The Return of Orthodoxy

Ten years ago I remember being engaged in an almost continual dialogue with my then youthful youth minister about all matters Church of Christ. He basically refused to accept any orthodoxy from us and challenged a wide list of our traditional teachings. He left us and full-time ministry and ended up in another city worshipping with a very progressive congregation. In time this was not satisfactory. Eventually he settled in the Episcopal Church. It seems he represented a wave of the future.

Much more recently in a conversation with a college minister he shared with me that one young brother had “converted” to Catholicism. He further stated that another person about to move had already decided on the Episcopal Church after the move and that several others in his college group would not stay with the Church of Christ once on their own. Like the others, he felt, they would end up in one of the more ritual-oriented, ultra-orthodox churches.

This is more than just a local trend. Numerous college age and young professionals in search of stability in an unstable culture have turned not to a rocking, praise-oriented, bells-and-whistles style religion , but to the opposite of such. This migration has been noticed and documented by the church growth folks. It is not going away. According to these experts it is a reaction of the shake-up of values in a post-modern world. Seeking solid ground young people are turning to what they perceive as the “roots” of Christianity.

My question is where does that leave us? Many of us are still pushing worship teams and hand-clapping and praise songs as the way to connect to our youth. Apparently this is not happening- at least with some.

From my understanding of the reasons some are making this migration is that they are searching for something deeper and more defined and the rituals and slight mystery involved in some of these religious practices deliver it. It also possible that they could just be caught up the novelty of it all.

Again, where does that leave us? Obviously we will not turn to the practices of these churches. So, what shall we do? Anything?

I have some ideas and will share them in a later post. I would love to hear from you in the meantime.


24 Responses to The Return of Orthodoxy

  1. JD says:

    Good subject, Dan. Like all religious trends we are 10-20 years behind the curv. So I do not expect to enter a Church of Christ anytime soon and light a candle. I only have an opinion, no studies to back me up … but I think this is a trend toward the individual growth aspect of Christianity that is moving away from corporate anything. Prayer stations, candle lighting, icons, and small sensory activities that make a big point to the individual are being sought. I hope Chris Lockhart will chime in on this. But it is only a segment of people … like any trend it does not apply across the board. What can we do? I think we could have Saturday night prayer stations, more emphasis on discipleship and mentoring, more teaching on the prayer disciplines. Creating worship opportunities in settings that are more vintage than hyper-90s. Would we do these things? Most of us would not….is my guess. Good subject.

  2. CL says:

    The word that pops in my mind is liturgy. In the restoration movement we have lost liturgy altogether. Our “college age kids” are seeking to return to their roots, to experience what their forefathers experienced, to explore the mysteries of God that are brought forth through such litrugical worship. It is in seeking a mysterious God experience that maybe, just maybe God can truly be found. In so many ways our churches have sought to oversimplify God to to the point that, while He is still God, 5 Ways to deal with your doubts, doesn’t interest me. It just misses the point altogether of connecting with this mysterious God. I want the opportunity to experience God in fresh, yet traditional ways, ways not offered in an a capella church in the first place. No matter how traditional, because our tradition is still “modern” tradition. I have a lot to say on this subject, but I am interested in your thoughts Danny – good questions.

  3. Gary W. Kirkendall says:

    I agree — Liturgy is one way to search for a personal religious experience. People of any age do not want an experience that is fact oriented, group oriented, or passive (listening to classes, sermons, listening to others lead prayers, etc.). Unfortunately, the modern church as become a spectator sport, and there is better entertainment on TV. We used to engage other people, then we engaged ourselvesin every imaginable issue, now many seek to engage God personally. Where else would expect people to go if there is no clear message in our churches? You put 15 church leaders in a private setting, and you will hear at least 12 personal struggles with faith. Say what you want about Catholics and Main line denominationalists, but the generally present a unified message and liturgy.

  4. Al Sturgeon says:

    It is a good subject, Danny…

    John will probably guess where I’ll head with this, but I hope for a day when what takes place during one hour on Sunday morning isn’t the most important determinant of our religion.

    Praise teams, etc. were the wave of the future, so many churches scrambled to accomodate. Didn’t turn out to be the answer. Now the “emerging” church signals a possible return to a liturgical emphasis, so there will be seminars on how to pull this off. Going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing this won’t be the end-all, be-all either.

    I don’t think our corporate assemblies are UN-important by any stretch, but I think we hold them up too high relatively speaking. When Jesus-following becomes greater and worship styles become lesser, I’ll mark that as a happy day.

  5. TCS says:

    well I can agree with what everyone has said so far. Al is right on that that one hour has too much importance placed on it. Gary’s point about entertainment is so true and Cl said it better than I can. So as not to leave JD out, our culture has moved progressively toward self. And while that is true and the ancient diciplines that are attracting the emergent/youth are often that way, I think they are also attracted to a group that is missional – not in the evangelize everyone sense but in the help others sense.

    One thing that your post brought to my mind Danny is communion. There are many people re-discovering this and they don’t have much thought to draw from. We have a strength in our fellowship of having thought collectively about this for 150 years. Most of us would do well to read some thoughts prior to that, but we do have a leg up so to speak, and something to offer here.

  6. Danny says:

    Thanks for the posts guys. I appreciate your participation in this discussion so far.

    It seems we are thinking along the same lines. I too think that we put too much emphasis on our one-hour-a-week time together and think that a firmer Christ-focus must be part of our response.

    I also think Tommy hit on one of our strengths. We recently had a special communion service here that went over very well. But when you think about it- more emphasis at the table is really more emphasis about Christ.

    The practical side of me wants to define down the challenges that a more liturgical approach to worship delivers and then figure out exactly what to do about it, but it is not that easy.

    Sure we can plan speacial Saturday night worship with candles and trimmings and do other special sfuff, but will that accomplish anything long-term? I am aware of churches- especially in college towns doing just that on Saturdays. They compete with the other churches offering a blow-out praise service.

    I just cannot shake the words of Paul as he attempted to help Corinth clean up their mess. “Jesus Christ and him crucified” was how he went about refocusing them.

    What if we started digging a little deeper to create an atmosphere in our churches for a more passionate Christ-focus? What if we redoubled our efforts to get folks more in love with him and in a much stronger daily relationship with him? Would not this overflow into a genuine expression of praise to him on Sundays- no matter what the form?

    To connect our kids we have to go beyond the surface to the substance or- as they are doing- they will going looking elsewhere.

    I am still mulling over several things to post later.

    Thanks again.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Hey! I think I went to your church when we were on vacation a couple of years ago!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I like your post, but I know better than to get into the CoC debate. I hear it’s raging all over the net these days!


  8. Orange Grover says:

    Danny, I nhad this long and even first cooment typed out and it disappeared as I tried to post. As JD would say, Bah!

    At any rate, long story short, I think our emphasis on logic and reasoning served us to a point, but somehwere along the line we we ended up with a logical five step God and missed out altogether on the wonderful mystery that God is. I suspoect that is what people are earning for–a mystery experience that explores God in a not-so-rational way.
    Clear as mud? I thought so.
    Les Ferguson, Jr.

  9. Danny says:

    Pretty clear Les. I think you make a great point.

    Nancy may make a better one though! lol

  10. DJG says:

    Great thoughts from everyone…for once I am glad to be late to the conversation.

    I think the key is your final thoughts Danny, we have too long had a “religion of rules” and not an experience in the presence of God, let alone a relationship that involves the Spirit living within in us. We have tried to discount the Spirit for so long that it is no wonder He does not show up in our assemblies in a big way. And it is true that His purpose is to point to Christ….I am afraid we have failed to let that happen.

    When we feel that we have reached a level of Spiritual maturity we sometimes discover that we “still haven’t found what we are looking for”….what choice are we giving folks but to look elsewhere?

  11. Ancient Wanderer says:

    In our comments a term is used that confuses me. “WE”… We do this or we do that or we don’t do this or that. If I were in a congregation where “we” weren’t worshiping God on the Lord’s Day well “I” would just have to find one that did. I disreguard all the “we used to….” or “was in a congregation where we….” that is so- not now.

    I once had a birthday part thrown for me by my two best friends in the whole world. They didn’t have it on my birthday and they didn’t have the food I liked and they didn’t have the flavor of cake I like (as a matter of fact it was one I hated) and they bought me gifts that I eventually had to give to them because it suited their needs and desires more BUT they enjoyed the day and they had a great time and they were happy so of course that made me Very Very Happy. After all what kind of friend would I be if I didn’t let them have their way on my day?

  12. Jim Martin says:

    Danny–Great post and I look forward to hearing your ideas and more reflection on this.

  13. TCS says:

    Les’s comment is another great one. even if I did beat his this week in Fantasy Football.

    Danny, I might add that even though it may not accomplish anything long term but that may betray our approach. Why not ask what God wants the church to be today not the perfect fix for all time. I think of another Paulene (sp?) saying, I become all things to all men…

    Candles may come and go, but our reluctance to do such may come across as not “allowing” such and thus frustrate more into finding more freedom.

  14. Danny says:

    Good point Tommy.

    We always have to be open to God’s guidance and seek ways to reach out and connect in fresh ways, but our core has to be just Jesus or else we become just another church flavor of the month.

    Thanks for your contribution Donna. I always appreciate your wisdom.

    Good to see Jim drop in and welcome AW. Your perspective is needed in this discussion too.

  15. JD says:

    I think Ancient Wanderer needs some new friends.


  16. preacherman says:

    I know that people are searching for something real, authentic about God and Christianity. I those who do go to ritualistic church whether it be Catholic, Lutheran, etc. leave it after a while because it is empty worship.

    I got out of ministry for about a year because I was burned out and fed up witht he church and God. I was tired of Christians treating other Christians like crap especially ministers. And the way elderships treated ministers. So, I said, forget this Christianity crap and totall rebelled against Chrisitanity, God, the Church. If the church said, “don’t do it” I did it.

    I like Jonah ran from my calling. And I found just like he did that you can’t run from God. So, after about a year or so, I started searching again. I went to church with okay if I am going to do ministry I need to see what people think who aren’t in it. Seekers think. What seekrs are looking for. I went to church and heard preachers discussion topics that I could care less about. I wanted something relevant. Something that would make me live better the rest of the week. While we are discussing worship style, church hoppers, and other matters of opinion myself and friends I worked with were lost. What do we base church growth on? Church hopping or making commited disciples.

    What I think that people are looking for in a church is a message of grace, love, acceptance, community, and most of all authenticity. So I wouldn’t worry too much over those who are going to more Orthadox churches…They will be back.

    Just my opinion.
    Thanks for this great discussion.

  17. Soren says:

    The latest and greatest fads seem to always elude us in the CoC and Christian Church. By the time we finally hop on the bandwagon, everybody else has already hopped off.

    These trends seem to be cyclical. Each generation rejects the preferred worship style and manner of “doing church” of its parents. I don’t see this going away anytime soon.

    But it grieves me when Christian people (who should know better) run off to some place that can’t even get the plan of salvation right because they love the “experience.”

    That said, we’re kidding ourselves if we think we are going to survive simply by providing sound doctrine. The fact that people are looking for a deeper and more significant connection with God is a clear indication that what we have been doing “ain’t working.”

  18. Danny says:

    Preach on brother Soren and brother Preacherman!

    But if what we are doing “ain’t working” and if following the fads are not the answer. What is- practically speaking?

  19. CL says:

    A great break from the consumerism that has run our churches for all of these years. It is going to take the church returning to the old paths, to it’s roots, where sound doctrine and experiencing God live together in shaping the culture around us. Thus, our worship will become the worship that God wants because 1 – It isn’t just what happens on Sundays and 2 – It would mean that you don’t have to just be a republican to worship and serve God, truly. Our younger generations are tired of all the infighting and stupidity they just want to follow Jesus, the Jesus of the NT, not the “Ressurection Egg” Jesus. Or the Jesus in a beautiful white sash with clean and beautiful and perfect hair and sparkly white teeth. They want a real Jesus, who gets dirty loving people and and cares about all the injustices not just the ones related to homosexuality and sex. OK I’ve said enough…Thanks for good discussion Danny.

  20. preacherman says:

    I find that what may work for one church may not work for another. Each church might have to find what works for it. What works in a mega church may not work in my small town country church. So it may be different for each church and different situations. I don’t know just my thoughts. And Who’s to say it “ain’t working?…And what do we base “it aint” working on? Is it method,style, prefernces? Is it relevancy? Is it actual church growth.

    Thanks Danny. Again great post.

  21. Al Sturgeon says:

    You don’t have to be a Republican to be a Christian?

    Sweet Lou says the Cubs are going to win?

    The pigs (Razorbacks) are flying?

    Has Hell frozen over yet?

    With the exception of the Cubs winning, I like the sound of the rest…

  22. SSM says:

    Something tells me that those who are looking to the Episcopal Church, or other high church communities, are looking for the experience that comes with the encounter with transcendence. And if post-modernist influences are prompting that, all the better. After all, post-modernism places the premium on experience/experiences and not just the ability to master narratives, logic, and doctrine. And Christianity, from its beginnings in the first century, is a faith based on experiences, both in history and in the lives of believers.

    For too many of us, our experiences in the Churches of Christ have been exercises in line-towing, mote-spotting, and hair-splitting. No one was willing in the first century to sacrifice themselves for anything like that, and those who attempted to impose those standards were hauled up short by the likes of the Apostle Paul. It is no surprise that an increasing number of our brothers and sisters are similarly inclined to leave.

    Frankly, I’m not sure what we’re going to do ourselves: we have two daughters and the older one is asking why can she come up to the front of the auditorium when I lead singing when she sees other little boys, younger than her, getting to stand up there alongside their dads. I’m just not prepared to run the risk of losing her from Christ over traditions that make little substantial sense now. If that means moving over to the Disciples when the opportunity arises – or the Episcopalians – then walking away from my own heritage is a small price to pay for her to have some of those same experiences.

  23. Danny says:

    Well, SSM, we could just dismiss you as a heritic and go on about business as usual.

    But to do so would be at our own peril. Unless we begin listening to voices like yours and others our fellowship will continue to see more and more depart.

  24. […] We expected they’d choose the more contemporary options, but they were clearly more drawn to the aesthetics of the Gothic building than the run-of-the-mill, modern church building. Ed Stetzer, who is director of LifeWay Research made this statement based upon their research which found that unchurched people between ages 25 and 34 were twice as likely as older folks to prefer the more ornate, Gothic type church exteriors. I include this because it is just more evidence of the trend among younger people away from the modern mega-church to the more orthodox churches. (For more on this- see this blogpost.) […]

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