Evangelicals are embracing old ideas of liturgy and medieval Catholic tradition with a passion that is puzzling to the traditionalists. Didn’t we endure a (sometimes bloody) reformation in order to free ourselves from archaic observances and man-made rules?
But Evangelicals are starting to look at these old ideas in a new light. It turns out that many of these traditions exist for a good reason, but it’s all too easy to conflate them with the corruption that evangelicals once associated with the Vatican.
As a medievalist, I am well aware that the church has many skeletons in its closet. In older days, the leadership of the church was taken away from he faithful and put into the hands of mere politicians. For most of the last two thousand years, this has not been the case (in fact, most of the Popes I have read about were noble men), but those who corrupted the Vatican allowed the rest of us to assume that the Catholic church was a thoroughly crooked institution. Evangelicals like to think that we have thrown aside their traditions in order to avoid the influence of fraudulent leaders.
The truth, as usual, is more complex. Yes, there have been Catholic leaders who abused their power, but that does not mean that every single Catholic tradition is a bad thing. Today’s open-minded Evangelicals have learned that many of these traditions were started for good reasons; it turns out that we can learn a lot from our heritage.
As someone who grew up as a Baptist, the tradition of Lent seemed about as foreign to me as eating blood pudding, but when I met other Baptists who observed it I was impressed. To observe Lent, they merely chose something to give up for forty days and replaced it with something that would bolster their devotion. One friend put aside Zeppelin and Journey and only listened to Christian-themed music during those days. His time spent meditating on these songs was meaningful to him. (To some, this might be a loose interpretation of Lent, but it’s the devotion that matters.)
Sure, you don’t need a tradition like Lent in order to do something like that, but I think the church benefits from being encouraged to do these things. The Evangelicals have also learned that these traditions work well when they are optional, because being forced to do observe tradition doesn’t lead to devotion.
There are plenty of old traditions that can be embraced by the non-Catholic churches, and learning to appreciate our historical, Catholic roots might help us remember why we had a reformation in the first place.
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)