Mission and Worship by Father Stephen Freeman

For any Orthodox Christian, it should be obvious that Western culture is becoming increasingly perverted, and the Church must stand against this, not embrace it. Apparently ‘boring’ liturgical worship has always been the exclusive form of worship in every autocephalous Orthodox Church throughout history, and thus it constitutes an unchangeable capital-T Tradition of the Church. The Church cannot please people by introducing more entertaining heterodox forms of worship, any more than it can placate feminists by ordaining women to the presbyterate (which would be an excellent way of relating to American egalitarianism). To do either would be to fall into heresy, placing the salvation of its members at peril.

Now, if we really are serious about mission, the removal of heterodox forms of worship becomes even more urgent. Much discernment is needed in delivering intact the true faith and worship to a culture that is steeped in heresy. If all our Western-born youth are forcibly subjected and habituated to individualistic, pietistic, consumerist heterodox worship from a young age, who will champion the authentic incarnation of Orthodoxy in the West in the future?

Mission and Worship by Father Stephen Freeman

The following post is an expanded version of a comment I wrote in a recent thread. The question to which it responds is the Scriptural mandate of St. Paul (1 Cor. 9:19-23):

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law — though not being myself under the law — that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law — not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ — that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

To what extent should the Church be “enculturated” in its presentation of the Gospel? The question grew out of a discussion occasioned by observations on the development of “niche Churches or services” in which a specific market niche (of music) is used to target a particular segment of our culture. The answer I wrote, I feel, bears wider reading than is generally found in the comments section of the blog, and worthy of wider conversation. I have also edited and expanded it.

Orthodox mission historically has always sought to “enculturate” the gospel – whether in antiquity or in modern times. The Russian mission to Alaska in the 1700’s and early 1800’s immediately developed native alphabets, translated texts and trained and ordained native clergy. In antiquity the Orthodox held steadfastly to this rule and developed an alphabet for the Slavic languages and missionized Eastern Europe and Russia. Today it is growing by leaps and bounds in Africa in a very successful mission under the direction of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria. This enculturation is, for the Orthodox, a matter of dogma. It is the Incarnation in practice in the life of the Church.

The American experience (as well as Western Europe to some extent and Australia) is slightly different. Here, much of the Orthodox population did not arrive as missionaries but as economically oppressed peoples who then went to work in mines and factories. They were not trained as missionaries. For them, the Church came first to provide pastoral care for a “diaspora.” Thus there remains an “ethnic” portion of Orthodoxy in America who have, to some extent, maintained ties with their native cultures. When converts or those interested in Orthodoxy first encounter the Church in such ethnic settings – it is easy to conclude that the Orthodox are not interested in mission or that St. Paul’s mandate is being ignored. Sometimes such parishes are the only Orthodox option within an entire city or even larger area. But this is only one aspect of Orthodoxy and one occasioned by unique historical factors. That it will eventually cease and take on a more normative form is simply a given. Time, language and shifting circumstances will bring about a change regardless of other events.

There is also a strong Orthodox mission component in America very sensitive to the mandate of St. Paul. But in thinking of culture and enculturation, we should not confuse American culture with the music, etc., being marketed by mass media to various niche groups. My teenage daughter recently gave my wife and I an education in the various groups that constitute her high school including the fashions that mark them and what music they listen to. She is very ecclectic and had with her samples of almost every group. It turned a Thanksgiving trip into an Anthropology class in American Teen, 101.

What we heard is not folk culture – it is not even necessarily American culture – it is mass culture – produced and marketed to people’s passions to exploit in many cases the very lowest elements of their nature. It provides a manufactured identity which is naturally sought by teenage insecurity. But, as such, it should not be confused with culture.

Much American music (by no means all) is to music what pornography is to art. St. Paul did not adopt the pornographic culture of Corinth for the purposes of the Church but rebuked it. The Orthodox Church is speaking English (increasingly) and has already become American (if there are Orthodox who think the Church is not enough American yet, go overseas and you’ll see just how American we are already). The Orthodox are engaging the main issues of this culture as clearly as anyone if not more clearly than most.

No one says that mainline Episcopalians are not American, but they have a recent history of funding abortion, and endorsing the revisionism of Hollywood culture. Such practices present only a distortion of the gospel, wrapping liberal American rhetoric in theological jargon. Thus arguments in favor of women’s ordination, regardless of Scriptures cited, are inevitably rooted in American Constitutional thought and not theology.

Orthodoxy speaks English and says clearly that abortion is wrong and destructive to both mother and child. It speaks to our consumerist economy and says that consumerism has no place in the spiritual life of the Church. Rather it is destructive of the human spirit. Worshipping God primarily in a manner that you find pleasing isn’t spiritual, it’s just more consumer nonsense. The Scriptures tell us not to be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1).

Of course the Church has to be able to speak to a culture. My Orthodox parish is full of converts (possibly as much as 85% of the congregation). It ranges from those with a high school diploma only to PhD physicists – from every background – atheist, wiccan, protestant, catholic, evangelical, you name it. We have probably 8 or more nationalities (out of 150 people). They have not had to embrace a culture foreign to America in order to be Orthodox, but have to embrace God who will transform this and every culture that it might become the Kingdom of God.

Ascribing to the notion that we have to cater to the market whims of American music in order to reach people is simply not true. Such ideas are destroying the very evangelical movement that gave them birth. Finney (one of the fathers of modern evangelicalism) was wrong about a number of things – but the modern translation of his evangelical mandate into the culture morphing of the “niche” Churches is perhaps the worst use ever made of his ideas. “Praise” is used as a very large metaphor to cover much that is simply an indulgence of the flesh.

I have spent plenty of time with youth of both highschool and college years, who have been nurtured in Orthodox life. They’re not anti-music, etc. (indeed I like a lot of contemporary music and appreciate my children sharing it with me), but these same youth know what it is to worship God and when it is time to lay aside “all earthly cares” and offer God praise that is worthy (if any praise can be worthy) and in a spirit that is yielded to God and not something else. Presenting the Gospel to youth in America very much means to draw them beyond the boundaries of their own “niche” and into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.

I agree that we have to minister to a culture, but I do not think that each age group’s niche music is the same thing as culture – nor many other facets of American life. Having drive-through communion, for instance, (which is done in some few Protestant places), certainly incorporates an element of American culture – but it borders on blasphemy. Where do you draw the line when it comes to enculturation? I draw the line at accepting the received Tradition of the Church and translating that into our culture. This, of course, is a difficulty with Evangelicalism in which the Tradition of the Church has been rejected in favor of modernist assemblies.

If the Tradition of the Church is followed it will certainly mean that worship will be liturgical (which is not foreign to American culture) and according to the form given us from the Fathers, though it will be in English and in music that is accessible to Americans (thus far, the range of music within Orthodoxy has been sufficient for American evangelism, though we continue to write more). But our lives will be focused on the Gospel, and the Traditions of prayer, fasting and almsgiving as given to us by the Fathers (Orthodoxy and Orthodopraxis). This is the saving work given to the Church.

American pop culture (the “culture” produced by the entertainment industry) is one of our major exports. It exists not as culture but as an economic activity (all they want is your money). When the Church marries itself to one of these “cultural” forms and offers it as worship it inevitably becomes a missionary tool of the American economic enterprise. Thus we have the strange phenomenon of American “rock and roll” Churches in Russia being established to compete with the native Orthodox Church. I have no doubt that such strategies are successful – but successful at what? Attendance numbers are no measure of the spiritual life. American Protestants are surprised when Orthodox in these countries resist their presence and see them simply as “foreign agents.” Culturally they are.

St. Paul’s rule in 1 Corinthians 9 is what the Orthodox describe as “economy.” Under the economy of salvation, I may stretch the limits of the canonical life (the regular life of the Church) in order to bring salvation to others. One of my favorite examples of such economy is found in the original Orthodox Alaska mission.

Missionaries there found a tribe of Native Alaskans who lived exclusively on cariboo. There were no vegetables in their diet – only cariboo. The first conundrum arose with the question of fasting. It is traditional for Orthodox to fast from meat, fish, wine, dairy and olive oil during a fast period (such as Great Lent). What to tell these native Alaskans? The missionaries wrote back to the Bishop who responded: “During the fast, tell them to eat less cariboo.” A perfect Orthodox solution.

Orthodox worship represents 2,000 years of Christian practice. It not only embodies the Gospel and our worship of God, but also teaches, in an embodied form, important aspects of the spiritual life. Learning sobriety, humility, the reality of the communion of saints, the capacity for awe and the ascesis of prayer (prayer is work – and hard work at that), are all very deep parts of Orthodox worship. Their loss in much of Western worship (particularly in the liturgical reforms of the last 50 years) have guaranteed a weakening of Christian spirituality at a time when it is needed more than ever.

If our culture is ever to wake up from its enthrallment to Mammon and enter seriously into the life God has prepared for us – I can see no vehicle other than Orthodoxy that is prepared to teach such an awakening in an embodied form. I have no idea what the future holds for our culture or for world culture. God alone knows that. But I do know that whatever the future holds, knowing God deeply and learning the practices proper to the Christian life will be more essential rather than less. “Dumbing down” our schools is not working for education – spiritually “dumbing down” Christianity cannot be good for us either. We do not need less – we need more – we need the fullness. Why ask for less?

One of the most pervasive rules in Christian believing is the Latin phrase, “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi,” usually rendered, “The Law of Praying is the Law of Believing.” It is a simple way of saying both that we believe what we pray (praying will inevitably bring about a conformity in believing), and that if something is to be preserved it must become part of the liturgical life. Time and history have largely born this out.

It has been a rule that concerns people who write or translate liturgies – and it has been a rule for those who helplessly watch as others write and translate liturgies. For it is simply the case, if the people do not pray it, in time they will cease to believe it.

This principle is linked in my mind to the question of what is needed in theology. What do we need to believe to actually confess the Christian faith? Are there elements, which if neglected, would bring about a change in the faith – possibly even a fatal change?

I believe the answer to this last question is quite clear: it is possible to leave certain elements aside with the result that what is left is no longer Christianity, however it may be disguised.

When I was studying systematic theology (I know, Orthodox Theology is rarely accused of being systematic), it was well understood that if something was not an integral part of the faith, it would soon enough become not a part of the faith. Doctrinal belief is like muscles in our body – if left unused, it atrophies.

I am convinced that for an increasing number of Christians, an increasing number of essential elements are no longer essential to what they believe – the result being the creation of increasingly new belief systems. These may still be described as Christianity, because they are religions centered around the figure of Jesus Christ, but are, in fact, new belief systems.

I began to be convinced of this as I read the systematic theologies of others. The same conclusions can be reached by anecdotal evidence – speaking with various believers about what they think is important.

This morning, for instance, I celebrated the Divine Liturgy for the Feast of the Ascension of Christ (40 days after Easter). I was also aware that probably two, possibly three other Churches in my town were doing something similar. There is a Catholic Church and I’m sure there was at least one mass, if not more. There is an Episcopal Church, and it is possible, though not not necessarily the case, that there was a liturgy today or tonight. I would also think it possible that the feast was kept by one or two of our Lutheran congregations. What I have mentioned is indeed a minority in our Southern town. For most Christians, the Ascension of Christ will never be mentioned to them in a way that would make them think that the event was significant.

We had a number of conversations within my congregation (which is largely convert) back at the end of Holy Week and during the early parts of Pascha. Most of them admitted that it was not until they became Orthodox that they even realized that Christ descended to the dead when he died on the Cross. Some even told stories of having been in Bible studies when young, and, when reading the verses regarding Christ’s descent to the dead, were told, “We don’t know what these verses mean.” Needless to say in the churches these people had first acquired the Christian faith, it made no difference that Christ had descended into Hades.

I believe that there is a truncated version of Christianity that is moving towards a dominant position with our religion. It is simply the atonement – largely taught in the language of penal substitution, as the only important dogma of the faith. Thus to believe that “Christ died for our sins,” means anywhere and everywhere that he paid a price that we could not pray and that by trusting in Him we will be spared the punishments of Hell.

Everything else, if mentioned at all, is simply a corollary to that single thought. Thus (and I know this is extreme) some years back I had an argument with an Episcopal priest friend who said, “I would be much more comfortable with the doctrine of the resurrection if we could find the bones of Jesus.” He certainly believed that Christ had paid the price of his sins, and that through faith in Christ he would be saved. But the bodily resurrection of Jesus was not important to that theology and he found its primitive, literal quality to be a bit of a bother.

I warned you – it was an extreme case. Many if not most Christians believe that Christ was raised from the dead – but they increasingly do not know why, other than as a reassurance to us that we will be raised as well (Lazarus’ resurrection could have done as much). Indeed the doctrine of the resurrection of the body is troublesome for many Christians who would rather prefer to believe in “Life after death, or eternal life.”

This same principle can also be applied to the sacraments of the Church. Many are the young couples who would say, “I don’t need a piece of paper declaring me to be married.” Joni Mitchell sang in her sweet warble, “We don’t need no piece of paper from the City Hall/ keeping us tied and true/my old man/ keeping away my blues …” The rate of illegitimacy for children in the black community exceeds 50% and draws closer to that mark in the white community. And this, of course, is only thinking about the sacrament of marriage.

The sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Holy Baptism may soon be on the way out for many. Many Churches long ago reduced them to something done at a service other than Sunday morning, and then only four times a year. It is not a sacrament that seems integral to the story of salvation as that Church teaches. Never mind the fact that Christ said, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you.”

I spoke this week to someone who was joining one of the new “Anglican” Churches, I believe the one that is under an African Primate. I asked him about their communion teaching. “Do they practice open communion?” The answer was yes, with the addition that there was some sort of statement of what the Church believed and asked that only those who ascribed to that statement should receive communion. This, of course, is far more than is required in most Christian Churches today, despite the fact that closed communion was the normative practice of virtually every denomination of Christians until the late 1960’s.

Private Confession, long ago jettisoned by most Protestants, has become fairly rare for many within the Catholic Church. Lent as a season of fasting has atrophied beyond recognition.

Actually writing or summarizing the teaching of the Church in which all of the major events in the story of our salvation are given their proper weight is a minimal requirement if one is actually to be or become an Orthodox Christian. What is it about the Descent into Hades that is necessary to our salvation? What is it about the Resurrection that is essential to our salvation? What does the Ascension have to do with being saved (and it does)? What does the second and glorious coming of Christ have to do with our salvation? What does being born of a Virgin have to do with Christ’s saving of mankind?

In Orthodox understanding, all of these things are integral parts of Christ becoming what we are in order to make us what He is. The metaphor of the substitutionary atonement, though not unknown, is simply too thin and weak to bear the full weight of the story of our salvation. Christ became fully human, that we might have a share in His divinity. It was into the depths of our humanity that He descended when He entered the Virgin’s womb, having done no damage to the freedom that belongs to mankind. It was into the depths of our damnation that He descended, when, dying on the Cross, He entered Hades and loosed the bonds of the captives. Now there is no where we may go that He has not filled with Himself. It was still in glorified union with our humanity that He rose from the grave, having trampled down death by death. It is our humanity that he bore (“like a yoke” we sang last night) into the very heavens themselves and in that union sat our humanity down at the right hand of the Father.

These actions, all primary statements in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, not only provide a summary of the events in the life of Christ – they are the utterly essential elements of our salvation. As the Creed states: “…who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven…”

All that Christ did is and should be an integral part of any proper account of Christian salvation. They should thus be integral parts of the worship and prayer life of the Church. Where they have been relegated to some lesser status – there you may be sure that some essential part of our faith has been laid aside and remains in danger of ceasing to be part of the Christian faith – except for the fact that it will remain a part of Scripture.

Two years ago this was demonstrated in an embarrassing manner when a large number of Christian Churches in America closed their doors for Sunday worship in order to steer clear of conflict with the “family holiday” of Christmas.

There is no lowest common denominator of Christianity. There is no modest form of the faith around which we may gather. There is only the “faith, once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). Anything less is either no longer Christian, or building a foundation for something that in time will not be Christian.

How much is too little? How much is enough? I consider that if Christ thought it necessary to do certain things and to give us certain things, it was because they were needed for the fullness of our salvation.

How much is too little – anything less than everything.

How much is enough – only everything.

Source: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2007/11/26/mission-and-worship-america-and-the-orthodox/ and http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2007/05/17/how-much-is-too-little-how-much-is-enough/