A Prophecy for the Church in America

A prophet is not necessarily someone who has a supernatural vision of the future. He may simply be a person who can see certain trends in the present, understand the underlying issues and therefore attempt to predict how things may go in the future.

Here are some trends I see in the American Church and how I see the future developing. The first thing is the disintegration of denominationalism. It used to be that the different Protestant groups were distinct in their theology and their style of worship. There were boundaries. You pretty much knew what to expect in a Southern Baptist Church, a Methodist Church, Lutheran, Presbyterian or Episcopal. There were clear distinctions theologically and culturally and historically.

The boundaries are disappearing fast. In all Protestant churches there is a kind of post-modern pick and mix attitude. The old distinctive markers are falling and a new experimental attitude is taking place. So a relative of mine, a young Baptist minister, enthusiastically claims to “read all those guys” meaning that he avidly reads Anglican, Catholic, Baptist, Independent and classical Lutheran and Methodist theologians. He and his generation are also open to all sorts of worship styles. Their attitude is shared by the younger generation of Evangelicals in all denominations. People are no longer Methodist or Presbyterian or Baptist for life and for clear theological reasons. Instead they gravitate to a church that suits them and their lifestyle. Utilitarianism and market forces reign supreme.

The two trends within the Protestant churches seem to be toward free “mega church” type worship which conforms to the trends in society or a reaction against that to move toward “liturgy”. So a neighbor who goes to a conservative Presbyterian church likes to tell me how “liturgical” they are. They observe Advent and Lent and Ash Wednesday. They light candles on the “altar” when they “celebrate communion” and every once in a while they have “Choral Evensong.” Another friend tells me he goes to a Baptist Church that is “very liturgical.”

I predict that the disintegration of denominationalism will continue and that trends within the Catholic Church will converge with what is happening within Protestantism to produce some very interesting and new configurations.

As the “cultural Catholics” who were leaders in the seventies and eighties continue to die off, their children will be less likely to practice the Catholic faith. As it becomes increasingly odd to be a “faithful Catholic” in our society–even leading to persecution and isolation, the Catholics without any backbone will simply stop being Catholics. If they did not have enough faith and courage to send their children to Catholic school and take the teachings of the church seriously, then if hardship comes, they will melt away.

At the same time the Catholics who remain will have the fervor and dedication of the faithful Protestants who have been moving in a liturgical direction. These Protestants are looking not only for liturgy, but for the historic church–the apostolic church. They will be increasingly attracted to the Catholic faith and as they Catholic church population shifts in a more committed direction they will feel more at home there.

This is where the new Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter may play a very crucial role. As an increasing number of Protestants explore the liturgical and historical church they will be looking for a church that is faithful to the Scriptures, faithful to the historic liturgy, faithful to the magisterium and ready to show forth a committed, radical kind of Catholicism fully committed to the new Evangelization.

The short version: two vibrant forms of Christianity will emerge in the United States–a free flowing, relevant and ‘cool’ kind of personalistic Pentecostalism and a renewed and revitalized and young Catholicism. The others will fade away.

But I may be wrong. I’m not really a prophet…

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04843514873861242426 Howard

    I was under the impression that the distinguishing feature of a prophet (or prophetess — we have no priestesses, but we do have prophetesses) is that he (or she) speaks for God.There are so many unsustainable trends (in religion, in politics, in education, in the economy…) that it seems likely we are headed towards a true disaster in which more than one of these systems fails simultaneously. One of my major worries is that for decades the US central government has abandoned the theological motivation for loyalty and replaced it with "loyalty" based on the government's abiltity to bribe and threaten. In a time of economic crisis, the government will retain its power to threaten long after it has lost the ability to bribe. That's bad enough, but if it happens in the context of a country that is losing its faith and no longer understands its own history, the combination could be catastrophic.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11403533426638712290 Brother Mark Menegatti OSA

    I agree in some ways.Years ago, Cardinal Ratzinger predicted the Church would be smaller, closer to the fringe of mainstream society, and somewhat more rigorous as a result.I have also been seeing a fascination with younger Evangelicals that are attracted to "things Catholic." You pointed out the liturgy thing, but I also think there is a growing respect, for Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. In stark contrast to some of their parents and/or grandparents who saw them as the anti-christ or the Beast or whatever. And of course, in real life, it is kind of hard to be so sheltered as not to meet any Catholics, and to think negative things about them, when at the same time plenty of Conservative Protestant Ministers tend to view the Catholic leadership as a strong ally in some matters of Traditional Values.So just some things I observed that seem to correlate with your thoughts.Thanks Father!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17814899666244618561 Brent Stubbs

    Father,I'm a former almost emergent, Pentecostal preacher who is now Catholic. I agree with what you "see". In fact, it was when I saw it myself 6 years ago that I went searching for a foundation that was more than sand.Let us pray that as all of our sincere separated brothers and sisters watch the foundations of their communities wash away, the Church will appear as a city set on a hill. That Our Blessed Mother would draw all believers to the upper room, again, to undo the babel that has been caused by disobedience and a desire to build what only God can build (a Church). It is when the gates of hell prevail, that the true Church is put on display and the rest appear as the products of man's conception. And truly in this hour, hell is amongst us. Ave Maria.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17915066381658225713 Rachel Bostwick

    It's a little thing, but I've noticed that the protestant churches are starting to leave their denominational names out of the names of their church. The Assembly of God Church that my family attend used to be called "Mechanicsburg Pentecostal Assembly of God" now they are called "Crossroads Community Church." It really is an interesting trend.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14892166049250557965 KCRyan

    I personally agree with what you are saying, especially where you mention Protestants are looking for more solid ground. Baptised Methodist, raise Baptist, and now Lutheran, I'm increasingly more drawn to the Catholic's church tradition / history / liturgy now combined with evangelism. It's really good to have that tie with the past combined with a renewed fervor for Christ.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14148452202274723778 linda

    I know some fervent Protestants looking very closely at the Catholic Church. They bounce from other church to church and cannot find a home. They are looking for Truth and find bit of it to be sure but not the fullness. Especially those who are pro-life are becoming more and more disatisfied with what the Protestant churches are offering. And, of course, many who call themselves Christian are pro-abortion (sadly some "Catholics" too). We have so many 'non-denoms' now as they each follow a pastor who preaches as he wants and if the folks don't like it, out he goes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01133668737743486061 Jack

    \I predict that the disintegration of denominationalism will continue and that trends within the Catholic Church will converge with what is happening within Protestantism to produce some very interesting and new configurations.\This is not going to affect Eastern Catholic Churches, especially those of the Byzantine tradition.Remember that the Latin Church is not the totality, or even the standard, of the Catholic Church.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01453168437883536663 Nick

    I believe we are living in the "last days" of Protestantism as we see it burning itself out before our eyes. You've put out many good posts about Anglicanism being demolished right before our eyes. One aspect to keep in mind when Protestantism totally collapses is the "academic" aspect of it. Mainstream Protestantism has already more or less collapsed into mere social gatherings. The only thing holding 'historic' Protestantism together is an intellectual class of Reformed folks who still run the seminaries and radio stations. But what is coming down the road on that front is that more and more of these 'intellectuals' are abandoning the 'conservative' seminaries because it's clear how historically/theologically shallow the 'best' of Protestantism is. As a result, there will be a total intellectual vacuum in Protestantism in which nobody will take it seriously anymore. The folks running the 'conservative' Protestant seminaries are from the last generation that didn't have all the access to the resources we have today, so they're still parading around historical and theological claims that have been debunked 100 times all over the internet. The younger generations of seminary students can do a simple google search and once they start asking questions, it's all over for their seminary days. More and more you hear about well studied Protestants becoming Catholic (for the right reasons), but you NEVER EVER hear of well studied Catholics becoming Protestant. There's a reason for that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10286971232433273575 JeanetteVictoria

    I don't see this happening in the Orhtodox Church