Church Thoughts

This morning, I felt a moment of frustration about the attacks some observers launch against the “emergent” church when emergent congregations pick and choose liturgical elements to lend an air of mystery, or to allude to a tradition of worship that congregants self-consciously repudiate, or just because they like this or that.

I’m pretty pronouncedly Anglo-Catholic about the kinds of liturgical expression I’ll support. I’m from the stream of worship-tradition that falls to the left of the upper-case-“O” Orthodox and the ultramontane Roman Catholics, and to the right of most Roman Catholic congregations I’ve visited, and virtually all Protestant congregations. That’s not a claim about quality or authenticity or divine favor — it’s a rough assessment on a spectrum between two poles. It places me in the zone where “being able to make a clear claim about the coherence and continuity-with-tradition” carries immense weight.

But friends — the very liturgical sensibilities that formed me to think the ways I do derive from a retrospective repristination of selected liturgical practices in Victorian England. Likewise the “liturgical movement” of the mid-twentieth century sent liturgical scholars scouring ancient texts to scoop out some prayer or practice that centuries had concealed with dust, polishing them up, and plopping them into contemporary liturgies.

“Continuity” is always a fictive thing — not fictitious, but fictive, something made. When it suits us, a detail from the Gelasian Rite fits right in to our worship. If (on the other hand) a particular detail irritates us, it constitutes a grave departure from the coherence of the tradition, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. We aren’t just making it up; the way we customarily think about things like liturgy guides us to regard some changes as natural and harmonious, and others as pernicious. Without having an outlook at the start, we couldn’t make judgments at all about “what is coherent” and “what isn’t.”

So, however grouchy I feel when a start-up congregation skims my missal for congenial words and gestures, the Apostle reminds me (charitably, I hope) that “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”

12 thoughts on “Church Thoughts

  1. “Continuity is always a fictive thing” — yes, yes. I like that very much.

    Over here in the Jewish corner of the field we have similar debates, naturally enough, so I empathize with everything you just said. 🙂

  2. “Continuity” is always a fictive thing

    I’m not sure what you mean by this. But if you are claiming that all liturgical traditions are inherently repristinative, I disagree.

    There is a big difference between an attitude of genuine reverence for, and loyalty to, the liturgical tradition that one has actually received, and an attitude of dissatisfaction and the thought that one’s actual tradition has been corrupted, leading to a project of restoral and historical reconstruction. I would say that the 19th-century Anglican ritualists (and their intellectual heirs of mid-20th century Anglican liturgical revision) typify the latter attitude, and the Orthodox (even the “liturgical theology” school of Afanassiev and Schmemann) typify the former attitude.

    It seems to me that you are projecting the attitudes and values of your own tradition (in which I also was raised) onto the whole of Christendom, and I don’t think it fits.

  3. If I may sound a slightly defensive note, Chris, that’s not what I said.

    I claimed that all “continuities” are fictive, not that all are repristinative. The point is that “continuity” doesn’t exist as a natural or self-explanatory category, but it’s invoked in different ways on different terms by different people to rationalize the account they give of “continuity.” Think of the way “apostolic succession” gets bandied about by various bodies of Christians, or the Baptist claims of continuity from the time of John the Forerunner.

    I’m not equating an Orthodox assessment of liturgical continuity with an Anglo-Catholic one, but rather observing that one would expect an Orthodox believer and an Anglo-Catholic to disagree about these matters in part because they tend to operate with different assumptions about continuity.

    I’m not projecting anything onto Orthodoxy — I’m noting a point at which projections and comparisons fail, and trying to give a reason.

  4. As an Anglo-Catholic to the right of you (for whatever that means), I would push you in that litugical actions/traditions also and must point to/proclaim intention (within the sacramental system) and proclaimation of organic/visible Communion. So when these traditions are lifted from place of origin without the Intent or proclaimation of organic/visible Communion, then I question the innovation or practice. Without these, the practice leans toward losing its intended meaning and therein can be seen as of little consequence in certain regards.

  5. Jeff, I absolutely agree with you — but again, that’s from within a way of thinking about liturgy and sacraments that not all of our sisters and brothers share. If Alonzo or Ermintrude doesn’t think of actions as “sacramental” in the same sense we do at all, it’s to be expected that he or she won’t see a problem with appropriating those ceremonies, prayers, or gestures. Why should they?

    So I entirely share your outlook — but I doubt that, say, Brother Tripp does, and (on his terms) he has ample reason.

  6. My ears were burning. Now I know why.

    One thing that my be neglected in this conversation is evangelism. Is it possible that the liturgy borrowed would transform the theology of the borrowers? It could renew faith. I often hear the term “liturgical revival” in evangelical circles.

    So far I see only an idea of co-opting traditions and liturgical stylings being expressed here. What I have come to understand through spending three years with the AngloCatholics at SWTS and now working at Reconciler is that liturgy transforms theology. This should not be news to either Fr. Jeff or Fr AKMA. Why it would be assumed that evangelical or baptist theology is transforming the liturgies only is puzzling to me.

    If I were of a tradition that believed it stemmed from the True Church, that it was part of the apostolic succession, then why would I not want to export our liturgy in the hopes that others too might join us? AKMA is very generous in his estimation of being baptist and how it relates to the rest of Christianity. But we have holes in our theology that are being explored. Liturgical “borrowing” or “revival” is one way that we are going about that.

    I am not suggesting prepackaging kits to evangelize, but liturgy forms us. Do you think that our borrowing of it has left us unchanged? You should have been at the recent up/rooted collect to hear us speak of sacraments and the use of icons in worship. It was not simple co-opting of the tradition but a response to understanding that somehow we left it behind…

    …and after 500 years or more, we are not quite certain why we did. This is what is emerging, gentlemen. Curious, no?

  7. This discussion will go nowhere without some concrete example of supposed “appropriation” (or whatever). With actual written texts, or at least descriptions, in front of us, we might be able to discern the genius or presuppositions of the prior rite, as well as those of the piece that is being interpolated, and decide to what extent they are compatible.

  8. It is a common turn of phrase these days to say I am spiritual but not religious. This indeed also points to borrowing Traditions and liturgical form. Realizing that Spirituality and Religion are loosely defined now-a-days… I argue that borrowing tradition and form lends more to the notion of Spirituality- or personal edification than it does to Religion- practicing a developed system of belief and organic connections to a Body. That is to say with regard to the Veneration of Icons, used in a spiritual sense, they do much for the individual and his edification (if he goes for such a thing)…but used in a religious sense the veneration of Icons points to figures (saints) in that very same organic Body and affirms the practices of the faith of that religion. Put bluntly- Spirituality has no or little accountability to doctrine or the practice of religion, and so the borrowing of tradition or form without the intent to submit unto the religion is vain…I see what you are saying Brother Tripp, but I would argue that one must first submit to the Body from where the tradition or form is found, before one practices it with any measured consequence or increase in the practice of religion. Now mind you that this is being said from an Anglo-Catholic whose practices find their font (or at least some argue) in Tridentine Roman Catholicism for the most part (but then I have the argument of true Catholicism in its English expression intertwined with that) and I am left with a big red Bull-eye on my shirt-front as well. So we all may borrow from tradition and form, but the Intent and religious practice must come first.

  9. I argue that borrowing tradition and form lends more to the notion of Spirituality- or personal edification than it does to Religion- practicing a developed system of belief and organic connections to a Body.

    This would be a problem…and likely is in some instances…but the liturgical use and study may actually lead to the belief that you insist must come first.

    I am not certain that it does. I have been to a few Orthodox services in my life, and the consistant line is “Participate as you see fit. You may not come to the table until you are received by baptism or chrismation.” Only the table is witheld. Veneration of icons, for example, is not witheld from those interested in the faith.

    If you keep people from the liturgical experience of the faith, in all its diverse traditions, then you keep people from the faith. The line you draw is too hard and fast, Fr. Jeff.

    Keep people from the table until they are baptised. But you sound like you are suggesting that people may not experience the liturgy at all until they are received. This may be counter to the purpose of the liturgy…if we can guess what that is.

  10. And you assume that I am speaking for the Orthodox in regard to veneration of Icons within their services or traditions…and I am not. What I meant was that by displacing these traditions…the lose their intended value. That is not to say that when people come to worship I turn them away from the Liturgy…I do no such a thing…I encourage and educate them to participate and learn, by using the liturgy and recieve the sacrament of Baptism or Confirmation and become full members. But with regard to the Emergent Movement, I do not understand them to be trying to convert souls to the Eastern Orthodox faith (in the case of the Veneration of Icons). But in this thread I also argue in out of the context of pastoral responsibility and therefore present a much harder arguement that is not as hard in practice. So I mean no offence.

  11. Allow me to make a comment as a student at an “evangelical” seminary (Asbury Theological Seminary). The evangelical movment, broadly generalized, is pretty far removed from the kind of conversations I hear from my Roman Catholic & Anglican sisters and brothers. We tend toward the liturgical pragmatism that AKMA describes in this post. That is to say, if a liturgical element evokes a “mystical” or “ancient” feel then by all means include it in the service. Worship becomes one more option of “Church” to be contextualized in service of the Church. I wrestle with this and appreciate your discussion – there are deep wells of liturgy that we would do well to drink from in service of God and neighbor.

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