These days twenty-somethings have embraced the relics of previous generations. We buy outdated electronics to display in our studio apartments, wear calculator watches, and clothe ourselves with throwback everything–because its ironic, or something. Only today could a song called “Thrift Shop” go to the top of the charts esteeming “your granddad’s hand-me-downs” and a site like ModCloth.com succeed.
However, in the ideological realm, the last thing you want to be called is “throwback”. Progress is king, and anyone seen as “standing in the way of progress” is an enemy of the culture. With political slogans like “Forward”, nobody wants to be the guy going “Backward”. Backward thinking is a cardinal sin.
It’s the same way in many churches. We all want to be relevant to our culture, and you may frequently hear from the Sunday School halls and Family Life Centers, “We need to bring the church into the 21st century!” The annoying thing is that unlike the rest of culture, the institution of the church is chained to this dead weight of a book that was written “like, so two-thousand years ago.”
Why does the church feel the pressure to be progressive? Why can’t we be retro? The whole reason that churches can even be “relevant” and progressive protestant churches is because back in the 1500s some “retro” Christians started kicking it old school. The slogan ad fontes represented a return to the fountains–i.e., returning to the source. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, these men rediscovered the beauty of the Scriptures in its original languages. They read books by old, old Christians like Augustine (who lived in the 300s A.D., yikes!). The Reformation was a backward thinking, backward looking movement in the church. Without these men, independent, progressive, “do whatever we want” churches wouldn’t exist; we would all still be under Catholic governance.
What we need in our churches is not more lights, louder music, hipper coffee bars, and postmodern paintings on the wall. What we need is to return to Jesus. This is the constant refrain of both the Old and New Testament: “Return”. Not “Forward”. Think about 1 Peter 2:25–“For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Or remember Jesus’s harsh admonition to the church at Ephesus: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first!” (Revelation 2:4-5a).
The message of John the Baptist, Jesus, and Peter were all one in the same: Repent. Repentance is a returning. If you don’t believe me, look at your Old Testament. There is no word for repentance. Every time you see the word “repentance”, your translators are interpreting the meaning of the Hebrew word sur–which means “return”.
So, what the church needs is not to be progressive, but to be quite backward. We are always calling ourselves back to the source, back to the Bible, back to the Scriptures. Besides, “retro” is kind of in right now, so enjoy it while it lasts…