Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Non-non-traditional liturgy

Today after lunch, three Christians got into a discussion at work over traditional and non-traditional liturgy. I know one of the Christians — an East Coast ECUSA type who remains in TEC — because we used to work in the same office. The other one is the son of an Ethiopian Orthodox priest, who I met at a Bible study at work.

The Episcopalian is renting a room to the Ethiopian immigrant, and though I should meet him because we have “similar” views on liturgy. When pressed, he said that we both reject non-traditional liturgy — which is certainly true.

But then we found it was hard to define what “traditional”, “non-traditional” and “not non-traditional” worship are. Is it the words? Is it the music? Is it the theology? (“Mother God” etc.)

My companions seem to think that traditional worship and traditional theology were strongly related. I would disagree: go to almost any TEC cathedral and you’ll find the High Church Progressives (as I termed them three years ago), who want all the pomp and circumstance of traditional worship but reserve the right to modernize the theology to their heart’s content.

I suppose at some level the “traditional” is easiest to define: Orthodox or Catholic worship — possibly in an incomprehensible language — conducted by the priest according to a set form, using words and music that are unchanged for centuries. Post-Reformation, even the Anglo-Catholics switched to the vernacular as did the RCC post-Vatican II. This is pretty rare in the US today, except perhaps for a few Greek-American (Ukrainian-American etc.) kids who don’t understand the language at their Greek Orthodox Church,

So what about “traditional” is traditional?
  1. A set liturgy — ruling out most Evangelical-leaning Christians and most of the Reformed denominations.
  2. Traditional liturgy — among Anglicans, separating those who use the Book of Common Prayer from Rite II and the rest of what Peter Toon called the alternative service book.
  3. Traditional language — KJV or RSV or ESV, not the gender-neutrered NRSV or TNIV.
  4. Old hymns — ruling out all but some traditionalist Continuing Anglicans and LCMS types.
  5. Any hymns at all —  ruling out the praise bands and CCM sanctuaries.
  6. Old technology — wooden seats, no electronic organs or amplification, no PowerPoint sermons or videorecordings — probably would cover many Church of Christ parishes.
  7. Old theology — the Virgin birth, the bodily death and resurrection, the Trinity, creeds, truth of the Bible and things like that. (Let’s leave out for now theological differences between Orthodox, Catholic, Lutherans, Calvinists and others.)
As my 2007 posting meant to suggest, it’s certainly possible to find old theology with a rejection of old-style liturgy. The AMiA is filled with them. I’ve visited various ACNA parishes that firmly rejected both TEC heresies, but before they left TEC also shunned the thees, thous and Bach — places like Grace Anglican Church of Carlsbad (formerly St. Anne’s Oceanside). St. James Anglican Newport Beach and St. James San Jose (formerly St. Edward’s).

No church organized by mortal man can or will be perfect. If I had to choose, I guess I’d say #7 (old theology) is paramount, followed by #4 (old hymns.) Certainly I’ve felt at home at any hymnal-based LCMS parish I’ve visited, and I’d probably be fine at many PCA or EPC churches (even if the Presence is more Real to me than my fellow parishioners).

But is this the problem with American cafeteria-style Protestantism, with complete unbundling of worship, doctrine and hierarchy? I’d love to recover the liturgical consistency of my childhood PECUSA, but even a Schism I unification is unlikely to resolve these problems.

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