A friend of mine, who is Baptist, is having a sort of crisis of faith so I invited him to attend church with me last Sunday; I thought a different perspective might help him out. I wasn’t trying to convert him, as I firmly believe one’s spiritual journey is their own to travel.
After Mass, we got in the car and I asked him what he thought. He asked me how I could attend a church that was so ritualistic and empty. I empathized with his sentiments because I grew up in an evangelical/fundamentalist church and have heard this criticism many times.
I told him that he couldn’t compare a Baptist service to an Episcopal service; the two are too different. A Baptist service is for praise and worship, and he should think of an Episcopal Mass, from procession to recession, as one long prayer.
I didn’t know what to say; I was speaking off the cuff. What should I have said?
I know I’m not neither Catholic nor Anglican, but I feel I can relate to your friend and give some input.
I personally think that your explanation is a good one. It’s hard to compare the two because they are designed to do two different things. A Catholic Mass is designed to, in effect, re-present the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, culminating in the Eucharist. In a Baptist service, Holy Communion isn’t a weekly ordinance and the service is more about getting a spiritual charge (hence praise and worship). There’s no point to comparing the two because they’re not intended to produce the same results.
That being said, I also think that it matters according to personal taste. I have personally found the reverence, solemnity, and tradition of in particular the Latin Mass and the Orthodox Divine Liturgy to be unparalleled in their beauty. But then again others simply find it boring.
Coming from a Baptist church as well, he probably just has no idea about how a liturgical church functions. The culture shock he must have faced was probably immense. Unlike to anything he has ever faced. Just like the reverse would probably cause a similar shock. I’ve seen Catholics/High Protestants attend a standard Evangelical church and be floored by how different it was to them. And, on occasion, I’ve noticed them to be politely horrified at what they were witnessing.
Maybe explaining to him more about your Episcopalian faith might help him understand and appreciate its liturgical service better.
Maybe they simply didn’t understand the service or the rituals and put their guard up. If the opportunity arises, ask if they have any specific questions and then go from there. It can all be a little overwhelming to someone new.
as a former Baptist, I can tell you the services are greatly different. Where the Catholic Mass is all based around the Eucharist, the Baptist service is about the sermon, the preaching of the Word of God. NOT that the Catholic Mass doesn’t, but it’s definitely not the same. The entire service of a Baptist church is about Scripture and usually communion is once or twice a month.
The Catholic service has the same prayers week after week. The Baptist church is more of a “personal” prayer (don’t know quite how to word that…) that varies week to week (other than the Our Father) rather than recitation of memorized prayers over and over.
I understand what your friend meant in that the Catholic service can feel kind of ‘cold’ with all the recitation and the Baptist service you are more in your Bible. I hope this doesn’t sound bad, it’s not bad, it’s just different. I’m sure I’m not wording this the best I can but it’s the best I can do at this moment…
To me, it’s important to remember the reverence we should have towards God. God is not a distant entity, but one that is close and dear; still, He’s the Creator of all things, the Savior Who gave up His own life for us. To me, we should be in awe of such a majestic being. To me, the liturgy represents that awe and reverence.
Thanks, all of you, for your thoughts on this topic.I think my feelings were hurt and I wasn’t anticipating having to defend my faith. I wish he could have appreciated the beauty in the same way as I appreciate Baptist fervor.
But who knows, maybe I thwarted his crisis of faith - perhaps he saw all the “emptiness” and ran back to the Baptist church. :shrug:
Quite some time ago I attended a Baptist service to which a friend invited me. I suppose my cultural shock was diametrically opposed to what your friend experienced. I kept wanting to blurt out, “How could you possibly get any sense of the divine out of this disorganized cacophony?” I’m not trying to be uncharitable here. I just felt a little overwhelmed (in not a good way) with praise in the lack of liturgical structure. Personally, I find our liturgy, whether traditional or novus ordo, extraordinarily reassuring in a spiritual sense, because I know that there, right there in front of me, is my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I am a bit thrown by your language. In the past, I’ve been in many “High Church” Episcopal and Orthodox Anglican churches, and never heard their service referred to as a “mass”. I wiki’d this before responding to see if I was way off in my thinking there. Anyway maybe someone here can refer me to to a thread on the topic. I have not been here long.
I would have told your friend about the meaning of each thing that happens in the church service. I remember my first church (Episcopal), I had so many questions and they told me what every single thing they did meant and how it dated back to the way things were done in the times of Christ. That gave me so much love for the liturgy, so much value in all the bold gestures and subtle nuances.
That said, I think what you explained to your friend was just fine, too. Pray for him. It’s the Holy Spirit who will do the work
Mass, Eucharist, Holy Communion, Divine Liturgy - we use them interchangeably. I think my current parish uses Holy Eucharist, but I was baptized in an Anglo-Catholic parish and so Mass has stuck in my lexicon.
If your friend is a biblical Christian, he may be interested in the Old Testament idea of worship. It largely consisted of sacrifices, and was highly ritualistic. Some converts have noticed the sacrificial elements of the Catholic Mass as being close to the original OT concepts of worship.
When we go to worship God, we should be concerned, primarily, in how He wishes to be worshipped. If attending a service makes us feel wonderful, and many of them can do, shouldn’t we ask ourselves if we are making ourselves feel great, or actually giving something of ourselves to God?
The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor 2:14)
Your friend’s observations are those of an unspiritual man. Perhaps he would get more out of the Mass if you explained to him the spiritually-discerned gift of transubstantiation that takes place during the liturgy of the Eucharist, whereby our Lord Jesus Christ becomes substantially present so that we might have a real, intimate, one-on-one encounter with him in Holy Communion.
I would ask what do you mean by ritualistic and empty rather than assuming you know the answer. If you ask a question you will gain insight for dialogue. Assuming you know what he thinks and then answering accordingly will not get you very far.
What do you mean by ritualistic.
Well, it seems so ordered, everything is just happening and everyone is just following along.
Well do you see ritualistic as good or bad?
Well I don’t know I suppose that I am not sure.
Did you ever get in a small plane, you know the kind with just you and the pilot?
Well that pilot, no matter how many times he flies a plane gets out this card and does a check of fuel, oil, flaps and a series of checks that takes about 20 minutes before he even thinks of going in the air…
Well there is something to be said for orderliness, you know, it means that you do not miss anything and you do it so that it touches all the bases…
I think you answered well. I go to a ‘praise and worship’ style church, but I love to visit Anglican or Catholic churches. The ritual is not empty to me. It’s very beautiful and spiritually rich. I think that’s the problem, really. It’s very rich, and very deep. If you are used to a plainer diet, it’s hard to digest. Your friend, if they come along again, may need more help and explanation of what is happening and why. Tell them what about it particularly speaks to you, and how it helps you meet with God. Don’t underestimate the power of personal testimony when it comes to these things. Your own experience is an excellent place to start, because it’s ‘real’. Your friend may never feel 100% at home in your church, but you can help dismantle the myth that the ritual is ‘empty’.
What you told him was correct. But its no great surprise to me (who spent 20 years in Baptist churches) that he doesn’t get it. Would you expect a Kindergarter to understand a graduate level college course? He’s not there yet.
What passes for worship in many Baptist and evangelical churches are programs and entertainment or turning the Church into a lecture hall. It lacks the heart and soul of true worship. In the modern Church’s efforts to be innovative and create a ‘worship style’ it has manufactured a worship in the pattern of man’s invention, void of meaning.
Many evangelical churches resemble more an informal meeting on somebody’s back porch, there is no sense of sacredness. Its emphasis is on a subjective “experience”.
IOW, its not about God, its about me.
The problem with basing worship on subjective experience is that I will always be looking for a bigger ‘experience’.
People who selfishly judge public worship by ‘I got nothing out it’ do not think of what they can put into it out of selflessness.
There is a respect and a dignity to liturgical worship that I do not see in evangelical/fundamentalist churches. Saying prayers and confessions out loud in unison has more meaning with the power of the Holy Spirit. It is not a mark of ‘dead worship’, it is a mark of living worship.
It is the Holy Spirit that gives life to worship. Liturgical worship contains no 45 minute sermon with jokes and ‘what I think’. It is a simple message fit nicely into the service. There is more public scripture reading in a liturgical church than in many 'Bible-believing’ churches.
The smoke and mirrors of the mega-churches burns out pretty quickly. God puts in each person a desire to worship, something. Even a non-Christian worships, it might not be God, but it’s worship nonetheless. One cannot worship with just the mind. One cannot worship by sitting in a pew staring. Liturgical worship feeds that desire.
I would explain to him that in the Old Testament, rituals were an essential part of religion. Apparently God wanted them to perform rituals. In the New Testament, God still preferred rituals and so He instituted the Mass along with the seven Sacraments which are all ritualistic.
A lot of this is pretty harsh, and IMO, incorrect.
Do you have personal experience, long-term, in Baptist churches? Do you personally know and love any Baptists?
I grew up Baptist (Conference), and many members of my family are still Baptist.
Now that I am Catholic, I have an even greater appreciation of the beautiful and meaningful worship services that I knew growing up.
These services led me to Jesus, not to “entertainment.” And Jesus led me to the Catholic Church.
No heart and soul? This is simply not true. I’ve been in many Baptist worship services where the Holy Spirit’s work was palpable–people crying, kneeling at the altar to repent of their sins, people praising the Lord with upraised hands, people going to others to apologize and ask forgiveness for some long-ago transgression, people taking off their watches and jewelry to give to the Lord for His work…
Self-centered? Perhaps in some cases, but please always remember that over the centuries and indeed, in our current era, many Baptists give their lives for the sake of Jesus in various missions because they love Him and are striving to serve Him only. Many Baptists in this country devote many of their waking hours to anonymous service in church, neighborhood, rescue missions, caring for the poor and ill, etc.
Please keep in mind that to most evangelical Protestants, including Baptists, “liturgy” or “ritual” is considered “a work of man,” and therefore not worshipful at all, in their view. If you point out that the Old Testament worship was liturgical, they will point out that Jesus changed the Old Covenant to a New Covenant, in which sacrifices are no longer necessary because He is now the Sacrifice that atones for our sins. Rather than using the Old Testament, I would suggest using the New Testament and pointing out passages in Acts in which it is obvious that there is an Order of Worship. But the Baptist will inform you that they believe in a God of order, and that their worship services DO have an “Order of Service.” So you’re kind of in a bind here trying to use the Bible to prove the correctness of Catholic liturgy.
The best way to persuade a Baptist or any evangelical Protestant of the validity of the Catholic faith is to live your life outside the Mass in righteousness and joy, and to love God and your neighbor in a vibrant way, not just with words, but with deeds. This is harder to do than apologetics, and it will take many years for most Baptists to come around, but in the end, it will work.
And just one more hint–if you drink alcohol, never ever get drunk or even joke about getting drunk, as this will slam the door and you will have a very hard time getting the Baptist to open that door even a crack. Some Baptists have relaxed their stance on alcohol consumption, but many are still complete teetotallers and find alcohol use as offensive as any other sin. Be careful in this.
I hope my comments are useful to the OP and others.
I think @CopticChristian is right that the first thing you should have done, and this is a global rule, is get clarification. So much of what we do is based on misunderstandings or incomplete knowledge. Getting your friend to express more fully what he meant would help you to address his specific concerns.
Others have pointed this out but understanding what is going on is very important to getting meaning out of the experience. In sports the more you understand the more you can appreciate. I’ve heard a lot of people complain that baseball is boring due to the lack of action. But the more you understand the subtleties the more you can appreciate the game.
Regarding the perceived emptiness I think a lot of that can be cured by having understanding of what is going on. But it is also important to realize that we don’t worship God to get a feeling. I think a lot of people have that expectation. One thing I’ve found being around some Baptists is they are on fire for the Lord in a way that I am not. I don’t have that same feeling they do. It can make you question whether you are a true believer. But I don’t think I’m lacking. I think there are just different personalities and I also think that there is a danger in basing your faith on strong emotions. A real test of faith is doing God’s will when you don’t feel like doing God’s will. A real act of love is being loving even when you don’t feel loving. It is easy to do things you are inclined to do by emotion.
Even though I have some appreciation for the enthusiastic attitude towards God I know that is not the only way to have faith and likely not even the best since it is far more temperamental and easily threatened. In fact I would say one of the reasons we have a marriage crisis in America is because marriage has become something based merely on a feeling. If marriage was based on a commitment to love regardless of feelings it would be much stronger and more stable. I think there is a great danger in applying the same approach to God that has done so much damage to marriage.