As my wife and I moved a few months ago, we have begun looking for a new church community closer to us. In the places we have visited, we went to one that is a pretty traditional contemporary service (nice oxymoron, huh?) and one that is a pretty traditional high church, liturgical service. Both Laci and I have had much more experience in the former, so that feels more comfortable.
However, we noticed some key distinctions between the communities, which led me to think about differences between liturgical and contemporary communities in general. The thing I noticed (which is not an amazing or new insight) is that liturgical communities tend to be more liberal politically and theologically, focusing on communal issues and social justice at large. In contrast, contemporary communities tend to be more conservative politically and theologically, focusing on individual experience and personal responsibility. Now there are obvious exceptions to these rules, but often they do characterize churches as a pattern, I believe.
That got me to wondering why this is the case. And here's my conclusion:
Liturgical churches are by their nature communal. They focus on the whole community, not individual's reactions. Liturgy by its nature is participative. It is also not focused on creating a conversion experience or a deeply moving personal experience. Again, it is focused on the group coming together. As a result, it would make sense that these churches would focus more on the whole community and larger social justice issues.
In contrast, contemporary churches developed out of the Protestant Reformation and a focus on personal relationship with Christ, personal conversion, and personal conviction. The service is therefore focused on moving each individual. Hence, you can get a more performance-driven service that is non-participative, but leads to touching, emotional experiences. As the emerging movement has emphasized, these services have usually lost the participative quality. When that is lost, then it makes sense that politically and theologically they would ignore the social justice issues and instead focus on personal morality and responsibility.
Interestingly, I saw these two blog posts with similar ideas. Maybe I just had my eyes out for these concepts. What do you think about these patterns? Have you seen them? Have you seen a successful mix of the two? That's one of the strengths of the emerging church, I believe: It attempts to merge the strengths of both while cutting out the weaknesses of each.