First Person Pronouns in Christian Worship: A Key to Denominational Affiliation and Cultural Identity?

(Part of my writing practice is to create partial documents, whether essay, memoir, or fiction, and write them into the writer’s software I use as a way to remember the idea when I work on the larger project the portion will be a part of. This practice also gives me a chance to think through the logic and language of my basic idea. Here is a thesis or theme statement for a possible stand-alone essay, or else chapter of a book, about an aspect of understanding and comparing the Eastern and Western Christian faith in an American context. As I wrote this out, I tried to keep language tight, thought progression logical, and ability to research it, doable. The topic is enough for a book; will I be able to marshal enough evidence for a chapter, or even an essay?)

I’ve long thought that pronouns, both type and number, used in Christian hymnody, prayer, and liturgical language, are useful indicators of a group’s or individual’s religious affiliation and approach to God. I have never taken the time to methodically study this by reviewing a variety of hymnals and worship books. I have guessed, however, after a graduate degree in theology, a five-year career as a Protestant clergyman, and a lifetime of participation in and study of a wide variety of Christian expressions, that the pronouns of Christian worship would demonstrate a predictable pattern. I have theorized that as one looks at a continuum of Christian denominations, with “high” or extensive liturgy and older organizational pedigree at one end, and “low” or simpler liturgy and younger organizational pedigree at the other, that the use of the first person singular: I, me, mine, would track with a simpler liturgy, a younger denomination, and an approach to God that is more individualistic, private, and subjective. Conversely, hymnody in which plural first person pronouns: we, us, our, predominate, that denomination’s approach would tend toward a more corporate, public, and objective approach to God.

My new thought today along these lines is that this distinction in the use of pronouns in Christian worship may track with a person’s general approach to life: political, fiscal, and even social (how one defines and lives out a marriage, raises a child, participates in civic activities and organizations, and probably many others). I also suspect that first person pronoun use in Christian, especially Protestant, worship tracks with traditionally American values and cultural traits. Philosophies and practices, from free market economics to democracy to even a (at least a historical) trust in the importance, function, and value of education, especially public. In the context of an American approach to, and participation in, Orthodox Christian, a denomination that is both ancient and is not native to the United States, worship, this distinction, if it exists, would be useful, and even fundamental for understanding and recognizing culturally American approaches to faith, prayer, and living that may not be in line with historically Orthodox ones.

About literarylee

I sling words for a living. Always have, always will. Some have been interesting and fun; most not. These days, I write the fun words early in the morning before the adults are up and make me eat my Cream of Wheat.
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