The 600 Pound Modern Gorilla in the Church

This review of Jamie Smith’s new book, Awaiting the King, got me thinking about Smith’s understanding of cultural liturgies. Here are some quotes from the book in the review:

There is something political at stake in our worship and something religious at stake in our politics. (3)

Implicit in the practices of Christian worship is an economics, a sociology, a politics. (54)

The church’s worship does not “become” political when it is translated into policy or hooked to partisan agendas. The politics of worship is tied to the renewal of moral agency of the people of God, who are formed to be sent. (59–60)

[I]t is equally important that we see Christian worship as political in nature—not in the sense of being “partisan” or tied to “earthly city” special interest groups, but insofar as it is the enactment of a public ritual centered on an ascended King. (53)

Jonathan Leeman rephrases Smith this way:

Your trip to the mall, your Monday Night Football party, your standing for the national anthem both express your worship, identity, and morality and also shape them, for better or worse. You’re not just a “thinking thing,” you’re a desiring and a loving thing, and these various cultural practices shape your desiring and your loving, like the liturgies at church.

What Smith wants us to take away from the book, then, is more awareness concerning how the world’s liturgies affect and shape our worship and politics, and then to center our political life around the church’s liturgies. Doing so will cause us to take a more ambivalent posture toward public engagement.

What I don’t understand is how women’s ordination escapes Smith’s close reading of cultural liturgies. Is the ordination of women a way of resisting modernity or a capitulation to it? If watching football on Sunday afternoons is part of a liturgical tradition that undermines the sanctification of the Lord’s Day, why isn’t the ordination of women a sign of the church’s capitulation to individualism and egalitarianism? In terms of cultural tropes, after all, women’s ordination closer to shopping at Walmart than it is to supporting the mom and pop shop on Main St.

You don’t need to interpret women’s ordination in terms of orthodoxy or heterodoxy as Smith argued:

Now, no one for a second can deny that such views of sexual morality and marriage have been the historic teaching of the church. The weight of Scripture, tradition, and perhaps even “natural law” have sustained these views and beliefs for millennia. And one could argue that the silence on such matters in, say, Machen or The Fundamentals only reflects what was taken for granted, not what was unimportant. Certainly. And just because they are not matters of creedal definition doesn’t mean they are matters of indifference. The creeds don’t say anything about Christian nonviolence, for example, but that hardly means Christians are therefore free to adopt any posture or position they want if they follow the Prince of Peace.

But it is surely also worth pointing out that conciliar standards of orthodoxy do not articulate such standards. If the adjective “orthodox” is untethered from such ecumenical standards, it quickly becomes a cheap epithet we idiosyncratically attach to views and positions in order to write off those we disagree with as “heretics” and unbelievers. If “orthodox” becomes an adjective that is unhooked from these conciliar canons, then it becomes a word we use to make sacrosanct the things that matter to “us” in order to exclude “them.”

Precisely so. So if you depart from the historic position of the church on ordination, how are you sufficiently worried about cultural liturgies that promote ideas and expectations that make God’s people like the larger society? And if you believe that part of Protestant orthodoxy involves the sufficiency of Scripture, how do you go against clear biblical teaching on ordination and say you are committed to conciliar orthodoxy? How for that matter, are you going to be a reliable ally in disputes about matters of conciliar orthodoxy? The CRC may still confess the Canons of Dort, but will it refuse membership in ecumenical organizations that include Arminians?

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