In Rodney Clapp's book, A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society, Chapter 7, "The Church as Parade: The Politics of Liturgy," begins with a rather shocking distinction between liturgy and orgy. He states that the early church could have referred to their worship gatherings as orgies had they intended for them to be privatistic and non-communal. "The Greek word that more narrowly designated religious experiences - in the modern sense of private and focused on the nonphysical - was orgia." That was not, however, how the early church worshiped. They referred to their worship as liturgy precisely because worship was to them a communal mission, they were a "people" (laos) at "work" (ergon). Clapp then reiterates, "Far from being a retreat from the real world, worship enables Christians to see what the real world is and equips them to live in it." And then he states his desire "that the worship of the church [today] leave off being orgies and return to being liturgies" (114-15). Modern history, however, has not made it easy for the Western mind to break out of the orgy (private and secluded) mentality. Here's the quote:


What we need to appreciate is that liturgy before the printing press was quite vigorously a communal and social affair. It was a corporate enactment and celebration of God's presence. Augustine writes that people talked excitedly during his sermons. John Chrysostom mentions that his auditors cheered or wept, pounding their breasts. Other early church writers tell of gatherings that got rowdy when a presbyter or deacon omitted a portion of the rite. In other words, people participated. And they did not imagine their liturgy confined to a "sanctuary," segregated from the surrounding public. Early Christians met liturgically in tenements, forums, shrines and cemeteries. Worship could raucously spill out of a cathedral into the streets of cities and suburbs.

As Aidan Kavanagh remarks, in this setting worship was theology - it was the eminent form of "knowing God." Primary theology was done not in the scholar's study but in the liturgy, the work of the people. Primary theology was not reflection about God but an encounter and engagement with God. Theology in such a setting was plebeian in that it was done by the common people and not by academic elites. It was communitarian in that it was done corporately rather than in the solitude of the study. And it was quotidian or everyday in that it was done regularly, in a daily, weekly and yearly round of public liturgical practice.

Orthodoxy in the older and original Christian sense was "correct praise" or "right worship." The early church's stress was on faith "not so much as an intellectual assent to doctrinal propositions, but as a way of living in the graced commonality of an actual assembly at worship before the living God."

All this decisively changed with the advent of the printing press. Formerly God's Word had been fundamentally experienced in the corporate act of worship. But as books and Bibles became abundant and widely available, even the illiterate could see God's words tightly regimented and contained on the printed page. Eventually God's Word was too easily understood not as a presence especially (though not at all solely) encountered in liturgy but as something set down in horizontal lines that could be isolated and studied by the solitary individual.

Soon church architecture yields places of worship arranged like a page of a book, the people situated in rows of pews aligned like so many typeset sentences. Soon those who attend the liturgy are invited not into a dance in which all participants have necessary steps, but into a performance by a single person who expounds the printed text. The atmosphere of liturgy is no longer that of a bustling, rowdy activity where much is happening; it is now a classroom in which the pastor/instructor must be granted exclusive attention. The focus shifts from what people do together to what happens "inside" each individual. It shifts away from God's Word as a holy event to God's Word as a holy text. As Kavanagh observes, "The truth lies now exclusively in the text; no longer on the walls, or in the windows, or in the liturgical activity of those who occupy the churches." Corporate worship recedes, is no longer seen as foundational and fundamental. Now Christians can imagine their private, individual acts of worship - devotions or quiet times or daily offices - as foundational and fundamental.

Liturgy, in short, has been depoliticized. In a rush to individualism and privatism, we have gotten things backwards. Important as our individual devotions surely are, it is not they that are constitutive of the church. It is the church's actual gathering or assembly. There, in the ekklesia, we do the liturgy. The ekklesia is the body gathered to attend to its common identity and welfare or - as we can just as well say - to its political affairs. The liturgy is the work of the people that makes us a people. We are constituted, granted identity and unity, by gathering around the Lord's Table to enact the Word, by hearing and responding to the Word in Scripture.

(pp. 119-21)

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