The best of religion calls us, as humans,  to develop our power of reason in order to understand ourselves, our relationship to others, and our position in the universe (Fromm 1978). The best of theistic religion also calls upon humanity to be in right relationship with the Divine. It is from that relationship we are to engage the world around us. Christianity at its best is tasked with engaging the world by living out the principles embodied in the person and work of Jesus.  As a prophetic religion, Christianity seeks to transform the world in God’s name (Volf 2011). From the gathering to the sending of our corporate worship experiences the Church seeks to be the place where justice is elucidated, while injustice is interrogated so that upon leaving worship we are agents of the Divine in bringing Light where there is darkness.  The Church in its liturgy, and praxis, is where religion and culture come together.  Religion is never incidental to a culture, and every theological formulation, no matter how primitive, no matter how sophisticated, must ultimately be seen against it in conversation with the culture that produced it (Lincoln 1974). The Gospel message makes Christianity and the Church different from the culture and yet essential to the culture at the same time.

With this in mind we consider that liturgical theology is in some ways always public theology. Liturgical theology inquires into the meaning of the liturgy and asks whether our signs and words say something authentic and reliable about God (Lathrup 1993). Public theology engages the broader society in gospel values, much the way the public intellectual embraces the opportunity to participate in public affairs to make academic ideas accessible to a broader public audience (West 2006).   A common problem with prophetic messages and messengers is that they sometimes overwhelm their audiences with the magnitude of injustice in the world, leaving individuals feeling that nothing can be done to make a difference (J. A. Jr. 2006). The project then of the church, in our corporate worship, must be to make accessible to the faithful worshipper, and the welcomed guest, the truth about the character and nature of God. Those tasked with leading worship within the Christian tradition, must lean into the responsibility to be reliable communicators of the principles of the gospel as revealed in the person and work of Jesus. Those outside the Christian tradition, who may lead liturgical moments, must also lean into the responsibility to be reliable communicators of the best of that particular religious heritage. Public worship experiences are neither the project of individual enterprise nor of collective enterprise, but rather a synthesis that regards both.

This week let us be invigorated by the prophetic call to engage gathering worshippers in the prophetic call and witness of the church through the life of the liturgy of our congregations. One of the gifts that liturgy brings is the opportunity to let suffering speak, let victims be visible, and let social misery be put on the agenda of those in power. As Dr. King once pointed out we may have been prone to judge our success by the index of our salaries or by the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service and relationships to humanity, but we can offer a picture of a preferable future through the beauty of worship (Jr. 2015). We design our worship experiences knowing that moral action is based on a broad, robust prophetism that highlights systemic social analysis of circumstances under which tragic persons struggle (Buschendorf 2014).

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

 

Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor

Works Cited

Buschendorf, Cornel West with Christa. 2014. Black Prophetic Fire. Boston: Beacon Press.

Fromm, Erich. 1978. Psychoanalysis & Religion. New Haven: YAle University Press.

Jr., J. Alfred Smith. 2006. Speak Until Justice Wakes. Edited by Jini M. Kilgore. Valley Forge: Judson Press.

Jr., Martin Luther King. 2015. The Radical King. Edited by Cornel West. Boston: Beacon Press.

Lathrup, Gordon W. 1993. Holy Things. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Lincoln, C. Eric. 1974. The Black Church Since Franklin. New York: Shocken Books.

Volf, Miroslav. 2011. A Pulic Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good . Grand Rapids: Brazos Press.

West, Traci C. 2006. Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Woman’s Lives Matter. Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press.

 

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5 comments

  1. “And Moses said unto him, “Enviest thou for my sake? Would God that all the Lord’S people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!””

    Number 11:29

    A prophetic eye helps us to be relevant and timely, where the spirit flows and intersects with revealing God’s purpose in one’s generation. Spirit guides and prophesies justice and gives insight wisdom to speak life and hope. It’s a life led by the Spirit.

    Yes. We have a duty as prophets.

  2. Great read!
    “A common problem with prophetic messages and messengers is that they sometimes overwhelm their audiences with the magnitude of injustice in the world, leaving individuals feeling that nothing can be done to make a difference (J. A. Jr. 2006)”.

    I believe when a prophetic message given with no hope we inadvertly create a mindset of hopelessness in the people.

    It doesn’t matter the injustices, the marginalized, the sins ,etc, the gospel is a solutionary message. This is not to say we don’t address issues, but what is the prophetic responsiblity after that?

    When man fell in the garden God dealt with them, but He didn’t leave them without resolve. His solution wasn’t just for them but humanity at large. It wasn’t just a random solution. It was a solution that directly addressed the problem. Humanity needed a Redeemer, and the solution is:Jesus BECAME what humanity needed.

    Are we willing to become the answer?

  3. Dr. Donaldson –
    A very well written article on Liturgical Theology vs Public Theology – After reading your article I want to reference Liturgical worship in the Bible – but I want to first clarify (Liturgical) ‘the work of the people,’ it is the customary traditional PUBLIC worship demonstrated by a religious group with their common beliefs and traditions. It’s a secular word meaning building a bridge from one place to another. A work that is public and visible. God making himself visible publicly through worship – we are the mission made visible through the worship – It is liturgy when the purpose is to participate in a divine act.
    My friend, she is a Bishop in the Eastern Orthodox church and they believe in the liturgy worship. The Muslim however and Jewish synagogue services is a ritual, but not liturgy. I remember my father who has arthur in his hands and can’t clap his hands….we visited a church that exercised liturgy worship and the preacher kept telling everyone to clap their hands…my father did not clap his hands and the preacher became upset and began to bind the devil and say there is a bad spirit in the church…..he did not know who my dad was…and prolonged the service for a little while and got tired….I was the guest preacher and when I, Identified who my father was as the Bishop – the preacher felt so embarrassed. He had focused the whole worship (liturgy) practice on my father…we still talk about it till this day…”The pastor thought my dad was some man full of the devil and would not praise God!” But my dad’s hands hurt when he claps so you would rarely see him clapping his hands in church like everyone else.
    I can speak on the churches I have experienced and it is expected for everyone to participate as a tradition to clap their hands, shout out “God is Good!!”, dance and fall out…if you don’t then they believe something is wrong with you. I spoke at a church in Texas and I had all the families to get together and shout Hallelujah – I was in a circle with my 3 sons and they did not shout out loud – like all the other families….my son told me the next day he said I quote “Mom, I’m not going to get loud in church, yell and scream and dance all over the church, but I want you to know, I love Jesus!” – that totally changed my perspective on worship – we cannot make everyone worship as a tradition because everyone has a right to worship God in their own personal way. My sons have a great relationship with Christ but choose NON-Liturgy.
    A pastor recently posted a video that he had all the children in the church to come to the altar and dance…he told them all to “Leap, Leap, Leap!” I watched the video and some of the children leaped, some looked around and some just stood there like they were embarrassed…..It made me think about when I was little kid in the church – I did not yell, dance for a while or yell back at the preacher…all my friends around me were active in their liturgy and preachers came to my dad and asked “Why do your children just sit quietly in church?” My dad told him – my children have their own way of praising God and they don’t have to be like everyone else….My point is – Liturgy vs Public worship that we should give everyone the liberty to choose if they want to clap their hands, stand up or yell Amen.
    It’s disappointing that most of the traditional black churches believe they don’t have church if someone is not shouting and dancing all over the place. Their events are measured by how much everyone dance and screamed. I remember I asked a first lady in COGIC – how her women’s event went? she told me “We had to pull the chairs back!” – I said “What?” – she said they had to pull the chairs back from everyone praising God so it was considered a successful event.
    My question to you Dr. Donaldson – if we don’t exercise Liturgy does it change the blessing of God, if we don’t actively shout and scream or can we choose non-liturgy and still be just as bless as someone who does.
    My pastor, Dr. Robert Jeffrey – said “There has to be more than just, jumping, shouting, and speaking in tongues…we have been doing this for years in the Central District and losing our churches and houses.” This statement has stuck with me – with all the (Liturgy Worship) why didn’t we receive a word of knowledge to buy property, hold on to your homes etc…. We are to worship in spirit and in truth to receive a divine revelation of what we are to prepare for. Everyone was an island to themselves and could not see the future destruction of the Central area that our black churches are being sold for nickels and dimes……homes sold for a suitcase full of money. – there must me more to Liturgical worship in the public. Which makes me think are we truly worshipping or are we doing it as a tradition and God is not being made visible publicly? We are not making a bridge?

    James 4:24 King James Bible
    God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
    Psalm 145:18
    The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth.
    Philippians 3:3
    For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—

    God is doing something in the world further than we can imagine or think!

    Dr. Donaldson I enjoyed your article as you can see – I would love to read any other articles you might want feedback on…

    Sincerely,
    Rev. Janice Davis, B.S., Psychology

  4. Dr. Donalson writes with clarity of purpose. Not only disseminating information, but also, giving insight, challenging liturgical transformation. Our liturgy should be aimed at orchestrating and facilitating a worship experience, which is culturally inclusive, while simultaneously fostering a divine encounter.

  5. Dr. Donalson thank you for this thought provoking piece there’s much to work through and digest. Due to the space of our time I can’t help but think about the lack of prophetic voice to our anglo brothers and sisters who are currently wrestling with an identity crisis.”Whiteness” is shrinking in America and there is an opportunity for them to be in touch with their humanity while embracing a deeper level of consciousness with the divine. It’s been sexy for us to theologize the pathology of black folk while failing to have “a word” to challenge white supremacy. While this isn’t the tone of your piece I’m sure you can see how it took me to this place. Keep challenging us to think deeper and move with a greater urgency as the body of Christ.

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