Friday, October 14, 2011

Ancient - Future

     I often speak and write about two things which especially seem to get me into trouble with fellow believers: globalization, the fact that the world’s peoples are now culturally interpenetrated among one another throughout the globe; and, the importance of practicing an “ancient-future” as opposed to a “secularized” faith.

         Perhaps later I will write about the spiritual implications of living in a globalized world. For now, I want to write a blog or two about what I mean by "ancient-future." A few words on that subject may help clear up where I stand on the subject. At very least, an explanation may offer my critics more effective and accurate ammunition than what they have been using so far.

         The concept of ancient-future faith has theological implications, of course. However, it is the way the concept affects worship that seems to provoke people the most. So, let’s focus our attention there.

         First, ancient-future worship is intentionally “other than” a contemporary experience. It deliberately leads us out of contemporary culture, not in order to glorify the past, but in order to help us experience eternity. It is the experience of "tasting of the powers of the world to come," as the Epistle to the Hebrews puts it.

         Secondly, ancient-future worship does not deny that we live within a contemporary culture. For this reason, traditionalists -- those who worship the past  -- do not tend to appreciate the concept any more than do those who worship the present. Ancient-future faith is not traditionalism, in that it does not seek to reproduce the past by reviving ancient practices for their own sake, as though the past were more sacred than the present. Ancient-future worship acknowledges that contemporary music and contemporary settings may be as sacred or as holy as ancient ones. So, our quest is not about reverence for the past, present or future; it is about the pursuit of timeless and eternal things.

         Thirdly, ancient-future worship does not fear spiritual intimacy. That is to say, it is an “incarnated” spirituality rather than a form of  "worship" which encourages a spectator response. It insists that worship involves physical movement, emotion, and one’s full and focused intellectual attention. It defines worship as the process of directing one's entire being toward the risen Christ in praise of the Creator, through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. It is a type of “work” rather than a form of leisure. In ancient-future worship, one is consciously digesting words, attitudes, concepts, (and even the physical elements of bread and wine) into one's being. In other words, worship is a part of one’s deliberate and conscious pursuit of God. The product of this “work” (the New Testament word “ liturgia,” often translated “ministry” literally means “the work of the people) is the personal transformation, or sanctification of the worshipper. That is to say, authentic worship brings a person who has trusted in Christ under the governance of Christ, which over time results in the formation of the character of Christ within him or her.

In worship, one deliberately leaves secular space behind and intentionally enters sacred space. He turns his attention from all that is the world, not because the world is evil but because it is incomplete. Indeed, when the worshipper leaves that sacred space, he or she deliberately reenters secular space, as an ambassador of heaven and as a priest of God appointed to serve a dying world.

Why is it important to remain mindful of the past or to envision the future in our worship? Because our faith teaches that we are timeless beings and that when we worship we gather with the saints of all ages and places. We are small parts or a great spiritual movement that stretches through time and space.

Ancient-future worship is an acknowledgement then of the presence of both past and future within the present moment.

We are mindful of the past because we follow an ancient faith; one that offers us the accumulated treasures of practices and thoughts of those who preceded us. We use this inheritance to learn how to express our own devotion to God.

We acknowledge the future because we are steadily moving toward the culmination of God’s work in the world, namely the summing up of all things in Christ, the Redeemer and Lord of Creation.

We are also mindful of the present moment, that is to say the contemporary culture.

Ancient-future worship may employ video or the latest praise chorus but does not chose such things because they are new and cool. We use them because they are the offerings of God’s people who are alive in this moment.

At the same time, ancient-future worship may draw upon practices from the third century, not because the practice is old or spooky but because that practice may offer a way to root our awareness of God to something other than our present mood or contemporary fads.

Ancient-future does not revolve around a “seeker.” It does not discard the need to connect with a person who is new to the faith. Neither does it eliminate authentic worship in order to evangelize. The presence of God can be disturbing to one who has lived his or her life within a secular time and space. The very notion of “sacred” is strange to contemporary man or woman. Nonetheless, it is an encounter with the presence of God that awakens the soul. Therefore, comforting or not, God must be experienced.

It is quite different to view worship as something God has defined (and the ages have confirmed) rather than something believers create and continually adapt to meet their own needs. 

To say it again: Ancient-future worship is primarily about drawing people into the experienced presence of God rather than about gathering seekers into church by demystifying the experience of worship.

What we hope for in the practice of ancient-future worship is not that people will leave the church saying, “that was the best music and preaching I ever experienced,” but rather, “God is surely in that place.”

In the Book of Ezekiel, God says that he has this against the priests and prophets, that they have eliminated the difference between that which is sacred and that which is profane (secular).

I have heard Christian leaders say passionately that we need to stop viewing things as either “sacred,” or “secular’ because in the New Testament, everything is sacred.

But everything is not sacred! If everything is sacred (set apart, holy), then nothing is really sacred. And if nothing is sacred, then there is no place in this time or space where I can go that is not under the control of the world, the flesh and the devil. Everything and everyone bows the knee to the spirit of the age, including the saints. Without sacred times and places, there is no “tasting of the powers of the world to come.”

Secularization of worship is a self-inflicted spiritual impoverishment. It produces a generation that no longer knows the ways of God nor recognizes the presence of God.

It is the wrong way.

It doesn’t lead to a good place.

I have decided to walk another way; on the path the saints have walked.   

Why? Because time is running out for me I want to become a saint.

So I don’t have any more time for cute.

I need God.

And so do the seekers.

In my opinion, this is precisely what they are seeking.

1 comment:

Colten said...

Wonderfully articulated. I love the term "Ancient-Future." I am currently at Sanctuary Church in Tulsa working as a youth minister. Our Pastor, Ed Gungor, has been working to bring about the same participatory worship through the incorporation of Ancient practices and the Church's tradition. I was on the border of some quasi conversion experience (becoming Orthodox or Anglican) until I was able to find a place that shared my thoughts on the importance of the tradition and balanced that with the reality that we live in this present time. I am glad to see other communities embracing the same ideals.