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Jun 22

Vintage Faith: New Life from an Ancient Text

Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer pews to movie theatre seats in a church.  One of my favorite things about visiting Europe was the cathedrals.  Hymns are endeared to me, beloved and familiar, and I feel swept up in the liturgy as we worshippers all join together in a common response.  There is certainly beauty and truth in all worship, but for myself I have always experienced a particular sense of awe through older spiritual traditions.

In college I started attending an urban megachurch, the kind with its own podcast and concert lighting, but then gravitated towards a small, liturgical church instead.  My friends and I called it “high church for low people” because the service consisted of formal liturgy and hymns but met in an old theatre where remnants of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” adorned the stage where the altar might have been.  Goodnewsalmostforgot

Worship was a strange medley of old and new: congregants wore street clothes and toted travel mugs into the service, yet sang hymns written by church fathers to the classical consort complete with violin and penny whistle.  The pastor wore a sweater instead of the traditional stole or clerical collar, yet led us through a liturgy of “Thees and Thous”.  The artistry of the ancient won me over; I kept coming back.

I loved this little church because its liturgy offered me something solid.  And you have to understand: I am the kind of person on whom measuring cups and day planners are lost.  Blame it on my creative assets, but I do not do well with structure.  However, I found that the structure of the creeds and prayers actually appealed to me.  Rather than being rote and routine, the liturgy acted as an anchor for me in my transitional college years.  The ancient script allowed me to join the ranks of saints who affirmed these very truths centuries before me, even as I stood: a college student with midterm eye circles and a penchant for picking pennies from the sidewalk.  In this recital of truth, I felt I was participating in the great “cloud of witnesses” spoken of in Hebrews 12, who encourage us to press on in the race they have already won.

Author Kevin DeYoung recently put a name on this inclination towards the ancient that I have often felt.  “Vintage faith,” he calls it, in his new book, The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism .  Vintage faith is about remembering the glory of the gospel.  But DeYoung says it best, “The chief theological task now facing the Western church is not to reinvent or to be relevant but to remember.  We must remember the old, old story.  We must remember the faith once delivered to the saints.  We must remember the truths that spark reformation…”

For DeYoung, the Heidelberg Catechism is one such exercise of remembrance.  This document, written by a group of pastors and scholars in 1563, is chiefly a commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.  The catechism is structured as a series of questions and answers which are organized into the 52 Lord’s Days of the year.  Honoring this arrangement, DeYoung writes 52 brief, corresponding chapters in which he reflects upon the catechism’s litany and weaves its timeless significance with application for Christians today.

I appreciated two things about DeYoung’s writing right away: first, it is clear that he writes out of his unhindered enthusiasm for this manifesto of faith, which has revitalized not only his personal life but his pastoral ministry as well.  This is the book of a man with a passion, who writes to convince his readers they should be just as awed and moved.  The second thing I appreciated is that this book is accessible; it is not an intellectual exposition for elite thinkers, but a richly devotional work for anyone with a thirst for truth.

I have to confess: I had not read the Heidelberg Catechism before reading this book.  But after reading The Good News We Almost Forgot, I found that this beloved creed enriched me for the same reason the liturgy of my church in college did: it arranges the heart according to the rhythms of salvation.  Reading through the catechism, one is led through a sequence of the problem of man’s sin, the gift of salvation for man, and man’s worshipful response.  DeYoung refers to this sequence simply as “guilt, grace, and gratitude.”

And here’s my thought: Would that my life glide as gracefully through these sacred cycles!

Would that my life arrange itself from Sabbath to Sabbath, as confidently as the catechism moves from page to page.  I hope that I might someday learn to live with the same poetry and grace, moving to the rhythm of the ancient story, aligning with the timeless truths.

Guilt, grace, and gratitude.  I agree with DeYoung, “If Christians would hold to all ‘three things’ and not just one or two, we would be saved from a lot of poor theology and bad ideas.” Poor theology makes poor living. But I believe the opposite is true: if we, as Christ-followers, entrench ourselves in the story of salvation, surely our lives will reflect the glory of the gospel.

This is a guest post by Stephanie S. Smith.  Stephanie is a freelance writer and publicist for Moody Publishers, working from her home in Upstate New York.  A graduate of Moody Bible Institute with a double major in Communications and Women’s Ministry, Stephanie enjoys finding ways to minister to readers through literature.

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