I was raised in the non-denominational, evangelical system. When I started High School, my family began attending a large Southern Baptist Church which fulfilled exactly zero of the normal stereotypes of the SBC. It had a contemporary sanctuary, a full band (including drums) on stage, and thrived on evangelistic events which drew people in the doors, yet never preached Hell, fire and brimstone. It was big, it was upbeat, it was cool. Many evangelical churches in the 90’s and 2000’s moved away from a traditional sanctuary feel, and build modern spaces with state of the art lighting and contemporary sound. Church became a performance and concert, all with the intention of winning people to Jesus.
With the advent of the hipster, however, it has been particularly interesting to watch a large number of my peers move away from this contemporary structure and begin to long for the traditions and liturgy of the High Church. They do not abandon the Gospel, but find deep truth and meaning in creeds, reflection and reverence. The Millennials are beginning to say that they would prefer their church to feel like a church – stained glass windows, an established sanctuary, and a reverent and respectful service that focuses on God instead of entertainment. Those of us who were raised on strobe lights and fog machines are over it, by-in-large. In short, we want to know that God is real. The Church cannot entertain us the way a concert or secular performance can, but we are not looking for it to do so.
This, of course, does not envelope the complete experience of the Millenial. Many who were raised in the High Church are looking for a release and find freedom in the modern approach of the Evangelical Church, and many who had no exposure to the Church in childhood enjoy the mega church that has a state of the art sound system and rock concert feel, wrapped up by a motivational speaker. Perhaps this goes to show that we as humans are never satisfied and long for what we do not have?
We have also seen that Church is becoming less and less a normal part of society. Most Baby Boomers were raised going to church every Sunday. It was a part of the culture, everyone went. Nowadays, there is neither an expectation nor condemnation contingent upon Church attendance. With that, the general understanding of the tenants of the Church and individual denominations is waning, and thus we are regularly seeing people drift from denomination to denomination. That same Southern Baptist Church gained people from and lost people to the Christian Church, the Lutheran Church, the Nazarine Church and even the Catholic Church and many others. With this level of intermingling, we see interesting variations of traditions and beliefs practiced in many Churches.
All of that is to say, it is becoming much more common to see people embracing traditions from long ago amongst the Evangelical community, which by-in-large had been abandoned. For instance, the season of Lent.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. It exists to honor the forty days of fasting that Jesus kept in the wilderness as He was beginning His Earthly ministry, and thus the adherent fasts for forty days, traditionally preparing himself for the celebration of Easter (and the Holy Week) through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self denial. Many who keep the season choose one particular indulgence which they deem a distraction from which to fast and give the time saved to prayer, and the money saved to the poor – thus we see people giving up social media, a daily Starbucks habit, or something of the like. Most who keep Lent will attend a service during which they receive the mark of the cross on their foreheads in Ash, and are charged, “Repent and believe in the Gospel” and “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”.
I am neither advocating for or against the keeping of Lent for the next six weeks, but I think that its motivation it is worth our consideration today. First of all, the focus behind it is eternal: We were made from dust and we will return to dust. Therefore, since you will die and you can take nothing with you which you have obtained on this Earth, repent from your sins and believe in the Gospel! It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that will come the judgment (Heb 9.27). We know not the day nor the hour that our lives will be expected of us, and thus we must be prepared to meet Jesus face to face – having already met Him through repentance and salvation while alive (Matt 24.36).
Secondly, the focus is Spiritual: if we can take nothing with us when we die, then we should busy ourselves with making an eternal impact with our finances, time, gifts and energy (Matt 6.19-20). That boat might make you happy on beautiful days when you can get outside, but it will break down, take up space, and be useless most days of the year. However, if you use your money to develop a house that keeps and trains people with basic work skills while preaching the Gospel, you will be a part of the salvation process for many, and make an eternal impact by multiplying believers and serving the poor.
Thirdly, the focus is internal: Jesus commanded us to repent from our sins (Matt 4.17). It is easy to gloss over our sinful tendencies and habits and assume that Jesus will forgive us, but Scripture plainly teaches us that friendship with the world and peace with sin is enmity with God (James 4.4). The Christian life is marked by the believer waging war on his sins to glory of God. This is done through prayer, meditation on Scripture, and life adjustment according to the Word of God.
Lastly, the focus is external: the intentional sacrificing of money for the poor and to give to the church. We are commanded throughout Scripture to give the first 10% of our income to God via the Church. Without this basic tithe, our churches would have no finances to support pastors, ministries or maintain facilities – apart from God’s intervention. This command is so poignant, in fact, that Scripture tells us if we do not tithe, we are stealing from God (Mal 3.8-10). But the voluntary giving of alms speaks to the special gifts and sacrifices that we make to help brothers and sisters in Christ, to feed and clothe the poor, and to serve ministries beyond that initial gift. It has been said that if you want to know what you love, just thumb through your checkbook. Do you love the poor?
Whether or not you intend to fast and keep the next six weeks of remembrance, remember this: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”