Countless times I have heard from brothers and sisters in Christ, “I just want to go back, worship and live like the early church did.” For a number of Protestant, or evangelicals, what this means is a move away from evangelicalism and into Catholicism or Orthodoxy, also known as Sacramentalism. Their impression is either of these two, Catholicism and Orthodoxy, give a more solid basis for the practice of the Christian faith familiar to the early church than what evangelicalism does. Their impression rests on faulty grounds. This is why Matthew Ferris’ work in Evangelicals Adrift serves as a corrective. It is informative and insightful. Its proper examination and critique of Sacramentalism assists both evangelicals who desire to live like the early church and those who seek to live on the foundation of Scripture.
Proper Examination: Scripture is the Grid
Evangelicals Adrift is clear the method of examination on Sacramentalism is Scripture. The author says, “I am not writing as ‘anti-Catholic’ or ‘anti-Orthodox,’ but rather as pro-Scripture” (Ferris 25). As each topic is highlighted (a list including church and authority, Scripture and authority, certainty of salvation, sacraments as vehicles of grace, Mary and the saints, and the matter of unity) the grid to run it through is not tradition but Scripture. There is not level authority taken from Scripture and tradition. The examination rests on the authority of God’s Word alone.
Proper Critique: Scripture is the Foundation
Sacramentalism does not live up to this erroneous view that it resembles the early church. The practices and life found within Catholicism and Orthodoxy are foreign to Scripture. When one observes Scripture for themselves, they see authority is in the gospel, not the church. That is to say, the test of authority is in what the Bible says, not what the church may say regardless of Scripture. Hermeneutics play an important role in this conversation but sadly Sacramentalism does not push for believers to personally engage the Bible (Ferris 114). If one studies Scripture, though, they will find that the sacraments as vehicles of grace and the emphasis on Mary and the saints find no Scriptural precedence. Even worse, it can be potentially blaspheming, believing “Mary is for devout Catholics what the Holy Spirit is for the devout Protestant” (Ferris 198). This is why laying Scripture as foundation is at task.
One has to appreciate Ferris’ honesty throughout the book too. He admits Protestantism has had its own challenges and problems (Ferris 24). Evangelicals may sometimes underprioritize the sacraments, but their correct response is not to arrive at the extreme of oversizing it (Ferris 160). He shares this as he writes to “evangelicals who are considering such a move toward sacramentalism” (Ferris 25). Sure, Protestantism has their disagreements and have many denominations but Catholicism and Orthodoxy are not as unified in their respected spheres as they may appear (see chapter 9). Evangelicals Adrift engages in these issues well and in describing what is a major issue and what is not.
If you desire to examine Sacramentalism through the lens of Scripture, then Evangelicals Adrift by Matthew Ferris is the book for you.
I received this book for free from Great Writing via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own and are my honest review of the book.