Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Fringe Churches

There was one line from the Kevin DeYoung article that stuck with me. It was near the end.
PIP can point out problems with some fringe elements of evangelicalism
What struck me is how Catholic it is. I think one of the main jobs of Catholics when talking to protestants is to show them the ways they are already Catholic. This comment shows me Kevin DeYoung is already Catholic in one important way. He does not want to be on the fringe of Christendom. He does not want to be a big fish in a little pond on the edge of the faith where he can have his own way. He wants to be in the center of the Christian community. That is where he expects to be closest to God and he wants that more than he wants his own way. This is a very good thing.

So what is wrong is not where he wants to be but what his instincts are about where the center of the faith is. I was raised in almost the same church, basically Dutch Reformed, so I think I understand him a bit. We saw being Dutch as being a fringe thing that we didn't want to hang on to too tightly. We didn't see being Reformed as fringe. We saw it as a precious gift given to us by our forefathers.

But if you look at Christianity as a whole, that is the whole story of the faith throughout history and throughout the world, then it is not too much to say that the Reformed faith is on the fringe. It is not small enough so that we can get our own way but it is small enough that our culture can dominate.

Now some in the Reformed churches even see that. They say we don't want to stress our Reformed distinctives. We want to become part of the larger North American evangelical community. That is the same good instinct. Don't set up shop on the edge of the Christian community. Move to the center because that is where you are most likely to experience God and least likely to experience self.

But is modern North American Evangelical Christianity really the center? It has its roots in confessional protestantism but in many ways it has changed from that and been shaped by various political and cultural forces in North America. Events like the two great awakening movements, the US civil war, later the Billy Graham Crusades, and the Moral Majority. It seems like mainstream Christianity because it is so dominant in the mass media, but is it really?

Again if you look at Christianity in all times and all places that is anything but the center. It is an interesting expression of the faith. In many ways it has been very good and very strong. Still in so many ways it is on the fringe of Christendom as a whole.

The truth of the matter is that our desire for the center of the Christian faith is a desire for God but it is also very much a desire for the Catholic church. She sits in the center. No denomination, no para-church movement, no mass media personality can claim to be in the center the way that the Catholic church can claim to be in the center. Her liturgies may seem strange to us but most protestant Sunday morning services would be beyond strange to 90% of the Christians of history or of the world.

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