We in the church don’t realize how Catholic we are. Recently, a friend quoted a teacher of his in training school to that effect. By that the professor apparently meant that we still suffer much influence from the Roman church in the way we act and speak. Whether or not he is talking mainly of the Brazilian church or included the American servants and congregations he knows, I can’t say.
I also don’t know if he was referring to non-essentials or to teachings and practices he considers essential. Without a context, it’s hard to know what he meant by it. But in some significant and disturbing way, apparently, the teacher thinks we need to get away from such influence. Otherwise, he probably would let it slide and not disturb the students’ peace of mind.
In missions studies, back in the day, there was much talk about contextualization, being and acting like the culture around the mission worker in non-essential things. It was considered a good thing not to import one’s home culture and thus make Christianity out to be a foreign religion. Our own brethren have warned against planting a hot-house church in other countries that can survive only under artificial conditions. (And many of those who do issue such warnings prop up their own work with American funds. Go figure.)
I hear brethren vent that we should not be like the surrounding religions nor conform to modern society and then offer as a defense of having a church building that today’s society, in contrast to the first century, expects that. I’ve heard that a few times recently since we started our new work. They don’t seem to see the contradiction in their positions.
There may be some defense for having a church building, and were I in the situation I would not have a problem of conscience working with a church that has its own building, but I dare say it’s a poor defense to insist we have buildings because people won’t consider us as a serious group otherwise.
I’ve not said yeah or nay on the question, but if I had to come down on one side or the other, I’d think, on first impression, that we are more Protestant than we realize. With progressives whispering in the ears of the brethren, not a few congregations are edging closer to the denominations in many quarters. And we follow, or have followed, so many of their trends, for good or bad. Joy buses. Multipurpose centers. Pulpits front and center. Sunday schools. Youth ministers. Pulpit and senior and lead and emeritus ministers. Communion trays and individual cups. Invitation songs. Two services on Sunday. On and on.
So where does this discussion lead? I’m not sure where others want to take it. Some will say that, since we’re like them both in appearance and nature, we ought to admit it and just be another denomination. Wishful thinking.
Others have had a somewhat useful discussion about non-binding traditions and adapting what’s available to use for the kingdom of God. I’m with you on that one. And I’d love to hear a discussion about how to recognize the crossing of the line when the traditions become ingrained to the point they’re no longer optional.
That reminds me of when we began the congregation in Taubaté a few years ago. We varied the order of worship from that in SJCampos, where we were already working. We ate the Lord’s supper and made our offerings before the sermon. A sister in SJCampos questioned me on it, shocked that we would think of such a thing. No one in SJCampos had ever suggested in a sermon or class or even in a private conversation that there was a divinely approved sequence that must be observed. But she had reached that conclusion, from long practice.
So do we practice some things, and even teach some truths, that Protestants and Catholics do? For sure. But that doesn’t make us Catholic or Protestant. (Even a stopped clock is right once or twice a day.) The issue is whether the teaching agrees with Scripture. And whether a practice serves the purpose of edifying the church and saving the lost. Some of those decisions will be matters of opinion and application in given settings and societies. Discussions about matters of opinion and convenience should not draw lines. We should be able to evaluate them on the basis of edification and evangelism without getting excommunicated.
So let’s go to church at the same hour as the Baptists and Methodists, if it’s the expedient thing to do. And wave at them from across the street or parking lot or in the restaurant. And teach them that, although we do some similar things, the Lord Jesus requires that we obey the gospel in order to be saved. That’s something they have yet to figure out.