The Form Without the Power: “Non-Theistic” Worship
Why would a church worship “non-theistically”?
The two things I am most interested in, as both a perpetual student and as a pastor, are doctrine and liturgy. I suppose that’s why I take lex orandi, lex credendi so seriously. The two coinhere, or both become a joke. With that in mind, consider the following post from an Episcopal bishop (emphasis added):
Looking at (Episcopal) parish search profiles (for the purpose of finding examples for one of our parishes in transition), and ran across this: “We are an open communion church with a central altar. Our 9am, 11:15 am and 5 pm services are based on Rite II in the BCP, liberally adapted to express our progressive, somewhat non-theistic approach to worship.” There are no words.
As horrific as this is, let us attempt a few words anyway.
The bishop did not name the congregation, but I wish I could watch a live stream and find out what “non-theistic” worship looks like. Foolishness like this cuts to the heart of what ails Mainline Protestantism, whose erosion I have frequently noted.
Looking back in the vault, then, I would connect the phenomenon glimpsed above to:
- a failure to explicitly proclaim and comprehend the God implicitly narrated in the Book of Common Prayer and other historic Christian liturgies (a distinction I just learned from Nicholas Wolterstorff).
- those occasions when “progressive” Christianity nukes the fridge, and leaps from a harmless politically liberal version of historic, Trinitarian Christianity to a loosely defined sub-Christian farce of vague spirituality held together around no-doctrine-as-doctrine at its gelatinous core.
- a proper caution when considering claims from emergent Christians and sacramental progressives like Rachel Held Evans who link an ancient ritual aesthetic to millennial interest (without a concomitant interest in the creedal and conciliar context for such ancient resources).
Earlier this year, I referenced the doctrinal situation of the Episcopal Church in a post seeking to affirm a high view of Scripture, something I believe the so-called “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” undercuts even though it was clearly held by Wesley and his Reformation forebears like Luther and Calvin. The danger I sense in my own Wesleyan tribe is something I see in Mainline and center/progressive Protestantism in general:
…though our official liturgies and doctrinal standards speak in accord with the Church across time and space about the Triunity of God and the centrality of Christ, it is quite possible that the presiding clergy and any number of congregants may actually be worshiping the Giant Spaghetti Monster. God becomes whatever and wherever one finds meaning, and the only dogma recognized is that all dogma is stifling and harmful.
What’s shocking is not that such congregations or clergy exist; what is shocking is that Mainline Protestant leaders lack either the interest or the will to do anything about it (or both). To name a few: in the UMC, the PCUSA, and Episcopal Church (and let’s not forget about our United Church of Canada friends) we tolerate the abandonment of our Reformation roots and basic orthodoxy among our leaders with barely a sigh of resignation. If we will not even insist our ordained clergy believe in God, we quite simply deserve to die so that God will no longer be mocked.
There is a place for “non-theistic” worship with Christian trappings, and it is the Unitarian Universalist Association. Otherwise, ostensibly Christian communities who engage in such deformed liturgies are doing little more than highly organized lying.
I take comfort in remembering that the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church rests on the firm foundation of the birth, holy life, cruel death, and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. Though many forces threaten to tear us asunder, our spiritual union with the Tripersonal God – our whole purpose for being, by the way – cannot be sundered, no matter how much human cowardice and supernatural evil conspires to separate the church from he who reigns as her sole Head, Israel’s messiah, and the world’s true Lord.
Yet she on earth hath union
with God the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion
with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
like them, the meek and lowly,
on high may dwell with thee.