[personal profile] thecosmicdance
Warning: contains many photos.

It’s time to talk about the elephant in the room of religious media coverage. That elephant’s name is Thinking Conservative Evangelicals and Fundamentalists are the Same Thing. I have seen the terms repeatedly used as if they’re interchangeable, and they’re not. And that's kind of important.

Granted, I understand the confusion because lately it seems as if conservative Christians across the board are uniting against a perceived common enemy regardless of their own doctrinal quibbles. Conservative Christians right now in America would rather vote for Mitt Romney, who belongs to a religion they consider a cult and openly make vicious fun of, because he has conservative values, than vote for Obama, who belongs to the United Church of Christ, who don’t actually believe anything weird at all. Because he believes he represents all Americans, not just certain specific types of rich white Christian and is himself, black is a “liberal”.

Some people say “a fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about something”. This is not really a good enough definition, because fundamentalists themselves infuriate a lot of evangelicals, particularly those on the left. Fundamentalists certainly have hair trigger tempers and are oversensitive to the slightest criticism or hint of doctrinal deviance, but to say that they’re merely “evangelicals who are angry” misses the actual vast gulf that can sometimes exist between the two groups. Believe me, I have known plenty of nasty evangelicals who were still not fundamentalists.

But I could also describe it thusly: conservative evangelicals idealize the 1950s. Fundamentalists idealize the 1850s. If you take nothing else from this, if you don’t want to read any further, that’s the best summary of everything I’m about to say.

Before I go on to elaborate on the differences, I just wanted to explain something else that’s important.

Low Church Versus High Church
Christian worship style is broken up into two major types. Type one is called “High Church”, often derisively referred to as “smells and bells”. The clergy wear clerical collars at minimum, sometimes full cassocks, and a long full robe when in the pulpit. A couple to several children (depending on church size) serve as altar boys and girls (sometimes referred to as “acolytes”). The music involves choirs and pianos, usually performing music by various classical composers. The service is liturgical (much of it is prewritten, the same at every service or chosen for specific events on the calendar and memorized by the congregation) and involves incense.
Communion is offered at every single service, and the wine is usually alcoholic. You must be a member of their denomination in good standing to participate. While Sunday is still the big event, services are available multiple times during the week. Sermons are often short, the idea is to get people in and out in a certain amount of time, after all, people have lives and the priest has to do this service every.single.day even if only three people show up.
The architecture is frequently ornate, it’s meant to reflect the glory of God and Heaven, a relief from the misery of daily life as an illiterate medieval peasant.
Catholic and Orthodox churches are “high church” by default. There’s a lot more wiggle room for Protestants. Congregations belonging to denominations such as the Lutherans, Presbyterians or Anglicans may be either high or low depending on the preferences of the clergyperson and local community but truly new denominations formed after, say, the American Revolution, are almost always low church. We’ll get to why as best I understand it, later.

Low Church is much less formal. Worship services involve very little Call and Response or rote memorization. The musical repertoire tends to originate between plain 19th century hymns and exuberant modern choruses. Catholic music never makes an appearance unless it’s Christmas. The clergy wear basic business suits, without the clerical collar and many of them ridicule priests who wear robes of any kind (the odious Mark Driscoll calls Anglicanism “men in dresses preaching to grandmas”).
Photobucket (Mr. Driscoll models hip low church pastor fashion).
Incense is definitely not encouraged, ironically, people would label it “New Age”. Children either don’t help in the service at all or they’re taking on staff responsibilities no other type of church would entrust to a child, especially if the church is small and poor. In the denomination I grew up in, voting age was thirteen, and anyone older than thirteen could volunteer for any church role that didn’t require ordination.
Official church services are usually only held on Sundays- congregations may hold midweek prayer meetings, youth group meetings, movie nights, etc, but the pastor only preaches on Sundays. Communion is held only once a week, once a month, or only on special occasions. The common reasoning is that they don’t want to “cheapen” the experience of the Lord’s Supper by doing it too often. The church I grew up in basically only did it at Easter, I think. Since alcohol isn’t allowed on church grounds, the “wine” is grape juice. Anyone may participate in Communion, it's entirely on the honor system.
Sermons take up more than half the service sometimes, they go on for as long as the pastor feels like talking. He’s not just a humble facilitator of worship, it’s his big weekly show and he’s got an essentially captive audience made up of a lot of people afraid to tell him to stop talking because they “don’t want to hinder the spirit of God speaking through him”. Low church style ministers really are often better public speakers than high church ministers/priests because the sermon is the centerpiece of the show and there’s no liturgy to fall back on. Some of them, certain types, spend more time training in effective public speaking than they do in reading history and theology.
The good ones put on a charismatic smoke’n mirrors show that obscures how little they actually know about anything , while bad low church pastors just scream in your face. The lower the church, the more the pastor yells.
Low church buildings are simple and spare in design. In North America especially, they eschew stained glass, gilt and statues. These are all seen as wasteful and vain and temptations for people to care about things other than God. The white clapboard country church full of bare wooden pews in pine is the original classic.
In the 1970s and 80s, the fashion was for churches that looked like ski lodges or schools.

Modern churches tend to end up resembling hotel conference centers . That is, if they’re not being held in stadiums or converted theaters or basements or elementary school gyms or parking lots.
Fundamentalists, Pentecostals and evangelicals are all extremely low church oriented. This is very important to remember. And they view anything “high church” with derision and suspicion.
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