“Keep to the ancient way and custom of the Church, established and confirmed by so many Saints under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And live a new life. Pray, and get others to pray, that God not abandon His Church, but reform it as He pleases, and as He sees best for us, and more to His honour and glory.”— St. Angela Merici
My experience with the church has been that most churches do not like change. In my forty years of active clergy employment, I found that if I messed with the “traditions” of the church I was guaranteed conflict. Since most of the churches that I served were smaller older churches in changing communities or in small towns any change would generate conflict and would fail most of the time. This failure would most likely, at the very least, also risk the status of my employment. So I adapted and learned to focus on the spiritual formation of the few in such churches who were serious about serving God and letting the status quo have its way. This, however, was not the ancient way.
The problem was that this was not the calling God gave to me. As one called to be a pastor, I was tasked in leading those I served to the place where God wanted them to be. It was not to make the church larger in number (although many of the lay leadership said they wanted this but would do nothing to make it happen). My job was not to make people comfortable in their religious status by echoing a specific theological orientation (like “once saved, always saved”) or helping them project a particular cultural value (the Cowboy church). No, my calling was to try and lead them through the power of prayer and the influence of preaching to a deeper, more meaningful, and true walk in the will of God. I admit, most of the time I was a failure. The ancient way was not followed.
In my own spiritual growth, I have found passion and meaning in the ancient way of the church. The more I study (yes, I am still a student of my faith and strive to read at least one new book a week) on how to walk the ancient way, the more I understand the responsibility God has given to me is to pastor, a shepherd modeled after the twenty-third psalm. I am to seek this path even if I must do so outside of a profession or employment. The ancient way is the way of Jesus and the only way a person can follow this way is continually seek to live one’s life in the context of what Jesus revealed and what Jesus gave. To walk the way Jesus walked.
Jesus revealed to us what God had been doing throughout human history. Jesus became the ancient way. Because of human nature and failure, in order to worship God, there had to be a sacrifice. Sacrifice points to our reality. Sacrifice points to our thankfulness. If there is no sacrifice their is no true worship. Jesus became the sacrifice and in order for us to worship him, we must come to His table of sacrifice we know as the Eucharist. If we do not share in the sacrifice of Jesus, we do not follow the ancient way.
Jesus also revealed to us the truth of the struggle. Being salt and light, wearing the armor of God, and joining together to use our spiritual gifts is how we fight this struggle. This struggle is not against other people (though often times the enemy used other people) but against the powers and principalities bent on our delusion and destruction. This is the ancient way, the way our Lord intended for the church to go.
The ancient way has never been an easy way. The multitude of denominations that claim Christian identity and truth is proof. I pray for God to bring a revival. A revival which will lead the faithful to either be a righteous remnant or a radical resurgence in which the ancient way is prayed and preached. I hope others are praying as well.