Going to Church, Slightly Illuminated


Thanks to all of you who responded to yesterday’s blog question. Since I spent the entire day moving ten cubic yards of mulch, it wasn’t until this afternoon that I finally read your comments and those from Frank’s post.

The purpose of this exercise was to see if there is a particular difference in what drives Catholics and Protestants to corporate worship (such insight is of interest to me since Frank and I are contributing to a book which addresses conversion across the Catholic/Protestant divide). Based on your answers, our hypothesis was confirmed: the chief reason why most Evangelicals attend worship is to hear God’s Word preached while most Catholics go to receive the Eucharist. For instance, here is how one Catholic put it:

I go to Mass every Sunday to be connected to the Heavenly Liturgy. I always think of the Mass as a wormhole connecting Heaven and Earth, and through that wormhole Jesus physically comes to us.

Even though my view of the Mass is obviously different from a Catholic position, I nevertheless like how this reader uses the wormhole metaphor. It’s a vivid way to describe the reality of sin. Accordingly, the way Jesus is believed to “physically come to us,” from a Catholic point of view, is in the consecrated host. For evangelicals, however, the most common way that we anticipate the coming of Jesus is in the preaching of Scripture.  My purpose here is not to argue against the Catholic teaching of a transubstantiated presence, but to simply point out that this difference of doctrine is profoundly practical, influencing both groups on the basic level of what draws us to worship on Sunday. It is, among other reasons, why Catholics will often decline an invitation to join you for a worship service at your Protestant church.  Such insight can be enormously helpful when we talk with our Catholic friends and loved ones about church, clarifying where some lines of similarity and difference fall, helping us to communicate the gospel more effectively.

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