The language might be slightly daunting for some (it’s an abstract for a seminary essay), but this post from Halden briefly outlines most of the reasons we are practicing the Christian liturgical calendar during our Sunday evening gatherings.
The point is that the way we practice time powerfully shapes us as a certain kind of people. The Christian liturgical year has historically been a powerful way of forming Christian identity and everyday practice, but this has been "largely lost in the contemporary evangelical church, the life of which has
rather become dominated and determined by the calendar of the
nation-state and market (which tell us, above all, when we must shop)." There are all kinds of liturgical calendars, and the one that most Americans (including evangelical Christians) celebrate and adhere to is the liturgical calendar of the consumer.
So while most evangelical Christians have great intentions for being missional in their everyday lives, we have to face the fact that missional people don’t just fall from trees. They have to be formed. And when our lives are formed by the rhythms of shopping, watching TV, consumption, and paying credit card bills, we find it doesn’t actually make us into missional people, those who can faithfully witness to God’s salvation in Christ. The change has to go deeper and be more radical if we are going to see the church fulfill her call to "implement the achievement of Christ" (Tom Wright’s phrase). We won’t be formed as a missional people unless we radically re-orient our lives around Christ, and away from the liturgies of consumerism.
"Through a recovery of the liturgical year, Christian churches have an
opportunity to reclaim a holistic and missionally oriented ecclesial
self-consciousness which is vital to the faithful witness of the church
in the culture of late-modern capitalism."
this is quite the education i am getting today. wow, ben. i’m glad you don’t talk the way you comment on other people’s very intelligent blogs–i might be too intimidated to have a conversation with you! it was good reading, though. the blog, the comments…and the dictionary. and all this just makes me even more glad to be attending sunday nights.
Ben Sternke says
You’re funny, Ambre. (By the way, I’m the first Ben in those comments, not the second…)
Good connections there. I like that. It’s like missional thinking with a rhythm.
I found you awhile back while Googling something. Hope you don’t mind that I visit occasionally. I really enjoy your perspective and insight. 🙂
Ben Sternke says
I don’t mind visitors at all! The blog is here for all and sundry to read and comment and converse. Glad you like the blog. Peace!
You’ll pardon me for diving into a conversation a year later. I just randomly found your blog and was intrigued.
Roughly one year after you posted this, I found myself sitting in a doctoral class with the Rt. Rev. Dr. N. T. Wright called “A Church Shaped by Mission,” clucking my Evangelical-Anabaptist tongue (under my breath, of course) for his hopelessly Anglican suggestion of the same.
I really want to believe that the liturgical calendar can be instrumental in shaping the community for mission. What I can’t get past is the hopelessly non-missional lifestyles of the most liturgical communities of which I am aware. The so-called mainline churches – Anglican, Presbyterian, Catholic, Lutheran, etc. – in Canada, where I serve, are all in hopeless decline. Their liturgical calendars have not formed holistic, missionally-minded Christians. Many Evangelical churches have failed in this regard as well, of course. (Please, do not hear me bashing any tradition in particular, but all of us in general.) The one thing that I do not see is the distinct advantage of the liturgical calendar, and I’d LOVE to!
How are the liturgical calendar and missionality related, mechanistically? What is it, in particular, about the liturgical year that ought to create this effect? Are these the right questions? All I need is one solid reason to support it and I will but I don’t yet.
Wright argued in class the the lectionary readings become a window through which the congregation views the sweeping landscape of the entire biblical narrative. I say that if I “randomly” read the story of Ehud the left-handed judge on a Sunday (unconnected to a sermon – and preaching the lectionary is a whole other wrinkle for me), that window becomes one of stained-glass, patterned with an unfamiliar and confusing picture, that actually BLOCKS the view of the landscape beyond.
Anyway, I’m grappling. I want resources to understand liturgy. I want to embrace it but theologically I can’t as yet. Help me Obe Wan. You’re my only hope.
Benjamin Sternke says
I would say three things:
1. Any liturgical tradition (evangelical “low church” worship included) requires constant training and active participation to do it well (i.e. so it has the intended effects in our lives). The liturgical calendar is not a magic bullet, but only works when it is paired with adequate understanding and faithful participation. One of the reasons I think many mainline denominations are in decline is that they have in fact abandoned certain key aspects of their tradition… such as preaching the gospel. I try to marry evangelical preaching with liturgical worship and charismatic expression, and find that “cocktail” has a lot going for it, in terms of its potential to form a missional community.
2. Which calendar would you propose we follow instead? I ask this to point out that we all do follow some kind of calendar, some way of celebrating and marking time. And the way we celebrate time forms us. The liturgical calendar is a way for us to celebrate time according to the pattern of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, as well as the gift of the Spirit, etc… this has to be a better option than celebrating the American consumer calendar, which primarily tells us when it is time to shop, buy candy, etc… (Halloween, Thanksgiving, X-mas, Valentine’s Day, Bunnies, etc). We’re going to celebrate time, in other words. We’re going to be shaped by something, so it might as well be Jesus.
3. For resources on understanding liturgy, I’d first recommend Simon Chan’s excellent book Liturgical Theology. He comes at it from an evangelical/Pentecostal perspective, so he deals with many of the objections you raise, mjk.
joshua robison says
lack of defined terms makes you sound vague. It sounds like you wrote this with the intention of sounding like a professional magazine article without ANY intention of saying anything at all.
missional living is just living with a mission. Even serial killers are living missionally. Liturgy is just plain not found in scripture.
Ben Sternke says
Like I mentioned on the other post you commented on, my intention in these posts is not to write academic articles on these subjects, just to post some thoughts on the journey for me. If you'd like to participate in the conversation, I'm happy to engage that, but if you're going to simply critique my writing and resort to assuming that I wrote to sound professional without saying anything substantial, I'm not going to take a lot of time or energy to respond.
I do like your point that missional living is just living with a mission. That's a great way to put it.