A Meditation at the End of 2005

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 28 December 2005 0 Comments
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I go to a Presbyterian Church that is fairly progressive.
Sermons have included arguments for environmental
stewardship, non-literal interpretation of the Bible and a
general respect for science. Prayers don't generally ask God
to intervene physically. I like all those things. However,
there are still many traditional values embedded in the
music, language and customs of the church. Sometimes, when a
passage from the Bible is read aloud by a church member,
"this is the Word of the Lord" follows. The belief in
redemption through the death of Jesus is central. Theism is
of course deeply entrenched. What are your thoughts on this
situation? I would not be surprised if many others wrestle
with the same issue.


Liturgy is usually a century out of date. In my church,
the revised and supposedly modern prayer book of 1979
probably was relevant to the world of the early 19th century.

The first step in reformation is to change those things
that an individual can change. That includes the sermon, the
interpretation of the Bible and the respect for science and
knowledge itself. Your church has taken these steps but it
swims in a sea of pre-modern concepts. If the earth is not
the center of the universe with heaven just above the sky,
then so much of the Bible is immediately reduced to the
pre-modern book that it is. Why do we expect it to be
otherwise it was written between 1000 B.C.E. and 135 C.E?
Everything written in that period made the assumptions of
that time. Remember Jesus thought epilepsy was demon

What you are now doing is experiencing the conflict of
living in the 21st century while your worship reflects the
1st, 4th and 13th centuries. Inevitably you are feeling the
tension. It is, however, a tremendous advance just to be
facing these realities. That tension will create one of two
responses: Either you and those who think like you will begin
to force changes in the liturgy or the liturgies will finally
become so incoherent to you that you will give up worship

Reformation is the only alternative to seeing Christianity
split into two groups — one, Fundamentalist (they come
in both a Catholic and Protestant form) and two, members of
the Church Alumni Association.

Work on liturgy is going on everywhere but it is in small
isolated groups within every denomination. Eventually it
will break out of its places of origin — coalesce into
a movement that will shake the foundations of traditional
church life.

I will welcome that day. I pray for it every time I sing,
"O come, O come Emmanuel." Emmanuel means God with us
— that is God deep within our being as the very ground
of our being. We journey inward not outward to meet this
God. The moment we realize this is the moment that liturgy
will be transformed. Write again in about a year and give me
a progress report.

— John Shelby Spong

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