Posted: Saturday, May 31, 2014 12:00 am
A growing number of evangelical leaders across the nation are taking a fresh look at some of the practices of the early Christian church, practices more commonly seen in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
Some of those leaders will be in Tulsa next weekend for a Praxis Conference, a two-day conversation to explore how communion, the creeds, common prayer and other ancient practices can revitalize the modern evangelical church.
Evangelicals — a term that includes most Baptists and Charismatics/Pentecostals — are Christians who stress having a personal relationship with Christ, personal piety and evangelism, and who hold a high view of Scripture. Evangelical churches traditionally have downplayed liturgy.
But all is not well in the evangelical camp, said the Rev. Ed Gungor, pastor of Sanctuary Church in Jenks and organizer of the conference.
“Evangelicalism is bankrupt, and by that, I don’t mean that it’s an evil thing,” he said.
“In a sense, evangelicalism is in Chapter 11. It’s not paying all the bills. … No one wants to jettison the challenge of personal faith, but how can we reorganize to pay the bills?”
Gungor said a symptom of the problem is that evangelicals are orienting more and more to the secular culture. New Year’s Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July have become more important than Advent, Epiphany and Pentecost.
“In the end, we’re making people better Americans than Christians,” he said.
He said evangelical churches are more subject to secularism than liturgical churches because they are not connected to their historic core. American culture itself is ahistorical, he said, focused on the present and the future, and not the past.
“In some ways we have an Alzheimer’s church,” he said, a church that not only has forgotten its own past but also has lost its sense of identity.
Nonliturgical churches also tend to be divided from each other because people choose to attend churches with people who are politically, economically and socially like themselves.
He said a return to a more liturgical form of worship can help unify the church world because participation in the ancient practices supersedes differences between people.
Gungor said interest in the ancient liturgies began to surface in evangelical churches some years ago, and church leaders across the nation began to talk about it and write about it.
He said he would describe what is happening as a conversation, not a movement, although it could become one.
And he said the so-called neo-liturgical churches are not trying to leave evangelicalism to become Roman Catholics, Anglicans or Orthodox.
“Evangelicalism brings the element of personal piety, … a transformative reality in the life of a person,” he said, values that evangelicals do not want to lose.
The Praxis Conference runs 10 a.m. Friday through 4 p.m. June 7 at Sanctuary Church, 1015 W. Main St. in Jenks.
Among the 20-some speakers will be Chris Seay, pastor of Ecclesia Houston, a large Baptist Church that has adopted liturgical practices, and Aaron Niequist, worship leader at Willow Creek, a mega-church in the Chicago area.