I attended a Baptist church throughout my junior and senior high years. This church emphasized Bible study, altar calls, baptism, and sending missionaries around the world. I learned to play Bible baseball there. I never could beat those raised in the church since birth, but my “find the verse and read it” speed improved. My ecclesiology formed around this model, and I’ve attended non-denominational evangelical churches with similar emphases most Sundays since.
Along the way I’ve ventured into a high Episcopal service, a few Anglican and charismatic ones, and several that centered around Covenant theology. My comfort level in each setting rose and fell like a gauge measuring the distance between the norm (my upbringing) and the variation (incense, speaking in tongues). I always returned to home base and stayed there; until recently.
Through seminary classes, friends from different backgrounds, and my readings, I’ve grown to appreciate the observance of the church calendar and now want to adopt this annual rhythm, this growing cycle. I have learned the historical roots of various practices my denomination minimized or ignored and feel their lack in my current practice. For example, I did not observe Lent or attend Maundy Thursday or Good Friday services until I was an adult. Without preparation and time for reflection, the Easter Morning celebration came at me like a mountain island that suddenly appeared on the horizon. Easter hymns rightly acknowledged Jesus’ victory over death and sin through his resurrection, but the impact and meaning diminished without the space beforehand to reflect on the human and spiritual suffering Christ endured.
Before the-Vatican II (1965) changes filtered through the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) , a clear societal and social divide ran between Protestants and Catholics. It still exists in some Christian circles, particularly those exposed to a vein of dispensationalist, pre-millennial teaching that teaches the evil city of Babylon described in Revelation 17 is Rome and/or the Roman Catholic Church.
As a teenager it was hard for me to see anything positive about a branch of Christianity when Revelation 17:5 describes Babylon as the mother of prostitutes and abominations and I’d been told that was an allegorical reference to the RCC. It’s taken years and a seminary course entitled, “The History of Christianity”, for me to see the incredible heritage of fifteen-hundred years of pre-Reformation art, scholarship, spiritual practice, education and contemplation as pluses rather than hindrances.
But I do now, and this newly awakened appreciation is leading me to places I never expected to inhabit. I have numerous theological concerns with RCC doctrine and doubt I’ll move from the Protestant side of the equation. I want to listen more to the early Church theologians and writers, and integrate many of the century-old practices into my life on a regular basis. Practices such as a liturgical focus, contemplation, observance of the church calendar, and frequent celebration of the Eucharist. I might even attend a church without a gurgling baptismal tank. All revolutionary for this Midwestern Baptist farm girl, but that’s where I am headed. Stay tuned.
Where have you ventured that wasn’t on your map for life? How has the detour turned out?