A Tradition That Anchors Me

What I needed, but didn’t know I needed, the Presbyterians offered me: the gift of a living tradition.
— Eugene Peterson, a Pentecostal, in "The Pastor: A Memoir"

I'd recently resigned my position at the church, and Elizabeth relinquished her ministry to very young people in the nursery. We were in transition, without church home. What was it that we wanted? I knew that any one church in particular was unlikely to provide everything we needed, and that picking a church based on personal needs proves how far we've come from the heart of what it means to be a disciple anyhow. 

I opened a document and within a few minutes bulleted the following as things that I hoped we'd find, knowing we'd have to piece together this experience from many sources:

  1. A Tradition that Anchors You: Something larger, older, established that hands you an orthodoxy

  2. A Voice Who Guides You: A person who reflects upon and speaks into your journey

  3. A Call that Compels You: An outlet/necessity for your deepest sense of gifting/energy/ministry

  4. A Place of Belonging and Becoming: A place where I am loved and challenged in the context of friendships

  5. A Community of Practice: An intentional community who enacts what is being learned/prompted

I was saved in a Pentecostal church. To be precise, I was saved at the Brownsville Revival in Pensacola, FL on July 31, 1997. I was saved. It happened to me in full on passive, submissive voice. I met Jesus as Lord, not just as savior in some ethereal "forgiveness of sins" sense. I was discipled in a Pentecostal church. Received a call to ministry in a Pentecostal church. Had dreams and visions and experienced powerful ministry in a Pentecostal church. So, I was ordained as a minister in a Pentecostal church. 

Here's the thing about Pentecostal churches: they believe that the New Covenant is to be enacted, that the book of Acts is a choose-your-own adventure novel where you pick up at chapter 29 and carry forward the story. They believe that the gifts of Spirit flow through the earth and Church today. And, as much as I love the Pentecostal church (and other experientially-minded churches), that is its great benefit and its great challenge. It is passion and zeal. It is power and love. It is faith and mercy. It also tends to pick up and run into the future without reaching far into the past. It can tend to be exclusive, as though it owns the corner on the market of the Spirit. But, I'm not here to be critical. I love the Pentecostal tradition, though some would debate that it can even be labeled a tradition, given its relative recency, preferring to label it a "movement."* 

From time-to-time I've had this gnawing feeling that some (not all) of the Pentecostal churches I've known have not been very intentional about handing off an orthodoxy, a tradition beyond spiritual gifts, to the next generation. When I walked into the Presbyterian church after I resigned from my post at my last church, a church I loved, a church who helped me grow and mature, I felt like I was stepping into a story that had gone on long before I entered it, a story that would unfold long after I was gone. They recited creeds. They celebrated communion. Slowly. It was offensively slow. We broke bread from the same loaf - unsanitary and messy all at once! Older women and men looked me in the eye and spoke good words of blessing into my life. It was not spontaneous.

Having returned to work in a Pentecostal church, I'm aware that it is only the life of the Spirit that holds the Church together in Christ. I know that creeds and confessions do not save the soul. But, they do anchor the saved soul. It need not be one or the other.

You see, I long for a tradition that anchors me. I want something with wrinkles on its face because it has smiled for so long. I want to walk the ancient paths and yet I want to do it with a spring in my step. That's why I reflect upon a catechism with my wife and children as we eat dinner. That's why I practice Sabbath. That's why I read my Bible - one with paper pages. I see the tracks where I've read it before. I smell the pages. I mark the pages. I have one from my grandmother upon my shelf.

Anyhow, I long for a tradition that anchors me. And, I think that some churches are wising up to the reality that my beloved Presbyterians have long known: that people want to be part of a tradition that anchors them. 

And, yes, some just want the flavor of the month. The download of the moment. The celebrity on the stage. 

Eventually, shallow wells run dry. 


*At some point I will introduce you to the work of my good friend Austin Bailey, who influenced a couple of the above thoughts.

Tommy BrownComment