Looking for an authentic experience of God is a worthwhile pursuit. Indeed, is it not the highest and most rewarding of goals? This is however only successful when we encounter the Christ of Scripture, who is the living, reigning, saving, and judging, God over all things.
I first came across Gregorian Chants when I was 18 years of age. I was studying first year music at university. Straight away I became entranced by the sounds of these monastic choirs. I similarly appreciate the Cantatas of J.S Bach. Although composed 300 years ago, these are beautiful sonnets to God. It is one thing to listen to the Cantatas on my Spotify playlist, but it is quite another experience to sit in a cathedral and hear a choir and orchestra sing in front of you.
At the same time, I wouldn’t want my local church using these musical forms during our Sunday services, for a variety of both theological and pragmatic reasons. For starters, we don’t speak or understand either Latin or German; if we can’t understand the words we shouldn’t sing them.
The ABC has published a revealing article this weekend, noting a surge of young adults turning away from contemporary churches and toward more traditional church.
“Gregorian chants, renaissance choral music and incense wafting from a metallic censer.
And they’re not just resonating with older generations, either.
Younger people are flocking to late-night Latin Mass — at least they were pre-COVID — and embracing Christian orthodoxy in online spaces.
So says Tara Isabella Burton, America-based author of the forthcoming book Strange Rites and a member of the self-proclaimed “Weird Christian” movement.
The allure of Weird Christianity goes beyond an espousal of the Bible. Burton says the otherworldly nature of religious rituals are also appealing to the young and disillusioned.
“There’s a sense of enchantment that often comes with the pageantry,” says Burton, who attends St Ignatius of Antioch in New York City, part of the Episcopalian or Anglo-Catholic tradition.
“It’s that sense that this is a sacred place and not just another thing you do in your week, the same way you might go to a SoulCycle class or you might go out to dinner with friends.”
I have witnessed first hand a few young adults who are thinking this way. They believe older equals authentic, and tradition indicates genuine Christianity. The logic is, if we can work our way back to the past we somehow become more like the early churches and therefore we are having a genuine Christian experience. The way to be really close to God is to embrace the old. This phenomenon isn’t only about embracing the old, it is about turning off the new. There are millennials seeing through popular Christianity with its accommodation of mainstream culture and its compromise on Christian teachings that don’t suit a consumer audience.
There is something astute about this revelation. The historian Tom Holland, who isn’t a Christian, has made a similar observation although about English Bishops,
“I see no point in bishops or preachers or Christian evangelists just recycling the kind of stuff you can get from any kind of soft left liberal because everyone is giving that…if they’ve got views on original sin I would be very interested to hear that”.