This brief post by Virginia Postrel opened up a window to a world I had not considered, the pre-Reformation world of England. She points to an Atlantic Monthly article by Ben Schwartz on the historical writings of Eamon Duffy. Until this posting, I had never heard of Duffy. I now want to read him.
What this suggests to me is another reason to believe that we are at a transition point in both the Reformation era and in Christendom at large. Here we have an affirmation of the church prior to the Reformation that, seemingly, is not simply an advocacy of Rome. Instead, it is something simpler, less political, less institutional, more personal, maybe more spiritual, and that is the practice of worship as experienced by Christian believers.
What is provocative about this notion is the contrast between pre-Reformation and Reformation worship. One is sensory and the other more intellectual. Is it any wonder that out of the Reformation ethos, the Enlightenment was born. An intellectual movement that essentially believed that life could be ordered by the mind. Is that also not what transpired in much of the church as "systems" of theology were developed that intended to encapsulate the whole of the Gospel in a systematic order. I can't help thinking of my theology professors' use of Louis Berkof's Systematic Theology as a prime example of Reformed systematic thought. Is this not the source - not Berkof, but this mindset - of much of the controversy that afflicts us today - a belief in the rightness and purity of our systems of theology? Is this not at the heart of the schism that is dividing our denomination once again?
This transition point begins with changes in worship. First, religion became personal with the charismatic movement, rising out of the older Pentecostal revivals of the past century. Worship became personal. Then following came the shift in worship style. Contemporary music, casual dress, liturgical dance, narrative dramatic presentations all shifted the focus of worship away from the centrality of the sermon. That second shift has taken place as the ministry of the church moves from the pastor or professional staff to the people as they discover their own personal call to mission. This is the medieval order slipping back into the life of the church.
As I lay in bed tonight, I was thinking about how this fits with what I am seeing as the challenges before traditional mainsteam Presbyterian churches.
The image I have is of a congregation who is essentially passive in their church participation. Everything is focused on the pastor. There is a not-so-benign belief that the church is about the pastor, focused on the performance of Sunday morning. Because it is passive, it is also critical.
In so many of my church projects, there is an undercurrent of disaffection with the pastor. Is it warranted? It depends. Depends on what your expectations are. If your expectations are for perfection and a vicarious uplifting spiritual experience that lasts for seven days until your next spiritual fix is administered, then you'll be disappointed. The result is isolation and alienation of the clergy from the people and the people from a genuine faith lived out through the church.
Hear me in what I am saying. What we now have is a church of spectator/critics who are alienated from the kind of genuine experience of Christ that is more indicative of pre-Reformation medieval worship. They are not only alienated from the experience, but also from the assurance of Christ's love that comes through the transformation of one's life from passive spectator to active servant of Christ.
The huge question in my mind is how can a church change, and change before it is too late. It would seem, that it begins with how worship is experienced leading to a change in understanding not primarily the role of the pastor, but rather what God calls me to be and do through the church. As I worked with a church that is in this transition, the trick has been to shift the emphasis away from the pastor to the people. And this is done first with the Session. Here is the ground-zero of change for the church. It starts here. If there is no true experience of worship, then it is much more difficult to understand our individual call within the context of the church.