The ever insightful and pithy, Revd Dr Carl Trueman, Professor of Biblical & Religious Studies at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, had some thoughts on the recent instructions the Church of England issued regarding school assemblies. His full comment can be found in First Things.
The Church of England instructions that prompted the essay follows:
“Parents, pupils and adults can expect to encounter worship that is consistently invitational. There should be no compulsion to “do anything.” Rather, worship should provide the opportunity to engage whilst allowing the freedom of those of different faiths and those who profess no religious faith to be present and to engage with integrity. The metaphor of “warm fires and open doors” captures this idea. The warmth of the fire derives from the clarity and authenticity of the Christian message at its heart. There is no value to an encounter with a watered down, lowest common denominator version of faith. Importantly the door is open, all are welcome to come in and sit as near or as far away from the fire as they feel comfortable. Pupils and adults should always only be invited to pray if they wish to do so and should be invited to pray in their own way. Prayer should always be accompanied by the option to reflect.”
Trueman then opines:
“While I agree that there is nothing to be gained from an encounter with a watered-down version of the Christian faith, I do not know how a robust statement of faith can find expression in worship that allows those of other faiths and those of no faith to “engage with integrity.” And if we are looking for New Testament metaphors that draw on images of combustion when describing worship, the letter to the Hebrews offers us a fine one: “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28–29).
“And that, of course, brings us to the document’s core problem: It is trying to marry Christian worship to the spirit of this present age. The New Testament authors saw worship as a response to a holy God, an act that is rendered problematic by humanity’s sin and is thus possible only through the work of God himself in Christ. In other words, the gospel at its very core is, in a way, exclusive—something about which early Christians felt no embarrassment. Their God was awesome in the sense that an earthquake or a thunderstorm is awesome. Our modern age wants God to be awesome in the sense of a favourite teen girl band.
“The document contains other ridiculous statements. The idea that the service should involve pupils in planning, leading, and evaluation is characteristic of an age that worships the alleged wisdom of youth and that has also made worship juvenile.
“This document is assisted catechetical suicide, Anglican-style—one that in its squirming embarrassment about Christian exclusivity buries the gospel under a pile of inclusive blather, and squanders the great heritage of Anglican liturgy and hymnody.”