October 16, 2006
Regular Out of Ur contributor David Fitch is back to share his thoughts on church shopping, staying put, and ecumenism. And what's with all the evangelicals going high-church anyway?
I'd like to say some things about the evangelicals going high church and even the emerging church folks rejecting their denominations of origin. I have been tempted many times to leave evangelicalism for a lot of reasons. At times, I have been tempted to leave for more substantive worship or to avoid the narrow minded cheesy ways of selling Jesus. But I think to just leave one's inherited church, without being asked to leave, is a strike against the cause of ecumenism. What? Yeah ecumenism, the unity of the church. So I stay put.
There are good reasons for leaving churches, and also for having no denominational affiliation. Yet the trend of evangelicals leaving their church of birth for high-church traditions seems to be growing. Colleen Carroll, in her book The New Faithful, records this phenomenon. At my own alma mater, Wheaton College, many students raised as evangelicals are "converting" to either Anglo Catholicism or even Roman Catholicism. (I wonder if the Catholics count these converts like we do when it happens in reverse. The Generous Orthodoxy blog has some great discussion on the topic.)
To me this is one more expression of the historical game of musical chairs. At first it was Roman Catholics leaving for Reformed churches. Those Reformed churches came to the New World and weren't individualistic enough, so we had Great Awakenings and folks left to join revivalist churches. Now we have people doing the reverse - leaving evangelicalism for high church traditions. They are sick of the thin insubstantial theologies and narcissistic forms of Christianity that have evolved out of evangelicalism's individualism.
Ironically, its often the theologians who critique the consumerist habits of evangelicals and mega churches that move to the high church traditions. They "church shop" for a more substantial vision rather than help us evangelicals out of our quandary. I wonder how long it will be before the ancestors of these folks complain about rote liturgy and leave for "more authentic" version of Christianity again, and the whole cycle starts again?
I propose we give up the musical chairs and simply stay put. Let us all seek to be faithful and trust the Spirit to work where God has put us. It is slow but I believe this strategy could lead us toward a renewed unity of the church.
Alasdair Macintyre writes in After Virtue:
"The story of my life is always embedded in the story of those communities from which I derive my identity. I was born with a past, and to try to cut myself off from that past, in the individualist mode, is to deform my present relationships.? I find myself part of a history and that is generally to say, whether I like it or not, whether I recognize it or not, one of the bearers of tradition."
I believe God's calling upon us starts where we are born. And we are to work within that tradition, or the tradition by which we first were brought into the gospel, until informed otherwise (i.e. kicked out). We are to work for its reform from within. And just perhaps, if we stay put and keep working long enough, a true ecumenism can happen that brings all traditions together in a grand convergence of the Spirit.
I would ask evangelicals who see the value of the high church liturgical traditions not to leave, but rather bring that understanding to bear on their evangelical practices. And Catholics, who see the problems of inaccessible or dead liturgy in their church, don't leave, but bring these insights to bear on their church. The same holds true for other doctrinal issues and other traditions. If we all stayed put and worked for reform from within rather than abandon our churches, the traditions might converge by the Holy Spirit. We're already seeing it between Catholics and evangelicals as Scot McKnight has blogged about. We're already seeing it as more evangelicals and emerging churches see the value of historical forms of worship. We're already seeing it as more evangelical traditions are working together.
By staying within our respective traditions we can build the bridges necessary to bring liturgy to evangelicals, community to Catholics and white evangelicals, justice to the mega-churches, and mission to the Catholics. In this way, if we emerging folk would stay in our traditions and denominations we might become a force for ecumenism among the Christian traditions.