My e-friend and commenter here, Rev. Joshua Bovis, has a blog post essentially on the value of liturgical repetition in a vibrant church life. He reproduces an article by Mark Brolly (in TMA) reflecting on a lecture at Ridley College by retired Bishop of North Sydney, Bishop Paul Barnett.
The primary value of his post, and the lecture, is the questioning of the abandonment of regular, agreed, common prayer. I share the concerns of Joshua and of Bishop Paul and it is good to see this leadership challenging those in that part of the Christian spectrum.
Mark Brolly interprets one of Bishop Paul’s point thus:
+Barnett said that when the Apostle Paul established the churches of the Gentiles, he departed from synagogue practice and encouraged the expression of Christian beliefs by ordinary people. These extempore ministries included prayer for hearings, prophecy and ecstatic speech. However he made the observation that:
It would be a mistake, however to think that Paul left behind altogether the liturgical elements of the synagogue, from which he had come. Both elements are desirable. Where the liturgical alone is found, there is often spiritual deadness, a church being wedded to the past for tradition’s sake and nothing more. On the other hand, where the ‘charismatic’ reigns, individualism also reigns with its tendency to schism and the rise of dubious beliefs and practices.
I questioned this point, and even tried to research for further evidence of this suggestion. Looking at Bishop Paul’s original lecture, I even think that Mark Brolly is stretching the point far too far.
I do not think that “the Apostle Paul established the churches of the Gentiles, he departed from synagogue practice and encouraged the expression of Christian beliefs by ordinary people”.
Furthermore, Bishop Paul appears to underestimate/undervalue the symbolic in Judaism at the time of Jesus and Paul, and over-emphasises the verbal.
Assumptions are at work here that are worth extra exploration. Let me paint a picture: a man finds a Bible in the drawer of his motel room; he has no experience of Christianity whatsoever; he is converted by what he reads in the Bible and goes on to found a church based on what he reads there. This paints a sola scriptura position. He has not received the Bible and its teachings and practice within the living tradition of the ongoing life of the Christian community celebrating in its worship. Creeds, Eucharistic Prayer, Ordination, Palm Sunday, Holy Week – all these mean nothing to him; mere human “man-made” traditions often seen as distracting from the pure Word of God revealed in the motel-room Bible.
Might it be possible to conceive of a type of Judaism constructed like this?! A person who finds solely the Hebrew Bible, and without any contact with living Judaism constructs the Jewish religion he thinks to find there…
Many Christian communities are obsessed with the idolatry of incessant variety and creativity. Bishop Paul and Joshua are right to remind us that our identity is in our memory. We must take great care that we do not make St Paul into a justification for the insatiable obsession with novelty, and the abandonment of remembering to survive.