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The Church Turning To Ritualism?

It is a phenomenon I have observed that all or most of the "christian" media in this country (at least) follows a "theme" month by month. Whether this is deliberate, coincidental, or just a result of a few editors chasing after a limited number of stories, I don't know. It is uncanny, however, when buying several different magazines to find the same theme in all of them.

Naturally, at the height of the TB craze, all the magazines were full of that. Pensacola also, to a lesser extent. Prayer and fasting, spiritual warfare, reconciliation, revival - whenever one magazine covers it, they all do. (You have to understand that most of the charismatic magazines and papers on sale in this country are run by "restoration" publishers.)

A few months ago, you could not move for stories based on the "Celtic" theme, and not only the articles, editorials and interviews used the Celtic motif, but also most of the books and records.

Now, it seems to be a rather more sinister and worrying move towards ritualism. By that I mean, reintroducing the superstition, iconolatry, mysticism and sacramentalism that we thought we'd seen the last of in the dark old days of Rome. This is being presented as a "rediscovery of our ancient heritage". You will quickly find that when these people talk about our "roots" they don't mean Hebraic roots, but the traditions prevalent in much of Church History up to the Reformation. (The Celtic trend was another way of doing this same thing.)

I have titled this article "From Pillar To Post" because the Church is ceasing - or has ceased - to be the "pillar and ground of the truth" (1Tim3:15), and now considers herself "Post-Evangelistic" which is a clever word to describe the denigration of classic scriptural evangelism.

Not content with pushing a renewed priesthood to govern the Church (just call them apostles and prophets, or shepherds, or mentors, and nobody will notice!) and making the Church the door to salvation (mandatory membership!) and getting good evangelicals to join pilgrimages, venerate the lives of the "saints", copy the mystics, abandon the preaching of the gospel in favour of "servant evangelism", and use a term like "spiritual journey" to describe their faith - not content with all this, "they" - whoever they may be - are now trying to reintroduce the rituals of the Old Church.

Shortly after reading the charismatic articles on ritualism, I chanced across an Anglo-Catholic Church magazine, and within it was a review of books on - guess what? - a return to ritualism.

The reviewer commented that "there is undoubtedly a well-financed resurgence of traditional Roman Catholic liturgy at the present time, in the States and Europe, and it has powerful backers..." This statement, from a man who could be considered to have leanings towards the RC's, hints intriguingly at a co-ordinated plan to reintroduce Roman liturgies, rituals and beliefs worldwide. If so, the following extracts from a supposed Protestant Charismatic Church shows that the plan is working well.

The three magazines from which the extracts are taken are:

  1. "Renewal" (September 97) - the magazine most prominent in the charismatic world, and most sold out to TB et al. Produced in Crowborough, East Sussex.
  2. "Christianity", (September 97) trying hard to be middle of the road, but restoration through and through. Consulting Editors, Steve Chalke and Rob Warner. Editorial Office, New Malden, Surrey.
  3. "Worship Together" a magazine catering for trendy churches that need modern music; produced by Dave Roberts in Eastbourne. Feature story - the music of Taize. Produced in Hove, East Sussex.

These addresses will be a give-away to UK readers.

  1. "Monarch" who produce "Renewal", also produce John Gunstone's "Healing and Wholeness" magazine (East Sussex is New Frontiers country.)
  2. "Christianity" used to be called "Alpha" magazine, and is second only to "Renewal" as the leading edge of all things crazy [and Gerald Coates and Pioneer is in Esher, Surrey].
  3. "New Frontiers" are based in Hove - nuff said?

The authors of the articles in question are:

  1. Andrew Maries "Can Traditional Worship be Renewed". He used to be music director at St. Michael-le-Belfrey, York, now works for Keynote Trust.
  2. Dave Tomlinson, talking about his new book "The Post Evangelical". He was one of THE house-church founders but has now become an Anglican Priest, and reading this article you understand why.
  3. Michael Brooks on "Worship, a Fragrant Offering" (helps leading worship at King's Church) and
  4. Rob Frost on "Worship That Touches the World" - a key Methodist renewal leader and supporter of TB.

Here are the clips. Each one is marked with a number that relates to the listings above. I think you will see how similar they are.


(1) One of the most unfortunate traits of renewal has been its reluctance to come to terms with life as largely mundane. Sooner or later we must face the fact that discipleship is getting on with the daily drudge, but finding faith and hope right there...

(1) Most styles of worship these days desperately need to make the important connection between ordinary life and the experience of God if they are not to become meaningless and self-indulgent.

(2) I have become more sacramental. Undergirding the Church's belief in the sacraments is the view that God invades and inhabits matter. This is profoundly helpful in a post-modern, ecological age. Ecological thinkers have criticised Christians severely because we seem to major entirely on a God separate from and transcending creation. Yet within the Christian tradition there is enormous scope for developing an emphasis on divine immanence - God being in creation. These are time when we have to recover from our traditions different emphases, as well as, and not instead of, our belief in divine transcendence.

(3) "Whilst studying Celtic Christianity I felt God challenge me on my one-dimensional approach to worship and my appreciation of creation," says Ray Goudie...The church has promoted a secular-sacred divide which is totally foreign to Biblical truth,' he says. 'The result has been a retreat from anything seen as "worldly"'.

(4) The core activity of the church will be worship, and the new church will learn how to lead a mortal people to an immortal God. Worship will become an attitude which is present all week, and corporate worship will be the culmination of a daily life of praise. There will be no great divide between sacred and secular; Sunday and Monday. All that God's people are, all that they do, and all that they have will be their daily offering.... Worship will be about shopping in the supermarket and driving on congested roads.



(1) The church really needs to consider this in its worship and evangelism and not let historical prejudice bind it. People now are used to picking up a message in many other ways beyond the spoken word.

(3) Thanks to our culture's dependence on scientific understanding, the church has generally swept our sense of smell under the carpet, but things are starting to change. Recently the church is becoming more willing to embrace things it can't quite explain, such as the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit. With this new openness has come a willingness to offer up all of our bodies for God's use, whether we understand everything or not.

(1) Meanwhile, we have begun to see recently a re-emergence of interest in some of the traditional elements within worship, once so summarily dismissed, even despised. A significant desire has grown among many, notably in the charismatic constituency, for something deeper in worship and discipleship

(1) Some of the indicators include the widespread interest in spirituality these days with its emphasis on the use of silence and meditation; the popularity of retreats; even the unusual inclusion of such seminars as 'The spirituality of the Desert Fathers' (a workshop attended at a big charismatic conference).

(1) Perhaps our worship has not always provided for this. We may only now be discovering a more fully-rounded expression of faith with a greater breadth than the largely cerebral Protestant approach.


(2) Dave Tomlinson, author of "The Post Evangelical", believes the evangelical wing of the church... must listen to society and adapt itself accordingly. It must be prepared to let go of restrictive, outdated modes of belief that trace their origin back to a time when the world was a different place. He holds this belief because he shares the view with many others that western society is undergoing a fundamental shift in how it understands the world, from the Modern to the Post-Modern...The Modern view is characterised by rational explanations of how things are. The post-Modern is suspicious of the big story, spiritually hungry and with a more subjective notion of truth. Dave Tomlinson argues that the evangelical church is a product of modernism.

(2) I wouldn't for one minute suggest the idea that we should embrace the culture around us wholeheartedly. We must keep our critical faculties alive. But the world is a changing place, and we must come to terms with that. Keeping our heads in the sand is no way forward. If we keep ourselves remote and separate from the world, playing our own tune, we will never be a productive influence.

(2) I'm writing a book which is a study of journeys in post-evangelical spirituality. It begins by looking at what is happening in western culture generally which is astonishingly preoccupied with spirituality. I think it is important to understand why that is. Obviously, there is disaffection with the materialism of the Enlightenment outlook that has sapped the spirit out of life. It is important for the Church to address that yearning.

(1) All kinds of art, symbol senses, liturgy, movement and music are used in the attempt to relate a new generation's experience in the post-modern world with the Christian faith.

4) Worship in the church of the new millennium will change to fit the shape of the culture in which it finds itself. It will move on fast and become increasingly relevant to the society of the new millennium. Worship is a living form like art, and it will develop in revolutionary ways.


(3) Throughout church history, the form of worship has continually lost and gained different emphases, reflecting the predominant culture of the age. When too much emphasis is placed on certain aspects of worship, it is usually to the detriment of other aspects.

(4) Dull and stifling traditions need sifting out, but so do the extremes and eccentricities of charismatic renewal which often appear childish and immature to the outsider, and younger generations in particular.

(3) God does not require worship in order to bolster His self-image - it is a gift that leads us into a greater understanding of ourselves and our role in His universe. Worship should bring a change in attitudes and an increased desire to serve Him. Heartfelt worship that is not enslaved by the 'traditional' way of doing things will result in church growth....

(4) Much of the institutional church will have to disappear to make way for the new church. Many tears will be shed as power structures are dismantled and hallowed traditions demolished. Familiar denominational systems will disappear as new ways of networking and systems of authority develop. Hierarchies which have hindered change and innovation will collapse under the growing pressure of their financial difficulties.

(4) The Bible doesn't teach that services should be traditional, and when churchgoers advocate a return to traditional worship it is hard to know which tradition they are referring to. Are they appealing to the Jewish tradition of worship... Or are they thinking of the early church tradition...Or perhaps they are looking to the great fathers of the early church - Justin Martyr Tertullian and Cyprian - who each founded different strands of liturgical tradition?

(4) Many twentieth-century Christians look back to the hymns of Wesley, the gospel songs of Sankey, the brass bands of Booth, or the praise music of Kendrick. ... The church of the new millennium, however, will draw from a much wider spectrum of worship resources. It will be all the richer because it taps into such a diverse range of traditions.

(2) The post evangelical journey invariably begins with a profound sense of irritation with the evangelical subculture. I think the 'charismaticising' of evangelicalism has enhanced that. A lot or people feel it produces in practise a very trivialised spirituality. People have become very disaffected with the whole Graham Kendrick chorus syndrome.

(2) ... eventually what you come to is a reaction to the sense of certainty that underlies the evangelical subculture. This inevitably leads you on to questions about the basis on which that certainty is built, which is a particular way of understanding the Bible. Many people have said that they've found evangelicalism profoundly good at introducing them to the Christian faith, but thereafter they've found it less and less satisfying, because of an unwillingness to speak critically of the Christian faith, and a shallow spirituality locked in the Bible.

(2) People have responded to my views of the Bible. People have felt they were stuck with inerrancy or liberalism. They have had ploughed into them the idea that if you wander from the straight and narrow of the evangelical view of the Bible then you're on the slippery slopes to liberalism. What I set out to say is there are a lot of alternatives, and this is one or them, in which the Bible can still function as God's word, and yet we can have a critical attitude towards it.


(4) Post-modernism is a rediscovery of roots, and the church will come to appreciate its heritage and connect with the riches of its ancient worship culture.

(1) The new movement made an issue of cutting itself off from the past [Roman traditions] and pretending that it owed nothing to it. There was a conscious and purposeful rejection of anything which smacked of tradition. Now some 30 years down the line this could be proving its greatest loss. In some cases it has actually prevented the renewal from really renewing.

(1) It could be exciting to think of rediscovering some of the richness and rootedness of our ancient Christian heritage while integrating the freshness and vibrancy of the new.

(2) I think a problem with the evangelical mentality is that it traces its roots back to Paul and the disciples, very often without making any connections through the intervening centuries. The fact is that we are a part of a community [The Historical Church] that stretches right back through history - that has become more important to me. If you take the classic tension between the Biblical gospel, the traditions of the Church and the culture in which we live as being the three points around which we are trying to find a position for our faith, then tradition is becoming more important to me.

(4) Dr Eddie Gibbs, formerly a lecturer in church planting at the Fuller School of World Mission, has returned to pastoral ministry as a curate in the parish with the world's most salubrious postcode: Beverley Hills 90210. He points out that his parishioners, who are the stars of the movie industry and the culture shapers of America, are looking for spiritual roots and for time to reflect and be still. He questions whether much of our busy contemporary worship is relevant to the newly emerging post-modern culture. The church of the new millennium will recognise that its worship must be closely connected to the rich and diverse heritage of its ancient past.

(1) A medieval building may lack certain comforts but possesses real qualities which could be promoted in a society looking for a depth of spirituality, roots, continuity with the past and even a taste of the mystical. Don't forget, pews are a relatively modern feature. In my opinion they are one of the greatest hindrances to renewal.


(1) Then there are the particles of liturgy that have been appearing in Spring Harvest songbooks. Perhaps most interestingly, there are the experiments in the alternative worship scene.

(1) Why don't we admit the need to plan and design at least a structure for worship, and incorporate some well-tried and carefully crafted liturgy, instead of being satisfied with the spontaneous, chaotic and usually second-rate?

(1) Worship doesn't need to lose its excitement, but it does have to get in touch with reality. Liturgical forms help us integrate our faith with the routine pattern of everyday life. We are creatures of habit, and if we are going to worship together regularly week in, week out, we have got to come to terms with a formal pattern for worship.

(4) Many will rediscover the lost art of 'practising the presence of God'... The church's rich heritage of liturgy will be rediscovered with its oft-repeated words full of meaning. ... Prayer through music will be commonplace, be it sung Evensong, jazz mass, folk celebration or classic meditation.


(1) We worship a God of incredible variety and creativity. Let's use every means available to us to ensure our worship never becomes stale and institutionalised, whether prayer-book or charismatic. If worship is to be a reflection of the heavenly feast, then let it be so in sight, sound and sense.

(1) We now live in a far more sensate society than we did even a few year. ago. Life is to be experienced through all the senses - sight, sound smell touch, movement.

(3) Nancy Goudie runs spiritual health workshops that involve using all the senses in worship and meditation. She believes that certain smells can activate thoughts which lead us into a deeper walk with God. 'As well as using incense sticks I also use flowers and fruit, such as tangerines and grapes,' she says. 'At the workshops I have had a very good reaction - people have been generally very supportive of using the senses because I am very clear that the New Age movement is something that we are not into. What I am doing is, although similar, quite strategically different and very Biblical.'

(3) God has ordained a holistic approach to worship. 'Holistic' is not a New Age word - in this context it simply means engaging all aspects of our being. ...The heart, mind, soul and body complement each other: to separate one aspect from the others is to deny the full expression of who we are. Our senses are an integral part of that expression: the senses are strongly linked.

(3) We need to redeem all of our senses. How long did it take for the Western church to realise that rock music could be used as an expression of worship? When our minds associate something with the ungodly it is not always because the thing itself is evil. Thank God we have rescued music from the enemy: it is surely no coincidence that the use of contemporary music in worship has gone hand in hand with major growth and renewal in the Western church.

(3) When we are creative, using all the gifts that God has given, we are reflecting the image of God within us, and that is the type of worship that God uses to bless the church.

(3) We are told to worship the Lord with all our mind, body, soul and strength. Most of us are successful at engaging our minds in worship because we currently live in an intellectual culture, but an intellectual approach does not fulfil all of God's criteria for worship. To deny our bodies their full role in worship is to go against God's command.


(1) How about smell? Incense symbolises prayer ascending to God and is an evocative symbol. It stays with you after the service, in the same way that anointing oils leave their aroma and remind you of the prayer you have received.

(3) Ray and Nancy Goudie, the directors of New Generation Ministries, use incense in worship and ministry. They have faced accusations of New Age heresy, but they continue to believe that the sense of smell is an important part of our worship. ...The Celtic church used incense frequently, and Ray believes that the church has abandoned incense, even ridiculing its use, because of a wrong concept of God and His creativity.

(3) God can and does use our sense of smell to speak to us. In my own [Andrew Maries] fellowship there are people who received a prophetic insight into a 'springtime renewing' that God was bringing to the church. As God spoke to them they could smell a spring morning, even though they were stood in their living rooms on a cold January morning. Others have received an anointing through a shop-bought aromatherapy oil called 'faith'. As they were being prayed with for an increased measure of faith, one member of the prayer team lit a candle under a small dish of the oil. The fragrance filled the room, and they 'breathed in' faith. The perfume of the oil was simply a tangible way of experiencing God's gift of faith. It didn't actually bring the faith, but the oil somehow helped in receiving that which the Holy Spirit was pouring out.


(4) There will be a growth of interest in traditional liturgy, ancient prayers, the beauty of silence and the flickering aura of candlelight.

(1) Traditional forms of worship have always made use of the symbol and the sacrament, albeit in a very stylised form. A candle for example, conveys a sense presence, of something special happening. For the Christian it symbolises the presence of Christ the Light of the World.

(1) In a Christian context, many of all ages are drawn to the Taize experience of prayer and meditation, or Celtic spirituality, or other traditional high church pursuits such as candles, incense and anointing oils.


(3) We can be quick to dismiss such experiences or to condemn them as belonging to the New Age, but New Age philosophies are simply an expression of our culture's growing disenchantment with rationality. Spirituality is rising in the West, and the church may need to examine its forms of worship to ensure that it is not clinging to dry and unengaging intellectualism. If we consider aromatherapy and incense to be the exclusive property of New Agers and eastern mystics then how do we explain God's obsession with sweet smells and perfumes?

(4) The church of the new millennium will recognise society's growing hunger for a spirituality which works - a need already expressed everywhere from the Body Shop to New Age music and from ecological work groups to T'ai Chi.

(1) If this raises new age echoes then we should bear in mind that that the church was there long before, and also acknowledge that there is a deep need within a mechanistic and materialistic society for spiritual experience and a sense of mystery.


I think you will agree there is a significant overlap of thought here. If you are finding the same trends in your neck of the woods, perhaps we ought to brace ourselves for yet another trend?