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Is the Ancient the New Modern? New converts flocking to ancient church in Houston

Is the ancient is the new modern?  Can what is old be new?  The cult of fad teaches us to chase after the wind for the newest, latest, and greatest trends in leadership, missional discipleship, and so called incarnational communities.  And yet this wind chasing is driving people from the emptiness of the ever changing landscape that seems to be our post modern church into the arms of the ancient church.   An article in the Houston Chronicle highlights this “trend:”  New converts flocking to ancient church in Houston – Houston Chronicle.

So what gives?  Why are new converts flocking to the stuffy old church of the past?  Why the church of the Eastern traditions of christendom?  Two words:  Stability and Tradition.  The Chronicle observes:

“Most people come for the stability,” he (Father Richard Petranek) said. “The same thing that is taught today in the Orthodox church was taught 500 years ago, was taught 1,000 years ago, was taught 1,500 years ago.”

At a time when most mainline Christian churches are losing members, Eastern Orthodox churches — which trace their beliefs to the church described in the New Testament – are growing, both in Houston and across the United States.

The numbers are still small: the 2010 U.S. Orthodox census estimates there are about 32,000 active Orthodox churchgoers in Texas and just more than 1 million nationally, although other estimates are higher. But the number of U.S. Orthodox parishes grew 16 percent over the past decade.

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To outsiders, the first hint of what lies within is often the architecture; many of the churches are built in a neo-Byzantine style, capped by gold domes and other flourishes, standing out in a city of sleek skyscrapers, strip shopping centers and ranch houses.

Traditions vary from church to church, but in many congregations, members stand for much of the service. The priest faces the altar for long stretches of time, with his back to the congregation. (All Orthodox priests are male.)

Members make the sign of the cross throughout the service, they kiss icons of Jesus and the saints and, sometimes, the Communion chalice and the priest’s robes.

“It’s pretty freaky for people from the nontraditional churches,” said Father John Salem, pastor of St. George Antiochian Christian Church in West University. “If you come from a non-liturgical background, it can be pretty overwhelming.”

But to many converts, the traditions are the main attraction.

“People are tired of the mixture of worship and celebrity culture,” said Frank Schaeffer, a writer and novelist who converted to Orthodoxy 20 years ago from the evangelical faith of his childhood.

“People are tired of these worship services that look closer to MTV or the Disney channel than something that goes back into the past,” said Schaeffer, son of Christian theologian Francis Schaeffer and the author of books includingDancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False ReligionandPatience With God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism).“In the Orthodox church, people are not there for the priest, but for the liturgy.”

(Recent convert to orthodoxy, Lana) Jobe points to something else:

“You see churches today splitting over doctrinal issues,” she said. “In the Baptist church, there’s the Southern Baptists. There’s the Texas Baptists. There are controversies over Biblical truths or inerrancy or homosexuality; all kinds of issues come up, and the church wants to vote on it. We don’t have to vote on anything, because it was settled from the very beginning.”

Someone once said, if you want to plant a mega church, build a huge cathedral and follow the ancient liturgies of the church.   Read the rest of this entry