There has been a fair bit of traffic on this blog about the concept of Evangelical Catholicism. There seems to be an opinion out there that Evangelicals who convert to the Catholic faith want the Catholic faith to be like their former denomination. This is exactly what they do not want, but the misunderstanding is widespread.
One former Presbyterian minister told me the story of how he was received into the Catholic church, and how one of his first Catholic pastors welcomed him and wanted him to help make the liturgy more relevant. The Catholic priest thought this convert clergyman could help out. The former presbyterian pastor was shocked and dismayed. He said, “This is exactly what I do not want. For ten years as a presbyterian pastor I tried to make up my own services, preach on what I wanted and devise some sort of ‘liturgy’ or ‘worship experience’ for my people. I became a Catholic because that just won’t do. I want the Cathechism. I want the liturgy. I want the lectionary. I want the Liturgy of the Hours. I want the spirituality of the saints. I want the Church. Most of all I want the Eucharist.”
Do converts from the Evangelical faith want to lower the bar and bring in some type of watered down Protestantism? None that I know of. Listen to one of them speak: take time to read the story of Aimee Milburn. She writes eloquently and at some length of her experience of Jesus Christ both as an Evangelical and what she has gained in becoming a Catholic. If you have any question at all about the depth of a former Evangelical’s Catholic experience, read Aimee’s story.
It is true that converts from Evangelicalism thank God for the good things they experienced within Protestantism. This is a sign of the grace and goodness of their conversion. Most Catholics who go the other way do so with a sense of bitterness and rejection of things Catholic. Those who come into Catholicism from Evangelicalism invariably talk of embracing ‘More Christianity’ and moving from all the good things they had within Evangelicalism to a fuller and deeper experience of their faith within the fullness of the Catholic faith.
Evangelical Catholicsm, however, remains misunderstood for various reasons. Some Catholics question the need to ‘re-brand’ Catholicism. Isn’t the old name brand good enough? Of course it is, but we mustn’t overestimate ‘Evangelical Catholicism’. The whole thing is more of a perspective than a prescription. It’s more an emphasis than a mandate. No one is trying to make everyone an ‘Evangelical Catholic’ any more than your local friar thinks every Catholic needs to be a Franciscan. Evangelical Catholicism sometimes borrows methods or techniques from Protestantism, but as it does so, it re-writes and re-formulates them within a truly Catholic context and perspective.
Why are these new approaches needed? Because the Church (like the society in which she operates) is in the process of deep and revolutionary change. For many reasons the old ‘cutural Catholicism’ doesn’t work. Very few people are Catholics now simply because their grandparents were Irish, Italian or Polish. Cafeteria Catholicism has been tried and found terribly wanting. People need to be catechized and evangelized. Do we really think the Catholic Church in the last fifty years has done a good job on this? Not if the widespread ignorance of the faith, low level of commitment, poor liturgy and slack morals are anything to go by.
Is it really so wrong to try some new methods? Evangelical Catholics do not deny the value of traditional forms of Catholic piety, evangelization or catechesis. They are simply using new forms and methods to accomplish the same task of bringing people into that personal relationship with Jesus Christ that cannot be separated from a deeper and more loving commitment to his Church and sacraments. These folks do not presume that their new methods are for everyone, or that everyone need necessarily like or approve of them.
But they do deserve tolerance, open mindedness and a fair hearing.