Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Baby steps to the church: Some evangelicals adopt liturgy

  • Evangelical Protestants moving to liturgical and sacramental traditions. I was struck by the descriptions of Protestant Evangelical Christians making a gradual, thoughtful, and dramatic move to traditions that were very different (understatement) from what they were familiar with. Another interesting thing to note is that, when it comes to the many atheist-to-Christianity stories that I encounter, nearly all the converts choose liturgical, sacramental traditions. I wanted to better understand why this is.
That's great. Make that "some evangelicals" because as far as I can tell, the megachurches (often Southern Baptist but they don't advertise the denomination) certainly aren't liturgical.

Lutherans are liturgical because Luther was inconsistent and was willing to keep the trappings of the church in order to bait and switch, plus his followers tried to reconcile with the church. The Anglicans were less so, even though they kept bishops; the high churchmen a century later became quasi-Catholic on paper but didn't want to return to the church as their enemies accused. Both are rival true-church claims. So why the historic radical Protestant aversion to liturgy? It's based on their soteriology: you're saved because you feel you are and don't need a church to give you that grace (so logically you could just stop going to church, as many Protestants have); such would be works-righteousness. They think we think we earn our way into heaven. The snow-on-a-dungheap illustration allegedly from Luther: the good Protestant is still a sinner but Christ covers him up. The church offers Christ's one sacrifice on its altars, giving transforming grace here and now; Protestants think that's superstition pushed by greedy churchmen and even a "blasphemous fable."

The "emergent" new Protestant churches about 10 years ago were doing something like this: adopting the church's trappings on their own terms.

As I love to say this time of year, the solstice turned feast of God made man's arrival is a natural homecoming: it is very meet and right that low-church Protestants want to come home, forgetting they don't like us, putting up statues of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and angels, lighting candles, and singing in Latin. When they figure out this service (liturgy means public service owed to God, not "the work of the people") is Christians' bounden duty, not just personal style or taste, it becomes what its detractors fear: the point of entry to the church. Free-church to Anglican Evangelical to Catholic is logical. Former Evangelical John Henry Newman: to know history is to cease to be Protestant.

Another baby step to the church: black evangelical Protestant churches getting vagante episcopal orders and/or adopting our clerical vesture.

From this trend there are four possible destinations:
  • Remaining in liturgical Protestantism, actually a rival true-church claim if you think about it, be it our close cousins the traditional Lutherans, classic Anglicans ("true because we're both Catholic and Reformed," much like the classic Lutherans) including the Continuum (marooned in sectarianism where they don't really belong), liberal high-church Anglicans who love the church's culture (from birettas to fiddlebacks, things libcaths won't touch) as much as I do but on their own Modernist terms (by the way, St. Gregory's, San Francisco "gets" liturgy; they're just dead wrong theologically, liturgical Unitarianism), or a more generic Protestantism including a dressed-up evangelicalism; all ultimately man-made. (Anglo-Catholicism historically is either the Anglican rival true-church claim or what its detractors feared, trying to reconcile with the church; was that A-Cism's opposite?) No foundation, no holy orders, no Eucharist.
  • The vagantes. Maybe orders and the Eucharist but Protestant ecclesiology. Be your own Pope. Chaos.
  • Orthodoxy (the Lesser Eastern Churches are too small and too foreign for consideration here): "Let's worship Byzantium but hey, we still get to hate the Pope."
  • Catholicism: same grace and truths as the Orthodox but not tied down to empires or cultures. Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam, et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversus eam.

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