Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Confounded by the Evangelical Mindset

Continuing on from my initial post this week on the evangelical mindset, recent events have precipitated and confirmed in my mind just how isolated the evangelicals (at least here in South East Asia, where they are growing in influence and numbers, and under which I include Pentecostalists) are from the rest of the Church.

The evangelicals' alienation from history and philosophy (as we have seen) leads them to a very particular theological stance and relationship to the world and society. In effect, it comes across as world-despising, isolationist (and even elitist and given to Gnostic tendencies) and ignorant and unrealistic with regards to the world and society. Devoid of any sense of Christian history, they see each evangelical community (gathered around a 'pastor' or preacher) as a direct line to God, mushrooming in a particular locale, independent of all other Christian communities and churches. There is little thought to Christian unity and the concerns of 'organized Christianity', as each group blatantly poaches members from the others. As such each unit is autocephalous and indeed, self-determining, accountable only to God (in each person's individual conscience) and to the Scriptures (as each group deems fit to interpret). The result is the sort of chaos bred by individualism, which explains why evangelical groups flourish in this age - they appeal to the individualistic consumer at the core of most 21st century people.

This is not intended to be as harsh as it sounds, for the mystery and grace of God certainly uses them as means to salvation. Moreover, it is better that people (especially the un-baptised) come to know Christ than not at all - even if I deplore the evangelicals' poaching of already baptised Christians! However, there are serious flaws in the modus operandi and mindset, which seeks to separate themselves from the contemporary world but which is ironically very much prey to the modern mentality and attitudes.

Let me illustrate this... the recent murder of Bro Roger of Taize has shocked most Christians and even secular leaders have hailed his witness to Christian unity. But the evangelicals I know are totally ignorant of this fact or even of Taize. The same is true of WYD 2005. Far too few evangelicals have even heard of this gathering of 1 million young Christians in Cologne. The death of even Pope John Paul II was largely a non-event among evangelicals here in Kuala Lumpur and when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected, an evangelical in America was reported to have said: "They've elected a Protestant as Pope!" The fact that the Holy Father shares many of the evangelicals' moral concerns led him to this inverted conclusion! All these examples indicate a group of Christians who are, at least in spirit, cut off from the 'mainstream' Church and who cannot be seriously engaged in theological questions and contemporary issues with regard to the Christian faith. As such they become inward-looking, almost like a sect - with their own music, jargon and views - and they become less credible in any dialogue and mission that the mainstream Church engages in with the world. However, I must note and applaud the recent developments for more social-minded projects by large evangelical communites and groups...

Strangely, in place of a developed ecclesiology (and Liturgy), there is an obsessive interest in Jerusalem and Jewish rites and festivals, perhaps linked to a deformed eschatology. I have known countless evangelicals who strive to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land, especially for the Feast of Tabernacles or Purim or other Jewish (and thus, Biblical) liturgical festivities. Evangelical groups are also often named after Jewish (Scriptural) places and people, such as 'Bethel', 'Horeb' or even (the mistaken) 'Jehovah' or some other Jewish title for God!

A friend recently told me of a plan in America by evangelicals there to create a city or community made of religious and committed evangelical Christians, as a kind of retreat from the world. I believe this is called "Christian Reconstructionism"... The notion seemed abhorrant to me because in my understanding of the Catholic approach to salvation and redemption, the whole world is "charged with the grandeur of God" (to use a phrase of Gerald Manley Hopkins, SJ) and so to be transformed by grace. The very notion of retreating to an enclave of Christianity is contrary to our ecclesiology which speaks of a pilgrim Church, scattered throughout the world yet united by the Eucharist and the Sacraments, living as leaven to society, salt and light to the world. In my mind, we are not called to live in comfort zones of like-minded Christians but to live in the world as witnesses to the joy of salvation in Christ.

Even St Augustine's image of the 'City of God' spoke metaphorically rather than of a physical and geographically defined Christian utopia. Indeed, that 'City of God' is first built in the human heart. It's a little too 'Disney' (and thus artificial and idealistic) for me to create a separate city of evangelical Christians... The closest I can come to this in the Catholic tradition is the monastery which was a self-contained community of committed Christians, but this was not seen in opposition to the world and civilization but rather an essential place of refuge from the cares of the world for those who wanted to live a life of contemplation and prayer. This ancient and venerable tradition of Christian asceticism also has a different attitude and ecclesiology from the evangelical utopia; one which is profoundly Christian and Catholic.

Perhaps the above is a little too broad-sweeping... we have all known and know good, balanced, broad-minded evangelical Christians. I do not wish to malign them or their brethren and I think there are things that Catholics and other 'mainstream Christians' can learn from them; but I do feel that there is much in evangelicalism, as I have encountered it, which is unhealthy, unattractive, small-minded and needs challenging to bring them out of their false securities and into the light of the fullness of the Revelation of the Truth and thus, be grafted more firmly onto the True Vine. To this end, more dialogue has to continue in order to broaden the evanglical mindset and bring them into the catholicity of the Church.

Photos above are from the City Harvest Church website in Singapore.


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