Podcast: What is Appropriate in Worship?

Mere Fidelity

This week we had a podcast time and subject lined up, but Matt wasn’t around and Derek couldn’t make it at the very last moment. Andrew has been in some conversations about whether dancing has a place in churches and so, rather than go without a podcast for the week, he suggested that we discuss the question of what is appropriate in Christian worship instead of our original planned topic. A couple of minutes later we started recording.

We discuss the regulative principle, dancing, and how class and cultural divisions shape our habits of worship. I mention Peter Leithart’s book, From Silence to Song and also draw on some of his stimulating thoughts from this post.

You can also follow the podcast on iTunes, or using this RSS feed. Listen to past episodes on Soundcloud and on this page on my blog.


About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Bible, Church History, Controversies, Culture, Ethics, Liturgical Theology, Podcasts, Society, The Church, Theological, Worship. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Podcast: What is Appropriate in Worship?

  1. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    How does From Silence to Song compare in quality to his other books?

  2. quinnjones2 says:

    I really enjoyed listening to this – you both made so many interesting points. I think that dancing is actually quite a difficult subject to discuss because. as with music, there are so many different styles and people have such different tastes and preferences. We had some liturgical dancing at our church several years ago but it was a performance by one very elegant and gifted dancer, and not a communal activity. We also danced out of the service on one occasion, following the leading of a vicar who had just returned from a sabbatical. I think it was a Celtic dance – after the service we all stood in a circle in the coffee area and joined hands. Enjoyable though it was, we did not repeat this exercise. I also attended a service where a sidesperson danced along the aisles as he collected our offerings, while the rest of us stood in the pews and sang ‘Jesus put this song into our hearts’.
    With the exception of the dancing sidesperson, the examples I have given above were planned and structured.Although I am persuaded by some things you said on the podcast that dancing in church in not necessarily ‘unscriptural’, I am still not sure how I feel about spontaneous dancing in a church service, as it could easily become chaotic, as you suggested towards the end of the podcast, Alastair. On a personal note, I like Latin American music, and I have sometimes felt like dancing at church, for instance when we are singing ‘I am a new creation’, which is written in a rumba rhythm in Mission Praise. However, I do not spontaneously dance the rumba or any other dance in church services because, apart from the fact that I am no great dancer and do not want to make myself look ridiculous, no once else dances spontaneously at church (apart from a bit of jigging around during lively modern songs) and I think it is good for us to consider everyone in the congregation and to avoid conducting ourselves in a manner that might be embarrassing for others – which is, I think, more or less what you suggested in one of the points you made, Alastair?
    On another personal note, I love Hebrew-style dancing, such as in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and I have wondered if OT Jews ever danced in this way in the Temple, or whether they reserved such dancing for private occasions,…or whether they ever danced in this way at all?
    You have both really set my mind a-dancing now!

    • quinnjones2 says:

      I also meant to comment on Peter Leithart’s article ‘Manners and Modes of Worship’, which I read before listening to the podcast. As I read Leithart’s description of the behaviour of our medieval ancestors – behaviour which is now regarded by some as ‘barbaric’ – I was struck by the language used to describe the ‘barbaric’ behaviour, because it seems to me that it was not only behaviour which changed in ‘courtly’ circles, but also language, with a greater usage of vocabulary with Latin and Greek roots, and a rejection of words with Anglo-Saxon roots. Some of this Anglo-Saxon vocabulary was avoided even by Erasmus, who is described by Leithart as dealing with bodily functions ‘with a medieval candour that would make later generations blanch’. Reading ‘..it is better that it (‘gas’) be emitted with a noise than that it be held back ‘ did not make me blanch at all – far from it. Many of my former pupils would have described that as ‘holding in a fart.’ Now I know that the word ‘fart’ is now regarded as vulgar and that people who use this word are regarded by some as 21st century ‘peasants’, but the word ‘fart’ actually has a good Anglo-Saxon pedigree, and even a good Indo-European pedigree and its meaning is clear and it is even onomatopoeic! However, its status has declined and we now need to speak of ‘flatulence’, or ‘wind-poo’ or…dare I say it?…’trump’.
      I love studying languages and I am not suggesting a mass return to three- and four-letter words, but I think that, in reconciling the breach between Appolonian and Dionysian, refined and barbaric, we may also need to reconcile the breach between the more anodyne vocabulary derived from Latin and Greek and the simple and basic vocabulary derived from Anglo-Saxon.

      • Yes, ‘delicacy’ of language around bodily issues is definitely an important part of the move to courtly manners. Either circumlocutions, distancing technical terms, or the more ‘refined’ and less viscerally immediate terms inherited from other tongues are preferred over the offensive earthiness of the Anglo-Saxon.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Thank you for your reply, Alastair. I have spent several hours this morning reading about the history of language although I had actually promised myself that I would give the house a spring-clean today, but I find this very interesting, so… I will try to be as brief as possible brief here. One of my main concerns is that in some ways there now seems be a sort of ‘language divide’ between social classes, as there was before the Reformation, when the Bible was available only in Vulgate Latin and most people were unable to read it for themselves and were dependent on church leaders for information about the content and meaning of the Bible. Nowadays most people in the western world can read the Bible in their mother tongues, but most don’t know Greek and are dependent on translators for their knowledge of the Bible – and translations vary, and there continues to be debate about the translation of a number of passages in the scriptures. A number of people can’t follow the terminology used in the debates and become frustrated and sometimes resentful, especially when they are not in a position to invest much time and energy in studying. A vicar friend of ours is currently in rebellion against theology! You are a theologian and, as you know, I respect and value your work, and I would certainly like to know more about theology than I do at present so although I have some sympathy with our theology-rebel-friend, I sympathise only up to a point. I need to pray and reflect about what I see this ‘language divide’.
        On a different subject – earthy Anglo-Saxon-derived terminology for bodily functions – I think that some terms are frowned on more than others. It seems that the most frowned-upon seem to be those relating to reproductive organs and organs pertaining to bodily waste. As far as I know, no one objects to words such as ‘eat’, ‘drink’ ‘look’, ‘hear’, nor to the words ‘lips’, eyes’, ‘ears’, all of which derive from Anglo-Saxon/West Germanic. I am inclined to think that an aversion to Anglo-Saxon-derived terms for some body parts and functions may be more related to some discomfort about those parts and functions than it is to the terminology used to describe them.
        Finally a quick word about German. I love it because it can be so basic and self-explanatory and because it is easier for young German children to learn some German vocabulary than for young English-speaking children to learn the same words in English, for instance a dermatologist is a ‘skin-doctor’ (Hautarzt).
        (This is a long way from dancing!)

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        I came across this video today. You may find it interesting.

      • Interesting! Also, whenever I see the word ‘arse’ I am reminded of Father Jack from the TV show Father Ted.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        I don’t normally watch Father Ted but I just found a clip of Father Jack on YouTube 🙂

      • quinnjones2 says:

        I just did a search and I didn’t find out as much as I’d hoped but I did find out that ‘The Miller’s Tale’ was a set text for AS level with the AQA exam board in 2008. I’m retired now, but as far as I know pupils study AS in year 12 ( age 16,17). As you know, some parts of the tale are even more bawdy than the quote I gave above, but apparently AQA were not squeamish about that, and I hope the pupils weren’t ,either!

  3. quinnjones2 says:

    Lol 🙂 This reminds me of how it took me ages to learn to say the uvular ‘r’ when I was first trying to speak French! Words can often be unintentionally (as well as intentionally!) provocative. I am still teased by my adult children about the fact that I pronounce ‘oo’ in ‘soot’ and ‘toothbrush’ the same way as we say it in ‘look’ – they pronounce it as in ‘boot’. This is one heritage of my upbringing in ‘Welsh Wales’.

    • quinnjones2 says:

      I just remembered this from Chaucer (The Miller’s Tale):
      ‘And Absolom, him fil no bet ny wers,
      and with his mouth he kissed her naked ers.’
      How could anything so offensive be described as recommended literature 😉

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        I think when I was in high school, the Miller’s and Reeve’s tales were cut out of the school copies of the Canterbury Tales. 😛

        (And yes, I thought of that passage too–it’s what I am reminded of whenever I see the word “arse”.)

      • quinnjones2 says:

        I suppose the Miller’s and Reeve’s tales may not be suitable for younger pupils. We studied Chaucer’s Prologue as an ‘A’ level set text at age 16+ to 18+ and some of us also studied what was then called ‘Scholarship level’ . I think we were asked to read the Canterbury Tales more extensively for ‘S’ level, but we might have been asked to do that at Uni – I can’t remember. (I did English subsid at Uni)
        And now I’ve just thought of Eliza Doolittle…

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