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
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  • Frederick Schmidt
    About Frederick Schmidt
    Frederick W. Schmidt is the author of The Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Life in Hard Times (Abingdon Press: 2013) and several other books, including A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). He holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He and his wife, Natalie live in Chicago, Illinois. He can also be reached at: