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Christian Worship, Pagan Worship, & Government Worship

An idea that Doug Wilson has put me onto is the fact that its "Not Whether But Which". What Wilson means by this is the fact that we often tend to speak in terms of "whether" or not something will be the case: whether or not the state should deal in morality, whether or not we will practice a state religion, whether or not we will have a unifying worldview accepted by the culture at large. Wilson does a wonderful job at illustrating the fact that it is never whether we will have morality/religion/worldview but which morality/religion/worldview we will have. This concept not only applies to the culture at large but also to the church.

I hear/read so often about people who are "fed up with the traditional church". They are so ready to be done with liturgical repetition and dogmatic preachers. These "thought leaders" say that they are going to create a "spiritual community" that does away with things such as liturgy and dogma. Ultimately this kind of talk is a steaming load and only someone gullible enough to believe it should be served such a platter.

Liturgy & dogma are inescapable. Whenever someone says they are set to avoid dogma and doctrine they are telling you the exact dogma and doctrine they are sticking to. Moreover, whenever someone says that their church doesn't have a liturgy hopefully they are only fooling themselves. Eric Sutton offers some find points on this whole subject in his essay "The Baptist Failure" in The Failure of the American Baptist Culture (Eds. Jordan & North).

Worship is a telling indicator of one's theology. Objective theology will be Word-of-God oriented. Such objective worship develops out of the biblical use of the Greek word leitourgia, liturgy. Liturgy is inescapable. It is simply one's order of worship. Thus every church has a liturgy, whether it is called that or not. Since the Bible teaches that its liturgy is built around the Word of God, the historic Christian churches have carefully structured their worship to be objective, Word-of-God-oriented.

In contrast, the ancient Greeks used the same Greek word in reference to their theater, which was essentially religious in nature. Their understanding of the word, however, was that the persons on the stage entertained and serve the collective one. The political manifestation of this view of worship is taught in Plato'sThe Republic. The state does everything for the people. The audience is passive in both cases and expects the stage and government to entertain them. Pagan religion and worship leads to passivity and manipulation. (pg. 179) (Emboldening mine)

Sutton makes a very clear point in that first paragraph: every church has a liturgy. However, it is the second paragraph that is so intriguing to me! The early church picked up a Greek concept, leitourgia, and adapted it to the church. The church adaptation took on a very objective, Word-of-God, and participatory approach to leitourgia. The Greeks however used the term in association to their theater which served as an amalgam of state and pagan religion.

The theater/pagan worship ceremonies consisted of an extremely passive audience (in contrast to the audience participation in the leitourgia in the historic Christian church). The audience expected to be entertained and given everything they needed from those on stage while they sat back. Not surprisingly, because the theater carried a civil/state dimension, Plato picked up on a civil equivalent to this type of leitourgia: a nanny state.

What this does a wonderful job of showing is that civil sanctions always follow religious norms. In a society whose religion exalts charismatic leaders that aim to manipulate their audience the civil leaders will be able to do the same. Moreover, the population will lose all sense of responsibility and worth and will look to both religious and civil leaders to govern all areas of their lives, even those areas where God has informed them that they should be governing themselves.

Food for thought.


Responsibility and Authority

Book Hit-list for Systematic Theology