Religious Switching and Metaphor


Five years ago I created and published the above graph at Internet Monk. It was based on a very large survey by the Pew Forum that showed how people had switched from their childhood faith group to their current faith group. If you have trouble understanding the graph, you may want to read the original analysis. I am showing it again now, because I think it is relevant to our discussion.

Just about two weeks ago there was a post that compared Evangelical Christianity to Caffeine Free Diet Coke:

Today, Coke has become a drink that does not quench thirst, does not provide any stimulant and whose strange taste is not particularly satisfying. Nonetheless, it is the most consumed beverage in the world. It plays on the mysterious enjoyment we get out of consuming it as something to enjoy in surplus after we have already quenched our thirst. We drink Coke because “Coke is “it”” not because it satisfies anything material. In essence, all that remains of what was once Coke is a pure semblance, an artificial promise of a substance which never materialized. In Zizek’s words, we ‘drink nothing in the guise of something …” It is “in effect merely an envelope of a void.”(22-23).

When you look at the graph you will see a broad yellow band across the middle of the page. It represents those who were raised Evangelical and still remain Evangelical. The narrower yellow bands represent many of those who comment at Internet Monk. They may have grown up in the evangelical church, but they now identify elsewhere, or no where at all. These people would tend to agree with the quote above, and that Evangelical Christianity does not provide any stimulant and is not particularly satisfying.

However, like Diet Coke, Evangelicals still has the biggest appeal among the three major religious grouping listed. (Sorry Orthodox readers, but your numbers were too small to get your own grouping. You have been included in the “other” section.)

What you do need to realize it that when you “diss” caffeine free diet coke, you are putting down my drink of choice. And, while I do have one foot in the post-evangelical wilderness, I am not headed in the direction of liturgical style worship.

Don’t get me wrong. I think liturgical style worship has many redeeming qualities. If you read last week’s post on “Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout – Double Barrel Aged: A Metaphor for Liturgy” you will notice that I had only positive things to say about that particular beer. Why? Because generally I have only positive things to say about liturgical worship. How did I come up with the name of the beer? I went to (yes such a place exists) and I pulled down the number one ranked beer. What I was trying to communicate was that I was not trying to compare liturgy to some ho-hum drink, but rather the number one beer on!

It is not like I don’t have exposure to liturgy: My wife sings in a very liturgical choir, my sister-in-law is an elder in a liturgical church, and I have been to countless liturgical services over the years. I do have a theology degree, so it isn’t like I don’t understand the significance of what I am seeing and hearing. But liturgical services leave me spiritually dry and desiring a taste of something else. I have the same reaction to beer. All beer.

If you look at the graph above again, I would represent a little squiggly yellow line at the top which is not sure where it is going to end up at the bottom. I know it is not going to be in a liturgical service, but that doesn’t leave me a whole lot of options. If I was to create this graph ten years from now and find my place on it, my best guess it would probably be in a Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition that spans the Evangelical and Mainline worlds.

So I wrote this post to remind us that while some of us in the Post Evangelical Wilderness will find their destinations in Liturgical traditions (Denise Spencer, Jeff Dunn, and Chaplain Mike are all examples of this), many of us will have great difficulty in going that direction. Some may remain in their own Evangelical traditions, grouse about the taste of Caffeine Free Diet Coke, but still continue to drink it. Others may look to some other beverage entirely.

The other thing I would like us to think about from the graph above (though not the purpose of my original metaphor) is that while most of us have come to a spiritual wilderness out of Evangelical traditions, many come to a spiritual wilderness out of liturgical traditions. While it is not the purpose or direction of this blog to focus on this area, it is wise for us to remember that others may need different solutions than the ones we are offering.

Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

107 thoughts on “Religious Switching and Metaphor

  1. i.e., just as Vega said, the explanations are simple. From my perspective, not as complicated as some of the reasons speculated here.


  2. I’m a former non-religious “None” who has converted to Christianity, and my take is pretty similar to Vega Magnus. I never even owned a Bible until relatively recently and I was very surprised at the gospel of compassion and warm inclusion, whereas my experience in church was quite different. I dreaded going and finally resolved that if anything objectionable was said, I’d walk out. However, upon making that resolution, I realized how silly it was to even consider going to that church anymore. What I found objectionable was related to non-inclusive “othering” and political comments that if were said in a secular environment, I would literally object to. That church had nothing to teach me that I wanted to learn, and in hindsight, seems downright sinister now.

    My husband and I have since had more enjoyable experiences at mainline churches (we research them before choosing to attend), although we haven’t yet found a church that we might be interested in joining. Our search has become more complicated since my mobility-impaired father is going with us. He was raised Christian, but left the church when in his early twenties. His opinion of Christians was so bad that he was very concerned that I would be hurt. :/

    My father has recently reconverted (I do think that the example set by my wonderful husband has a lot to do with it), but I’ve been surprised at how difficult it can be for someone with walking difficulties to attend church, such as long walks to avoid stairs, issues with getting in and out of pews, no place for him to sit down if we drop him off at the door, etc., to the point it’s easier to bring a wheel chair, which is a hassle. Grocery stores are more accommodating to the handicapped than any church we’ve attended.

    Just some data points on why some Nones are Nones that I hope are helpful.


  3. There will always be more factors affecting our judgement in matters of worship than we are even aware of or care to admit. But not all criteria are equally beneficial. What a church’s worship teaches you to believe and confess ought to be more important than artistic considerations. It seems to me that those convinced of a sacramental approach to spirituality will always be more personally drawn to a traditional liturgy than those who view the sacraments as mere symbols. I think that many choose “worship style” based on the doctrine it proclaims more often than they realize.

    My journey, my story, my preferences, my schedule, my trauma, my background, my convictions.

    Maybe that is the way it is, but that doesn’t necessarily justify it. Such a self-oriented consumeristic approach to religion defeats the purpose of Christ to pull us out of ourselves to love others.

    So I see opportunity to subvert people’s individualism with contextual Gospel application.

    I believe this ancient tradition dates back to St. Paul himself! 😛 Diversity can be a good thing in the aesthetic sense, but a destructive thing in the doctrinal sense. We must be careful to have one without the other.

    I see the dangers of mindless mimicry and assumed faith in high-liturgical spaces.

    So do I. However, high-liturgical services always have a ton of Scripture and confession of the orthodox faith contained in them. Let’s not underestimate the ability of God to work through His Word (which never returns void) even in the midst of the most mindless ritual with mundane music.

    I’d be interested in reading up on adjustments that liturgical churches have made throughout history based on cultural issues

    My friend, you have hit the nail on the head with that word: “adjustments.” The best way forward, imo, with a very solid track record, is to receive what the church hands you in tradition and refine it for your particular community. This is better than going tabula rasa and reinventing the wheel every time: Doxological iconoclasm creates a chronological snobbery which fosters generational narcissism. Too often you are left with a religion that becomes obsolete as fast as your hair style. Having the humility to listen to our forebears in the faith as if they could actually teach us a thing or two about worship and transmitting the faith to successive generations shows our culture the bigger picture of the communion of saints. The “democracy of the dead” helps us achieve balance when contextualizing so that we don’t work so hard trying to make the Gospel relevant, which would be like trying to make water wet.

    Thanks for engaging, I’ve enjoyed your pushback!


  4. ” But you also might say that the Church is fully present wherever two believers are together engaged in the Scriptures, even if it is separated by distance, for example, in the comments section of a blog or something.”

    Yes, but is this really so different from the communion that exists between the living and dead saints, who after all do not partake in eating and drinking the Sacrament, and who we cannot see, touch, feel or smell, but who nevertheless are fully included in the church Catholic with us together as one people?


  5. Good observation. The summary data I was working from did not have it, and I did not have enough time at the time to dig into the raw data.

    Using the orthodox as an example, in the time of this report they made up 0.6% of Americans. My original graph was 1000 pixels wide which would show the orthodox with a width of 6 pixels. Showing moves in and out from that would have been very difficult.


  6. That’s a good definition of a healthy farm. 😛
    On a serious note, the only fruit that worship need produce is faith. Faith will produce all the good works we need, which apart from faith, aren’t good works. Faith is produced by the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace (even if you reject the sacraments, this can still apply to the Scriptures and the faithful proclamation of the Gospel).


  7. So, do black Protestants never join any other group, or are the lines just smaller than the pixels?

    I would like to see “other” broken down some. A big chunk is going to belong to other religions which may not be comparable. (Does one “leave” Judaism for “none,” or be both?) But what’s going on with the Quakers? With the Orthodox Christians? I have some idea, but would love to see numbers.


  8. (sorry–didn’t I just leave off the ““–just meant to italicize the quote at the beginning.


  9. liturgical services leave me spiritually dry and desiring a taste of something else. I have the same reaction to beer.

    PMJI since I’m just visiting (I picked up your religious switching graphic from elsewhere and followed the trail back).

    I’m not arguing. But to me this is totally counterintuitive. To me the liturgy is the whole nine yards, the thing that produces intense experience and the sense of real contact with God, a window into the Other World. The rest—the sermon and lessons—is just the bad stuff you have to get through to get the good stuff.

    I was raised as a ‘none’ but ‘got religion’ singing sacred music (mainly in Latin) in choirs to which I belonged. As soon as I left home I started looking for a church and never even considered anything but Catholic, Episcopal or Orthodox because my idea was maximizing sacrament and liturgy and minimizing Word and Bible. If it were feasible I’d have been a Hindu. Elaborate ceremonies, mystical experience, as high church as high as possible, as fancy as possible—that’s what I was after. But not just for itself but because this seems to me the window into the Other World, contact with God.


  10. Yes, that helps. Thanks. And agreed on the parlance of “liturgy.”

    But this is the rub for me: “I choose liturgical worship because it is saturated with Christ, period.” I’d bet that many of the people represented in Mike’s chart who have switched between Christian denominations would make this case for wherever they landed. Maybe this is some of my remaining cynicism, but it still comes down to individualism at the end of the day. My journey, my story, my preferences, my schedule, my trauma, my background, my convictions. But, I try to remain neutral about this. It’s just the way it is.

    You appeal to history, rightly so, but the major difference is that we’re in a present globalized world with a vast religious marketplace to choose from. So I see opportunity to subvert people’s individualism with contextual Gospel application. Christianity is one of the few (maybe the only?) religion that does not esteem the spoken language of its leader above other languages, or require religious study in a particular language. The Gospel is at the same time fluid within cultures and transcendent above them. So as a “missional” type I value the Incarnation very highly, and those are the questions I ask when I imagine what faithful & contextual worship services should be like. And I also see the dangers of syncretism and cultural accommodation in evangelical spaces, like I see the dangers of mindless mimicry and assumed faith in high-liturgical spaces.

    I’d be interested in reading up on adjustments that liturgical churches have made throughout history based on cultural issues (i.e. the Vatican II vernacular decision) if there are any suggestions out there.


  11. Oh, we have the best, and the worst, of both worlds. Believe me, “interesting” is quite the operative word! (We like to use “eclectic a lot.) The satisfaction level in our congregation seems very high (more so than any I’ve ever served), which quite a strange occurrence when you consider the diversity of “preferences” we have in our congregation. We have former Catholics who just want to eat their cracker and go home. We have “bronze age” Lutherans who don’t need no stinkin’ hymnal to follow the liturgy ’cause they have it memorized since they were 5. We have many Evangelicals who think the epitome of doxological success is the local mega-church. We have former Baptists who just want to get rowdy and shout. We have Charles Stanley fans who still think the Gaithers are “contemporary.” …and yet, somehow, there is surprisingly little conflict over style and preference. The liturgy stays roughly the same week to week, but the musical style is a dice roll. Our people gratefully receive whatever our musicians serve up, knowing that if it isn’t their cup of tea this week, it probably will be next. In this way, we have modeled and taught mutual submission to our membership. I also take most requests (except for blatantly horrid theology in the lyrics) and sing a ton of songs I personally can’t stand (though being the music director has its perks in repertoire management). This is why I have such little tolerance for somebody who makes an issue out of their personal preference: Worship simply isn’t about us. Our unity despite our diversity is a testament to our oneness in Christ, and the liturgy serves as an excellent backbone for this.


  12. Of course. But, conversely, it also stands true that just because we’ve communicated effectively and relatable doesn’t mean the what was received was the Gospel. The message must take primacy, and the delivery is its servant. The liturgy, if you read the words, communicates the Gospel very clearly. A compelling aesthetic must remain a secondary concern to this, even though it is highly beneficial. It is more important that the message is clearly received than that it is found to be emotionally compelling. When we prioritize faithfulness to the Gospel, God himself takes care of the compelling through the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t need our artistic brilliance to help, though, like the child painting the garage with his father, I imagine that He certainly welcomes it and enjoys it.


  13. You bet, Sean. Good questions.

    I don’t believe I said we should be content with any worship form that can make a case from Scripture: it is always possible to make the case from a wrong understanding of it. Also, not all things that are Biblically justifiable are equally good. My point is that when somebody makes a Biblical argument, it merits a Biblical response in debate, and not a flippant “well that’s just your preference.”

    Liturgical worship is absolutely not a personal preference. Here’s why: First: it predates any concept we have of the conflict between worship styles. For the first 1500 years of the Church’s life, there was only one option – liturgy was worship. It still is. Even “contemporary worship” has a liturgy. The question is not whether or not you follow an intentional structure (with or without leniency for improvisation). The questions ought to be: Does the content of your liturgy proclaim Christ? Does the structure of your liturgy tell the story of the Gospel? So my second reason is that what this discussion has been labeling “liturgical worship” is primarily a substance, and not a style. Third reason: the liturgy can be done in any style, contemporary or traditional. So when it comes to personal preference, there is a liturgical service out there for nearly any taste (including, unfortunately, Dr. Seusscharist, U2charist, and a rap mass). Our services integrate Hillsong United tunes alongside the Agnus Dei and punked out German chorales. Fourth: lovers of liturgical worship don’t choose these services because we like their style, because it appeals to our aesthetic interests, or seems conversant with our cultural background. I choose liturgical worship because it is saturated with Christ, period. I’ll gladly enjoy any worship service that fits that bill, even if the music is country. Fifth: Liturgical worship is not one style. It is an eclectic amalgamation of centuries of diverse aesthetic contributions. Contemporary worship tends to be an expression of a very recent culture in a specific demographic. A typical liturgical worship service spans 2000 years of stylistic contributions and easily half the globe in cultures.

    Believe me, I am not opposed to non-liturgical worship on principle. I still lead music for non-liturgical worship on a regular basis. I am concerned that non-liturgical worship lack the kind of roots that anchor it in the Gospel. You can do “non-liturgical” worship services that rival the liturgy in substance. It just so rarely happens. With “non-liturgical,” you may or may not get Christ and His Gospel as the food for your soul. It seems to be an effective medium for selling many other messages as well. With the liturgy, Christ and His Gospel are always front and center. If those are a “personal preference,” than I’m guilty as charged. If they are normative expectations for Christian worship, I’m gonna go where I’m most sure to find them.

    Hope that makes sense!


  14. “Is the cultural influence in our worship used to proclaim the Gospel more effectively and clearly, or is it just a way to “resonate” with people so that they feel they can relate? ”

    I would say that both are important. The gospel is not communicated effectively if it is not understandable or if the receiver is not able to “relate” to it.


  15. Challenging thoughts, Mike. But don’t be ridiculous, nobody in their right mind is saying there is never a “bad liturgical service.” I’ve presided over the music for several of them myself! But even at its worst, the bad ain’t all that bad, ’cause how bad can it really be if Christ himself is truly present there in Word and Sacrament, generously blessing us with His free gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation? That happens in every liturgical eucharist, no matter how poorly done, and I’d have a very hard time calling that “bad.”

    I shall reflect on the necessity of a connection between spiritual and emotional movement. Off hand, I’d say that I’d have to disagree, quite strongly, but it would have to depend on what kind of emotion you are referring to. Mike Bell seems to be seeking something compelling for life change. I believe the most important Spiritual move that happen is from doubt to faith, and from weak faith to strengthened faith. This doesn’t always produce shouting hallelujahs, and what’s worse, to prescribe an expected emotional response is emotionally unhealthy and a bit cruel. I think that heartfelt thanksgiving and calm peace are always appropriate responses to receiving the Gospel yet again, but I would never assert that my emotions allign that way every time. I find it to be incredibly good news that regardless of my emotional state, I can trust that God was present and blessed me with grace upon grace, every time I receive the Lord’s Supper. There is always a time and a place for jubilant rejoicing in the Christian faith, but it is not always the time and place for that. Liturgical worship, imo, very well balances the diversity of emotion associated with Christian discipleship, and provides a venue for people in nearly any frame of mind to connect with it at some point along the way.

    So I think what Mike Bell is saying is that certain liturgical situations are so unnaturally emotionally restrained they fail to move him in his spirit.

    Yes, it would appear he is saying that to me as well. There are many reasons for this. Sometimes the leadership just don’t care. Sometimes there are severely limited resources. But like I said, those who embrace traditional high understandings of the sacraments don’t stress over this because the presence of Christ is the defining characteristic of their worship. Aesthetic brilliance is frosting. Definitely nice to have and certainly appropriate for the celebration of the divine mysteries, but certainly not as necessary. Sometimes the musical leadership is just incompetent or has poor taste. But consider these two things:

    First, many coming to liturgical worship are weary from being at war with sin, the world, and the devil. Not everybody looks forward to a spiritual pep rally on Sunday, some really just need a place of rest and peace. For the weary, dull liturgical worship can be a healing salve for the soul. Peaceful calm is the dominant aesthetic to reflect what they are looking to Christ to give them. (This would certainly include me on most weekends.)

    Second is that there is no reason liturgical worship has to be dull. Many churches work very hard to make the music quite compelling. My grandmother’s Roman Catholic church uses a praise band and doesn’t sing any hymns. The sing the latest hits from the charismatic movement right along with contemporary, guitar driven settings of the mass. It is faithfully liturgical and musically very modern. I don’t believe they even posses an organ, and they are quite a large congregation. Many other churches find very compelling ways to enliven their liturgy, some more traditional and others more cutting edge. So to say that liturgical worship is dull is like saying that Evangelical worship is vacuous. It can be, it often is, but it doesn’t need to be, and there are plenty of excellent examples to the contrary.


  16. If this is the case, then I truly do not understand why you are so staunch about this topic. According to your description, you should be content with any worship form that can cogently make an appeal to scripture for the “why we do what we do.” No?

    And please answer why you keep invoking the “personal preference” argument, as though liturgical worshipers somehow escape this critique.


  17. Good points. But you also might say that the Church is fully present wherever two believers are together engaged in the Scriptures, even if it is separated by distance, for example, in the comments section of a blog or something. I can easily concede that the Lord’s Supper is not an absolute necessity for the church to “be fully present,” because I am a firm believer in the daily office prayer services. As for Friends and SA (really, a real thorn to my theology), it is sufficient to confess Christ as Lord and believe that he has been raised from the dead. But this “bare minimum” salvation is a bit short, I think, of following in the way of Him who commands Baptism.


  18. Miguel, as you noted above, one cannot conflate spiritual with emotional. Many things can move one emotionally and not be spiritual at all. The excesses of the Toronto movement or kick-old-ladies-in-the-face guy come to mind. But I would submit for your consideration that it is well nigh impossible to be spiritually moved without being emotionally moved at the same time. I believe it is part of our nature as “living souls”. I can’t think of one example from the Bible where someone who was moved by The Spirit or moved in their spirit did’t FEEL something. So I think what Mike Bell is saying is that certain liturgical situations are so unnaturally emotionally restrained they fail to move him in his spirit. Liturgical worship should move us with profound gratitude and heart-felt praise at God’s abundant mercy just about every time, I would think. Nevertheless, are you saying there is never any bad liturgical services?


  19. Miguel, I think the question being addressed was, “Where is the Church?”. I think the Church is fully present anywhere its baptized and/or believing members gather together to worship their Lord. If they are baptized, then the sacrament of Baptism is already involved; if they are not (Friends, Salvation Army), then the Church must somehow still mysteriously be fully present, because they are naming Jesus as Lord, confessing the faith and following in his way.


  20. This is a great point. During my first stint in the wilderness, I attended Anglican and episcopal churches. Then I met my husband, who’d more or less mentally left the fundamentalism/evangelicalism. He still had residual discomfort with liturgy, but at this point I couldn’t see myself going back into a low church tradition. So I said something like this, “Listen, the Wesleys shook up Anglicanism a bit. Let’s trying attending a United Methodist Church. It’ll still has a liturgy, but I don’t think it will creep you out.”

    So we were Methodists the first few years of our marriage. Our most recent move gave us occasion to ask again what church we were going to attend. My own views and leanings put me closer to Episcopal Church, or to the Lutherans, and higher liturgy than is typical in Methodist churches. And my husband no longer concerned about high church traditions. I got my fingers on him and messed with his head. :p So here we are.

    There is no particular lesson on this, except to say that its useful to realize that the traditions fall all along a continuum. It’s possible to move into a more liturgical pattern, without going to an Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian parish.


  21. Nobody is going to create an objectively perfect form of worship that is completely devoid of cultural influence or baggage. Wherever the church goes, she absorbs influences from the surrounding culture into her worship. We ought to be asking ourselves not whether to interact with the culture, but whether particular influences are helpful or not helpful to the mission and message of the church. We need to remember that at the same time we speak to the culture through the culture, we must also transcend the culture and be willing to challenge the culture. Is the cultural influence in our worship used to proclaim the Gospel more effectively and clearly, or is it just a way to “resonate” with people so that they feel they can relate? When church mimics the culture too closely, we find that we become redundant, unnecessary, and irrelevant. We must remember that our purpose is much more important than being culturally savvy, and to the extent that we are, it is a means to a much higher end then culture, by itself, will ever attain.


  22. Are the Sacraments extremely important to YOUR practice of Christianity, or are the extremely important to Christianity period? Should we entertain the idea that Christ was wasting his time when he instituted them? Why has it become so offensive to just point to a teaching and declare it to be objectively wrong? The Friends already think our practice of the Sacrament is incorrect, so they’re not going to be offended. Are the still Christian? If they believe in the Christ of the Scriptures, yes. But that doesn’t mean that their rejection of the Sacraments is inconsequential or above our calling out. It is contrary to the teaching of Christ, and His words are not so cryptically ambiguous that we ought to accept an infinite variety of interpretation on these points as equally valid.

    I don’t think their connection to the Church catholic is such a mystery. If we believe in the Word as a means of grace, then surely Christ is among them working by His Spirit.


  23. If preference is the ultimate arbitrator of worship, than yes. But if Jesus is the most important factor, the question should be asked; how can worship give us Jesus from start to finish and above all else?


  24. My experience in the LCMS is that the vast majority have no clue how to integrate “contemporary” in to the liturgy, and the ones who do are anything but contemporary or faithful to the Divine Service liturgy. Looking around at many LCMS congregations around the nation, it seems that the vast majority have relegated “contemporary” and “liturgical” to separate services, each to do their own thing, and never the twain shall meet. It’s sad, really. It betrays a fatal lack of vision.


  25. Yes, this is very common, and increasingly so these days, I believe. I believe this would describe our church quite accurately, though it is definitely more common in Presbyterianism than in Lutheranism. Confessional Anglicanism seems to do this quite a bit. The thing is, when reformed groups do it, they tend to kind of blend half and half. In our church, we maintain strong consistency with our liturgical heritage while striving to seamlessly integrate the best of Evangelical innovations. The result, IMO, is services that are very liturgical, and very compelling. You don’t have to choose between these, but finding doxological leadership who understands and embraces that can be difficult.


  26. Robert, make sure you’re not confusing “who is the church” with “what is the church.” Of course we are still the church if the Pastor screws up. But that doesn’t make his screw-up a legitimate expression of the true Christian faith. The quote from Luther is an answer to the question “what are the marks of the church?” In other words, these two things (word and sacrament) are the identifying characteristics of Christian spirituality. Where you have no Gospel or Sacraments, you have no Christianity. (Unless you’re Evangelical/Pentecostal, then it’s simply “Where you have no Gospel.”)

    The distinction between the visible and invisible church is not ours to judge, thank God. We are called to trust everybody who confesses Christ as a genuine believer and brother in the faith. Worship that does not confess Christ, on the other hand, is difficult to label “Christian.”


  27. How do you define healthy spirituality? Simple: Christ centered, Scripture saturated, Gospel proclaiming, historically rooted, intentionally structured. Non-liturgical worship is capable of all these things, but for some reason, it more often than not doesn’t. Liturgical worship will automatically do all these things, even if the presiding minister is a heretic or an atheist.


  28. Mike, if your chief objection to liturgical worship is that you simply find it to be dull, you should just come out and say that, rather than trying to justify it saying it leaves you “spiritually dry.” If you mean bored, you might as well admit it.


  29. There’s nothing wrong with sitting around a campfire singing kumbaya. But it doesn’t follow that therefore it is automatically equal to every an any other form of worship just because some people prefer it. You can compare worship to a choice of beverage or music ’till you’re blue in the face, but all that says is that you’re not listening to the other side and you’re still missing the point. Worship is not a commodity to be conformed to our interests. It is an encounter with Christ to conform us to His interests. This expectation that worship will always be comfortable to my cultural background and never challenge me beyond it is so antithetical to the cause of Christ. He didn’t come to help us express ourselves.


  30. Yes, Robert, you certainly are a typical Anglican. 😛
    You hit the nail on the head with one thing: the essence of the debate over worship is about doctrine, not style. Different liturgies confess different beliefs, and the sacraments are the heart of those beliefs. Traditionalists with a high view of the sacraments tend to worship in a way that expresses this, and those who do not believe in the sacraments worship as if they are not very important and we must rely on other methods to connect to God.

    Which is why I find it so trivializing when other methods of worship are dismissed simply because “it doesn’t do it for me.” Shouldn’t worship be about something infinitely more important than personal preference?

    Love NEVER demands that another give up their opinion. Love respects the right to disagree and seeks congenial exchange for the sake of mutual edification. Those sorts of conversations are the kind that have brought about drastic 180 degree changes in my perspective on many fronts. It seems that many in this current debate are not open to that kind of conversation.


  31. I’m not sure that it so much ‘came out wrong’…. but that some TOOK it wrong. I took it as that you were stating that while it isn’t your preferred form of worship, you still can see many good qualities within that form of expression.
    Obviously If you agreed with ALL of the liturgical form, you’d most likely BE in that form of expression…or moving toward it, right?


  32. No; it is about practice, community, and how religious belief/faith is incarnated into life.


  33. > all the accretions and additions WE have ADDED to the ‘faith

    And all the time we had had to deepen our understanding of scriptures, the world, and human kind. All those glorious ‘accretions’ of wise and honest men and women which have added immensely to the church.

    > and the Gospel and practice of the 1st Century

    Which was what exactly? Queue the war for the purity-of-the-true-church.

    > but who simply can’t stomach the posturing, the lack of authenticity, the
    > dichotomy between what passes for ‘church’ today

    How do such people make it though any given day? Having to deal with family, professional relationships – it must be a terrible burden to be so authentic.

    > To quote Gandhi…”I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.
    > Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

    I don’t know; had I been standing next to Ghandi when he said this I would have probably rolled my eyes and said “Grow up”. You can attribute that same, ultimately completely unhelpful sentiment, to hundreds of historical figures [Thomas Jefferson comes immediately to mind]. Ghandi was a great and committed man, he had also had some very unhelpful and unworkable ideas.


  34. Probably like some of the Anglican churches that have sprung up across the country in the past several years.


  35. The chart reminds me of this video. Please note the closing scene with the guy with the axe. If this is just about religion, them it’s all doomed for extinction – especially in a world dominated by libertarians/Randians. Once the liberal menace is out of the way, they’ll show their true anti-religious selves. Please also note that the ant-religious message in this video come from the band, Rush, which has been heavily influence by Ayn Rand throughout their long career.


  36. …and yes, David dancing before the Lord is often the supreme prototype for Evangelical worship. I’m not entirely sure that was the purpose of the story, and I don’t think that many using that story to justify their practices are actually following his example.


  37. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with emotion. We are called to love the Lord with all our heart, and this includes expression in worship. It doesn’t follow that we should therefore conflate emotion with spirituality. That is a dangerous thing. About the point remaining, I’m not entirely sure what it was. The way I understand the word, it isn’t actually possible for liturgical worship to leave you “spiritually dry” even if you are bored to tears.


  38. I’m just referring to the things God says about Himself in the scriptures. The only “limitations” we ought to put on God are the descriptions He gives of Himself in the Bible. We won’t always agree on what those mean, but an appeal to it should at least be taken seriously.


  39. Ric, wow, small world sometimes. I can’t remember the pastor’s name when I attended.


  40. Thank you all. I have a desire to visit other churches and witness first-hand some of what I read here. Other than Roman Catholic (my birth church), the only church services I’ve visited are Eastern Orthodox, Methodist, Baptist. Presbyterian and Anglican. I was most impressed with the sermon I heard at the Anglican church.

    As is obvious from my “CalvinCuban” name, I would be perfectly comfortable if the preaching were Reformed in focus–but definitely not if it becomes exclusive of other perspectives, and most definitely not the hyper variety.

    There is a LCMS church not too far from where I live; I would like to visit them sometime soon.


  41. There certainly was diversity (a good thing). I think there was essential unanimity on what the church was, though. To be fair, my seminary study was mostly on European historical elements leading up to the Reformation, so I may not be the most versed in ante-niceane theology.


  42. Dr. F, I’m afraid that there may not have been as much unanimity among the early Church Fathers as you suggest, even in important matter. Also, I think that certain aspects of the early Church may run afoul of the importance you place on healthiness; for instance, I’m not sure the early Church’s severe attitude about post-baptismal sin, though understandable given the context they lived in, was necessarily healthy.


  43. David, just as an aside, I served as substitute organist for a period at that small, white Presbterian church.
    A Dr. Mount was pastor at the time. I liked him and the church.


  44. CC, a great deal of LCMS lutheran churches are pretty much exactly what you describe.


  45. Those are fantastic questions, Robert, and the kind that I think need to be discussed, especially in an ecumenical combox like this one. The question about church is what led Bonhoeffer on his theological journey, which was pietistic (for a German Lutheran), orthodox, ecumenical, humanistic, and some would even argue liberal. But whatever it was, it was pretty effective. I personally believe that the witness of the NT and the church fathers is sufficient to define what the holy christian church is, although it wouldn’t hurt to discuss it.

    As for healthy, we see God prescribing worship methods and patterns from at least Exodus, and both Christ and the Apostles gave instructions to the early church. This could imply that there are healthy and unhealthy worship expressions. Of course, common sense also implies this – none of us would probably endorse Christian Russian Roulette as an expression of worship. But it definitely should be discussed, especially since we have so much academic study on the nature of community, media, and rhetoric in the last half century.

    What we probably shouldn’t do is just say, “Well I like such and such, so that’s my choice” – in a world where people are addicted to substances that they know will kill them.


  46. In my teens I attend a Wesleyan oriented small college. Right across the street, on the corner, was a small, white, Presbyterian Church. Many students attended this church on Sunday mornings. I always liked it for its simplicity of style, its good preaching, and the right mix of liturgy.

    My year in DC, as I said above, I also attended a Presbyterian Church, more often than any of the others, including Methodist, that I visited.

    For some reason these churches always seemed serious and solid. The preaching was good. I include this, because I have always considered preaching important, just as did Luther, Barth, and others. I think this is one area where Protestants have historically been strong.

    Now if preaching became too dogmatically Calvinistic, I’d have second thoughts. But I never had this experience.


  47. yet in one of the most intense places of prayer in this world . . . the inside of a NICU . . . it is often the prayers and Psalms and sacred Scriptures of the liturgy that come to memory so readily and so appropriately to need. . . .

    the ‘liturgy’ stays with us and like an old friend, does not abandon us when there is trouble, but comes alongside and comforts us, often with words inspired by the Holy Spirit that have been engraved on us.
    Liturgical worship, from the time we were first brought to mass as infants carried in the arms of our parents, serves us well when the pain of this world calls up those words of strength and comfort from our memories.

    It’s like a kind of ‘training’ . . . in the best of times, you think it’s repetitive to hear the same verses year and year celebrating the same events in the life of Our Lord and the Church . . . you think it’s ‘not necessary’ to pray the same prayer such as the Our Father again daily, or many times through the day;
    but in the day(s) of our need, those words come back to us . . . and we are thankful for this that has become an ingrained part of who we are even when the worst of times comes upon us.


  48. Yes.

    I could never say that evangelical Friends are not part of the Church catholic because they don’t practice the sacraments, either Baptism or Eucharist. They are part of the one Church. At the same time, the sacraments are extremely important to my practice of Christianity, such that I can’t imagine worshiping without them at the center, and I have hard time understanding how the Friends and my tradition are both connected to the same catholic Church. So much for my ability to understand God’s ways.

    Paradox and mystery all around, and grace is everywhere.


  49. “Personally, I’ll take a small group gathered around a campfire, spontaneously singing, praying, praising, or sharing our hearts, over high or low liturgy any day of the week.”

    Isn’t a small group gathered around a campfire, etc., engaged in liturgy also? If they are the people of God, and worshiping together in a fit manner, I don’t see how this isn’t liturgy.

    The question is, how is this small assembly connected with the Church catholic? By what agency? The issue isn’t liturgy, high or low, but what place the sacraments play in the assembly: do they play an essential part in connecting the local gathering with the Church catholic, or not?

    If not, then they are ultimately unimportant, won’t be practiced often, and will not be at the center of worship; if they do, then they are vital to worship, they will be practiced more frequently, and be at the center of liturgy, high or low.

    This is the real difference between our kinds of worship.


  50. “God’s drink of choice is Jesus.”
    I’ll second that motion.
    It makes me think of Paul’s somewhat angry response to Judiazing Christians in his letter to the Galations. The Judiazers were insisting that new gentile converts essentially become good “Jews” (circumcision, compulsive ritual washing, numerous dietary and Sabbath rules) before they could become genuine followers of Christ. Paul accused these people of negating the power of the Cross and unnecessarily complicating the purity and simplicity of the Gospel. And that makes me wonder if Paul would have been any more tolerant of gentile Christians loading down the Gospel with their own cultural collection of unnecessary baggage.
    Looking at the current church world in all its diversity, it seems to me that a lot of baggage has been accumulated over the past 2,000 years. And while I don’t see us all reaching a consensus on what items are “essential” and which are “non-essential,” I think we should all be very careful when it comes to trying to place extra burdens on anyone.


  51. I understand your points, and agree up to a point. But I still think that most people reject Christianity because of the Jesus’ cross, as did Gandhi, peace-loving as he was. Gandhi’s ahimsa was not the cross of Christ, and so it could bring only temporary and provisional peace, not the peace of God.


  52. I think what Mike might be trying say, is that highly liturgical services don’t effect him in such a way that God-inspired change takes place in his life as a result … at least not to the extent that other styles and forms of worship have this effect. And that change might come in through either the door of emotions or the intellect (or both), but it is the inner spirit that is stirred to bring about change.
    I can intellectually appreciate classical opera, but God help me if I have to sit through one from beginning to end. That’s the way that some of us feel toward high liturgy. We can see its beauty and symbolism, but our hearts and minds are fashioned in such a way that these things don’t penetrate or engage … and they leave us longing for some other mode or environment in which it is easier for us to approach and worship God with enthusiasm and thankfulness.
    Personally, I’ll take a small group gathered around a campfire, spontaneously singing, praying, praising, or sharing our hearts, over high or low liturgy any day of the week.


  53. Good points Rick. Is it our job to make OURSELVES ‘appealing’…..whatever that might mean? OR…to make ‘GOD appealing’?
    Is it GOD that people find unappealing…..or is it all the accretions and additions WE have ADDED to the ‘faith’….whether over the past 1700 years….or just the past 450 years. I propose that most people reject ‘religion’….or….’Christianity’….or variations of it….on the basis of NOT who GOD is….but on a variety of reasons, not least that they simply can’t drink the cool-aid that makes one ‘see’ the correlation between what an organization teaches….and the Gospel and practice of the 1st Century ekklesias, as recorded in the only reliable record we have of that era, the Scriptures.
    Couple that with the dissonance between what is ‘preached’ and the observed lives of the proponents….and many people reject the entire package out of hand. I submit that these two factors are a major cause behind the fact that perhaps the fastest growing sub-group of ‘drop-outs’ from organized ekklesiology…are those who STILL BELIEVE….but who simply can’t stomach the posturing, the lack of authenticity, the dichotomy between what passes for ‘church’ today….and what is recorded as what originated as interdependent yet independent ekklesias….groups of individuals who learn to follow Jesus in communion with each other, who are indwelt and led by the HS, and not by hidebound ‘tradition’….regardless of age. To quote Gandhi…”I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”


  54. I know what you mean.

    I believe we should take it as a generality.

    The Lord can surely work and make folks His own…even in the Mormon religion. It may be a bit tougher to do so in a self-focused environment like that.


  55. I have a problem with this definition, because it seems to imply that where the gospel is not preached rightly all the time, every time, the Church is not present. What preacher doesn’t have at least an off day, or off moments even in every sermon? Does the Church disappear during the moments the preacher is getting it wrong? What a terrible burden to place of a single human being that is. I don’t really buy it.

    On the other hand, the traditional Eucharistic liturgy, wherein the sacrament is created by the Word and the words of Christ, makes more sense; in that case, the gospel is rightly proclaimed by the liturgy, and the sacraments are administered by the Word and words of Christ in the liturgy.

    But does this mean that, whenever the local church is not engaged in the Holy Communion or Baptism, the Church catholic is not present? That could hardly be the case; the Church catholic inheres in its members, not in its performance of sacramental ritual at every moment.

    Any way you look at it, the existence of the Church catholic in the local church is a paradox and a miracle that cannot be totally determined by the external trappings and ritual of the local church. That’s just the way it is, as far as I can tell.


  56. I asked this question in commenting on a post several days ago. It does seem like some sort of hybrid would be a great way of presenting Jesus and worshipping Him. As you suggest, I’ve been in Presbyterian services in the past which seem to mix some liturgical elements with the evangelical.


  57. What would a hybrid church (for lack of a better adjective) look like? Are there denominations or congregations where the best of evangelical and liturgical practices are integrated into a coherent service? Presbyterian, maybe?


  58. I like Luther’s definition:

    “Where the gospel is proclaimed in it’s purity, and where the sacraments are administered in accordance with that gospel, there is the Church”

    Within those perimeters there is great freedom on how to do it.


  59. I agree that there is a problem when this issue is discussed mostly in terms of personal preference. Part of the reason we are defaulting to personal preference language is because we do not agree on definitions of the nature of church, as if we can’t find any better criteria than personal preference.

    But how do we find a definition of church that we can agree to with enough conviction that it over-rides our personal preference as a central deciding factor, when even the requirement of having such conviction seems to require bringing into play our preferences? We seem, as moderns, to be stuck in a kind of mire that comes from not having others make the decision about church membership for us, thus freeing us from the thorny thicket of personal preference.

    And, how do you define healthy? That also seems to me to lead into difficult and ambiguous territory, that does not bypass the need to bring into play personal experiences and preferences.
    But I’m not sure what you mean by “healthy,” or how you would define that. Could you clarify


  60. Miguel, for purposes of following your logic, how do you describe the act of God defining God’s-self?


  61. Good points, Lynn. I guess I actually look at things in the inverse of how I presented them here. Not so much, “How do we make church and God more appealing,” but rather, “Am I and is church presenting God in such a way that it pushes people AWAY from Him.” Jesus’ “woe to you-s” in Matthew 23 come to mind.

    Which gets back to perhaps the REAL question(s)…Is a church presenting Jesus, or isn’t it? Am I presenting Jesus, or am I not?


  62. 2. How often do we connect feeling and emotion with worship, and how important are they in our individual and corporate experiences?

    Not important enough to pursue as if reaching a certain emotional state ought to signify something of spiritual significance. That’s vain.

    But important enough to recognize the emotional content and consequences of what God says to us and of what we say in worship. That’s helpful.

    “God, be merciful to me, a sinner. ” Luke 18:13
    “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Phil 4:4

    Many look for spiritual elation as “the Spirit moves.” Others insist that proper contrition requires “alarm” at one’s sins. It’s emotionalism either way.

    Singing in church, we expect music that helps convey the meaning of the words being sung. We have good reason to express emotions that reflect the truths that we embrace. But the Truth comes first.


  63. As I pointed out previously, there is at least one major missing premise here. That would be that there is no “healthy” or “unhealthy” when it comes to worship choices. It is interesting that you would use caffeine-free diet Coke as your example – that particular beverage will kill you. There is nothing healthy about it. At all. In New York City it is a regulated substance. But for some reason, when it comes to worship, there is no discussion of healthy or unhealthy.

    The other rather significant point that needs to be discussed is the nature of church etc. Because this entire post is about individual preference. And this default, unquestioning allegiance to personal preference is exactly the thing which will end evangelicalism.

    Please note that I am not taking a position on worship style in my comment: I have worshipped in semi-liturgical all the way to free-spirit services. Some were good, some were bad. But the style just isn’t the issue here. And ignoring the important questions is just as unhealthy as, well, drinking caffeine free diet Coke.


  64. I was raised in a liturgical tradition, the Episcopal Church (TEC). Today I’m in another liturgical tradition, the Anglican Church in North America, chiefly because the congregation I’ve called home for 14 years voted to leave TEC in 2006. I’m actually glad to be out of TEC, which has far bigger problems than gay bishops.

    The congregation I attend can be considered evangelical as well as liturgical. But I also must say there’s much in the evangelical movement with which I’ve become uncomfortable. Yes, there are many good churches and good preachers within evangelicalism. However, evangelicalism is also defined to include authoritarian, controlling, sin-sniffing legalistic groups like Sovereign Grace Ministries and the Institute in Basic Life Principles, along with their enablers at The Gospel Coalition, Together for the Gospel and other groups. So I find myself conflicted.


  65. I don’t even know how to make myself appealing.

    My understanding is that the church exists to 1) Worship God and 2) proclaim the gospel of Christ the Kingdom of God, with significant overlap between these two. No doubt, those of us who are capable of it should be as winsome as possible in the ways we witness and proclaim the gospel and the Kingdom.

    But since I don’t know what appeals to my neighbor, since I don’t know his/her preferences or tastes, I’m not sure I or the Church are up to the sociological challenge of tailoring a worship experience that attracts the greatest number of people possible. Certainly, the Church should not go out of its way to add any unnecessary scandal to the already transcendent scandal of the cross. But there is a limit to how much we can, or should, make the Church congenial to the tastes and expectations of our contemporaries, since we have a responsibility not only to proclaim the gospel and Kingdom to them, but to be faithful to the proclamation, needs and experiences of the Church catholic, including the past and the future.


  66. Isn’t church the Body of Christ gathering together to worship the God who IS already appealing in Himself?

    I think this question, in itself, is a problem and one of the reasons for this website and discussions. Isn’t trying to either make God or the place of worship “appealing” a problem? This seems like marketing and advertising and , for the life of me, I cannot find this in Scripture and is one reason why I often feel like giving up going to church … Anywhere. All of our efforts to make God “appealing” will only reflect back to us/me and what we want. The appeal is already present – the Trinity – it is our problem that we are bored and unsatisfied. As far as appealing to folks who don’t believe- it seems that they are much more impacted by the way we as believers live our lives – that is how we should appeal to the world. Trying to make God “appealing” just ends up creating Him in our own image.


  67. Good stuff. Like your questions, especially #2. When I became a Christian (27 years ago), it was all about feeling and emotion for me, so worship that appealed to me was feelling and emotion based. I went to church to feel God’s presence.

    Then I hit my spiritual desert, where I didn’t feel God’s presence anywhere. And to not feel God at church where that’s where I was SUPPOSED to feel Him…well, that threw me for a major loop! As I wandered that desert (for 5+ years), what slowly dawned on me was that church wasn’t the only place I should be looking for God and sensing His presence. Going to church for the Sunday pick-me-up and then living 6 days without looking for God was the wrong approach and “strategy.”

    I eventually came out of that desert (or I was brought out of it, PTL). And for me now, feeling God’s presence and emotional worship is unnecessary. Oh, I still enjoy when it happens, and it often does, but I am less “needy” of it.


  68. Some great questions and thoughts here, Patricia. I think the key is your line, “…might it be wise to ask God to fill our cup with HIS drink of choice?”

    After spending significant time studying the gospels of Matthew and Mark, followed by a long study of Hebrews, I can say that for me, God’s drink of choice is Jesus. All the other drinks and additives are unnecessary, unrefreshing, and unsatisfying…even if people tell me I have to try them, I’ll like them.


  69. LOL. That is kinda funny. Perhaps it would’ve been better stated:

    “Don’t get me wrong. I know many people prefer liturgical styles of worship, just as I prefer something different.”


  70. -> “…what we can be pretty certain of is that they have no taste for church of any kind, which is very different from not finding “the taste of God appealing…”

    Very good point.

    So let me ask this: is it a church’s responsibility to make itself appealing, or to make God appealing? In other words, to provide a place of worship that’s appealing, or to provide a place of worship that makes God appealing? (As a member of a church, is it both?)


  71. Your post reminds me of some of things I have wondered about concerning worship:

    1. How do our natural tendencies, such as leftbrain, rightbrain, cause us to prefer certain kinds of worship?

    2. How often do we connect feeling and emotion with worship, and how important are they in our individual and corporate experiences?

    3. How do we disconnect our Western tendency toward individualism from our worship experience?


  72. I’m one of the evangelicals who switched over to the mainlines. I’ve always tried to maintain the realization that mainline liturgy may not be for everyone. Liturgy, on the other hand, is for everyone–it’s just part of being human. Every evangelical church I’ve been in has a liturgy–even the “Spirit-filled” ones. It’s just not given the label “liturgy”; instead, it is called “spontaneous” or “Spirit-led” worship. But it follows an order just the same. Humans are creatures of habit, routine, and ritual. We are also creatures of spontaneity, and the mainline tradition in which I worship leaves room for that. I see much benefit in recognizing and naming our human tendencies toward ritual and spontaneity and crafting an order of worship with this and the living faith of those who have gone before us in mind. I think this can and should be done in any church tradition. Otherwise, I think we can get into some weird, unrecognized or ignored ruts and call those rut “free worship” or “tradition.” The danger for going through the motions is as dangerous for evangelicals as it is for everyone else.

    “Spiritual dryness” is something altogether different. Many of our faith ancestors have spoken to its necessity and spiritual benefit.

    Now, my experience (recognizing that your experience isn’t limited to mine) in my life off-screen (i.e. off blogs,etc. where mostly like-minded people congregate) is that a lot of my evangelical friends are down-right hostile to liturgical worship! For them, liturgy and spiritual deadness go hand in hand. One evangelical guy I work with gave me this unsolicited comment: “I’ve been to a few [mainline churches] and, no offense, it’s boring as shit.” My uncle is a baptist preacher, and I remember one of his sermons in which he dismissively alluded to one of the liturgical devices used in the psalms: “Liturgy is a word you don’t need to worry about. It just refers to something way back in the vast annals of the past.”

    Again, in my experience, I’ve never once heard any mainline Christian trash evangelicalism with such sweeping generalizations. I’ve only seen people give calm, reasoned responses for why they choose to worship God in the way they do. No hint of irony or sarcasm or unreasoned dismissals. Not to say that hasn’t ever happened to someone somewhere. It’s just never happened to me when I’m away from the computer.


  73. Well said, Robert. You have always exemplified an irenic and ecumenical spirit here, and I appreciate that very much.


  74. As usual I’ll probably end up wishing I’d said nothing, but here goes:

    There are traditions that are somewhere between the heavily liturgical churches i.e. Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox, etc. and those we think of being without traditional liturgical qualities such as Southern Baptist, Missionary, and megachurches. United Methodist and Presbyterian are two that come to mind. In both of these there are broad ranges of worship style, with some being far more liturgical than others. What I have noticed, however, is that even with the liturgy, the worship seems more relaxed in many cases. Some of these churches, depending on local tradition and pastoral persuasion, have more liturgical elements than others.

    Many years ago while attending a seminary in Washington DC, I attended National Presbyterian Church on many Sundays. This church is an example of what I am talking about. If you examine the Order of Worship for this coming Sunday, you will see all the traditional elements present, such as the complete Nicene Creed, Communion, etc. Plus they had excellent preaching (at least back then). This church had great appeal to me when I was 23 years of age, and the lessons I learned there have stayed with me all these years. Not moral lessons, but about how worship should be conducted.


  75. “Fitch is saying that evangelicalism has become an ideology that is divorced from real life; an ideology we simply add on to the things that actually make up our lives as Western Christians.”

    Or, as Westerners who just happen to also be Christian. The same could be said of many in the mainline and Cath/Odox churches.


  76. But our emotions are part of who we are. We can be excessively emotional as well as too unemotional. Even if spiritually dry is being equated to emotionally moved, the point remains. When David danced before The Lord was he spiritual or emotional or both.


  77. I understand both your points, Miguel. Concerning the first one, I’m conflicted, which makes me typically Anglican: God does not choose to overflow his own self-definition, and it is certainly not a matter as trivial as different preferences regarding soft drink,but there are now and always have been different understandings within Christianity about what exactly constitutes God’s self-definition. None of this of course should preclude vigorous and passionate debate, with mutual respect in attitude and tone, and humility about our own positions.

    Concerning your second point, I think that both sides in the liturgical debate sometimes edge over into something like disrespect in the language used to engage the debate. Evangelicals here often advance a sacramentally soft perspective that subsumes the sacraments into a wider theology, having as its starting point that Jesus is equally present and available to Christians anywhere and at anytime. This can feel disrespectful to traditionalists when they seem to be implying that we are somehow insufficiently spiritual when we disagree with this perspective.

    Traditionalists, on the other hand, sometimes employ a language and arguments that sound very condescending, as if evangelicals are only playing at being the Church, as if they just don’t get it but hopefully will when they grow up; or as if they’re really closet gnostics and docetists. This position is also redolent of disrespect.

    A couple of days ago, in connection with the post about the mania to win the culture wars, Rick Ro. commented, “So what battles am I being asked to lose in order to love?” Maybe we should all ask ourselves this question in connection with the debate over liturgy (which, after all, is a debate over cult, defined as the worship and practices of any particular religious group, and so etymologically related to the word “culture”), and let the question and its possible answers temper our debate in the service of love.


  78. Very good point Miguel. There can be emotional satisfaction and also intellectual satisfaction when it comes to a worship service. “Spiritual” satisfaction is just too vague to classify or describe.


  79. Mike I think the thing you misunderstand is that David Fitch was not advocating a return to liturgical worship or historic church traditions. He wasn’t advocating “religious switching.” His Diet Coke metaphor had nothing to do with that. Fitch is CMA like you are in your background and thoroughly evangelical. I quote from his post:

    “As American society advanced, and our lives became busier and ordered towards American affluence, we practice these same beliefs but they have become disconnected from what they meant several generations ago. As a result, the inerrant Bible, the decision for Christ and the Christian Nation mean very little for how we live our day-to-day lives as evangelical Christians. They are ideological banners that we assent to. They are tied to behavioral practices that we engage in but they bear little or no connection to our lives in Christ for His Mission in the world. Just as our society drinks Coke as an “it,” as something that makes us feel good but has little substantial value as a drink, so we practice these beliefs as something we add on to our lives – not as something we need to live. It is something we do as an extra to our already busy lives that makes us feel better. Evangelical church, as symbolized in many ways by the large consumer mega churches, has become an “add-on,” “a semblance” of something which once meant something real. It is a surplus enjoyment we enjoy after we have secured all of our immediate needs.”

    Fitch is saying that evangelicalism has become an ideology that is divorced from real life; an ideology we simply add on to the things that actually make up our lives as Western Christians. Just like Diet Coke provides no actual nutritional value but is something we drink for pleasure. He is comparing a living community with a merely ideological community.

    I think your posts in response, perfectly valid in themselves, respond more to the way certain commenters took the discussion rather than to Fitch’s original point.


  80. God overflows all our definitions

    Yes, but He chooses not to overflow His own self-definition. We may not always agree on our understanding of Scripture, but when one presents a case from it (to define the church or worship), it ought not be dismissed with a cavalier “different strokes for different folks.”

    not speak as if no one else who disagrees with us and is equally Christian is in the room

    Yes. I heard that implied as well, along with the subtle hint that those on the other side of the aisle were guilty of exactly that. If the finger has been pointed, I dare say it is certainly not merited. For the most part, proponents of liturgical worship around here make firm arguments with sound reasoning and scriptural support. These are not always reacted to as such, but rather, are often treated as “intolerance.” I appreciate that Mike chose the greatest beer for his analogy. But the caricature of the liturgy nazi it portrays is not one he’d respond so kindly to in reverse.


  81. You are correct Robert. From the original post: “Of those who have no particular faith, roughly half of them (6.3%) would classify themselves as secular, and half (5.8%) would call themselves religious.”


  82. I identify most closely with Mike Bell of all the writers at Imonk, I really apprerciate the post-evangelical critques here. They are insightful and at the same time irenic. I don’t find Chaplain Mike’s chronicle of his journey to Lutheranism proselytizing at all; it is fascinating to me and I seek to understand it. But, like Mike Bell, I am not inclined to move in that direction myself. I was raised Catholic, rejected that in my teen years and fancied myself an atheist throughout the college years. But the Lord condescended to reveal Himself to me at the end of college, and like a lot of young people at that time, I was swept into the Jesus Movement.

    I’m now in an evangelical non-denom pastored by a humble, self-effacing, blue collar, salt-of-the-earth, former outlaw biker, Harley mechanic who exudes Jesus from every pore. A number of like-minded people are gathered together and I love them with all my heart and cannot imagine life without them. So here I am, and being a teaching elder, I often bring forth gleanings from Imonk, in fact, I have taught several Michael Spencer and Chaplain Mike posts nearly word-for-word (with attribution of course). I’ve mentioned before my Science and the Bible class (started my third one last night) where I drag my fellow congregants kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. Acutally, I jest, there is surprising little K & S, these are pracitcal minded salt-of-the-earth people who realize they have to deal with these controversies one way or the other and appreciate someone with science training who doesn’t mock their faith, but shares it, and can help them work through the difficulties.

    So, bottom line, there are many people here who can’t stand Diet Coke, they don’t drink beer, but they do love a cold, refreshing drink of water.


  83. Is the church responsible for one’s spiritual health?
    Is church hopping motivated more by personal famine than a desire to worship God where HE has called us to worship Him – even in those desert times?
    Might we miss the blessing that belongs to a lone voice crying in the wilderness?

    Imo, this wilderness can exist in any one of the groups represented on the graph. Without the leading of the Holy Spirit, I suspect that we are prone to wander rather than worship.

    With all this being said, might it be wise to ask God to fill our cup with HIS drink of choice?

    Recall the exiled Israelites who were told to settle down where they were held captive. Imo, it is our personal responsibility to seek for God to complete the work He began in us. As we seek Him we are presented with the opportunity to follow Him – to go HIS way or our way. We may bloom where we are planted, but fruit results only from the work of God in our lives.

    While I lament the failings of the evangelical body I have been called to and long for the reverence and rich heritage of tradition, I realize that God has me where HE wants me to be, where He is at work according to His purpose for my life, fitting me into His Church.

    As Henri Nouwen observed, we are all irreplaceable pieces of the human mosaic. (Which is God’s design.) As we wander and wonder where we “fit”, doesn’t it make sense to as God first? And if we decide it is wise to ask then should we also be prepared to wait for His answer?


  84. “What you do need to realize it that when you “diss” caffeine free diet coke, you are putting down my drink of choice.”

    soon followed by:

    “Don’t get me wrong. I think liturgical style worship has many redeeming qualities.”

    Note the implied “diss” of granting the “many redeeming qualities.” Perhaps this is a topic impossible to discuss in neutral, dispassionate language.


  85. God overflows all our definitions, including our definitions of church. It’s natural and human for us to want to have an address to go to where we can always be certain to find God when we want him; I want that myself, and often speak as if I have that address. But God is a sojourner, he resists being confined to temples, preferring tents and other temporary abodes, at least in this world; and Jesus is a wind that sweeps not only through open doors and windows, but through every closed door and window as well, making himself known and felt where he will, when he will, without respect to our expectations or definitions.

    What I hear in this post is an appeal for mutual respect among those of us who call ourselves Christians, whether we belong to more or less traditionally liturgical churches. Furthermore, I hear an implied request that, when we comment here at iMonk about our own perspectives in the matter of the definition of what constitutes church, we not speak as if no one else who disagrees with us and is equally Christian is in the room. These seem like perfectly reasonable requests to me, and indeed necessary prerequisites to real dialogue over contended issues of any kind.


  86. ” ….the number of people who don’t find the taste of God appealing (the Nones) is growing.”

    I believe that, statistically, the Nones are those who identify themselves as having no institutional religious affiliation, rather than those who avow no belief in God. Though they don’t identify with any specific religion, we have no idea, based on their inclusion in the None category, if they believe in God, karma, life after death, etc.; what we can be pretty certain of is that they have no taste for church of any kind, which is very different from not finding “the taste of God appealing…”


  87. liturgical services leave me spiritually dry

    I’d be interested in hearing you flesh out more precisely what you mean by “spiritually dry,” and in what ways it is different from “emotionally unmoved.”


  88. People can worship however they like. It doesn’t matter. One given method is not better than another. What matters is if they do/say bad stuff, and that certainly is not limited by denom. I know that is a very simple explanation, but from my point of view, it is that easy.


  89. That chart is a great visual tool. If we stick with the drink metaphor, the number of people who don’t find the taste of God appealing (the Nones) is growing. People coming into this group seem to be coming proportionally to the size of the childhood faith groups (i.e. larger numbers from Catholic and Evangelical, because those two groups are largest to begin with).

    What stands out to me is that the people finding faith coming out of the childhood None group (i.e the people who had no taste of God but now seem to be enjoying it) appear to be moving proportionally to the various faith groups in all cases EXCEPT Catholicism. (That’s comparing the band moving from Catholicism to None with the band moving from None to Catholicism, and doing similary to all the other faith groups.)

    In other words, is there something about the flavor of God as presented by Catholicism that not only becomes distasteful to some who grew up with it, but also remains distasteful for those seeking to taste God, especially those who didn’t grow up with any taste for God to begin with?

    It seems to me the lesson here is that all of us, regardless of the faith group we belong to, need to aware of how we’re presenting God to those around us. Are we presenting Him as tasteful and worth drinking, or lukewarm, bland and even potentially harmful?


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