Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Hauerwas on liturgy

"One reason why we Christians argue so much about which hymn to sing, which liturgy to follow, which way to worship is that the commandments teach us to believe that bad liturgy eventually leads to bad ethics. You begin by singing some sappy, sentimental hymn, then you pray some pointless prayer, and the next thing you know you have murdered your best friend."

— Stanley Hauerwas, The Truth About God:
The Ten Commandments in Christian Life
, p.89.
H/T Alistair.

The alternative to a liturgical service is not a non-liturgical service. It is a service where the liturgy is entrusted to the whims and idiosyncrasies of the service leader. When done poorly, liturgy from a book can be cold, lifeless and boring. When done poorly, 'non-liturgical' liturgy can be vapid, misleading and deadly.

17 comments:

Mister Tim said...

It's funny, having never been a member of a church that used an official liturgy, whenever I go to an Anglican Church I'm amazed at how great the prayer book is, and sometimes also at how little attention people seem to pay to how great it is.

So, how does one remain passionate and interested in liturgy they've heard hundreds or thousands of times before?

And is the alternative to only have theologically trained people praying and leading services? That doesn't sound like a great alternative either.

Moffitt the Prophet said...

So what is the solution?

psychodougie said...

i think the alternative to liturgy is a non-liturgical meeting.

both can be done as well as they can be done poorly.
you can have a bad apple, just as easily as a bad orange;

the reason therefore for doing away with, or modifying liturgy (perhaps for just a time, in my opinion), is more along the lines of mister tim's comment - keeping it fresh, thoughtful, and heartfelt.

byron smith said...

Moffitt - I agree with the thrust of Hauerwas. I'm a big fan of a formal common liturgy (or series of liturgies, as in the various Anglican prayer books). I didn't discuss the positives of each approach in this post, but even from the negatives, I think those of avoiding formal liturgy to be worse. Sorry if that didn't come out clearly.

Doug - My claim is that there simply are no non-liturgical services. Every service will develop a liturgy. The question is whether it is formally acknowledged and open to all, or simply the habits of 'informal' liturgy made up as you go along, but then in my experience, very difficult to break. For those readers from a 'non-liturgical' church, ask yourselves about the structure of your service, the kinds of language used. It will not be entirely different each week. There is a pattern, a norm, certain phrases and ideas that appear regularly. Formalising this process actually enables you to broaden the diet of the congregation, while giving them a theologically rich framework within which to meet together and with God. I've got to run off now so I'll stop ranting.

I grant that there are indeed advantages and disadvantages to almost any approach to our common life of regular shared worship, yet I feel that 'low church' informality often throws the baby out with the bathwater. Perhaps I need to post more on this at some stage...

Rachel said...

OK so you and I are going to differ greatly on this one. Since experiencing a non-liturgical very organic and spontaneous congregation (if you could even call it that) I have come to realise that liturgy is a barrier for many in even entering the doors of a church. It is a tradition that feels irrelevant to them.

Is there not realness in stating the beliefs of a community in an informal and often messy way? Our beliefs are messy- our believing is messy- why try to fake it with a tidy liturgy?

I can't deny that I’ve found comfort in liturgy in the past but maybe this has been from the sheer routine of liturgy, the comforting familiar, rather like how I return to certain novels for a comfort read.

I want to hear about the WHYS of liturgy and more importantly the WHY NOWS in THIS time and THIS culture.

I've asked these questions before and seem to get the parental 'just because' answer. Doesn’t sit.

PS as far as I'm aware Jesus didn't use liturgy. He sat in the dirt and told stories....

Rachel said...

ps these are real questions but i m also being cheeky...

byron smith said...

Jesus sat in the dirt and told stories. The same stories. Over and over again until people started to get them. He also sat in the dirt (or more likely stood and raised his hands) and prayed. The same prayers. Over and over again. As a Jew, it is likely that he would have prayed the Shema each morning and evening. He would have recited the decalogue and listened to the regular readings of Scripture each Sabbath. He taught a prayer to his disciples which I assume he intended they pray more than once.

Liturgy isn't about being tidy. It's about acknowledging that life has rhythms. That some things are so important that we need to keep hearing them. That others are easily forgotten and need to be programmed in lest we overlook them. That our lives are not ours to shape as we wish. That growing good habits doesn't happen by accident. That wisdom wasn't invented by our generation.

It may be that there are things that happen in churches that turn people off. Some of them we ought to avoid. Others we ought to keep doing anyway, albeit thoughtfully and lovingly. There is a time for formal liturgy and a time for informal liturgy. I think the former is grossly underrated by much of our culture, including and especially our Sydney Christian culture.

Our culture holds some deep-seated assumptions, which owe much to the Romantics, that authenticity means spontenaity, and that individuality can only occur in difference. I disagree. Authenticity means faithfulness. It means trust, hope and love. I am not an individual. I find myself in Christ and my neighbour, not in difference.

Have I started giving some whys? Keep pushing on this because you're right about the dangers of mere formalism. Yet I think out of fear of one danger (to which our culture is hypersensitive) we may have wandered all the way to the other extreme.

Patrik said...

That has to be the smartest thing Hauerwas has ever said. Thanks för that I'm so quoting that in my next class.

Jonathan said...

Byron has a good point that "non-liturgical" services are not really without liturgy, and that for this liturgy to be helpful, we need to be aware of this. However, I also think Doug is right that the question is whether whatever it is being done is being done well and am not so sure how much formality/informality has to do with the issue, let alone the Hauerwas quote. Even if it is important, we only benefit if the formalising itself is done well.

Thinking in a broader context than that of liturgy, my experience of authenticity being linked with spontaneity is not as simple as a cultural assumption, and definitely not tied with an identification of individuality with difference.

There is a place for both ordered spontaneity and regularity, but both come from God. Starting with God seems to me to be a big part of what the commandments tell us about liturgy, but how does this can relate liturgy to find ourselves, our neighbour or Christ?

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I can't remember someone murdering their best friend because they sang a stupid hymn.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I'm not denying Hauerwas' main point, that ethics and worship are connected. And I know he loves to use hyperbole. But, in this case, I think he goes so far as to make people miss the point because worship and ethics are not so SIMPLISTICALLY related as his statement claims.

And, of course, their are "low church" as well as "high church" ways to be concerned for the content of the worship service--including the hymns. But, really, has any of you ever known someone to sing the wrong hymn (maybe one of those mindless "praise songs" that simply repeat one or two phrases over and over--shudder) and then rush from the church to commit murder or adultery or theft?

Do we see those with more formal liturgies leading more ethical lives than, say, Pentecostals? I'd like to see hard sociological data on that, instead of just hunches informed by biases (some of which I may even share).

Tim Foster said...

I would agree with Jonathon and Michael that what matters is that the service is "done well". It's just that it is much, much harder to do it well from a blank sheet. To make matters worse it seems that increasingly much of the service is led by a non-formally trained 'worship leader' who does not have the theological depth to do it well (what a snob I am!). Hence, they quickly revert to tired cliches that are more banal and even more repetitive than anything in the prayer book.

Thanks for raising this issue Byron.

Tim Foster

psychodougie said...

michael - on your final point, i thought one of byron's points is that informal church gatherings (eg pentacostals, as per your eg), are still according to some kind of liturgy - even if it has evolved over a much shorter time span, say 10 years, than having been set in stone 400 yrs ago.

psychodougie said...

i think being truly non-liturgical, yet thoughtful, is possible - yet hard work.

when you sit down to work out what a particular gathering will look like, it can either be done in a lazy way, ie song song announcements bible talk pray song, and i think many look exactly like this.

but i also think, if the weekly gathering of God's people in one place, with their (theoretically) undivided attention for an hour and a half, then more effort can be put in, and a great "product" can come out at the end of it.
this will include talking with the preacher, thinking hard about how to craft a meeting that is gathered well around God's word, talking with the song leader, thinking about what may help people to connect well at the beginning, to meditate more deeply in response to it...

you get the idea.

again, you can go thru the motions, or you can thoughtfully, prayerfully, work thru how to make the most of a once-in-a-week opportunity, that we can really give thanks for!

Lara said...

For once I'm going to agree with my brother. I've been to a couple of Anglican services in the last few weeks, and then finally got back to my own Baptist church on Sunday night. I was disappointed primarily with the lack of prayer. At the Anglican churches I'd been to, there was an extended time of prayer and confession - some spoken by the minister, some with responses from the congregation, and some where the congregation spoke together.

I like it. The words are great, and it means that the amount of prayer in a service is not going to be up to random factors like whether the person rostered on to pray bothers to turn up. It also means that the congregation is actively involved.

Of course, it's possible that people will just recite the same old words, over and over again, without think about what they mean. And here's where Tim's question comes in:

So, how does one remain passionate and interested in liturgy they've heard hundreds or thousands of times before?

byron smith said...

Halden: On the impotence of the liturgical year.

byron smith said...

TGC: Is the New Evangelical Liturgy Really an Improvement?