Monday, December 17, 2007

Traditional worship making a comeback

Today’s GetReligion includes an interesting posting by Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, commenting on a US News story that claims there’s a movement towards returning to traditional worship in Catholic, Muslim and Jewish faiths.

After commenting on the story and the trend, Mollie notes the superficial nature of trying to cover so many faiths in one story. Although not a Lutheran, Mollie is a member of the LCMS, the moderately conservative Lutheran branch whose work with KFUO I often praise here. Although I’m not a Lutheran, Mollie is the GetReligion whose worship attitudes I feel most comfortable (particularly since TMatt went Orthodox), as demonstrated by today’s quote:
But as someone who worships liturgically and grew up worshiping liturgically, it seems to me that a lot of this “movement” isn’t so much about returning as staying put. Confessional Lutherans will keep worshiping the way we do even when this “return to tradition” fad gets passed to wherever the leftover WWJD bracelets are being hidden. It’s funny to me that those of us that don’t change with the times every few years only get coverage because apparently a fad is guiding people in our direction.
In addition to Mollie’s points, the first thing that grabbed me about the article was the backlash by liberals against the trend towards the Tridentine mass in the Catholic church:
Some liberal Catholic clergy are completely skeptical about the scope and meaning of the traditionalist turn. "It's more hype than reality," says the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and political scientist at Georgetown's Woodstock Theological Center. Reese thinks the church should focus less on the Latin mass than on the three things that draw most churchgoers: "good preaching, good music, and a welcoming community."
which was partially be rebutted by a Catholic neocon:
But Sister Patricia Wittberg, a sociologist at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis, sees more substance in the new traditionalism. "I think churches that can articulate what they do and what they stand for tend to grow better." To that extent, she says, the conservative turn in the church makes sense. But she points out that there are two kinds of conservatives. "One group," she says, "would like to take things back to the [16th-century Counter-Reformation] Council of Trent, but I don't think the future's with them. I think the future is with a group that is interested in reviving the old stuff and traditions in a creative way. Sisters in traditional orders may wear habits, but they often live in coed communities."
Although Anglicans were not mentioned, it was interesting to read about an evangelical Protestant church adopting a liturgical calendar and (occasionally) saying the Nicene Creed.

This seems to go against another article by TMatt, in this case in his paid job as a religion columnist. (Hat tip to innocent as doves). Entitled “Hitting the 500-year wall,” he speculates what as to what will come next on the 500 year cycle after the Crucifixion, the fall of Rome, the Great Schism and the Reformation. The expert he quotes seems to be promoting some form of postmodern Christianity (aka “emerging Christianity”), but I wonder if the real trend (as evidenced by the Anglican wars) of having Christianity led over by the African church — or, as the article quoted by David Virtue today puts it:
African Christians regard their Christian faith as their whole life and not just a part-time activity, said the head of the World Council of Churches on Sunday. The Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia’s response was to a question posed by Dean Samuel T. Lloyd III of the famed Washington National Cathedral about why Christianity was exploding in Africa whereas Christian denominations in the United States have been reporting declining membership.

“Religion is seen not as a part-time occupation, but it permeates the whole life,” WCC General Secretary Kobia answered. “There are many Africans therefore that think their future will be much more hopeful if they embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is projected that by 2025 there will be 700 million African Christians in the world – a phenomenal increase from about 10 million in the early 20th century.

Current Anglican Primate of the Church of Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, for example, has more people in his church pew on any given Sunday than all of the Anglican churches in the United States and Europe combined, according to Kobia.
The collapse of 2,000 years of European Christianity would certainly be a big deal. Alas, from my narrow personal tastes, it might also mean a dying out of Gregorian Chant and other forms of traditional worship derived from the medieval Roman church: let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

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