Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Return to Tradition

Thanks to my friend Jen in Seattle for pointing out this article! If you've been a reader here for awhile, you know I've been doing an on-again, off-again series on why we are planting an Anglican church: what drew us, from evangelical backgrounds, to this form of worship, and why we think it will grow. Well, this article helps document some of the claims I've been making! It's rather long, so I'm selectively quoting the bits that interest me the most:

In Richardson, Texas, the congregation of Trinity Fellowship Church participates in something that would have been considered almost heretical in most evangelical Protestant churches five or 10 years ago: a weekly Communion service. An independent, nondenominational church of some 600 members, Trinity Fellowship is not the only evangelical congregation that is offering a weekly Eucharist, saying the Nicene or Apostles' creeds, reading the early Church Fathers, or doing other things that seem downright Roman Catholic or at least high Episcopalian.

Daniel Wallace, a professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, which trains pastors for interdenominational or nondenominational churches, says there is a growing appetite for something more than "worship that is a glorified Bible class in some ways."

Something curious is happening in the wide world of faith [including Islam and Judaism, in the article], something that defies easy explanation or quantification.... Put simply, the development is a return to tradition and orthodoxy, to past practices, observances, and customary ways of worshiping.

...In all faiths, the return to tradition has different meanings for different people. To some, it is a return to reassuring authority and absolutes; it is a buttress to conservative theological, social, and even political commitments. To others, it is a means of moving beyond fundamentalist literalism, troubling authority figures, and highly politicized religious positions (say on gay marriage and contraception or abortion) while retaining a hold on spiritual truths. In short, the new traditionalism is anything but straightforward.

...The entrepreneurial model adopted by so many evangelical churches, with its emphasis on seeker-friendly nontraditional services and programs, had been successful in helping Trinity build its congregation, Anderson explains. But it was less successful in holding on to church members and deepening their faith or their ties with fellow congregants. Searching for more rootedness, Anderson sought to reconnect with the historical church.

Not surprisingly, that move was threatening to church members who strongly identify with the Reformation and the Protestant rejection of Catholic practices, including most liturgy. But Anderson and others tried to emphasize the power of liturgy to direct worship toward God and "not be all about me," he says. Anderson also stressed how liturgy "is about us—and not just this church but the connection with other Christians." Adopting the weekly Eucharist, saying the Nicene Creed every two or three weeks, following the church calendar, Trinity reshaped its worship practices in ways that drove some congregants away. But Anderson remains committed, arguing that traditional practices will help evangelical churches grow beyond the dependence on "celebrity-status pastors."

"Protestantism has been in a centrifugal pattern for so long, with each group spinning away from others," McLaren says. "But now there is some kind of pull back to the center."

People of the postmodern mindset—particularly 20- and 30-somethings—question the hyperindividualism of modern culture. They search for new forms of community but tend to be wary of authority figures and particularly of leaders, Jones says, who take divisive liberal or conservative social-political positions—one reason why the emergent groups tend to be antipastoral. "The problem is not the issues," says Jones, who belongs to an emergent church, Solomon's Porch, in Minneapolis. "The problem is how we talk about issues. We are going to live in reconciliation with each other, and traditional practices are what restore us and hold us together."

The young neotraditionalists also have an almost intuitive attraction to liturgy, ritual, and symbol as forms of knowledge that complement the dominant rational, scientific one. [See my post on Two Minds]. "There is a certain kind of postmodern sensibility that loses confidence in the rational explanation of everything," McLaren says. For him, Jones, and others, "doing church" in traditional and innovative ways is a form of theological reflection that leaves behind the fundamendalists' need to make all religious propositions into pseudoscientific statements, to turn Genesis, for example, into a geology textbook.

The Baptist church that I grew up in held their first-ever Ash Wednesday service last year! Anyone else noticing a return to tradition in your church?


Summer in FL said...

I think the return to tradition is great. However, I'm ashamed that some of the traditions that you speak of -- having grown up in a Southern Baptist church - I've never heard of them. Ash Wednesday, I of course, do know about. But, is there a great book that could educate some sheltered someone like me who doesn't know about all the traditions and rituals? I really would like to learn more . . .

Can't wait to see you!

Jennifer said...


I grew up the same way, and it has been a delight to learn about these things.

I can recommend a couple of books, and I'm sure Jeanne has some ideas as well...

For a really good overview of why these kind of traditions are important try Robert Webber's "Ancient Future Faith" In this book he takes a broad approach, not explaining everything about every practice, but explaining why they matter for our crazy world today.
http://www.amazon.com/Ancient-Future-Faith-Rethinking-Evangelicalism-Postmodern/dp/080106029X/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1198089630&sr=8-3. A slightly older book by the same author is "Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail", also very good. http://www.amazon.com/Evangelicals-Canterbury-Trail-Attracted-Liturgical/dp/0819214760/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1198089860&sr=1-8

For a really basic description of some of these kind of traditions you can see Tony Jone's book, "Soul Shaper". Its written for people who lead youth ministry and are trying to integrate this into their work, so it a hands-on kind of here-is-what-you-do book.

If you'd like something to really sink your teeth into, I suggest Alexander Schmemam's "For the Life of the World : Sacraments and Orthodoxy". It’s not a very long book, but it is deep with meaning. http://www.amazon.com/Life-World-Sacraments-Orthodoxy/dp/0913836087/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1198090679&sr=1-1

I'm looking forward to seeing what Jeanne suggests too!

Jen in Seattle

At A Hen's Pace said...

Jeanne just spent the whole day in Chicago with six kids and is too tired to think, but Jen's suggestions are awesome.


The brain pulls up one excellent option for a mom like you, Summer--To Dance With God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration, by Gertrud Nelson. Since I'm not thinking straight, I offer this review from "A Customer" on Amazon:

"This is a wonderful book. It offers beautiful methods of maintaining and enriching family rituals. Advent,Christmas, Lent,Pentecost, Thanksgiving, Halloween etc. It is all here. The first section of this book discusses ways people can approach all celebrations. Then the second half focuses on specific holidays. My copy of this book is well worn and well loved. The author is Catholic, but most of her ideas work well for any Christian faith. She offers fresh ways of responding to the liturgical calender. Included are crafts, prayers, games,the history of each holiday as well as family and community centering activities. While families without children will respond to a lot of what she has to say, families with children of all ages will find their copy of this book as well worn as a treasured family cookbook."