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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Staying Home

Earlier this month Rachel Held Evans made news again by “departing” Evangelicalism for the Episcopal Church.[1]  This is hardly news, save for the influence that Evans has in the Evangelical blogosphere and twitterverse. However, her departure is apparently indicative of a broader trend among her (and my) generation of church-goers. Millennials are tending to leave the Evangelical churches of their youth and find a home in the Mainline traditions or no home at all.

I have served in Baptist congregations for a decade now, and in that time I’ve moved more and more toward liturgical practices in worship style and have found a passion for the Church Year. I’ve been called a “bathlic” by some congregants who disliked my following of the Lectionary or my introduction of the seasons of Lent and Advent into the life of my little Baptist churches. Even now, I am affiliated with what has been called a “bapti-palian” church that embraces a very high church style and is about as far from the Evangelical camp as can be and still be called Baptist.

During my Oral Defense last summer, my dear friend and mentor Todd Still asked a question of me that lingers with me still. My Project had addressed the possibility of using a type of catechesis in a Baptist congregation. In the research I had borrowed extensively from Catholic, Presbyterian, and Lutheran understandings of catechesis in hopes of finding a foundational platform from which to do adult catechetical discipleship. After discussing my findings, Dr. Still asked, “why not just go on all the way to Rome?”

His question addressed the natural conclusion of my work and predicted Evans’ departure to the Episcopal Church. My answer was that I was committed to the Baptist principals of the Priesthood of the Believer, the Autonomy of the Local Church, and Soul Competency. These things were so important to me that I had never even fathomed leaving my Baptist tradition for the Episcopal Church – I was trying to refine the discipleship practices of my own tradition rather than find an excuse to depart for something else.

I believe in the Baptist project. Theologically I have no need to adopt a practice of seven sacraments like Evans has; the ordinances of adult baptism and communion sustain me and serve, I believe, as the foundation for the community’s practice in the church.[2] I may add practices and traditions to these ordinances, but I do not need to abandon the carefully crafted Baptist ecclesiology to find a church home.

I do understand the temptation to find a church home that is a part of something that is deep and wide and rich, though. Evans, and those who have journeyed to Rome or Canterbury like her, is searching for a connection to something that is more global and more powerful than the shallow work, words, and worship that they commonly experience. I feel that pull, too. But my congregation and I are crafting a practical ecclesiology that embraces the deep and wide tradition of spirituality that is so appealing to my generation without leaving behind all the minds, hearts, and hands that have brought us to this place. Being Baptist is being flexible. It is not being beholden to a worship style any more than it is being beholden to a Bishop or Pope’s decree.

Why am I not “going on to Rome?” because I have a home that has formed me and now calls on me to form it in return. It is the house that has paneling and wallpaper over ancient walls that were crafted with precision and artistry. Our congregation is developing a practice that takes down the veneer and runs its hands over those ancient stones, polishing and painting what needs repair, and learning to live in the deep, wide, rich place that God has led us to.

We’re staying home.


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