We are entering into Part II of James’ Desiring the Kingdom. I am glad that we might move beyond theory and into practice. I think philosophy is crucial but I am ready to get to some practice. I think my tone got a little snarky last week - so please forgive me. Hear what others are saying at Simply Convivial.
I don't intend to follow James' outline but instead present some thoughts that came to me in the midst of his argument in this chapter.
The Word Aloud
Although this is not the point of this section I was struck by the thought that Scriptures and hymns originally “functioned primarily in a liturgical context of worship, not the private context of individual study.” He further muses, “one could say that in the context of worship, Scripture constitutes a different kind of speech act, and thus is heard/ received in a different mode.” We are accustomed to having the Word at our disposal – on our phones, a Bible on the table, etc. It’s hard to imagine that for much of Christian history the Word was not easily available. For many hundreds of years it wasn’t in the language of the common people - it was in Latin. Even if it were in the language of the common people, as I read about Christian martyrs (like Joan of Arc), they were illiterate. They couldn’t have read it if they wanted to do so. The only way they knew the Word was through someone reading and preaching it. Through hearing it. Now, granted, this did lead to a little bit of heresy and power plays. However, it does put the power of the Word aloud in worship in perspective if that is the ONLY place you can hear it. God's word is meant to be heard.
The Sacraments in Community
Later, he explains that “the rhythms and rituals of Christian worship invoke and feed off of our embodiment and traffic in the stuff of the material world: water, bread and wine. . . “ He then goes a little poetic but returns with this thought
And behind and under and in all this is a core conviction, an implicit understanding that God inhabits all this earthly stuff, that we meet God in the material realities of the water and the wine, that God embraces our embodiment, embraces us in our embodiment.
Essentially he’s saying that in this God is affirming the goodness of creation. That these sacraments speak not only of Christ and his sacrifice, but their form ties us to creation as well.
Outlines for Worship
So we find that the reading of the Word aloud, in a congregation, has a different impact than just private devotionals. In many traditional services you actually are scheduled to read through the Bible, aloud, over the course of three years. You don’t just hear the parts that pertain to the sermon topic – you hear all of the Word. Likewise, partaking of the sacraments in Eucharist also develops a different relationship with God and his world – in a way that words alone cannot. Do you see how both of these acts are communal in nature? Much of the liturgy of more traditional churches focuses on the communal nature of God’s church (repenting, singing, praying, etc.). The whole of worship points to the fact that we are body and Christ is the head. I think that this speaks to our hearts and meets a deep need in a way that James doesn’t even discuss (yet).
If you aren’t reading through the whole Bible, just the passages that connects to the sermon theme; how can you expect to have a Biblically literate congregation?
If you aren’t regularly taking communion; how else are you engaging the body in worship and affirming God's creation?
If everything in the service - prayer, repentance, song (you don't sing parts EVER anymore and choirs are passe as well) - are silent, random or individual; how do you form a body?
After reading this chapter and thinking about these "old fashioned" traditions it seems that they might have more formative power than we normally accord to them. I might be skipping ahead here (I haven't read ahead - yet). But if people don't hear the Word read aloud, if corporate prayer, repentance and worship are reduced to private concerns and sacraments are removed (or only offered occasionally) you end up with anemic worship. The forms developed were intended to point kingdom ward as the body of Christ– does the current modern service do that? It seems that the forms that modern worship has retained are a shadow of what once was. Are we intentionally stripping the church of its formative power by removing the whole Word of God read aloud, downplaying God ordained sacraments and removing the sense of "corporateness" of the body? What remains?
I am still thinking through these implications and would invite your opinion.