Friday, July 26, 2013

Young Evangelicals are getting high...

Here's an interesting piece from The Christian Pundit blog. It's about how younger Evangelicals are increasingly being drawn to Christian traditions with a fixed form of worship, i.e. "liturgical worship," also called "high church." I have to say that I can relate to a lot of what is mentioned in this article. Most of you know that my own spiritual background is Evangelical Christianity and, for many years before I even considered exploring the Catholic Church, the issue of worship was one that gnawed at me.

I could never understand why, if (as most Evangelicals believe), the celebration of Holy Communion was one of the only two commands given by our Lord in the Gospels in terms of ritual actions (the other being Baptism), we Evangelicals celebrated the Eucharist so very infrequently. And by infrequently, I mean once a month, or once every quarter (i.e. every three months). It seemed obvious to me in the Scriptures that the Apostles and the early Church seemed to put a heavy emphasis on this ceremony, if you will. In fact, if you'll note the terminology that I use in this paragraph, you'll see that I'm avoiding the term "sacrament" because most Evangelicals would never refer to the Eucharist as a "sacrament;" they usually prefer the term "ordinance." But using the word "ordinance" only drives home my point that the act is something that was "ordered" to be done by, in this case, our Lord.

A close reading of the New Testament will also reveal that the much of worship done by Apostles and by the early Church was done in the context of "liturgy." In other words, the earliest worship of Christians recorded in the New Testament was not a willy-nilly affair where folks went with what "felt right," picking hymns and Scripture-readings according to their own whims and personal preferences.

No, the New Testament shows that the faith life of the earliest believers revolved around celebration of the Eucharist and fixed times of prayer (Acts 2:42, for example, says that some of the first converts to the Gospel were devoted "to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers" not just "prayers" but "the prayers," implying that the early Christians continued, in the example of our Lord, in the Jewish tradition of praying in community at set times of the day -- this is the basis for the Church's Liturgy of the Hours).

Needless to say, this was only one of many factors that started me on my road to the Catholic Church. But I know of many others who followed a similar path. At any rate, the article is a great read. Here it is:

A friend of mine attended a Christian college where almost all of the students, including her, grew up in non-denominational, evangelical Protestant churches. A few years after graduation, she is the only person in her graduating class who is not Roman Catholic,  high Anglican or Lutheran. The town I live in has several “evangelical” Protestant colleges: on Ash Wednesday you can tell who studies at them by the ash crosses on their foreheads.

Young Christians are going over to Catholicism and high Anglicanism/Lutheranism in droves, despite growing up in low Protestant churches that told them about Jesus. It’s a trend that is growing, and it looks like it might go that way for a while: people who grew up in stereotypical, casual evangelicalism are running back past their parents’ church to something that looks like it was dug out of Europe a couple hundred years ago at least. It’s encouraged by certain emergent leaders and by other “Christian” authors whose writings promote “high” theology under a Protestant publisher’s cover.

Ten or fifteen years ago, it was American evangelical congregations that seemed cutting edge. They had the bands, the coolest youth pastor, professional babysitting for every women’s Bible study, and a church library full of Christian novels. But now, to kids who grew up in that context, it seems a bit dated or disconnected—the same kind of feeling that a 90′s movie gives them. Not that it’s not a church; it’s just feels to them the way that 50′s worship felt to their parents. So they leave. If they don’t walk away from Christianity completely, they head to Rome or something similar.

In a way, it’s hard to understand. Why would you trade your jeans, fair-trade coffee, a Bible and some Getty songs for formal “church clothes”, fasting, a Bible and a priest? It makes no sense to want to kneel on a stone floor instead of sit in a comfy chair. And if you’re hearing about Jesus anyway, why does it really matter?

In another way, it’s very obvious why these kids are leaving and going where they are. In her recent article, “Change Wisely, Dude”, Andrea Palpant Dilley explains her own shift from Presbyterianism to apostacy to generic evangelicalism to high church: “In my 20s, liturgy seemed rote, but now in my 30s, it reminds me that I’m part of an institution much larger and older than myself. As the poet Czeslaw Milosz said, ‘The sacred exists and is stronger than all our rebellions.’ Both my doubt and my faith, and even my ongoing frustrations with the church itself, are part of a tradition that started before I was born and will continue after I die. I rest in the assurance that I have something to lean against, something to resist and, more importantly, something that resists me.”

The kids who leave evangelical Protestantism are looking for something the world can’t give them. The world can give them hotter jeans, better coffee, bands, speakers, and book clubs than a congregation can. What it can’t give them is theology; membership in a group that transcends time, place and race; a historic rootedness; something greater than themselves; ordained men who will be spiritual leaders and not merely listeners and buddies and story-tellers. What the kids leaving generic evangelicalism seem to want is something the world can never give them–a holy Father who demands reverence, a Saviour who requires careful worship, and a Spirit who must be obeyed. They are looking for true, deep, intellectually robust spirituality in their parents’ churches and not finding it.

But not all kids who grew up in American evangelicalism are jumping off into high church rite and sacrament: congregations that carefully teach robust, historic Protestant theology to their children are notably not losing them to the Vatican, or even Lambeth. Protestant churches that recognize their own ecclesiastical and theological heritage, training their children to value and continue it in a 21st century setting, usually retain their youth. These kids have the tools they need to think biblically through the deep and difficult issues of the day and articulate their position without having a crisis of faith. They know the headlines, church history, theology and their Bibles, and so are equipped to engage culture in a winsome, accessible way. They have a relationship with God that is not based on their feelings or commitments but on the enduring promises of the Word and so they can ride out the trends of the American church, knowing that they will pass regardless of mass defections to Rome. That’s not to say that the Book of Common Prayer is unbiblical in its entirety–far from it! It is to say that children raised in spiritually substantive and faithful homes usually find things like holy water, pilgrimages, popes and ash on their faces an affront to the means for spiritual growth that God has appointed in His Word.

“He cannot have God as his Father who does not have the church for his Mother,” said Cyprian, nearly two millennia ago. Perhaps if Protestant churches began acting more like dutiful mothers instead of fun babysitters, there would be fewer youth leaving their ecclesiastical homes as soon as they are out of the house.