Note: Except where I specify, I’m using “Catholic” as a generic, catchall term for Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Old Catholics, Anglicans who want to claim it, etc. I know there are manifold differences between the groups. Likewise, I’m using a generic “Evangelical” in its most commonly understood meaning, not Reformed Presbyterians who label themselves Evangelicals.
Also note: I know Catholics don’t own the entire market as far as liturgy is concerned, and that there are plenty of liturgical Protestants. I’m just making a point.

Science fiction and comedy writer Douglas Adams once wrote that it is amazing how one’s perspective can shift by taking just one step to the left. As one who has taken more than a couple of steps to the left (or right, depending on how you define things, I suppose), I’ve been thinking about this lately.

Evangelicals and Catholics tend to view each other in reductionist terms — you know the usual, “Their worship is just routine,” “They love rock bands in church,” etc. But a lot of this can be addressed by taking a step to the left, so to speak.

In Catholic worship, the emphasis is on what the people of God do corporately, while Evangelicism emphasizes pietism. In other words, one focuses more on what can be done as a group, while the other focuses on what can be done by the individual. While I’m not making a judgment call on which is better, liturgy or “praise and worship” (ok, I am — the answer to the test question is liturgy), I am saying how you view these things requires perspective. Someone who has been told their entire life that the only thing that really matters is how they personally relate to God is going to want an environment that makes them feel like they are relating to something, and music — which everyone grants is, in some form,  a legitimate worship device — is the perfect tool for that. All of this is going to color how they see worship that is different from that to which they are used.

Meanwhile, Catholics need to explain that, while the emphasis may appear to be about everyone worshipping in the same way, the idea is to pattern worship after the heavenly worship and to — as individuals and as the Church — join in with all the saints and angels in that heavenly worship. Nevermind the fact that liturgy helps curb bizarre Evangelical happenings like people barking like dogs during worship.

Another area where this can be useful is in how churches are — for lack of better terms — designed and decorated.

For years, I heard again and again that the reason Evangelicals have bare crosses rather than crucifixes in their churches is because Jesus is no longer on the cross. Fair enough.
One day, however, I was in a Roman Catholic church, and I heard an elderly lady remark that she had recently had a discussion with her priest about how Catholics were the only ones who showed Jesus on the cross, and she was truly puzzled by it. I know that this particular issue is tied into the Catholic church’s Eucharistic theology, but the hanging crucifix is their statement that Christ’s sacrifice was and is a present reality. Though Evangelicals may disagree with the Eucharistic conclusions, most would agree with that statement.

I am not saying that there are not differences between the groups that should be glossed over. Far from it. But I am saying that it would be helpful to walk over to where they are standing and realize that — from their angle — this is how things appear. It may not be the best angle, but this is their perception; once that’s established, asking what they see is next.

So, going back to what Douglas Adams said, maybe it’s best if we all take a step to the left and then take our fingers out of our ears.

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