Tuesday, April 25, 2006



The Dumbing Down of the Church

I never thought I’d agree with Marva Dawn when I first read her diatribe against so-called “contemporary worship.” In her text, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down she sharply critiques the move toward the simplification of liturgy and the modernization of worship services. At the time I read the book I was embroiled in worship wars with a church that practiced inbred liturgy and had a very cliquish attitude about worship. Any attempt to make the liturgy or worship service warmer and more welcoming to those outside of the faith was seen as an abandonment of tradition. Unfortunately we have now, in a desperate attempt to be “relevant” and make up for staggering membership losses, have thrown the baby out with the bath water. Now churches, striving to connect with people long neglected, are practicing Wal-Mart liturgy, sacrificing the power of mystery for acceptability and following a discount Jesus. Essentially they are abandoning depth because there is the belief that if it is deep it must be offensive to the non-churched ears. Quite the contrary is true. Our world craves depth, they are searching for meaning. If the Church does not provide it they will search for it elsewhere.

During a recent Palm Sunday service there were no Palms. Holy Week is historically practiced to allow the Church to experience the days from the triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem through the Last Supper, facing crucifixion on Friday and glorious resurrection on Easter morning. I went with friends and family to the Palm Sunday service expecting palms and celebration and singing. The proclamation of the Messiah was to be proclaimed. I arrived on the scene knowing it would be a celebration that contained crucifixion tension to be experienced on Good Friday. There were no palms. Instead there was a vague message about nailing our difficulties to the cross (a practice usually reserved for Good Friday). There was no liturgy, no Psalm of praise or Old Testament prophesy being fulfilled in our hearing. There was just a Wal-Mart liturgy, barely a liturgy at all.

The abandonment of deep liturgy is a cheapening of the power of mystery that surrounds and is embodied by resurrection. We are a people of mystery. We practice the mysterious presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We live out the mysterious presence of God constantly with us and in us through our salvation and living out our baptism. Let us not abandon that which proclaims God’s mystery. Let us, instead, embrace it anew!

Not only do we practice Wal-Mart liturgy, we follow a discount Jesus. Jesus, creator of heaven and earth, true God of True God, light from light is now a self-help method. There are four steps to a better marriage, three ways to love your kids, how about one way to a True God? Jesus calls us to bear a cross, not become the owner of a Land Rover. Ours is a faith of sacrifice and delayed reward. Christ came to give us real life, not the easy life! “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.” That is not a discount Jesus, that is a Savior!

Lastly, we crave depth. I know I sound like a broken record but look at the movies, listen to the music of our culture. There is an undercurrent that is rising that is seeking something deeper the Wal-Mart liturgies and a discount Jesus. They know that life cannot be understood in ten easy steps. They realize that there are things we will never know and that our soul craves mystery. The abandonment of depth does not have to occur when we design worship to connect with those outside of the faith, it just has to be explained. The disciples asked Jesus, “teach us how to pray.” Why, because they wanted a pattern? No, because they wanted the passionate, deep, abiding prayer life of their rabbi. The church’s charge is not to be user friendly, simplified and easy to swallow. It is to be a real, authentic body of Christ that teaches people how to get connected to God and live in a world gone mad. Let us be the people who burn so brightly that the world comes seeking light and warmth from the depth of our faith.

Gracious God, who calls us to follow you, to count the cost and to abandon ourselves that we might have real life, make us a people, make me a person, who is willing to live deeply and faithfully in a land of Wal-Mart liturgies and discount Jesuses. In the name of the One who made the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus my Messiah I pray. Amen

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