Sunday, April 5, 2009

Reflections on Part I of The Spirit of the Liturgy

In this post I offer a few reflections on Part I "The Essence of the Liturgy" of the book The Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI.

1. Benedict XVI makes it clear that worship is the central theme of the Bible. From Abraham to the Exodus to Sinai to the Tabernacle to the Prophets to the Temple to Jesus to the Church to the Heavenly City of Jerusalem - the focus is on worship. How should God be worshipped? How can we worship God rightly? I don't see how to deny it; the Bible is all about worship.

2. False worship is rooted in sin - in the attempt to assume the role of God in deciding what is and is not acceptable worship. The worship of the Golden Calf was not a relapse into Egyptian idolatry so much as it was a refusal to wait patiently for Moses to come down from the mountain with God's instruction on how to worship the Living God in the right manner.

3. Sin involves both self-worship - putting ourselves in the place of God as Adam and Eve did - but it also involves trying to worship God by means of self-generated methods of worship, as in the golden calf incident. So not just any worship will do. Worship planning is not supposed to be an exercise in imaginationa and human creativity, but rather a matter of obedience to God's revealed Word.

4. This has huge implications for the Free Church tradition, in which a great deal of emphasis is placed on spontanaity and personal involvement out of a fear of dead ritualism and empty forms, as in the Catholic and Anglican traditions out of which the Free Church tradition comes. There is a great deal of danger in free church worship of falling into golden calf worship, i.e. self-generated worship. Clearly, we Evangelicals are trying sincerely to worship the God of Scripture. That is not the problem. The problem is that we may fall into human invented methods of worshipping God even though God has revealed how He is to be worshipped in Scripture.

5. Worship is not a compensating mechanism for a fallen world; it is the central purpose for which the world was created. God created us for covenant and covenant means relationship. Worship, therefore, says Benedict XVI, is the soul of the covenant.

6. Benedict XVI rightly points out that sacrifice is the heart of worship. This idea is under relentless attack today from the Evangelical Left, the Emerging Church, Feminism, and Liberal Protestantism in general. But sacrifice is central to the Scriptures, the Tradition, and all branches of Christian Faith (Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism).

7. Benedict XVI notes the re-definition of sacrifice in Scripture from destruction to the true surrender of the self to God. The Bible deals with sacrifice in order to teach us what true sacrifice is. True sacrifice is "a way of being;" it is the surrender of all things to God that God may be all and in all.

8. Benedict XVI notes that worship has both an historical and a cosmic element in it. However, he is clear that the historical element gets priority and compares true Christian worship to gnostic worship in which liberation from finitude through the ascent of the mind to God on the basis of special knowledge grasped only by the initiated ones. Christian worship, by contrast, requires something to happen in history (the Incarnation, Cross and Resurrection) and also expects a future redemption of the world (the Second Coming, the Kingdom of God, the descent of the Heavenly City). Worship that has lost its eschatological "edge," that is, its eager expectation for the revelation of Jesus Christ as Lord is worship that is playing with gnosticism.

9. I confess I get tired of hearing from the breathless, over-wrought salesmen of "THE GREATEST NEW THING EVER." Listen to some quotes from a recent Evangelical author hyping his "new reality" that all church leaders are supposed to learn about from him.

"The current church culture in North america is on life support. It is living off the work, money, and energy of previous generations from a previous world order. . . the world is profoundly different than it was at the middle of the last century . . . We are entering a new epoch of human history called the postmodern age. The postmodern world will demand a new church expression, just as did the rise of the modern world. . . Its creation has made obsolete much of our goals and activities in the church world."

The world demands a new church "expression" (whatever that is)? Really now? Was the world happy with the old church expression before these shifts? The world is profoundly different? Says who? How? The church is on life support? Did Jesus forget about us? My point is simply that moving from the breathless, wild-eyed apocalypticism of some Evangelicals to reading Benedict XVI is simply to embrace sanity and faith. Benedict XVI is calm, thoughtful and determined to be faithful. He is biblical and reflective in his approach, the goal of which is to worship God rightly. Apparently, he thinks that if the Church gets this right, much of the rest will fall into place. Above all he is concerned to be biblical and faithful, rather than relevant and cutting edge.

10. In chapter 3 Benedict XVI proposes that the central question we need to ask about worship is how to worship so as to demonstrate that the NT corresponds to the inner drama of the OT. The OT poses the questions; the NT gives the answers. This is a program of hermeneutics and a method for doing theology, as well as a guide to evaluating the various elements of worship.

11. The prophetic critique of worship is not, as liberal Protestantism thinks, a rejection of cult or liturgy in favor of social ethics. It is not an either/or. The synagogue was not an advance in the history of religions over the Temple. The Temple and the sacrificial system were fufilled in Jesus Christ. So when Yoder interpreted as speaking as if he means to say that the trajectory of the Bible was toward exile and synagogue services centering on the Word means that the ideas of Temple, sacrifice, liturgy and worship are left behind or relativized, he is being interpreted in such a way as to turn him into a heretic. For liberals, the ideas of sin and salvation indeed are relativized and rendered obsolete once the link between worship and ethics becomes clear in the prophets and in Jesus. But far from being relativized, the ideas of Temple, sacrifice, liturgy and sacraments remain central in the Gospels, the Epistles and the Bible as a whole. Worship is not just a pep rally for the millennium development goals, as it so often appears to be in liberal Protestant worship.

12. The coming together of the Stoic concept of the Logos, the NT idea of the Word made flesh and the wisdom Christology of the NT means that sacrifice takes on a cosmic, as well as a moral and sacramental, character. The Eucharist is the meeting point of universal themes of sin, reconciliation and redemption. Benedict XVI's emphasis on the universal import of Christian worship will not let us lose sight of the fact that God's work is so much bigger than either the pietistic Protestant emphasis on my personal salvation or the liberal Protestant emphasis on the improvement of human society here and now. We celebrate the redemption of the whole cosmos and history is the stage on which this redemption is being worked out. The coming kingdom is so much bigger than my heart or improvements to the welfare state; it is the New Heavens and the New Earth.

1 comment:

andie said...

Why do you not enter the Catholic Church? I have been reading through many of your blog posts, and have been wondering that.