Misguided Ecumenism 30 years later: Peter Kreeft says the Catholic Church Must Become More Protestant

hippy photo

Photo< by Pierre-Olivier

When I was in grade school, there was a movement in the parish where my Catholic school was that happened alongside the push for “RENEW” — the “Gym” Mass. A young hippy priest, Fr. Tom, came in and decided that us kids didn’t like pews and pipe organs and traditional hymns, so they’d have Mass with guitars, hippy music, and “relevant” sermons instead. I went once. I think I was only interested in seeing what was happening. Even as a child, I hated the droning hymns of GIA and Gather. I hated the guitar even more, especially because it lacked the mystery and majesty of a pipe organ that made the very air alive. In my estimation, the gym Mass was merely a method of trying to “protestantinize” the services, and match the new bible study groups and self-guided disasters of RENEW & Co.

In hindsight, the only thing the bible studies and “small faith” groups did was pull people away from forty hours devotions, sodalities, and prayer cenacles, after which the people who went often met at a local diner for breakfast, coffee, or other social time. Instead, they were supposed to be social during the prayer or bible study. One thing the old guard understood, pray together at Church in front of Our Lord and be together, taking that grace out into the world, at the diner. They knew how to be social. These new hippies with their guitars and bibles underarm did not. It’s no surprise they failed to see social life in the old guard because they were misfits who insisted to persist in their misfit ways. As readers of the Bellarmine Forum know, they’ve been assisted by our Amercian hierarchy.

One of the most persistent voices in the middle of this social movement was that “we need to be community” and gather into small faith groups, etc. etal. ad nauseam. The purported reasoning was that the evangelicals were growing and that was where America was in the modern life, and the new church needs to be there. Of course, making a generation or two of totally ignorant Catholics assisted this motion. By showing that fewer and fewer people were participating in the groups lead by the misfits, they’d claim that the old Church could not compete in this new society.

That was 30 years ago. Over the decades, I have seen it over and over again. Meanwhile, the general liturgy in the United States has devolved into some sort of contemporary worship that seems to be contemporary only to the fantasyland of hippies.

It has yielded nothing but a couple of lost generations.

So, I tend to resent when someone suggests that the Church needs to become more protestant. Nevertheless, that’s precisely what a blog said Peter Kreeft has said. Kreeft is an evangelical convert.  Albert Little, also an evangelical convert, waxes poetic on all the great advice he sees in Kreeft’s suggestion. He goes on and on as if there was some great new thing, with analysis:

Evangelical Protestantism, says Kreeft, has a serious market cornered on relationship-building, discipleship, and evangelization. That is, Evangelical churches the world over are great at making people feel welcome (like they’re part of something bigger—because they are), teaching them how to become “little Jesus’s”, and equipping them to go out into the world and act accordingly. Through successful programs of Bible Study, Sunday School, youth groups, and enriching fellowship, Evangelical churches build up a community that feels like a community. They’re accessible and welcoming. Through this kind of dedication and devotion to study and fellowship, Evangelicals are equipped to live amongst the world and witness to Christ—to live a life oriented to Christ and make it known. And the job of being Christ to our fellow sojourners is taken seriously, for the most part. The Evangelical church is, fundamentally, missionary in its orientation. And it shows: it’s growing, or at least shrinking less quickly than other Christian orientations. Finally, Evangelicals do worship music right. While both Kreeft and I, I’m sure, would never argue that Catholic worship music needs to be dressed up and contemporized there’s something to be said for the distinctive enthusiasm of Evangelical worship. It isn’t, I don’t think, about contemporary music but rather the devotion and expression of the Christian tradition. I can enthusiastically belt out Gregorian chant, an 1980′s Catholic hymn, or a contemporary Hillsongs tune with the same level of authentic devotion in my heart—it just seems to be a lot more present amongst the Evangelical churches.

See Little’s post: Why the Catholic Church Must Become More Protestant

I have to immediately take umbrage that Evangelicals “Do music right.”   I’m sorry, maybe for a campfire. A campfire in fantasyland. Color me nonplussed against the rich tradition of hymns, chant, and a pipe organ.

We’ve seen this. In fact, we’ve lived it. The Catholic Church is where it is today in part because it kept making this argument all the way back to the mess of the 70s, and further experiments in the 80’s with “Gym Masses,” et al.

What I find most strange, while at the same time most telling about Little’s discussion is that he somehow thinks there is a “Fullness” in evangelical music. I nearly spit my coffee out in laughter. There is no exchanging fullness between evangelical “Worship” and the Mass of all ages. What I do realize from his post, however, is just how ignorant of this his parish has left him. That’s the sad thing here. Here is a convert that has not yet seen what the Church has.

That he is ignorant of the history of making the Catholic Mass “more protestant”, “more welcoming”, “more music oriented” is also sad. We’ve done what he suggests. The problem is NOT that the Catholic Church needs more potlucks, more activity, more socialization. No, that’s not what she needs at all.  She needs people who believe that Jesus Christ is alive and well and present in the sacraments. We need Catholics that understand that actual grace is delivered through the ordinary means of grace. Miracles are to be expected as the norm.

The “fullness” has been gutted from the faith of the ordinary pew sitter by making it more evangelical, more protestant. Much like the fullness of artwork, pipe organs, chanted Mass (plain chant, not polyphony), and dumb stuff like the removal of altar rails, Communion in the hand, and glass bowls replacing confessionals. The Catholic Church in America has been wrecked, but the answer is not more of the same. The answer is a return to the fullness Catholics already possess in tradition.

I’m kind of sick of hearing during my entire life that some other churches do it better. No they don’t. Sure, they might have been able to swindle some emotional movements, and sweep a neopagan culture in to pass the basket, but don’t insult me by telling me that using half the bible and a bad translation of it, strumming a guitar to bad contemporary music, and holding hands up in the air is something superior to the Sacraments. It’s just not true.

Next you’ll be telling me that the Mass would get more people if they did the hokey pokey, or had clowns…   Oh wait, they already tried that.  Seems the evangelicals are trying it now too:


We need less of that, even the evangelicals need less of that, and they need the fullness of the sacraments, too. Lord have mercy on us!

This article, Misguided Ecumenism 30 years later: Peter Kreeft says the Catholic Church Must Become More Protestant is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.

John B. Manos

John B. Manos, Esq. is an attorney and chemical engineer. He has a dog, Fyo, and likes photography, astronomy, and dusty old books published by Benziger Brothers. He is the President of the Bellarmine Forum.
  • Leslie Saunders says:

    Protestantism is our American heritage. Martin Luther, in spite of his anti semitism, and other failings, was one of the bravest people in history.
    He stood up to the evil and corruption done in Jesus’ name, and spit it out.
    There is nothing very American about following a Pope, and declaring him infallible. All any of us need do is call upon Jesus, accept him in our hearts, and go forward. It doesn’t take churches, statutes, men in garments, or any other theatrics. Jesus loves all of us, and is not impressed with credentials, memberships, etc. He sees our hearts, and how much we sincerely follow him.
    Catholics don’t have to BE Protestants. Just follow Jesus and ditch the frippery.

    • lillian porter says:

      Here is an analyses of anti-Catholic prejudice from Word on Fire by (now) BIshop Robert Barron.
      Catholics have been following the Pope since Jesus apponted Peter “to feed my sheep” and told “when ypu turn back strengthen your brothers”. The Bible, which was compiled by the Church and not endorsed until 400 years after Jesus’ death, points out the primacy of Peter. Other Gospel writers usually put his name first or mentioned Peter “and those who were with him”. Peter usually was the spokesman to Jesus. He figured in many dramatic scenes such as the walk on water. Tax collectors came to him and asked if his Master paid taxes. Then Peter told Jesus who told him to catch a fish and find a coin in his mouth. He was the first Apostle to address the crowds. He was the instrument of the first healing of the man lame from birth. He was the instrument of the first punishment – of Ananias and Sapphira. He instigated the election of Matthias (Barsabbas) to replace Judas Iscariot. He gave an important speech at Pentecost. He led 3000 converts to be baptised. He did the first excommunication of Simon the Magician. He was prominent at the first Council of Jerusalem where he stated “through MY mouth the Gentiles would hear the
      Gospel and believe”. Peter received the revelation that Gentiles were to be baptized and accepted.
      The Pope is the Bishop of Rome. He and the other BIshops form the teaching body of the Church. They teach only on Faith and Morals. All are sinners. Popes have spiritual advisors and often go to confession weekly. Popes are not infallible. Only when they teach “ex cathedra” – that is from the Chair of St. Peter, is the teaching considered infallible. Popes can not change revealed Truth, they can only amplify what is known.
      That we don’t need churches is not revealed Truth. John the Apostle when exiled on Patmos is given a message for the seven churches. Seven is an important # rlating to God and his fullness. The Church was founded by Jesus. Catholics do not worship statues. Not everyone in the world has been able to read a Bible for themselves because of illiteracy. The Word has to be proclaimed. That occurs 24/7, in Catholic Churches all over the planet – three scriptures every day of the week, four every Sunday and more on
      Easter. . Since many cannot go home and read the Bible, they learn in other ways from the construction of their church buildings, from the light shining through stained glass windows, from statues and from hearing the lives of the Saints. (Saints too are ordinary saints like you – the reason they are elevated is because they have led lives that are useful for our edification.)
      Here is an outline of the Mass with accompanying Biblical texts:

  • susanna says:

    I confess I listen to protestant preachers daily, and they help me at times, though I would never ever leave Catholicism. What is wrong with being welcomed at church? You sure won’t be welcomed by anyone at my Latin Mass. A parishoner even gets disgruntled if the priest says “good morning” before Mass. Lord, may we quit fault-finding and fighting.

    Martin Luther thought he could make a better Bible – what astonishing pride! The sin of Lucifer. Who would follow him?

  • Dynphna says:

    If I wanted to be a protestant I’d be one. Frankly I’m repulsed by the cultish closeness that my Jehovah’s witness relative has to live with or the constant drama, gossip and complete lack of privacy that my Baptist relatives have in their church. All that coziness and faux friendliness is a control method.

  • lillian porter says:

    When I reentered the Church after nearly 30 years absence – from the age of eight I was raised by an atheist Daddy, in (mostly) agnostic England – it was as a result of a direct conversion by The Word, through his written Word, a Bible given to me by evangelical friends. Those friends were worried, when I chose to go to the Church I once knew, to be among people like those I used to know – Catholics who were my neighbors and extended family members. Those Catholics were warm, welcoming, nurturing (John 13: 34-35).
    Though my Protestant friends sent me articles against Catholicism, I knew they were wrong in their opinion. That, and anti-Catholic posters daubed on windows, drove me toward Catholicism. You would never have heard such criticisms from Catholics about THEM. The posters stated that the Church was “the whore of Babylon” and The Pope was “the antichrist”. Hate was and is unattractive.
    It has not been easy to understand Catholicism, though I attended RCIA for a time, listened to a lot of CD’s, watched apologetics videos and conversion stories on You Tube. I would welcome regular Sunday Schools. I have missed my old ‘Church of the Good Shepherd’ which had thriving charismatic as well as traditional communities. We were 2700 families, by the time I left, six years ago. I miss those simple songs – the Jesus medleys, the seven-fold Alleluyas, singing John Chapter 6 (I am the Bread of Life) and John Michael Talbot’s ‘Magnificat’. I learned most scripture through song.
    Though beautiful, the ancient worship songs are not so easy for old and young ears to pick up. The lyrics and melodies are complicated. Many of us know the first verse and then the congregation’s voices fade out. Recently I sat outside Guiding Light Church in Birmingham and listened to an awesome African American choir but could not join in the singing. Catholic churches are being led by soprano Cantors more and more. Very hard to follow. “Singing is praying twice”. Very little prayer is happening when the congregation is fumbling to remember and keep up with the words. I miss that depth of prayer. We are not there to be entertained but to be one communion in every form of prayer.
    I belonged to a small Christian community in my old Church. We practiced ‘Lectio Divina’ using the Gospel for the following Sunday. We quickly decided not to call ourselves “SMALL FAITH communities”! Base communities, cell communities, small Christian communities were pioneered in Latin America but especially in Africa, where the Church grew 181% under Pope John Paul II. The Holy Spirit was raining on us though Kreeft disses this period of growth. I probably would not have stayed in the Church if it had not then spoken recognizable language to me after my 30 year sabbatical. I suspect a lot of reverts and converts would probably agree with me

  • Michael Jones says:

    Great article – so true. I highly recommend the book, Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church
    by Peter Kwasniewski. This wonderful book will address the problems and offers clear solutions to the decades-long crisis the Church has sustained. And the solutions have nothing to do with “getting more Protestant.”

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