When James I famously said, “No bishop, no king,” he was testifying to the truth an important and obvious principle. In any society where the Church is present in significant numbers, the worship and government of the Church will drive the shape of civil society. This is the case whether or not the worship and government of the Church is scriptural or not — as a presbyterian I would argue that the Elizabethan episcopacy that James inherited did not exactly step off the pages of the New Testament. Of course, neither do we find any stated clerks mentioned in Acts, but a discussion of “correct” polity and worship is not my point here. My point, and there is one, is that broader culture is shaped by the worship and government of the Church, whatever that worship and government might happen to be.
This is not really a controverted point, at least in the circles I usually find myself in. Worship shapes the world. This is a theological point of the highest importance, one that I feel comfortable defending with my last ounce of blood. But let me move from theology to amateur sociology, and this one might be an occasion for discussion and debate in my circles. While not nearly as important as the first point, it does seem to me to be an important corollary.
At any rate, here it is. I was talking with a minister friend a number of months ago, and he has the responsibility of shepherding his flock within the bounds of episcopacy, which is just fine with me. God bless them all, especially the Nigerians. It would take more than that to give me heartburn. I am a TR, but I am a catholic TR. But the oddity was this. In our discussion, it came out that his congregation worshipped in a way that was markedly “high,” whereas their cultural practices (congregation wide) were what would be generally thought of as “low.” I am not talking about bad manners at the dinner table, but rather socio-economic indicators — alternative medicine, homebirths, low views of formal education, and so on.
Here is where I have to walk gingerly because our egalitarianism runs deep. But just as King James cut to the chase by saying that a republican form of church government was not compatible with a monarchical form of civil government, so I said to my friend that either their sacramental worship would alter their understanding of this sort of cultural expression, or their tenacity in holding onto their culture would result in their eventual abandonment of high liturgical worship.
Over the course of our nation’s history, what denominations have attracted the doctors, lawyers, bankers, and so on? Right — the more liturgical, staid, and formal churches. What churches have attracted the loggers, cops, and contractors? Right — the more informal, lively, and anti-liturgical. We are currently living through a period of cultural churn, where no one exactly knows what is up. Megachurches have breezy, multi-media worship, and they have plenty of doctors and lawyers trying to clap along with the songs. My argument is that this kind of thing is an anomaly. Over time, it will have to go one way or the other.
A couple of possible objections, and I am done. Someone might point out that the Roman Catholic church has plenty of “blue collar” parishioners, which is quite true. But they do this by reproducing the entire range of socio-economic strata within the church. In other words, they have plenty of such worshippers, but they do not constitute the leadership of the church. If you were to find a church with blue collar leadership, and they had that leadership over the course of a generation or more, I would be willing to bet good money that the liturgy would be quite low.
Another objection is that this analysis seems to give “doctors and lawyers” too much credit in authenticating what the Church is supposed to be doing. Yes, this is quite a danger, one that James pointed out in his epistle. When the rich guys start showing up for church, it is time to guard your hearts against evil motives. This problem has happened plenty in the history of the Church. But remember, I am not applauding anything here. I am just watching. I am not arguing for high liturgy at all; I am simply pointing out that in history high liturgy has tended toward a particular effect. Having a high view of liturgy (which I do have) is not the same thing as having a high view of high liturgy (which I don’t have). But for those brethren who do have a high view of high liturgy, this is an observation or caution that can be used in either direction. “If we crank the liturgy up another notch, we might get some more big tithers from the medical field!” Or . . . “We need to watch our step here. This stuff is banker bait.”