Across Party Lines and Worldly Categories

Every Sunday, in Anglican churches around the world, there comes a time in the liturgy when the deacon leads the congregation to pray for those in positions of authority. Here, in Fresno California, this prayer looks like something like this:

Celebrant: We pray for Barak our president, Arnold our governor, Ashley our mayor, and for all who govern and hold authority in the nations of the world
: That there may be justice and peace on the earth

In this particular prayer a liberal president and a conservative governor and mayor are equally upheld, and so it forces Christians to pray across party lines. To generalize, it puts the name of potential political adversaries on the lips of believers to ask that God would not curse them, nor judge them, but uphold them, and regardless of their political persuasion, guide them by wisdom.

I would love it if all who called themselves followers of Christ would demonstrate the spirit of this prayer in their lives. I would love it if the spirit of this prayer was so characteristic of Christians that the world, and particularly the media, couldn’t figure out where to place them on the political spectrum. This certainly is one way the Church could demonstrate that it lives, moves, and has its being beyond the broken options of this world.

Somewhere in the New Testament Christians are referred to as a peculiar people. The idea behind this designation is that Christians are to be genuinely engaged in the world, without fitting into the pattern or patterns of this world. Christians are to be completely active in societies without becoming rooted in the ideologies that profoundly constitute the people of those societies. In short, to be peculiar is to not fit, and to not fit is to be so caught up in the Kingdom that no worldly category can contain you.

To sum up what I am saying, I want to see the liturgy spill across the walls of the Church and out into the world.

5 Responses to “Across Party Lines and Worldly Categories”

  1. Roger Green  

    The difficulty, of course, is to determine WHICH version of the liturgy should be brought into the world. Christians from different traditions would argue about that. Feeding the hungry, or individual salvation, or spreading Americanism (since we have been especially blessed by God.)

    Did you see God in America on PBS? To take one example, one pre-Civil war preacher finds a text in Exodus abhoring slavery, while another looks to Leviticus to justify beating slaves, while the slaves themselves look to Exodus to “let my people go”.

  2. Anthony Velez  

    Generally, when I think of liturgy I think of the worship structure of the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Traditions. Of course, Protestant traditions do have liturgies, but in their most recent expression they tend to be so informal and “relevant” that I am not sure they warrant the term liturgy. As I understand it, liturgical services have historical elements many of which can be traced back to the first four (and profoundly formative) centuries of the Church. So, when I think of liturgy I think of worship services that have these elements and, one of the positive functions of these elements is that they form the members of the Church in such a way as to help them see and move beyond what their respective cultures currently offer regarding politics, values, ideology, etc.

    I have not seen the series you talked about, but I would like to. What you said, however, reminded me of a book by historian Mark Noll, titled “The Civil War as a Theological Crisis” in which he addressed the issue of how Christians of divergent political beliefs, particularly regarding the issue of slavery, appropriated the Scriptures in support of their positions.

  3. Roger Green  

    I think you underestimate the amount of liturgy there is in at least the mainstream Protestant churches – corporate prayer – some of which are as rooted as the Catholic ones from which they have spun off – baptism, communion, reading of the Word. Now I tend to agree if you’re talking about some of the megachurches.

  4. Anthony Velez  

    I think you are making my point: that there are Protestant liturgies, which share many common elements with Catholic liturgies, as they all can be traced back to common sources in the Church’s history. Perhaps where we aver is in our sense of how prevalent these liturgies currently are in Protestant worship.

    In my experience, I can walk into a Baptist church, a Presbyterian Church, a Methodist Church, and hardly encounter any historic elements of worship, and yet across these denominations I will experience the same Vineyard/Hosanna Integrity/Maranatha worship music. Keep in mind, I like a lot of the music produced by these organizations, and I don’t think that having such music necessarily negates having traditional elements of liturgy, but as it happens, modern Protestant worship is dominated by the latter.

    In processing your critique, I wonder if Protestant churches in California (sunny, laid back California) are more informal than their counterparts back East, where you abide. Again, in my experience most Protestant Churches have a worship structure that begins with contemporary songs, moves toward a greeting, might have a reading from Scripture, followed by a sermon, which is followed by more songs and a chance to respond to the sermon by coming forward for prayer, and then the service wraps up with some kind of closing prayer. What I don’t typically experience in such services are a formal call to worship, the Sanctus, a set of readings from the O.T and the N.T., a recitation of one of the ancient creeds, The Lord’s Prayer, the Eucharist (Communion, The Lord’s Supper), and a closing benediction with a call to go out into the world to share The Good News. Early Protestant worship incorporated many, if not all, of these elements. Of course they did so in a way that expressed their theological distinctives, which is fine, but again, in their current forms, I don’t see this as much. Instead, across denominational lines, Protestantism has been smoothed over by modern Evangelical sensibilities, which are themselves informed by revivalism and pietism, and hence the distrust of traditional form and structure.

    As, I have confessed before, Roger, I am prone to generalizations. So, maybe In need to visit other Protestant churches, and see what is currently going on. As I think about it, this could make for some interesting reflections on my blog.

  5. Jackie Rios  

    Romans 13