Whatever becomes the inward and the invisible grace of the Christian community such will be its outward and visible form. Those regulative ideas and characteristic emotions which determine in any age the quality of its religious experience will be certain to shape the nature and conduct of its ecclesiastical assemblies. Their influence will show, both in the liturgical and homiletical portions of public worship. If anything further were needed, therefore, to indicate the secularity of this age, its substitutes for worship and its characteristic type of preaching would, in themselves, reveal the situation. So we venture to devote these closing discussions to some observations on the present state of Protestant public worship and the prevailing type of Protestant preaching. For we may thus ascertain how far those ideas and perceptions which an age like ours needs are beginning to find an expression and what means may be taken to increase their influence through church services in the community.
It seems to me clear that the chief office of the church is liturgical rather than homiletical. Or, if that is too technical a statement, it may be said that the church exists to set forth and foster the religious life and that, because of the nature of that life, it finds its chief opportunity for so doing in the imaginative rather than the rationalizing or practical areas of human expression. Even as Michael Angelo, at the risk of his life, purloined dead bodies that he might dissect them and learn anatomy, so all disciples of the art of religion need the discipline of intellectual analysis and of knowledge of the facts of the religious experience if they are to be leaders in faith. There is a toughness of fiber needed in religious people that can only come through such mental discipline. But anatomists are not sculptors. Michael Angelo was the genius, the creative artist, not because he understood anatomy, but chiefly because of those as yet indefinable and secret processes of feeling and intuition in man, which made him feel rather than understand the pity and the terror, the majesty and the pathos of the human spirit and reveal them in significant and expressive line. Knowledge supported rather than rivaled insight. In the same way, both saint and sinner need religious instruction. Nevertheless they are what they are because they are first perceptive rather than reasoning beings. They both owe, the one his salvation, the other his despair, to the fact that they have seen the vision of the holy universe. Both are seers; the saint has given his allegiance to the heavenly vision. The sinner has resolved to be disobedient unto it. Both find their first and more natural approach to religious truth, therefore, through the creative rather than the critical processes, the emotional rather than the informative powers.
There are, of course, many in our churches who would dissent from this opinion. It is characteristic of Protestantism, as of humanism in general, that it lays its chief emphasis upon the intelligence. If we go to church to practice the presence of God, must we not first know who and what this God is whose presence with us we are there asked to realize? So most Protestant services are more informative than inspirational. Their attendants are assembled to hear about God rather to taste and see that the Lord is good. They analyze the religious experience rather than enjoy it; insensibly they come to regard the spiritual life as a proposition to be proved, not a power to be appropriated. Hence our services generally consist of some "preliminary exercises," as we ourselves call them, leading up to the climax—when it is a climax—of the sermon.
Here is a major cause for the declension of the influence of Protestant church services. They go too much on the assumption that men already possess religion and that they come to church to discuss it rather than to have it provided. They call men to be listeners rather than participants in their temples. Of course, one may find God through the mind. The great scholar, the mathematician or the astronomer may cry with Kepler, "Behold, I think the thoughts of God after him!" Yet a service which places its chief emphasis upon the appeal to the will through instruction has declined from that realm of the absolutes where religion in its purest form belongs. For since preaching makes its appeal chiefly through reason, it thereby attempts to produce only a partial and relative experience in the life of the listener. It impinges upon the will by a slow process. Sometimes one gets so deadly weary of preaching because, in a world like ours, the reasonable process is so unreasonable. That's a half truth, of course, but one that the modern world needs to learn.
Others would dissent from our position by saying that service, the life of good will, is a sufficient worship. The highest adoration is to visit the widows and the fatherless in their affliction. Laborare est orare. What we do speaks so loud God does not care for what we say. True: but the value of what we do for God depends upon the godliness of the doer and where shall he find that godliness save in the secret place of the Most High? And the greatest gift we can give our fellows is to bring them into the divine presence. "There is," says Dr. William Adams Brown, "a service that is directed to the satisfaction of needs already in existence, and there is a service that is itself the creator of new needs which enlarge the capacity of the man to whom it would minister. To this larger service religion is committed, and the measure of a man's fitness to render it is his capacity for worship." But no one can give more than he has. If we are to offer such gifts we must ourselves go before and lead. To create the atmosphere in which the things of righteousness and holiness seem to be naturally exalted above the physical, the commercial, the domestic affairs of men; to lift the level of thought and feeling to that high place where the spiritual consciousness contributes its insights and finds a magnanimous utterance—is there anything that our world needs more? There are noble and necessary ministries to the body and the mind, but most needed, and least often offered, there is a ministry to the human spirit. This is the gift which the worshiper can bring. Knowledge of God may not be merely or even chiefly comprehended in a concept of the intelligence; knowledge of Him is that vitalizing consciousness of the Presence felt in the heart, which opens our eyes that we may see that the mountain is full of horses and chariots of fire round about us and that they who fight with us are more than they who fight with them. This is the true and central knowledge that private devotion and public worship alone can give; preaching can but conserve and transmit this religious experience through the mind, worship creates it in the heart. Edwards understood that neither thought nor conduct can take its place. "The sober performance of moral duty," said he, "is no substitute for passionate devotion to a Being with its occasional moments of joy and exaltation."
We should then begin with worship. A church which does not emphasize it before everything else is trying to build the structure of a spiritual society with the corner stone left out. Let us try, first of all, to define it. An old and popular definition of the descriptive sort says that "worship is the response of the soul to the consciousness of being in the presence of God." A more modern definition, analyzing the psychology of worship, defines it as "the unification of consciousness around the central controlling idea of God, the prevailing emotional tone being that of adoration." Evidently we mean, then, by worship the appeal to the religious will through feeling and the imagination. Worship is therefore essentially creative. Every act of worship seeks to bring forth then and there a direct experience of God through high and concentrated emotion. It fixes the attention upon Him as an object in Himself supremely desirable. The result of this unified consciousness is peace and the result of this peace and harmony is a new sense of power. Worship, then, is the attainment of that inward wholeness for which in one form or another all religion strives by means of contemplation. So by its very nature it belongs to the class of the absolutes.
Many psychologies of religion define this contemplation as aesthetic, and make worship a higher form of delight. This appears to me a quite typical non-religious interpretation of a religious experience. There are four words which need explaining when we talk of worship. They are: wonder, admiration, awe, reverence. Wonder springs from the recognition of the limitations of our knowledge; it is an experience of the mind. Admiration is the response of a growing intelligence to beauty, partly an aesthetic, partly an intellectual experience. These distinctions Coleridge had in mind in his well-known sentence "In wonder all philosophy began; in wonder it ends; and admiration fills up the interspace. But the first wonder is the offspring of ignorance; the last is the parent of adoration." Awe is the sense-perception of the stupendous power and magnitude of the universe; it is, quite literally, a godly fear. But it is not ignoble nor cringing, it is just and reasonable, the attitude, toward the Whole, of a comprehensive sanity.
Thus "I would love Thee, O God, if there were no heaven, and if there were no hell, I would fear Thee no less." Reverence is devotion to goodness, sense of awe-struck loyalty to a Being manifestly under the influence of principles higher than our own. Now it is with these last two, awe and reverence, rather than wonder and admiration, that worship has to do.
Hence the essence of worship is not aesthetic contemplation. Without doubt worship does gratify the aesthetic instinct and most properly so. There is no normal expression of man's nature which has not its accompanying delight. The higher and more inclusive the expression the more exquisite, of course, the delight. But that pleasure is the by-product, not the object, of worship. It itself springs partly from the awe of the infinite and eternal majesty which induces the desire to prostrate oneself before the Lord our Maker. "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." It also springs partly from passionate devotion of a loyal will to a holy Being. "Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters and as the eyes of a maid unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord." Thus reverence is the high and awe-struck hunger for spiritual communion. "My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?"
There is a noble illustration of the nature and the uses of worship in the Journals of Jonathan Edwards, distinguished alumnus of Yale College, and the greatest mind this hemisphere has produced. You remember what he wrote in them, as a youth, about the young woman who later became his wife: "They say there is a young lady in New Haven who is beloved of that great Being who made and rules the world, and that there are certain seasons in which this great Being in some way or other invisible comes to her and fills her mind with exceeding sweet delight, and that she hardly cares for anything except to meditate on Him. Therefore if you present all the world before her, with the richest of its treasures, she disregards and cares not for it and is unmindful of any pain or affliction. She has a strange sweetness in her mind, and singular purity in her affections, is most just and conscientious in all her conduct, and you could not persuade her to do anything wrong or sinful if you would give her all the world, lest she should offend this great Being. She is of wonderful calmness and universal benevolence of mind, especially after this great God has manifested Himself to her mind. She will sometimes go about from place to place singing sweetly and seems to be always full of joy and pleasure, and no one knows for what. She loves to be alone, walking in the fields and groves, and seems to have some one invisible always conversing with her."
Almost every element of worship is contained in this description. First, we have a young human being emotionally conscious of the presence of God, who in some way or other directly but invisibly comes to her. Secondly, we have her attention so fixed on the adoration of God that she hardly cares for anything except to meditate upon Him. Thirdly, as the result of this worshipful approach to religious reality, we have the profound peace and harmony, the summum bonum of existence, coupled with strong moral purpose which characterize her life. Here, then, is evidently the unification of consciousness in happy awe and the control of destiny through meditation upon infinite matters, that is, through reverent contemplation of God. Is it not one of those ironies of history wherewith fate is forever mocking and teasing the human spirit, that the grandson of this lady and of Jonathan Edwards should have been Aaron Burr?
Clearly, then, the end of worship is to present to the mind, through the imagination, one idea, majestic and inclusive. So it presents it chiefly through high and sustained feeling. Worship proceeds on the understanding that one idea, remaining almost unchanged and holding the attention for a considerable length of time, so directs the emotional processes that thought and action are harmonized with it. If one reads the great prayers of the centuries they indicate, for the most part, an unconscious understanding of this psychology of worship. Take, for instance, this noble prayer of Pusey's.
"Let me not seek out of Thee what I can find only in Thee, O Lord, peace and rest and joy and bliss, which abide only in thine abiding joy. Lift up my soul above the weary round of harassing thoughts, to Thy eternal presence. Lift up my soul to the pure, bright, serene, radiant atmosphere of Thy presence, that there I may breathe freely, there repose in Thy love, there be at rest from myself and from all things that weary me, and thence return arrayed with Thy peace, to do and bear what shall please Thee."
This prayer expresses the essence of worship which is the seeking, through the fixation of attention, not the delight but rather the peace and purity which can only be found in the consciousness of God. This peace is the necessary outcome of the indwelling presence. It ensues when man experiences the radiant atmosphere of the divine communion.
The same clear expression of worship is found in another familiar and noble prayer, that of Johann Arndt. Here, too, are phrases descriptive of a unified consciousness induced by reverent loyalty.
"Ah, Lord, to whom all hearts are open, Thou canst govern the vessel of my soul far better than can I. Arise, O Lord, and command the stormy wind and the troubled sea of my heart to be still, and at peace in Thee, that I may look up to Thee undisturbed and abide in union with Thee, my Lord. Let me not be carried hither and thither by wandering thoughts, but forgetting all else let me see and hear Thee. Renew my spirit, kindle in me Thy light that it may shine within me, and my heart burn in love and adoration for Thee. Let Thy Holy Spirit dwell in me continually, and make me Thy temple and sanctuary, and fill me with divine love and life and light, with devout and heavenly thoughts, with comfort and strength, with joy and peace."
Thus here one sees in the high contemplation of a transcendent God the subduing and elevating of the human will, the restoration and composure of the moral life. Finally, in a prayer of St. Anselm's there is a sort of analysis of the process of worship.
"O God, Thou art life, wisdom, truth, bounty and blessedness, the eternal, the only true Good. My God and my Lord, Thou art my hope and my heart's joy. I confess with thanksgiving that Thou hast made me in Thine image, that I may direct all my thoughts to Thee and love Thee. Lord, make me to know Thee aright that I may more and more love and enjoy and possess Thee."
One cannot conclude these examples of worshipful expression without quoting a prayer of Augustine, which is, I suppose, the most perfect brief petition in all the Christian literature of devotion and which gives the great psychologist's perception of the various steps in the unification of the soul with the eternal Spirit through sublime emotion.
"Grant, O God, that we may desire Thee, and desiring Thee, seek Thee, and seeking Thee, find Thee, and finding Thee, be satisfied with Thee forever."
I think one may see, then, why worship as distinct from preaching, or the hearing of preaching, is the first necessity of the religious life. It unites us as nothing else can do with God the whole and God the transcendent. The conception of God is the sum total of human needs and desires harmonized, unified, concretely expressed. It is the faith of the worshiper that this concept is derived from a real and objective Being in some way corresponding to it. No one can measure the influence of such an idea when it dominates the consciousness of any given period. It can create and set going new desires and habits, it can minish and repress old ones, because this idea carries, with its transcendent conception, the dynamic quality which belongs to the idea of perfect power. But this transcendent conception, being essentially of something beyond, without and above ourselves can only be "realized" through the feeling and the imagination, whose province it is to deal with the supersensuous values, with the fringes of understanding, with the farthest bounds of knowledge. These make the springboard, so to speak, from which man dares to launch himself into that sea of the infinite, which we can neither understand nor measure, but which nevertheless we may perceive and feel, which in some sense we know to be there.
So, if we deal first with worship, we are merely beginning at the beginning and starting at the bottom. And, in the light of this observation, it is appalling to survey the non-liturgical churches today and see the place that public devotion holds in them. It is not too much, I think, to speak of the collapse of worship in Protestant communities. No better evidence of this need be sought than in the nature of the present attempts to reinstate it. They have a naïveté, an incongruity, that can only be explained on the assumption of their impoverished background.
This situation shows first in the heterogeneous character of our experiments. We are continually printing on our churches' calendars what we usually call "programs," but which are meant to be orders of worship. We are also forever changing them. There is nothing inevitable about their order; they have no intelligible, self-verifying procedure. Anthems are inserted here and there without any sense of the progression or of the psychology of worship. Glorias are sung sometimes with the congregation standing up and sometimes while they are sitting down. There is no lectionary to determine a comprehensive and orderly reading of Scripture, not much sequence of thought or progress of devotion either in the read or the extempore prayers. There is no uniformity of posture. There are two historic attitudes of reverence when men are addressing the Almighty. They are the standing upon one's feet or the falling upon one's knees. For the most part we neither stand nor kneel; we usually loll. Some of us compromise by bending forward to the limiting of our breath and the discomfort of our digestion. It is too little inducive to physical ease or perhaps too derogatory to our dignity to kneel before the Lord our Maker. All this seems too much like the efforts of those who have forgotten what worship really is and are trying to find for it some comfortable or attractive substitute.
Second: we show our inexperience by betraying the confusion of aesthetic and ethical values as we strive for variety and entertainment in church services; we build them around wonder and admiration, not around reverence and awe. But we are mistaken if we suppose that men chiefly desire to be pleasantly entertained or extraordinarily delighted when they go into a church. They go there because they desire to enter a Holy Presence; they want to approach One before whom they can be still and know that He is God. All "enrichments" of a service injected into it here and there, designed to make it more attractive, to add color and variety, to arrest the attention of the senses are, as ends, beside the point, and our dependence upon them indicates the unhappy state of worship in our day. That we do thus make our professional music an end in itself is evident from our blatant way of advertising it. In the same way we advertise sermon themes, usually intended to startle the pious and provoke the ungodly. We want to arouse curiosity, social or political interest, to achieve some secular reaction. We don't advertise that tomorrow in our church there is to be a public worship of God, and that everything that we are going to do will be in the awe-struck sense that He is there. We are afraid that nobody would come if we merely did that!
What infidels we are! Why are we surprised that the world is passing us by? We say and we sing a great many things which it is incredible to suppose we would address to God if we really thought He were present. Yet anthems and congregational singing are either a sacrifice solemnly and joyously offered to God or else all the singing is less, and worse, than nothing in a church service. But how often sentimental and restless music, making not for restraint and reverence, not for the subduing of mind and heart but for the expression of those expansive and egotistical moods which are of the essence of romantic singing, is what we employ. There is a great deal of truly religious music, austere in tone, breathing restraint and reverence, quietly written. The anthems of Palestrina, Anerio, Viadana, Vittoria among the Italians; of Bach, Haydn, Handel, Mozart among the Germans; and of Tallis, Gibbons and Purcell among the English, are all of the truly devout order. Yet how seldom are the works of such men heard in our churches, even where they employ professional singers at substantial salaries. We are everywhere now trying to give our churches splendid and impressive physical accessories, making the architecture more and more stately and the pews more and more comfortable! Thus we attempt an amalgam of a mediaeval house of worship with an American domestic interior, adoring God at our ease, worshiping Him in armchairs, offering prostration of the spirit, so far as it can be achieved along with indolence of the body.
So we advertise and concertize and have silver vases and costly flowers and conventional ecclesiastical furniture. But we still hold a "small-and-early" in the vestibule before service and a "five o'clock" in the chapel afterward. Sunday morning church is a this-world function with a pietized gossip and a decorous sort of sociable with an intellectual fillip thrown in. Thus we try to make our services attractive to the secular instincts, the non-religious things, in man's nature. We try to get him into the church by saying, "You will find here what you find elsewhere." It's rather illogical. The church stands for something different. We say, "You will like to come and be one of us because we are not different." The answer is, "I can get the things of this world better in the world, where they belong, than with you." Thus we have naturalized our very offices of devotion! Hence the attempts to revive worship are incongruous and inconsistent. Hence they have that sentimental and accidental character which is the sign of the amateur. They do not bring us very near to the heavenly country. It might be well to remember that the servant of Jahweh doth not cry nor lift up his voice nor cause it to be heard in the streets.
Now, there are many reasons for this anomalous situation. One of them is our inheritance of a deep-rooted Puritan distrust of a liturgical service. That distrust is today a fetish and therefore much more potent that it was when it was a reason. Puritanism was born in the Reformation; it came out from the Roman church, where worship was regarded as an end in itself. To Catholic believers worship is a contribution to God, pleasing to Him apart from any effect it may have on the worshiper. Such a theory of it is, of course, open to grave abuse. Sometimes it led to indifference as to the effect of the worship upon the moral character of the communicant, so that worship could be used, not to conquer evil, but to make up for it, and thus sin became as safe as it was easy. Inevitably also such a theory of worship often degenerated into an utter formalism which made hyprocrisy and unreality patent, until the hoc est corpus of the mass became the hocus-pocus of the scoffer.
Here is a reason, once valid because moral, for our present situation. Yet it must be confessed that again, as so often, we are doing what the Germans call "throwing out the baby with the bath," namely, repudiating a defect or the perversion of an excellence and, in so doing, throwing away that excellence itself. It is clear that no Protestant is ever tempted today to consider worship as its own reason and its own end. We are, in a sense, utilitarian ritualists. Worship to us is as valuable as it is valid because it is the chief avenue of spiritual insight, a chief means of awakening penitence, obtaining forgiveness, growing in grace and love. These are the ultimates; these are pleasing to God.
A second reason, however, for our situation is not ethical and essential, but economic and accidental. Our fathers' communities were a slender chain of frontier settlements, separated from an ancient civilization by an unknown and dangerous sea on the one hand, menaced by all the perils of a virgin wilderness upon the other. All their life was simple to the point of bareness; austere, reduced to the most elemental necessities. Inevitably the order of their worship corresponded to the order of their society. It is certain, I think, that the white meeting-house with its naked dignity, the old service with its heroic simplicity, conveyed to the primitive society which produced them elements both of high formality and conscious reverence which they could not possibly offer to our luxurious, sophisticated and wealthy age.
Is it not a dangerous thing to have brought an ever increasing formality and recognition of a developed and sophisticated community into our social and intellectual life but to have allowed our religious expression to remain so anachronistic? Largely for social and economic reasons we send most of our young men and young women to college. There we deliberately cultivate in them the perception of beauty, the sense of form, various expressions of the imaginative life. But how much has our average non-liturgical service to offer to their critically trained perceptions? Our church habits are pretty largely the transfer into the sanctuary of the hearty conventions of middle-class family life. The relations in life which are precious to such youth, the intimate, the mystical and subtle ones, get small recognition or expression. A hundred agencies outside the church are stimulating in the best boys and girls of the present generation fine sensibilities, critical standards, the higher hungers. Our services, chiefly instructive and didactic, informal and easy in character, irritate them and make them feel like truculent or uncomfortable misfits.
A third reason for the lack of corporate or public offices of devotion in our services lies in the intellectual character of the Protestant centuries. We have seen how they have been centuries of individualism. Character has been conceived of as largely a personal affair expressed in personal relationships. The believer was like Christian in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. He started for the Heavenly Country because he was determined to save his own soul. When he realized that he was living in the City of Destruction it did not occur to him that, as a good man, he must identify his fate with it. On the contrary, he deserted wife and children with all possible expedition and got him out and went along through the Slough of Despond, up to the narrow gate, to start on the way of life. It was a chief glory of mediaeval society that it was based upon corporate relationships. Its cathedrals were possible because they were the common house of God for every element of the community. Family and class and state were dominant factors then. But we have seen how, in the Renaissance and the Romantic Movement, individualism supplanted these values. Now, Protestantism was contemporary with that new movement, indeed, a part of it. Its growing egotism and the colossal egotism of the modern world form a prime cause for the impoverishment of worship in Protestant churches.
And so this brings us, then, to the real reason for our devotional impotence, the one to which we referred in the opening sentences of the chapter. It is essentially due to the character of the regulative ideas of our age. It lies in that world view whose expressions in literature, philosophy and social organizations we have been reviewing in these pages. The partial notion of God which our age has unconsciously made the substitute for a comprehensive understanding of Him is essentially to blame. For since the contemporary doctrine is of His immanence, it therefore follows that it is chiefly through observation of the natural world and by interpretation of contemporary events that men will approach Him if they come to Him at all. Moreover, our humanism, in emphasizing the individual and exalting his self-sufficiency, has so far made the mood of worship alien and the need of it superfluous. The overemphasis upon preaching, the general passion of this generation for talk and then more talk, and then endless talk, is perfectly intelligible in view of the regulative ideas of this generation. It seeks its understanding of the world chiefly in terms of natural and tangible phenomena and chiefly by means either of critical observation or of analytic reasoning. Hence preaching, especially that sort which looks for the divine principle in contemporary events, has been to the fore. But worship, which finds the divine principle in something more and other than contemporary events—which indeed does not look outward to "events" at all—has been thrown into the background.
It seems to me clear, then, that if we are to emphasize the transcendent elements in religion; if they represent, as we have been contending, the central elements of the religious experience, its creative factors, then the revival of worship will be a prime step in creating a more truly spiritual society. I am convinced that a homilizing church belongs to a secularizing age. One cannot forget that the ultimate, I do not say the only, reason for the founding of the non-liturgical churches was the rise of humanism. One cannot fail to see the connection between humanistic doctrine and moralistic preaching, or between the naturalism of the moment and the mechanicalizing of the church. "The Christian congregation," said Luther, child of the humanistic movement, "should never assemble except the word of God be preached." "In other countries," says old Isaac Taylor, "the bell calls people to worship; in Scotland it calls them to a preachment." And one remembers the justice of Charles Kingsley's fling at the Dissenters that they were "creatures who went to church to hear sermons!" It would seem evident, then, that a renewal of worship would be the logical accompaniment of a return to distinctly religious values in society and church.
What can we do, then, better for an age of paganism than to cultivate this transcendent consciousness? Direct men away from God the universal and impersonal to God the particular and intimate. Nothing is more needed for our age than to insist upon the truth that there are both common and uncommon, both secular and sacred worlds; that these are not contradictory; that they are complementary; that they are not identical. It is the church's business to insist that men must live in the world of the sacred, the uncommon, the particular, in order to be able to surmount and endure the secular, the common and the universal. It is her business to insist that through worship all this can be accomplished. But can worship be taught? Is not the devotee, like the poet or the lover or any other genius, born and not made? Well, whether it can be taught or not, it at least can be cultivated and developed, and there are three very practical ways in which this cultivation can be brought about.
One of them is by paying intelligent attention to the physical surroundings of the worshiper. The assembly room for worship obviously should not be used for other purposes; all its suggestions and associations should be of one sort and that sort the highest. Quite aside from the question of taste, it is psychologically indefensible to use the same building, and especially the same room in the building, for concerts, for picture shows, for worship. Here we at once create a distracted consciousness; we dissipate attention; we deliberately make it harder for men and women to focus upon one, and that the most difficult, if the most precious, mood.
For the same reason, the physical form of the room should be one that does not suggest either the concert hall or the playhouse, but suggests rather a long and unbroken ecclesiastical tradition. Until the cinema was introduced into worship, we were vastly improving in these respects, but now we are turning the morning temple into an evening showhouse. I think we evince a most impertinent familiarity with the house of God! And too often the church is planned so that it has no privacies or recesses, but a hideous publicity pervades its every part. We adorn it with stenciled frescoes of the same patterns which we see in hotel lobbies and clubs; we hang up maps behind the reading desk; we clutter up its platform with grand pianos.
It is a mere matter of good taste and good psychology to begin our preparation for a ministry of worship by changing all this. There should be nothing in color or ornament which arouses the restless mood or distracts the eye. Severe and simple walls, restrained and devout figures in glass windows, are only to be tolerated. Descriptive windows, attempting in a most untractable medium a sort of naïve realism, are equally an aesthetic and an ecclesiastical offense. Figures of saints or great religious personages should be typical, impersonal, symbolic, not too much like this world and the things of it. There is a whole school of modern window glass distinguished by its opulence and its realism. It ought to be banished from houses of worship. Since it is the object of worship to fix the attention upon one thing and that thing the highest, the room where worship is held should have its own central object. It may be the Bible, idealized as the word of God; it may be the altar on which stands the Cross of the eternal sacrifice. But no church ought to be without one fixed point to which the eye of the body is insensibly drawn, thereby making it easier to follow it with the attention of the mind and the wishes of the heart. At the best, our Protestant ecclesiastical buildings are all empty! There are meeting-houses, not temples assembly rooms, not shrines. There is apparently no sense in which we are willing to acknowledge that the Presence is on their altar. But at least the attention of the worshiper within them may focus around some symbol of that Presence, may be fixed on some outward sign which will help the inward grace.
But second: our chief concern naturally must be with the content of the service of worship itself, not with its physical surroundings. And here then are two things which may be said. First, any formal order of worship should be historic; it should have its roots deep in the past; whatever else is true of a service of worship it ought not to suggest that it has been uncoupled from the rest of time and allowed to run wild. Now, this means that an order of worship, basing itself on the devotion of the ages, will use to some extent their forms. I do not see how anyone would wish to undertake to lead the same company of people week by week in divine worship without availing himself of the help of written prayers, great litanies, to strengthen and complement the spontaneous offices of devotion. There is something almost incredible to me in the assumption that one man can, supposedly unaided, lead a congregation in the emotional expression of its deepest life and desires without any assistance from the great sacramentaries and liturgies of the past. Christian literature is rich with a great body of collects, thanksgivings, confessions, various special petitions, which gather up the love and tears, the vision and the anguish of many generations. These, with their phrases made unspeakably precious with immemorial association, with their subtle fitting of phrase to insight, of expression to need, born of long centuries of experiment and aspiration, can do for a congregation what no man alone can ever hope to accomplish. The well of human needs and desires is so deep that, without these aids, we have not much to draw with, no plummet wherewith to sound its dark and hidden depths.
I doubt if we can overestimate the importance of giving this sense of continuity in petitions, of linking up the prayer of the moment and the worship of the day with the whole ageless process so that it seems a part of that volume of human life forever ascending unto the eternal spirit, just as the gray plume of smoke from the sacrifice ever curled upward morning by morning and night by night from the altar of the temple under the blue Syrian sky. We cannot easily give this sense of continuity, this prestige of antiquity, this resting back on a great body of experience, unless we know and use the language and the phrases of our fathers. It is to the God who hath been our dwelling place in all generations, that we pray; to Him who in days of old was a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night to His faithful children; to the One who is the Ancient of Days, Infinite Watcher of the sons of men. Only by acquaintance with the phrases, the petitions of the past, and only by a liberal use of them can we give background and dignity, or anything approaching variety and completeness, to our own public expression and interpretation of the devotional life. If anyone objects to this use of formal prayers on the ground of their formality, let him remember that we, too, are formal, only we, alas, have made a cult of formlessness. It would surprise the average minister to know the well-worn road which his supposedly spontaneous and extempore devotions follow. Phrase after phrase following in the same order of ideas, and with the same pitiably limited vocabulary, appear week by week in them. How much better to enrich this painfully individualistic formalism with something of the corporate glories of the whole body of Christian believers.
But, second: there should be also the principle of immediacy in the service, room for the expression of individual needs and desires and for reference to the immediate and local circumstances of the believer. A church in which there is no spontaneous and extempore prayer, which only harked backward to the past, might build the tombs of the prophets but it might also stifle new voices for a new age. But extempore prayer should not be impromptu prayer. It should have coherence, dignity, progression. The spirit should have been humbly and painstakingly prepared for it so that sincere and ardent feeling may wing and vitalize its words. The great prayers of the ages, known of all the worshipers, perhaps repeated by them all together, tie in the individual soul to the great mass of humanity and it moves on, with its fellows, toward salvation as majestically and steadily as great rivers flow. The extempore and silent prayer, not unpremeditated but still the unformed outpouring of the individual heart, gives each man the consciousness of standing naked and alone before his God. Both these, the corporate and the separate elements of worships are vital; there should be a place for each in every true order of worship.
But, of course, the final thing to say is the first thing. Whatever may be the means that worship employs, its purpose must be to make and keep the church a place of repose, to induce constantly the life of relinquishment to God, of reverence and meditation. And this it will do as it seeks to draw men up to the "otherness," the majesty, the aloofness, the transcendence of the Almighty. To this end I would use whatever outward aids time and experience have shown will strengthen and deepen the spiritual understanding. I should not fear to use the cross, the sacraments, the kneeling posture, the great picture, the carving, the recitation of prayers and hymns, not alone to intensify this sense in the believer but equally to create it in the non-believer. The external world moulds the internal, even as the internal makes the external. If these things mean little in the beginning, there is still truth in the assertion of the devotee that if you practice them they will begin to mean something to you. This is not merely that a meaning will be self-induced. It is more than that. They will put us in the volitional attitude, the emotional mood, where the meaning is able to penetrate. Just as all the world acknowledges that there is an essential connection between good manners and good morals, between military discipline and physical courage, so there is a connection between a devotional service and the gifts of the spiritual life. Such a service not merely strengthens belief in the High and Holy One, it has a real office in creating, in making possible, that belief itself.
We shall sum it all up if we say in one word that the offices of devotion emphasize the cosmic character of religion. They take us out of the world of moral theism into the world of a universal theism. They draw us away from religion in action to religion in itself; they give us, not the God of this world, but the God who is from everlasting to everlasting, to whom a thousand years are but as yesterday when it is past and as a watch in the night. Thus they help us to make for ourselves an interior refuge into whose precincts no eye may look, into whose life no other soul may venture. In that refuge we can be still and know that He is God. There we can eat the meat which the world knoweth not of, there have peace with Him. It is in these central solitudes, induced by worship, that the vision is clarified, the perspective corrected, the vital forces recharged. Those who possess them are transmitters of such heavenly messages; they issue from them as rivers pour from undiminished mountain streams. Does the world's sin and pain and weakness come and empty itself into the broad current of these devout lives? Then their fearless onsweeping forces gather it all up, carry it on, cleanse and purify it in the process. Over such lives the things of this world have no power. They are kept secretly from them all in His pavilion where there is no strife of tongues.
The above is taken from Albert Parker Fitch's Preaching and Paganism.
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