Written by Pastor Andy Coyle
Church Plant Director, Winfield Bevins in his book Ever Ancient Ever New: The Allure of Liturgy for a New Generation presents a fascinating case that the broader evangelical church is finally waking up from its liturgical slumber. For many years, pastors and church planters have been told that to reach our culture for Christ, we have to strip everything down and create an environment on Sunday mornings that the average person would feel comfortable with. Ideas platformed today as new and relevant really are not much different philosophically than what has been platformed for decades within the evangelical world. It flows from a heart to reach people for Christ. I resonate with this heart to reach people deeply. However, an honest evaluation of the broader health of the church has led many researchers to suggest that a purely pragmatic approach has not produced a deep, lasting, Christ centered formation in congregations. But like anything, when we are told something long enough and loudly enough, we just assume that it’s the way to do ministry if we want to reach souls. What’s interesting about that movement is that it is seen as a correction to a stale or dead church. Much of that assessment was no doubt correct in many cases. However, it seems the pendulum swung a bit too far. Bevins notes that there is a growing movement that seeks to balance that pendulum which I highly appreciate.
In his chapter called “The New Search for Liturgy,” Bevins shares insights from the growing research across denominational lines that young people are starting to embrace historic rhythms of the Faith. As a leading church planting trainer in America, he is in a position to interact with many churches and networks. Yet, he isn’t the only one noticing this. These trends, no doubt, are seeking to be a correction to the pragmatism that has dominated the evangelical church for decades. His research uncovered eight major reasons. Here are his reasons with direct quotes from Bevins.
Why Young Adults are Embracing Liturgy
1. Holistic Spirituality or Embodied spirituality
- “In the age of technology and media, many young Christians have come to feel that the contemporary church (and even society as a whole) doesn’t engage their faith in a holistic way. Many feel that churches focus on engaging only the mind or the heart.”
- “They are seeking a holistic spirituality that embraces all aspects of their person – mind, body, and soul. Many are tired of the religious culture wars and would prefer to move past them in search of a holistic Christian faith that embraces the best of all sides.”
- “Young adults want a faith that not only engages the mind but involves the senses of touch, taste, and smell. The historic church has asserted that we are cleansed with the water of baptism, fed with the bread and wine of Communion, and healed by the laying on of hands using anointing oil. We are taught by the read-aloud Word, as well as with the colors of the sanctuary that correspond with the seasons of the Christian year. All these elements function together in the liturgical practices of the church and engage us holistically.”
2. A Sense of Mystery
- “Young adults are drawn to historic practices because they long for a sense of mystery. It’s impossible to ignore the brazen consumerism, combined with the media and technology, vying for our attention and our pocketbook.”
- “The pragmatic consumerism that has infected the church leads us to value the elements of our faith and practice that are most “relevant” to us today. For example, many contemporary churches play worship music that echoes secular pop songs, and we’ve designed our church buildings to look like Walmart’s or movie theaters.”
- “Young adults sense intuitively that today’s churches have lost a vision for aesthetic beauty that encourages us to experience the mystery and transcendence of God. And they have grown tired of shallow, alternative approaches to the historic practices of past centuries. They want depth and mystery, and they aren’t afraid to say it. They are harboring a longing for a church that transcends any single culture, not an approach that simply accommodates the surrounding culture.”
3. A Desire for Historical Rootedness
- “Today’s young adults have grown up on fast food, video games, and smartphones. For many of them, divorce and remarriage was is the norm. All of this has created a sense of rootlessness.”
- “To counter the effects of transience and constant change, many are seeking to find a sense of stability by engaging with the roots of their faith. They are looking to the ancient history of the church and discovering that we are part of the larger family whose roots go back to the time of Christ. Many of those I’ve talked with have felt as if they are spiritual orphans, people with no roots, no family history. They are discovering a new identity as they learn about their spiritual family heritage.”
- “It’s the realization that we are not independent Christians tied solely to our own time and place. We are part of the larger body of Christ, spanning continents and generations, a church that began not with the Reformation or the contemporary evangelical movement in America, but with Jesus Christ and the early church. Liturgical tradition offers young adults a refreshing alternative to the ahistorical culture of the modern evangelical church because it represents a place of belonging – one that has survived and thrived for over two thousand years.”
4. Looking for a Countercultural Faith
- “Having grown up in a culture of entertainment and consumerism, many young people are now rejecting these cultural trends – or at the very least, they are uncomfortable with their presence in the church. For those who are looking for an opportunity to meet with God that cultivates an aura of transcendence, the rhythms of ancient liturgical worship are attractive. It’s slow, repetitive, and it lacks instant gratification. The beauty of a faith that didn’t start yesterday is that it is not driven by the latest fads or personalities. For many, it harkens to another time and is not bound to the biases of today’s culture.”
- “Liturgy is the opposite of our culture in the sense that it provides ordered participation instead of watching passively.
5. Belonging to the catholic (universal) Church
- “They see the liturgy as a pathway for unity, a way to unite us with the historic faith by inviting us to join the universal little “c” catholic church.
- “Sadly, many Christians have spiritual amnesia and have forgotten or neglected the rich traditions and treasures of the faith from the past two thousand years. Historic liturgy offers us a way to correct our forgetfulness.” “Liturgy helps us remember we are not alone. We are part of something much bigger and very beautiful.”
- “Liturgy offers a full, rich tradition of communal worship. While worship wars have led to division and disunity in the contemporary evangelical church, the fixed nature of liturgy and decision to join in an existing tradition reminds us that we are a part of a larger family, one that has preceded us and will still be around when we are gone. We are participating in the communion of the saints whose lineage runs from the time of Christ to the resent-day church. Liturgy helps us remember that we are not independent from the body of Christ, from those who have gone before us. The Christian faith does not belong to us, as if we can change it to fit our likings and preferences.
6. Sacramental Spirituality
- While many Protestant low church traditions have all but abandoned the celebration and practice of the sacraments, some young adults are experiencing a resurgence of interest in learning about these sacred practices and the bounty of grace inherent within them. The sacraments offer a rich, multi-sensory worship experience that engages the whole person through touch, taste, and smell.”
- “Sacraments are meeting points between God and people.”
- “Our faith is not an isolated, one-dimensional experience that only impacts our hearts, souls, or minds. Instead, it must engage the whole of who we are, and the sacraments are an essential way in the God, through our faith does this.”
- “The sacraments drew me back to the church after I’d given up on it. When my faith became little more than an abstraction, a set of propositions to be affirmed or denied, the tangible, tactile nature of the sacraments invited me to touch, smell, taste, hear, and see God in the stuff of everyday life again.”
7. Gracious Orthodoxy
- In the relativistic culture defined by the postmodern approach to questions of truth, many young adults yearn for boundaries, though they are not necessarily looking for exhaustive rules. They want an anchor for their faith, an embrace of beliefs that I would describes as “gracious orthodoxy.” What is gracious orthodoxy? Correct belief that is full of grace. They want to stand up and confess the “faith once delivered to the saints,” yet they reject the dogmatic and exclusionary relationships with other Christians. They want a faith that broadly unites them with other Christians, even those who may be a part of other denominations and other traditions.”
- “One person said,” I want to affirm what Christians have always believed in every age through a common faith and a common creed.” This gracious orthodoxy is rooted in an ecumenical longing to affirm the historic, universal creeds of the church. They believe that by focusing on essentials of the faith, the creeds have the power to unite believers from different backgrounds instead of separating them.
8. Finding an Anchor in Spiritual Practices
- “A final reason young adults are embracing the liturgy is that the ancient practices of the church provide an anchor for their faith in a world of constant change. Many young people are longing for practices that help them consistently celebrate their faith.”
- “Because we are creatures of habit, the habits we practice on a daily basis form us even if we are not aware of their power. Many of those returning to liturgy are hungry for time-honored practices that will form their faith and help them grow. Ancient practices help us develop roots that go deep whether we are young or old.
What I appreciate about “Ever Ancient Ever New” is that Bevins forces you as the reader to consider your philosophy of ministry. In a Christian culture that is saturated with pragmatism, thinking philosophically about everything we do doesn’t come naturally. The reality is that everything we do in our congregations is forming our people into something. The place of habit is far more powerful than we often think. The fifth-century theologian Prosper of Aquitaine’s famous statement “Lex orandi, lex credendi” states that the law of prayer/worship is the law of belief. In other words, how we worship shapes what we actually believe. Consequently, what we believe shapes how we worship. In reality, one can’t separate belief and practice. Everything we do is formative and is confessing something. Bevins opens the door for the modern evangelical to see that it really hasn’t been beneficial to be ahistorical in regard to God’s work throughout time in His Church.
To the reader that is skeptical about the value of liturgical rhythms in our congregations, this book is written for you. Bevins invites you to consider your presuppositions and experiences that have shaped your view of ministry. To the reader that embraces these rhythms, this book will help you see in greater color the beauty and inherent value they have in forming you in Christ.
Pastor Andy Coyle
Bevins, Winfield H. Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Allure of Liturgy for a New Generation. Zondervan, 2019.
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