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Volume 12, Issue 1: Recipio

Liturgical Culture

B. "Hambone" Merkle

The more we look around, the more we see the leprosy of Gnosticism in the evangelical church. The Gnostic nature of our approach to God and worship has already been commented on, but I’d like to consider our Gnostic approach to community.

First, consider the connection between our manner of worshipping God and our manner of interacting with each other. In Matthew 25, Jesus teaches that our treatment of one another is tied closely to our treament of Christ. John 17 also suggests that how we consider one another is reflective of how we consider God. 1 John 4:20 teaches us that we can judge how we feel about our Father in Heaven, whom we can’t see, by how we feel about our brothers here on Earth, whom we can see. These passages are most often used to spur us on to works of love and charity for the brotherhood (not that this has been a wrong application), but given this connection between our regard for each other and our regard for God, there is an overlooked additional application to be drawn out.
We often lament modern Christendom’s flippant treatment of a holy God, but we draw the line there and rarely lament our flippant treatment of a holy people. Our treatment of God and our treatment of men, as Scripture shows us, are connected. If we have never learned reverence for men, how will we have reverence for our God? We fume and rant about the silly evangelicals and their glorification of informal worship, but then we sit back and give the saints an equal helping of disrespect. At first glance this argument may look like a confusion of categories—a holy God and a sinful people. Surely it’s idolatrous to suggest that one offer the reverence due to God to a man?
Of course there is a ditch on both sides of the road, and it’s possible to give the wrong sort of reverence to a man. But we are already stuck in the ditch on the other side, labelled Gnostic with a silent, yet still capital, “G”. Perish the thought that we should ever have actual application of our theology in this material world. But Christ was, and is, incarnate and our faith ought to be too. We learn to love God in loving our neighbor. We serve God in serving our neighbor. And we learn to revere God in revering our neighbor.
Paul tells slaves to obey their masters as they would God, serving them as if they were serving the Lord (Eph. 6:5-7). Our marriages testify of Christ, as do our families. All of these relationships mirror, in some way or another, our connection to a holy God. So why does our trivialization of God shock and amaze us so much when we have already trivialized God’s people?
How can we think of ourselves as a reverent people when we’ve never actually bowed in humility in our lives? Why do we mock the evangelical church for its flippancy when we have no idea how to hold our tongues, address someone as “Sir,” or stand in the presence of an elder? We think that we stand heads taller than our non-denominational brothers because deep down, yea, in our heart of hearts even, we have a reverent attitude. But this reverent attitude never finds itself popping down from the ethereal world of Plato’s forms into this material life.
All of this is to say that we have no sense of manners. I’m not referring to the class of manners that gets us through a meal using the right fork, but the ritual of giving respect through our customs. The only subculture I’ve ever seen where the liturgy of respect still exists is in the military. Men in uniform, with all their faults (and there are plenty), at least know how to give honor. There is a ritual of who may sit and who may stand, who may eat before whom, and who may address whom, and how they are to be greeted. Certainly, the military should not be our model in recovering this culture, but at least their honor exists within this physical world as opposed to the Gnostic respect that we give.
Sadly, we use Christianity as our excuse to avoid giving honor and respect. We say that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, neither slave nor free, therefore I don’t need to use “Sir” when I speak to that man. God is not a respector of persons, so why should I be? The Christian brotherhood quickly becomes that great egalitarian club in the sky.
But we have been commanded to give honor to one another (Rom. 12:10, Eph. 6:2, Phi. 2:29). We are told to rise before the elderly (Lev. 19:32) to show them honor and respect. Husbands are to give a similar honor to their wives because they are the weaker vessel (1 Pet. 3:7). We are even required to give honor to our political rulers (Rom. 13:7). But this command to honor does not find its fulfillment when we think of someone with high esteem. It must find its way out into this physical world. We stand. We say “sir” or “ma’am.” We give up our chair. We hold our tongue because we know we are in the presence of our betters. We offer honor with our bodies.

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