Losing My Religion

This post isn’t about the state of my faith but the state of how I worship. I don’t like to sing. And in fact cannot. I’m tone-deaf and cannot keep a beat. So if you want to irritate me, call singing in a church service “worship”. I rarely worship through music. But I’m an evangelical and our services have been stripped of all liturgy. There’s some mistaken idea that if you do responsive reading, it’s meaningless and people just recite the words, and it doesn’t touch them. Guess what? I do that every single week. To music. It’s called singing.

From the beginning of organized Christianity and even from the Jewish faith, God’s word has been repeated as responsive reading. With or without music. A portion of the Psalms called the Songs of Ascents were recited in correlation to Jewish holidays. Can you imagine a group of evangelicals reciting a Psalm in unison? A Capella? There are a good number who probably think that’s so ritualistic that it puts them on the church bus to hell. Because you know, it’s wrong to recite Bible verses in unison.

For two millennia, there have been two churches the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. They have rituals, they have creeds. Martin Luther came along. He split from the Catholic Church but retained liturgy in his new sect Lutheranism. Same for the Church of England when it broke from the Catholic Church. John Wesley never broke from the Church of England when he founded Methodism. They kept the liturgy as did the Presbyterian Church. I’m sure other denominations did too.

I’m not really sure where the idea of not having liturgy came into practice. Whether it was specific evangelical denominations that gained influence or is a modern concept that evolved when guitars, drums, and tambourines showed up at church. More musicians. More performers. Less room for responsive reading. Sometimes it feels that way to this snarky girl. But I know that is so not true. Church musicians use their gifts to glorify God. And I enjoy listening to them.

Anyway, I grew up in the Methodist church and loved having an order of worship. Songs we sang every week. “Gloria Patri” and “The Doxology” which for years I thought was the same song. They sound alike to my ears and end with “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”. We said the Lord’s Prayer every week and always had responsive reading. My favorite was when we recited the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed.  There’s nothing like reciting those words that distill our faith into a few dozen words. Because here’s the thing. I have a relationship with Christ but I also worship God the Father in a religion called Christianity. I like religion. It’s how I worship God.

At fifteen, I joined the interdenominational church where my family are still members. I would be too if I didn’t live 1500 miles away. I remember when we first joined in the late 1980s we said The Lord’s Prayer. We recited creeds. We did responsive reading. We still had hymnals. At some point that went away replaced by 7-11 praise choruses and singing at tops 2 verses of a 4-verse hymn. My current church and pretty much every church I’ve attended in my various moves is like this. When did we become so afraid a few words repeated out loud or beautiful poems set to music would turn people off? I love contemporary Christian music. On the radio. Not as an act of worship. Although I admit sometimes I do truly enjoy it. See, I’m not a total old-before-her-time curmudgeon.

What is a girl who only wants to recite the Apostle’s Creed (skipping over “descended into hell” more out of tradition than scriptural interpretation) just once in this millennium to do? What she does every week. Sets a good example for her non-musical son. Pray the music moves her. Mouth the words to the insipid praise choruses. Enjoy the one verse of the traditional hymn and wait patiently for the sermon.

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About Gretchen E K Engel

Chemical engineer by day, spec fiction writer by night

Posted on 2013/10/21, in Reading. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Music and singing touch my soul in a way responsive reading never does. So I guess it’s different for everybody.

    Insipid praise choruses? Really, GEKE? LOL

  2. Thanks for responding!!
    You’re the exception rather than the rule. And sometimes music does touch my soul. Sunday before last was one of those times.
    Yes. I don’t like repetitive praise songs. I know I’m weird.
    I love hymns. “Holy, Holy, Holy”, “How Great Thou Art”, and “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” are my three favorites. Holiness. Majesty. Alpha and Omega. Wow. Those words are so, so powerful. They’re how I see God. But it’s the words. If someone played them instrumentally, I doubt I could name the tune.

    And I don’t think a lot of people realize the importance of liturgy either because they see it as mindless ritual, or they’ve never been exposed to it. For me to say with 300-400 other people “I believe in God, the Father Almighty…” It makes my heart swell with pride standing next to my brothers and sisters affirming my faith.

  3. Music does more for me than responsive readings, but since it’s what’s in the heart that matters most, neither way is wrong. I prefer more spontaneity than goes with repeating the same readings or verses every week. I too have favorite hymns — How Great Thou Art, as you mentioned as well as Great Is Thy Faithfulness. I also really like Come THou Fount of Every Blessing which has gained popularity in the last few years in more contemporary circles. But I love what I find to be REAL and RELEVANT about the more contemporary music. I’m glad it doesn’t have to be one way is right and the other totally wrong. Freedom to worship how we choose is a privilege we should respect for ourselves as well as others.

  4. I enjoy music (traditional hymns); however, I believe the spoken word is important. Many say the rosary is rote prayer but I find it a wonderful way to worship and give praise.

  5. I’m a little late commenting on this post, but I just wanted to say that I understand where you are coming from.

    When I attended my first ACFW conference a few years ago, I wondered what the “Worship Service” would be like since obviously people of many different Christian denominations would be present. I was a little surprised to find it was basically music I could hear on K-Love. Don’t get me wrong. I love K-Love (and The Message on my Sirius XM radio), and the musicians at the conference did a great job. But I felt more like I was singing along to the radio in my car with a bunch of Christian friends and not really “worshiping” per se.

    Now that’s not to say that I don’t have great spiritual moments through song. It’s happened during songs in the Catholic Masses I attend, it’s happened while listening to Christian music on the radio, and it’s happened on retreat. Just last night I was at an “Adore and Worship Night” at a local church. A deacon who happens to be musically gifted led us in song, read from Scripture, gave a sermon, and left plenty of quiet time for reflection and private prayer. We even had a bit of repeated response prayer. It was great, but I’d still feel like I was missing something if I didn’t go to celebrate the Eucharist at least once a week.

    And can I say that your post, Gretchen, has actually made me appreciate the Nicene Creed more. People who say reciting creeds like that can be “mindless” are right in the sense that I often say it at Mass without thinking too deeply about it. But other times, a certain line here or there will hit me, and it’s exactly what I need to hear on that particular day. Your comment about missing saying a creed makes me realize how very blessed I am to be able to stand in a room with hundreds of other people and profess the same faith together. In fact, I can go to Mass in Rome or Poland or the Philippines or Argentina or Ghana, and stand with others and say that exact same set of beliefs. It’s pretty powerful. I had a small glimpse of that while at Mass in Rome in April when people of many different countries turned to each other at the sign of peace and offered a greeting of peace in their own language.

    My prayer is that all followers of Christ focus on the fact that we all love Jesus, we all want to do His will, and if we keep that at the forefront of our thoughts, I’m sure we can accomplish great things in His name.

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