08 March, 2008

Some evangelicals fighting over Catholic traditions

A permanent deacon used to remark that the only reason evangelical Protestants didn't share many of the same Catholic traditions that they criticized (small-t, not big-t) is that they hadn't been around long enough. The reality is that evangelicals already have all sorts of traditions; the long sermons followed by altar calls at Sunday worship would be an example.

Catholic traditions are often smeared as "unscriptural". Where in the Bible does it say that the elder/presbyter/apostle/whatever must harangue the faithful until at least noon, repeating himself if necessary, until the fallen away are called to (re)commit themselves to Christ while the faithful sing some sappy hymn such as "Here am I; take me, Lord"? It doesn't. Any organization of more than a few people evolves traditions, and every evangelical church I've visited has that one. Evangelical traditions are typically not regulated by a canon law, so evangelicals often overlook the fact they are, indeed, "rituals".

Apparently, a growing number of evangelicals are finding a growing number of Catholic rituals attractive. (Free Washington Post article, but registration is required.) From weekly communion to monasteries, from confession to Lenten abstinence, many evangelicals are discovering the same value in certain practices that Catholics enjoyed for millennia—although personal experience suggests ironically that increasing numbers of Catholics no longer find value in these rituals.

Here's an example:

Experts say most who have taken on such practices have grown disillusioned with the contemporary, shopping-center feel of the megachurches embraced by baby boomers, with their casually dressed ministers and rock-band praise music.
The last few decades (centuries?) of Western Christianity are essentially a story of abandoning any "sense of the sacred" that remained, only to replace it with rationalism, political causes, or (at worst) egotism. I knew a man who who had left his evangelical Protestant denomination to become an Orthodox priest precisely because when he returned to the States after twenty years of missionary work, he found that the emphasis had changed from God to "me". (His words.) If evangelicals want to restore a sense of the sacred to religion, then I say more power to them. Maybe this will revive Catholic interested in the sacred, too.

Naturally, there is no shortage of "true" evangelicals to recoil from anything that smacks of actually experiencing a personal relationship with Christ, as opposed to just talking about it and singing songs about it. They aren't afraid to throw the customary mud on this new phenomenon:
"It is the same style of meditation that is basically being performed by Eastern religion practitioners... It's being presented as Christianity, and we're saying this isn't Christianity—not according to what the Bible says… We believe it really does deny the gospel message."
Ah, yes; what memories this brings. If you ever want to scare an evangelical away from anything, compare it to "Eastern religion" or some other brand of paganism. This is the attitude that scared me away from Catholicism for at least a decade.

The New Testament reports that early Christians lived monastically, fasted, confessed their sins, and had communion once a week. It also reports that Jesus fasted for 40 days; Lent itself consists of 40 days of abstinence, Sundays excluded. If the Bible says that these practices aren't Christianity, what is? The altar call?


General Ursus said...

Right on. I grew w/ alter calls and all the rest you mentioned of evangelicalism. I've been Catholic now since 2001 and I'm brining in another buddy to the Church this Easter. At least among more intellectual evangelicals orthodox Christianity has appeal - I just don't know about the rank and file who use church like they use Prozac. I don't know how you make orthodoxy appealing to people hooked up on TV and just want feel better with out any work - sola fide tends to exacerbate this in my opinion. This is a big deal to me because I have a roommate right now bogged down in all kinds of depression, alcoholism, OCD, and generally won't grow up, for whom penance and good ol' obligation would do him good. But, his Baptist rearing is standing in the way...God's just supposed to come down and make him a rock guitarist and give him a girlfriend and everything would be alright.

Oh well, sorry for blabbing on. Good work on here.

jack perry said...

Thanks for the comment! We'll have to pray that God give your friend grace.