The Character of Worship – 2

Where or what is the breeding ground for these ordinate affections?

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10)

When we affirm that philosophy begins with wonder, we are affirming in effect that sentiment is anterior to reason. We do not undertake to reason about anything until we have been drawn to it by an affective interest…Reason alone fails to justify itself. Not without cause has the devil been called the prince of lawyers, and not by accident are Shakespeare’s villains good reasoners. If the disposition is wrong, reason increases maleficence; if it is right, reason orders and furthers the good…It appears, then, that culture is originally a matter of yea-saying, and thus we can understand why its most splendid flourishing stands often in proximity with the primitive phase of a people, in which there are powerful feelings of “oughtness” directed toward the world, and before the failure of nerve has begun. (Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences)

St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought.  When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics; but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful.  In the Republic, the well-nurtured youth is one ‘who would see most clearly whatever was amiss in ill-made works of man or ill-grown works of nature, and with a just distaste would blame and hate the ugly even from his earliest years and would give delighted praise to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it, so that he becomes a man of gentle heart. All this before he is of an age to reason; so that when Reason at length comes to him, then, bred as he has been, he will hold out his hands in welcome and recognize her because of the affinity he bears to her. (C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man)

A culture, which is the expression of a religion, is where these sentiments are formed. Culture is a life-long classroom of developing loves, tastes, sensibilities and judgements. Most of these are caught by example and exposure, rather than through didactic lessons. Habits of feeling are developed. Likes and dislikes are formed. Judgements about value become internalised and ultimately, unquestioned. A sense of “oughtness” takes shape in a human being as he lives within a culture. This is how things are done. This is how things ought to be. This is the scale of values.

Which culture will today form these correct sentiments? Folk culture? Properly speaking, it doesn’t exist any more. High culture? It has been disconnected from education, religion and mainstream thought, and is now a badge of refinement instead of a source of refinement, though it can still be properly used by the one who knows how. Mass culture? It is a harlot; it has no scruples as to what sentiments it will shape in you, so long as you can be sold to the advertisers.

So where do we turn? T.S. Eliot said it best, “The primary channel of transmission of culture is the family: no man wholly escapes from the kind, or wholly surpasses the degree, of culture which he acquired from his early environment. It would not do to suggest that this can be the only channel of transmission: in a society of any complexity it is supplemented and continued by other conduits of tradition…But by far the most important channel of transmission of culture remains the family: and when family life fails to play its part, we must expect the culture to deteriorate.” (Notes Toward The Definition of Culture pp41-42, 1949)

When culture at large fails to develop correct sentiments, it falls to the family and the local church to do so. The responsibility of parents and pastors is to grow people with ‘chests’, people whose sentiments are shaped correctly, and who come to the Scriptures with a correct understanding of what God means by decency, reverence, joy, and seriousness.

Our problem is that even our family cultures and church cultures do not exist in a vacuum. We live our lives among the banality of modern pop culture. Our churches come from particular traditions (cultures), and remain influenced by the culture of modern evangelicals, particularly perpetuated through the media. We cannot sit down and invent a perfectly biblical culture from scratch, perfectly pure from all tradition and influence around us. I’m afraid that’s just not how it works.

To criticize the Orthodox Jews or the Amish for their extreme separatism is easy. But what we often miss is that they have recognised something: it is impossible to develop the kind of culture you want within the family and the religious institution if the barrier between those things and the wider culture, which contains things you don’t want, is completely porous. The Hassidic Jew and the Mennonite is giving it his best shot, at least grant him that. What are most evangelical Christians doing, besides bleating “we’re in the world but not of the world”? Some kind of separatism is called for, if the wider cultural atmosphere is typically hostile to ordinate affection. If we are to grow a right habit of feeling, we have to think carefully about when, where, and how we will erect walls between family and the wider culture, between church and the wider Christian world, between church and family and the mass culture around us.


8 Responses to “The Character of Worship – 2”

  1. Joshua Allen Says:

    it is impossible to develop the kind of culture you want within the family and the religious institution if the barrier between those things and the wider culture, which contains things you don’t want, is completely porous. The Hassidic Jew and the Mennonite is giving it his best shot, at least grant him that.

    This is a straw-man and a false-dilemma. This passage presents the argument that “completely porous” is the only alternative to fundamentalism, hassidism, or whatever. Show me any non-separatist Christians who argue in favor of “completely porous”.

    We don’t condemn these people because “they’re giving it their best shot”. We condemn them because, like David Koresh or the FLDS, they are more concerned with preserving their culture than they are concerned with preserving the truth.

  2. David Says:

    I’m not sure how this is a false dilemma, when I don’t think it’s a dilemma at all. I haven’t presented Hassidism and Fundamentalism or an all-embracing view of culture as the only options to choose from. I’ve pointed them out as the most visible, since our age is one where people seem to embrace separatism from culture as an all-or-nothing deal. Further, I haven’t put words in the mouth of any Christian. Anyone can choose to make the barrier between himself and popular culture more or less porous. Hundreds of choices which we make each day add up to some kind of barrier between ourselves and the wider culture. The question is how permeable that barrier will be. The Amish and the Orthodox are at least concerned with the question, which is more than one can say for many evangelicals. I personally don’t condemn them for their preservation of their culture, because as T.S. Eliot put it, culture is the incarnation of a religion. For them, their beliefs (which they obviously think are true) are bound up in their culture. They defend both at once.
    I can certainly censure their beliefs, based on the Word of God. From there, I can object to the culture that has emerged from those beliefs. But I do not criticise their fervent defence of their culture from wider popular culture. I wish more Christians had that attitude.

  3. Joshua Allen Says:

    Thanks very much for the response. Given your clarification, I’m much more comfortable with the position you expressed in the post. Having followed this blog for some time, you seem to be a smart and thoughtful person, and your response on this matter only reinforces that conviction.

    I’m still very skeptical of anything that could be seen as “taking matters into our own hands”, when it comes to defining culture or embracing separatism. But this could just be temporary hypersensitivity induced by recent reading of “On Being a Theologian of the Cross”, which is a detailed commentary on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation. Having become a fan of Scruton, I realize the value of influencing and preserving a culture, but I also realize that his arguments could be used to justify FLDS as well as something more holy. I heartily endorse your point that the Word is the measuring stick by which we measure any application of “culture”. But I’m currently enamored of Luther’s point that the Word leads us to surrender, and not to taking matters into our own hands.

  4. Web Pulse – April 8, 2010 | Religious Affections Ministries Says:

    […] The Character of Worship – 2 « Towards Conservative Christianity“The primary channel of transmission of culture is the family.” Good stuff. […]

  5. Neoclassical Says:

    I like the the notion that saying “this is reverence for me” is postmodern, and your reasoning for saying that God assumes we can know what reverence looks like makes sense.

    If our current culture has lost that idea of reverence, how does it get that idea back? Would you look at first century Judaism for it or would you point to American Christianity a century or two ago? I mean, you can say “this is reverence” to someone who does not know, but what if someone who does not know doesn’t have someone to point it out to him? Or do you think that God “preserves” the idea somehow through generations and cultures?

  6. David Says:

    That’s a good question, and I can only speculate. I do think that common grace has preserved a semblance of things like reverence in most cultures. Things like war sober people up, so the military (in some nations) often still contains something of that reverence. That’s one example. At the very least, families can insist on reverence in the home between children and parents. Churches communicate these things at least by using music which emerged from more reverent times. I nurse a Tozerish view of God that says you are as spiritual as you want to be, so I do think God rewards the diligent seeker with examples of ordinate affection.
    I think mass culture is eroding the ‘pool’ of useful sentiments things very quickly, so that we are running out of things to point to. Once you reach a point where correct sentiments are almost completely foreign to the world’s cultures, and where the biblical analogies from immanent reality are just about completely misunderstood due to a satanic perversion of culture and imagination, I’m not sure where one goes from there. Perhaps at that point a Great Tribulation.

  7. Simon Thomas Says:

    Hi there…yes I have found more culture in Yoghurt, than I have in modern day christian worship offerings. I think it should start in the home, even more than that, it should start at the family altar. I am afraid we are losing the rverence that is due to God in worship, and has become a self focused exercise. Here I preach to myself, family worship is foundational for corporate worship. If a family does not worship togheter, everything falls apart. I am not so much on Tozers’s view I am more of the opinion that the higher you esteem the object of your affection, the more devout can be the worship you offer. Now how you get there, I am not sure, you tell me? How do you raise your affecitons in worship without being hypocritcal. Is it a matter of offering what you can in faith, with the measure of faith you have…

  8. David Says:

    You’re right that family worship is critical. Dads need to think beyond a cursory reading of a devotional and a mumbled prayer. Those times are formative. Little eyes are listening to how you read the Scripture, how you pray, and how you sing. True love for God or its lack can’t be faked; certainly by the time your children are teenagers, they have radar for insincerity.
    Affections are raised based on the truth of the object perceieved. The greater the value of the object, and the clearer our perception of it, the greater the affective response. We don’t have to do anything regarding the value of God, which, blessed be His name, remains infinite and immutable. Our role comes in the perception of His value.
    Here a mixture of things comes into play. On the one hand, there needs to be the seeking, burning heart. On the other, you need to use means that the Spirit will bless with illumination. If you use Veggie Tales and Jesus Rocks Volume 3, I doubt there will be a great conflagration of piety in your home.
    With small children, we do need to use things which they understand without trivialising the faith. Isaac Watts wrote a whole songbook for children that you can download for free. Use appropriate Bible storybooks. Read the Scriptures. Play them a well-sung hymn or music from the Christian tradition and ask them what it says about God. Pray for others and record their requests and answers. Learn a few hymns per year. Plan your ministry together as a family. Testify to what God has done in your lives.
    There are many things we can do, when we combine genuine piety with appropriate means.

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