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Aslan Is Not a Tame Lion: The Serious Mistake of Casual Worship

The latest from Ponder Anew.

One of the things I find most disturbing about contemporary Christian worship is that we go about it like the Divine is completely familiar and pedestrian. And in many cases, this is by design. The leaders of the seeker movement have been screaming for years that worship should be a come-as-you-are jam session built around the pop preferences and entertainment appetites of the surrounding community. I even have a colleague here on Patheos Evangelical who explicitly states that church should be a fun time for the whole family. The buildings look more like modern movie theaters, the faux-liturgy an extemporaneous and ad hoc list of assurances that God can fit nicely into your life, and the overarching sensibility one of customer service.

Because that’s what most mega-churches and mega-church Mini-Mes are, frankly. Corporations achieving varying levels of success by peddling fun experiences that are more entertaining than any others within commuting distance. Worship is the ultimate fun experience at these places, the musicians and speakers the headliners in a quasi-holy bait-and-switch scheme that secures your butts in their padded, stadium-style seats by promising you the best Jesus that money can buy.

But that’s simply not worship.

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Reader Comments (4)

Liturgy is an attempt to tame God, however. We can’t allow him to get too close and we can’t allow the spirit too much freedom to work, so we must box him in with formulas and rubrics.

Just offering a counter argument. I’ve seen many “trads” that are equally vapid and shallow about their worship as the modern mega church person is. In fact, the trad is often more shallow because they’re so extremely focused on the external whereas the mega church person is more focused on allowing God to act on them in a way that he chooses or wishes. The point is to open yourself to God.

Of course this conversation changes if you believe the mass to be an actual sacrifice.

October 30, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCS

Meh. Ancient Jewish and ancient Christian worship was liturgical from the get-go, so I reject your attempt to impale me on the horns of a dilemma. And the Mass is a sacrifice. The English word “priest” is derived from the Old English “preost”, which in turn is derived from the Greek word “presbyteros” (“presbyter”; “elder”). That being said, Anglicans are not Presbyterians, that is, we do not simply view our priests as the Anglican version of Presbyterian clergy (“elders”). There is a sacrificial aspect to what our priests do, especially during Holy Communion. Some Christians believe that the Church of Jesus Christ is not supposed to have “priests”, since, as the arguments runs, the old sacrificial order of Jewish temple worship has been supplanted by our great high priest Jesus Christ, and we now have a sort of egalitarian “priesthood of all believers”. However, it is important to note that the earliest writings of the Christian church reveal that the church has always considered its “presbyters” priests, that is, clergy who offer sacrifices. During the tumultuous days of the Protestant Reformation, one of the chief objections to Roman Catholic theology brought forth by the Reformers was that the Roman Catholic Mass was a clear renunciation of the biblical teaching that Christ’s sacrifice was once for all, and therefore no more sacrifices are necessary. Whatever the merit of the case against Roman theology of the Mass might be, Anglicans do not deny that Christ’s sacrifice was once for all. This is reflected in the very words our priests say during the prayers of Holy Communion:

“ALL glory be to You, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who, in your tender mercy gave Your only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; Who made there (by His one oblation of Himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, offering, and complete payment, for the sins of the whole world;. . . .”

Nothing could be clearer. That being said, our priests, being priests, offer something there at the table. What is it? One Anglican seminarian puts it very succinctly:

“Not every sacrifice implies atonement. We * do* offer sacrifices on that Holy Table which makes it, by definition, an altar. There are “thank offerings”– which is precisely what the Eucharist is. We also offer incense (again, not as an atonement offering, but out of thanksgiving). We offer the prayers at the altar. We offer alms on the altar. These are all sacrifices and thank offerings. We are able to offer anything to God *because* of what Jesus has done for us in his once for all sacrifice *for sins* upon the Highest Altar of the cross.”

In fact, we offer our very selves to God at the altar. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship”, writes St. Paul in Romans 12:1. Interestingly, Paul here conflates the idea of our living self-sacrifice with the idea of worship, and that is exactly what Anglicans do when they offer themselves to God in the Eucharistic sacrifice. As St. Augustine put it, “If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying ‘Amen’ to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear ‘The body of Christ’, you reply ‘Amen.’ Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your “Amen” may ring true!”

According to John Lovering Campbell Dart:

"Consider first the Ordination of priests. It is called the "Form and Matter of Ordering of Priests." It is ordered that there be a sermon "declaring the duty and office of such as come to be admitted Priests; how necessary that Order is in the Church of Christ and also how the people ought to esteem them in their office." Then according to immemorial custom, "the Archdeacon shall present to the Bishop (sitting in his chair near to the Holy Table) all them that shall receive the Order of Priesthood." These terms "Priest" and "Priesthood" are the only ones which the Church of England uses to indicate the second order of the ministry. They have a very important bearing on the matter under discussion. The Ordinal has never been officially translated into Latin, but the Prayer Book has. Whenever the word Priest occurs in the English book it is always translated as "sacerdos." For example, in the rubric before the recital of the Commandments there is the direction "Then shall the Priest rehearse"--"tunc recitabit Sacerdos;" "after the collects the Priest shall read the Epistle"--"Post hac collectas, Sacerdos;" in the Visitation to the Sick "the Priest entering"--"ingrediens Sacerdos." The point of this is that there is another term, which it would have been possible to use, the word Presbyter. If there is any difference in meaning then "sacerdos is a somewhat stronger word. In classical Latin it meant "one who sacrifices." Presbyter, or Elder, is the New Testament term, and does not necessarily carry with it any sacrificial connotation. But "sacerdos" is inextricably mixed up with sacrificial ideas. Rome in the Form which, as we shall see presently, is now declared to be the essential Form, is content to use "presbyter." But the Church of England always uses the term "priest" or "sacerdos" whenever the second order of ministry is indicated. In the ordination service of Elizabeth, including rubrics, the term occurs twelve times. In 1662 still another was inserted. It is clear then that men being ordained are raised to a "sacerdotal" rank and dignity."

October 30, 2018 | Registered CommenterEmbryo Parson

I said “Of course this conversation changes if you believe the mass to be an actual sacrifice.” Then your comment proceeded to only address this which is not what I was addressing.

Regardless, I don’t see anything in your explanation that is counter to what Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy teaches. Although it does come across as even more mysterious than what the EO would say.

October 30, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCS

Well, sorry I missed your point: which I still don't get. Do I conclude correctly that you're positing an equivalence theory between liturgical and modern non-liturgical services?

November 2, 2018 | Registered CommenterEmbryo Parson

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