Ecclesial Consumerism, ReduxApr 20th, 2011 | By Andrew Preslar | Category: Blog Posts
Carl Trueman is encouraged by reports that a huge number of people have left the Catholic Church. When I saw this, I assumed that the data to which he refers shows that these Catholics had all come to embrace the Protestant doctrine of justification, which is supposed to be the sine qua non of the true Church. But this is not stated in the poll data. The article to which Trueman links reports that, according to a recent poll, half of these Catholics become religiously unaffiliated, while half become Protestant. As for the Protestant half, whether they go mainline or evangelical, the article states:
The principal reasons given by people who leave the church to become Protestant are that their “spiritual needs were not being met” in the Catholic church (71 percent) and they “found a religion they like more” (70 percent). Eighty-one percent of respondents say they joined their new church because they enjoy the religious service and style of worship of their new faith.
In other words, the Catholic church has failed to deliver what people consider fundamental products of religion: spiritual sustenance and a good worship service. And before conservatives blame the new liturgy, only 11 percent of those leaving complained that Catholicism had drifted too far from traditional practices such as the Latin Mass.
In other words, these former Catholics are ecclesial consumerists.
A subset of these Catholics-turned-Protestant become evangelicals. For these, disagreement with Catholic teaching and a desire for a more “literal” approach to the Bible ranked third and fourth behind style of worship and “spiritual needs” as reasons for leaving the Catholic Church. An underlying assumption that is apparently shared by these former Catholics, the Catholic who wrote the article, and those who are encouraged by this phenomenon, is that corporate Christian worship is primarily about me, my felt needs, my music preferences, my opinions.
By way of counter-acting the departures, the author recommended that: “Programs and liturgies that cater to their needs must take precedence over the complaints of fuddy-duddies and rubrical purists.” Millions of Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, would agree. The author’s advice, for all intents and purposes, is that Catholic parishes need to become more like Protestant communities: made to order. But there are already thousands of Protestant denominations and hundreds of thousands of independent churches serving up tailor-made doctrine and worship. And if you can’t find one you like (or with which you agree), then you can just start your own church or denomination. This is the Protestant Way. If you are an ecclesial consumerist, why would you settle for an imperfect Catholic knock-off, cumbered with church hierarchy based upon Apostolic Succession, of the original ecclesial Burger King?
For my part, I am encouraged by the fact that the Catholic Church has traditionally perceived no dichotomy between God-centered worship and meeting the needs of her members, which is why the Sacrifice of the Mass has always been and remains the heart of Catholic liturgy. What could possibly fulfill a person’s spiritual needs more than the Eucharist? By the same token, because Jesus Christ is really and objectively present in the Eucharist, this sacrifice is the most perfect form of worship that we can offer up to God. The Church is not insensitive to the fact that many of her children have walked away from the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Catholics are making a concerted effort to encourage these precious brothers and sisters to come home. This appeal is not based on felt needs or personal perferences, but upon the idea that the Catholic Church is one family, with one faith and sacramental life, enduring for two millennia, centered upon and founded by Christ.