With Reformation day on Saturday, a post for the Reformation . . .
Undoing the Reformation?
One of the things that greatly helped the cause of the Reformation was technology - the advent of the printing press. Could technology now be undoing the Reformation?
Before the Reformation, the people were largely spectators in church. People watched what was happening (when they could see), but didn’t participate. There was very little preaching. Many didn’t understand the language (Latin), they didn’t sing (the choir did that), they seldom received the Sacrament of the Altar. It was for most “ocular” communion - the belief that they could receive some kind of benefit just by seeing the Body and Blood of Jesus lifted up by the priest, whatever “hocus pocus” had caused the bread and wine to be changed. For most, it was the “professionals” who were doing what needed to be done. The people just watched (when they could see), or prayed at side altars.
The Reformation changed all that. With the German Mass, people sang parts of the liturgy in their own language. They sang hymns that taught the faith. The Words of Jesus in the Sacrament were spoken loudly and clearly for all to hear. They received the Body and Blood of Jesus (both kinds, not just one), and frequently. Church was for them again!
But today, and especially with the rise of Covid, many people have reverted to watching church again. Because people could not come to church, churches (including mine) now live stream services on the internet. But I wonder - are people participating? Certainly, they cannot receive the Body and Blood of Jesus at home, but what else are they not doing? Do they stand at the appropriate times? Speak the congregational parts? Kneel? Confess? Bow their heads? Or do people just sit and watch as spectators again? The situation is not quite as bad as before the Reformation, since the preaching and liturgy are in the language of the people, but I wonder how many are watching the whole service? How many fast forwarding to the sermon? How many not even listening to the whole sermon?
Live streaming and recorded services can be good and provide a valuable service . . . for those who must quarantine, those who cannot physically come to church, the sick, and perhaps also as an introduction to the church for those unfamiliar with it. It is easier to click and watch before stepping in the door. Those are good things. But if the electronic church becomes a substitute for those who can come, and should come, if it makes the people into spectators again (as sometimes happens in some “contemporary” services, which are more of a show than participation by the congregation), then are we unwittingly undoing the Reformation (at least in regard to worship)? Leaving church to the “professionals” again. That would not be good.