The Benefit of Tradition for the Church

Much of  the work I have done on this blog over the last 8 years is precisely as one of these young adults advocating for the re-discovery of the theological and liturgical traditions of the ancient church for our contemporary church and world.  More and more I am discovering others who are on a similar journey: we seek a church that can unreservedly affirm the faith of the ancient Creeds and use them as our lens for determining the "basics" or "foundations" of Christian belief and for interpreting the Bible; we seek a sacramental and liturgical spirituality that engages not only our brains but our senses of sight, smell, taste, touch and our sense of wonder in a holistic way of worship that is rooted in the ancient Hebrew and Christian practices and shared with saints and believers through the centuries of Church history.

Many young people on this journey have migrated from various sorts of "free churches" into Methodist, Lutheran, Anglican or even Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

All of these churches have their issues and problems right now, none is perfect; but all of them share in the ancient liturgical and creedal heritage that has been handed down from the early church, and all of them also seek (though in differing ways and to differing degrees) to continue the ancient three-fold ministry of bishop, presbyter, and deacon that we find in Scripture and the early church.  As a Methodist presbyter I can say that we are less consistent than some of these other churches in our reception of these treasures, but the ancient faith and liturgy are indeed the basis of official doctrinal statements and books of worship, even if some of our clergy ignore this.  

Here is a post on the benefit of this ancient theological and liturgical heritage at The Flying Scroll blog by Chad Bird.  Here are some excerpts:

Some like the way these practices are transhistorical, providing an unbroken ritual link with prior generations of the faithful.  Others appreciate how traditions tend to concretize doctrine, embodying religious teachings in religious rites, so that the eyes and ears and other senses participate fully in what a faith teaches, rescuing it from becoming a bloodless religion of the mind.  Still others embrace tradition as the communal expression of the faith, the participation of all in a shared rite, thereby bonding them, and avoiding the tyranny of individualism or clerical whim.

I am afraid that clerical whim - both in terms of our worship services and our theology has been a great problem at times, but not a new one.  For us as Christians and especially us clergy, the challenge is always to be sure that we are putting what God wants and what God things before our own desires and values (and recognizing that the two may be quite distinct).  Chad goes on to tell why he eventually came to love the rooted experience in the liturgical church.

Ultimately, however, I fell in love with traditions—and specifically, traditional worship—for a single, overarching reason:  its components, to varying degrees, are all in the service of the Gospel.
What you’ll encounter in a traditional worship service is a framework of readings, creeds, confessions, hymns, and prayers that pulsate with the language of Scripture, with Christ Jesus at the heart of it all.  By the repetition of these, with new elements circulating every week, truths seep into the hearts and minds of worshipers, steeping them in vivifying words.  Every element of worship flows toward, into, and from the altar, where Jesus sits as Lamb, Priest, King, and Man, all rolled into one, giving his blood and body into his people and thereby literally embodying them with God.  Cognizant of the fact that Jesus came to save not only the soul, but also the body, the body participates fully in this worship.  Knees bow before the regal Lord; hands trace the sign of the saving cross upon themselves; mouths dine at his feast; eyes soak in the portrayal of his Passion in crucifix, icons, stained-glass windows; and noses spell the aromatic incense wafting prayers up toward God’s throne.

There is some wonderful testimony there.  He brings us back to the main point here, which is communion with the Living Lord; he also discusses the much-talked-of recent posts from Rachel Held Evans on the subject of young Baptists 'going high church,' but I will not rehash that ground, you can check it out over there.  Check out the whole post here.

For similar 'musings' on liturgy and tradition see:
Lewis on the liturgy
Methodist bishop: Let us pray (with the church)
The Liturgy questions us about relevance.

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