Evangelical Immigration

Regular Out of Ur contributor David Fitch is back to share his thoughts on church shopping, staying put, and ecumenism. And what's with all the evangelicals going high-church anyway?

I'd like to say some things about the evangelicals going high church and even the emerging church folks rejecting their denominations of origin. I have been tempted many times to leave evangelicalism for a lot of reasons. At times, I have been tempted to leave for more substantive worship or to avoid the narrow minded cheesy ways of selling Jesus. But I think to just leave one's inherited church, without being asked to leave, is a strike against the cause of ecumenism. What? Yeah ecumenism, the unity of the church. So I stay put.

There are good reasons for leaving churches, and also for having no denominational affiliation. Yet the trend of evangelicals leaving their church of birth for high-church traditions seems to be growing. Colleen Carroll, in her book The New Faithful, records this phenomenon. At my own alma mater, Wheaton College, many students raised as evangelicals are "converting" to either Anglo Catholicism or even Roman Catholicism. (I wonder if the Catholics count these converts like we do when it happens in reverse. The Generous Orthodoxy blog has some great discussion on the topic.)

To me this is one more expression of the historical game of musical chairs. At first it was Roman Catholics leaving for Reformed churches. Those Reformed churches came to the New World and weren't individualistic enough, so we had Great Awakenings and folks left to join revivalist churches. Now we have people doing the reverse - leaving evangelicalism for high church traditions. They are sick of the thin insubstantial theologies and narcissistic forms of Christianity that have evolved out of evangelicalism's individualism.

Ironically, its often the theologians who critique the consumerist habits of evangelicals and mega churches that move to the high church traditions. They "church shop" for a more substantial vision rather than help us evangelicals out of our quandary. I wonder how long it will be before the ancestors of these folks complain about rote liturgy and leave for "more authentic" version of Christianity again, and the whole cycle starts again?

I propose we give up the musical chairs and simply stay put. Let us all seek to be faithful and trust the Spirit to work where God has put us. It is slow but I believe this strategy could lead us toward a renewed unity of the church.

Alasdair Macintyre writes in After Virtue:

October 16, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 28 comments


October 24, 2006  10:35am

I think the sovereignty of God is all that matters. If God says go - then go. If God says stay - the stay. But as a pastor who entered the ministry at age 45 I know a little about the "layman" side of church. Most of the believers I knew and continue to know don't really care about what God thinks. In fact, most would not be able to discern God's voice, because their idolatry to self as quenched the Spirit's voice. Some of that has come through even in the comments I've read on this blog. Who was the "1st church", who is the purest church today, are there more Catholics leaving for Evangelical or more Evangelicals leaving for Cahtolic. I don't think much of this discussion pleases or matters to God. I think what matters to Him is "Are you listening to me?" If the answer to that is "Yes, Lord", then no matter whether we stay or go, we stay or go with God's blessing, and He is pleased.

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October 22, 2006  6:11pm

There seems to be an subversive undercurrent to this post that suggests, in good old North American fashion, that the individual's perspective is always correct. Sometimes from a church's perspective there is no better solution than that disturbers of the peace leave.

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October 20, 2006  11:27pm

What about TRUTH? Does that matter in protestantism today? God's will is that we follow Him –who is TRUTH–even if that leads us in a direction that challenges our prejudiced and bigoted notions . Without the Eucharist –the "medicine of immortality" – I am afraid that it is difficult to recognize TRUTH– instead we follow "comfort", "community" and emote our way from church to church. Seek the TRUTH and you will be set free from the semantics and silly justifications of staying with a church that is wrong. To be steeped in history is to cease to be protestant. How about studying the early church or whether Jesus –the lamb of God –truly gave us his body to eat so that we would have life in us!!! http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/1990/9002frs.asphttp://www.chnetwork.org/converts.htm

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October 20, 2006  9:21am

We have gone through the soul tearing of leaving a church (contemporary style) I had been with for a long time. I resigned from a leadership postion because of unethical conduct that would not change from other leadership. We stayed at the church for five months because God would not did not give us permission to leave. When He allowed us to leave, we checked out some churches, prayed over them, but God has put us in a place that is traditional, unfortunately the leadership shows signs similar to our former church. While we are not understanding why God would put us in this type of a situation, we are obedient and are seeking what His will is for us. All this is to just say "Loyalty belongs to God," not denomination, not a church or pastor. God first and always.

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October 19, 2006  9:06am

I have read all the comments above and most seem to revolve around "ME" and "I". Where is God in all of this?? How about God's sovereignty, providence. How about God's will, and purpose. I agree with the article only in the part of unity, but I disagree that one should sit in a church and try to wait it out or influence changes. Subtle changes can sometimes be made, but when they are major changes, such as in Doctine and or Theological points of view, that could cause more harm than good. Secondly, I have not heard much about prayer. Why not look to God, pray about the situation and then listen for His direction. I think that one of the main problems in the Christian Church today is conformity. We want things to be the way "I" like it, what can the church do to satisfy "ME". How can "We" get people to like "OUR" church. So the church tries to market themselves like a secular business. They want to conform to the ways of the world and please people. More people, more money, more money, the more things we can do to satisfy "Me" and please more people. I have seen some of the poorest communities in Haiti, and South Africa that have nothing but GOD. And they have the most faith, love and more riches than any American Church I have ever seen. They know what it is like to suffer, to have pain, to be persecuted. Sounds a lot like the Apostle Paul's recordings doesn't it? So my point, forget about "ME" and forget about "YOU", and put God back in the picture. Trust in His sovereignty, His Will and His purpose. God knows what He is doing. So if God is leading you away, then by all means listen and follow. If He is telling you to stay, then stay. Whatever choice you make will ultimately be a part of God's will and purpose.

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October 19, 2006  8:55am

The great awakening was about the gospel being preached with the Spirit's power and people joining the new churches as they got converted, not just because the older churches were boring. They had no life because they neglected the gospel. I ministered as an "evangelical-charismatic" missionary for 6 years in Roman Catholic Bavaria and let me tell you, they are extremely individualistic and narcissistic, as is German culture. They go to church a few times a year, all they do is hatch (infant baptism), match (weddings) and dispatch(funerals). They have no idea of the gospel but seem to be in love with the idea of Mary as a god. In Europe Roman Catholicism is a dead institution taking in church tax, and the priests are not involved in peoples lives. Most of those who give their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ in southern Germany join evangelical and charismatic churches. I thank God they leave the neglectful institution of Roman Catholicism. I think the superficiality of some churches in the States has more to do with the extremely materialistic and individualistic American culture than a thin theology, or in some cases the false theology of the prosperity gospel

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October 19, 2006  7:32am

I too, agree in part with this post. When leaving a church, we must never leave hastily because our motives must be pure (i.e. It must be clear through God's Word, people and circumstances in our lives to show us that it is indeed God "calling" us to move). While I see that it would be ideal for all of us to stay in our churches of "origin," that is somewhat impractical as God gives every church leader/pastor a particular vision for the church he is called to lead. There is a time when an individual's personal clash with that vision must stop and the person needs to move on, accepting that there are many different ways to achieve the same end ... drawing people into the Kingdom and equipping them to go and teach others, thus multiplying disciples. Clearly, motive for leaving must be carefully considered.

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October 18, 2006  10:30pm

Does the OP object to people changing denominations if they change locations? I went to a non-denominational church growing up, then to an Apostolic church in University, then a Mennonite Brethren church after the next move and then to an Apostolic church after the next move and now attend a Mennonite church after the last move. I have never left a church for any reason other than geographic (although I have considered it), but I have not been loyal to a specific denomination. I would think that the number of people whose church of origin is still 20 minutes from their house is in the vast minority. I also think that attending a church in your community is better than commuting to one, unless God specifically lays it on your heart. How can you invite friends and coworkers to your church/ to meet your Christian friends if they are all an hour drive away. I'm not in favour of the church shopping mentality, but i think people are going to come and go from churches a lot more than they used to, just because of our increased mobility.

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October 18, 2006  10:02pm

I struggle with this idea of stay/leave too, and I have come across friends who have chosen to leave/stay for different reasons. While I do agree that spiritual nourishment is something important and crucial, I feel uncomfortable about using it to justify one to leave his/her present church. I don't know why I feel uncomfortable - perhaps I have an idealistic view that church is about commitment, community and service rather than what 'I need'. Not that 'I need' is not important, but there are so many other ways that 'my needs' can be met - for instance, attending part-time theological college, one-on-one discipleship but the most important of all, our QT where we get our direct connection to God above. It might become an excuse to justify not challenging ourselves to hear God intimately. I guess there are reasons why one should stay/leave but it all boils down to the reason. Am definitely not for church hopping because it shows a consumerism mindset to Christianity and nothing like what Christ has preached about service and discipleship. Inward transformation. That's the key.

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October 18, 2006  5:37pm

I understand people leave churches for theological disagreements. But don't you think most ordinary people leave for the reason that their needs are not met? Although I gave money for a large project, and attended church often, they never asked about my 2 sons, and did not visit me in the hospital. If a minister is not interested, concerned, and caring about me, why should I be faithful to that church?

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