Are Millennials Joining High Church Traditions?

high church protestantism

You can reject the faddishness and superficiality of contemporary evangelicalism without rejecting evangelicalism itself.

Gracy Olmstead has written the latest edition of an article that is in danger of becoming a meme amongst traditionalist conservatives: Millennial Christians are, apparently, converting to high church traditions en masse. Rebecca Van DoodewaardJeremy Tate, and Scot McKnight have also discussed this issue recently so it’s hardly a new story. There’s two things that need to be raised every time this article is written and, as best I can tell, none of them are discussed at any length in any of the pieces I’ve found.

First, there isn’t a ton of data showing how many people actually are converting to Catholicism or Orthodoxy or Anglicanism out of more evangelical backgrounds. (And we probably shouldn’t be including Anglicanism with Orthodoxy or Catholicism anyway, but that’s an entirely separate discussion.) Here’s the data we do have: Data from February of 2011 from the Pew Forum found that 9% of all Americans are former Catholics whereas only 7% of Americans are ex-Protestants. Of that 9% that have left Catholicism, 5% converted to Protestantism.

While it’s fair for members of high church traditions to point out that many of the converts to Protestantism are less engaged to begin with, while converts to Catholicism tend to be more noteworthy (Scott Hahn, Francis Beckwith, Jason Stellman, etc.), that doesn’t change the fact that more people convert from Catholicism to Protestantism than vice versa—a fact that most of these stories ignore completely.

The point here isn’t to get into a fight about who has more converts, but simply to highlight the fact that the trickle of noteworthy evangelicals going to Rome tends to get a fair amount of coverage while the stream of young people leaving Catholicism for Protestantism seems to receive far less. (The pieces that do discuss Catholics leaving the church are typically more focused on the general decline in numbers experienced by most churches in the contemporary west. Few articles mention that slightly more than half of the former Catholics in the USA are now Protestant.)

That said, there is still an interesting discussion to be had about millennial Christians who aren’t happy with the state of evangelicalism and who are looking for something different. There’s a type of younger evangelical who is a conscientious, thoroughly orthodox believer who feels frustrated with the triviality and faddishness of popular evangelicalism. They long for a more historically informed liturgy, a greater emphasis on the sacraments, and a more integrated understanding of Christian faith. These types of younger evangelicals are the ones who often, though not always, end up converting to Catholicism or Orthodoxy.

The frustrating thing is that most of them make the decision to convert because they think there are only two options: the historically ignorant, sacramentally impoverished evangelicalism they grew up in and more high church traditions such as Catholicism or Orthodoxy. But between those two views there is an entire western Christian tradition that is largely ignored in the United States because it has been largely marginalized or co-opted by American culture. I am speaking of the magisterial Protestant tradition that includes Reformed and Lutheran Christians and, depending on who you talk to, also includes Anglicanism (which is why Anglicanism is notoriously difficult to categorize in terms of its relationship to magisterial Protestantism and Catholicism).

The magisterial protestant tradition broke from Rome (or, more accurately, was kicked out by Rome–they were not the ones to choose schism) over issues of ecclesial authority, justification, and sacramentology. But these protestants still understood themselves as existing in continuity with the church that came before them. (And their claim seems fairly well-grounded when one considers some of the reform-minded folks from previous generations of the late medieval church.) If you read the writings of Luther or Calvin, you’ll find them peppered with quotes from the church fathers. If you read the opening to the Augsburg Confession, you’ll find Melanchthon writing on behalf of the Lutherans and insisting that they are part of the only holy Catholic church.

This group of protestants stood in contrast (and opposition) to the radical protestants whose critiques of Rome tended to be much more extreme. Due to the sheer diversity of the radicals, it’s hard to pin them down theologically. They had everything from bizarre leaders predicting that the end of the world was imminent (Melchior Hoffman) and claiming that polygamy is biblical (the Munster radicals) to far more mild types who tended to share much with Reformed Christians but rejected the Reformed understanding of church-state issues and infant baptism (Michael Sattler).

If you can reduce the radicals to a few traits, then it’d be that they tended to be pacifistic and to reject infant baptism while not being terribly concerned with the question of continuity with previous generations of the church. Their number included some of the first restorationists—people who claim that the true Christian faith was lost for a time but was recovered by a small group at a later date. (Restorationists these days include everything from Mormons to the Church of Christ.) With their tacit individualism and apathy toward history (amongst many other things), radical protestant traditions have always tended to play better in the United States, a nation founded on the idea of being a “new world” that rejected old world traditions and beliefs.

There have always been magisterial Protestants in the United States as well, but there is a perpetual tendency for these traditions to slide toward radicalism as they adopt more characteristically American tendencies toward individualism and separating oneself from the past. As a result, traditions that ought to embrace the more liturgical, sacramental spirituality of the high church tradition will struggle to do so consistently. This is how, to take the most extreme example, an ostensibly Reformed pastor like Robert Schuller ends up creating the Crystal Cathedral and the Hour of Power. For magisterial Protestants there is a constant tug of war between certain hallmark attributes of the American political identity and the guiding principles of the magisterial tradition.

That said, one of the consistent themes of millennial evangelical social criticism tends to be a more skeptical attitude toward American materialism, or at least certain types of American materialism. Alongside that trend, the emergence of churches like Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan as well as the somewhat surprising resilience of many orthodox Anglican congregations suggest that the future of American Christianity likely is a more high church, liturgically informed type of Christianity–but such a Christianity is not essentially incompatible with Protestantism.

photo credit: El Bibliomata via photopin cc
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  • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

    Thank you. This needed to be said.

    • Robin Jordan

      What a number of comments describe as Anglican position on
      apostolic succession is actually the ANGLO-CATHOLIC position on apostolic succession. The English Reformers took the position that apostolic succession is a succession of doctrine, not a succession of bishops.Conservative Anglican evangelicals maintain the English Reformers’ position on apostolic succession to this day. The nature of apostolic succession is one of the issues that have historically divided Anglicans.

      What masquerades as Anglicanism in North America today is theological liberalism and various forms of Anglo-Catholicism. These isms are
      far removed from the Protestant Reformed faith of authentic historic
      Anglicanism. Indeed the GAFCON Theological Resource Group in The Way, the Truth, and the Life: Theological Resources for a Pilgrimage to a Global Anglican Future identifies them as the two major challenges to the authority of the Bible and the Anglican formularies in the Anglican Church today.

      Theological liberalism is prevalent in the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church USA. Traditionalist Anglo-Catholicism is prevalent
      in the Continuing Anglican Churches.

      Traditionalist Anglo-Catholicism has its roots in the Oxford or Tractarian and the Cambridge Camden or Ritualist movements of the nineteenth century. These movements broke down the hedge between the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church. They not only revived medieval Catholic doctrines
      and practices that the English Reformers had rejected on solid Scriptural
      grounds in the sixteenth century but also introduced into the Anglican Church
      the unscriptural doctrinal and worship innovations that had developed in the
      Roman Catholic Church from the sixteenth century on. They sought to radically change the identity of the Anglican Church. Their motivation was reunification with the Roman Catholic Church. Their strategy was to make the Anglican Church so much like the Roman Catholic Church that the Pope would accept it back into the Roman Catholic fold.

      A blend of traditionalist Anglo-Catholicism and charismatic Ancient Future/Convergence theology, also known as “three streams” theology, influences doctrine and practice in the Anglican Church in North America. Charismatic Ancient Future/Convergence/”three streams” theology is a development of the twentieth century charismatic renewal movement. It displays a loose commitment to given truth in Scripture, a marked receptivity to unreformed Catholicism, and a corresponding aversion to Protestantism and the Protestant Reformation. Many of its adherents lean toward unreformed Catholic doctrine, church order, and practice to such an extent that I have in a number of articles described them as the “new” Anglo-Catholics.

      The sacramentalism seen in the Continuing Anglican Churches and the Anglican Church in North America also has little to do with authentic
      historic Anglicanism.

      • Caleb

        Where does one find authentic historic Anglicanism in North America?

        • gk

          Caleb: From Wiki—–”The word Anglican originates in ecclesia anglicana, a medieval Latin phrase dating to at least 1246 that means the English Church.” Authentic historic Anglicanism was Catholic. Therefore, the Ordinariate is the direct link to that authenticity.

          • Caleb

            So Robin Jordan seems to be saying that Anglo-Catholics are not true, historic Anglicans whereas you seem to be saying that they are.

          • ElizabethanChurchman

            You cannot really find Historic Anglicanism many places in North America. You have to join up with the Anglicans and fight for it. Both the Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals overemphasize some elements of the Classical Anglican synthesis, so you have to be discerning. At the best, Anglicans are both Evangelical and Catholic, retaining the Gospel of Grace and the practices and best doctrine of the Early Church.

          • Caleb

            I’m in Toronto where there is what seems to me to be a disproportionately large Anglo Catholic presence. Are you in a position to comment on the situation in Canada or are you in the US or UK? My choice here seems to be between Anglo Catholics or evangelical Anglicans who, in my view, mimic the American evangelical mega church model far too much.

          • ElizabethanChurchman

            I’m in the U.S., the heart of the Beast actually (D.C. Metro). I do not know too much about the state of Classical Anglicanism, but from my understanding it is in pretty poor state just about everywhere. I’m being a bit partisan here, but what I would encourage you to do is join the Anglican Church of Canada and advocate for orthodoxy instead of the prevailing liberalism. We need orthodox people willing to stay in Churches like Corinth and witness.

            It’s about the U.S., but I posted about it here: http://forums.anglican.net/threads/an-immodest-and-impossible-proposal.991/page-3#post-16878

          • iammonicasue

            Hi Caleb, my husband and I are in Toronto as well, and we attend St. Martin-in-the-Fields near High Park, which is high church in liturgy, but more evangelical Anglican in theology. If you’re looking for a great place to worship, I highly recommend it!

          • Caleb

            Thanks for the suggestion, iammonicasue. I’ve heard of St. Martin-in-the-Fields but haven’t gone yet because I’m in the Annex and have been working my way out from here. I will certainly make my way to St. Martin’s soon..

          • gk

            …and when you go to St Martin’s, say hello to iammonicasue for me, k? :) :) :)

          • gk

            Caleb, the easiest, simplest way to understand English Christianity would be to review its history from its beginnings in England. 3rd, 4th, 6th centuries, etc. Once you get a sense of that you can determine for yourself what is true.

          • Caleb

            Could you recommend a book or two?

          • gk

            Hi Caleb, linked above is Bede’s

            Ecclesiastical History of the English People Highly recommended. Best to you as you work through these questions.

          • gk
          • Robin Jordan

            Since the 19th century Anglo-Catholics have been claiming they are the only true Anglicans. However, classical Anglicanism, shaped by the English Reformation and the Elizabethan Settlement is Protestant and reformed in doctrine and practice. The 19th century Tractarian and Ritualist movements deliberately tried to change the identity of the Anglican Church. I recommend you read Latimer Briefing, “The Church of England: What it is and what it stands for” by Roger T.Beckwith. It is a free PDF download on the Latimer Trust website. Go to: http://www.latimertrust.org/index.php/publications/jdownloads1/viewdownload/3-pdf-books/96-lb01-the-church-of-england

          • Caleb

            I’ve downloaded the Latimer Briefing and will read it as soon as I can get to it.

        • Robin Jordan

          Classical Anglicanism is not unreformed Catholic but reformed catholic, and was shaped by the English Reformation and the Elizabethan Settlement. I recommend that you read the Latimer Briefing, “The Church of England: What it is and what it stands for” by Roger.T.Beckwith . It is available as a free PDF download on the Latimer Trust website. Go to: http://www.latimertrust.org/index.php/publications/jdownloads1/viewdownload/3-pdf-books/96-lb01-the-church-of-england.

          If you are looking for a church that is genuinely Anglican, you may have to visit a number of churches that call themselves “Anglican” before you may actually find one. You may live in an an area that does not have any churches that are genuinely Anglican.

          In a church that is genuinely Anglican the New Testament gospel of salvation by grace alone by faith in Christ alone will be preached and taught. Any church that adds anything else to the gospel such as you must perform good works and receive the sacraments to be saved is not genuinely Anglican. Any church that subtracts anything from the gospel is also not genuinely Anglican.

          A church that is genuinely Anglican will fully accept the authority of the Bible and the Anglican formularies. The Anglican formularies are the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, 1661 Ordinal, and the two Books of Homilies. It will interpret the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion according to their historical context and the intent of their authors. It will interpret the 1662 baptismal service as using in the language of charitable presumption in its reference to the newly-baptized being regenerate. It will reject the belief that Christ’s body and blood is substantively present in the consecrated bread and wine of the Holy Communion and the accompanying belief that through the priest Christ offers himself for the sins of the world at the Holy Communion. It will also reject the belief that after he ascended to heaven, Christ continued his sacrificial activity and through the service of Holy Communion Christians participate in that activity. It will understand the prayers at confirmation service as prayers for the increase of the Holy Spirit in the confirmand. It will also understand the ordination service as recognizing what God is already doing in the ordinand.

          A church that is genuinely Anglican will interpret Scripture by Scripture and reason, and last of all by tradition. It will subject all human thought, including tradition, to Scripture.

          • Caleb

            Thank you for the link and for your reply. In your view, is it possible for an Anglo Catholic Church to be “genuinely Anglican”? I ask because I’ve just started down this road and most Anglo Catholic churches make it sound like their “Catholicism” is mostly aesthetic (ie they talk about “smells and bells” and liturgy but are slow to confirm a belief in transubstantiation). Most “evangelical” Anglican churches (in my area/experience) are trying too hard to be an Anglican version of Mars Hill. I often feel caught in the middle.

        • Brendan

          Caleb, I humbly encourage you to look into the “continuing churches” — what I believe is Classical Anglicanism (in North America and many other countries). The Anglican Church in America, for starters.

      • David

        Two points:

        1.
        As a
        member of an Anglican church in the ACNA (Anglican Church in North America), I
        have found renewed interest from people from free church backgrounds in the
        Anglican church, particularly with the use of the Book of Common Prayer and the
        Lectionary. I have not found any great
        resurgence of people interested in Anglo-Catholic practice, (Sacraments or Apostolic
        succession). In fact, folks might be
        surprised to find that the new realignment of former Episcopal churches (TEC)
        under the ACNA in large part made up mostly of more contemporary, in some cases
        charismatic, churches with the only difference being that they are using a
        prayer book for worship and celebrating the Eucharist. Most Anglo-Catholic parishes in existence are
        smaller (ie those in Dioceses of San Joaquin, Quincy ect.) and do not have the
        footprint that the more mainstream contemporary Anglican churches have. Perhaps if we compare the historic
        understanding and practice of sacramental worship with other parts of the
        Anglican communion, such as the Sydney Diocese, we’ll have a better
        understanding of definition.

        2.
        I would question the assertion that various
        forms of Anglo-Catholicism is in the same category as theological liberalism
        and thus negatively affecting authentic historic Anglicanism. Theological liberalism was the reason for the
        demise of the Episcopal church in the US and not whether clergy wore stoles, or
        “correctly paid reverence to the Host”
        during consecration of the Eucharist.
        Indeed the GAFCON Theological Resource Group would seem to concur in the
        document, “Being Faithful: The Shape of Historic Anglicanism Today.” http://fca.net/images/uploads/BeingFaithful_JD_Commentary.pdf

        • Robin Jordan

          David,

          The GAFCON Theological Group DO put Anglo-Catholicism and liberalism in the same category. Both represent major challenges to the authority of the Bible and the Anglican formularies in the contemporary Anglican Church. Anglo-Catholicism is more than the wearing of stoles and the kind of reverence shown the consecrated elements. It differs from historic Anglicanism in a number of critical areas–revelation, salvation, and the sacraments. It has more in common with the unreformed Catholicism of the Roman Catholic Church with which it shares many doctrines and practices than it does the reformed catholicism of historic Anglicanism.

          You also do appear to be overlooking the official doctrinal positions that the ACNA has taken in its constitution and canons. They are ANGLO-CATHOLIC doctrinal positions. If you examine the ACNA “theological lens,” the ACNA ordinal, and the ACNA trial services of Morning and Evening Prayer and Holy Communion, you will discover that they articulate, countenance or express unreformed Catholic doctrines (i.e. eucharistic sacrifice, transubstantiation) and practices (i.e. eucharistic adoration). The ACNA College of Bishops approved and endorses all of these documents. At its last meeting the ACNA College of Bishops adopted a 345 question-and-answer catechism modeled upon that of the Roman Catholic Church. It also adopted as its procedure for electing a new Archbishop for the ACNA the same procedure as the Roman Catholic Church’s College of Cardinals uses to elect a new Pope–a “bishops’ conclave.” Archbishop Duncan himself admitted that the bishops would be using that procedure. The ACNA College of Bishops has also been increasingly usurping the role of the Provincial Council in a number of key areas, including common worship. It has been acting as if it is the ACNA equivalent of the US College of Catholic Bishops. This is not the role that the ACNA constitution envisions for it.

        • David

          Thanks for your responses Ex-Anglican and Robin, (I’ll go a bit off point). And therein lies the
          rub – the identity and nature of what people believe authentic Anglicanism to be. For every one of the leaders you mentioned,
          come from differing perspectives on a range of issues, but somehow unlike other
          denominations, orthodox Anglicanism has remained intact and sought unity, even in
          the face of centuries of disagreement amongst one another. Are there differences? Absolutely, across even the Global South I
          would add. Are they enough to break
          communion, due to conscience that these issues could result in heresy? Well in my mind, that isn’t clear.

          Robin, I know you’ve written extensively elsewhere on your concerns over the ordinal and even the future of the ACNA, and I share with you
          on many of those points.

          Getting back to my earlier point, I would just say that I do not think there is as much interest in true Anglo-Catholic “smells and bells”
          worship for millennials as what some in
          the media have indicated.

          • Robin Jordan

            Ed Stetzer announced on his blog that he is going to be posting the results of his research on what churches are attracting Millenials. Among his findings is the largest movement is to large, non-denominational evangelical churches..

      • David

        As a member of an Anglican church in the ACNA (Anglican Church in North America), I have found renewed interest from people from free church backgrounds in the
        Anglican church, particularly with the use of the Book of Common Prayer and the Lectionary. I have not found any great resurgence of people interested in Anglo-Catholic practice, (Sacraments or Apostolic succession). In fact, folks might be surprised to find that the new realignment of former Episcopal churches (TEC) under the ACNA in large part made up mostly of more contemporary, in some cases
        charismatic, churches with the only difference being that they are using a prayer book for worship and celebrating the Eucharist. Most Anglo-Catholic parishes in existence are smaller (ie those in Dioceses of San Joaquin, Quincy ect.) and do not have the footprint that the more mainstream contemporary Anglican churches have. Perhaps if we compare the historic
        understanding and practice of sacramental worship with other parts of the Anglican communion, such as the Sydney Diocese, we’ll have a better understanding of definition.

        I would question the assertion that various
        forms of Anglo-Catholicism is in the same category as theological liberalism and thus negatively affecting authentic historic Anglicanism. Theological liberalism was the reason for the demise of the Episcopal church in the US and not whether clergy wore stoles, or “correctly paid reverence to the Host” during consecration of the Eucharist. Indeed the GAFCON Theological Resource Group would seem to concur in the document, “Being Faithful: The Shape of Historic Anglicanism Today.” http://fca.net/images/uploads/BeingFaithful_JD_Commentary.pdf

        • Ex-Anglican

          David, you are right that ACNA/AMIA is mostly the remnant of the charismatic movement with broadly evangelical ethos, and is not known for strong biblical exposition.
          Nashotah House is Anglo-Catholic and Trinity Sem is more tractarian than ever. When Canon M. Green preached there he intentionally wore coat and tie and stood on the floor to make a point. The rest of the service was very high church.
          Bishop Ruch, in Wheaton wears a chasuble… ACNA AB Duncan likes to be referred to as “Your Grace” (ha!)… At an ACNA diocesan meeting the apocrypha is read and the people respond, “The Word of the Lord” which it isn’t (Little Bilney, Latimer, and Ridley groaned from the grave).
          ACNA needs to get in touch with its historic roots in the Reformation: the Spirit works through the Word to convert and transform.
          If you want vestments, go for it. But they are not “ancient” or apostolic or even Anglican and are neither prohibited nor proscribed by Scripture or tradition.
          The aesthetics of the prayer book are wonderful. The communion liturgy is sound.
          But what needs to be central is Christ-centered expository preaching (e.g. Simeon, Ryle, Stott, Lucas, Taylor), and frankly, that is sorely lacking (having been in a dozend ACNA churches, the preaching has little unction).
          If ACNA wants to really be fruitful, they should imitate Sydney. And pray for a dozen Whitefields.

      • Ex-Anglican

        Thank you Robin. That needs said over and over.
        In the search for historical roots, young USA anglicans (ACNA) reach back to the Tractarian/Oxford movement and a small dose of charismatic experience. They need to reach a little further back.
        Imagine Cranmer wearing a chasuble or being impressed with apostolic succession! Clerical collars? Ha! They became fashionable in the 1840s and were started by a Presbyterian. Robes? Mimics of Roman senatorial garb with no connection to the apostles at all.

      • ElizabethanChurchman

        There were Protestant High Churchmen before the Tractarians who supported an esse of the Episcopal Office. They held high views of the sacraments, ministry, the formularies, the whole 9 yards. There were even High Church sacramental Calvinists, including delegates to the Synod of Dordt.

        One point I’d like to make: Where would you have us High Church Reformed guys go? Do you want us to abandon the Reformation? The most natural home for us is in Anglicanism, where we can retain justification by grace through faith alone, a high view of the sacraments and a high view of the Church (without taking a Roman or even a Lutheran view). Apparently, you are just fine in Baptist and Presbyterian churches. I’m not. I have too high of a view of the Historical Church and the Sacraments to join up with those Churches.

      • Bershawn300

        Praise God He can work (howsoever these things are limiting and potentially damaging) in spite of faulty doctrine and faulty vessels, and faulty forms of church government. These things are not good, of course, but God is greater and in His mercy He finds and reconciles men to Himself even when we are error! And for that we can be grateful! Are people being turned to Christ?

  • Matthew Maule

    As one of those evangelicals (independent baptist) turned Anglican, I think there are deeper reasons for joining the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican church. Sure there are other churches whose founders selectively quote the Church Fathers (don’t we all…), have liturgy, and have some form of sacramentalism. What was essential to me, however, after a study of the Church fathers was to be in a church with the historic apostolic succession.
    This is a different understanding of authority than that present in any Protestant church.
    I didn’t become Roman Catholic, because I believe the Anglican Way is more true to the Church Father’s and to the historic practice of the church – regarding monarchical episcopacy. I didn’t become Orthodox, because I’m a western Christian.

  • Joseph Sunde

    It would be interesting to see the breakdown between those who were /previously evangelical/ and those who are /newly Christian/ among millennials. Is it that millennials per se are intrigued by high-church “stuff” (history, tradition, earthiness, blablabla), or that those with evangelical upbringings have tasted the low-church wafers and found them wanting?

    There seems to be a steady stream of Christians to “low-church” megachurches at large. Are these “baby Christians”? What kinds of pasts do they have? It would seem to be a significant distinction.

    • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

      Everyone I know that is converting are in their 30s or above. So I wonder about the millineal connection. Maybe it starts in their 20s and that starting is what all the articles are about.

      But the conversion to low church/mega church seems to be more about unattached Christians rather than conversions of theologically sophisticated, as conversions to Catholicism/Anglicanism seem to be.

      But my anidotes are not research. So I have no ideas if they are widely true.

      • jaybird1951

        I think you are broadly correct. Catholicism seems to attract the more committed and intellectually searching Protestants especially among the clergy. Marcus Grodi’s Coming Home Network (he is a former Presbyterian minister) receives 4-6 inquiries a week from non-Catholic clergy and seminarians, almost all Protestant. Evangelical Protestantism on the other hand, becomes a new home for inactive and disaffected Catholics, who quite frankly in most cases, I suspect, do not know the faith they are leaving. My parish several years ago lost an entire family to Mormonism because they didn’t like the change in pastors at the parish. Go figure!

  • http://holgrave.tumblr.com/ Holgrave

    It’s quite possible that this “trend” is almost invisibly small in the grand scheme of things; because of where I live and where I went to school I personally know quite a few of the people who are writing about this.

    Count me though for another intensely conservative, raised evangelical/reformed/baptist, Anglican convert who switched in college because I read a Lutheran defense of the sacraments and became convinced about the apostolic succession.

    The Oxford movement, or Mercersburg theology, started small and maybe remained so. They had a big impact, though, and it keeps rippling back in examples like these.

  • Brian Miller

    I would simply like to point out that while this may not be a widespread phenomenon nationally, it is widespread and noticeable in a particular and important group of young Christians. These are the young evangelicals from the midwest or deep-south, they go off to University or to work in DC, and quite frankly realize that their faith is incapable of standing up to the world. I see it happening in D.C. where I live, and I know it happened to me. The D.C. intellectual culture is dominated, absolutely dominated, by Catholics. Yes, there are plenty of evangelicals, but the think tank/university world that influences conservative thought is all Catholic. In Christian universities I know Calvinist thinking tends to dominate, but once you leave that bubble you find they are no where to be found in the upper echelons of Conservative thought.

    Which brings us to another problem. First of all it should be noted that the article doesn’t pretend that the type of Christianity it is discussing is exclusively Catholic. We have no reason to believe Mr. Gingerich is an Anglo-Catholic and opposes all the measures of the Reformation. But, aside from traditionalist Anglicanism, the only forms of protestantism that are capable of keeping superficialism at bay are the rigidly Calvinist, and they present doctrines that are quite frankly hard to square with Christianity. The only other choice for many protestants is the low churches that meet in movie theaters and use sand-buckets for offering plates. Sand buckets! That is one of the many reasons that drove me to Anglicanism, and as a Protestant I agree with you that high-church liturgical Christianity is not incompatible with protestantism. As a small “c” catholic, I must insist that what we have come to call “evangelicalism” is absolutely incompatible and lacking in any authority.

    • jakemeador

      The DC link is an interesting one to explore more. My very limited interactions with that world definitely agree with what you’re saying. The one thing I would say is that I think it’s more than just Christian universities where that Reformed ethos is prominent. It’s definitely there (Wheaton’s pres is a former PCA pastor, after all) but the sense I get is that Catholic converts are more the minority in the midwest and south while they’re more common in the northeast. So Protestantism has a broader mass appeal while Catholicism seems to do better in the big northeastern hubs. Of course, that being said, the two most prominent Christians in NYC now are the two Timothy’s–Dolan and Keller. So there may be more of a future for confessional protestantism in the northeast than the current picture would suggest. (Metaxas’s work with Socrates in the City would be another example, I think, of confessional protestantism having an impact in NYC. And if Thornbury is a success at King’s, that’ll be still another prominent confessional protestant voice.)

      • http://www.princeton.edu/~pef David Keddie

        Jake,

        As a campus minister at Princeton I can assure that while there is no RUF group on campus, or any other national ministry, the four para-church ministries on campus are reformed in their theology. While I might be tempted to create tea shirts featuring Warfield and co. I’m not sure that’s particularly useful to anyone outside a narrow niche. :)

        • jakemeador

          Ha, that’s the great part, David. It’s amusing and no one needlessly gets offended. ;)

  • Sam Chamelin

    Great article, but I think it begs more questions of magisterial protestantism than it does of the evangelicals going to Catholicism/Orthodoxy. Why are serious evangelicals are skipping the magisterial protestant traditions or unaware of what they have to offer? I suspect it has something to do with a general ignorance of primary texts (how many Lutherans really read the Book of Concord), the “cheap grace” approach to the sacraments, and the disdain for biblical preaching (10 minutes max, Pastor!). I think the answer probably lies in an yet-to-emerge sacramental evangelicalism.

    • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

      My explanation would be, if you are going to change then change all the way. Or at least that is what I have heard. Authority has been a big if not the big issue for my friends that have converted. So it not sacramentalism but magisterial authority. (Which is why I have not. I am increasingly sacramental but distrustful of magisterial authority. So I am still low church evangelical that desires a greater evangelical context of sacramental theology.)

      • Robin Jordan

        Adam,
        I am curious about what you mean by “sacramentalism.” Sacramentalism is a term that can mean a number of different things. It may mean one thing to you and another thing to me. It can mean the ascription of great importance and efficacy to the sacraments. For some sacramentlism includes the belief that baptism regenerates the unregenerate, confirmation confers the Holy Spirit or the gifts of the Spirit and Christ offers himself for the sins of the world in the Lord’s Supper and his natural body and blood are present under or in the forms of bread and wine.

        • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

          Yes, sacramentalism is a messy word. My intention is to talk about the sacraments as God’s work in people as opposed to talking about ordinances (that are symbolic actions.) My evangelical background suggests that the two protestant sacraments are only symbols. I believe that they are mystically something more. I am not prepared to say that you must be baptised to be saved for instance. But I think than Evangelicals have minimized the sacraments to their detriment.

    • Käthe

      Well if you read the Book of Concord, listen to Bach, and admire the Lutheran tradition, where should you go? To the ELCA with its squandering of this heritage to become a bland mainline Protestant church, preoccupied with gay “inclusion” and environmentalism and every other lefty social cause? Or to the LCMS, where you can have the Sacrament of the Altar a couple times per month at best, and, if you’re less lucky, get a lot of Baptist trappings to go on the side?

      Or, you can conclude that Luther’s aims have been accomplished, and reconcile to Rome.

  • Andrew T

    Jake, both this article and your recent CS Lewis are excellent and have been in my thoughts the past few days.

    One question: Would you be willing to explain more of what you mean by Protestant confessionalism? This concept obviously includes Christians churches governed by the historic confessions (Book of Concord, Westminster Confession, 39 Articles, etc.). But what about other denominations that hold to newer “confessions”? (For example, Sovereign Grace Ministries has what they call a Statement of Faith which their elders are required to subscribe to.) You mention Gregory Thornbury, a Southern Baptist, as an example of a confessional Protestant, and yet Baptists are not usually considered “high church.”

    Would love to hear more of your thoughts on this.

    • jakemeador

      So I’ve been thinking about this for the last couple of days and I think I should perhaps revisit my use of “confessional Protestantism.” I think what I was describing in the comment you’re citing is more a Protestant Christian humanism. I think typically such a humanism emerges out of confessional protestantism, but the presence of Baptists like Thornbury (or Russ Moore) certainly suggests that you can have that kind of robust Christian humanism as a Protestant without a confessional tradition.

      That said, I’ll be curious to see what their impact looks like in the broader Baptist community in the US. I hope it takes root and bears fruit, but I have questions about how a tradition without explicit confessional grounding promotes and nourishes a rich Christian humanism long-term. Is that fair? I’d love nothing more than to see the Baptist churches in the US embrace a richer form of Christianity more grounded in a defined confession with defined liturgical and sacramental practices that ground the life of the community. I have major questions about whether that’s possible given their understanding of baptism, but I’m certainly excited to see what happens as leaders like Thornbury and Moore become more established. I think the future is bright there. :)

      One other side note for readers–one of the main questions that has to be addressed with this whole conversation is what the main issue or point of contention is. If you say it’s authority, then you’ll define the conversation differently than you would if you think it’s institutional unity or aesthetics, for example. My assumption with this conversation is that authority is the point of departure and so I see Rome on one side and the Lutherans, Reformed, and Anglican on the other. If you’re more concerned with specific debates about sacramental issues (presence and the eucharist, for instance) then you’ll draw the lines very differently.

      • Robin Jordan

        Jake,

        I was baptized in the Church of England and confirmed in the
        Episcopal Church. I was a licensed minister in the Episcopal Church from 1985 to 2002.

        For the past 7 years I have been involved in a Baptist church that holds its worship gatherings on a university campus and is targeted at
        unchurched Millenials. We are a growing church and attract a large number of university students and other young adults. Some come from church backgrounds; others do not. In that 7 years I have met only one person who showed an interest in sacramentalism and liturgical
        worship. One person!

        The only liturgical church in the area that was attracting Millenials was the local Roman Catholic church and the young adults that it was
        attracting came from a Roman Catholic background. The attendance of Millenials at Mass dropped after the young priest whose homilies were popular with the Millenials transferred to another church.

        The only Baptists of my acquaintance who have expressed an
        interest in sacramentalism and liturgical worship were seminary students; at least one of them was switching to another denomination. Ed Stetzer in an interview noted that while the professors and students at some evangelical seminaries may be interested in early practices, “most American Christians are still more absorbed in modern, nondenominational ways of worship and music.”

        Baptists generally view baptism and the Lord’s Supper as
        ordinances, not sacraments. Baptism is seen as a public declaration of one’s faith in Jesus Christ; the Lord’s Supper, as a memorial of his passion and death. Neither ordinance is viewed as a means of grace.

        Baptists also display strong anti-liturgical prejudices and eschew the use of special clergy attire and set forms in worship, which they associate
        with Roman Catholicism.

        A widely-held view among the younger Baptist pastors is that what passes as “traditional” church for Baptists is so off-putting to the
        unchurched that anything remotely resembling “traditional” church must be avoided. This includes the use of choirs, choir gowns, the Lord’s Prayer, the Doxology, and responsive readings. The positive response of the unchurched to worship gatherings free from these traditional elements has served to reinforce this view.

  • Andrew
  • gk

    As a highly unscientific observation, one of the individuals in our new, small Catholic church (the first of two Anglican Ordinariate parishes in California) recently remarked, “I think it’s cool how we have mostly young people. Our average age seems to be about 25 to 30.” I haven’t looked closely at the age breakdown, and our parish only has about 60 at this stage, but a steady stream of young, formerly evangelical Millennials are coming through the door and being confirmed in the Catholic Church.

  • ElizabethanChurchman

    I agree with the thrust of your post here. However, I think one issue that still needs to be addressed from a Magisterial Protestant perspective, particularly in the American context, is schism and ecclesiastical authority. Most orthodox Protestant groups in this country are schismatic and sectarian. They couldn’t take the heat in the Mainline and decided to strike it out on their own. Furthermore, most of the mainline bodies (Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, etc.) are born out of schism from the Anglican Church. I legitimately think that aside from a few ethnic churches, the only major worldwide Christian body that is not born in schism is the Anglican Communion. Before you bring up the Reformation, I would say it is the Roman and Eastern Churches that are schismatic on that account for they are the parties that are officially sectarian.

    Yes, that means I think the orthodox Anglicans should have stayed (and continue to stay if they’re still there) in the Protestant Episcopal Church despite the rampant heresy. You do not see the Apostles exhorting the believers in Sardis or Corinth to run away from bad churches. It’s very sad to see most orthodox believers unwilling to stay and fight. Considering the declining membership and attendance numbers in PECUSA, if a good chunk of these people jumping over to unreformed churches or the other magisterial Protestants came back to the Anglican Churches, we’d be able to run Katherine Jefferts-Schori and her compatriots out on a rail.

    Wouldn’t it be lovely if the “National Cathedral” preached something resembling orthodox Protestant Christianity again? Just dreaming.

  • Caleb

    Count me as another “millennial” (an essentially meaningless term) who left the “reformed baptist”/evangelical circle of my youth for Anglicanism. Aside from issues of theology, it is nice to be in a church that doesn’t essentially ignore 1200 years of Christian history. It is also nice to have a sense of decorum and beauty. Of course there were many other reasons (like leaving behind cults of personality), but I just wanted to add my voice.

  • http://www.princeton.edu/~pef David Keddie

    As a campus minister at Princeton University I find these articles claiming a movement toward the high church to be off the mark. Of the hundreds of millenials I’ve known and ministered to I’ve seen a handful become Anglican or convert to Catholicism. The overwhelming trend however is very much in the opposite direction. The small number who are attracted to the high church however tend to all be writers and a part of the Christian sub-culture’s “chattering class” to borrow a phrase.

    That’s not to say I haven’t had many long and serious conversations with those who argue for the apostolic succession or more formal liturgy, it’s just that I’ve seen many more move in the other direction.

    One of the commenters mentioned the dominance of Catholics in intellectual circles in D.C. which is true up to a point. Part of the reason for that in my view is that Protestant theology doesn’t allow for the same level of confidence in a particular political framework. At the moment I’m having conversations with a couple young men who are converts to Catholicism who’ve decided they should be monarchists of an absolutist variety and who reject liberal democracy. That’s not exactly a position that’s winning many over.

    What most concerns me with this discussion is whether we are confusing tradition with substance and style with truth. I know many from the low-church to whom the formality of traditional liturgy seems shallow and devoid of sincerity. I’m also concerned that what is merely a traditional element of the majority church culture in America not be defined as superior. In my experience the “high church” is least attractive to those from minority backgrounds.

    The conversation worth having is over gospel substance in worship rather than particular styles or cultural traditions. I’ve been to very contemporary churches were there was no shallowness and “high church” congregations were there was plenty, and vis versa.

    Who knows, maybe one of these days the students will come up to us and ask for more liturgy, but it hasn’t happened yet.

  • MattMira

    One problem with the Magisterial Protestant churches is, I think the overemphasis on a juridical theology of the Cross, one that pits a God angry at sin and ready to judge men, against a Christ who is love. This is the single biggest hurdle that such churches cannot overcome because it is virtually all they have when it comes to interpreting the cross. The Roman church shares this error, as do the Anglicans. So the Orthodox idea that God sent Christ to share our condition and, in love heal us, is far more powerful and shows the Trinity to be consistent in love.

  • Brian J Henry

    As an Anglican, I 100% think you should be including Anglicanism with Orthodoxy and Catholicism ;)

  • Daniel

    This is a radical simplification of a phenomenon that is nearly impossible to quantify. One does not simply convert to a “high church” tradition simply because one has a fetish for liturgy or patristics. There are deeper motives at work which account for each individual instance of such conversion, if not the very least for the fact that some become Orthodox and not Roman Catholic, or vice versa. Worship-style and patristic quote-mining is not the name of the game, but verifiable apostolic authenticity. Some claim it and have it, some claim it but don’t have it. The “magisterial protestant” tradition’s claim to this kind of continuity is spurious, and the discerning millennial is deeply aware of this.

  • Micah Hicks

    As a converted Catholic who only wishes that my friends were converting in droves, I largely agree that the exodus is exaggerated. But I do think it is more significant than this lets on that we see a movement of prominent evangelical intellectuals to more traditional structures. It seems implied to that they have looked over the liturgical branches of protestantism, and this is probably a bit rude. I don’t think they are ignorant of these arguably easier and more comfortable options. On this level, this essay is a little insulting: it seems to imply that the only reason these people become Catholic, or Orthodox or Anglican is because we offer a “prettier” Sunday service. Coming from a Calvary Church background, with spots of First Baptist attendance, I am well aware of the relative beauty of our liturgical services. But this is not, attractive as it is, the reason that one moves to the high church. In fact, if this is the reason these intellectuals are becoming Catholic or otherwise more traditional, they will quickly change their minds when the more fundamental differences in theology become apparent. You might come for a lovely liturgy, but you will not stay for it.

    A move to the high church requires more than simply desiring tradition and beauty in your service. A move toward such is not going to be sated by Lutheranism or Methodism. In the first place, I do not think we could consider these magisterial in the first place: they certainly do not have in practice nor claim to possess the teaching authority of the Orthodox or Catholic Church. They do share much of the traditional practice of the High Church, but they-amusingly enough-do not have much reason other than that it is tradition precisely because they do not have the magisterium claimed by Orthodoxy and Catholicism (don’t know enough about Anglicanism to comment).

    Traditional protestant churches, probably a more appropriate term, have seen a steady decline in numbers since the 1960s. Most analysis I’ve seen–and most of these from evangelical sources–attribute this to weakening theology. These churches have emphasized more social justice-necessary-than Christ-more necessary. They have garnered a reputation as peddlers of soft theology and easy grace. Lutheranism for instance supported abortion for some time and has only relatively recently started towards opposing it. To borrow from a Lutheran (who probably does not find much credence among Lutherans today) what is desired is “hard grace”. A grace that is magnificently magnanimous but in its very beneficence demands so much of us.

    To speak from my own experience, what made me a Catholic was not the beauty of the service. What attracted me was that the Catholic church seemed to mirror the real world. It was that the church was both logical and clear throughout yet possessed in it every contradiction that was in the world. It did not try to create a system in which there was no wrinkle, because it noted that in the world and human nature those wrinkles most certainly exist. There is here an intellectual consistency, entirely coherent and self-reliant, that does not simplify, gloss over or ignore. To see the world as the Church saw her was at once a confirmation of my own experience and to be introduced to a transcendent reality. This I would wager is more likely why there is a movement among intellectuals to the high churches than that they are pretty.

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