For the past month, we've been posting excerpts from the most recent issue of Liturgy: Emerging Worship. Each of the writers in the issue are thinking carefully about what it means to be "church" and how our patterns and practices of worship enable us to "accomplish" this. One of the tensions (and I do think of it as "tension"--a place where we are pushing/pulling or pressing up against one another) is the way in which the protestant churches of the 20th century and early 21st century seem focused on a consumer model of church growth and church identity. That is, the church has taken the practices and patterns that are intended to form and sustain us as Christian people and made them into items for a "shopping list," a set of commodities on offer.
Vincent Miller, in his exploration of the commodification of the church, Consuming Religion, argues that two consequences of this move are:
1) it tends to treat liturgical practices as if they stand on their own, independent of one another, and that their meaning is similarly independent; and
2) it removes our liturgical practices from the institutional and communal settings from which they derive their meaning and through which they come to shape our daily lives. (See Consuming Religion, 4-5)
My questions then are the following: How might we celebrate the kind of "retrieval" of the church's liturgical tradition that is present in the "emerging church"? How do we prevent the further commodification of liturgical and sacramental practice? How do we help new communities connect their meaning making through these practices with the tradition of meaning making throughout the church's history?
Ron Anderson is Styberg Professor of Worship at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and president of The Liturgical Conference.