• Why I’ve Gone Mainline (for now): Everything is old

    February 19, 2015

    san pedro(NOTE: This is part four in an ongoing series. For other posts on this topic, click on “Mainline Musings”  under Categories on the home page of this site.)

    I read church history last year, and it is a true horror from about 300 AD on, at least if one focuses on the seemingly endless stream of corrupt popes and emperors. The inquisitions, the crusades, the colonizing—it’s all as bad as you’ve heard. Worse, I think. But it’s also not the whole story. While the people with power did awful things, for which they get most of the attention, the average Joes, the common men and women in the proverbial pews, were simply trying to be faithful to their God. I had two paradoxical responses to church history—revulsion and attraction. While obviously repulsed by all of the church-and-state violence that was so opposed to the life of Jesus, I felt intense longing to connect with the goodhearted saints of old, folks like San Pedro Claver of Cartagena, whose life should be required study for every Christian. (The church named for him is pictured here.)

    Church history is at least partly to “blame” for my going Mainline. In The Story of Christianity, author Justo L. González notes that, at least as far back as the second century, barely a hundred years after Christ, there were two main components to a typical Sunday service: lengthy readings of Scripture with prayers and hymn singing, and then communion that ended with a benediction.

    Sounds a great deal like many Mainline services today, and I absolutely love that connection with my brothers and sisters from centuries passed. Just to think that I am participating in and passing down the same traditions as those very first believers is quite a thrill for me. It just feels more meaningful to me than sitting through a long sermon (a tradition that only gained traction in the 16th century) followed by singing the latest Hillsong tune.

    Nothing wrong with teaching—the church needs sound instruction—but the art of just sitting and hearing the Scriptures read is lost in many Evangelical worship settings. Nothing wrong with new songs either, or the bands that play them; in fact, I hope we’ll see some of the better recent worship songs make their way into Mainline hymnals so that we are contributing to the legacy of Christian worship. But I feel more connected to the saints who’ve gone before, the “great cloud of witnesses,” as the writer of Hebrews has called them, when I sing their songs, as well. Mainline churches are among the very few places where you can still sometimes hear early chant, Medieval and Renaissance choral works, and the later hymns of the Reformation and beyond. This is our inheritance. It is ours to preserve and pass on.

    And this desire to connect with our forerunners in the faith was a value of even the very early church. González says early Christians sometimes met in catacombs, not to hide from the Roman authorities, but because,

    “… Many heroes of the faith were buried there, and Christians believed that communion joined them, not only among themselves and with Jesus Christ, but also with their ancestors in the faith.

    “This was particularly true in the case of martyrs. As early as the middle of the second century, it was customary to gather at their tombs on the anniversary of their deaths, and there to celebrate communion. Once again, the idea was that they too were part of the church, and that communion joined the living and the dead in a single body. It was this practice that gave rise to saints’ days; these usually celebrated, not their birthday, but the day of their martyrdom.”

    Once you get past the morbidity of worshipping in a cemetery, there’s something downright beautiful about wanting to draw close, both physically and spiritually, to absent friends and saints, and to include them in the most intimate aspect of worship.

    Why have I gone Mainline, at least for now? Everything is old. Tradition trumps novelty. The hymns, the Scripture readings, the emphasis on communion—it’s all old, dating back centuries, connecting present with past and joining me to the great cloud of witnesses who gave me so rich a legacy. I want to share in it, contribute to it, and then pass it on to those who hopefully will remember to include me in communion as well. This is not the only way to worship, certainly, but for now, it is mine.

    Posted in: General, Mainline Musings

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