“Emerging Church Is Leading Protestants Back Home to Rome”
I found the above headline on a "independent evangelical" website that was warning people of the dangers of the “Emerging Church” movement. There have recently been some “cyber-rumblings” from folks who are concerned over the increasing number of Protestants returning Home to Rome,
“a reversal of the Reformation” as it was phrased.
The website stated:
“The experiential attractions which are being promoted by the Emerging Church include: statues, prayer stations, incense, liturgy, candles, icons, the sacraments and calling communion the Eucharist.”
That doesn’t sound so sinister to me, and as a matter of fact, I have been encouraged by the Emerging church movement because it tells me that many evangelicals are sensing the void left by the de-sacramentalization of their churches and the iconoclastic revisions of the Reformation. I admire the Emerging church folks because of their willingness to pursue truth, even if it smells and looks like the "practice of the papists." I have blogged on this before but my interest was piqued again when I found that some protestants are fearing this will lead to wholesale Mass conversions. (pun intended) So let's look at this list of “experiential attractions” the Emergents are starting to embrace, one by one:
1.Statues/Icons - I better look up the definition of that just to be sure we are all talking about the same issues here. Definition of Icon : “a sign or representation that stands for its object by virtue of a resemblance or analogy to it.” What could be wrong with icons?
So a statue of Jesus in the early church or a mosaic symbol of the cross was used to bring the worshippers hearts to God, not to worship the object since that is clearly a breaking of God’s commandment. Icons used in the early church and current Catholic and Orthodox Churches are used as a means to draw our hearts heavenwards. The Jews had many icons in their temple worship including seraphim and cherubim decorating the ark of the covenant. Did the Jews worship these images? No for heavensakes! They were used to draw the worshippers hearts heavenward by using their senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch.
2.Prayer Stations - I don’t know about you but any place set aside for us to quiet our hearts and come to the Lord can’t be bad. In the Old Testament, the Jews made “ebenezers”, a pile of rocks to commemorate an event that God performed for them at a certain place of time and history. I suspect that when they came upon an ebenezer, they prayed, kind of like a “prayer station.” Some fundamentalist churches have people come up to the altar and pray in a ritual called an “altar call.” Maybe that's similar to a prayer station, but since non-Catholic churches don't believe in the sacrifice of the Mass, I suspect this is a holdover term not fully rooted out after the Reformation. We Catholics have prayer stations going back many centuries to a practice called the Stations of the Cross. During Lent, all Catholics retrace the steps of Jesus as he was accused,beaten and died for us on the Cross for our redemption. It is a beautiful meditation and prayer as we draw close to Him with repentant hearts. Sometimes my wife and I pray the stations at other times of the year as well because we always come away with a deeper sense of gratitude to our Lord for what He endured for our salvation.
3. Incense- My reading of early church history tells me that plenty of incense was used in early times and its use can probably be traced as early as the fourth century. I suspect, that before then, most of the time Christianity was outlawed so their use of incense would not have been a good idea if they were meeting in secret to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass (and not get caught!)
The Jewish people in the Old Testament used incense to represent the prayers of the people before God and the Revelations of John in the New Testament makes mention of its use in the context of heavenly worship several times. So clearly its use on both heaven and earth found in Scripture would make one realize it’s ok to use it as a part of a worship service, particularly if we take a “Bible Only” approach to these things.
4. Liturgy- The early church used a liturgy very much based on the Jewish temple’s order of service including scripture readings with a homily. The difference of course is that the New Testament service culminated in the sacrifice of the Mass, the Eucharist, the “breaking of the bread” as the early church called it. If you want to read an early liturgy, see how Justin Martyr from the 2nd Century described a gathering of believers. He described a sacrifice, and he wasn’t referring to the blood of bulls or goats! St. Paul's description in 1 Corinthians is also very telling when he describes the Lord's Supper and the dire consequences of wrongly "discerning the Body of Christ."
5.Candles- Yes, there were candles in the early church too! The most likely reason was that there was no electricity for about 1900 years and I suspect quite a few Lutherans and Calvinists used them too! (until Thomas A. Edison had his way.) But truthfully, the fact is Catholics still use candles to help us remember that Jesus is the Light of the World! Not scary, spooky or even Satanic, just using the stuff of earth to remind us of the things of Heaven.
6. The Sacraments and calling communion the Eucharist. As mentioned repeatedly in my blogs and the historical writings of the Church, Christians have always believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the Baptism for the forgiveness of sins as stated in the Nicene Creed (325 AD) . The “symbolization” of communion and baptism was unknown before the Reformation, except for a few short-lived heretical cults.
If these "experiential attractions," as our independent evangelical brother calls them, can bring the “Emerging church” folks closer to Jesus, God bless them and I encourage them to "stay the course." Since the use of candles, incense, icons, and a liturgy have been used for 2000 years continuously in Christ's Church, the "Emergents" are not in bad company when they start using them again. Catholics have been using the “stuff of earth” such as water, wine, and wheat given to them in the Sacraments of the Church to bring them to a fuller and more complete knowledge and experience of Jesus Christ. Actually, the Emerging church folks are not pioneers of a new phenomenon nor inventors and practitioners of new age philosophies. They are re-discovering the ancient practices that God has always used to bring His people closer to Him. We humans need to relate to God the way Jesus showed us: water of life (baptism) and bread from heaven (The Eucharist) I am sorry if it offends the sensibilities, but it’s the ancient way of the Creator who knows what’s best for His creation.
Now if only they could see the need for a Magisterium......