I am a former Catholic–one of the fallen away, to my Catholic friends. And I go to an evangelical church with some who are also former Catholics.
But today, many attend Catholic and Orthodox churches who once called evangelical churches home.
Many American Christians have switched from one Christian tradition to another. It’s important to look at why. It’s also important to consider our respective responses when someone leaves.
The recent conversion of Hank Hanegraaff from evangelicalism to Greek Orthodoxy provides a public glimpse of what is now an everyday occurrence in America.
The new congregation welcomes the newcomer with open arms. The former congregation may work to conceal the sting of loss. Sometimes, they don’t work so hard at it. Still, others try to take an objective look at the reasons some depart.
Ed Stetzer presents an evangelical response to Hanegraaff’s conversion in Christianity Today, citing reasons evangelicals so often find a new home within liturgical traditions. Stetzer notes a fourfold search: For deeper intellectualism, a deeper connection to historical Church roots, authoritative truth (not what some see as subjective interpretation), and a desire for tradition.
Moving to a different tradition is not a one-way street. Thomas Resse reacts to Catholics leaving Rome for evangelicalism. He cites a Pew study that shows one of every 10 Americans is a former Catholic.
About half who have left Catholicism remain unaffiliated with any other denomination.
Some leave Catholicism (and every other denomination) because they cease to believe (or never did believe) the basic tenets of faith. They have rejected essential beliefs–God’s existence, His sovereignty, His righteousness.
The truth of His absolute morality.
An increasing number of those who hold liberal religious and political beliefs, according to Ross Douthat (and others), end up rejecting religious faith. Hence, a great increase in the numbers of Americans with no faith at all.
But the other half of Catholics who walk away from that denomination become Protestants.
Surprisingly, their decision to leave Catholicism often does not involve disagreement with Church teaching.
According to Reese, those who leave Catholicism switch pews simply because they believe their needs were not met where they were before.
Simply put, many change denominations to find a deep connection with God.
Deeper intellectualism, church roots, authoritative truth, tradition, and having needs met are ways to connect to God–to dwell in relationship with Jesus Christ.
Faithful Christians go and remain where that connection runs deep.
Yet some of us will linger over how we are right and others are so very, very wrong while much of the world (the Western world, at least) yawns, rolls over, and goes back to sleep on Sunday morning.
Many Christians today seek the pews they believe reside nearest to the early Church.
But Christianity then as now is a life to be lived in relationship with God as we love brothers and sisters who don’t always do things the way we do them.
Christian ideals used to flow in the mainstream of American life. That is true no longer.
We are now swimming against a tide of secularism and relative morality.
And it would seem wise to swim in accord with those who sit in different pews.