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supply, demand, and fit survivors

supply and demandThis is a sort of Liturgy and Law 3.5 post (See here,  here and here). I have been suggesting a model of liturgical law as being more descriptive than prescriptive. And I hedge that about with cautions so that this model in itself doesn’t become prescriptive!

So let’s be honest with ourselves and describe what actually happens…

On the ground we follow a supermarket chains/petrol station companies/cafe franchise model. These all sell the same (or similar) product; the “packaging” is different – and they need to stress differences to survive…

The Anglican Church here worships in Tikanga (cultural streams). So in one place there will be Tikanga Maori worship offered, Tikanga Pakeha, and Tikanga Polynesia. Then there are Maori communities who choose to belong to Tikanga Pakeha; and Pakeha who choose to worship in Tikanga Maori.

If you want a service where you will feel comfortable as a person against women’s ordination, for expository preaching, non-charismatic – it’s there. If you want a charismatic, new hymns, young people, no eucharist service – no problem. What about choral tradition, no incense, strong feminine leadership – sure…

If it’s not there, and there are enough of you who want it there – it will be there soon. Supply and demand.

Parishes, like supermarkets, present a certain “texture” and will differentiate themselves from nearby parishes so they can carve out their niche.

Furthermore, large parishes separate their worshipping communities internally: 1st service on Sunday (say 8am) = seventeenth century language communion; 2nd Sunday service = contemporary NZ Prayer Book Eucharist; 3rd Sunday service = no robes, contemporary songs, with or without communion; 4th Sunday (evening) service = young people, charismatic,… You the consumer worshipper can take your pick.

Most variants are to be separately catered for. Culture, language, socio-economic status, age, family situation, personality style, sexual orientation, theological approach, musical preference, liturgical style, …

It’s not just Anglicans (although they appear to have the most internal flexibility amongst all the denominations). Roman Catholics (the strongest franchise) go for Father X, the good music at parish Y, or the convenience of the Saturday night vigil Mass at Z…

And, of course, if you don’t find what you want within your own franchise denomination, there will be other denominations willing to step in to fill the gap in the market. Some most many will not even be interested (or know) what denomination they are shopping worshipping in.

Capitalist and evolutionary theory reigns supreme: supply and demand; survival of the fittest.

God and the gospel are products. “As long as people are meeting God and the gospel, it doesn’t matter where and how.”

But – the medium, in many ways, is the message. When does the medium undermine the very message it claims to communicate?

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24 Responses to supply, demand, and fit survivors

  1. Anything goes? In the past I have referred to smorgasbord religion. Part of the whole post modern thing – but how do you build the community of ALL believers out of that? In the past things were imposed top down with burning at the stake as the ultimate guard against unorthodox belief. When I was a child we were merely frightened with burning in hell. Don’t think we want to go back to that either.

    • Yes, Hugh. I do not have the answer. But I know that many many are not even willing to acknowledge there is a problem. Let me know when you have a solution 🙂 Christ is risen.

  2. There are Sundays when I think that if they make me sing that dreadful, dated, should have been given a decent funeral Victorian hymn one more time, I’m going to scream. Can you blame people for not wanting to sit through worship that elicits that response? There are limits to what I’m willing to endure for the sake of community.

    • Thanks for your comment, Corinne. I do not know the answer, but “they make me” does not immediately sound to me the language of “community”. Easter Season Blessings.

      • Maybe that is the real problem Bosco, that we don’t have communities, we only have worship services.
        When we invite people to church we are actually inviting them to an event, at a particular time and place, that expresses a very particular cultural heritage.
        The way all traditions seem to be doing their worship services are neither creating real community nor are they creating many disciples, only consumers, if your post is correct.

        • I think your point about it being merely an invitation to an event is very thought-provoking, Jethro. I think there is community – but it is far more homogeneous than we dare to admit to ourselves. And far from the language of “United in Christ with all…”, “…from every nation and tribe and people and language…”. Christ is risen.

      • I suppose I could choose not to sing, but I don’t really feel that I have a choice. As part of being in community, I don’t get to pick the hymns. Music is a big factor in what the experience offers me spiritually. I understand offering a variety of services to address the problem that people differ spiritually – some love silence, some hate it. Some love Victorian hymns, some love praise music. I don’t think that’s an issue of consumerism when worship attracts or fails to attract people based on the musical style.

        • Thanks, Corinne. Some of what I am (poorly) attempting to question in my post, are some of the ideas you are presenting, which many people do take for granted – and possibly they are correct – but I’m just stopping and saying: hey – let’s talk about these assumptions.

          For example: “people differ spiritually”. Do they? Substantially? Or, just differ in some details?

          “Worship attracts or fails to attract people”. Is that a primary consideration in planning worship? Or secondary? Or even further down the list? Is a primary focus on making worship attractive totally undermining what worship should be about? And for? Do I go to worship if it is challenging? Disturbing?…

          “Some love silence, some hate it.” So should we never encounter things we find difficult? Is there teaching on different ways to be in silence – on silent prayer – on prayer in silence. I have sat prayerfully for hours in silence, for a month; that’s not “because I love silence” – it’s because silence IMO is an essential element in prayer and in growing in relationship with God.

          In a family, in a community, we don’t incessantly do what I like – we do a variety of things as a family, as a community, so that all dimensions of our family life, our community life, are nurtured.

          Easter Season Blessings.

  3. I see the problem but also ask, Is it a problem? In the days of the apostles there seemed to be adaptation and accommodation to varying cultures.

    Is smorgasbord religion simultaneously Christianity at its brilliant best in adapting its substance in respect of style?

    Some kind of common worship is an ideal I am keen to work towards. But there are significant difficulties to overcome. Corinne above rightly points out one: music tastes! On Sunday night you and I were at a service where at least three prayers were said to which I object strongly (offering of sacrifice, Hail Mary, let light perpetual shine!)

    • Thanks, Peter. I already admitted to not having answers. And now would add that I’m not sure about the answer to “is it a problem”? Nor to the question, where does style stop and substance start? Is “offering of sacrifice, Hail Mary, let light perpetual shine” style or substance? Where does flexibility begin to carve away at common worship? Starting again with your “days of the apostles” – can you see them being enthusiastically supportive of Christians meeting in Antioch dividing for worship into different cultures, socio-economic, ages, music styles, theological tendencies…? If they were keen for such – OK, I retract my concern. If they might have seen problems with this, then, yes, I think I’ll continue to answer “yes” to “is it a problem?” Christ is risen.

  4. Style and substance are on a kind of spectrum in liturgy (my waving hands in the air might be a personal body movement in praise of God; your signing with the cross may be the embodiment of a profound theologia crucis). So, yes, difficult to disentangle.

    I agree that Antioch is a brilliant and pertinent apostolic example of Christians from many nations and cultures forming one church.

    Yet the apostolic years also take us to Rome with its many house churches (though what differences they may have had in style are difficult to determine).

    • Ok, Peter, I’ll bite and risk showing up my ignorance, even though it might have us wandering a bit off the path of this post: do take us to Rome in the apostolic years and tell us where you find these “many house churches” – I’m afraid my own possibly-myopic wandering gets stuck at Romans 16:5. Easter Season Blessings.

  5. One way of approaching the question, Bosco, is to observe that Paul does not address the ‘church’ in Rome at the beginning of the letter, but the ‘saints’. That does not necessitate plural churches in Rome, but it is consistent with the possibility.

    In Romans 16 itself, although there is only one explicit mention of a ‘house church’ (v.5 as you observe), the ordering of names is suggestive of different churches because there are groupings of names, sometimes including whole households. Thus possible churches are, “(1st church) Greet Prisca and Aquila, … (2nd church) Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. 11 Greet my kinsman Herodion. (3rd church) Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. 12 Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. 14 (4th church) Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. 15 (5th church) Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. “

    • This is an interesting approach, Peter. It would lead to arguing that there was only a single house-church in the great metropolis of Corinth and surrounding areas. Etc.

      I certainly would agree with there having been a variety of ways and communities following Jesus in the Early Church – though that this was the case does not lead me to seeing such variety was,of necessity, good. Nor can I quite see Paul thinking that worshipping in shifts in the same house, dividing according to age and music styles, but rarely, if ever, meeting each other, was quite what he would have had in mind as good church.

      But I might be wrong.

      Christ is risen.

      • An interesting question to pursue could be around ‘language’. Were there Latin-speaking and Greek-speaking churches within the metropolitan area of Rome (or Corinth)?

        I raise that question because some aspects of what we call ‘style’ are arguably about ‘language’. That is, the musical style of one service and musical style of another relate to the variety of ‘languages’ Christians use to worship God in. If Paul was comfortable with the possibility of Greek-speaking and Latin-speaking congregations, might he be comfortable in 21st century Christchurch with two different congregations meeting in the same building each Sunday where those differences are analogous to the differences between Greek and Latin?

        • Yes, I think this is an interesting/useful paradigm discussion, Peter.

          Maybe we shouldn’t go as far as the letter to the Ephesians (and risk distraction whether this was actually Paul 😉 ) but Romans 14 might be worth bringing into this dialogue.

          Paul, let you and I assume, would have made sense of Speaking in the Congregation in such a Tongue as the people understandeth.
          It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church to have public Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments, in a tongue not understanded of the people.

          But does this principle justify, as you appear to suggest, a service in faux/neo-sixteenth century style being followed soon thereafter by essentially the same rite in twenty-first century English? And never the older meeting the younger – either for mentoring or encouragement (and challenge)? I suspect the one (and the One) who wrote Romans 14 might have something to say into that context we can appear to so take for granted.

          But I might be wrong…

          Blessings.

          • Hi Bosco,

            In the worst case scenario our differences between (say) 8 am and 10 am are a matter of convenience (e.g. time of service) or preference (e.g. faux 16th century etc) leading to the consumerist mentality re the product which suits us.

            But Paul was a sensitive fellow (as Romans 14 shows) who understood some things about diversity in the church while always pressing for unity (so Ephesians). I think he would understand the best case scenario for our differences, our attempts to find familiar ‘language’ with which to worship God and with which to preach the gospel.

            I do not accept that the article you quote is a reason to press all language differences within the church into one language, rather as pressing us to worship in languages we understand. In NZ that could be varieties of English, Maori, Chinese, etc, but most unlikely Latin!

          • I’m comfortable with your conclusion, Peter. Going back to my original post – I don’t think that this comfort means that every possible permutation (of beliefs and practices) Christians can imagine and get sufficient numbers of people to agree with their boxes ticked and crossed, justifies yet another worship community. As is currently the case. Blessings.

  6. I wonder if this could be part of God’s abundant grace to us. As a general trend, accelerated by the internet, society in rich countries seems to be becoming more fissiparous, with physical and virtual communities being formed based on common interests and so forth rather than geographically. Perhaps God knows that in this particular time the good news has the best chance of reaching more people with a wide range of styles catering to different personalities.

    Yes, there are problems with some people trying to impose their preferences on everybody or isolating themselves from those who do things a different way (deliberately or not), but when has the church not had bad mixed in with the good?

  7. Kia ora Bosco,
    Interesting questions. I wonder if this is something that is particularly an issue for colonisers and their ungrounded descendants. I don’t see it so obviously reflected in the life of the church in places where faith, ritual and culture have been emmeshed for multi generations. The franchise model is economic colonisation. It is where colonials fit most comfortably.

  8. “they make me” does not immediately sound to me the language of “community” ( Bosco )

    it isn’t, unless the community is controlling/ cult-ish, which many are!

    It’s an important part of being welcoming and open to all that people aren’t asked to do things they don’t believe ( yet? ) or ‘expected’ to participate in rituals. That’s just as excluding as saying only certain people *can* participate…

    It’s cultural though, in the UK I attended various different churches and don’t ever remember feeling coerced into singing or anything; so long as you don’t disrupt others I don’t think anyone minds.

    In the US can be a lot more ‘in you face’, fill out little address cards, no advice to just come to the altar and pray or be blessed if you don’t want to take bread or grape juice ( both abhorrant substances for my digestion when I’m having a ‘flare-up’! )

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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