And God Enters the Liturgy?

Since yesterday was Pentecost, I feel rather compelled to say something about the Holy Spirit’s lack of prominence (and invocation) in most Lord’s Day liturgies I’ve been part of; I also feel mean and snarky, because I’m so tired of the experience. I don’t mean this in any way against the hard work that people put in, but something’s got to change, I think.

A typical Sunday service at a typical North American evangelical Protestant church, even one peopled by a mostly Chinese congregation:

  1. ‘Worship Set’ No. 1 (and can we please stop using this term?);
  2. Sermon (often called a ‘message’ by those afraid of real sermons);
  3. ‘Worship Set’ No. 2;
  4. Offertory, set to more music;
  5. Doxology and Benediction.

Occasionally the Lord’s Supper happens too – but maybe weekly sacramental use would break modern decorum.

Beelitz lecture hall, by Ole Begemann

What are we doing? First, about five hymns (‘worship songs’, if you really must prefer that term, because I really don’t care about distinguishing between hymns and ‘worship songs’), with nothing to respond to but our individual memories: in practice, this is extremely hit-or-miss unless you choose to refer very closely to Scripture or, alternately, to manipulate yourself emotionally. Second, a lecture – sometimes fun and sometimes boring – with the requisite biblical citations, because what we need for faith is correct propositions backed by illustrations from the speaker’s life, citations from Scripture and a discursus on ancient history. Then, more of the first thing. After that, an awkward deposition of money. Finally, ‘Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow’ and a benediction. Oh, and prayer fills some gaps in this sequence.

The perfect combination of rationalistic, in the sermon, and irrational (or very shallow), in the contextless strings of hymns; in both, also a subjectivism that attributes objective power to nothing but God’s invisible work within the individual. Where’s the Holy Spirit? in the propositions propounded? in our private thoughts? Veni, Creator Spiritus.

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