I’m glad to call Frank Schaeffer a friend (and I’m glad that he’s toned down his blog headlines from the FOX News variety that he used to publish). I’m glad to have him on the Progressive Christian channel here at Patheos. But he recently wrote a post about what’s wrong with progressive Christianity, and he’s wrong.
Actually, I agree with Frank’s premise:
We can talk about inclusiveness, diversity and making ourselves vulnerable until the cows come home but that doesn’t make religion more interesting or Christianity stronger it simply changes the labels and the shorthand jargon we talk to ourselves in.
The problem with North American Christianity is not the window-dressing– it’s the whole package.
But I wholeheartedly disagree with what he states as the main problem:
The great weakness of Protestant American Christianity across the board is that by and large it dispensed with liturgy. Having dispensed with liturgy it dispensed with the signposts that point people toward an identity that binds communities together.
To that I say [cough] bullshit! [cough].
I don’t know how often Frank goes to mainline Protestant churches, but I go to them a lot (Frank is a member of the Orthodox Church). In the last few months, I’ve guest preached at Methodist, Lutheran, and Episcopal churches. And you know what they’ve all got? LITURGY!
In fact, that’s the one thing that mainline/progressive Christians have held on to, even while Rome is burning around them. In The New Christians, I tell the story of Bob, an Episcopal seminarian who was driven to the brink of a nervous breakdown because, at his seminary, it was anything goes when it came to Christology, but nary a word of the rubric could be changed in the Book of Common Prayer.
And I’ve had similar arguments, ad naseum, with Methodists, Presbyterians, and even UCCers. They are all chained to books of order and discipline that have reified language patterns of days gone by. Language is changing fast these days, faster than ever in 10,000 years of human history. And yet these books that bind are only updated every 20 or 30 years, leaving clergy hamstrung.
Frank says we should go back to “eucharistic sacramental tradition,” and he has some other, similarly retrograde suggestions. But I’m surprised that someone who is usually so clear-eyed about the church as Frank seems to think that this ancient tradition comes without theological baggage. As many of his fellow Orthodox have told me, you don’t get to have only the aspects of Orthodoxy that you like, while ignoring the rest. In other words, if you want the Eucharist and the Jesus Prayer, you’ve also got to take the homophobia and the all-male priesthood.
In fact, I’d venture a guess that many in his own Orthodox communion reject just about all of Frank’s social stances, and they do so on the same grounds that he wants us to go back to the “eucharistic sacramental tradition.”
The fact is, going backwards is never a solution to what ails an institution (like the church). The future comes in moving forward.
And also this: every church — even Solomon’s Porch, where we take communion every week — has a liturgy. It may not look like a liturgy to Frank, but it’s a liturgy nonetheless.