In the wake of a men’s room that is an instrumental means for some Christians in Minnesota to fulfill the mission of their church (see the previous blog for details no one could make up if they tried, but somehow some trendy Christians pulled it off anyway), I remembered a blog by Gene Edward Veith that I’d like to expand on.
In his blog entitled “From girly-worship to macho-worship,” Veith takes a whack at both “kinds” of worship. Concerning girly-worship, Veith writes, “All of those touchy-feely Bible studies, the sentimental emotional mush of the sermons, the romantic ballads to Jesus – these make men squirm. In fact, 60% of the adults in church on a given Sunday are women, and more and more men are staying home.”
Then Veith notes an alternative offered by the so-called “God-men” gatherings, which he characterizes as “ridiculous, going to the other extreme of having a macho-church service, with cussing, violent movie clips, and attempting to create the atmosphere of a tailgate party.”
If you’d like more exposure to this “solution” to girly-worship, visit God-men’s website. The puzzling photo at the right is their website’s main masthead graphic. I’m really amazed that they think a fitting icon for their movement is a face that highlights how a zipper-error made at exactly the worst possible moment affects the man making the error.
At any rate, Veith is exactly correct when he observes that “both femininity and hypermasculinity are both GAY!” The God-men site puts so high a premium on “style” that the Village People should blend right in to their gatherings.
Veith’s solution for girly-worship and for macho-worship is this: “Try TRADITIONAL WORSHIP. Especially liturgical worship. It works for both men and women. And the focus is on the true God-Man, not you in all of your pathetic gender confusions.”
This is what I wish Veith had unpacked for us. But, since he didn’t, I’ll give it a go.
First, I’ll set aside the notion of “traditional” worship as a question-begging concept (not that Veith was question-begging; but many who use the term are). As one of the commenters at Veith’s blog observed, “In what way is today’s ‘traditional’ different from yesterday’s ‘contemporary’? … How old does a particular style have to be in order to be traditional enough?”
It’s a good point to raise, for most of what would pass for Totally Traditional in evangelical Protestantism today was utterly brand new 100 to 150 years ago. To test this idea, I have just now grabbed two old, dog-eared hymnals off the shelf, one Baptist, the other Methodist. I have opened each one ten times randomly, and written down the earliest death date for composer of either the music or the lyrics of the hymn randomly selected. Here’s what this random selection generated as the death-dates:
- Baptist hymnal: 1806, 1873, 1876, 1879, 1895, 1907, 1915, 1928, 1932, 1952,
- Methodist hymnal: 1817, 1836, 1868, 1876, 1900, 1907, 1918, 1911, 1913, 1936.
I’d wager the farm that any of the hymns selected randomly from either hymnal, placed in a worship service with any order of elements you please, would generate the “feeling” that the worship service overall is “traditional.” But, as you can see, “traditional” is a very relative notion. The farther back in time you go, the less “traditional” these hymns become, becoming instead utterly contemporary.
So let’s dispense with the notion “traditional,” and look more closely at “liturgical.”
And, here, we have another problem – at least with contemporary, broadly evangelical Protestants, most of whose spirituality runs back to the very anti-liturgical Anabaptists, no matter what denomination they inhabit today. Add to this the pathetic catechesis among Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans concerning their historically liturgical mode of worship, and you get what we have today: a culture in which liturgy is utterly opaque, even with those who are accustomed to it.
As I write this, we are in the midst of Lent, a season the Church has observed somewhat over 1600 years, possibly since the First Century. It begins with a custom centuries older than that – the imposition of ashes on the head of one who repents of his sins. Yet how many Christians know the custom? And, of those who know it, how many know how deeply its roots go back into the Bible’s notions of genuine spirituality?
Here’s a Liturgy-for-Dummies definition of liturgy: Liturgy is that collection of common actions and words which unites an assembly of individuals into a corporate whole, so that they worship as a single body rather than as a happanstance assembly of individuals. The liturgy is stable over time – that is, it does not change appreciably through the centuries. And, its primary goal is enable the united individuals, the corporate body, to offer worship as a body to God the Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
One could unpack this definition over many scores of pages, but I’ll stop here to point out the immediate implications for liturgy as a “solution” for girly-worship and macho-worship (here, think God-men tailgate parties or Promise Keeper pep rallies):
1. With liturgy, the worshiper’s “tastes” are irrelevant. The point of a liturgy is NOT to satisfy the lusts of the crowd.
2. With liturgy, current fashions are irrelevant. All other things being equal, the best liturgy is the oldest liturgy, and that usually means that it is centuries old. Liturgy, therefore, does not make the slightest nod toward current fashions of any sort. Indeed, it may insist on things which are so out of fashion that they seem positively alien (such as women covering in worship, or vestments that originated in the Fourth Century).
3. With liturgy (excepting the leaders of the liturgy; see below) the sex of the worshiper is irrelevant. This was the point Veith made in his blog: “It works for both men and women.” My own personal observations (and the observations of many others I’ve consulted) suggest that when men and women are equally informed about what liturgy is, how it “works,” and why it has such power to unify, focus, and deploy individuals into a coherent worshiping body, the men, rather than the women, develop a zeal for liturgy rarely found in women.
There is a sexual dynamic in worship, and this is spelled out in 1 Cor. 11 and 14, and in 1 Timothy 2. The men are up front and leading, the women are present and participating. In their participation, women should not overturn the order of the sexes, so they are covered in the assembly (1 Cor. 11) and they do not teach or exercise authority over men (as in judging the prophets in 1 Cor. 14; or, arguably, by pulpit ministry, 1 Timothy 2:12ff).
What shows our current Christian culture to be so upside down is that Paul’s standards are exactly reversed: women are up front and leading while men are merely present and participating, and that with notable reluctance to judge by their attendance. If we are, supposedly, worshiping the masculine God one finds in the Bible, this ought to show up in the worship service in some way. Instead, we find women leading men to sing Jesus-is-my-boyfriend” songs.
Liturgy isn’t a panacea, of course. George Bernard Shaw’s witticism that there are three sexes – male, female, and clergy – was aimed at the very liturgical Church of England of his day. Though liturgy would ordinarily enhance and strengthen the order of the sexes, this does not entail that the officers of Christ’s Church are faithful stewards of their responsibilities in worship, any more than a military commision entails that the military officer will acquit himself in a manly fashion as he leads his men. But, as the military is riddled with custom, ritual, order, and … yes, liturgy … that serve to support and maintain the order wtihin the army, so also does the custom, ritual, order – yes, liturgy … of the Church support and maintain the sexual order within the worshiping assembly.
As a solution to the raging war of personal tastes, as a bulwark against the fashions of the world invading the sanctuary, as a way for male and female to worship together in a genuine unity of word, action, and purpose, the ancient catholic (note the small “c”) liturgy of the Church is unsurpassed.