Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Evangelical Is Not Enough

(Catholic Online) - The Washington Post recently ran a story on Evangelicals doing something new – they were adopting historic church practices. Actually, this is not a new thing. For more than thirty years Evangelicals have been on the Roman Road, the Canterbury Trail, and the pathway to Orthodoxy in large numbers. Join us in a three-part exploration on this phenomenon...

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THE CATHOLIC KNIGHT: Yes, it's true. Evangelical is not enough. As a former Evangelical, I can attest to this personally. Oh sure, it worked for me for a while, but it wasn't until I entered the Catholic Church that I finally had a sense of fulfillment. You've heard the stories about Evangelical converts. In fact, many of today's leading Catholic apologists and lay theologians are former Evangelicals. However, would it surprise you to learn that it isn't just individual Evangelicals who are converting, but a good portion of the Evangelical movement itself. It's been going on for a long time. Various denominations and affiliations have been incorporating aspects of traditional liturgy for decades. A group of Southern Baptists are now observing Ash Wednesday and Lent, finding that it works quite well with the Baptist theme of repentance and call toward holiness. They're even eating fish on Fridays! Some Evangelical groups have begun observe The Lord's Supper (their version of Holy Communion) on a weekly basis, citing the command Christ gave to do this as often as you meet in remembrance of him. Typically, Evangelical churches observe the Lord's Supper just once a month. Some Evangelicals are even introducing aspects of liturgy to their church services. To sum it up, Evangelicalism is a Christian movement in search of itself. It's trying to find an identity that connects with the early Church -- the first Christians.

What's happening right now in the Evangelical world is divergence. Evangelicals are searching for their roots, their identity, and in doing so it's leading them to study the past. The divergence comes in which version of the past they decide to study. There is a strong anti-Catholic thread in some Evangelical churches, and this typically leads them to ignore the writings of the early Church Fathers, as these would be far too "catholic" for their comfort. This group of Evangelicals, those who adhere to their anti-Catholic tendencies, are forced to ignore Christian history in their search for identity, since all Christian history before the year 1000 AD was Catholic. So they turn to Jewish history instead, and as a result, they begin to adopt Jewish customs and liturgical practices. However, that in itself eventually leads them back to Catholicism, because virtually all of Catholic tradition is derived from ancient Jewish sources.

Other Evangelical churches that are able to put aside their anti-Catholic tendencies come to these same conclusions but much sooner, because they are able to read the writings of the early Church Fathers. They're studying the beliefs and liturgical traditions of the early Church, and as they implement them in their own churches, we see the signs of a proto-catholic awakening in the Evangelical world. It's primitive by our 21st century Roman Catholic standards, but it is the first stages of early Catholicism nonetheless.

The move of Evangelicalism back toward Catholicism will be slow. It will probably take more than a lifetime to see it through, and most Evangelicals are far more likely to reunite with the Eastern Orthodox before they would come home to Rome. Whatever path they take though, it will be a significant improvement over what has existed over the last 40 years.

I was browsing through an Evangelical bookstore a few weeks ago, and picked up a title that caught my eye. It was written in 2007, and it was an Evangelical book on liturgy. The author took his time explaining why liturgical traditions are needed in Christian worship, and how Evangelicals would do well to rediscover them. He then went on to outline what he thought would make the best liturgical traditions based on Biblical themes and mandates. His outline looked so much like a Catholic mass that I couldn't help but laugh out loud.