07 May 2012

Liturgical rapprochement, political division

Ed Kilgore writes on The Widening Political Divide Between Catholicism and Mainline Protestantism in The New Republic. He notes that, paradoxically, while evangelicals and Roman Catholics have come together on moral and political issues, mainline protestants and Catholics have drawn more closely together liturgically:
The signs of this realignment are most visible in politics. A highly traditionalist Catholic, Rick Santorum, who belongs to a parish where the Latin Mass is still celebrated, became the preferred presidential candidate of conservative evangelicals. Over the course of the primary campaign, it became clear that he shares the common conservative evangelical view that mainline Protestants are largely apostates, barely deserving inclusion in Christianity.

Yet the single most notable trend in mainline American Protestantism in recent decades has been the adoption of liturgical practices associated with Catholicism, such as frequent communion and observance of liturgical seasons, particularly since Rome reformed its own liturgy during and after the Second Vatican Council Catholics and most mainline Protestants have long since adopted a common “lectionary” of scripture readings for use during worship services throughout the year. At the same time, the radical theological experiments that were once so fashionable in liberal Protestant circles have been subsiding; mainliners are far more likely to recite the historic Nicene or Apostle’s creeds during worship than are evangelicals. In other words, a growing number of mainline Protestants now worship much like Catholics. . . .

More often than not, the evangelicals who accuse denominational leaders of abandoning “orthodoxy” in moral teaching are most avid to promote innovation in styles of worship. As an Episcopal priest in Maryland ruefully told me of conservative dissidents in his parish during the 1990s: “These people come to church with a Christian Coalition tract in one hand and a ‘praise hymnal’ in the other.”

The tendency for North American evangelicals to defend the fundamentals of the faith while largely abandoning the older liturgical traditions is something that not enough observers have managed to find puzzling. On the other hand, it is also true that the major part of evangelicalism in this continent, though affirming a vague orthodoxy, lacks both a robust ecclesiology and a strong confessional identity, with only a very few exceptions. Perhaps then it is not surprising that distinctive traditions of worship should long ago have been set aside as well.

Indeed, rather than leading them towards Rome, along with their mainline brethren, or towards the Reformation traditions, as one might expect, many evangelicals have instead subordinated worship, in utilitarian fashion, to the felt imperatives of church growth and reaching the so-called nonreligious. The result is worship that is not only deracinated but amounts merely to "one damn thing after another," as one of my favourite liturgical scholars once put it.

So why is it that mainline protestants, who are scarcely less deracinated than their evangelical brethren, are increasingly reciting the Apostles' or Nicene Creed during worship?

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