Sunday, February 27, 2011

Baptists, Lent, and the Reformation Rummage Sale

From Carol Olsen at Insight Scoop:

"In recent years there have been a flurry of news articles prior to Lent, Holy Week, and Advent about how various Protestant groups and denominations have "discovered" that Catholic and Orthodox beliefs about the liturgical year are not nearly as "unbiblical" as many non-Catholics thought. Quite the contrary, as this Associated Baptist Press piece explains (ht: National Catholic Register):

Many Baptists are seeking to reclaim that pre-Easter focus -- historically called Lent -- which has been an integral part of many Christians’ experience since the earliest years of the church.

“It’s a biblical thing, not a made-up Catholic thing,” says Kyle Henderson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Athens, Texas, acknowledging a robust Baptist suspicion of spiritual practices seen as too closely associated with the Roman Catholic Church or its distant cousins, the Anglicans.

Lost treasure

Some Baptists say they sense those suspicions -- in part a legacy of the Protestant Reformation -- have left them with a diminished spiritual vocabulary.

“There is an uneasy sense that something got lost,” says Phyllis Tickle, whose 2008 book, The Great Emergence, chronicles the blurring of denominational distinctions in late 20th- and early 21st-century American Christianity.

Every 500 years or so, says Tickle, the church metaphorically holds a great rummage sale, “getting rid of the junk that we believe no longer has value and finding treasures stuck in the attic because we didn’t want them or were too naïve to know their true worth.”

The Reformation was one of those rummage sales and the current “great convergence” is another, she maintains. For evangelicals, the long-forgotten treasures in the attic include a wide array of spiritual disciplines -- including Lent -- with roots in the church’s first centuries.

For Sterling Severns, discovering Lent and other seasons of the Christian year was “an eye-opening experience,” which he encountered at the first church he served after graduating from seminary.

“It tapped into something in me that surprised me,” says Severns, now pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Richmond, Va. “I remember I almost felt as if I’d been let in on a great secret.”

For many folks who have been Catholic their entire lives, such comments might be a bit surprising. "Secret? How is it a secret? Don't all Christians know about Lent and Advent?" No, they surely don't. I wasn't aware of either Lent or Advent until I attended Bible college as a 20-year-old Fundamentalist, and even then they were spoken of in mostly cautious or negative ways (most of my profs viewed the Catholic Church with suspicion or disdain, but a couple were quite positive about Catholicism). But things have changed a lot in the past couple of decades and an growing number of Evangelical groups are embracing—in various ways and to differing degrees—aspects of the Catholic liturgical calendar.

An excellent book for Evangelicals who are curious about Catholic beliefs about worship, the liturgical calendar, and the sacraments is Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament by Thomas Howard. Also see his essay, "Catholic Spirituality", from the collection, The Night Is Far Spent."


Fr. Erik Richtsteig said...

“It’s a biblical thing, not a made-up Catholic thing." It is statements like this that make me want to give Protestants wedgies.

Pablo the Mexican said...

When you miss the boat, you miss the boat.