What’s a body to do?

Protestants have a problem when it comes to worship – what to do with our bodies.

Most Protestants won’t kneel, genuflect, cross themselves, bow the head, wear a head covering, clap or in general move. They sit (mostly) and stand.

My observation is that the body wants to embody what is in the heart. It wants to do something with what is believed. But Protestants won’t let it. We put reins on “brother ass”, as St. Francis so termed it, and keep it in check.

Thus some of the attractiveness of some of the liturgical traditions and even of Islam to some cradle Christians. They all embody the truth. They want to use the body to express the heart or maybe even to train and remind the heart. There is something appropriate and even rightfully humbling to use the physical to submit to the spiritual. Praying five times a day on one’s knees and bowing, wearing a certain kind of clothing, especially in worship (I go crazy every time a church thinks it is being accepting by announcing on its website its casual dress code), kneeling or standing in God’s presence (but by no means relaxing by sitting) all seem to me more of an embodiment of worship that express the Creator-creature distinction.

Yes, I know that one can do all these things and not mean it. Does that prove that therefore they should not be done? Surely it does not follow.

In my tradition the only use of the body that indicates a heart change is walking the aisle during the invitation at the end of the service. At that point, it is no longer okay to just sit or stand. Now one must walk. After one walks, for the rest of his or her life they can only sit or stand.

The use of the senses in worship needs to be revisited in my tradition. There are some things in my tradition I am not willing to abandon in order to adopt a more liturgical community – the singular authority of the Bible and the heavy emphasis on preaching, the priesthood of all believers and a rightful suspicion of a clerical class, a plain-spoken “everyman” religion that does not put undue confidence in rite and ceremony, and others. But these things do not mean that I abandon every desire to bring my body into the act of worship. I utilize the sign of the cross in my devotional life and observe the divine hours to order my day. I utilize read prayers in my worship to teach me to be more careful in my speaking to the Divine Majesty, lest my careless and thoughtless words end up being noise and offensive. One religious ceremony I cannot bear, however, is the baptism of children. I passionately reject this practice. If I ever baptized an infant I fully expect my hand to wither and become leprous right in front of me. It actually physically hurts me to witness a child baptism. I guess that is how baptist I am. That is also one of the reason I cannot pastor in a nondenominational church that will accept infant baptism, even if it does not practice infant baptism, as a proper baptism for church membership. My own home church many years ago offered me an opportunity to pastor a new church plant, something I would have loved to do, but I could no longer accept its acceptance of infant baptism as a valid expression of New Testament Christianity. This does not mean I do not accept Christians as Christians who differ from me. It only means that I cannot participate in their offering the sign of faith to infants.

To the degree that I get out at times and experience the larger family of evangelicalism, I can see some of these same concerns popping up in evangelical church services. I think the old days of thinking everything liturgical is Roman Catholic are fading. I believe there is a growing suspicion that for something to be true it must be spontaneous and extemporaneous.

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