Re: Why Millennials Long for Liturgy

Gracy Olmstead has penned a good piece over at The American Conservative on “Why Millennials Long for Liturgy.” (One of the people interviewed is HP contributor Bart Gingerich.)

You should follow Gracy on Twitter at @gracyolmstead.

Gracy walks you through the journeys of several young people who have ended up in the Anglican, Orthodox, and Catholic churches (the usual destinations). I appreciated her attention to the ways the journey can be difficult. And I also appreciated the look at what some churches not in the Big Three are doing in response to the trend:

Many Protestant churches have noticed these congregational trends and their loss of numbers. Some are adopting a more liturgical style to draw in younger audiences: the new book Gathering Together, by Christian theology professor Steve Harmon, describes a Baptist denominational move towards a greater liturgical focus. “It represents an increasingly widespread Baptist recognition that our tradition by itself is not sufficient,” Harmon told ABP News.

Bart is quoted criticizing this view, and I wanted to add my own observation to his perspective. The idea that a non-sacramental church can tap into the trend by adding some aesthetic upgrades is profoundly naive–but very characteristic for traditions that have no appreciation for forms.

We’ve all heard the stories of churches that split because they couldn’t agree on hymns vs. praise songs. Many churches these days (even some liturgical ones) avoided this problem by semi-splitting into two, differently styled, services. What is conspicuously missing from these stories is any conversation about the theological significance of the forms. In other words: these Christians were willing to undergo schism because of their musical tastes, because they thought drums were evil or hymns were stodgy or because one or the other “did it for me,” but not to ask whether such aesthetics have any meaning beyond personal preference or force of habit. In fact, the ones that have a “traditional” and a “contemporary” service pretty much endorse (by implication) the idea that they don’t–that how we do things does not matter.

But does it?

Does kneeling, rather than standing, when we ask God for something have a spiritual effect on us? Does it matter how we dress when we stand before the King? Are there certain ways of singing that are inclined to make us more pious, or more reverent, or more excited? What is the purpose of all the stuff we do in church besides the sermon? Is it to tee up the sermon, to get us excited or thoughtful, to let us cut loose and praise God, to educate us about God and our relationship to Him, to communicate something to each other and to God together? Should we pick a church based on what makes us “feel worshipful,” or are there certain things that must be in a Christian church service in order for it to be one?

If a church has never engaged these kinds of questions (and most non-sacramental churches haven’t), slapping a corporate prayer or a meaningless communion on the Sunday proceedings won’t change a thing for anybody.

I was going to end there, but as it happens, our friends at The Hipster Conservative just posted this piece: “Donald Miller Doesn’t Need to Go to Church.” It deals with a lot of these questions–you should go read it.

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