Across a wide theological and cultural range, serious Christians are trying to establish what Lutheran theologian Thomas Schattauer has dubbed the “something other service.” In his vice presidential address to the North American Academy of Liturgy, he declared that at its core this impulse is directed “toward imagining and constructing an alternative to conventional ways of worship and conventional ways of being Christian” (italics added). “Conventional worship—and with it, conventional Christianity—focuses in one direction on the maintenance of the church as an institution and in the other on the individual as the recipient of spiritual benefits; it tends to support the social and political status quo.”
Most of the address is devoted to Schattauer’s analysis of five “perspectives on how to shape this alternative practice” in congregations in the North American context: “the liturgical movement, the contemporary worship movement, liberation perspectives, postmodern approaches, and pentecostalism.”
At the conclusion of his essay, he distills five generalizations, one from each of these impulses, proposing that there is considerable crossover of these perspectives. Schattauer encourages his colleagues in the Academy to engage in constructive conversation using these perspectives as the basis for their work.
This same purpose motivates me to develop this series of columns on an alternative way of worship for progressive churches. Whatever our leadership role—scholar, pastor, musician, missiologist, artist, administrator—we can work together to move past conventionality toward a God-centered, mission oriented, culturally relevant pattern of church life and worship.
Here is Schattauer’s list:
- Recovery of historic practice toward a distinctive community witnessing to God’s purpose in the world
- Use of cultural materials toward a wider embrace of people (be it the unchurched or particular ethnic groups)
- Attention to the experience of the marginalized toward justice and inclusion of God’s reign
- Focus on relational community toward social belonging and wholeness
- Openness to the movement of God’s Spirit toward personal healing, holiness, and hope
My perspectives have been deeply influenced by the first of Schattauer’s impulses: the liturgical movement. Schattauer says that its central interest is “to give the church clearer definition as a community of Christ through the focus on central practices which constitute persons in relation to Christ and to one another, most especially the reading and proclamation of Scripture, baptism, and Eucharist. Moreover, the purpose of this community in Christ constituted in its liturgical assembly is to be understood in relation to God’s purpose in the world.”
As useful as it is, Schattauer’s list gives insufficient attention to another impulse that I encounter with increasing urgency in theological literature and in conversations with church people week after week: the need to restate central Christian doctrines in ways that can be affirmed by people who have dismissed older ways of stating Christian beliefs and who are searching for believable ways of describing their faith. My early theological studies focused upon the continental liberal tradition and for a generation my closest theological colleagues were advocates of process theology. While I have only limited competence as theologian, the mood, perspective, and themes of contemporary liberal theology are important to the way I think about my life as a Christian.
My plan for this series is to propose that the classic union of Word and Table, understood in its simplest and most direct form, is the place to begin our construction of worship that is “something other.” I then will discuss each of its components, in their order as they appear in the classic shape of the service. Along the way, I will take time out to comment on specific challenges—atonement theologies in the eucharist, for example—that are especially challenging to the progressive Christians whom I meet week after week, in churches on Sundays and lots of other places on the other days.
Questions, comments, proposals, illustrations, and testimonies are much appreciated. They will help to move the discussion forward.
Note: A pre-publication draft of the paper by Thomas H. Schattauer can be accessed at the site below (link provided with the author’s permission): http://www.lutheranworld.org/What_We_Do/DTS/DTS-Documents/EN/TLC_Augsburg/Papers/Schattauer.pdf