Friday, June 26, 2009

Liturgy gone didactic

Regarding Kavanaugh's speculation that the availability of the Bible and other religious material in print encouraged the understanding of church services as instructional it seems that the opposite should have been the case. With widespread literacy and the ready availability of Bibles and other religious books one would think that there was less motivation to use church services for instruction--people could read the stuff at home.

Along these lines here's a heretical thought: maybe sermons should be abolished. Given virtually universal literacy (in developed countries) and ready access to information through printed media and the internet, do we need sermons? If so, for what?


  1. Interesting point; perhaps the reformers weren't so sure about the Sola Scriptura after all.

    There's support for abandoning sermons from an unlikely corner. Willow Creek did a big evaluation of their church programs a while ago and it turned out that all the seeker-sensitive stuff they had been doing (and spending millions of dollars on) wasn't really producing a lot of mature Christians.

    Here's Bill Hybels (of Willow Creek): 'We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become 'self feeders.' We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.'

    So if you take that seriously, sermons are at best a temporary pedagogical device.

    On the other hand, isn't this line of thought a bit too individualistic and protestant? If you're Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox then doesn't the church and the tradition have a big role to play in interpreting the Scriptures. You might argue that mere literacy and access to information does little to guarantee that people will understand Scripture in accordance with the doctrines of the church and that therefore we still need sermons.

  2. (1) Anglicans are wholly Protestant as well as wholly Catholic and not bound by the church's tradition beyond the Creed--at most.

    (2) More to the point, the institution of the sermon assumes that priests are theology experts, which they're not, and also that lay people are so uneducated and so dumb that they can't participate in critical discussion. That the most they can do is listen to some guy tell it like it is.

  3. Any chance you could unscramble (1) above? I'm not sure what it means to be wholly Protestant and wholly Catholic (at the same time), nor am I sure how to be either without a bit more flesh than the Creed (why the Creed? why this one?, and so on). That isn't intended as an attack. I just don't know quite what is meant.