Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Drama in the Worship Service

Earlier I noted some observations I had made during a monthly local event billed as a "Contemporary Worship Service." I had said that the service consisted of three main components: a message, songs, and a drama clip. I reflected somewhat on the singing and ended by saying that I would, yet, write about the drama clip.

The play was performed behind a white sheet with a bright light shining on the back of it. Between the light and the sheet were the performers. It starts with a man attacking another man. He clubs him over the head and steals his wallet. At this point a third man walks on to the scene. He talks to the thief who then breaks down to cry and to worship in front of the third man. More people enter the scene. They roughly grab the two men and hoist them up on crosses. Obviously the one man is the Lord Jesus Christ and the other is the thief who repented.

Is drama appropriate in a worship service—even a "Contemporary Worship Service"? The question of the dramatization of the biblical narrative has been dealt with at least twice in this magazine (Clarion). Back in the mid-1970s, a series of articles by the Rev. G. van Rongen was published. In the 1995, this magazine returned to the topic when it published an article by the Rev. J.L. van Popta. Both authors concluded that the dramatization of biblical narrative is inappropriate and ought not to be done. Repeating all the arguments put forward cogently by the Rev. Messrs. Van Rongen and Van Popta would take us too far afield. Let these questions posed by Rev. Van Popta in his article suffice:

Bible dramas … present us with some … problems:
a. Who would dare to play God?
b. Who would dare to play the sinless Jesus Christ?
c. Who would dare to play Judas, the son of perdition?
d. Would anyone dare to play Satan in a drama about the Fall, or in the story of job or the account of Christ's temptation?
e. Who would dare to play the resurrection of the Lord?
f. Would anyone dare to repeat the words of Thomas, "My Lord and my God," as he knelt before a sinful creature, a fellow student?
g. Would any dare to be Peter and deny the Lord?
h. Would any dare to be Pilate and condemn the Lord Jesus?
i. Dramas depicting the crucifixion would necessarily become very emotional and superficial. The audience as it participated and experienced the pain of the cross would miss the real meaning of the cross. The Lord Jesus would become a tragic figure in a martyr play.

Closer to home
Shortly after I had visited the local "Contemporary Worship Service" someone mentioned to me a worship service of one of our Dutch sister churches that included drama and could be viewed on the Internet. I took a look and was somewhat taken aback. It went like this:

It is a Palm Sunday service, March 24th, 2002, in the Gereformeerde Kerk (vrijgemaakt) in Groningen-Oost. After the consistory entered, the children of the congregation spent about 10 minutes walking up and down all the aisles waving (palm?) branches in the air. Meanwhile, a fellow, in dungarees, was standing on the podium playing a guitar. Once the service had begun with votum, salutation and a song, all the little children were invited forward for a children's sermon delivered by the minister. On the pulpit was a large 4 x 8 poster of Jesus on a donkey being praised by the pilgrims. Up and down the sides of the auditorium were banners of pilgrims (at one point the minister asked everyone to look around and see the pilgrims). Then the children, led by some well-meaning moms, sang for the congregation accompanied by the fellow with the guitar. Chaos reigned when the children returned to their pews. Some young people led in a prayer for a blessing over the service and did the scripture readings. The minister preached on Matthew 21. After the sermon another group of children (a little older than the first group) came forward to sing some more songs for the congregation. This was led by some more well-meaning moms and accompanied by the fellow on the guitar.

The contrast between the traditional black-suited consistory and the "contemporary" service was very striking. I thought to myself: "I know synods don't read newspapers or watch worship services on the Internet, but really, ought we not to be calling our Dutch sister churches to account for this kind of stuff?" And then I thought: "If this were going on in the United Reformed Churches, Phase II would be phased out pretty quickly."

The move to be relevant tends to make a church irrelevant. The preaching of the gospel of Christ has been relevant for 2000 years. Likely it will remain so. After all, it is the way God ordained for the seed of regeneration to be sown. The Word of God says that people are born again by the Holy Spirit who works faith by the preaching of God's Word. A church that sticks to that and eschews every attempt to be relevant by adding drama—or children's sermons and special music—to the worship service will still be relevant long from now.