It’s Okay To Embrace The Traditional

Liturgy, over the past several years, has been creeping stealthily and steadily into my life.

It started with my current home church, which acknowledges and incorporates both Advent and Lent into services and the church calendar for the year.  Though I had always celebrated the Christmas season with an advent calendar thanks to my mother, it wasn’t until my current church that I conceived of a liturgical calendar in any sense or considered the seasons around Christmas and Easter something worthy of marking.

Then along came Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary, which pointed out the value of godly habits, of turning the mundane acts of our lives into small liturgies that bring us closer and nearer to God.  After that, liturgy started popping up everywhere: the examen started appearing in unrelated books I read as a prayer/self-examination model, I stumbled on a helpful daily prayer app that prompts prayers at particular times of day, and in the most recent book I read – Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World (review forthcoming at some point) – the author at times recommends particular liturgical practices as a way of cultivating a sense of enchantment with God and His ways.

All of this made me wonder: is liturgy the popular thing now?  Is it just me, or is it cropping up everywhere I look?  As it turns out, it’s not just me.  The popularity of liturgy in evangelical churches and among evangelicals does seem to be a new and fairly recent trend over the past decade, and a lot of ink has been spilled on figuring out why.  Many evangelicals – like me, whose churches perhaps never so much as marked Lent or the particulars of the liturgical calendar or in liturgy itself – have developed a renewed interest in the practices once derided by many Protestants as rote and empty ritual.

There are a lot of theories for why this might be.  Some Christian writers and thinkers theorize that this return to tradition and liturgy among evangelicals might in some ways be a rejection of, or a reaction to, the increased corporatism and commerciality of megachurch-style Protestant worship.  Bored by ever-increasing show and spectacle and pyrotechnics, the thinking goes, believers are turning back to the tried-and-true – much in the same way that weary music buyers, tired of never actually owning their music and having to stream it all through Spotify, are turning back to collecting vinyl records.

I don’t know if I buy into the entirety of that theory, but I do suspect that the new embrace (or re-embrace) of liturgy, of the older church, does have something to do with a yearning to get back to the very basics: to simplicity, to the heart of what matters.  In much the same way that I got tired of the “contemporary” worship services at church and eschewed them to attend the “traditional” service at my church, perhaps some believers simply want to turn to what connects them best to God.

This isn’t to say that contemporary churches are bad or that people who prefer contemporary services or “modern” worship in any way have a problem.  They don’t.  But I also think that, after a while, many people tire of or become overwhelmed by the sense of “new and shiny” and want to go back to something more classic and simple.  And that’s okay, too.  There’s room for both in the church.

I don’t know that a return to liturgy will be the answer for everyone, or indeed if it’s anything more than a trend that will fade over time.  But I do think that the hunger for older and more traditional practices – even if that means something as simple as returning to older hymns instead of a new one every week – speaks to a need among Christians for substance among the style, for spiritual anchors in service that we can carry throughout the week, for something that feels familiar and time-tested.

Recently my husband and I were in a mall where an innovative something-or-other was being advertised on screen at a kiosk.  A man watching the screen sighed.  “I’m just tired of innovation,” he muttered.  I understood his pain.  We live in a world of new and shiny innovation that promises to do everything ordinary, but better: better wireless doorbells, better self-driving cars, better voice-controlled computers, better cabs-that-aren’t, better TV dinners, better toasters.  It’s exhausting, the constant promises and changes and improvements that sometimes really aren’t.  Sometimes we just want a doorbell to be a doorbell.  Sometimes we just want a toaster to be a toaster.

Sometimes we want our worship and our churches to be classic.  Not everyone always wants or needs the new and improved model, or sermon style, or worship music, or service arrangement.  And again: there’s room in the church for both.  Maybe the current popularity of “Protestant liturgy” is a simple reminder that the church doesn’t need to innovate and reinvent all the time to be appealing: that sometimes it’s okay to enjoy things as they are, or even as they used to be in ancient times.

God’s church has plenty of room to incorporate all sorts of churches and worship styles.  In remembering that, we can give ourselves the freedom not to always do what is popular or what is new if it doesn’t appeal to us, but on what works best to bring us closest to God and to help us serve Him.

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