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The rise of the evangelicals

By Fr. Wilson (articles ) | Oct 16, 2003

One of the reasons I follow this story about the Anglican crisis with such interest is that it is the story of the 'rise of the Evangelicals,' which personally I never expected to see.

In the religious and political landscape of our country, the Evangelicals have been a factor in public awareness at least since the 1980s -- but not in mainstream Protestantism and Anglicanism in our country. The mainstream denominations -- Episcopalianism, Presbyterianism, Methodism, etc. -- were deeply influenced by liberalism for decades as far as the denominational leadership went. And to us Northeasteners, that was the face of those churches: not until I started preaching missions in the South and Southwest did I see how conservative local congregations of these churches could be (we Yankees always make that mistake, judging the whole country by our experience. But, undeniably, the mainstream churches were governed for a generation or more by a liberal agenda).

In the Episcopal Church, it was always said that evangelicals got thwacked in the 1880s and thereafter, mostly decamping to the Reformed Episcopal Churc (a new evangelical body they set up), or to other evangelical bodies. To find the evangelical wing of the Episcopal Church rising up and kicking butt for Jesus (I really don't know how else to put it!) is amazing.

It's heartening, too. Surprising things are happening in evangelicalism. Go to, the Intervarsity Press website, and you'll find an evangelical Protestant group dedicated not just to sharing the Scriptures, but to recovering the ancient Fathers of the Church. Their "Ancient Christian Commentaries on Scripture" series publishes a volume devoted to each book of Scripture with commentary from the early Fathers. The series is introduced by a little paperback on reading the Fathers which is, frankly, a gem.

For forty years the ecumenical dialogues have been carried on, often with partners who, even while dialoguing, continued to diverge more widely from us. Wouldn't it be exciting if we were entering a new ecumenical age, in which we Catholics became more discriminating and realistic in our dialoguing, as a realignment of orthodox believers begins across denominational lines -- so that we seek out believing, faithful Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans with whom to speak, instead of this lifeless shuffling of paper between two bureaucracies.

It would be wonderful if, after all these years, the Ecumenical Movement were now unexpectedly to begin to bear fruit!

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  • Posted by: - Oct. 16, 2003 4:34 PM ET USA

    John: You are so right. Consider: Luther suffering after-effects of being so scandalized on visit to Rome. Utterly frustrated in efforts to bring reform. Enraged at tactics used against him, to shut him up. Fearful of being another Jan Hus, murdered by thugs hired by churchmen. So Luther DID use "intemperate" language: whore of Babylon, anti-Christ ! Do we finally understand why, how this happened ? Or will the block-head leadership continue in dream-land ? Probably.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Oct. 16, 2003 2:59 PM ET USA

    And perhaps, Pseudo, our Catholic hypocrisy will go pouring out. "To whom much is given, much will be required." The words of Our Lord. We make a big deal out of "Ex Cathedra" and claim "victory" whenever we get anyone to "conform" to Catholic teaching, but I think down through the centuries we Catholics would have to admit that for all of the "perfect" teaching that has been given to us there has been very little in the way of real fruit. Life-style converts. Mere words are empty.

  • Posted by: Pseudodionysius - Oct. 16, 2003 10:22 AM ET USA

    The Venerable Newman is working; if Evangelical Protestants start reading the early Greek Fathers, the floodgates may open and they will come pouring in. Read Cardinal Ratzinger's Christian Brotherhood from Ignatius, with a great intro by Scott Hahn. Written in the 60's. Marvelous. Moving. Magnanimous.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Oct. 16, 2003 8:55 AM ET USA

    Dear Priests, Glad you have taken notice of the genuine vitality of the protestant evangelical movement, but they have been alive and kicking for quite some time. As far as the Ecumenical Movement is concerned, I believe that it is a bit pompous to take the view that our chief goal with regard to them (evangelicals) is to "change" them into Catholics. Reconciliation is a double-edged sword. Now that we have been both backed into the same corner, mutual repentance is only reasonable.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 16, 2003 3:54 AM ET USA

    Keep it up. Maybe you will be heard. I said the same things you now say in an article published in THE LIVING CHURCH some 30 years ago. Editor Carol Simcox [RIP] fully agreed with me.

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