January 30th, 2005


Some views on Evangelicals

Several LJ's that I read regularly are stomping on a guy named Joel Osteen down in Texas and about whether he is, or is not, a worthy example of an evangelical Christian. Stryck had some good thoughts about being sorta evangelical, and sorta not. I can relate to that.

I am an adult convert; actually, to call myself a church orphan would be more accurate. My parents stomped out of the Methodist Church where I grew up when I was in 6th grade. I didn't find my own way back to church until my wife and I were married. In between, besides giving myself to Christ in college, I saw a lot of different kinds of Christianity on offer.

We joined The United Methodist Church because -- no kidding, folks -- we read the Articles of Religion John Wesley furnished the fledgling Methodist Episcopal Church in 1784. I wanted to belong to a church that believed those things. (Whether I got my wish is something I have wrestled with for thirty years.)

When I went to seminary, all I knew was that God was for real, Christ was the way, and I had been called. I attended a hotbed of evangelicalism, and there I found an entire religious subculture that was largely unaware -- and largely unaccepting -- of any other way to be Christian. I actually knew people who believed, from the bottom of their souls, that Southern Gospel music was intrinsically more "spiritual" than other kinds of religious music. In other words, they could not distinguish their tastes from their doctrines. I found this to be a bizarre experience.

So I am, theologically, at least, an evangelical. But I am not a southern-fried one. I agree with their doctrines, but I still speak their lingo as an acquired language. I guess I'm just an immigrant to their idea of the Kingdom, not a natural born citizen. I'll caucus with the Confessing Movement and other evangelical purists, but I find little real fellowship there. And I find many of them wanting, not just to purge the Church of error, but to remake it to match their comfort zone -- which is not quite the same thing.

A (spiritual) home of my own

So, if I'm not a dyed-in-the-wool Evangelical, what am I? My preferred designation is "orthodox." I make a point of actually believing and teaching all the stuff that we stood up and promised to when we were ordained.

Being merely "orthodox" means that I can be at home w/many different kinds of Xtns, including those whose styles are very different from my own. It also gives me a means of critiquing those w/styles and backgrounds similar to my own: Just because I find the spiritual ambience of some churches appealing doesn't mean I find the doctrine satisfying.

But as for a subculture of my own -- a place FOR ME to belong -- well, I guess you could best describe me as a 10th/11th Century Anglo-Saxon priest born slightly out of my due time. And this is not just because traditional Methodist liturgy is descended from the Sarum Mass out of Thomas Cranmer and John Wesley -- though it is. I believe that the Church (esp. the Church in England) of a thousand years ago was living through one of its finest moments. It was theologically orthodox, culturally adaptable, evangelistically effective, well-governed, and in communion with everyone from Ireland to Alexandria.

A thousand years ago (AD 1005):
There was no schism between East and West;
The Pope was a unifying leader, not a divisive one;
The things that offend Protestants had mostly not started (or at least were not mandated by Rome) -- things like transubstantiation, celibacy of clergy, all the later Marian doctrines (Immaculate Conception, Sacred Heart, Assumption), indulgences, additional sacraments, Papal Infallibility, the Inquisition;
In addition, the English Church of that day was leading the way in foreign missions, the translation of the Scriptures into the native language, and expanding the network of parishes.

Were I to lead my UM congregation in a celebration of the Sarum Mass (in English) and preach one of Aelfric's homilies, virtually the only thing they might raise an eyebrow at would be the frequent mention of the Virgin Mary -- and even then, there probably would be nothing said about her that an informed Protestant would find a deal-breaker, theologically.

It's a shame that that religious subculture's been gone for a thousand years (since the Great Schism of 1054) -- but at least I know where I belong.