The Telegraph (UK) has a story about a flamenco-dancing priest in Spain. According to the story Fr. Pepe is wildly popular and especially with the ladies. They love it when, as part of the mass, he dances the flamenco. It’s no secret to the papal curia. He’s even danced the flamenco before John Paul II in the Vatican. That’s not the worst thing that’s ever been done in the Vatican. He says, “Something happens when I dance….It brings me closer to God….”
Why should Reformed folk worry about what a Spanish priest is doing during mass? These things have a way of spreading into evangelicalism and evangelicalism has a way of spilling over into Reformed practice. Arguably, it was Vatican II that unleashed the guitar mass on us all. Now look at evangelical and Reformed services. Guitars are everywhere. To be sure there are Pentecostals who roll on the floor and who run about during services and dance. What Fr. Pepe is doing combines three powerful evangelical impulses and thus may make it irresistible to the evangelicals. The first is the quest for illegitimate religious experience (QIRE). Through dancing during mass he experiences God more intensely. What’s the one line everyone remembers from Chariots of Fire? It’s not Liddell’s line about Sunday: “The Sabbath’s not a day for playing football” (soccer). No, it’s the line, “When I run, I feel his pleasure.” That made the evangelicals go all wiggly inside because it made running (then all the rage) quasi-sacramental and Romanists have been known to find sacraments where they ain’t. The temptation to mystify nature is a powerful impulse. It’s one of the reasons evangelicals leave Wheaton for Rome: to sacralize everything, to make the world magical again. After all, they expanded the two dominical sacraments into seven. If this catches on, perhaps they’ll add an eighth, after all Spanish self-identification as Roman Catholic is down 8%. Market share may trump the perfect number.
That gets us to the second evangelical temptation: it gets people into church. This impulse is as powerful, if not more so, than the others. The evangelicals are the people of the Second Great Awakening. They gave us special music and the altar call. If flamenco brings people to church, then why not? One shudders to imagine the forthcoming seminars: “Presbyterian Polka” and “Baptistry and the Bop” and “Congregational Cha Cha.”
Finally, this illustrates the temptation to confuse Christ and culture, to obliterate the line between the secular and the sacred. Flamenco dancing may have its place—though our Reformed forebears would have said “absolutely not!” and it does seem like a highly sexualized dance— but that place surely is not in divine services. As I understand the secular it is a realm, a sphere under God’s sovereign providence, in which Christians live together with non-Christians. We live in this realm as strangers and aliens but nevertheless we live in God’s good creation (contra the Gnostics) and we fulfill our vocations (contra Rome, we all have vocations) before the Lord and we enjoy the good things of creation. Flamenco may or may not be one of those but if it is, it belongs there. The sacred is a distinct sphere under God’s sovereign providence, under his twofold kingdom, in which we have distinct, separate holy (as distinct from common or shared) obligations and privileges. Worship belongs to this realm. It is set aside as distinct, it is governed by God’s Word in a way that our shared, common life is not. There is no regulative principle for crossing the street. That is done under God’s moral law generally. There is a regulative principle for worship, however. Worship requires a positive command. Without it we have no authority to do anything in worship. The circumstances (time, place, language) are set by nature but the elements are set by God’s Word. Fr. Pepe has added a new element to worship: dancing. Of course he couldn’t do that without musical instruments, which we also acquired from the Romanists. Maybe the early church, Zwingli, Calvin, Ames, the Synod of Dort, and the Westminster Divines had a point after all?