It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way

Why do evangelicals become Romanists, Eastern Orthodox, or Anglo-Catholics?

I understand my dissatisfied evangelical friends. For my money it is Geneva, Heidelberg, or Edinburgh you want. Before you make your trip to Rome, Constantinople, or Pusey House give us a visit first. Please do not assume that you already know the Reformed faith, that you’ve already “been there, done that.” You probably haven’t.


Why do evangelicals become Romanists, Eastern Orthodox, or Anglo-Catholics, i.e., Anglicans who identify more with Rome than with the historic Protestant Anglican confession (e.g., the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Anglican Catechism)? Al Mohler reflected recently on a Wall Street Journal story on two brothers, twins, who grew up Southern Baptist but who left the SBC. One became Romanist and the other Anglican. Baptist News has a story on this (which is helpful since the WSJ story is behind a paywall) in which Mohler is quoted as saying that the WSJ articles is a

judgment upon all those who missed the opportunity and failed in the responsibility to ground these young boys as they were then in the Christian faith, in the truth and the beauty of evangelical Christian doctrine, in the theological principles that based upon long biblical consideration and the long argument of the church have meant the differences between the Roman Catholic Church and evangelical Christianity — the differences between the understanding of a Scripture-centered Christianity and one that is centered in the sacraments, as is the Roman Catholic system, and at least much of Anglicanism.

When we consider the question of evangelicals who become Eastern Orthodox, Romanist, or Anglo-Catholic there is more to the story. I first saw this phenomenon first-hand when I taught at Wheaton College (1993–95), where I met young people who came from Baptistic evangelicalism but who were enamored of Eastern Orthodoxy or Anglo-Catholicism. Some of it seemed to be a way of rebelling against parents. Some of it, however, seemed to be a reaction to what the students perceived to be an aesthetically sterile liturgy—every congregation has a liturgy. The question is whether a congregation has a biblical liturgy or some other. When I was among the Southern Baptists (1976–79) we certainly had a liturgy. We sang revival songs for a while. There were prayers. There was a fiery sermon which concluded with more revival hymns and an altar call. There was a very deliberate and consistent, structured, pattern of ostensible spontaneity. Mohler is quoted as saying, in effect, that if the twins had been better taught as Southern Baptists they would not have wandered.

I left my SBC, however, in search of answers to my questions about the books of Romans and Ephesians. I understand that in Founders Movement congregations that those books and the doctrine of grace therein is better taught but I was also searching for something else. I did not know then exactly what it was but realized later that it was some sense of genuine connection to the historic Christian church. As an evangelical I had the sense that the Christian faith came to me from the Scriptures but that the evangelical understanding of Scripture and the evangelical piety and practice to which I was introduced was disconnected from the broader Christian tradition. The sketchy picture of church history and the broader church suggested a narrative like this: the apostles anticipated evangelical theology, piety, and practice but it was lost shortly after and recovered in the 19th century. Church history consisted of a doughnut hole.

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