The Fraternal Twin: The Mis-Identification of the American Protestant Church

Those are deep and long-standing cultural trends that are difficult to shake. Speaking to Catholics, Cardinal Henri de Lubac once observed: "The experience of Protestantism should serve us as sufficient warning. Having stripped it of all its mystical attributes, it acknowledged in the visible Church a mere secular institution; as a matter of course it abandoned it to the patronage of the state and sought a refuge for the spiritual life in an invisible Church, its concepts of which had evaporated into an abstract ideal."

Those are hard words, but the judgment imbedded in them may also hint at the remedy as well. It is the mystical—the sense of the transcendent—the presence of God that transforms and grounds the life of the church. Without it, whether the activity of the church resembles that of its nation-twin or moves in radically different ways, it is difficult to account for the significance of what the church does and it is almost impossible for the church to imagine doing things in a different fashion from its nation-twin.

The question then is this: How does Protestantism backload a sense of the mystical? If all we can know is the letter on the page and that is a constant subject of debate and political infighting, where and how does an encounter with God take primacy? Answering that question may be the most important question Protestants face, but it's not on the convention's agenda.

7/1/2012 4:00:00 AM