Unfortunate historical trends in liturgy

I’ve begun to review the Protestant wedding services of the last two or three generations. A lot of commonalities to be sure, but I’ve re-discovered two historical trends — now “traditional” — that I’d be happy to banish.

  1. “God is sweet.” Something happened three to five generations ago in the more liberal and low end of the mainline, Universalists and Unitarians included but perhaps more commonly among Congregationalists, Baptists, and Disciples: saccarine, Romantic liturgical uses. I get the feeling that some people “discovered” liturgical elements — at least for weddings, funerals, conventions, organ dedications and the like — but decided that they needed “improving.” Improving in the way only a Victorian could love. If you see “throne of heavenly grace” in a service you’ll know what I mean. God sounds more like a benevolent if autocratic industrialist than anything else.
  2. “God is love, and I’m crap.” There’s liturgy from the 50s, 60s, and 70s that’s a miserable intersection of neo-Orthodox historicizing theology, post-war optimism and expansion, and liberalizing influences in the church. Despite claims of being authentic and “real” services almost always include aural confession, even if inappropriate, even at weddings and cheery acclaimations of the goodness of God, the Gospel, the Atonement, and so forth. It may work on paper, but the feelings feel forced. (Little wonder the 80s and 90s brought around works about righteous anger and grief. See any recent work about the Psalms.) Plainly, many of these Christian liturgies from thirty to fifty years ago suggest God as an abusive Parent. They reek with insensitivity and overearnest reformism.

Author: Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

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