A few years ago, a fellow priest (hi Jerry!) and I began using the phrase with which I’ve titled this post on websites and printed matter to refer to our traditional Anglican liturgy. We had realized that the word “traditional” had come to have some bad connotations…for example, to a Roman Catholic, it meant “all Latin, all the time,” to a certain type of middle aged person, it meant “stuffy crap I hated as a kid,” to a number of folk it was a signal of an embattled, besieged mindset. One of the larger continuing Anglican churches at that time was using for an advertising slogan the phrases “traditional faith…traditional worship…traditional teaching,” without much success. It didn’t help that in theological circles was popular the amusing tagline that defined tradition as “the living faith of the dead,” but traditionalism as “the dead faith of the living,” causing no end of tittering amongst the affected and soi-disant trend-meisters of the new age, the real embodiment of “dead faith of the living.”
About the same time, the neo-evangelical and charismanic exodus from Anglican Communion churches had begun, and in their attempt to co-opt the desire amongst gen-X and gen-next for the ancient, they produced the phrase “Ancient-Future Worship” to describe their adaptation of some elements of traditional liturgy overlaid with bad rock music and pagan hysterical utterances. In a critique of this clumsy blend of so-called “three stream” religions, one wag was wont to observe that “Ancient-Future Worship is ‘oh for three’; it is not Ancient, one prays that it not be Future, and by no exaggeration could it be called Worship.”
And yet the three-stream pretenders had hit on a third of the right answer. The word “Ancient” strikes a gong of harmony in our racial subconscious, and, as it were, grabs us by our hippocampi, tweaks our amygdalae, and draws us in. We are, in a word, hard-wired for Ancient Worship. Gongs are struck, candles glow, smoke rises, incense caresses the olfactory, and we see what Saint John the Divine saw when he was shown what Real Worship looks like in the heavenly places of which each of our sanctuaries is a pale Platonic reflection.
Ancient Worship…Timeless Faith. Only insofar as we proclaim and practice these four words will we succeed–and remain in the center of divine will.