What’s Going On at Church Services
HAVE you noted that in recent years church services have changed considerably? Almost all religious denominations have been affected.
One young person observed recently: “I don’t know what has happened to the church I knew as a child. Everything has turned so modern, so . . . jazzy.” Have there been changes in the church services you attend?
Probably there have been, and no doubt other church services in your community have experienced similar changes. But you may be surprised to learn to what extent changes have occurred in many places.
What Is Going On
The New York Times described one modern church service: “A pall of heavy smoke hung over 300 Episcopalians, huddled on the marble floor, their faces masked. The thudding of an amplified heartbeat reverberated through the stone archways . . . a red spotlight flashed through the haze, and a white one . . . The beat of a bass guitar replaced the heartbeat as young girls moved into the congregation, drew people up, took off their masks and started to dance.”
A rare and isolated occurrence, you say? The paper reported: “Rock services like this one today are common.” Yes, many churches have introduced such features to bolster sagging attendances. Even from the Vatican radio has been heard the rush of a beat sound and of a pop singer intoning the lyrics of the song “God Is Dead.”
In São Paulo, Brazil, the newspaper Jornal da Tarde reported on the adulation bestowed upon a pop singer in a cathedral, and noted editorially: “A few years ago nobody would have imagined it possible to witness such a scene as this. Today, however, all seems quite normal. The consequence is that the people . . . are not able to note the difference between a temple and a television auditorium and its fans.”
Remarkably, religious leaders have taken the lead in such innovations. Recently 450 clergy and lay delegates met for the 45th annual British Columbia Conference of the United Church of Canada. The Vancouver Sun reported: “They belted each other with balloons. They yelled for more recorded rock—already blaring loud enough to deafen the Archangel.” Is it any wonder that people are disturbed?
What should be the purpose of religious services? Should it not be to study the Bible and to learn more about God? Yet is this really the main purpose of church services today? Perhaps you feel like the woman who wrote in Redbook of March 1969: “I want a church service where God is the principal theme. . . . But I don’t find Him much in church any more.”
Many Are Angered
It is a fact that many are unhappy with their church services. In one parish in Italy worshipers strongly expressed their disapproval of the ‘beat mass’ in which the prayers were alternated with songs accompanied by guitars and organ. “The squabbles quickly degenerated into disorder that was settled only upon the intervention of the police,” Il Messaggero reported.
Even official changes in the Mass, ordered by the pope to be used in all Catholic churches by November 1971, are being strongly opposed by many Catholics. When the changes were first put into effect in the churches of Italy on November 30, 1969, dissent was widespread. Protest leaflets littered St. Peter’s Square even as Pope Paul begged the crowd for indulgence for “this new rite.”
It is clear that confusion and unrest are widespread throughout Christendom’s churches. They are being battered hither and thither by the winds of change, like a ship that has lost its moorings. They have no apparent guidelines. Rules prescribed yesterday are no longer valid today, and so people conclude that today’s rules will not be applicable tomorrow. Not even the Bible is accepted as an authority any longer.
The changes going on in the churches have undoubtedly contributed to their rapid decline. But there are other reasons for the churches’ decline.