In defense of mandatory worship

I consider the following my first real venture in theology. Back in college a fellow student wrote an open letter in the school newspaper questioning the point of our mandatory chapel services. It seemed to me that he was speaking for more students than just himself, that this was a public conversation worth having, and that I stood in a position to contribute to that conversation. Here was my response.

“In a recent letter, third-year student Danny, with both courage and honesty, asked two questions which expressed his frustration with mandatory chapels: “Why is chapel mandatory and how is it beneficial to the students who don’t want to be there?” He contended that “forced gatherings cause resentment”; that chapel’s mandatory character “makes chapel worse for those who want to be there”; and that our speakers typically offer little more than “Sunday school lesson[s].” He also claimed that these wrongs compound, and result in the rusting — rather than the sharpening — of the metaphorical iron of our spiritual states. As an alternative, Danny would like to see the institution of a more consumer-sensitive chapel. He seems to feel such a model would better cater to the student body — or at least let those of us who would rather not attend off the hook.

“Though I realize there are students who share Danny’s grievances, I don’t. But it’s really Danny’s alternative model for chapel that I find most troubling. For Danny would have us relativize our worship around a consumer-driven narrative, that is, around another gospel. In contrast, I would suggest that rather than adopt the agenda and prescriptions of a story which champions personal choice, we should instead, if only by our attendance, tell the story of the Son’s obedience in the Spirit to the Father. Maybe then at least God will still benefit from our mandatory chapels. God’s worthiness of worship, after all, is the principle reason we hold chapel. That’s the faith Westmont confesses. And that is why we students are required to attend chapel — so that we might, as a Christian college, more fully embody that confession. Either way, I thank you, Danny, for kicking off a discussion on one of our most important and worthwhile institutions here at Westmont.”

Minor alterations have been made to the text as it appears; the original is available HERE.


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