Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


A Letter Answered

posted by xscot mcknight

I frequent your website the “Jesus Creed” and greatly appreciate what you have to add regarding various issues of the Christian faith. I am currently reading your book Praying with the Church and find it delightful that you appreciate many different forms of Christian tradition. I suppose my question I have for you, if you don’t mind, is out of personal inquiry.
I have wrestled over the many traditions and have been visiting an eastern orthodox church for about six months. I was raised evangelical prot and attended an evangelical Christian school where I majored in missions. I have become disillusioned with the evangelical church over the years through experiencing some traumatic events in regards to a “pastor” I worked with closely.
Anyhow, my question for you is how do you continue to stay an evang prot and appreciate the various traditions? I have had some very bad experiences with some people I’ve known that tell me that the orthodox aren’t Christians and are “preaching another gospel.” I appreciate many aspects of both traditions but am having a hard time understanding how to decide which one I fit in. I would love to hear what you have to say on this subject. I know you don’t know me but I would be so thankful for anything you have to say. I hope that I am making sense.

Dear Friend,
Thanks for writing to me, and I’m happy Praying with the Church has been of use to you. Let me divide my response into two parts: How I as an evangelical can appreciate the various traditions and then what I think of the Orthodox church.
First, I am an evangelical because the evangelical movement nurtured my faith and gave me feet to walk. I love its focus on personal faith and conversion, I love its basic theology, I love the breadth of its diversity, and I love its manifold history — though not all are as happy about its glaring diversity as I am.
But, though I am happy about evangelicalism — on most days, we have lots to learn about the Church: the Bride of Christ has been here about 1973 years (assuming Pentecost was in 33AD), and frankly plenty of evangelicals simply lop off the first 1500 years of the Church and throw it into a dustbin. This, I think, is a big mistake. If God is God, and if God is behind the Church, then God is behind the whole Church.
Which means I try to do three things: first, I try to read from the whole Church — 1st to 21st Centuries, East to West, low church to liturgical; second, I do my best to teach and preach about the whole Church; third, I try to engage in conversations with Christians from each of the major traditions. I suggest this latter will help you, too.
Now, about Orthodoxy: The first thing I would say is don’t go and convert to the Orthodox because of your disappointment with a pastor. Above all, I suggest you stay in close contact with someone you spiritually respect from your evangelical past who knows you and loves you (but who will tell you the truth and to whom you can tell the truth) and discuss everything with them. There is a tendency for young folk who are wounded to jump ship and join the first boat that comes along. Where we choose to worship should be a decision based on the wisest of considerations we can muster.
Each of the Great Traditions of the Church has something to offer. From the East I love Athanasius and the Cappadocians and from today I like Schmemann and Frederica. Many of us have been tugged by the rich heritage of the Orthodox, but heritage is only one part of any consideration of this enormity.
I should lay my cards on the table now:
I have one big beef with all of the major, high church liturgical traditions. That is, they tend to make “church” about going to church on Sunday morning in order to let the “magic” (as one of my Roman Catholic friends calls it) happen. That is, because they are sacramental (and I’m not), they tend to see the major thing the church does is provide mass, communion, whatever you want to call it. This is a mistake — and my sacramental friends will disagree with me. I see the functional model at work in such churches to be “attractional.” People come to church, not solely, but primarily for the communion service.
I believe “church” is about gathering in fellowship and worship and instruction but the focus of church is about being empowered to a missional life in the community — in evangelism and service. This has been the emphasis of the evangelical movement for a long, long time and that is where my heart is.
The test for a church, in my judgment, is its zeal for what the followers of Jesus are supposed to be doing: evangelizing, worshiping, praying, learning theology, serving, being compassionate, etc.. In other words, are its ministries holistic? Do they believe in the whole gospel? Do they practice the whole gospel? (We could get into a long debate here about theology, but no doubt you are already aware of the theological issues at work since you’ve been attending the church for six months.)
The rap, as you have already heard, on Orthodox churches is that they tend to be ethnic enclaves who have been sacramentalized but not evangelized, and who have great pride in their history and insufficient attention to speaking to the current generation and the next one. Think about these issues, too. It always depends on the local church and the local people.
I hope this note helps you think through what God would have you do. Just don’t do anything rash.
Blessings,
Scot McKnight



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Mike Croghan

posted August 29, 2006 at 7:09 am


Hi Scot,
Wow. Here’s one of your sacramental friends not necessarily disagreeing with you. To be perfectly honest, I’d never thought this issue through clearly before, but practically and generally speaking, I can’t say you’re wrong. I don’t think “sacramental” and “missional” are opposed in principle, and I can think of plenty of examples of Christian communities that are both – from missional movements within Roman Catholicism to “emerging” churches rooted in sacramental traditions (like Seattle’s Church of the Apostles and my own Common Table) to churches with thoroughly low-church evangelical roots that have placed a renewed emphasis on the sacraments (like Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis). But in practice, I think you’re right about the attractional emphasis of established sacramental traditions. Is it really harder for (say) ECUSA folks to grasp the missional mindset than for (say) PCUSA folks, due to this issue? Hmm. I you’ve given me a lot to think about. Thanks, Scot!
Peace,
Mike



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Ted Gossard

posted August 29, 2006 at 7:32 am


Scot,
Excellent words of counsel and wisdom.
I’m of the low church tradition, too, but have tried to appreciate more of a sacramental theology and approach to church. Though not in the RC or Orth sense. But as in more like the Calvinist “means of grace” sense. That somehow we partake of Christ in faith when we receive the bread and the wine at communion (1 Cor 10), for example. Or in baptism, that somehow we enter into a union with Christ and his body. (not denying the salvation of “dry Baptists” or Quakers, etc) In a loose sense isn’t all of life sacramental, in that we should receive all good things as gifts from God. That by faith, all of life can be used of God to dispense his grace to us?
I pray your words here will help many.



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Emily

posted August 29, 2006 at 8:11 am


Just wanted to say that I’ve been reading your blog for awhile, and as an Eastern Orthodox convert, born and raised Evangelical Protestant, I appreciate reading your perspective and thoughts on the Orthodox tradition.
To the author of the letter, I would say pray. I can’t imagine anything else will guide your journey as well as listening to God.



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Richie

posted August 29, 2006 at 9:02 am


I grew up in the Methodist Church and after college attended a non-denominational full-gospel evangelical church (whatever that means LOL). I now attend the Episcopal Church. I love the liturgy.
I have to say that you hit the nail on the head concerning the pros and cons of the liturgical churches. Not really taking an opposite view but perhaps from a point of being balanced, I also see a need in the more evangelical traditions to be more sacramental.
As you counseled your ‘friend’, we tend to overreact and swing to the other side. I think this is true of each tradition: liturgical, evangelical, the emerging church, etc. Each offers us its unique strength.



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted August 29, 2006 at 9:24 am


Hey Scot,
Excellent response. You made some excellent points. I wonder though, if we can distinguish between high church or liturgical sacramentalism and a broader sacramentalism.
Growing up in a community that had a significant First Nations (Native) population, I came to see a form of holistic sacramentalism in their traditional social and spiritual values and practices, in which even the seemingly “mundane” daily activities were treated with a sacred respect, yet largely avoided the demands of hierarchy, institution and facility.
To that end, I have identified with the sacramental without it being primarily rooted in the high church or liturgical systems (though obviously shaped by them). This is where the embrace of diversity must look towards cultures that developed independantly from formal Christian expressions, but seem to significantly be shaped by God. Just some thoughts.
Peace,
Jamei



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Dennis Martin

posted August 29, 2006 at 9:40 am


Scot, Where could genuine Christian community and fellowship come from if not from the grace of God? And if that’s where it comes from, then how does that grace come to your fellowship group apart from a sacramental vehicle?
Is the debate really about sacramental and non-sacramental approaches or is it perhaps abount which specific vehicles of grace are given to the Church? Is the debate about the absence or presence of fellowship experience or is it perhaps about whether this fellowship experience comes first and produces transformation or whether the transformation precedes and produces the fellowship?
The High Churches do believe in powerful fellowship and community but they insist that it takes place as a consequence of sacramental power transforming us and that we don’t always feel fellowship or community–that one can BE fellowship without necessarily feeling it. As in a marriage, one is married even when one doesn’t feel like it very much. Of course this can be abused–if spouses constantly live devoid of feeling community and constantly say, but we ARE married, they will be very unhappy and certainly are not living up to what marriage is supposed to be (but, yes, indeed, they are still married). So too, feelings ought to follow upon the ontological reality of sacramental transformation and if they never do, something’s very wrong, but in fact, we “high churchers” do insist that we do experience real feelings of community growing out of the sacraments’ power. We just add that we don’t always feel it and we don’t start with the feelings or prove the ontology based on feelings.
That’s the basic point. I’ll try to ground it further in a second posting.



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seth

posted August 29, 2006 at 9:41 am


I’m Orthodox and me and some friends have been kinda having the same conversation regarding Sacraments and being sacramental. Which I think is slightly different. I think (and any Orthodox out there who know i’m wrong, please correct me)Orthodoxy is primarily about Community. and the sacraments are the highest expressions of community. The Eucharist is where we are joined is the highest form of unity within community. it is commuity where we are nurtured, and it’s in community where we work out our salvation. The first circle of community is your local parish, followed by the Church as whole. the next circle is your neighbor, who you love as Christ loves, never judging, but always loving. showing the way of Christ, and hoefully bringing into the community of the Church. but that is never primary motivation. so to me, Orthodoxy in it’s very nature, is missional. we seek our salvation as well as all peoples and creation.
but your last comment regarding “ethnic enclaves who have been sacramentalized but not evangelized” might be true, and it is something we need to work on, but it’s not the spirit of Orthodoxy, but the result of the sickness of sin that’s in all of us.
i’m not sure if any of this makes sense, if not forgive me. :) i’m not a writer.



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Dennis Martin

posted August 29, 2006 at 9:50 am


We “high-churchers” believe that the sacraments impart grace genuinely, not magically. They happen objectively but not magically: objectively because they come from Christ but not magically because, being free creatures, we can reject what Christ offers us–if the sacraments were magic they would work on us willy-nilly, against our will.
Now you too believe, unless you are a Pelagian, that the fellowship you experience as real, genuine, powerful in your low-church setting, comes from the Holy Spirit. Your “sacramental vehicle” is more “direct”–the Holy Spirit acting on people individually so that together as a social group they bring about spiritually powerful things.
We “high-church” sacramentalists believe the same thing except that we believe in certain focal points by which a different set of created things become real vehicles for the power of God’s grace. We believe in community and fellowship every bit as strongly as you do, but we believe that we cannot create this by ourselves, simply by gathering together, rather, that God has chosen to gives us powerful (but not magical) vehicles in specific created things (bread, water, wine, oil activated by God-given words of transformation).
You believe you cannot create it merely by gathering together (that would be a Liberal Protestant approach) but that the Holy Spirit creates it as you gather–is that a fair assessment?
So the difference really is whether God chose definitively to designate specific creature-vehicles as the ordinary way the Holy Spirit creates supernatural churchly fellowship (distinct from merely human aggregation and sociological community–Liberal Protestant). You say no, we say yes.
It’s too easy to employ “magic” to distinguish your view from ours. The Catholic from whom you borrowed the term either was using it in the way C. S. Lewis uses it to describe the sacramental, which differs from the mechanical incantational use of the term in popular parlance and thus requires that you define it to avoid confusion or, if he was using it in the incantational popular way, then he was completely abandoning Catholic and Orthodox sacramental understanding of how the sacraments work. (Incidentally, C. S. Lewis’s use of “magic” to describe sacramental power was done for reasons that Seeker-Friendly-Folks ought to appreciate: he avoided technical church-talk like “sacrament” in favor of “magic”–but at the risk that the alternative word would be misunderstood as well.)
As to whether there’s more or less fellowship-feeling and experience in sacramental high-church settings as compared to low-church Evangelical settings, well, such generalizations, as you would certainly agree, are dangerous.
But more significantly, part of our sacramental teaching is that if indeed the power of the sacraments works by God’s grace in a non-pelagian way, then it is possible for them to be accompanied by feeling and experiential awareness and equally possible for their transforming power to be going on within us absent such feelings.
Likewise, I think you would agree (tell me if I’m wrong) that experiential awareness and feelings can deceive a person–one can feel as if something spiritually powerful is happening when in fact nothing is happening–one can, pelagianly, gin up feelings that begin and end with oneself and are not of the Holy Spirit.
How to discern when the one is happening and not the other, is the baleful problem of Evangelicalism having abandoned a theology of objective specific sacramental vehicles. And I imagine you would agree with me that some Evangelical-Holiness groups (but also perhaps some social-activist Emergers, not to mention Liberal Mainliners) fall victim to putting the experiential cart before the Holy Spirit horse?
For us Sacramentalists, the baleful problem is how to be sure that we are not turning the sacraments into magic, how to be sure we are not claiming on unfelt but real interior transformation but actually living with a cold and unreceptive heart which would block the power of the sacrament to change us (though the Sacrament would still be objectively real–if one approaches the sacraments unbelieving, with a rejecting disposition, one commits a sacrilege and actually does new damage to oneself, sins).
Certainly reducing the sacraments to magic is our temptation and our risk but one that we are absolutely convinced we can avoid yielding to (because Christ through the Spirit guides the Church indefectibly). Your temptation might be that of reductionistically asserting that the difference lies in our “magic” assumptions, on the one hand, and your heartfelt experiential assumptions, on the other.
The real issue is whether in fact God authorized and effects today the transmission of his transforming grace through a set of specific creature-vehicles entrusted to his Church and her ministers
or not (that is, whether the creature-vehicles are simply the broader transformation of all Christian hearts–specified-sacraments folk like Catholics and Orthodox agree that the broader transformation also takes place, but primarily, though not exclusively, through the mediation of the specified sacraments).
And it seems very hard to deny that for 1500 years no Christian anywhere disputed the specified-sacraments as ordinary channels of grace that then produced the broader transformation of Christian hearts. They believed in addition that extra-sacramental gifts (charismata) were given by the Spirit to build up the Church, but these were secondary to the primary, ordinary channels of the specific sacraments.
No one challenged this until the 1400s and 1500s and even Luther maintained a fully objective sacramental theology (which hardened in response to the sharp anti-sacramentalism of the Anabaptists), with Calvin somewhere in the middle.
It is true that perhaps the Waldenses challenged sacramental principles in the 1100s and there was a growing anti-sacramental (Sacramentarian movement in the 1400s), but there’s not even a hint of it for the first 1000 or 1200 years.
Could it really be true that the Church was wrong about such a fundamental matter for 1000 years, from Paul’s very objective sacramental power (but not magic) assumptions in 1 Cor 10-11 all the way through Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (against the Gnostics) and so forth?



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Emily

posted August 29, 2006 at 10:50 am


Seth, you put it much better than I could have :-)



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Ryan

posted August 29, 2006 at 1:32 pm


Scot,
You said:
“I believe “church” is about gathering in fellowship and worship and instruction but the focus of church is about being empowered to a missional life in the community — in evangelism and service.”
Forgive me if I’m misreading you, but you give the impression that being sacramental is in some way opposed to being missional–if not in theory than in practice. But what is “empowering” us to evangelism and service if not the grace of God? And how are we empowered by the grace of God if not by his Gospel–both in spoken (proclaimed) and visible (sacramental) forms?
The church is both a haven for sinners and an outpost for saints. But it can’t be the latter without first being the former.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 29, 2006 at 1:56 pm


Dennis,
As usual, good thoughts. I knew when I used “magic” it could be misunderstood: it was light-hearted for “where the real event occurs.” Nothing about ex opere operato at all, so sorry for that goose chase.
I think the true sacrament is the Holy Spirit who attends the preaching of the Word of Christ. Of course, I accept the Eucharist as sacramental, and I embrace the embodidness of the incarnation — etc — but my point has to do with the general drift of what I called the sacramental high-church churches where I think the missional has been neglected, and where sacramentalized does not always result in the evangelized. We are not speaking either/or but drift. I’m evangelical and I’m low church, and you surely know what I mean by that for this context.
In other words, I see the focus of the service on the sacrament of communion to be a misfocus — not that it shouldn’t be there and not that shouldn’t be fundamentally important.
Ryan, I guess I’d make the same point: I don’t think they are antithetical. Functionally, they have been.



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kent

posted August 29, 2006 at 2:03 pm


What stands out to me is not the issue of the orthodox side of the fence or how sacramental we are, it is the damage pastors like the aforementioned… how do I say this… bozo inflicts on the lives of others. How often is it the behavior and attitudes of individuals that turns off people from the church rather than the theology or even the congregation itself. It just takes one person to say or do one or a series of harsh or harm things and another soul walks away. It is so frustrating and sad.



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Dennis Martin

posted August 29, 2006 at 4:11 pm


Scot,
I have to confess that I do not understand this business of “missional.” No one can seriously question that the Eucharist was the very center of Christian life (and therefore “missional”) until the 1500s and even then only partially.
But you are right that this is one way of distinguishing Evangelical/”low church” from sacramental, “high church.” (Though was not true of the Plymouth Brethren, but they are shifting away too).
But all this does is define differently wherein the mission of the Church is most centrally found. It’s a form of circular reasoning. I can’t think of anything more missional today than for people to assemble around the very real, substantial yet mysterious presence of Christ, convinced that they are joining with the very worship of Christ by all the angels and saints in heaven, living out on earth what John saw in his vision on Patmos. That seems clearly to be what the Christians of the apostolic (John), subapostolic (Ignatius, Justin, Hermas) and patristic eras believed.
Now, if somene doesn’t believe that that’s what happens in the Eucharist then of course the Eucharist won’t be very missional. But take a look at John Paul II. No one, not even Billy Graham, was more missional then he in the 20thc. No one reached more people for Christ with a witness to hope. And he did it with a faith centered on the actual presence of Christ with us to the end of the age in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Now, it may be that you think of mission, in good evangelical fashion, as defined experientially: something or someone is missional to the degree that he is explicit, verbal, active, public in ways that you are accustomed to think of as most efficient and visible. That makes sense of for the heirs of technique-driven revivalism since Finney and Moody or even since Spener and Wesley.
But if one starts with the patristic/orthodox/catholic understanding of the Christ-event, that it changed the whole course of history and transformed the cosmos (note the past tense) once and for all even if the transformation is not visible to all or often seems invisible, then missional depends more on what is that what seems or feels.
So the “is-ness” of the happening of the Eucharist, in which the Church, the mystical body of Christ, ontologically incorporated into Christ by baptism, is drawn by Christ in the Holy Spirit into communion with him and with all the saints and angels in heaven, by it’s very existence or happening is missional.
The Powers of this World fight it and often they cover it and disguise it from the eyes of the indifferent, the sins and failings of the members of Christ fall far short of what they ought to do to make it known, but it is real and its realness does not depend on human effectiveness.
You are right, we Catholics and Orthodox are not as missional as we ought to be. We don’t live out of the stupendous mystery like we ought. We contribute to its veiling from those who need to see it.
But once more, to conclude from that that non-sacramental, low-church, experience-based approaches are more missional, is short-sighted. The prior question is whether the Orthodox/Catholic (and high-church Lutheran or Calvinist claims) are true about the mystery itself are true or not. If they are true, then no follower of Christ would wish not to be participating in them; if they are false, then we need to make the most of what we can do through other means.
I probably am not making myself very clear, but what I’m getting at is how we assess “power” and “effectiveness” and therefore “missionality.” If one looks over the 2000 years of Christian history, the remarkable resiliance and staying power of the sacramental Christians, resurging again and again after it was down for the count and remaining faithful to the vision of Paul and John and the Fathers, one has to assume that perhaps there’s power underneath the surface that ought not be discounted so quickly.
It was not a marketing approach to mission that kept the Church alive under Diocletian or Stalin, the Caliphate of Baghdad or the ruthless extermination attempts of the Japanese in the 17th-19th centuries. It was not a marketing approach to mission that converted the northern and western Europeans during the 5th-11th centuries. When the original Reformers were anti-missional because of their eschatology (16th-18thc), the sacramentalists were spreading the gospel around the globe. As long as it was attached to colonizers’ techniques, if failed miserably. When supernatural charity (Francis Xavier in India, Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico) it swept the masses.
Yes, over these 2000 years there have beeen abject failures to be missional by the sacramental Christians in some periods of time and in some places on earth. But I do not see how anyone can look at the broad sweep of Christian history and deny that the presence of the Christianity around the globe did not result from the evangelism of the sacramental Christians.
And this is what bothers me–the myopic vision of evangelicals who know all the stories about evangelical missions to China and Africa from the late 1700s onward (and I applaud those efforts) but know so little about sacramental Christians carried the gospel from the Mediterranean world to transalpine Europe, India, China, Africa and Latin America from Armenia in the 200s and 300s to Japan in the 1500s and Africa in the 1800s.
Are you at all aware of the missional fervor of the John Paul II generation of young Catholics? The missional and Eucharistic evangelism of hundreds of Ecclesial Movements? Far too many Evangelicals are operating with steretypes about the “big churches,” which are true for mainline Protestants but simply are not true of Catholics (I’ll leave the Orthodox aside–but standing up to Stalin counts just as much as spreading the Gospel to India or Africa.)
I don’t understand the reluctance I sense to engage the phenomenon of John Paul II (and behind him stands Leo XIII and Pius IX and hundreds of Catholic priests, nuns, founders of orders and so forth throughout the 19th and 20thc who found effective ways to evangelize, every bit as effective as any of the Protestant Evangelicals) and the ecclesial movements in the making since three decades before Vatican II and during the three or four decades since Vatican II. If one takes a global view of Christianity over the past centuries, the remarkable thing is how Catholicism has stayed constant in doctrine and continually renewed in spirit around the world.
I knew none of this as long as I moved in Evangelical circles alone and even when I began to inform myself from within the Catholic press and Catholic world, I had to learn to translate language and idioms, but once one learns which Catholic idioms correspond to which Evangelical ones, a whole new world opens up.
One of the first teasers along these lines was my discovery, while teaching at the Mennonite Seminaries, of a book titled “You Too Can Win Souls” by ____ O’Brian or some similar name. It grabbed my attention because it used lingo I was familiar with and was addressed to Catholic lay people in the 1950s. I started reading it expecting to see that Catholics had finally caught up with Evangelicals on personal evangelism, only to discover that Catholic priest-revivalists on the Kentucky and Illinois and Missouri frontier were doing exactly the same thing during the early 1800s that Second-Awakening Protestant revivalists were doing: preaching fire-and-brimstone sermons to convict the hearts of Catholics attending “parish missions” (= revival meetings–revivalism was INVENTED BY CATHOLICS IN FRANCE AND ITALY DURING THE LATE 1600S AND 1700S to try to win back the irreligious towns and countryside, long before Whitfield or Wesley were even born–preachers like Louis de Montfort and Alphonsus de Liguori–but they were only following in the footsteps of great late medieval revivalists like John of Capistrano and Bernardino de Siena and Geiler von Kaysersberg).
And then it struck me–the preaching is identical, reminding listeners that some day they will stand before God’s judgment throne–except that the Catholic missioners called upon the convicted to confess their sins sacramentally and return to the sacrament of the Eucharist while Second Awakening preachers, whom I had studied in some depth in college and graduate school, called on them to come to the front, to the anxious bench, to mourn their sins and for the grace of conversion.
And before anyone says, well, maybe back then the Catholics did that but now the post-Vatican II priests just preach Liberal Protestant I’m-okay-you’re-okay gobbledy gook, let me say that at least once a month in my parish we get a homily that reminds us that some day we will face God in judgment and we’d better be prepared. Now, my parish is a so-called “traditionalist” Catholic parish (fully accepting Vatican II with the Mass in English and in Latin, both post- and pre-Vatican II rites) and as such is the exception to the rule for the lax American Catholic world.
But underneath the surface–which is what is remarkable–within even the lax Catholic parishes has been bubbling for some time, with connections reaching back to pre-Vatican II sodalities and forms of Catholic Action etc., barely visible streams of renewal, usually associated with the Ecclesial Movements but also associated with perpetual Eucharistic Adoration and other very ancient and tradtional practices.
In my brief life within Evangelicalism the neo-Evangelical revolt against the Scopes-tainted Fundamentalists has come and gone, replaced first by the Church Growth mega-movement, which is now, I am told, passe and giving way to the Emergers and the Neo-Fundamentalists as well as the Neo-Reformationalists. Forty years’ time; three waves or so of very visible, roiling, all very “missional” movements.
During these forty years much has seemed dead and dying among Catholics as they assimilated to the American mainstream and indulged the superficially visible post-Vatican nonsense of guitar Masses and habit-schucking nuns.
But renewal movements in Catholic history–and I’ve studied them from Middle Ages to the 20thc–seldom develop and mature in less than a generation. Read the history of some of the most dynamic Catholic religious orders of the 19thc (the Salesians, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate who evangelized the Inuit in Canada and the peoples of southern Africa and a dozen other places around the world, or Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity who labored in obscurity for 30 years and would have continued immense missional work in obscurity had Malcom Muggeridge not put them on the world stage 30 years ago–sixty years total) and you’ll see that often ten, twenty, thirty years went by with slow growth, with founders attacked by factions within their group or well-meaning but misinformed church bureaucrats or whatever and only then, after a long period of testing and tribulation did it become apparent just what mission God had for them in the world.
And thus I plead with readers here to broaden their horizons, both synchronically in the world today and diachronically back more than a millenium.
I know whereof I speak. I grew up with a telling of the Christian story that was extremely parochial. It’s horizon was that of the Protestant Reformation and subsequent Evangelicalism. Seen against that horizon, our side had a monopoly on missionality. Long after I became a Catholic I was only just beginning to discover (as I taught courses employing the lives of 19thc and 20thc saints and taught JPII’s life and works) the immense amount of Catholic missionality that I had no inkling existed, not only in the Middle Ages which I thought I knew something about, but in the modern era as well.



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Dennis Martin

posted August 29, 2006 at 4:13 pm


Correction:
“No one can seriously question that the Eucharist was the very center of Christian life (and therefore “missional”) until the 1500s and even then only partially.”
Should read:
“No one can seriously question that the Eucharist was the very center of Christian life (and therefore “missional”) until the 1500s and even then the Reformers modified that only partially.”



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Scot McKnight

posted August 29, 2006 at 4:36 pm


Dennis,
You’ve hijacked this letter to an inquiring young woman into a debate about sacramentalism. I retain my conviction that RC churches and Orthodoxy churches are “gathering” churches, and not “missional” churches, and I retain the conviction that such churches are sacramentalized more than evangelized, and the praxis of the churches show that — whatever the theology says.
I can say the same about plenty of Protestant churches: they have a theology of evangelism but don’t “do it.” That’s the point I was making. In fact, probably all branches of the church have a theology that embraces missional — not the issue. The issue is praxis. I could say this personally: “Do you believe in evangelism?” Answer my most readers: “Yes.” Do you do it? Dead silence. The silence is my concern.



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Jfred

posted August 29, 2006 at 7:12 pm


Scott — I don’t know exactly how I found your blog,but I’m grateful I did. I’ve read your excellent essay on Why Evangelicals Convert to Roman Catholicism and very much appreciate the seriousness and respectfulness of your writing.
The letter writer’s experience that inspired this posting is just about identical to the spiritual crisis I’ve been going through for the past year or so. Fed up with the smug self confidence and (ironically) works based evangelicalism disguised as “missional,” I began a serious exploration of Roman Catholisism and Orthodoxy, attending many Masses and Liturgies, and meeting three times with a Priest from both churches.
Your observations regarding the weakness of RC and OC worship rings true to me. I attended all three Masses of the Easter Triduum at the most conservative Catholic parish in my town. Beautiful as it was, the gospel was never preached! On the Friday evening Mass, they got so carried away with the liturgy, the Priest announced he would skip the homily altogether.
And while I agree with Thomas Howard that the evangelical pressure to pray extemperaneously grows tiresome, I was disappointed that neither Priest offered to pray with me during our one on one meetings.
I know that devoted RC’s and EO absolutely hate hearing this, but in my opinion it is a serious weakness that needs to be addressed.
After more than a year of reflection and prayer, I’ve decided to stay in the evangelical Presbyterian fold, but I think I’m gonna scream if I hear “Amazing Love” one more time!



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Scot McKnight

posted August 29, 2006 at 7:23 pm


Jfred,
Thanks for telling your story; it is a story many could tell. This is not about theology so much as it is about its context and manifestation. Thanks again.



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Jim Martin

posted August 29, 2006 at 8:26 pm


Scot,
A very good post. I appreciate you posting her letter and responding to it on your blog. You reminded me today in this post that theology is best done in the context of real live pastoral situations. Like the early church, theology is best articulated in the context of real live situations.
Also–in particular I appreciated your comments near the end regarding the essence of being a church.
Thanks…



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Scott M

posted August 29, 2006 at 10:45 pm


Scot, while there can certainly be issues within the ‘high church’ strand, just as there are often issues in the ‘low church’ strand, I don’t think I agree with your assessment of the churches as attractional rather than missional. By and large, the ‘gatherings’ are for believers. The intent is not to ‘evangelize’ by getting those who are not unbelievers to come to ‘church’ as it seems to be in most evangelical churches. The ‘gatherings’ are the places where the believers come together for a divine communal encounter. However, the Eucharist itself is the most powerful proclamation of the gospel that we have, and the one given us by Jesus himself. As far as I can tell, through most of church history, it has been at the center of Christian worship. I find myself part of the evangelical community, but the contempt of familiarity often heaped on the ‘Lord’s Supper’ in its neglect sometimes appalls me.
When it comes to being ‘missional’, the second section of Pope Benedict’s first encyclical on love, the section on caritas as a community, describes any of the vital RC churches I’ve encountered over the years. And while I’m not as familiar with the Orthodox, every person I’ve met in the US who is a member of that tradition has always visibly lived with its disciplines and been willing and eager to explain them and discuss their faith with all who express any interest in understanding.
They both look pretty ‘missional’ to me.
Of course, any given church can fall anywhere on that spectrum, but even stuff like ‘ethnic enclaves’ is a human and cultural problem and happens anywhere people gather. I’m reminded of evangelical churches in the Ozarks (or many places in the south, actually). Decidedly low church and determinedly cultural enclaves. People caused that, not church structures.
I do, however, think your advice is really good. Find an advisor and keep in mind that God may not wish us to be in the church we find most comfortable or appealing. And he does have the right to decide that detail. ;-)



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Richie

posted August 30, 2006 at 7:49 am


Scot,
Good point concerning walking the evangelical talk. But how do we be evangelicals? In a world today that is against proselytizing (IMHO) in fear that you are shoving religion down their throats, how does one provide that salty savor of Christ?
I was taught in my church tradition to be an example by helping, loving, and going the extra mile for people. In my experience, when you do this people are actually drawn to you. I was not taught to go door-to-door or stand on street corners. What is a good balance?



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Steve Hayes

posted September 2, 2006 at 4:55 am


As an Orthodox Christian, I can recognise the failings that you mention. There is indeed a tendency to be inward looking, to become ethnic enclaves, and to be lukewarm, or even altogether cold about mission. I have heard people say, for example, that “The Orthodox Church is not missionary because its purpose is to preserve Greek culture.”
But evangelical denominations can be equally inward-looking, even when kidding themselves that they are not. I’ve been to many an “evangelistic service” on a Sunday night that are attended entirely by the faithful. An evangelistic sermon is preached and at the end there is an altar call, every head bowed and every eye closed so that no one should see that the people who put up their hands are the same ones who put them up last week and the week before.
I think I think too that you have misunderstood the sacramental, and couldn’t have got it more wrong.
Perhaps that’s because of Western culture being a consumer society, and so the world is divided into “consumers” and “providers”, and the providers providing things for consumers to consume. “Consumers” and “providers” are roles people play, and they change them from time to time. At times we are providers, and at other times consumers.
So you give the picture of the Church as a “service provider”, providing “services” which consumers “go to church” to “consume”.
What seems to be missing altogether from this conception is the idea of the church as the Body of Christ”.
Recommended reading for anyone who thinks like that: The world as sacrament by Alexander Schmemann (also published under the title For the life of the world).



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