Real and Relevant

Mike Galli reacts to the decline of liturgy in Christian churches and the growing desire to reconfigure the church to fit modern culture.

A liturgical service is anything but relevant. It is the last place one expects to run into cool people, and it is hardly what our culture perceives as having an “enjoyable atmosphere” (as one church website promises visitors). The leaders wear medieval robes and guide the congregation through a ritual that is anything but spontaneous; they lead music that is hundreds of years old; the prayers are formal, the talk is based on a book written 2,000 years ago, and the high point of the service seems barbaric: one can hardly imagine a relevant church webpage inviting cool people to come and eat the flesh and drink the blood of a Rabbi executed in Israel a long, long time ago. All together, it doesn’t sound like a very enjoyable atomosphere. All it promises is that people will meet God.

Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, responds with his usual levity.

Some will always point out that liturgical churches have often gone liberal, while non liturgical churches have a more orthodox view of the Bible. That’s not cause and effect, however; that’s irony. Liberal leaders have hidden behind the liturgy and the Bible, all the while selling the store. Evangelicals have kept the store, but turned it into a Chuck E. Cheese’s.

My church experiences have been strictly evangelical all my life. Church is this: A hymn, announcements, prayer, hymns or “praise choruses”, a topical sermon, one more song, prayer. Then fellowship. The few times I have been to churches that are different it has seemed strange to me.

In the churches I have been to that emphasize the sermon, it sometimes feels like a seminar or a classroom. The preachers who hand out notes seem like my college professors, lecturing. On the other hand, churches that emphasize the music feel like rock concerts at times.

There is something about the idea of taking part in a form of worship that has gone on for hundreds of years that appeals to me, and is missing from the church services I have been a part of. Evangelical churches today seem to be all about innovation, trying to figure out how to adapt to the cutting edge of culture.

Christianity today is confronted with a culture that sees no need for God. Children are taught from preschool a certain selfish humanism, that the goal of life is to be happy, to be yourself. Young people today find apparent fulfillment in friends, music, and the internet. Life is fast and flashy.

The typical church response to the 21st Century culture is to try and adapt. People are going to movies? We’ll make Christian movies. Kids like rock music? How about some Christian rock?* Churches seem to be crying out to anyone who will listen that “Church can be just as exciting and fun as everything else in your life!”

The result, of course, is usually a pale imitation of the secular culture. Though the church has set out to make God relevant it has instead succeeded in making God more irrelevant than before to the people it is trying to reach.

Today’s culture is tomorrow’s has-beens. The dances, movies, and music of the 1950s were old and boring to the children of the ’60s. The crazy hair and outfits of the 70s and 80s are stupid to the youth of today. And sad to say, what is “cool” today will someday be yesterday’s news.

Why should Jesus Christ become yesterday’s news? If we adapt Christ and the gospel to the culture of today, then what happens when culture changes? Everything is thrown away to make room for the new. That is why churches need to hold on to something that does not go out of style – precisely because it was never “in style”.

I believe that today’s generation, myself included, is looking for something older than the latest fad or music video. Kids are not going to be drawn to a church that is a pale imitation of their culture, but rather to a church that offers an alternative to an empty and soulless society.

I don’t want to sing along to songs that were just on the radio. I don’t want to hear endless sermons on the latest evangelical fad, like the Prayer of Jabez or the Purpose-Driven Life. I grow tired of hearing about how God is like a coach or a boss – I want to learn to know God!

I want to draw closer to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God of David and Solomon. The God of Peter, James, and John. The God of Polycarp and Augustine, Thomas Becket and Erasmus, Martin Luther and John Calvin. The same God who has held the world in His hands from the beginning of time to today, and all the eras in between!

In seeking to make God real and relevant to the secular culture, Christianity dilutes the truth of God. God is God, and does not change. Why should we change the way we worship Him?

*I am listening to contemporary Christian music as I write this. I am not hostile to it at all, but much of Christian creativity these days seems to be aimed at trying to copy the culture. What happened to the days when Christian creativity led the world in art and music? Alas, another post for another day.

Note: Michael Spencer explains why he gravitated toward a liturgical type of church service. An excellent read.

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