Why Not Beauty?

[October 6, 2017]

Someone emailed me to ask: When did people start to expect worship to be something that would benefit them? Something that will inspire them, resonate with them, give them strength for the week ahead, etc? When did it stop being something we render to God for his own sake, to express our gratitude and awe? He notes that all the things he loves about high-church worship, the music, solemnity, the processions, even the architecture, though they move him deeply, the friends he brings to church just shrug them off.
I replied:


«I understand what you’re talking about. Worship has become one more thing like “eat right and exercise” that people do to benefit themselves, or at least that is how it is being sold; I don’t know that the appeal lasts, long-term. It certainly is easier to sleep in on Sunday morning than to attend feel-good worship.

I don’t know much about how this happened, but I suspect it began in the 60’s, when there was sudden interest in the church being “relevant.” I can remember people warning at the time that this was a bad idea. But it was in the air, with Vatican II (as VAt II was popularly interpreted) and the hippie revolution.

I think a major factor, too, is advertising, which surrounds and catechizes us all day, and trains us to think of ourselves first and our needs. It teaches us to consider our own needs and desires as extremely important, and something we should diligently fulfill. So today, when people think about going to church, the appeal has to be that it will benefit themselves.

Try to picture what it was in prior centuries, when worship was the most elaborate and beautiful thing people would experience all week. Now the greatest singers in the world are contained on their phones, ready to perform at the press of a button. They see special effects in movies that are overwhelming. Worship can’t compete.

I agree of course that worship is what we owe to God, because of his glory and goodness. And, in a way, it *is* good for us to worship him. It is what we are made for, so worship is uniquely fulfilling, when rightly understood. But how do you ever communicate that today—!

It seems to me that some people “get it” and are readily moved to render true worship; but for those who don’t get it, words completely fail. I don’t think there’s any way to express it that could be understood by those who don’t get it. We who do get it, affirm it full-heartedly.
Interesting question! Thanks!»

About Frederica Matthewes-Green

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a wide-ranging author who has published 10 books and 800 essays, in such diverse publications as the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Smithsonian, and the Wall Street Journal. She has been a regular commentator for National Public Radio (NPR), a columnist for the Religion News Service, Beliefnet.com, and Christianity Today, and a podcaster for Ancient Faith Radio. (She was also a consultant for Veggie Tales.) She has published 10 books, and has appeared as a speaker over 600 times, at places like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Cornell, Calvin, Baylor, and Westmont, and received a Doctor of Letters (honorary) from King University. She has been interviewed over 700 times, on venues like PrimeTime Live, the 700 Club, NPR, PBS, Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, in Johnson City, TN. Their three children are grown and married, and they have fourteen grandchildren.

One comment:

  1. Please tell me, if you know, where that beautiful church is located. Thank you.

    FMG: It is stunning, isn't it. This is the Church of St. Nicholas in Kronstadt, in Russia. It is a new church, and the photo was taken at the church's consecration.

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