More than a few years ago we had a good experience purchasing a vehicle at a local dealer. We sent someone there not long ago. Their experience was different. They said they felt like roadkill with vultures swooping in for lunch. They did not go back. I still think that the dealer is a decent car dealer but times have changed and both the people shopping and the dealers are in a different position than they were then. Could it be true of church?
It is old news that Shia LaBeouf has been received into the Roman Catholic Church. I am not going to debate that here. But his comments about the Latin Mass and the character of what happens in worship have continued to intrigue me. He characterized his experience with much of Novus Ordo as someone trying to sell him an idea or a car and how the difference he found in the Latin Mass was simply the invitation to enter into and participate in the holy. He found the reverence of the Mass to be an profound thing -- something that affected him deeply.
You can talk all you want to about Shia LaBeouf and his conversion but what he says about reverence and the emphasis on the mystery should not pass unnoticed. Whether it is the supposed appeal of contemporary Christian music or a faux casualness about the presence of God or the sermon as the appeal to an idea (dare I say the selling of one?), the world has become rather jaded about much of what passes for worship. The churches that practice it shuffle people around but do not greatly impact the unchurched and, when they do, those whom they attract are soon worn out by it all. It is like a constant part one must play instead of the entrance into the holy place of God to be served by Him with His own priceless gifts.
"The Latin Mass affects me deeply. Deeply."#ShiaLaBeouf's conversion is yet another testament to the evangelical power of the Traditional Latin Mass. Welcome home, Shia (@thecampaignbook)! pic.twitter.com/U6PAqQvCEc— Matt Gaspers (@MattGaspers) August 25, 2022
I hope we are paying attention. I hope that we hear more from those who have been turned off of religion for the entertainment or retail environment that presumes to be where God does His bidding and I pray we are listening. Retail religion has run its course. It no longer needs a retail location and can be just as easily consumed at home, on screens, at convenient times, for the desired affect. If that is church, that church is dying on the outside and already dead on the inside. We all need to hear that. In my own community, the contemporary style churches that are growing are the next best greatest incarnations of the same old tired model and the churches that are dying are yesterday's version of the same. But their growth is recycled people who, like the addict, continue to seek out the same means for a new experience of the high that they desire. When that does not work, some of them show up at our door and find in the rich ceremonial, reverent liturgy, majestic music, and Biblical preaching something they had not experienced before. I think this is what Shia LaBeouf is saying.
Worship and preaching are not apologetics (which has its rightful place). This is the arena where the unworthy have place and the undeserving are moved to seats of honor, where God meets them and serves them with the gifts that bestow eternity, and where they are transformed through forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit to be the people of God (who were once no people). Liturgical and sacramental preaching aids in the same pursuit as the liturgy -- it reveals the Christ among us who serves us with His gifts and makes possible the response of faith, praise, and thanksgiving. And one more thing. He makes possible the means of living out this new identity within the world but not as people of the world -- the love for neighbor and mercy work that do for others what Christ has done for us. This is where the battles need to be fought within my own denomination and among every church body where the liturgy is seen as a straight jacket preventing the Spirit and the success of worship to be the selling of an idea or the entertainment of the bored with meaningful and felt experience. In contrast, the real Divine Service is where Word and liturgy live on the same plane, where Christ is among us and where Christ bestows His gifts freely and where the Spirit works to enable us to have arms to receive those gifts, believe in Him, and live new lives here as we prepare for the eternal to come.