Friday, August 31, 2007

On Becoming Orthodox

Well, summer vacation is over and it's time to start blogging again. If anyone still reads this blog it will be proof of divine providence. Only the Holy Spirit would keep people reading this blog after such a long absence.

Anyhoo, over at WithoutAuthority I read about this article in the New Republic about the movement of evangelicals to the Orthodox Church (in this case the Antiochian Orthodox Church) . It's an interesting read and quite illustrative of where some postmodern evangelical worshipers are headed.

The motivations for this exodus are fascinating....

The first seems to be an exhaustion with the secularization of the evangelical protestant worship. As I've blogged about before, this secularization (mostly to grow attendance) is ultimately a dead-end. Eventually, these churches will cease to be contemporary and when that happens their main reason for existing disappears. Marketing and entertainment for the sake of growth needs to be constantly relevant (read, changing) to feed that growth; especially in today's overly marketed culture that demands the new over the old. Apparently, this constant churn is wearing folks out.

The second is the need for a more contemplative, thoughtful, and stable worship. Of all the attributes one can say about evangelical worship, contemplative isn't generally one of them. This movement back to more ancient worship forms is a reaction, I feel, to postmodern society. When I blogged about this last year I thought it was mostly younger people who desired this movement to older worship forms but I've changed my mind. Whether young or old, our lives are in constant flux. We accept this flux as a cost of living in a postmodern world but we yearn for something more stable, deeper, and bigger than ourselves. I seen this yearning in my own church most Sundays as I watch visitors at my church receive Holy Communion. The very fact that they are attending worship that is not contemporary makes me hopeful. Only time will tell if this is a permanent trend or just a fad.

The third was the desire to separate worldly political issues from religion. Considering that these folks are disaffected evangelical protestants who's religious fervor has been used and manipulated by others for 30 years for political gain (with little to show for it), it's no surprise that they want a break. Oblique political references in worship are OK when they relate to the lectionary text for that Sunday but that was certainly not what these folks were experiencing. I feel that church ought to be about communion with God in the midst of our bothers and sisters in Christ. There is plenty of time to discuss how our faith should play out in the world before or after Mass. Let's give God some time just for God. We can work out how we further his kingdom on our own time.

Now of these three motivations, it's number two that I'm most interested in. Protestant churches, and especially Lutheran congregations, can learn a thing or two from our Orthodox brethren. Being relevant is a laudable and salutary goal. We should do this when ever possible. But unless these changes are informed by our heritage and the New Testament witness it's just another form of secularization. And in some cases can be gratuitous. Ultimately it could lead us away from God in Christ because we feel our own ideas are better than the received tradition of the faithful before us. Hopefully, there are enough wise men and women to gently guide us in the right direction.