• Rootless Christianity

    Posted Aug 30th, 2018 By in Pastor Brian's Blog, Why We Do What We Do With | Comments Off on Rootless Christianity

    There are many words students of Christianity have used to describe modern Evangelical Christianity, but few are better than the word rootless. Historically, theologically, and liturgically modern Evangelicalism lacks any type of mooring. And to most evangelicals that is not an insult or theological slur. In fact, in many circles it’s a badge of honor. Theological and liturgical innovation is encouraged and something to be celebrated. As you probably guessed, this saddens and scares me. I desperately want to be part of Christendom and its theology and traditions, theology and traditions that date back thousands of years. I want to engage in the theology and practice of the past in the ways Christians always have. In this way we are not against tradition across the board—as Protestants are often accused of being. Rather we are opposed—like Luther and Calvin—to bad tradition.

    Few places demonstrate one’s disposition to and connection with Christendom’s rich traditions and history better than the corporate worship service. In most evangelical worship services there is almost no connection to the past traditions and practices of the church. It is almost completely rootless. The style and elements are almost all less than 50 years old. The words of the music are new, the prayers are extemporaneous, architecture is modern, the way the minister dresses shows no connection to the past. It really is sociologically fascinating to observe.

    Thoughtful Christians have always recognized the importance of being connected to the past. In our generation one thinks of Robert Webber’s “Ancient-Future” series. But we can also see the way Calvin and Luther insisted in incorporating elements of historic Christianity in their services and the way Cranmer borrowed the rich Christian heritage when he compiled his Book of Common Prayer.

    I have always intentionally tried to structure this “ancient-future” idea in our worship services—joyfully engaging in and with the best and richest elements of worship we have, both new and old. For example, the minister’s opening words: “Blessed is the kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever to the ages of ages” date back—at least!—to the fourth century and are drawn from Saint Chrysostom’s Divine Liturgy. The opening collect comes from The Book of Common Prayer which dates back to 1549 and is squarely in the reformed/protestant tradition. Then there is the “Apostles’ Creed”, which although not dating back to the apostles, does date back to at least the second century. The second century! The Sursum corda—Latin meaning: Lift up your hearts—is old too. Its use in Christian worship dates back to at least the third century. The Sanctus—obviously originally from Isa. 6:3 and Matt. 21:9—is found in Christian liturgies as early as AD 200. The song “Of the Father’s Love Begotten“ dates back to the fourth century. And the songs, “This Earth Belongs to God” and “In Christ Alone” are new, from our generation. There are some deep roots, rooting us and connecting us to the rich history and traditions of the church.

    Rootless Christians and Christianity usually go the same way of rootless trees and plants. As Jesus said about the seed sown on rocky ground, it is immediately received with joy, yet because it has “no root” (Matt. 13:21) when it faces any sort of opposition or obstacle it falls away.

    It’s often said that when couples get married they marry not only a person but also into a family; families with quirks and traditions and practices. And the same is true for us when we become Christian. We are united to Christ and his church. And that church has deep roots, roots which need to be affirmed, fostered and celebrated.

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    Pastor of New Life La Mesa Presbyterian Church in San Diego, CA.

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