To Comfort Today's People, We Must Turn to the Past

By Jason Kettinger | Posted at 10:49 PM

I have written in the past about various challenges in evangelical Christianity centered around history and memory, or the lack thereof. We as Evangelicals have often slunk towards ahistorical views, and this is exactly the last thing people need today. Perhaps a turn back to traditional forms in worship can help the problem.

I like the idea, but the question is whether it is something helpful for the overall church or only myself. I must at least confront the possibility that I retreat to tradition in order to blissfully ignore the changes happening in people's lives all around us. Others don't seem to need or want the story I'm telling. Then again, only a few people who know me think I'm an 80-year old trapped in a 28 year old's body. If I'm not old, what is this about?

Remember when we were little kids or infants, and our families practically smothered us with their love and affection? We didn't worry about our next meal, what we wore, or what we would do, because our elders took care of us. Sadly, we've grown up now, and things aren't quite so safe. Not even for arrogant, coddled theological graduate students like myself. We yearn for safety.

Let me boldly suggest that a good liturgy – complete with its songs, repeating of old words (including large swaths of Scripture, let me assure the gnostic uber-Protestant wing of the church!), eucharist, baptism, and the whole nine yards – is a chance to go home again, back to the days when we were drowning in the love of the family, when we were but babes, fed by the hands of someone else.

Have you ever been to a “bible church,” where you sat through a 45-minute sermon? Where we make a big to-do about the Bible's authority – often against those supposed 'heathens' the Roman Catholics – and yet you left without the faintest idea what was 'biblical' about the entire experience? So have I.

I am tired of chasing God through the maze of big words, hermeneutical polemics, austere and ugly buildings, and songs unfit for the pop charts, much less the house of God. I want to go home, where things were simple. If I sound like a Catholic, and a lazy one at that, well, so be it. I've got the Reformation bona fides. I can lodge my reservations against Trent, justification, 'popery,' etc. with the best of them. But at the end of the day, I'm too fragile to throw tradition to the wind and make it up as I go along.

We are too lost and confused to be grown-ups about these things. Fellow Protestants, don't dare ask me which half of the church is more schizophrenic right now. You may not like what I say.

Right now, I'd take a staid old codger, boring as dirt, who knows the scriptures are mainly about Jesus and who needs about 10 minutes of my ear, over Rev. Charisma, who needs 35, and is 'likable' and 'engaging' and keeps reminding me that the Word is 'relevant to life today.' I am not near smart enough or holy enough to give too much of my energy to family spats from 1520, or to sorting out the takeaways from a 40-minute buzzword fest from a guy in a suit.

Little ones need colors and sounds, even smells, to learn things. Ever seen those baby channels? At what point did we become too good for the baby-channel on God's network?

If St. Paul was a member at your everyday American evangelical church, I think he'd make it 15 minutes before he stood up and said, “Would you kindly sit down and shut up? It's time for Holy Eucharist.”

By all means, trust in Christ. Trust the Bible. Evangelize. But be smart enough to be dumb enough not to flinch when an old guy in a robe says, “The body of Christ, given for you.” All that beauty, all that glory, and I don't think he had to say 'personal relationship' once.

Jason Kettinger is a contributing editor to Open for Business.