theologically different. For instance, Robert's Bauer's new church is unorthodox in their charismatic-style worship but appears to be biblically-solid. Another dichotomy is Emily's family who are liturgically conservative but theologically liberal. Faithful and unfaithful have their problems as well. Emily's parents might faithfully show up for Mass on Sunday but have the message go in one ear and out the other. The intent of the usage is faithful to God (and from a Catholic perspective faithful to the earthly Body of Christ that is the Church) but the synonym of diligent can cloud the issue. Dissident doesn't work too well, either. In our small-l liberal culture, dissent is honored, as (at least in my mind) it conjures up images of Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn and thugs unjustly torturing the opposition in Latin America more than it brings to mind bad theology. The word heretic has a bad rap, as plenty of the good guys in history were heretics to the current order. Galileo and Luther were heretics in the eyes of the Church of their day, as were good Catholics such as Thomas More that stood up to early Protestant zealots. For evangelicals, biblical can be used as a synonym for theologically conservative; however, the Catholic emphasis on the Church takes that somewhat out of play for their nomenclature. If one is going to use conservative, use the prefix theological to give differentiation from political conservatism. Conservative as in liking the status-quo of a basic, traditional doctrine, the "Faith of our Fathers." There are a few other areas where the status-quo is often at issue. Clothing is an issue. Some people, including Louder Fenn, want to put on their "Sunday best" in order to show proper respect to God's House. This attitude often goes hand-in-hand with a desire for liturgical stability, having the service done the same way with the same set of songs and the same basic liturgy. Louder points out that
In the long run, jeans, guitars, and all the rest are corrosive of orthodoxy. Okay, maybe that's the curmudgeon in me talking; but it's not unlike the erosion of courtesy in the larger society. Is the civil order served by crude behavior? Is the spiritual? Discipline in demeanor, dress, and music are not matters of indifference.
I've gone to church in dress slacks and a tie and been there in a polo shirt and shorts; God takes us as we are, regardless of our clothes. A more casual attitude towards attire at church will allow people to be comfortable in worship rather than have to check out who has the snappier suit or the nicer dress on. True, if the sartorial sloppiness is an outgrowth of a general trend of crude behavior, then it is a threat to orthodoxy. However, if it allows the parishioner to be himself rather than what he wears, it's a positive. Clothes don't make the man, the transforming of the Holy Spirit does. Music is designed to bring the individual into communion with God, breaking down the worries of the day and making the person more in tune with the Holy Spirit. Paul tells the Colossians to "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." Note that organs and pianos (or guitars) weren't yet invented when Paul wrote that. It should be up to the church of the day as to how to go about choosing the hymns and spiritual songs. Charles Wesley borrowed from bar tunes of the era [Update 8/21 or at least that's the legend--Luther really did do so] to provide the music for his hymns, yet they sound a bit stodgy in the hymnal two centuries later. We shouldn't use contemporary music just for the sake of being contemporary, but if it brings the worshiper closer to God than a old-fashioned hymn, that's what should be used. Churches that have multiple services have tended to have two services, one with a more traditional liturgy and another more contemporary service. When I was at Kent State, Grace Baptist had a contemporary first service and a traditional second service. The Sunday School class that I liked was in the first service, so I would up going to the second service. Musically, I'd prefer the more contemporary, but I can be moved by God's manifest majesty by How Great Thou Art as well as by God of Wonders. I can be moved by Jesus' sacrifice on the cross by The Old Rugged Cross or Above All. Musically styles change, but the Word of God stays the focus, whether the instruments are harps and lyres, organs and pianos, or guitars, electronic keyboards and drums. Change can be either good or bad. Many people fear change because it might not be good. 1 John 4 has a good rule
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
If the music or attire change is of God, it will show itself by a godly presence. If it is both different and ungodly, then you get rid of it pronto. [Update-while I was working on this, Emily chimed in on Louder's post as well]

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