Younger Christians are now embracing ritual, sacraments, and liturgy. Former Evangelical, Rachel Held Evans explains:
· What finally brought me back, after years of running away, wasn’t lattes or skinny jeans; it was the sacraments. Baptism, confession, Communion, preaching the Word, anointing the sick — you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.
Ritual is fine, but if it is divorced from truth, it is no more than a good feelings, and good feelings grow old quickly. Church has to come back to the question, "What is the offer of the Good News and how do we get onboard?"
Keith Anderson also warns:
· Deepening and enriching sacramental liturgies is surely a good thing. But even if it were possible for every congregation to achieve that goal, liturgies alone won’t save the church. If we view worship merely as an “if we build it, they will come” strategy for church revitalization, we are bound for disappointment, because most of the time, “they” won’t come. They’ve made that pretty clear.
Instead, Anderson’s answer seems to be a social Gospel - how we live out our faith in the world. Although this is important, we cannot forget the supportive roots in favor of the fruit. Without the nourishment of salvation and the teachings of the Gospel, we are impotent in our attempts to love others.
Emergent church leader, Tony Jones, sums the problem up this way:
· I’d even go one level deeper than Anderson’s challenge. Before mainliners head out the door, they’d better figure out what the gospel is. Survey after study after poll has shown that American mainliners struggle to articulate what it is that they believe. The content of the faith has been lost among all this civil religion… What is the gospel for mainline Protestants? That’s the question that needs to be answered.
Mainline Protestants know that they are missing something, but are they willing to make the required sacrifices? Jesus proclaimed:
· I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. (John 12:24-26)
But who wants to die, especially if we are relatively comfortable! And what does it mean to die? To put Jesus’ priorities above our own! How do we do that? By clinging to God’s Words, even above our own:
· Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4)
This means that we cannot pick-and-choose. Instead, we have to humble ourselves as little children and receive nourishment from the entirety of Scripture. Scripture must judge us and our beliefs. We, therefore, cannot sit in judgment over Scripture to reject those teachings we find offensive.
Many will find this price too exacting. Meanwhile, ritual alone places no explicit demands on us. We feel that we are free to experience it without hearing its underlying demands.