Skip to content

Clericalism and creatives

27 August 2009

TallSkinnyKiwi, who was described by Dallas Morning News in a 1998 article as “Postmodern Apostle to the Cultural Creatives” has written an interesting blog post about clergy and Cultural Creatives, in which he raises issues of clericalism and ecclesiology. Tall Skinny Kiwi: The 1% Clergical Elite and the 10% Cultural Creative Leadership:

But back to the 1% superstar church leaders and the 10% creative priesthood. I have noticed a number of younger ministries [trying to avoid the ’emerging’ word here] recently shift from a key-solo-big-hairy-man-on-stage-leader situation to a shared leadership of a much larger group. Jesus Freaks, in Germany, for example, have just decentralized leadership to a much group of leaders who will guide the ministry into the future.

I still have some interest in trying to bridge the cultural gap between Orthodox and emerging church people (sorry to use the “e” word, but circumlocutions usually lead to even more misunderstandings), and so I find this piece very interesting.

One of the barriers to communication is terminology, and lots of terms end up needing to be translated both ways. I’ve previously commented in this blog about how the term “worship” seems to mean entirely different things to Orthodox and emerging church people; for the latter it seems to have been inherited from the neopentecostal megachurch tradition. And perhaps the same thing can be said of “clerical”, where the underlying concept seems to be “a key-solo-big-hairy-man-on-stage-leader” denoted by the neopentecostal use of the term “pastor”.

And then of course there is the term “cultural creative”.

Tall Skinny Kiwi quotes what he wrote in another article–THEOOZE – Articles:

Paul Ray, from the Institute of Noetic Studies, came up with three groupings of American people in the mid Nineties. The Traditionals (29%) who are usually older in age, The Moderns (47%), who make up the mainstream and Cultural Creatives (24%) who represent the emerging culture and are the only group that is growing. His studies show that the Traditionals have much in common with the Cultural Creatives.
Ray divides the Cultural Creatives into two groups:

The Greens (13% of US adult population) who focus on social and environmental issues, and The Core Cultural Creatives (11%) who value spiritual integration. This Core group are the leading edge thinkers, says Ray, and twice as many of them are women than men.

The first thing that strikes me about that is the use of the word “noetic”; the concept, if not the word itself, is familiar to most Orthodox Christians, but I wonder if the Institute of Noetic Studies understands it in the same way.[1]

According to this quiz I am a “cultural creative”, which is another reason for my interest in this topic. But while the quiz has Moderns (or Modernists) it doesn’t identify Traditionals, though if, as Paul Ray says, Traditionals have much in common with Cultural Creatives, then perhaps there is something in Orthodoxy that attracts at least some Cultural Creatives.

But there is a contrast between “priest” and “pastor” (using “pastor” in the neopentecostal megachurch sense of  “a key-solo-big-hairy-man-on-stage-leader”). In another post The reconciliation of opposites? I referred to Ben Myers’s comment on neopentecostal megachurch worship “The Protestant reformers used to complain that the Roman Catholic priest was “doing worship” for the whole congregation, standing in their place and performing everything on their behalf – and a similar complaint is often made about today’s Pentecostal megachurches. But I think the function of the screen raises a much more interesting problem: not merely that the congregation is worshipping vicariously through the onstage performers, but that the entire worship event is actually taking place onscreen.” In Myers’s experience the screen dominates, and what the worshippers see is not so much the leader, as the image of the leader on screen, the icon of the leader.

StNickDbnAnd here perhaps one can see the difference between a modern icon and an Orthodox ikon, for in the Orthodox Church too a screen is prominent, but the “leader” whose image dominates it is Christ. For much of the service the priest is behind the screen, and those who look at the screen do not see the image of the priest, but the image of Christ and the saints. And Christ is the focus of the worship of the saints, both those who are living and breathing on earth and those who have departed this life, but are present in Christ.

Before the Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Church, the priest and deacon stand before the screen (the ikonostasis) and pray before kissing the image of Christ

We venerate Thy most pure image, O Good One, and ask forgiveness of our transgressions, O Christ our God. Of Thy good will Thou wast pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh and deliver Thy creatures from bondage to the enemy. Therefore with thankfulness we cry aloud to Thee: Thou has filled all with joy, O our Saviour, for Thou didst come to save the world.

For Orthodox Christians, substituting the magnified image of a “worship leader” or “pastor” for this is not just culturally strange; it somehow seems to miss the whole point of Christian worship, and to direct it to the wrong place.

Pope Theodoros II

Pope Theodoros II

From a Western Protestant viewpoint the Orthodox Church can look very clericalist too. The clergy wear fancy clothes that seem to set them apart from the people. Here, for example, is His Beatitude Theodoros II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, and when he is present at the service we sing his “Fimi”:

His Beatitude Theodoros
Most Divine and Most Holy
Our Father and Shepherd, Pope and Patriarch
Of the Great City of Alexandria
Of Libya, Pentapolis and Ethiopia
Of all the land of Egypt and All Africa
Father of fathers, Shepherd of shepherds
Bishop of bishops, thirteenth in line of the Apostles
And Judge of the Universe, Many Years!

To Western ears, that sounds way over the top.

So the Orthodox and the Neopentecostals look excesively clericalist to each other. Is there any way of bridging the gap? And what about emerging church people, already uneasy about megachurch clericalism–won’t Orthodoxy look just as clericalist to them?

Perhaps a clue may be found in what Paul Ray said — that traditionals have much in common with cultural creatives. The neopentecostall megachurch is essentially modern, whereas Orthodoxy is traditional, and is therefore probably closer to the cultural creatives. Clericalism has undoubtedly crept into Orthodoxy from time to time, but it is not shown by things like the clothes worn by clergy, but rather by their attitudes.

Notes and references

1. Noetic. In Orthodox theology “noetic” has a particular meaning. The word nous has various uses in Patristic teaching. It indicates either the soul or the heart or even the energy of the soul. Yet the nous is mainly the eye of the soul; the purest part of the soul, the highest attention. It is also called noetic energy, and is not identified with reason.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 27 August 2009 6:44 pm


    Where can I turn to learn more about what worship means in the Orthodox church?

    • 28 August 2009 7:39 am


      The simplest way to learn about what worship means in the Orthodox Church is to visit one. It’s a bit like the taste of potatoes — it cannot be described, it can only be experienced.

      That said, it would be best to visit one that uses a language you understand. Vespers is a good place to start, usually celebrated on Saturday evenings in parishes.

  2. 1 September 2009 8:59 pm

    “Clericalism has undoubtedly crept into Orthodoxy from time to time, but it is not shown by things like the clothes worn by clergy, but rather by their attitudes.”

    This is absolutely correct. Pray for us, brother, mightily and with all the compassion you can muster, because in some places in the Orthodox world (Portland, Oregon, specifically my Greek church), the shroud of clericalism is strangling the Body of Christ that wishes to follow the call of Jesus, “Lazarus, come forth!”

  3. 3 September 2009 1:49 pm

    I must confess, Orthodox Christianity does look very clerical to my Protestant Christian eyes. I think the attraction from a cultural creative point of view, is the openness to mysticism and symbolism. As such, I feel conflicted about the clerical garb. Can appreciate it from one perspective, but react against it from another.

  4. 7 September 2009 5:02 pm

    I wonder if Jesus were among such “dignitaries” if he would weep, not for joy, but out of sorrow that humans are still, full of egotistic pride, and, as Luther said: “turned in upon themselves.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: