In the aftermath of the recent fragmentation and decline of the church, a growing number of evangelicals in the United States are seeking to find identity and spiritual renewal in the retrieval of ancient church tradition for contemporary faith, especially in the area of worship. This recovery is not the result of any one particular factor or person, but the convergence of various significant influences and developments. Rather than being a thing of the past, the recovery of tradition among evangelicals today is very much a renewal movement and a sign of hope. Perhaps the most significant area of recovery of tradition among evangelicals is the embrace of liturgical worship.
Liturgical renewal shows us that the real hope for the church is not in going backward, but in a convergence of old and new that paves a way forward. I believe that there are profoundly important implications for the future of the church in this fresh convergence of tradition old and new, which can transcend many of the church’s deep divisions and fuel the church’s mission in the world. For many people who are embracing liturgy, it is not about reliving the past; it is about retrieving tradition and appropriating it into the context of life in the twenty-first century. This convergence is what I call a “higher synthesis.” It’s an embrace of the whole church past, present, and future that comes together through the liturgy.
It is also a hunger for renewal and wholeness.
One example of this is in the final chapter of Webber’s Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail, titled “Signs of Renewal,” where he argues that a convergence of liturgical and evangelical traditions is a model for spiritual renewal. He says
Evangelicals bring to the liturgical tradition these strengths—the sense of personal conversion, a deep concern to be orthodox, an attachment and love for the Scripture, and a sense of mission . . . My real point is that these strengths combined with the six drawing cards of the liturgical church . . . (mystery, worship, sacraments, historic identity, affirmation of the ecumenical church, and a holistic spirituality) make for an unusual church in which the best of the evangelical tradition and the liturgical tradition are brought together.
For Webber, myself, and many others I have encountered, there is a pattern of renewal through recovery of liturgy. More than that, the recovery of liturgy leads us to deeper engagement in mission. Why? Because they belong together.
Liturgical renewal should ultimately lead to liturgical mission.
James White ends his manifesto by saying, “Liturgical renewal is an important agent of change in American Protestantism.” I completely agree on the need for liturgical renewal. However, liturgical renewal by itself is not enough. It is also why I believe that we need to reconnect liturgy and mission. We cannot have long-lasting renewal without historic worship, nor can we have sustainable mission without rich, biblical worship.
Winfield Bevins is director of church planting at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is the author of several books, including Ever Ancient Ever New and Marks of a Movement. His latest book is entitled Liturgical Mission.