Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

Liturgical scholars often insist that a church's worship is a direct by-product of what they believe about God. If a particular congregation's leadership considers God to be a kind of magic genie whose job is to do our bidding, then their worship will most likely be narcissistic and consumer-driven. And conversely, if a church understands God to be the sovereign King of the universe, then an atmosphere of reverence and awe will prevail.

At least, so the theory goes.

Unfortunately, this is only half the story. As indicated by the historic slogan lex orandi, lex credendi (literally, "The rule of prayer influences the rule of belief"), the relationship between confession and worship, dogma and liturgy, cuts both ways. In other words, it's not simply the case that a church's worship is the result of her beliefs about God, but it is equally true that her beliefs about God are largely shaped by the way she worships.

History bears this out. Well before the church's Christology assumed its mature, Chalcedonian definition believers were already worshiping a God who subsisted in three divine Persons. Both Augustine and Prosper of Auquitatine appealed to the church's practice of infant baptism in order to refute the Pelagian heresy that children are born without original sin. They were saying, in effect, "If infants are innocent, then why have we been baptizing them all this time?" In Prosper's own words: "Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi" ("Let the law of prayer establish the law of belief").

If it is true that worship shapes belief as significantly as belief shapes worship, then the ramifications are pretty serious for those churches—whether evangelical or Reformed—that insist on making style a leading factor in how they conduct divine worship. Whether their aim is to woo the unchurched or demonstrate their "relevance" to those coveted artsy-fartsy soul-patched bohemians, the ever-present danger is that Jesus will be transformed from Deus homo into some guyliner-wearing dude in an indy band hoping to land a record deal.

Luther was right, the church will sing its way into idolatry long before its dogmaticians join the party.