Saturday, August 28, 2010

Empty Evangelical Worship

Evangelical worship services* are empty, and most aren't aware of it.

Evangelicals are well aware that their worship services are quite different from the Catholic Mass, of course. Things that I have often heard evangelicals cite as making their worship services better than the Catholic Mass are: better/more relevant preaching, music they connect with/enjoy more, more spontaneity (which is interpreted as realness), and, finally, an overall sense that there's more life at evangelical worship services.

But there are many other differences between evangelical worship services and the Catholic Mass. Here is a sample list of things that the Catholic Mass has that most evangelical worship services lack:

- the whole worship time is a prayer that begins and ends with the sign of the cross
- confessing our sins to God and asking for forgiveness at the beginning before engaging in other worship
- kneeling as a congregation
- large portions of Scripture read out loud in a sequential manner week to week
- acknowledgement by the congregation of their gratefulness to God whenever Scripture is read
- standing out of respect when Scripture is read from one of the four Gospels
- praying for the needs of the world
- a sense of reverence throughout the service
- recitation of the Nicene Creed
- praying the Lord's Prayer
- Scripture used regularly throughout service in what is said by the presider and the congregation
- climax of service is worship to God, not teaching by pastor
- celebration of the Lord's Supper every week
- continuity in manner of worship with most Christians in history

Why don't evangelicals kneel when they are worshiping God? Why don't they show more reverence and gratitude when Scripture is read? Why don't they confess their sins?

All the things listed above, and many other great things, are done  at all Catholics Churches around the world every single week (actually every day at most Catholic churches). Whether or not the priest is a good orator or the church has good musicians, the Mass is the same and the fullness of worship still occurs. Even if an evangelical church happens to have a better band and a more dynamic preacher, they still lack everything listed above and the spiritual depth that they bring.

Things get worse for evangelical worship. Not only do evangelical worship services lack all of the things listed above, the few things they do have - music worship and a long time of preaching - are dependent on the talent of a few individuals. If the band isn't that great or the senior pastor is on vacation, the whole worship service can suddenly seem not as 'full of life' or worshipful. If an evangelical church is like that too often, many evangelicals will leave to find a church that has more life aka better music and preaching. Such dependency on the musical or oratorial abilities of their worship leaders shows the emptiness of evangelical worship. (Side note: It starts to make sense why evangelicals have embraced satellite campuses. When worship services are so dependent on its leaders, rather than try to find a new Rick Warren to get people to go to a new church across town, just bring the people the already popular Rick Warren via video feed.)

But, alas, even if evangelicals were to overhaul their worship services to be exactly like the Catholic Mass (and some are pretty close), they would still remain empty, for they would lack the source and summit of the whole Christian life, the Eucharist. The Eucharist, the transubstantiated real presence of Jesus Christ himself, can be truly consecrated only by a person ordained with apostlic authority, something all evangelicals lack entirely.

Evangelical worship services are empty and, sadly, will always be empty.


*There are people who call themselves evangelicals who worship in all sorts of ways. The evangelical worship service that I am referring to here, and that I believe a majority of self-proclaimed evangelicals would be familiar with, is 30 min of music worship, announcments and offering, and 30 - 45 min of preaching.

Radio Show Appearance and a Car

Hello friends,

Krista, Elijah, and I are staying at Krista's grandma's farm in northwest Iowa right now as a stop on our way up to Minneapolis/St Paul, MN. It's beautiful out here!

This Wednesday, September 1st, from 5pm-6pm EDT, Krista and I will be guests on The Mike Allen Show, a radio show hosted by a former Methodist minister who converted to Catholicism, Mike Allen. The show runs on Real Life Radio 1380 AM, a Catholic radio station in central Kentucky. If you're not in Kentucky, you can listen live on their website. They also put recordings of some shows on their site to be listened to later. The call-in number is 866-403-1380.

In other news, we no longer own a car! The blue '92 Plymouth Grand Voyager with 218,000 miles we used to have started having brake problems (in addition to many other problems, including the driver's seat randomly flopping back), which made it unsafe to drive (let alone drive the long distance up to the Twin Cities). The cost to fix it apparently was going to be thousands of dollars, much much more than the car is worth, so we sold it for salvage. We are currently using a car on loan from one of our parents, but we will need to get our own here pretty soon. If you are aware of a cheap or even free car that's available in the Twin Cities area, please let us know!

Brantly

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Liberal Sexual Mores of Evangelicals

It has been my experience that, in opposing the practice of homosexuality, evangelicals often tout the fact that they are standing up for the conservative, historic Christian teaching. They say they want to stand up against the intrusion of new, liberal ideas into Christendom.

This is ironic, however, since evangelicals have abandoned most other conservative, historic Christian teachings in favor of new, liberal teachings regarding sexuality.

Yes, most evangelicals believe that sex is only for married couples, and that marriage is only for couples with one man and one woman who are not closely related. This is good. But on most issues beyond this, evangelicals have abandoned the long-standing, universally held Christian teachings.

Virtually all evangelicals reject the historic Christian teachings on divorce and the use of contraception, and many evangelicals also reject the historic Christian teachings on oral sex, heterosexual anal sex, and masturbation.

The break from the historic teaching on divorce occurred in the Reformation itself. The Catholic Church had always held that divorce was impossible. For Jesus taught "what God has joined together, let no man separate." (Mt 19.6) And what is claimed by Protestants today as an allowance for divorce ("except for pornea" in Mt 5.32) had always been interpreted as dealing with the breaking of an engagement or marriage that was unlawful to begin with. Evangelicals have chosen to follow the Reformer's liberal views rather than the historic Christian teaching.

As for the rest, evangelicals (along with all Protestants) actually agreed with the Catholic Church for hundreds of years that the use of contraception, and the practices of oral sex, heterosexual anal sex, and masturbation were gravely immoral. It was only recently, in the mid-20th century, that, pressured by the world, evangelicals decided to change their theology of what marriage and sex are in order to embrace these practices - practices that had always been rejected by Christians since the 1st century.

Now, Scripture hasn't changed. The Great Tradition hasn't changed. The Catholic Church hasn't changed. But evangelicals have.

So why do evangelicals consider themselves as holding to conservative, historic Christian sexual mores? Because most evangelicals don't know history. They don't know that they have broken from Christian history, in some cases very recently, in favor of newly created liberal theology.

If you are attending an evangelical church and want to hold to the conservative, historic Christian teachings on sexual mores, you're going to the wrong church.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Unrestrained Sex and the Celibate Witness

"As women, we have the right to make decisions regarding our bodies. These include decisions regarding the ability to control if and when we have children, regardless of whether we want several children or no children at all. Birth control is fundamental to our ability to have autonomy in our lives, and it helps us to understand our bodies and to enjoy our sexuality safely with men.” – Our Bodies, Ourselves 2005

The above quote captures the sentiment of many pro-contraceptive women, as well as men, non-Christian and Christian.

The quote seems to make a good point. We do have the right to make decisions regarding our bodies. The problem is that its logic has one glaring problem. The author, as many who would agree with her often do, assumes that such control is gained through the use of birth control, presumably contraception.

Maybe I’m just stuck in Christendom as it existed from the first century until the mid-20th century, but I thought the way to avoid children was to not engage in the behavior that leads to children, or in other words, not have sex. For the above author, and many in our society today, such an option is no option at all. Sex is a given. Of course people will be having sex. For someone not to have sex is unhealthy, and worse, oppressive.

Sadly, evangelicals have walked like lemmings right along with the world, except for maintaining the caveat that sex is only for marriage. Many evangelicals consider sex for married people to be like food – it’s inappropriate, unhealthy, and even wrong to expect or encourage married couples to abstain from sex for any period of time.

And like lemmings, they have followed the world off a cliff.

Since when is sex something that we must have, especially married people? The world and our separated brethren think that birth control gives them control over their bodies, when all along what it really does is encourage them to have no control over their bodies. It’s all a big lie. What they call freedom is actually slavery. True control over one’s body is the ability to not have sex when one doesn’t want to have a baby.

In other words, the answer isn’t birth control, it’s self control. This is the true freedom.

But people in our society today have so little control that the option to abstain cannot even be considered. It’s not even entertained as a virtue to which we should aspire. In their minds the choice really is between all women being pregnant their entire reproductive lives, or the use of contraception, something that all Christians for millennia had deemed a grave perversion, until Protestants, even supposedly conservative evangelicals, decided to follow the world in the mid-20th century.

So it is now more than ever that our world needs the celibate witness. Celibate priests, monks, and nuns, even lay people who are living the single life – we need you to stand as witnesses to the world and to our separated brethren, and as a constant reminder to married couples within the Church, that we do not need sex, that sex does not lead to happiness. Unrestrained sex is not the answer. Lust will never be quenched. It is a black hole that leads only to hell, in this life and the next.

There is another way.

We do not need a pill that makes the woman’s body act as if it is diseased to be free. We do not need a piece of plastic to ‘protect’ the woman from the man’s seed. We need the grace of Jesus to help us all to have self-control over ourselves, especially the sacred gift of our sexuality. Our celibate brothers and sisters prove to us that sex isn't required for the happiest and most meaningful lives.

Some evangelicals have just recently started to reevaluate the Reformation’s almost total rejection of celibacy as an option. I encourage those that are feeling the call: look to the Church. It is a beacon. Although Protestants have lost their way, the Church has stood as the city on the hill. The Church has maintained the true teaching all these years. You do not need to reinvent a theology of celibacy. There is already a place, the only place where it can be truly lived, the only place where it has its full meaning, the Church, where you can join in and be, in an age of unrestrained sex, the celibate witness.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Spiritual Minimalism: Praying to Saints

“Praying to saints is a big waste of time.”

You explain that Catholics do not worship saints. You explain that we are asking the saints for their prayers. Praying to the saints doesn’t replace our prayer to God himself!

“Okay, but if I can pray to God directly, shouldn’t I spend all of my prayer time just praying to Him?”

Here’s the evangelical concern: We only have so much time each day we can pray, so we want to make it count. Praying to saints is just adding another middle man. Let’s cut the fat and just get to the good stuff. We’ll get more out of ten minutes of prayer to God, than eight minutes to God with two minutes of prayer to saints. Besides, our prayers get to God either way.

Sound familiar? Like more and more evangelical beliefs and practices these days, this way of thinking has more to do with secular American culture than anything Christian. Underlying this argument is an attitude that, in keeping with western capitalism, we should try to maximize the personal benefits of our limited spiritual time.

It’s really a matter of efficiency. The simpler the process is, the better. Let’s just get our prayers up to God and call it good. No need to involve others in the process.

Here’s the problem: God is not calling individuals as islands, he is calling a people of God. Yes, it takes more time, but we are relational creatures designed to live life, including the spiritual life, in community. And there is only one bride of Christ, one Church. Whether a person is in this life or the next, if they are one of God’s people, they are a part of His one Church. And God has called us to pray for one another.

So why does it matter if we have others praying for us? Because God wants to use our prayers for each other to affect change in the world – not to distract us from him, but in order to more rightly offer him worship as one body. Does he have to do things that way? No, but he chooses to because he is not only concerned about the end, he is also concerned with the process. Catholics are not looking just to worship God, we are looking to worship God with all the angels and saints in heaven.

When we pray with the saints in heaven, that is what we are doing.  And we are fulfilling God’s command that the whole Church pray for and with one another. A person is not wasting valuable prayer time when he asks for his friends and neighbors to pray for him, so neither is he wasting time when he asks a fellow member of the body of Christ who’s already in heaven to pray for him. Rather, he is more fully worshiping God as He has intended us to - as a people.

Sadly, this attitude of wanting to maximize gain has actually led to evangelicals losing out on a much deeper level. What evangelicals think is just useless fat - praying to people who will just go on and pray to God when we could just pray to God ourselves with that time - is really the fullness of the spiritual life - the full communion of Christians throughout time and space helping each other and worshiping God together.

I call evangelicals, and remind Catholics, not to live the minimum spiritual life they think they need to get by. Let us embrace the fullness of the Church, past and present, knowing that we will gain the depth of the spiritual life as God intended it, in a rich community.