Category Archives: liturgy

Girly-worship, Macho-worship, Godly-worship

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. 

Casual, egalitarian, and a little leg — just what a worship service needs these days.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.” 

Don’t you just hate it when that happens?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.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. 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? 

From many, oneHere’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):

Ancient custom, ancient uniforms1.  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.

Worshiping with the saints of all agesLiturgy 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.


Filed under liturgy, Man, the glory of God

Hair and Worship

Yes, the two are connected, as one quickly learns from Paul’s exhortation on the veiling of women in 1 Corinthians 11.  The issue pops up via Britney Spear’s recent escapades regarding her own hair.

This is really glorious, dontcha think?The Bayly  Brothers Blog takes note of Britney Spears’ shaving her head, as reported at the BBC news site.   In that story, the reporter asks “So why is hair – particularly long hair – viewed as such a defining part of a woman and inextricably linked to femininity?” 

In this question, Pr. Bayly sees an opportunity for evangelism, and cites Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16.  And in the comments to their blog, a fellow named Kevin asks:

Can anyone explain to me what verse 10 means? I find this entire passage confusing (the wording is clear, the rationale not quite so clear), however, verse 10 seems to pop up out of no where.

So you don’t have to look it up, verse 10 is where Paul says a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head “because of the angels.”  Kevin is asking what the angels have to do with anything in this passage.  Here’s my answer:

The Larger Context of the Veil

Verse 10 doesn’t make much sense, nor any other isolated verse in this passage, unless it’s taken all together.  The overall context for these verses is the same as for the entire section of the first Corinthian epistle beginning at chapter 11 and running through chapter 14 – viz. the parish assembled for worship. 

Previously, it is been various problems/issues/questions dealing with life among the body generally.  Chapter 11 begins a section of the epistle dealing with disorders during the assembly for worship.  Chapter 11 itself treats two disorders of deportment: the veil and disorder at the Eucharist.

Glory and Shame, Worship and Culture

Within vv. 2-16, Paul treats “glory” and “shame” as they apply to the traditions Paul has delivered to the Corinthians concerning their worship, particularly the veil.  It’s not just that the women were ignoring to veil during worship, their doing so was particularly shameful in that context.

Some think that the women were throwing off local Greco-Roman proprieties, but this is not true.  A wealth of literary, statuary, numismatic, and visual representations (frescos and other paintings in homes, temples, and the public square) demonstrate that a covering on women was not an expectation of women generally in Greco-Roman culture. 

On the other hand, it was an expectation of women in Oriental culture, including the Jews, whose women were recognizable in North Africa in the second century because of their veiling in public.  

The point:  When Paul delivered the custom to the Corinthians, and to the rest of the Churches (vs. 16), he was introducing a practice that was counter-cultural to Greco-Roman practices.  The Corinthian women were not throwing off their own culture, they were following it in opposition to what Paul had taught them to do during worship.

Why did Paul prescribe the veil? 

Two reasons.

Reason No. One arises from the purpose of the assembly, namely to give glory to God.  In that context, the humans are not only giving glory, they are someone else’s glory.   Man is God’s glory, woman is man’s glory, and (this is key to avoid confusion), the woman’s long hair is her glory.  In the assembly there are three glories present:  God’s, man’s, and the woman’s.

This woman displays a glory that Spears discarded.But, if the purpose of the assembly is to give glory only to God, then God’s glory should be unveiled, and others’ glory should be veiled.  The veil on the woman’s head covers two glories.  She veils herself (because she is man’s glory), and simultaneously it veils her long hair (because it is her own glory).  The man remains unveiled, because he alone is God’s glory, and so it is appropriate for him to remain unveiled. 

But, humans are not the only ones present when assembly is gathered for worship, and that brings us to reason No. Two:  also present are angels, probably great numbers of them if we are to take our cue from those places in Scripture which describe their multitude in these kinds of settings.  And, while they are unseen by the human worshipers, they nevertheless are part of the assembly and they participate in its purpose.

“Because of the angels” points back, at a minimum, to what Isaiah saw in the Temple and described in Isaiah 6.  Like Elisha’s servant on the mountain, Isaiah’s capacity for visual perception was so altered that he saw what was objectively there, but ordinarily obscured from human sight.  Similarly, when we worship in our assemblies, angels assemble along with us. 

At the end of the preface to the Prayer of Consecration in the Anglican Eucharist, the priest acknowledges the presence of the angels in the assembly.  At this point in the liturgy, the priest sings “Thus with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious name, evermore praising Thee and singing …”  at which point the congregation joins him to sing the Sanctus et Benedictus: 

Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Hosts
Heaven and earth are fully of Thy glory
Glory be to Thee O Lord Most High
Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord
Hosanna in the highest!

And, so, to herald their Lord at the beginning of the Eucharist, the saints sing the song of the Seraphim, and the portion of Psalm 118 that  greeted their Lord as He entered Jerusalem as the Son of David.  They are songs that have been heard by the Lord for centuries, sung to him on earth and in heaven, and in heaven by angels long before they were sung by the sons of men in His earthly dwelling places.

And so, it is “meet and right,” as the old Anglicans would put it, for the women to have a mark of authority on her head, because of the angels, creatures whose worship we join,  singing along with them in our worship, whose angelic sensibilities of propriety and rank are shocked in a worship service where any glory but  God’s is improperly on display. 

A couple of things in this passage are clearly matters about which Paul was not addressing himself directly. He did not write this passage to explain what bearing the angels have on the matter of veiling women in worship. For that matter, he did not write the passage in order to expound the meaning of “man, the glory of God,” or “woman, the glory of man.” Angels, man as God’s glory, woman as man’s glory, long hair as the woman’s glory – none of these are the subject of Paul’s exposition. Instead, he brings these concepts into the discussion, which is – to put it as simply as possible – to urge the Corinthian women to veil during worship.

Most teachers in the Church for the past 2000 years point back to Isaiah 6 primarily to validate the idea that the angels are present with men during God’s worship. Many commentators think that Paul also mentions the angels because they are marked by an almost militaristic ordering by rank and hierarchy. This was certainly a familiar idea in the popular angelology of that period of the Jews, and Paul himself seems to endorse this idea in principle by his mentioning of “principalities and powers” six different places in his epistles, including the mention of “thrones or dominions or principalities or powers” in Col. 1:16. “Thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers” are categories of angelic ranks and hierarchies.

The point: the honoring of rank is a Big Deal Indeed among angels. If, therefore, they are present in our worship, it scandalizes them when man’s glory is displayed unveiled in an assembly where it is the assembly’s purpose to give glory to God.


Filed under Complementarianism, liturgy, Man, the glory of God, Woman, the glory of man

Jesus is My Boyfriend!

Read the following story and then decide whether you think it is straight news, or satire.

ANAHEIM — The latest Vineyard Music worship CD, “Intimacy, vol. 2,” has raced to the top of the Christian sales charts, but Wal-Mart is refusing to stock the album without slapping on a parental warning sticker. The ground-breaking — some say risqué — album includes edgy worship songs such as “My Lover, My God,” “Touch Me All Over,” “Naked Before You,” “I’ll Do Anything You Want,” “Deeper” and “You Make Me Hot with Desire.”  

“We’ve had concerns about previous Vineyard CD’s, but this time they went overboard in their suggestive imagery depicting the church’s love affair with Christ,” said a Wal-Mart spokesman. “It would be irresponsible to sell this to 13-year-old kids.”

A Vineyard Music Group (VMG) spokesman defended the album. 

“We felt this was the next logical step in furthering people’s intimacy with the Lord, as the title implies,” said Sam Haverley, director of VMG public relations. “People aren’t content with yesterday’s level of closeness. They want something more. We feel this album gives them that.” 

Wal-Mart represents a third of all CD sales, which has forced VMG to try to negotiate a deal. VMG proposed adding a heart-shaped warning sticker rather than the black-and-white label more often seen on raunchy rap albums, but Wal-Mart refused. VMG is considering issuing a censored version of the album.  ”

If Christians want to make R- or X-rated music, that’s up to them,” said a Wal-Mart spokesman, “but we don’t have to carry it.” 

 When I first read this, quoted in a blog as a news item the blogger was blogging about, I went looking for the news agency which had generated the copy.  Mother Google helped, of course, and there it was:  Lark News
Did I feel bamboozled?  Foolish?  Gullible? 
No way.  I didn’t read this as satire, because you can’t satirize Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs any more.  They’re simply too mainstream to be satirized.  It would be like satirizing the wetness of water, or the brightness of sunlight.  You can’t exaggerate what’s already so far out there that nothing can exceed it.
Well, I guess it could be exceeded, but only by borrowing from the Baal worshippers and getting hot, steamy sex in the sanctuary on Sunday morning.  And why create a janitorial crisis when you can simply sing about it, in hypnotic repetitions, with backup band and crooning voice-overs that help you slip into a religio-erotic swoon of your own creation. 
Try googling the phrase “Jesus is my boyfriend” but before you do, make a guess on how many hits that will generate.  It won’t be a gazillion (the post-millennial kingdom hasn’t arrived yet, dontcha know).  But, I’ll betcha its more than you thought it would be. Yes, a lot of them are negative toward Jesus-as-my-boyfriend; but, they testify to the pervasiveness of the notion in Christian worship and culture.  Jesus-is-my-boyfriend-songs have become a genre of the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) scene, and a feature of many thousands of contemporary worship services each week across the land. 

Guy: King of Kings and Lord of Lords?

Boyfriended: Nawwww.  That’s so retro.  Jesus is our boyfriend now, and if you’re a guy, no biggie.  Just put Jesus in touch with your feminine side and things will be just fine. 
Guy: “But, I’m a TOTAL guy.  I don’t have a feminine side!”
Boyfriended: Well, you’re in the bride of Christ, so you’re feminine at some level.  Quit fighting it and learn to groove.  Ask your sisters in Christ about it.  They’ll help you learn to melt in Jesus’ intimate love.  Try it, and you’ll like it.
Guy: But, I won’t feel like a guy any more.  Instead, I’ll feel really gay.”
Boyfriended: Sheesh.  What a chauvinist!  Get over yourself already!  Just sing those love ballads to Jesus and you’ll get in the groove after a couple of dozen verses.  It’s not hard.  Just let go and let Jesus be your boyfriend.


Filed under Egalitarianism, liturgy, Man, the glory of God