Monday, July 31, 2006

The Church as a Sanctified Place

Copied over from another discussion list. I'm responding to the person in italics.

In my experience too much of the church service is performance based, so we've lost the ability as an audience to make any meaningful distinction between performance and service, so we might as well go whole hog and just judge the participants on their performance rather than their heart. But as I've gotten older, I've been drawn increasingly to liturgical services in part because most protestant American churches that I've visited have not retained any vestige of the pulpit (much less the sanctuary) as a sanctified place.

In my opinion, performance comes with the territory, whether the church musicians are playing electric guitars or wearing matching gold robes in the choir. I don’t know how you escape that. I just think some people prefer certain types of performances (without acknowledging that they are, in fact, performances) rather than others, and that they are more likely to label what they don’t like in church music as “performance.” I know that personally, as a non-liturgical rock ‘n roll snob, I’ve seen some amazingly ostentatious, offputting performances involving virtuoso pipe organ. But that’s also my bias peeping through.

I also wonder about the notion of church as a sanctified place. For many people (an increasing number in our post-Christian culture), churches don’t represent something that is “sanctified”; they represent something that is “foreign.” To ask an unchurched member of our society to attend church, when their primary knowledge of Christianity consists of occasional glimpses of whatever ranting, toupeed televangelist they happen to skip by as they are channel surfing, is to ask that person to step deep into the unknown, the threatening, and the weird. And as hard as it is for liturgical types to understand, for this audience responsorial readings and four verses of “Come Thou Font of Every Blessing” are no less weird than Tuvan Throat Singing or taking a stroll over hot coals.

God is holy. And I struggle with the “you ‘n yer cosmic buddy” approach used by many seeker-sensitive churches too. But I wonder how effective a focus on church as a “sanctified place” can be. To ask the unchurched part of our society to step into a place of stained glass windows, massive pulpits, pews, and 80-foot pipe organs (with portentous Telemann and Buxtehude antiphonal and recessional hymns) is to ask them to lose their minds. It’s not going to happen. Like it or not, people raised on rock ‘n roll are going to be more receptive to a message if it is presented within the context of rock ‘n roll (or at least mid-'70s Fleetwood Mac tambourine shaking pop), and they’re not going to be able to relate, at all, to the same message if it is dressed up in what many consider to be an antiquated and irrelevant form. I’m not suggesting that that is so; I’m only noting what I suspect is a fairly common response.

I also question the implied dichotomy between the presumably more sanctified church service vs. the rest of life. Rather than setting aside an hour or an hour and a half per week as sanctified, and therefore excluding the garage band approach as somehow inferior to that goal, why can’t we bring the sanctified approach to the garage, and expect Christian rock ‘n roll musicians to play punk rock for the glory of God? I don’t believe that the world needs more punk CCM bands. But I do believe that Christians musicians can and should play any style/genre of music as an act of worship, and that there’s no reason why a particular genre should be excluded from the sanctuary.

The whole world is a sanctified place – every nook and cranny of it. We don’t need to compartmentalize it, and I’m all in favor of breaking down those walls and inviting those who feel threatened, weirded out, and distrustful of the artificial world of church in to a place where they can be welcomed, and can play amidst the holiness.


sitsonchair said...

I agree!

Mark K. said...

When dealing with the issue of sacred time or sacred space, you have to ask the question, what makes them sacred? The only reasonalble answer I can think of is God's presence makes them sacred. Now, since God is everywhere and "everytime", that means every space and time is sacred.

mg said...

good thoughts andy.

i definitely agree with your points.

i personally try to keep the performance aspect of it to a minimum, although if you stick someone on stage with a guitar -- you've got a performance. although i try to not draw attention to myself.

i've noticed personally that certain musical styles (extended jamming, techno-electronica beats)have caused people to stop worshipping and start paying attention to the person up there playing music. i'm not sure if it is because it is something that they aren't used to or not? that is definitely not to say that those forms of music should not be used in church -- they should. hopefully there are congregations that totally engage in those settings...the ones that i've lead in so far have not.

but yeah, good stuff.

Ben said...

I disagree!
I would say that the question of whether or not the sanctuary is particularly sacred is quite a different one from whether some music styles aren't okay to use in worship.

As to whether the sanctuary is sanctified any more than other parts of the world, we are no longer under the old covenant. Nowadays, "the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands" (Acts 7:48a). Rather, Christians through faith have access to God at all times, not just in a building: "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?" (1 Cor 6:19)

I'm not sure how we can claim that the whole world is sanctified, Andy, unless you mean this in an abstract or poetic sense. Could be that I misunderstand you. But believers are the only truly sanctified part of creation: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." (1 Peter 2:9)

Mark, why does the fact that God is everywhere and "everytime" mean that places and times are sacred? This sounds a bit like pantheism.

Even if the church building were some specially sanctified place, I don't see that informing to a great extent how we make our decisions about worship or service format.

Anonymous said...

Andy, you seem to be implying that liturgical and contemporary services differ mainly in matters of aesthetics. I'd say this misunderstands the character of authentic Eucharistic liturgy. If you're Roman, Anglican or Eastern Orthodox, the pomp surrounding the liturgy has less to do with aesthetic choice than it does with the idea that Christ is really present in the Eucharist, and that the sacraments contain an inward grace.

A liturgical service is not about making me feel a certain way, but it is about guiding me through a worship act whose gravity and beauty is appropriate to the moment. Christ is really present, and I should behave a certain way no matter how "connected" or "relevant" I feel.

Think about the last time you were in a courtroom. Everyone rises, the judge is attired a certain way, says certain things at certain times. This is appropriate. We're not going to see judges handing out death sentences from a picnic table in a gym anytime soon, and we'd protest if we ever did. The law is a weighty matter, and the forms with which we administrate it should reflect that gravity.

It's the same with liturgy.

One interesting tendency I've noticed over the years is that when I bring someone from a real, working rock band to a liturgical service, there's generally been a genuine appreciation of the liturgy, with its formal, reverent music and quietude. A good liturgical service done by an able liturgist doesn't lack for drumset. God made Saturday night and Sunday morning, and (Thanks be to God) He gave us music appropriate for both.

Six days of the week tend to be "horizontal" in orientation, and those of us who embrace a fully Incarnational Christianity know that 's a very good thing. There's nothing "unspiritual" about the horizontal. For God to have manifested Himself in a physical body was the most "horizontal" gesture ever made. There is a time to Rock. Rock affirms that we have bodies and live in Time and that God created both and both are Good. But for me that gives the the "vertical" orientation of Sunday all the more signifigance.

Anonymous said...

One thing I'd add about the nature of performance. I'd agree, Andy that performance is inevitable; in a liturgical service this isn't a problem, since it's the church itself, in participation with the priest, that does the performing.

In my own Anglican tradition there's very little staring up at a stage waiting for the next act. There's just no time. The parishioners are too busy reciting the Nicene Creed, the Lord's Prayer, The Prayer of Humble Access, the Prayer of Confession, the Prayer of Thanksgiving, The gradual (Psalms), the responsive prayers and responding to the readings ("Thanks be to God," "Glory to thee, Oh Christ," "Praise to You, Lord Christ").

One of the best ways to overcome the problem of performance is to make the church members the performers; God becomes the audience.

danthress said...

"'70s Fleetwood Mac tambourine shaking pop"

oh shit.