November 6, 2009

High Church vs. Low Church

Andy Rowell's post over at Out of Ur describes how 'high church' and 'low church' streams of the Christians faith have much to learn from each other. Perhaps a few working definitions are in order:

High Church: Rowell describes these as "liturgical" churches who "emphasize historical and global continuity in their worship services," including Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran churches. According to Rowell, "Liturgical clergy see their role as being a faithful steward of historic Christianity. This consists especially of serving the Lord’s Supper and preaching."

Low Church: Rowell describes these as the "free" churches who are characterized by "the relative autonomy of individual congregations," including Baptist, Pentecostal and non-denominational churches. According to Rowell, "Free church pastors tend to see their role as equipping their congregations for evangelism and social justice."

(In case you're wondering, Methodists and Presbyterians fall somewhere in between.)

Personally, my own Christian journey has been shaped by an ecumenical denominational background predominately in the "low church" evangelical world, but I'm also very much drawn to the idea of weekly Sacraments, liturgy, sacred spaces and contemplative practices found in the high-church tradition. Every time I visit a liturgical church, I'm stuck by how thoughtful and intentional everything is.

Sometimes I wonder how my faith would be different if I had been raised on creeds and catechisms instead of DC Talk and Breakaway magazine. While I would love to see more liturgy, written prayers and reverence for the Great Tradition incorporated into our local church's worship gatherings, much of it is still a second language to me.

It's as if I've become a long-distance admirer of the sport of cricket from watching it on TV, but at the end of the day my natural sport is baseball. I may be intrigued by the oval-shaped field, wickets and bowlers (instead of a diamond, home plate and pitchers), but I'm in no way qualified to teach the fundamentals of a game for which I barely understand the rules.

Perhaps my low church, pragmatic evangelical DNA is to blame for my desire to see some sort of convergence that blends the best of both worlds.

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