I have been reading Rodney Clapp's A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society. The second half of this book largely pertains to worship and liturgy, and there are at least two large sections worth quoting, maybe more, so this will be a series of at least two posts, maybe more. Clapp is a fellow former student of Bob Webber, which is obvious in his writing. Perhaps that is why so much of this book resonates with me. Or perhaps it's becuase what he is saying is true. At least I think it is. I'll leave it for you to decide.

To set up this first quote, in Chapter 6, "The Church as Worshiping Community: Welcome to the (Real) World," Clapp begins by connecting culture with worship. "A culture," as he has argued, "is a way of life. It forms and shapes a people into a distinctive community....So it is not just an etymological accident that the root of the word culture is cultus, or worship" (94). He then summarizes the first half of this book, that from the time of Constantine through the Modern era, peaking in the Industrial Revolution, Christians have largely privatized their faith and worship. "What Christians did on Sunday was removed from what they did on Monday through Saturday. Worship was an opportunity to escape politics, business and conflict. Far from being a time of intense engagement with the world, it was moved to a 'sanctuary'" (95). Worship had become an escape from "real life," rather than being the real world itself. Clapp's hope is for the Church in these postmodern or post-Constantinian times to revert back to being the vibrant, missional community, the only "true way of life," that it was before Constantine and the last 1600 years of individualism. The problem is "the world prefers illusion to the truth" (98), which launches us into the following quote:


The church is in fact surrounded, pressured from all sides to give up its faithful practices and renounce its confession. I think of the film Serpico, in which New York City policeman Frank Serpico refuses to go on the take. But so many other cops accept bribes, and resent Serpico's refusal, that he is the one made to "feel like a criminal." At one point, when he is on the verge of giving up, his girlfriend tells him the fable of a people who drank from a poisoned well and went crazy. Only the king did not drink from the well. He alone was sane. But now the crazed populace scorns their king's difference and declares him the insane one. Overcome, the king one night drinks from the polluted well, and the next day his subjects are delighted to find him as "sane" as they are.

Like that king, Christians have a source of water other than the world's poisoned well. So it is against great odds and severe resistance that we are called to a holy madness. As Robert Inchausti observes, "To be insane is to reject the given universals, and in so far as those categories are the accepted intellectual currency of the age that produced Auschwitz, holy madness is the only true sanity." And as I have insisted, the preeminent place and time for Christians to cultivate holy madness is worship. Craig Dykstra helpfully notes,

In worship, we see and sense who it is we are to be and how it is we are to move in order to become. Worship is an enactment of the core dynamics of the Christian life. This is why worship is its central and focusing activity. It is paradigmatic for all the rest of the Christian life....To grow morally means, for Christians, to have one's whole life increasingly be conformed to the pattern of worship. To grow morally means to turn one's life into worship.

Hearing the story of God preached, through the exercise of praise, Christians learn and rehearse what it means to be Christians. Liturgy is the primary responsibility of the church because without worship there can be no people capable of seeing and witnessing to the God of Israel. Just as capitalistic Americans could never become such exquisite consumers apart from the rites of advertising and credit cards, so Christians can never achieve the skills and vision necessary to be the church without attention to baptism and Eucharist.

After Constantinianism, beyond modernism, it is crucial that the church refuse the marginalization and privatization of its worship. Liturgy is not an escape from the real world. Rather, it is constitutive of the church or, as Aidan Kavanagh wonderfully expresses it, "the Gospel of Jesus Christ become a People."

(pp. 98-99)

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