A discussion starter
In modern western society there is ample space and time for leisure for most people. To have such possibility and time is not the case in all the word and has not always been so in the West. But whatever has been the case in Europe and the USA and whatever is the case today in much of Africa, Asia and South America, so massive is the pursuit of leisure in the West in the twenty-first century that it is called an industry and billions of dollars, pounds and euros are spent on it and by it.
Leisure takes many forms according to age, taste, opportunities, finance, physical ability, and many other factors. So we see people surfing, gardening, golfing, gambling, playing games, hiking, swimming, doing do-it-yourself activities, visiting theatres, museums, shows and the like, having membership in clubs, and many other things as well.
One distinct form of leisure for many people appears to be the practice of religion with the attendance at a church, synagogue, temple, mosque or “holy place” usually once a week at the weekend. There are usually facilities and activities for all ages in the bigger religious places and so families can go together, stay for a couple of hours on Sunday (or Saturday) morning. And there is active competition between different denominations in this supermarket of religions, leading to advertising which suggests that one place offers more and better facilities than the others for the pursuit of this leisure activity!
Now before leisure had become such a large part of the space, time and life of modern westerners, people did go to church or synagogue. No-one attending worship a hundred years ago would have described it as a leisure activity. More likely they would say that they were God’s creatures and his children and that it was their duty to assemble together to worship him through praise and thanksgiving, confession of sin and intercession and petition. Of course, many went because it was expected of them but they did not see it as leisure but as duty and, importantly, dressed as if they were to meet Someone most important.
Today, it is also the case that some traditionally devout people, who attend a place of worship regularly, would not see it as a leisure activity, but rather they would see it as the expression publicly with others of what is fundamental to their lives, a walking with God day by day and serving him as Lord.
In 2005 in the vast religious supermarket of America, we may say that there is the outward appearance in many parts of religion as a leisure activity and at the same time there is the presence of genuine devotion related to a sense of a divine duty to worship God. The dominance of the picture of leisure activity is suggested by all kinds of things: here are a few…..
The way that the vast majority dress – usually casually, as if they were going to a barbeque or a ball game or a party or shopping in the mall. They do not dress in the way they would if invited to a reception at the White House or the State Governor’s House or to meet the Queen of England. And, further, they do not dress in a uniform when engaged in “liturgical” activity such as giving the “Sacrament” in a church – note how those who distribute Communion even in the R C Church dress very casually as if they were offering lottery tickets or free samples of a product. Apparently, the God-factor in their experience is not sufficiently strong and intense to make them regard what they are doing as qualitatively different from being at a ball game or shopping in the mall.
Then we may note the generally casual and easy going approach of the leaders and assembly within “the worship service” as if there was NO-ONE there present, or NO-ONE looking on, of such exceptional importance that His Presence required an humble attentiveness and awe, with much silence before His Majesty.
Also we may note that the whole presentation is often very similar to, and may well be based upon, aspects of the entertainment industry. It all appears to be primarily concerned with satisfying human feelings and immediate spiritual needs. It seems not to be much concerned with extending the mind, heart and will in reverential awe towards the Deity, the living, holy LORD God, as an end in itself. Altogether it gives the impression of not being involved in the knowing of God, for God’s sake, for merely for the increase of the self worth and dignity of human beings.
Further, we may note that sociologists have for a long time consistently described religious practice as privatized, especially in America. It is something for the church and for the privacy of the home but not for the public place and not for the work place. So to belong to a church seems not to be for a many people a lot different than belonging to a golf, soccer, football, hockey, sports club or being committed to this or that party or society or action group.
If worship is offering to God, the Worthy One, the adoration, praise, thanksgiving, intercession, petition and confession that is due to Him and that is the human privilege and duty to offer, then one would expect that the way worshippers dress, assemble together, join in prayer and worship, use language, symbolism and ceremonial, and conduct and deport themselves would not be imitative of the world around them (which is secularized and godless), but would rather reflect in its style and content the uniqueness of the activity in which they are supposedly engaged. They are a people who apparently are seeking to know God, the LORD, and to enjoy Him for ever!
It has been said that the Church is to be in the world (until the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus) and for the world (in Ministry of evangelization and service) but not of the world (sharing its spirit and ethos, accepting its value-system, imitating its methods, using its language and so on).
The Revd Dr Peter Toon April 28, 2005 email@example.com