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2 Competing Understandings Of Christian Worship

This quote by Gregory Dix contrasts two very different understandings of the holy Christian faith and the worship of the one, true God in Christ. There is the puritan understanding, and the ceremonious / incarnational one. Dix says:

"Briefly, the puritan theory is that worship is a purely mental activity, to be exercised by a strictly psychological 'attention' to a subjective emotional or spiritual experience. For the puritan this is the essence of worship, and all external things which might impair this strictly mental attention have no rightful place in it. At the most they are to be admitted grudgingly and with suspicion, and only in so far as practice shows that they stimulate the 'felt' religious experience or emotion. Its principal defect is its tendency to 'verbalism', to suppose that words alone can express or stimulate the act of worship.

Over against this puritan theory of worship stands another -- the ceremonious conception of worship, whose foundation principle is that worship as such is not a purely intellectual and affective exercise, but one in which the whole man -- body as well as soul, his aesthetic and volitional as well as his intellectual powers -- must take full part. It regards worship as an 'act' just as much as an 'experience'."

Lutherans in America, heavily affected by puritanism, are inclined towards verbalism and disinclined towards sensuous beauty within the church. But this a learned behavior, not natural to historic Lutheranism, or the church of the ages.

The crucifix we will dedicate this Sunday is a victory over the puritan notion of worship, and an important witness to the ceremonious worship taught in Scripture, and practiced by most of the church, for most of history.

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