Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout – Double Barrel Aged: A Metaphor for Liturgy

beer_249005An Internet Monk writer walked into a bar…

“Bartender,” I said, “What would you recommend for a thirsty man?”

“This is your lucky day,” he replied. “We serve Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout here. It is the perfect beer and ranked as the number one beer in America on Let me read you what one reviewer had to say about it.” He brandished his iPad.

[The] pour is marvelous. Oil slick, syrupy, jet black that sits still in the glass capped by a thin ring of rusty head. [The] aroma is sublime with huge dark chocolate, coffee, smoked peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, and dark rum. [The] flavor follows suit with subtle, toasted oak, bourbon, and mild pepper heat showing their presence along with dark fruits, cinnamon apples, and chocolate cake. [The] palate is simply perfect with silky carbonation, coating mouthfeel, and lingering finish of cocoa, wood, and spices.

“Well,” I responded. “That sounds pretty amazing, but you know, I am not much of a beer man. I have tried it a couple times, but never really acquired a taste for it. What else have you got?”

“That’s it,” he replied.

“That’s it what?” I asked.

“That is all we serve, Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout. Did I mention that it was Double Barrel Aged?”

“You are telling me you only sell one beer?” I asked. “Have you been taking lessons from an English Cheese Shop?”

“I am telling you that we only sell one beverage. Period. And what does a cheese store have to do with anything?”

“Sorry,” I said, “I forgot where I was for a moment.”

“Besides,” he said, “we are serving the perfect drink here. The recipe hasn’t changed for hundreds of years! Why would anyone want anything else? It has been a huge hit for our entire chain of fine drinking establishments. Did you know that you could go to any ‘Fox and Flagon’ anywhere in America, and be able to drink this fine aged beverage?”

“Along with other fine beverages, right?” I enquired.

“Nope,” he replied, “just this one. We take pride in the fact that all over America people are participating together in raising a glass of the finest of Cigar City: Hunahpu’s Double Barrel Aged Imperial Stout. We have build a real community around it.”

“So you don’t serve anything else?”

“What,” he exclaimed, “and break the sense of community! That would be so wrong.”

“What about those like myself who have don’t really care for beer?” I asked.

“We are convinced that anyone who really takes the time to get to know our Imperial Stout won’t want to try anything else. There are some weirdos who only stop in once or twice and don’t come back. But they don’t really know what they are missing. It’s perfect beer, people! What don’t they understand!”

“Here’s the thing,” I said. “I am a diabetic. Alcohol sends my blood sugar crashing. Sugar sends my blood sugar spiking. Plus, my body is really sensitive to caffeine, so that rules out a lot of other drinks too. I am looking for something with a bit of flavor, cold, wet, with a little bit of fizz, so it doesn’t feel like I am drinking plain water.”

“Hmmm,” he replied, “as much as I want to try to continue to sell you on the benefits of Cigar City’s finest, you really are a hard luck case. You know, you might want to try the variety store next door. I am told that they sell Caffeine Free Diet Coke there.”

“Thank you!” I exclaimed. “That is exactly what I am looking for!”

Update: Look for my “explanation” of this allegory in a new post on Monday.

155 thoughts on “Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout – Double Barrel Aged: A Metaphor for Liturgy

  1. I hope you’re right that many more people, especially young ones, like traditional liturgies than I tend to think. The Episcopal church my wife and I belong to certainly has a good number of young people and families in the pews, despite using a traditional liturgy. But it is a downtown city church, goes out of its way to reach out to young people, is deeply involved in community service, and has a Saturday evening popular music mass (this is the one my wife and I attend, owing to scheduling conflicts, though we dislike what I’m about to describe) that features the music of a variety of popular performers each week (last week was the Johnny Cash Mass, the week before the Billy Joel Mass, etc., in lieu of hymns and anthems or CCM).


  2. Doh! You got me there. I mean, it was a sort of tongue-in-cheek comment, but your rebuttal stands.
    It’s interesting how the different types of worship, I think, appear more interesting to people of different personalities or dispositions. I think liturgical worship generally appeals more to thinkers or those prone to process information through reading, and Evangelical worship might appeal to more emotive types. I can understand how different people find different services easier to connect to. I don’t think that makes them all equally viable options, but it certainly does explain a bit. I think many more people do prefer traditional liturgies than you give credit, even if they don’t get quite as much out of it as those who study it in depth. I’ve even had a dude tell me how much he like the liturgy when he didn’t even know what it was called! “Regimen,” he went with.


  3. Robert, we are having a blast, thanks! I don’t even know where to begin, so I’ll just throw out this new experience: Yakitoria is to chicken as a sushi bar is to raw fish. We et the chicken, the whole chicken, and nothing butt the chicken (including some chicken sashimi). Tomorrow we are headed to the onsen. We are doing our best to relax and recover, and trying not to stay anxious about our future.


  4. I know I said you could have the last word, but: I’m pretty certain that just about every position is missing something, but maybe I’m missing something; it really alarms me that you didn’t say you’re having fun in Japan!


  5. I, too, would be bored by evangelical style worship, and have been on the few occasions I’ve been exposed to it. I prefer traditional liturgies, and find them far more meaningful. But I think most people just do not share my, or your, sensibilities in this area. Perhaps, as you say, many of them are in the wrong religion; but how is that possible if they are baptized, which, according to your own theology, means that God has made them his own in and through his body the Church?


  6. Yes, the Bible is not Christ, the eucharist is not Christ, and you and I are not Christ. And yet, in some way, all are Christ. The question is, in what way? Obviously we do not receive Christ partially. We receive the fullness of Him as believers, and he resides in us. He does not reside like this in the bread and wine. They are mere conduits: Christ is in them for the purpose of imparting us His grace. Christ is the source, we are the recipients, the means are the method of delivery. In our Baptism, the fullness of Christ is put on us as we are united to Him in his death. But we don’t then keep the water in a vial and tote it around like liquid Christ. Rather, we are to become the Christ, to our neighbor, and when the war against sin, the world, and the devil causes us to stumble and become weary, Christ is waiting to refresh us with all of Himself again and again. He does not give his fulness once and only once, as if we’d better make it count. ‘Else subsequent sins would lead to despair as it would seem that we have lost our Christ-ness. The whole point of the liturgy is simply to feast on Christ, that being filled with his grace, we might extend it to others. As long as we are simultaneously saint and sinner, we will always have need for a constant supply of grace and to walk in dependance on Christ to give it. It’s easier when you don’t have to go looking for it, too.

    For somebody who is so uncertain about these things, you sure seem pretty convinced that my position is missing something. 😉 Now to go and figure out what I’ve apparently wagered on all this…


  7. Of all the things to feel guilty about, I think that wanting to try something different in worship is far enough down the list to forget about. It’s not a heresy to explore, that’s just part of the learning process!


  8. Traditional liturgy does not provide the level of stimulus that we seem to require now

    Actually, as someone from the younger generation with a lesser developed memory and heavy attention defecit, let me tell you: the liturgy provides me a level of stimulus I was never able to get in Evangelical worship. Evangelical worship spends extended periods of time doing the same thing: Sing for 30 minutes, listen to a monologue for 40. My mind would drift and wander through both of those to the extent that it nearly impaired my ability to participate. I tried hard, but I just always felt that the deck was stacked against me.

    One of the things that really excited me about liturgy when I first discovered it was the way in which it enabled me to pray and to focus on it. The daily offices of the Book of Common Prayer are constantly moving from one thing to the next: Confess your sins, sing the invitatory, pray the psalms, Old Testament reading, Canticle, New Testament reading, Canticle, creed, prayers, etc…. and finding all the subtle ways which they connect to and reinforce one another. It made it so easy for me to focus because no matter what you are doing, you aren’t doing it long. Liturgical churches have shorter sermons, too. The constant back and forth and rotation of novelty (the proper) with familiar (the ordinary) keeps my mind fixed on the journey in front of me. If you have an interest in the substance of texts being employed, liturgy is about as engaging as any corporate ritual can possibly be.

    I understand many people find it boring. Many people also find the Scriptures to be quite boring, which is why they are so often not read in worship: we need something more engaging! But stimulus level ought not be the primary concern when designing worship. The Gospel should be, and the substance and texts of the Scriptures. If these bore people to death, it is possible that they are in the wrong religion, or that they just don’t understand well the one they are in. The latter is, I think, a common scenario. But the solution isn’t to remove the Gospel or the scriptures from worship. Find new ways to present them? Sure. But we can also do so within the existing forms without having to start over with a blank slate.


  9. I don’t think so at all. It is interest in Jesus that led me to the liturgy. You cannot have the liturgy without Jesus. “Non-liturgical” worship you can.

    It’s really silly and anachronistic to say that liturgical worship is a result of catering to niche preference in the consumer driven ecclesiological buffet. The liturgy predates this by centuries, when there weren’t 50 other options in town. It isn’t a mimicry of any cultural form of entertainment, and though it is influenced by and absorbs cultural distinctives, it isn’t beholden to any one particular culture. Liturgical worship is about giving people what they need, not what they want. Word and Sacrament: that’s the core. Without those, the liturgy is nothing. Liturgy is simply how you partake of Word and Sacrament communally.

    People come to the liturgy expecting to meet Jesus, through means; He is the bread of life, which the liturgy serves.


  10. ” However, though we have been made partakers of His divine nature, you and I are not the Word.”

    Yes, but neither are the sacraments, nor the Bible, the Word. And if the Word is present in them, the sacraments and Bible, he can no less be present in his people, who receive them, and him, by hearing and eating/drinking. If the Word comes into me, or you, by means of sacraments and Bible, then he abides at least as much in us as he does in them, otherwise, to what purpose do we eat, drink and hear?

    Well, anyway, you can have the last word if you like. I’m just not as certain about these things as you seem to be, so I’m not willing to wager everything on my rightness, or argue until I’m blue in the face, about them.

    Hope you’re having fun in Japan.


  11. God’s Word is sovereign over both Bible and sacraments

    Sounds good to me. The Word is sovereign over everything, though. Indeed, the Word can not be bound to anything except that to which He binds himself. What He binds himself to, no power can separate Him from, and yes, this does include the church. The Word binds himself to the humanity of Christ, and the Christ binds himself to the church via the means of grace.

    the humanity and presence of Christ is found primarily in human beings

    I object only to the word “primarily” because it seems to hint at some rationalist sacramentarian presuppositions. But nonetheless, the presence of Christ is truly in the imago dei and the church in particular. However, though we have been made partakers of His divine nature, you and I are not the Word. We are recipients of the Word, united to the Word, and transformed by the Word. Where do we find the Word to do these things: bind us to Christ, raise us with Christ, give us forgiveness with Christ? Not in people (other than Christ).

    A Christ who binds himself to ordinary means to work in the world is obviously not limited by them. Insisting that the sacraments do what Christ says they do does not necessarily mean He is impotent outside of them. That’s just silly.

    faith comes by hearing the Word. But how that connects with sacraments is another issue

    You don’t have to connect it with the sacraments, because the Word is already there. Apart from the Word, the Sacrament is just water, bread, and wine. Nothing special. But through the Word, the Word Himself is present for us, in them.

    The Lutheran theology of the Word starts with Christ, who is the incarnate logos. Now ascended to the Father, he may still be encountered through the means he left to us. Our churches teach that the Word comes to us through the pages of Scripture (the written Word), the proclamation of the Gospel (the preached Gospel, even in written form outside the Scriptures, where it has perfect conformity to them, as in the Small Catechism and the Creeds) and the Sacraments (the visible Word, where the actual sayings of Christ himself are given with the physical elements of His choosing to convey to us what He promises). These are the “means of grace,” and Christ is always found there. Thank God!


  12. And that’s where I struggle the most with the analogy. People don’t need beer; they don’t need a diet beverage; they need Living Water. The people who followed Jesus after the feeding of the 5,000 were looking for more bread; not the Bread of Life. The church can’t be in the business of giving the people what they want – even if what the people want is traditional, liturgical worship. Otherwise, liturgical churches would be guilty of the exact seeker-sensitive marketing pragmatism for which mega-churches are accused.


  13. If “consumerism” is seeking Christ-centered worship/community, it’s hard to find fault in this. Personally, I believe that the Evangelical Church I attend is Christ-centered. The worship “style”, however, as an introvert, can be very distracting to me. So I am interested in searching out a church with a traditional liturgy that is more contemplative and, hopefully, a bit quieter. I’m not sure if this is the “consumerism” Michael Spencer referred to.


  14. I don’t know, James. My church is liturgical, but Lutheran, so no Latin, etc. My wife and I came into it from the Baptist tradition, and we had absolutely no trouble at all understanding everything. There were some things done differently, but nothing was inscrutable. In fact, it has been remarkably plain and straightforward. Both my wife and I were raised Christian, so maybe that has something to do with it, but our experience was just completely different from what you wrote.


  15. There is also a rice brandy (whiskey distilled from rice wine). It tasted like vodka to me, though.


  16. Besides, you’re putting words in my mouth when you say that I’m trying to separate Word from sacraments; I might as easily and incorrectly say that you are trying to limit Word to sacraments, which would be no less Godlike on your part.


  17. Oh, and the humanity and presence of Christ is found primarily in human beings, who bear the image of God, and especially in the church, which is the body of Christ. See Barth’s “The Humanity of God.”


  18. I found that the charismatic elements breathed life into the liturgy and the liturgical forms properly tempered the excesses that one can find in charismatic expression.

    Though I’m not exactly certain what you are referring to by “charismatic elements,” I am fairly certain that this is much more common in liturgical churches than the caricature of this parable seems to indicate. The liturgy absolutely does temper certain excesses in worship, even if it can be done in a way that is lifeless and dull. I propose that being boring is not so big a crime in the grand scheme of things, but nonetheless, care should be taken to “breathe life into the liturgy” because it is the song of the resurrection and its aesthetics ought to reflect this. I think that a large number of churches following the liturgy do find ways to energize their services, for better or worse, and even if we’re not quite speaking in tongues, you will not find the lifeless “dead orthodoxy” to be as pervasive in the liturgical churches as it may have been at one time. Many congregations are finding ways to do the liturgy without being “high-church.”


  19. I’m wondering what it is about the liturgy that strikes you as particularly Medieval. You can’t be referring to any of the Eastern Orthodox rites. But the Western ones are not really all that different, they’re just simpler.

    Nonetheless, much the liturgy still makes the cut for “ancient.” The forms evolved from the first century synagogue worship, and many of the particular components are dated to the early and apostolic church (not to mention the 90 percent of the liturgy that is Scripture).


  20. Perhaps you might consult Karl Barth on how God’s Word is sovereign over both Bible and sacraments, and not bound by any particular form other than the humanity of Christ. Not astronomical at all, only miraculous.


  21. Mike: Would you prefer your tar and feathers boiling hot, or with a side of cold sarcasm? 😛

    I am very tempted to hold off on commenting on the article until I actually hear your “explanation,” but it really doesn’t appear that complicated. I hope I’m missing something here!

    If the stout in the story represented the Gospel, I’d be all for the bartender: You can take your Pelagian diet coke and go to hell! 😛

    But I gather this is not the case. The liturgy is not the Gospel. The Gospel has all the qualities ascribed to the Stout in this parable, the liturgy has none.

    The Gospel is the number one saving proclamation in the world. It hasn’t changed for thousands of years. You can get it from any faithful Christian congregation. People all over the world rejoice in it and build community around it.

    The liturgy has infinite versions and variations which are adapted for use in different contexts. It is in a constant state of flux. Nearly every church does it at least somewhat differently. Many people continue to participate in it who do not particularly enjoy it, and it cannot, of itself, create community, but rather, it is the product of a community gathered around the Gospel.

    The liturgy simply conveys the Gospel. Where you have a more effective means, use it. I don’t know of any, and I’ve done a bit of exploration.


  22. And another thing: The bartender in the story was more interested in generating appreciation for the one beverage than in understanding his customer.


    One scenario for the next episode: The man grows bored and dissatisfied with the diet Coke, begins using a new highly effective technology for managing his blood sugar, returns to the bar (finding it had struggled mightily to stay in business), and lives happily ever after.

    Or: Being a very capable chemist, he invents a rich-tasting sugar-free non-alcoholic dark stout and becomes successful selling it to variety stores everywhere, eventually acquiring a chain of his own.


  23. I recognized that the writers of the liturgy were deeply steeped in the bible.

    And part of the reason behind the liturgy is to deeply steep others in the Bible. “Steep” is really quite the operative word here: Not explain, not systematize, but just sit in it and let it slowly instruct you over time.

    But a huge cultural and intellectual gap to the uninitiated.

    Joining a new religion and embracing a life-altering paradigm ought to include this. The liturgy confronts one with this and reinforces the substance of the faith that is to be marked, learned, and inwardly digested.

    Revelation and the temple worship are most excellent handles on the liturgy. Relying on liturgical forms without making these kind of connections is not good pastoral practice.


  24. How you manage to separate the Word from the Sacraments is quite an astronomical feat. Godlike, really. Oh, wait, by “Word,” did you mean “Bible?”


  25. First, this is a wrong assumption on your part.

    That isn’t my assumption. It is an observation. A consistent, repeated, well documented one, even if it isn’t universal. I don’t believe this assumption, but I’ve seen it clearly demonstrated through a wide variety of Reformed and Evangelical traditions. If good catechesis is the point, you’ll get no argument from me. Sometimes this will involve telling you what you already know (repetition is the mother of learning). Sometimes it will involved challenging you with what you do not understand. Done well, it will strategically connect the two. Done poorly, it is still enough, because the power of the Christ’s kingdom rests on His word, and not on our brilliance.

    I wasn’t a “visitor” in my previous tradition

    Right. …and I said, “or at least those with a good background in Christianity.” Did you read the full comment?

    Faith by osmosis. No.

    Nobody said that. Faith by hearing.

    I can appreciate much of my upbringing in hindsight.

    You’re proving my point. Your earlier lack of appreciation for it does not completely invalidate it.

    It was empty. But thanks for telling me what my experience was like.
    Which is it? Was it appreciable or empty? And how did I “tell you what your experience was like?” Do you want an actual conversation, or just to shut down those who disagree with you with a faux-intolerance card?

    My claim is that where the words of Christ are, there He is active and working, whether we perceive it or not. His Word does not return void. Surely you don’t question God’s ability to work through this means. Surely you do not deny that He has worked in your life through them.


  26. Your last paragraph seems to contradict your first two. I’m talking about he utter lack of being met half-way.

    “You see, there is this assumption, on the part of the Reformed and Evangelical, that every single action taken in worship ought to be immediately and obviously fully comprehendible by any visitor regardless of their background in religion, or at least those with a good background in Christianity”

    First, this is a wrong assumption on your part. Implicit comprehension is not the point; good catechesis is. Second, it misses the point. I wasn’t a “visitor” in my previous tradition, I was immersed in it for the first 19 years of my life.

    “You experienced Christ in your upbringing, whether you realized it and mentally connected with it or not”

    Faith by osmosis. No.

    I can appreciate much of my upbringing in hindsight. I now profit much from attending mass and other liturgical celebrations. But in my upbringing, I was “christianized.” It was empty. But thanks for telling me what my experience was like.


  27. I suppose the Chinese have their own entry but haven’t run across it yet.

    The Chinese have rice wine. Japanese Sake is actually brewed, like beer. Both are excellent, and very, very different from one another.


  28. Sean, I was raised rabidly anti-RC in the sectarian Church of Christ. One of the few good things that tradition did was to stress Bible knowledge. It has taken a long time, but it was a combination of having Scripture embedded in my mind and also the study of Church history that helped me to see the symbolism and intent of Sacramental Liturgy. I totally walked away from my old CofC sectarianism at age 44. Since then I’ve done just about everything Church, but I find the Anglican/Episcopal liturgy salubrious.


  29. I’m not a dumb person, and I wasn’t a dumb kid, but for me, it’s never been obvious.

    Agree, 100%, on all points there. That’s actually part of the point of the liturgy: Like the Scriptures, all meaning contained therein is not readily discernible on your first read through, nor your 100th read through. You spend your entire life growing deeper into an understanding of it and immersion into the experience of Christ it delivers. You see, there is this assumption, on the part of the Reformed and Evangelical, that every single action taken in worship ought to be immediately and obviously fully comprehendible by any visitor regardless of their background in religion, or at least those with a good background in Christianity. I say that while understanding is indeed a good, right, and salutary thing, it is also a thing which needs to mature. I used to think that anything I didn’t understand in worship was “irrelevant.” I’ve since come to understand that the discipline of submitting to the wisdom of my spiritual elders and forebears is much more spiritually healthy than leaning on my own understanding.

    You never should have had to leave the faith you were raised in to experience Christ.

    I also agree there. You experienced Christ in your upbringing, whether you realized it and mentally connected with it or not. You were told the story of Christ, and you heard the Words of and about Christ through the Scriptures. That is the first, and most important, experience of Christ that anybody ever has. Beyond this is frosting. Tell me the story of Jesus, for nothing else can satisfy my soul. And BTW, the liturgy does this every week, even if it is in hidden ways. I’ve been worshiping in a liturgical church for three years now and have completed studies for certification as a cantor in the denomination, and I’m still, every day, discovering new, subtle nuances of meaning in our worship patterns. At our congregation, on Sundays, the words of Christ dwell in us richly, and continue to challenge our understanding and teach us the ways of Him whose foolishness is beyond our wisdom.

    There is an art to meeting people half-way. In today’s skeptical philosophical climate, churches with a strong traditional liturgical practice absolutely must be intentional about liturgical catechesis. How are you helping your people to understand what you are doing? If nobody sees the point in a particular ritual, something needs to change. Good preachers make connections with the liturgy in their preaching. Good cantors present the music of the liturgy in ways that balance familiarity to culture with transcendence.


  30. That customer was thirsty, and he will not be coming back.

    Beer, like most beverages, is almost entirely water, but because of other ingredients is consumed as something else. Those other ingredients may reflect a rich and palate-pleasing combination of science, art and custom. Yet it is water that quenches thirst best.

    “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” John 7:37


  31. if you even HINT at criticism of liturgy based worship, well then, the long knives come out and we are treated to a demonstration of the perfection of the liturgy based system.

    Well I haven’t read all the comments here yet, but generally I’d disagree, and quite strongly. Two points: There is no such thing as “the liturgy based system.” There is Christ-centered liturgy, and there is Christ-less liturgy. Those are your options. Within the two categories, there are infinite variation. Second, the idea of perfection is completely foreign to the discipline of liturgy. Those of us who embrace it fully realize that there is no such thing on this side of eternity. On the other side of eternity, there IS doxological perfection. On occasion, the Scriptures do peal back the veil. So excuse us if we bend over backwards to capitalize on that glimpse, but believe me, we recognize our limitations.

    Don’t base your rejection of the liturgy on a few antagonistic comments. That’s a logical fallacy and you know it. Just read the liturgy, and object based on what you see there. I’m still waiting to see an actual substantive critique of liturgical worship. The OP simply ain’t it.


  32. Yes, faith comes byhearing the Word. But how that connects with sacraments is another issue


  33. “The seed which is the word of God, watered by divine dew, sprouts from the good ground and draws from thence its moisture, which it transforms and assimilates into itself, and finally bears much fruit. In harmony with the economy of the Incarnation, the young churches, rooted in Christ and built up on the foundation of the Apostles, take to themselves in a wonderful exchange all the riches of the nations which were given to Christ as an inheritance (cf Ps. 2:8). They borrow from the customs and traditions of their people, from their wisdom and their learning, from their arts and disciplines, all those things which can contribute to the glory of their Creator, or enhance the grace of their Savior, or dispose Christian life the way it should be.” – Pope Leo III, “Decree Ad Gentes on the Mission Activity of the Church” (circa 1894).

    I guess I’m not positive I understand the gist of the parable; however, it seems to imply liturgy is a one-size-fits-all design which is exactly how the apostles worshiped as has the church unchanged for the past 2,000 years. This simply isn’t true. Simply put, there is liberty to incorporate cultural elements into the expression of local churches. As Paul stated, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you also were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6). Upon this foundation the church builds unity, not uniformity.

    So, I would say that liturgy is not just one variety of cheese or beer. Liturgy is the means; Jesus is the end – not sentimentalism; not entertainment; not happy feelings; not pragmatism.


  34. Hear, hear! Schmaltz is an objective criteria, and it truly does exist. Those with a high tolerance for it will most certainly avoid the stout. Schmaltz is not in the mouth of the imbiber. 😛


  35. Oh, that bothersome “critical tone.” That’s how the easily offended justify not actually dealing with the substance of a fair critique. The question is: are these critiques unfair and unjustified? I’m still waiting for people who complain about them to show how.


  36. Sean – sorry, my statement was a bit unclear there. The phrase “the means by which Christ has promised…” refers to “Word and Sacrament,” not to liturgy. I would by no means contend that those who worship in non-liturgical churches are not receiving salvation and in Christ and the gift of the Spirit. Non-liturgical churches, after all, also preach the Word and administer the Sacraments. I may disagree with their theology concerning these things, but I believe that the means of grace have power regardless of our flawed ideas about them. I would, however, argue that to eschew the liturgy is to turn away from the fullness of God’s gifts to us, because liturgy is the administration of the means of grace in its fullest form.


  37. Sean, I grew up in the RCC, and, although I never went the way of evangelicalism, my departure from Rome into the Protestant mainlines was partly the result of the points you have touched on in your comments.


  38. Perhaps Oscar and other continuing evangelicals who contribute to this blog feel as if they are being demoted to second-class Christians by some commentators, as if they are somehow defective or incomplete as Christians because their forms of worship are not traditionally liturgical and sacramental. I can easily see why that would produce a certain degree of anger.


  39. Have to agree, Adam.

    But compared with earlier generations, 21st century people have far less well-developed memories, because we depend on technology to remember for us. The result is that we have shorter attention spans than earlier generations, and need more and more stimulus to command what little attention span we do have.

    Traditional liturgy does not provide the level of stimulus that we seem to require now; even in liturgical churches, this is reflected by the extraordinary concern that clergy and laity have with keeping the service as short in duration as possible. This is a very big issue in all the mainline churches I’ve been involved in. Traditional liturgical forms were not developed with this concern in mind.


  40. “If this is an accurate theological statement, many of us are screwed. And forget those outside of church.”

    Unless the invisible church somehow has invisible sacraments; an absurd idea, and those who insist that Jesus is only fully present to through the sacraments would think it Docetic, anyway. I continue to believe that the wind will blow where it will, though I belong to a liturgical and sacramental church.


  41. “The liturgy essentially is Word and Sacrament, the means by which Christ has promised to come to us and send His Spirit to us, and thus it is the way that the Kingdom of God comes”

    If this is an accurate theological statement, many of us are screwed. And forget those outside of church.


  42. “And I wondered why no one told me this before.”

    Ditto. This is what I had to work through for myself; I initially felt betrayed that I was immersed in religion but missed out on relationship, to put it in the typical parlance. This is what fuels the anti-Catholocism of many former Catholics. If not processed well, it can lead to bitterness and a host of other problems. And because this sentiment is at the root of much bias against liturgy, I think it causes liturgical Christians to act very defensively when these questions are raised, because usually the questions are raised to bash (“you don’t preach the gospel!!”) rather than for critical reflection in the spirit of better understanding, which is what I hope I’m doing right now, because the questions are valid.


  43. I posted a comment this morning which seems to have vanished. I didn’t think it was out of order. Any reason it went missing?


  44. To me the parable suggests that Mike is resistant to the gospel. He needs to get his spiritual house in order.

    And if this were a cheese shop, it would have NO cheese. Eternal damnation. The bar did have one beer at least and. from the description. that beer fell from heaven. Mike has rejected God’s offer and should get on his knees and repent.

    Or, is this a trick question? If the beer is the best in America, what does that do for Mike anyway? He’s in Canada.


  45. Richard: the Small Catechism doesn’t teach liturgy directly but it does teach many of the Christian doctrines that form the basis for the liturgy. For example, the liturgy can easily be related to the section on the Apostles’ Creed, in which children can be taught, for instance, how the major event of the life of Christ taught in the second article are all re-enacted in the church year and in the divine service. That’s just a start.


  46. But I’m sure people have visited liturgical churches, been unsure what to do, and left. So, I am not sure how, but liturgical churches do need a way to explain themselves to total outsiders.

    I’ve been attending an Anglican church for the past couple months and just last Sunday the priest asked us to help visitors and those unfamiliar with the service to follow along. Also, before the service she often explains why we’re doing this or that in the service when it’s different from what we’ve done before. We even practised singing the response we would be using during the eucharistic prayer several weeks ago. I’m not sure how it’s done in other churches but at this one often large portions of the liturgy are printed in the bulletin so we don’t have to go flipping through the prayer book to find our place though it is still required at times.


  47. This might be nitpicky…no actually it really is nitpicky, no “might” about it. Liturgical people refer to their form of worship as “ancient.” But most of the forms present are from either the Medieval or Renaissance periods. To truly be ancient you’re talking before the fall of Rome. But of course “medieval traditions” doesn’t have the same ring as “ancient traditions.”

    Sure, maybe some of these practices do in fact date back to that time, and hush my ignorant mouth. But what I’ve experienced in liturgical churches seems distinctly Medieval.


  48. Mike, just in case you didn’t know, there is a Michigan brewery named Bell’s.which includes their Kalamazoo Stout in their roster. Something like Guinness, you can get a poster which explains, “If it won’t come out, tap the side of the neck with your finger”. Possibly a worthy substitute if Hunahpu is unavailable. You have to be 21 to view their web site.


  49. “I honestly think that I “got it” because my parents catechized me…”

    Very old school. Luther wrote his Small Catechism for fathers to use to teach their children. I am just now starting with the Lord’s Prayer with my six year old. It isn’t, alas, good for teaching the liturgy.


  50. Oscar, your comments almost always read as “angry” to me, as if this blog and an awful lot of comments hit nerves for you. I mean that bit about long knives: ???? I don’t understand what troubles you so much, or, maybe fairer to say that I don’t see why you feel outraged.


  51. SottoVoce – I think children’s sermons are more common now in the ELCA, and think they’re beneficial on many levels.

    iirc, my mom and some Sunday school teachers told me about the liturgical colors. Some of that went in one ear and out the other, but some of it stuck. (Like purple for Advent; white for Easter.) It is pretty mystifying to kids, and I didn’t really get it until I was in my mid-teens and had experienced an evangelicals style conversion. That made the liturgy come alive, as if an old, battered movie had shifted into CinemaScope and Technicolor. That’s probably not the best analogy, but I’m not sure how else to say that dull, repetitious formality came ALIVE for me. (Caps are for emphasis, not yelling, btw.)


  52. I honestly think that I “got it” because my parents catechized me and taught me what it meant more than anything else. I agree with above comments that it needs to be a topic in any catechesis program in a liturgical church, since a discussion of the liturgy fits perfectly into catechesis anyway.

    For newcomers it’s a bit trickier. Having to stop and explain everything is awkward, but it helps to print the order of worship in the bulletin and have a few explanatory notes from the pastor at the beginning of the service. A church that I used to attend actually purchased several books explaining the meaning of the liturgy and placed them in the pews alongside the hymnals.


  53. > . People no longer learn by rote.

    False. All people learn by rote, it is the ***ONLY*** way people learn. The 21st century has not added an “upload” feature to human physiology. You can dress rote up as something else, but if there is learning, there is rote.


  54. > But I think the point Doris is making is that the same parable
    > could be used any number of ways.

    True, and true of all parables. But parables need to be read in a context; and the title is rather straight forward in establishing the context.

    And is it “OK” for people to worship something else? They do, or they just don’t worship at all. The question is how should I react to that. In the end there is very little I can do “about that”. Liturgy clearly expresses my beliefs.


  55. Aside from midnight mass at Christmas, my very favorite liturgical service is the Blessing of the Animals in October.
    Hard to hung up on ‘the liturgy’ when some farmer’s lamb say ‘baaa’ and a child’s puppy pees on the priest’s leg. There is something of ‘the peaceable kingdom’ in that service that points me towards things eternal. I know, I know, my preference is hopelessly emotional. But even beyond all that, there is such an authentic spirit of goodness that settles over all the chaos. I think it must have something to do with thankfulness and I know it has a lot to do with love.


  56. “I once heard J.I. Packer say that he had to get over his anger at The Church of England for not teaching him about salvation (explicitly). Because we teach it more implicitly.”

    This is both a reasonable explanation and a problem.

    My first brush with Christianity was in my early teen years. I had picked up a book of Bible stories. I cannot explain this, except perhaps to note that I was a peculiar child who liked myths and epics. But I felt immediately drawn to those stories. And I had the vague notion that Bible had something to do with churches. So I announced I was going to church. I spent the next year or so attending a local mainline church. I could not have told you why I was there. Incidentally, no one else explicitly told me why I was there, either. If I had continued to attend, I may have figured out what question I was trying to ask. Or someone may have made it more obvious to me.

    But I didn’t continue. My family started attending an evangelical church when I was in jr. high. For all of its problems, one can say this about the evangelical church: I learned very quickly what they were about, and what they wanted from me. The first person who could explain to me why it was I wanted to be in church and tried to get something out of me was likely to have my full attention. And so: Hook. Line. Sinker.

    For a while, until my worldview imploded. Ironically, where am I now? The mainline.


  57. I don’t know if this is universal in Lutheran churches, but my (ELCA) church has a brief children’s sermon almost every week during the regular service, and they will occasionally explain some aspect of the liturgy in it, like what the different colors mean or what a chasuble is. I came out of an evangelical tradition and this is where I learned most of what I know about liturgy. I very much appreciate it and wish they would do it more extensively.


  58. Gosh, if I knew that, I would have the keys to the kingdom. In theory the mysteries of the liturgy should be taught in catechism (or, as we Lutherans call it, Confirmation class). In practice, even a well-intentioned and competent teacher works under the disability that kids that age aren’t precisely fascinated by the subject. In ye olden days the kids and younger adults were kept in the church through social expectations, and some of them grew into staying by choice. Nowadays the people still there are mostly lifers, but getting new people in the door is a mystery. In the meantime, the Evangelicals are really good at getting them in the door, but not so good at keeping them inside.

    The critique of the traditional liturgical church is that the liturgy imposes a barrier for anyone not familiar with it. The critique of the seeker-friendly church is that by making the service immediately understandable to someone on his first visit, it mandates superficiality. Neither critique is entirely true, but neither critique is entirely untrue. Maybe there is a way to incorporate the best aspects of both, but in my cynical old age I think it likelier that any attempt would instead incorporate the worst aspects of both. It is not uncommon for a mainline church to try to do this on a small scale, with both a “traditional” and a “contemporary” service. In practice I have never seen one that actually knows how to do the liturgy well. (I am not in a position to judge the quality of the contemporary service.) This correlation is so strong that during my last round of church shopping I ending up ruling out any church with a contemporary service.


  59. I would love to see IM discuss how to make liturgy more accessible to newcomers.

    I would also love to see IM discuss how one helps children to relate to it – or any church context, for that matter. As the parent of a toddler, I pose this question to myself all the time. But I didn’t spend much of my childhood in church, so I have no direct experience with what it is like to be very young and in church.


  60. And they used the return to “Classic Coke” to camouflage the shift from sugar to High Fructose Corn Syrup(TM).


  61. Well, there’s this hip-hop traffic light in downtown Pittsburgh between the Westin and the Convention Center. Has an audio track that goes “Walk sign is on for — Penn Avenue! Penn Avenue! (beat) (beat)” in a definite hip-hop rhythm.


  62. As I’ve said a hundred times before, IM is a post-evangelical blog and as long as it is, the primary focus of critique will be on the evangelical/fundamentalist/charismatic world.

    And a lot of IMonks on the comment threads are in the Post-Evangelical Wilderness because they got burned by the evangelical/charismatic world.


  63. Synergy. Like I remember from informal Charismatic Masses at Azusa Newman Center.

    Never been that charismatic myself, even when involved with groups where Tongues Tongues Tongues were necessary for Salvation. Always held out for Wisdom; that’s the command control over all the others — when to use them and when not to.


  64. Correct me if I’m wrong, Mr. Bell, but I don’t think you’re so much criticizing highly liturgical church as you are taking a poke at churches with inflexible policies that treat any kind of liturgical variation or deviation from the set-in-stone program as an unthinkable betrayal and pollution of that church’s God-mandated traditions ? and as a dangerous, perhaps even fatal, compromose of that church’s essential devinely established identity.
    And when it comes to that kind of extreme dedication to non-change, you’re just as likely to find it in a backwoods Baptist church in East Tennessee as you are to find it at the Vatican ? maybe even more likely.
    The church I attend recently changed from having in-depth Bible studies on Sunday night to conducting a second service identical to the Sunday morning service, except with a different sermon and a different set of worship songs or hymns. I thought that was a bad move, and unless you’re just trying to overwork your pastor and the worship leader, it doesn’t make a lick of sense.
    I think the ideal compromise would be for churches to do it by the traditional numbers on Sunday morning, and then do something else entirely Sunday and/or Wednesday night ? be it Bible studies or discussion groups or outreach projects or worship experiments or movie night or just food and fellowship. And churches on the very low end of the liturgical scale could do the reverse and perhaps explore a little bit of high liturgy and ancient tradition.
    Unfortunately, in the church tradition that I grew up in, God is not pleased when His people get together without hearing a sermon and giving an alter call.


  65. With “evangelical homeschool buddies”, I don’t think terminology is going to help.

    One of the things I learned in the Evangelical Circus is the attitude “You can only be Saved if you Get Saved OUR Way — Sinner’s Prayer or Eternal Hell!!!!!”


  66. I don’t know about you, but to me “Dutch Reformed” conjures up images of dour Calvinists.


  67. Now, somewhat off-topic, has anyone seen that atrocious cover article about alcohol at Christianity Today?

    No, but from your comment I assume its Jesus-drank-Welchs Dry all the way.

    Got the link?


  68. Sean,

    I was raised Catholic in a devout family, and was devout myself. From high school into college I slowly developed an understanding of conversion that brought me into the evangelical landscape. I continued to go to both an Evangelical service and Catholic Mass on Sunday until age 21; like Calvin Cuban, I was encouraged by my Protestant friends to read my Catholic bible, which I did. I finally came to the conclusion (while I was attending a Mass in Italy, no less…) that I no longer believed what the Catholic Church said I needed to believe in order to be Catholic. (Interestingly, in speaking later with an Eastern Catholic priest about my Catholic upbringing, what he told me was that I actually was not well catechized…)

    And then I spent the next 31 years as an Evangelical. It was the theology that had failed me by that point, not worship style; even though worship style does reflect the underlying theology, I could be a Protestant and worship with a formal “high” liturgy, or not. That wasn’t my issue for a long time, though it did become an issue near the end of my journey into the Orthodox Church. In both transitions, what I was doing was trading one interpretation for another: interpretation of scripture primarily, but also interpretation of the meaning of being the Church, of the meaning of “salvation,” of many other important things. There are certainly similarities between RC and EO, but if I had simply taken at face value that the things those similarities were pointing to were fully identical, I would have just reverted. But they’re not, so I didn’t. But I’ve never been anti-Catholic, even when fully on board with Evangelicalism, and I appreciate the Catholic Church and what it gave me – liturgy and everything else – more now than I ever did.

    I agree with Richard that fuller understanding usually comes with the maturity necessary to understand the meanings behind actions. I think the best that can be done for children is that dedicated people (not necessarily always priests, though priests should be involved) explain often to children, in ways that are appropriate to age, the meaning of the liturgical “dance” how that reflects the meaning of what is behind it – and of course always in an atmosphere of kindness. I suppose I was an exceptional child, in that with the repetition and with listening closely – and with some help from CCD curricula – I caught some measure of that meaning, and it helped me stay Catholic longer than my peers.

    Like everything else, the issue with Mike’s parable is a matter of interpretation and meaning – of one’s rock-bottom view of Reality and of How Everything Works..



  69. I see what you are saying Sean.
    I am Anglican and we can be faulted much the same.

    We assume the liturgy and service is enough and think that people will join the dotted lines. I think we are asking too much, and looking at many of the congregations within TEC and Anglican Church of Canada I see good people. I am not at all sure how deep understanding runs.

    I once heard J.I. Packer say that he had to get over his anger at The Church of England for not teaching him about salvation (explicitly). Because we teach it more implicitly.


  70. I wonder if the more a person matures in their faith, the more they’d be open for liturgy. As a 27-year Christian, I’m not sure I would’ve appreciated the liturgical process back in my early days, but find it palatable as I age. (Still attend an evangelical church, though, so I’ve not pursued it, and don’t see myself pursuing it anytime soon, but the idea of liturgy is less unappealing (sorry for the double-negative) now.)


  71. Best church service I ever went to was an Anglican church that billed itself as:


    I found that the charismatic elements breathed life into the liturgy and the liturgical forms properly tempered the excesses that one can find in charismatic expression.


  72. Our branch of the Anglican world (Anglican Church in North America) has about 1000 congregations, 763 of which actually reported to the Archbishop’s office their various figures for 2013. We had 3097 baptisms, 969 of which were over the age of 16. Since we do not re-baptize, that indicates that those 969 are brand-new, un-churched converts. 3197 conversions were reported total (a big chunk of whom must have been baptized in a church at some point).

    While I haven’t seen any of those at my current parish (small church, and I’ve only been on board a few months), my previous parish had quite a few adult conversions and baptisms in my 5 years or so there.


  73. I’d say the “other” whole point of this blog is “Jesus-shaped spirituality.” I see this place as a way faith-based people who’ve been harmed in the evangelical world can explore re-shaping their spirituality more around Jesus, given the damage they’ve received via religiosity and churchianity. In fact, to me, the whole point of the blog is “point people to Jesus.”

    Liturgy is certainly one way to point people toward Jesus. However, when it becomes more about the liturgy than what the liturgy is pointing to, then Houston, we have a problem. (Similar to some people propping the Bible up higher than who/what the Bible is about.) Sometimes I sense that liturgy gets too much preferential treatment here, but I just chalk it up to a reaction to the quagmire that exists in some evangelical churches, where a worship service might – MIGHT – have some elements that point to Jesus, but often have elements that are all about programming, energizing the congregation to perform, laying on guilt-trips, etc.

    Is there a church out there that has a mix of liturgy and evangelicalism? I might like that!


  74. I would like to add that Chaplain Mike pretty much gives me free reign to write want I want to write. A post like this one is not an attack at Chaplain Mike in any way but rather an acknowledgement from us that those who find themselves in the post-evangelical wilderness may, like myself, not find their way forward through liturgical forms of worship. I will have more to say on this on Monday.


  75. Mike – after several decades in evangelical circles, I reverted to Lutheranism.

    I see your point, but in my case, it worked the other way ’round.


  76. Loo, to a point, I understand your concern. I will admit that evangelicalism does one thing very well, that some traditions do less well: It can convey a certain urgency, ask you do something very concrete, and ask you to make a lasting commitment that is supposed to bleed over into your life. All the other traditions teach this too, but they do not make a “pitch” in the same way. Evangelicalism is conversion-centered: it wants to make its requirements crystal clear to the outsider, and then it inducts them into its internal language.

    It is so oriented this way, in fact, that it tells anyone from another tradition, and even its own adherents, to regard their post-conversion time in church as unmeaningful, a period when nothing happened to them and when they were not yet really a Christian. In my opinion, this is a blind spot in its understanding of experience and spiritual formation; and it is also the root from which evangelicalism has developed a conceit that may not be entirely justified: the idea that it’s “pitch” works on outsiders. Most converts have actually been in evangelical churches at previous times in their lives before, or in other church contexts. All those sermons, Christian camps, and so on have prepared the ground for that “ah ha” moment on which everything is said to rest.

    In comparison with the evangelicals, liturgical traditions tend to assume that folks who darken the door have enough cultural background listening to the services to know already what is going on. Less so than with evangelicals, there isn’t anyone trying to explain what is going on or how one is supposed to react. So you acculturate into it if you are patient enough to hang around. But I’m sure people have visited liturgical churches, been unsure what to do, and left. So, I am not sure how, but liturgical churches do need a way to explain themselves to total outsiders. And this is the real barrier: I don’t think a liturgical church can, or should, do anything about people who simply don’t want to be a liturgical context. But there are people who want what the liturgical church has, but they don’t know it is there and don’t know how to develop a relationship with it.

    A final thought: Among the most committed people in any tradition are the converts. My definition, anyone who has moved from evangelical to Catholic, or Catholic to evangelical, or what-have-you is an interested and motivated person. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have gone through the process of changing communities.


  77. As I’ve said a hundred times before, IM is a post-evangelical blog and as long as it is, the primary focus of critique will be on the evangelical/fundamentalist/charismatic world. One of Michael Spencer’s mantras was that the way forward for the church was to be found in recapturing some of its ancient traditions and practices, including the practice of liturgy in corporate worship. Those of us who succeeded him did not introduce these things, they were part of his journey, which is well documented in the archives.

    I have also said that a number of us who have moved into more liturgical traditions are still somewhat new there, and perhaps just in early stages of getting to recognize their flaws as well as their strengths. I have an idea that, as time goes by, you will see more posts that are critical of the historic and mainline “circus” just as we now direct our volleys at the evangelical circus.

    The facts remain that: (1) IM will primarily reflect the perspectives of its main writers, (2) we will always try to do so in a way that is accessible to a broad audience, and (3) we will always value discussion and interaction from as broad a community as possible that finds our material interesting.


  78. Unfortunately liturgy is unapproachable for many people of our culture. It is nearly meaningless at times because of the huge amount of background information required to understand it. Sometimes I wonder if for some it could be like the Hare Krishna movement was to us in the 70s. An imported religion that kept so much of its trappings that Americans could not make sense of it.

    When I was young I attended a liturgical church a few times and did not understand it. And then, after reading scripture for over 30 years went to a liturgical service. And it began to make sense. I recognized that the writers of the liturgy were deeply steeped in the bible. I saw that it was rich and full of meaning particularly to the Christian believer. But a huge cultural and intellectual gap to the uninitiated.

    I once spoke in an Anglican church about the liturgy. I went through it and explained it, and encouraged people to think of it more in the context of the book of revelation and temple worship. A cradle Anglican older than me (in her 60s!) came up after and said ‘I never knew that – it helped me understand’


  79. Richard, this is fair, but I’m curious at how you might address the problem. It seems nobody wanted to help me/others really get it. And when I voiced the concern, the response was “you were immersed in it, so you should have gotten it.” It’s nearly a shaming response.


  80. What’s my point again?

    Sorry if I touched a sore spot Mike. Even with what you just mentioned, it seems to me that the tone towards evangelical churches is nearly always critical, while the tone towards liturgical churches is nearly always complementary. I’m not saying this is always the case, just that it seems to be mostly the case. I still enjoy this blog, there is still a lot of good stuff here. But what I said is just an observation that some seem to agree with.


  81. The implication also is that a hip-hop eucharist could work just fine, under the right circumstances. It wouldn’t be to my taste, but I am over the cutoff age for enjoying hip hop.


  82. I think this parable does a good job of illustrating exactly why Michael could predict a coming evangelical collapse. The desires and tastes of the individual are primary. In this particular parable, the product represents worship. And while it is difficult to willingly suspend disbelief to accept that anyone would prefer CFDC over any beer, that is not the main issue. What is the main issue is how important worship “style” is to the narrative, and how the individual’s preference is the ultimate arbiter. Now don’t get me wrong, I think that worship forms are important, but the main point of this story seems to be that the “church shopping experience” is pure consumerism.


  83. I’m sorry, then, and will shut up, Oscar. Thanks for the feedback, since I don’t always know how I sound. I expect God hates fighting more than a liturgy or lack of it.


  84. The older I get the more amazed I am at how God uses each of His churches uniquely to draw His people to Himself. As an evangelical, I get the post and I don’t think it’s a slam on liturgy, just a reminder that you can’t put God in a box. For what it’s worth, I am very interested in visiting a local Anglican Church plant and yet remaining in my evangelical church. Maybe it’s possible to enjoy stout and diet coke at the same time.


  85. I have been an active part of both liturgical and ‘falling out in the Spirit’ congregations over the years. What I am noticing now is a growing number of mature, strong-in-the-faith believers who are increasingly restless and are searching for answers of how to do church. They hunger for the more of God they are certain is available somewhere. They are serious about their study of the Word, and in their commitment to a small community of others like them. They want to grow in godliness, but are finding the Sunday morning routine life-taking rather than life-giving. What to do? And isn’t it curious that this is happening across a rather wide group from different congregations?


  86. I don’t much care for Martin Luther as a theologian, think that much of what he objected to in the Roman Church was mostly fixed subsequent to the “Reformation” and the Reformers went on to make their own mistakes. What I will raise a glass to Martin for is that he was the first to successfully get us out from under the thumb of the Roman Tyrannical Church of the time, not counting the Orthodox community.

    Martin was as autocratic as any Pope and would have been horrified to know his Wittenburg posting would result in 10,000 denominations and counting. I consider that his finest achievement. I can go wherever Jesus leads me, even out into the fields picking grains of pre-beer for breakfast. I don’t need to show you no stinking badge. Some days I like a Mexican beer, other days a Dutch or German, every now and then some Japanese saki. I suppose the Chinese have their own entry but haven’t run across it yet. And then there is wine in abundance, not to forget a slow Yukon Jack inside a wintry day.

    So here’s to Martin, spinning in his grave, tho perhaps wiser by now. The main point of this parable I learned is that Hunahpu is real, that tickets to purchase a few bottles will cost you fifty bucks, or did until counterfeiters ruined the whole thing for everyone. Counterfeited tickets, not the beer. Maybe that’s what the Chinese are working on.


  87. I don’t think anyone is saying that any specific denomination has a claim on being “strong or perfect Christians.” Every denomination is full of sinners and broken humans. I don’t hear anyone claiming any such thing.

    How I see it, and this coming from an uber sinner and broken person, is how being in church is going to center on the Trinity and Truth rather than center me on myself, on my feelings and preferences, etc… Yes, liturgical churches can certainly be done badly as Richard said. But at least I still have a shred of scripture to hang on to and If I know there is the Lords supper every week that will trump a lot of other things.

    No denomination or church service is perfect and without flaw. It’s good to hear the Evangelical encouragement here. But I think the question lies so much deeper than what we like or where we have grown up or simply grown as a believer. After peeling back all the layers of self what is at the core ? (Via Eustace and the dragon in Dawn Treader). Is the center Christ or is the Center still ME? And how does “church” instill what the center should be?


  88. Very true, Richard. And Oscar, I like liturgy, but if I couldn’t stand discussing it, I wouldn’t come back to iMonk. I hope offering an alternative opinion to Mike’s isn’t getting out the long knives . . .


  89. Well, we have two writers who are in non-liturgical churches who write every week– Mike B and Dan. And this week we have five posts by writers in non-liturgical churches, my Sunday post being the only exception. Denise, who reviewed Clark’s book, of course is Catholic, but she teaches at a Baptist school and reviewed a book by someone who is non-liturgical.

    What was your point again?


  90. I don’t think any kid gets this. I certainly didn’t.

    I find I have a three-phase response to a fixed text. The first time I read or hear it, I am engaged because of its novelty. This isn’t to say that I fully understand the nuances. Quite the opposite: I am engaged, but only seeing the surface. Second is the “vain repetition” phase. I am no longer engaged: been there, done that. Even if I am reciting the words, my cerebral cortex need not be engaged, so I might be actually thinking about the final out of last night’s ball game. The third phase is the payoff: the contemplative phase. Now the words are so ingrained that the mechanical aspects of reading and hearing and speaking are fully automatic. This frees up the brain to actually think about the words more deeply. I find myself contemplating words I have been hearing and speaking for forty years.

    It is the difference between looking at a painting briefly as you make your way through a museum, and coming back to the museum to sit and look at that one painting. Or, if you will, the difference between going for quick refreshment and appreciating the nuances of a well-crafted beverage.

    Consider the palate of a typical child. My kids’ taste in food is appalling. It’s not just that they would eat nothing but junk food if I let them (though they would). Their taste even in real food is for the simple and bland. I make my own applesauce, using a blend of apple varieties for balance, adding spices and just a small bit of sugar, and being careful to keep texture. My kids will eat it if they have to, but they prefer the applesauce from the supermarket. I thought back to the foods I liked when I was a kid and realized that my kids like pretty much the same stuff, including those horrid cheap bologna slices. Nuance is lost on them at best, and they often find it offputting.

    I think that most kids respond to the liturgy the same way. The depth is lost on them, so all they see is the repetition. Many people never get past this.


  91. How dare you suggest that some people are actually growing in their faith in evangelical churches. Next, you may even suggest that churches of various sizes might even be doing some good. ;^)


  92. Liturgy cannot be outdated unless Word and Sacrament are outdated. That’s what liturgy is. God’s Word preached (through the Scripture readings, sermon, and canticles that carry the service through the entire drama of salvation history) and the Sacraments administered (confession and absolution and the Lord’s Supper).

    I would echo the above comments concerning the appeal and effectiveness of evangelical services and add that your comparison was not a juxtaposition of evangelical vs. liturgical worship, but of evangelical worship vs badly organized liturgical worship.


  93. I think that’s where the metaphor is breaking down. The person doesn’t want Diet coke, they kind of want a Coors Light — it’s still a beer (just as a “free church” is still liturgy, it’s just more informal), but it’s nowhere near as thick.

    Meanwhile imagine “just” wanting a Coke instead of a frou-frou beer, and finding out the company had some revelation after a ton of consultants and marketers told them they could sell more if they messed with the formula. Welcome to New Coke! 4 out of 5 taste tasters loved its bold new approach and we don’t understand what YOUR problem with it is. We even changed the way the can opens after a nationwide survey. It’s 1985 bub, get with the times….


  94. Yes, not all beers are created equal. Although some will advocate that their beer is the best and the only way to have beer. Others will then argue that their beer has been around longer.


  95. I don’t think that all of the symbolism is obvious. For me, many of the missed symbolism comes from not being familiar with the way a particular liturgy conveys meaning and symbolism. Also, growing up with a bias against liturgical practices made it more difficult for me to see the symbolism.


  96. Sean, my experiences are similar to yours. I grew up Roman Catholic, attended parochial schools, including a Jesuit high school. I participated in catechism, religion classes, and attended mass regularly (you might say, “religiously”).

    And although I now see that the gospel is in the liturgy, like you, I did not see it then. No, first I had to learn it more directly, not by way of responding to the question “if you died tonight will you go to heaven” and then having someone read the four spiritual laws to me followed by praying the sinner’s prayer, but by being encouraged by a group of sincere and humble Christians to read the Bible. My conversion came somewhere around the time I read Romans 10.9-10,

    “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”

    And I wondered then why no one told me this before.


  97. “…we are serving the perfect drink here. The recipe hasn’t changed for hundreds of years! Why would anyone want anything else? It has been a huge hit for our entire chain of fine drinking establishments.”

    Ironically, the bartender is the one who lacks knowledge about beer. Beer has been around for millennia. There has never been one beer above all others. Beers have been refined, new recipes resurrect and old recipes vanish (with some being rediscovered and relived). Some companies produce only a standard beer. Other companies allow for beer recipes to be experimented with in order to integrate them more befittingly into a community. Perhaps some people slowly acquire a taste, using varies types of beer to accommodate their palates. Others may appreciate and love beer their first time. Some companies allow for a variety of beers. Some people may never be able to aquire a taste for beer even if they give a faithful effort. Some people may simply dismiss beer. There is a specific type of beer community (say, Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout) but there is a much larger beer community around the world. These global communities may not get along with each other, but most would recognize the essential elements that make up beer.

    Now, these are where the metaphors end with regard to beer and liturgies. There is not a beer god or goddess (say, Ninkasi) who sets an example of how to do beer, that beer is honoring towards her, what standards beer should be set at, and what her preference for beer is. Imagine if beer was of utmost importance to Ninkasi. If we derived our existence from Ninkasi and she expected beer to be the way in which we would convey honor, worship, glory towards her, and the way we would receive nourishment, then perhaps beer should be a little more important to us. Perhaps Ninkasi wouldn’t say no to the consumption of Diet Coke by her subjects, but it wouldn’t be her preference.


  98. I can think of five friends who became christians as adults in the Orthodox and Catholic church with no prior church experience, and I haven’t finished my morning coffee yet or considered Anglicans, Lutherans, etc.

    My godmother is one of them, and she only learned a few months ago that her evangelical homeschool buddies are trying to get her saved. She is bewildered, having no background in that world.

    Terminology is a problem for sure.


  99. “the hip-hop eucharist with a largely-white congregation is an… unfortunate… choice”

    Among hip-hop aficionados, this is actually called “Whigga”.
    Upper-class white Rappas trying so hard to be Gangstas from the Hood with truly painful results.


  100. Which leaves them open to sheep-rustling by anyone who can create a BIGGER emotional response, Christian or not.


  101. Mike, your post came across as a parable-like allegory of high church liturgical practices. And as you stated in a response to a comment, you will, like Jesus in Mark 4.13-20 with regards the Parable of the Sower, explain the meaning of the “Parable of the Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout.” And I look forward to that.

    I don’t agree with you with respect certain doctrines, but I admire your gutsiness in writing this post, especially given the local “flavor” in these here parts. And as an evangelical pastor I must say I found it most “refreshing.”


  102. I actually agree with you in part. The liturgy can be done well or it can be done badly–just like anything else. If you walk into some randomly chosen “liturgical church” the odds are not in your favor. I think an exploration of this would be valuable.


  103. The whole point of the blog is “post-Evangelical.” The question is what does post-Evangelical look like? One possibility is a return to the traditional liturgy. Another is that it looks pretty much like Evangelicalism, but nicer and more sincere. Yet another is that it looks different from either, such as house churches. Back in the Michael Spencer days, he was nodding toward the first answer without quite going there. Since then, Chaplain Mike has gone all in. He also is the most prolific writer on the site. This is why it seems like it is a liturgy cheerleading site. So what is the solution? Either Chaplain Mike writes less, or those with a different vision write more.


  104. “the hip-hop eucharist with a largely-white congregation is an… unfortunate… choice”

    Amen to that. I say that without ever having had the experience. The older version of this among Lutherans was a bunch of Germans and Scandinavians trying to sing negro spirituals. We had seen choirs in black churches do them, and we agreed that they were terrific. It turns out that the idiom does not translate well to northern Europeans–even ones that can totally nail a Bach chorale.


  105. I was raised Catholic , in a nominal family, and was nominal myself. At 19 I had a conversion experience that brought me into the evangelical landscape. In wanting to understand scripture and church tradition, I began researching Catholocism because I felt like I knew nothing about it even though I was raised in it, Catholic grammar school and all.

    I spent a few years at a very popular Catholic message board, learning and debating, and generally getting my butt handed to me by older and wiser Christians. That’s how I lost my post-conversion sense of “are Catholics really Christians?”, and that was very good for me. I’ve gone on to gain much, much appreciation for liturgical worship and theology of all kinds.

    But here’s the part I still have trouble with: nearly all pro-liturgical folks I’ve heard from tend to stress how *obviously* the liturgy points to Christ and the scriptures, and how every movement of the service is packed with meaning. I’m not a dumb person, and I wasn’t a dumb kid, but for me, it’s never been obvious. Only as an adult with lots of books and conversations and seminary assignments behind me did I come to appreciate the significance of liturgy. When I’ve talked to people about not having issues of faith broken down to me as a kid in a way I could understand, or not understanding the links between form and meaning of the liturgy, they’ve looked (or commented) at me askance and essentially told me “oh no, don’t try to blame this one on is. You WERE catechized properly; it’s your fault for not getting it. You never should have had to leave the faith you were raised in to experience Christ.”

    So friends, what is your take? Are those of us who don’t see these intrinsic, obvious components of liturgy dim-witted and preferring a lighter, smoother brand of faith? Because whether intentional or not, that is what the rhetoric sounds like.


  106. I get the point you are making: I read the title. But I think the point Doris is making is that the same parable could be used any number of ways. A Hindu, for example, might explain that beer is Jesus and Caffeine Free Diet Coke is Vishnu. The parable works just find that way, too.

    I’m an old cradle Lutheran. Luther taught that Christian worship consists of Word–that is, the proclamation of the Gospel–and Sacrament–that is, usually, Communion. You don’t have to have both at every service, but if you have neither then whatever it is you do have, it ain’t Christian worship.

    The traditional liturgy is not necessary for this, but it has advantages. If I go to a church and they are having Communion that Sunday, I am guaranteed that no matter how badly done the liturgy, with mumbling and with perfunctory hymns and with a soporific sermon, there will be the Sacrament. Even if there is no Communion that Sunday, amid those perfunctory hymns and that soporific sermon will be readings of Scripture. Even if the person reading them is terrible at it, I can read along. So the worst case scenario is that when I finally stumble out of that terrible liturgy and into the sunlight I will have spent some time reading Scripture.

    In a non-liturgical service, I don’t have even this modest guarantee. Communion is usually entirely off the table (as it were). More surprisingly, so are Scripture readings. The first time I attended an Evangelical service as an adult, this is what surprised me. I wondered if I had happened upon an outlier, but I have since learned that this is the norm. Of course this doesn’t mean the Gospel isn’t being proclaimed. The sermon is still there for that. In practice, sometimes the Gospel is proclaimed in the sermon, and sometimes it isn’t. The other possibilities include a self-help lecture, a heretical Prosperity Gospel sales pitch, hate-filled bile, etc.

    You can hear all of these in a liturgical context, but at least they will be balanced by actual Scripture. (I am also a fan of the standard lectionary: it is harder to preach hate-filled bile mere moments after reading that God is love, or that without love all we have is clanging cymbals. It isn’t impossible. People are really good at compartmentalization. But it is harder.)


  107. I must agree with Jon, above. You can bag on, and carp and complain about, the modern evangelical church and then seem “with it” and “enlightened”, but if you even HINT at criticism of liturgy based worship, well then, the long knives come out and we are treated to a demonstration of the perfection of the liturgy based system.

    I wasn’t aware that Catholics and Anglicans were such strong and perfect Christians whose children remained in the faith. That’s SARCASM, if you cannot recognize it.

    The lesson I learned from these comments is “Don’t touch my liturgy!”


  108. I don’t think Mike’s parable was that obscure. He objects to one-size-fits-all liturgy offered to those who need and want something different. I enjoyed the way he developed it. Now the question is whether the consumer buying a drink for leisurely enjoyment is a comparable enough situation to the seeker of God — or even to the sought of God — submitting to two milennia of church history to afford a useful parallel.


  109. You seem to be arguing that all liturgical churches are identical, and unchanged from hundreds of years ago: “The recipe hasn’t changed for hundreds of years! Why would anyone want anything else?” That’s not the case, in my experience. (And, it’s also my experience that “non-liturgical” churches have a liturgy that is just as predictive and repetitive as “liturgical” churches, but that’s a tangent.)

    As someone who connects with both evangelical and sacramental worship, in the past five years or so I’ve been to liturgical services that used everything from bluegrass to Taize to Gregorian chant to hip-hop and reggae to the “U2charist,” accompanied by everything from organs and pianos to electric guitars, djembe drums, digeridoos, and shruti boxes. Services in cathedrals, monasteries, private homes, and ordinary churches. 4 AM Easter vigils and to services that included fire dancers. And that’s all within Protestantism; the variety is much larger if you include Catholic and Orthodox and Coptic worship.

    I’m not saying that variety or experimentation is necessarily good – for example, the hip-hop eucharist with a largely-white congregation is an… unfortunate… choice 🙂 – but I think you’re missing the mark in terms of what the actual differences are between what you call “liturgical” churches and others. Since _all_ churches have a “liturgy” of some sort, it might be more accurate to distinguish between “sacramental” churches, where communion is the climax of the service, and “evangelical” churches, where the focus is on the sermon.


  110. ‘Tis true, beer ain’t for everybody. It will never be their drink and no one ought to force them. It’s just unfortunate that for some who are standing at the bar and are ‘ready’ for something new, and old, avoidance happens nonetheless. For them it’s a loss.
    On another note, Ben Franklin saiid that, “beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” That, I’m sure, was not the point of the post .


  111. It’s interesting — I grew up in a Dutch Reformed church, too. For all of the grumbling about the church and all of the “un-hip” youth leaders we had (making the mistake of being over 40 does that =D), I see most of those kids in church now when I return to my home town. Some even lead music and hang out with the youth group on Wednesday night.


  112. Some will not try Stout, no matter how convincing the argument. They prefer schmaltzy or watery.


  113. I will “explain” the parable later. I am interested in reading the comments first. But no, the beer is not Jesus. It says as much in the title.


  114. Well I certainly can’t speak for Mike, but this is how I as an evangelical reader took it. It seems that over the last few years this website has become somewhat of a liturgical church cheerleading squad where everything liturgical equals good and everything evangelical equals bad. And yet there are still some who, for whatever their reasons may be, prefer the evangelical church, warts and all, over the liturgical churches.


  115. Wow. Not sure where to start. I will first say that I have spent the last four years walking alongside college students. The students whose faith endured? Those who grew up in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Many of the evangelical kids gave their faith up completely (readMatt Marinos article – link at top of page) or frankly, just didn’t care, didn’t go to church, etc…. The Evangelical kids were SO narcissistic and ME oriented because that is what they learned in church.- me and God.

    My daughter recently joined the Episcopal church here and the opposite is true about what you have said . She is disabled and those people welcomed her and made her part of their community like I’ve never seen. Even though my husband is a Presbyterian pastor and we have a tiny house church, they also welcomed us in an extraordinary way – these women have loved and taken care of me whilst my own denominations church – well, never heard from them even though I’m a member. Same is true of episcopal church back in PA four years ago. And as Jacob above said – the Liturgy is scripture- through and through . God speaks through it and the Spirit works – the issue is the Hearer. I would rather be in that service than any evangelical service in town bc I – GET A BREAK FROM ME- the liturgy and Eucharist are about Christ. I am so sick of songs and services that are basically about how I am feeling , what God gave ME, what I do ….

    Also I grew up Christian reforrmed and went to Lutheran school. Lots of hymns, creeds, commandments and liturgy Spent teen and adult years in evangelical church. Guess what I remember and what comforts me? Those hymns. The confessions. Luther’s catechism. The Eucharist.

    I’m glad , Loo, you have had this experience but many of us have the opposite. I Should shut up now.

    Also, I am having trouble understanding the main point of the parable above .


  116. Loo — You say that “every strongly believing Catholic/Anglican we know was “saved” in an evangelical church, not a Catholic church.” That may be because “salvation” means something different in the Catholic church. It’s not a momentary change of status and perception but an ongoing growth into the image and likeness of God. For that the liturgy and sacraments are more appropriate than a seemingly informal series of activities to stimulate feelings. I know that evangelical churches also do a good job of scriptural education, but from my reading and experience I have seen that it is true that creating an emotional response is the fundamental goal of most evangelical church services.


  117. Not sure how you got from Point A (MB’s parable) to Point B (your comment), but it’s 3 Ayem and I’m very sleep-deprived.


  118. Evangelicalism may or may not “get all the converts” (I, and any number of folk here, would like to vigorously debate that), but here’s the kicker – can they KEEP them? You can’t live solely on caffeine-free diet coke. Those who want more will leave again. And those who don’t… Well is it any wonder that the American church is in the state it’s in?

    Now, it Mr. Bell’s turn 😉 I have only one thing to say to you… The worship traditions of a church community are NOT like the beer selection at the corner pub. It’s NIT about having one million choices to pick from. And if you think it should be… You missed the point.

    Now, somewhat off-topic, has anyone seen that atrocious cover article about alcohol at Christianity Today?


  119. Good one Mike.
    No, Jacob G. Frost, liturgy is, to me, a whole set of outdated practices that appeal to some as a new form of worship, but, unless you were raised in them, really show their age and don’t connect with people of the post-industrial era. People no longer learn by rote. Sure, we could learn by rote, we are as human as those who did learn it, but having things recited to us, then all replying back is antiquated, not ‘entering’ the scriptures, as some claim, just antiquated and alienating for those not raised in it.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I am OK with liturgy, but, that is because I am already a Christian, thanks to an evangelical church in my hometown. I get what they are trying to do – had a Catholic best friend and Anglican grandparents, so I have been to many Catholic and Anglican services during my life. But, I would never have “got” it, if I were not already converted. When I was young, Anglican services with my grandparents were something to just sit through. When I went to my Catholic family friends’ baptisms and the like, I had no clue what was going on. I spent one evening in a youth group at my friend’s evangelical church, and dedicated my life to Christ. Church was much more understandable there than at the Anglican/Catholic churches I had been to before. I have never turned back from my faith, once converted. Had those Anglican services or Catholic services meant anything to a young girl, I likely would have chosen to follow Christ much sooner.

    I get that some people love them, and get more from them than they ever did in the evangelical world, but ask yourself this honestly: are there any new converts in there that were converted by being saved by a liturgical service? I have friends who were raised evangelical, yet switched to Catholic or Anglican churches. They love them. But, every strongly believing Catholic/Anglican we know was “saved” in an evangelical church, not a Catholic church. Many priests are wonderful, dedicated men, the people there love God. But the format, the familiarity the congregation has with the whole process is actually quite alienating for an outsider. It doesn’t draw those that haven’t learned the “code” or “format” into the scriptures. That is something that can only be done once you understand what is going on and when to do it.

    Contrast this with an evangelical church. You walk in off the street, you are greeted, you are given a program at the door, you are often even seated, someone gets up and introduces themselves, tells you who they are and what they will do. Songs have overheads so everyone can read the words and sing along. Finally you hear a guy (usuaully a guy) introduce himself as the preaching pastor, in normal clothes, and he speaks to you in language you understand with the scripture he is talking about on the overhead above. I get that isn’t as classy or erudite as a Catholic service, but the last time (probably forever) I went to a Catholic service with my three kids there was a) no parking even though the place was jammed, no parking attendants, b) arriving a few min. late due to mayhem in the parking lot, no seats accessible, I say accessible because there would have been room on the pews, except that no one slid over. First arrivers just spread out, then others came and sate about 2 or 3 people spaces away and filled the whole pew with about 80% capacity. So, a bunch of people grabbed chairs in the foyer and sat looking through the glass, we joint them. There were no ushers, no order of service, just a list of page numbers for songs and the reading/responses written out ( in the foyer, there were no hymn books, so the only thing we could do was the readings). Everyone just got up for communion when it started, no waiting for the pew in front. Everyone knew the format, but there was no sense of “let us guide you” or we do this in a together sort of way, it was a free-for-all. The priest was an OK preacher, but wow, nothing leading up to this helped us. My kids didn’t like it, it was as if they were trying to make things meaningful, but since no one was being very welcoming or organized, the pomp just sort of looked like a kid’s Christmas pagent (this was during Lent). Nothing seemed deep or spiritual when the group as a whole was just concerned about getting their own needs met. Nothing like spreading the love of Christ by cutting people off in parking lots, taking up most of the pew when people have to sit in the foyer and barging ahead for communion and ash Wed. ashes. No one was helping with people the service, some were carrying a cross, or helping at the alter, but those were all for the “show” of the service, no ushers, greeters, etc. It was a large, full church, so this shouldn’t have been impossible to put in place, especially for something like Ash Wednesday. But why bother when everyone knows the drill. What it said to me, loud and clear, was, this is no place for “others” only those who are “in” are welcome here. And I haven’t even got to the liturgy. The papers were somewhere, someone in our row got some and gave me a copy, but only after we were half way through (only I didn’t know what to respond, everyone else did, even without the paper).

    If people ever wonder why Evangelicals get all the converts, it is stuff like this. If liturgy really was “The Way”, then it would work better. It is just a method of delivering the word. Is it an effective method in this era? Does it reach an non Christiana easily? A Christian not raised in it’s format? If the answer keeps coming up “no”, then many liturgical churches will die off. Evangelicalism works because the service is geared to any and everyone. There is no insider club on a Sunday morning, anyone can follow along. Not so in liturgical churches.


  120. So this beer stands for Jesus, and you’re saying that if some people want to drink (worship) something else, then that’s okay…?


  121. The liturgy is Scripture all the way through; it (along with the Church year) places worshipers into the drama of the salvation narrative; points directly to Christ and follows the pattern of His own life, bringing believers into communion with Him. The liturgy essentially is Word and Sacrament, the means by which Christ has promised to come to us and send His Spirit to us, and thus it is the way that the Kingdom of God comes.

    It is not a matter of taste, but a matter of nutrition.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: