Girly-worship, Macho-worship, Godly-worship

Written by Father Bill 11 Comments

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.
 


11 Comments

  1. Ryan Martin   |  Wednesday, 14 March 2007 at 10:00 am

    Thanks.

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  3. Don Johnson   |  Monday, 19 March 2007 at 1:00 pm

    Bill, I found my way over here via Ryan’s site. The question for me is whether your liturgy, however old, is really a reflection of New Testament Christianity or whether it only reflects the contemporary tastes of another, slower changing time. In other words, are the practices you espouse the practices of the first century, or are they more the practices of the third, fourth, eighth, or some other century, carried forward into the present?

    The bar for me is less about what the church has practiced at any time in history and more about what does the Bible endorse, whether explicitly or implicitly? A certain amount of subjectivity is involved in seeking the answer, but generally I think submissive obedient Christians will arrive at similar positions.

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  4. brad   |  Wednesday, 21 March 2007 at 6:34 am

    Fr. Bill,

    I am looking forward to your response to Don’s question: I hope one is forthcoming.

    In many ways I am very attracted by the forms of liturgical worship, I am not so enthusiastic about some of the trappings, however. I don’t see them as essential to the form. Your knowledge and experience in this is far greater than mine, however, (I have a typical fundagelical background) so I am more than willing to recieve instruction and correction.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  5. Fr. Bill   |  Thursday, 22 March 2007 at 11:52 am

    Don and Brad,

    Sorry for the delay in responding. Like you, I have a life that does not revolve around blogging. But, your questions are good ones, and this medium is helpful for discussing them.

    First, Don, we both agree with this statement you make: “The bar for me is … what does the Bible endorse, whether explicitly or implicitly.”

    We don’t get very far with this statement alone. What amounts to an endorsement? If we agree that an explicit endorsement amounts to a commandment to do this or that (e.g. to pray, or to sing praises), would an example of doing this or that carry the same force? What is an implicit endorsement? A precedent, perhaps? You see, those who urge that liturgical worship claim both explicit and implicit endorsement in the Bible for the way they worship.

    So, why do we wind up in different “places?” I’d guess from your remarks that a big reason is this: it appears nonliturgical kinds of Christians put a premium on what they suppose is a New Testament endorsement of Anabaptist notions of worship, while people like me include all of the Bible – for its explicit and implicit endorsement for liturgy as the normative mode of worship for God’s people.

    Don, another criterion you apply shows up in these words: “The question for me is whether your liturgy, however old, is really a reflection of New Testament Christianity or whether it only reflects the contemporary tastes of another, slower changing time. In other words, are the practices you espouse the practices of the first century, or are they more the practices of the third, fourth, eighth, or some other century, carried forward into the present?”

    You mention New Testament Christianity as if it were the model to which we conform our worship. And, yet, New Testament worship is a work in progress, even in the pages of the New Testament. It manifestly continued to be a work in progress in the sub-Apostolic age, and then it literally went underground for the next two centuries under the cycles of Roman persecution. Looking back into the Old Testament, we also see that worship developed from “primitive” to “advanced” though that progress – compared to the same development from Pentecost to Constantine’s Edict – was both slower and had much more express direction for God as to its development over time. Still, we go from the earthen altars of Abel, Abraham and the Patriarchs, to Moses; on to the “camping out” worship of the Tabernacle, to the decidedly “high-church” choirs, orchestras, festivals, processions, and communal liturgies of Solomon’s Temple.

    The point: taking what one supposes is the “New Testament model” is, at best, to cherry pick one sliver of the Church’s life of worship and to hold it up as normative. Why pick the sliver the Anabaptist’s have picked? Why not pick the sliver when Christians were worshiping in the Temple and make that normative? If the Temple was good enough for Paul, it oughta be good enough for all of us, right?

    I disagree with you here: “ … submissive obedient Christians will arrive at similar positions.” The reason I disagree is this: it begs the question as to what the Christians are submissively obeying. I’d argue that the Anabaptist ethos is not an obedience to the Bible; rather it is an obedience to an unreasonable and reactionary impulse of the Anabaptist stream of the Reformation, which reads its own reactions back into narrowly selected portions of the New Testament, while ignoring the whole counsel of God on the subject.

    Having said this much, I’d also add that those who worship liturgically do all things which the “anti-liturgical” folks do. Our criticism amounts to this: anti-liturgical folks aren’t playing with all the cards in the deck. Instead, they play only with those they think “fit” with how they view the New Testament (and, only portions of that!) through their anti-liturgical colored glasses.

    Lest we begin talking past one another, I want to fasten upon Brad’s term “trappings.” He doesn’t give an example, so I don’t know if I’d concur with his characterization of that particular “trapping” or not. When considering liturgy and all the components associated with it, many matters are irrelevant to the point I (and, I think, Veith) are making.

    For example, a maniple is an article of clerical vestment. It originated outside the realm of Christian worship entirely – it was a towel tied to the wrist of a Roman servant who waited tables. It had an obvious utilitarian purpose. It was adopted very early as an article of clerical vestment for the same reason – used to clean the edge of chalices, to wipe the fingers free of oil after anointing the sick, and similar purposes. It also had a pedagogical purpose: it signified and marked the servant-status of the minister who attached a maniple to his worship vestments. Over the centuries, it became purely ornamental, entirely a vestigial vestment. These days, it is obsolete, almost never seen except in churches with what some might call an obsession with liturgical arcana.

    The notions I’m endorsing and urging here have nothing to do with whether or not the priest wears a maniple. Or whether or not his surplice has lace along the bottom. Or whether he wears an alb or a cassock as he leads worship. Or whether he wears a chasuble during the Eucharist.

    Rather, I’m endorsing and urging that clerics ought to be vested in something, that there is powerful pattern and precedent in the Bible for doing so, that clerical vestments have a purpose that impacts the entire worshiping community, an impact that is Biblical, healthy and good, and that Christian communities which repudiate clerical vestments cut themselves off from blessing and edification they would otherwise enjoy. And, that’s just on the matter of vestments.

    To wrap up (though very superficially; this is just a blog, you know):

    1. Liturgy, as I have indicated in the blog, is a means to an end. It is that without which one cannot create and perform corporate worship.

    2. Liturgy is the way God taught His people to worship Him.

    3. Liturgy – both inside the Bible and outside it – develops over time, albeit at what moderns would think is a glacial pace. Nevertheless, its “shape” and a great many features of it are stable over time, affording a kind of spiritual “glue” that unites worshiping Christians across the centuries.

  6. Don Johnson   |  Thursday, 22 March 2007 at 9:54 pm

    hi Bill. Thanks for the response. No need to respond quickly, or at all. I do very much enjoy thinking things through with you as you know, even though we sometimes end up on different points in the spectrum.

    I suspect an additional factor in the differences, besides Anabaptist influence, would be dispensationalism. It seems to me that the book of Hebrews teaches that we need to go beyond the foundational principles of the Old Covenant to the better principles of the New Covenant.

    I guess I should reword my notion about submissive Christians arriving at similar positions. It is true that there are divergences in “trappings” as Brad says, but there are unities in essential aspects of worship. Perhaps the differences are too great to see much unity though.

    I have just been working through a book by Ralph P. Martin called ‘Worship in the Early Church’. He first published this in 1964 and my edition was published in 1974. He taught at Fuller, so I am not sure where he fits on the theological spectrum. He also seems to be more sacramental when it comes to Baptism/Lord’s Supper than I would be (I mean, I am not sacramental at all, as you know!!!) but his basic thesis as I see it is that the NT church order and worship essentially is a Christianized form of synagogue worship. It makes sense to me, and it seems to me that this is the Biblical pattern, given my dispensational approach.

    Last, it seems to me that you didn’t really answer my question regarding the ‘tradition’ of worship. I will grant you that most of what fundie/evangelical churches consider to be traditional is nineteenth century revivalism, which is not that old of a tradition. But I suspect the traditions that you espouse and hold dear are also innovations from the practice of the NT era, which you may be somewhat conceding with the statement that ‘worship evolved’. Yes, but your traditions are only the contemporary worship of an earlier era.

    I guess what I am getting at is that it doesn’t seem adequate to criticise revivalistic ‘tradition’ simply on the basis that it once was ‘contemporary’. The only rule that should be applied is the rule of the NT, not the rule of subsequent evolution and tradition.

    Or am I just talking past you? It is entirely possible!!

    God bless
    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  7. Fr. Bill   |  Friday, 23 March 2007 at 10:53 am

    Hi, Don,

    Dispensationalism, as a factor in one’s hermeneutics, isn’t dispositive here. It cuts both ways. But, that’s probably too technical and too lengthy a discussion for a blog. Indeed, exactly what “dispensationalism” amounts to is nowadays a very confusing question. I suspect that you and I would substantially agree on what dispensationalism is and how it impacts one’s reading of the Bible. On the other hand, when I read dispensationalism’s cultured despisers, I continually scratch my head concerning their criticisms. It sounds like they’re criticizing something I never heard of, and I attended a premier dispensational seminary!

    I haven’t read Martin’s work. I need to. From your summary, I’d agree with him as far as he goes. I’d say his conclusions are deficient (based, of course, on your report, not on my reading him):

    1. Pre-Christian Judaism had two “modes” of worship, based on two different premises: (a) God is here, viz. in the Temple, over the Ark, in the Holy of Holies; and (b) God is not here, because we’re not where God is, namely dwelling between the cherubim of the Ark.

    Please note that neither of these premises conflict with what we know as God’s omnipresence (cf. Ps. 19, 139). Jews had no problem knowing that God was everywhere, but that He was also in one place in a way He was not present anywhere else. Ask any Jew where God is located, and he’d say “Why, between the Cherubim, you dolt!”

    So, Temple worship was what it was, because undergirding all its sensabilties was this: God is here. Synagogue worship was what it was, because undergirding all its sensabilities was this: God is not here, not in the way He’s there at the Ark.

    Synagogue worship is alive and well for a long time before Jesus’ ministry. I’d argue that it is as old as Moses and the ministry of teaching consigned to the Levites in the Law. This local synagogue worship was always present in Israel, alongside the worship the Law required of the males at the place where God made His name to dwell. The “place” was always that place where the Ark was situated. In the OT economy (see? I’m a dispensationalist!), the Ark is the locale of what Christians would later call “the Presence.”

    Temple worship ceases with the Temple’s destruction. The erroneous conclusion many (including Martin?) make is that Christian worship, though incorporating shapes, patterns, and procedures of Jewish synagogue worship, made no such “borrowing” from the Temple worship. I think this is a mistaken notion.

    One of the fundamental features of catholic (note the small “c”) worship, whether Eastern or Western, is that “God is here” continues to be a premise of their worship. As He was present at the Ark in the OT economy, in the NT economy Christ is present in the Eucharist. There are two differences: the focus of the Presence (in the OT, it’s the Ark; in the NT, it’s the bread and wine), and the ubiquity of the Presence (one locale in the OT, many locales in the NT economy, viz, wherever the Eucharist is celebrated).

    None of this immediately involves “liturgy,” and I happily acknowledge that liturgy can proceed under either premise above. Indeed, it has developed with both premises among the Jews, and with both premises among Christians.

    I think we’re in an irrelevant cul-de-sac on the essence of tradition being “traditional” because it is “old.” I agree that any tradition has a beginning, and at that beginning and for a time afterwards, it is “contemporary” with respect to its historical starting point.

    But, “oldness” is not what makes something traditional. Paul’s term for traditions is “handed-down stuff.” That’s what makes any tradition a tradition, even a spanking new tradition: it was handed down to those who follow (temporally). Obviously, with the passage of time, any handed-down things are going to get old.

    “The only rule that should be applied is the rule of the NT …”

    I think I have to disagree with this IF by it you mean that nothing in the OT bears on the issues. The NT does not exist in a vacuum. It rests comfortably in the context of the OT revelation. And, concepts in the NT, read in isolation from their OT context, will be misread, misunderstood, and misapplied. This is my chief criticism of the Anabaptist take on things. They’re not playing with a full deck.

  8. Don Johnson   |  Friday, 23 March 2007 at 7:14 pm

    Hi Bill

    I think I will be short today (we’ll see!!!). When I say that the only rule that should apply is the NT, I don’t mean that the NT is uninformed by the OT. The book of Hebrews settles that question. The OT is essential to our understanding, to our guidance, it has much application to life, faith, and practice (including religious practice). But the NT holds all the trump cards, and changes everything – not by subtraction, but by bringing the OT figure into fulness, we now have the substance of the Old, whereas before we only had the anticipatory living parables that OT life and worship provided.

    I am not sure how much I am influenced by the Anabaptist mentality, I am sure it is a good deal, but I am not familiar enough with their specific teachings to know. I am about to read the first volume of John Christian’s Baptist history, I suppose I will find some of it there. He unfortunately sees Baptists in everything, like so many of my Baptist brethren. Oh well…

    Again on the traditions thing, yes, Paul spoke of those things handed down as traditions, but they were the things handed down by the apostles. I have no problem following those [well maybe I have regular problems… but I think you know what I mean!]

    I just don’t see the link between the traditions of Paul and those of the liturgical churches. For example, you mentioned the vestments. I just don’t see vestments as something on the radar screen in the NT, and perhaps not in the persecuted church of subsequent years. It seems instead to be a development of a settled church that has time for such things, later on. It may be that it isn’t just a settled church that develops them, but a syncretistic church that is officially approved by the powers that be, as well.

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  9. Idetrorce   |  Saturday, 15 December 2007 at 9:06 am

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
    Idetrorce

  10. phoebhie   |  Monday, 25 July 2011 at 9:12 am

    God is looking for a true Worshiper. It doesn’t matter if it’s a feminine or muscular Worship. what more important is the Heart, as God said he is seeking for those true worshiper who will worship Him in spirit and in truth.

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