Mastodon Send Email

Recovering the Merely Old

So I had a wonderful small group meeting last night that made me reflect on a couple things. I want to start with some context, first.

I learned to serve the church in college campus ministry, working with young people that would then shortly move on to the next thing life had for them. We were immersed in what was New, as a student leader and then as a staff person. We were always searching for the new approach, the successful approach, the thing that's working great for that group or the book that that speaker wrote. The turnover in students was incredible and when I look back on this time, I see us chasing our tails a bit, and a bit of the tail wagging the dog. There were many people confidently saying they knew what was Next, which is about the only thing more alluring than what is New. Looking back, they were about as correct as I could have been. Marginally more correct than even odds.

When I left campus ministry (truly, when I grew out of it) I wasn't ready to go to the established, local church. Established churches seem like the land of No for a young person with ideas. “We don't do New here.” I wasn't done with New yet, convinced that Old was the source of our problems, and if New could recover what was Ancient in the church, we might be able to have the best of everything. So we did five years in a local church plant, saw it be born, live it's life, and then die. We were part of the group that brought it in to this world, and part of the group that put it to rest. My appetite for New died with it.

I was left with my conviction that the church needed to do whatever we could to recover the Ancient, the traditions of the Apostolic Age and the generations immediately afterward. I'd read anyone who was still read after a couple hundred years, and almost nobody who'd written a book in the past 50. Old was the problem, and the way out of what was Old would be what was Ancient, a truer and more pure Gospel than the one I had received.

Here's the thing about trying to cut ties with Old. The only reason you've received the Gospel is because of Old. Whether it was your parents or a friend or a neighbor or whoever, they who you received the Gospel from received it from someone else, in an unbroken line all the way back to Jesus of Nazareth. You are here because of Old, even if you despise Old. I'll give you some examples from my own life.

I have my own unhappiness with the dominant form of American Evangelicalism today, which traces its roots to turn of the century Fundamentalism and the phenomenon of yeoman evangelists traveling the country making their living preaching tent revivals, with high pressure calls to repentance and high energy sales tactics from the pulpit. My maternal grandfather, though, was raised in the faith because his father was radically saved as an itinerant hobo at a tent meeting like that, and he became a revivalist himself. My grandfather even met my grandmother while out “on tour” doing the family business. I don't exist the way I am today without those tent revivals I wish we could do without.

I could go on. My dad found Christ during the Moral Majority/Ronald Reagan years. My mom is a single issue pro-life voter. would I rather not be tied to these things? Yes. Yet I am. The Old is my connection to the Ancient, and the benefit the Old has over the New and what's Next is that it's proven, we know how it works and how to do it.

In my small group last night, we had several people who have been serving the Lord far longer than I have even been alive, and who have been part of the church we're now attending for 30+ years. One of the recent things the church has done, in an attempt to recover what's Ancient that I inherently endorsed and loved, has been baptizing believers on Easter Sunday. The Ancient Church used to ONLY baptize new believers on Resurrection Sunday, and only after extensive catechism. I never thought about the practices that something New (as a recovery of what was Ancient) might have displaced, things like musical numbers and drama plays and extensive testimony recitations. Those things, being Old, never registered for me.

The testimony and the longing for the Old in those saints convicted me, that in my anti-modernist heart to find my story not in what's New, but what is Ancient, I had retained my contempt for what's Old. That's a Modernist bias, that the Old is inferior to the New. Truly, the Old is about the only thing that can be faithfully handed down from one generation to the next! I'm not saying that we don't continue to reinterpret, reimagine, to play jazz with the Old in the Now, but to play jazz with the Old is to involve the previous generation, the one that preserved the faith and handed it down to you, in the process of making what is New, together. Far from excluding them from the process, as they often feel, its insisting on bringing them along in to the future, just like Christ insisted on carrying us with him, even when it slowed him down. Even when it got him killed.

So that was just my takeaway from that night. In a church where we've already walked away from what's New, you know, what's the harm in including both the Ancient and also the Merely Old? Christ plays in ten thousand places, after all.