January 17, 2021

Shane Rosenthal on Sunday Worship

We’ll feature two posts today from Shane Rosenthal’s article, “Abandoning Evangelicalism?” in Modern Reformation magazine.

This is highly recommended reading for our iMonk community. Rosenthal tells his story of being raised by a single mother who had left Methodism and adopted Judaism when she married. Shane converted to Christ at age 18 and began attending Calvary Chapel. Rosenthal’s descriptions of his time there shine a clear light on the evangelical megachurch experience. In particular, he became concerned about the lack of depth and “discipling” in the church community.

In the remainder of the post, Shane Rosenthal tells how he had a “second conversion” through participating in a Reformed Episcopal Church and has since settled in an Orthodox Presbyterian congregation. However, he and his wife decided to continue to visit other churches so that their children might be aware of other traditions and practices. The experiences of evangelical churches in particular points out an alarming lack of depth, reverence, Christ and gospel-centered worship and teaching, and pastoral contact.

In the first post this morning, I present a paragraph in which Rosenthal summarizes what they have learned about worship and what they seek when they gather with the church on Sundays. This is good material for meditation and discussion on this Lord’s Day.

In my own thinking, some put too much weight on the way they feel in worship. As for me and my family, we look for Christ and his story of redemption. We look for this story in both Word and Sacrament. We arrive each Sunday not to immerse ourselves in a transcendent experience here and now, but we long to be transported to an amazing event that happened then. There, at the cross, we’re confronted with our own sin and God’s astonishing rescue. Here we worship our Savior in a community of saints with mutual accountability, shepherded by a pastor who knows our names, prays for us, and delivers Christ to us week after week, month after month, year after year.

Talk about this, and this afternoon, we’ll look at another quote from Shane Rosenthal.


  1. Ah, for those innocent days when kids could call their band “The Altar Boys” and not have it mean something dirty!

    I’m sure Rosenthal is right about his megachurch (there are endless horror stories), but mainline churches have analogous problems. For instance, it is by no means guaranteed that the priest or minister will remember who you are, or that people will notice or care if you’re absent. It really depends on the church (and a lot of other individual details such as the size of the congregation, how well you fit their age group, etc.). If the megachurch looks like a movie theater, then the mainline church might have the ambiance of a funeral parlor. I doubt if mainline pastors or priests could get away with hawking their books during the service, but denominational political controversies might serve as a roughly equivalent drawback. Incidentally, I think he’s also being unfair to Reform Judaism–even if his parents were not very devout, deeper forms of Jewish spirituality are not difficult to find.

  2. Maybe just semantics but the transcendent ‘experience’ I seek is exactly what Shane cites. In word and sacrament the redeeming power of the cross is both ‘then’ and ‘here and now’.

    As I said, maybe just semantics…

    • Margaret Catherine says

      Maybe, but that was my thought as well. What happened then is made present now.

    • The cross that was then, is put into concrete form in the here and now by 1) returning to your baptism and 2) receiving the body and blood in His Supper.

      I do believe I know where Shane was going with it though. We don’t have to have any certain feelings in these sacraments. God is actually at work for us, in His external Word (including the law, absolution, preaching, and sacraments).

      We don’t have to feel saved…to know that we are saved.

      • Amen… and thank God for that! If I had to trust my feelings I’d be going to hell for sure. Thank God for the objective word that comes to us externally. This is good news you can feel, and taste.

  3. Isaac (except when I'm Obed) says

    It’s interesting to note that in being part of the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), Rosenthal has decidedly NOT technically been in Mainline Protestant denominations, but rather “Evangelical” offshoots from Mainline Protestant denominations who left their parent ecclesiastical bodies due to objecting to the social and theological direction in which their parent ecclesiastical bodies were heading. The REC left the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America in 1873, largely because they thought PECUSA was moving in too “Romish” of a direction. The OPC left the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America in 1930 largely because they thought PCUSA was moving in too “modernist” a direction. Both the REC and OPC were founded to be a return to their traditions’ Reformation roots.

    In both the REC and OPC, congregations tend to be rather small (especially by Megachurch standards, but also by typical Mainline standards) and rather conservative (both socially and theologically). Some might use the term “fundamentalist,” but I don’t think that’d be fair in the modern usage of the term, though it would be accurate in the historical sense of the term.

    All of that is to say that Rosenthal is NOT trying to advocate Mainline Protestantism over Evangelical Protestantism. Rather, it seems that he’s advocating Evangelicalism that is better rooted and more healthy in its expression.

    • +1. OPC and REC are the true keepers of the flame, as far as reformation orthopraxy is concerned. Both groups have a ton to offer the disgruntled evangelical who isn’t ready to give up their devotion to scriptural authority. I believe what groups like these have to offer is a significantly more healthy spirituality without requiring a preliminary political paradigm pivoting. Though I do wish these conservative groups would be a tad less fractional; There’s a reason these denominations have remained pitifully small and therefore awfully hard to find/join. They could use a good dose of ecumenicism. REC is going the right way partnering with ACNA, but OPC could really stand more dialogue on unity with PCA, ARP, and RPC. IMO, these four groups have no legitimate reason to remain separate, but could be a powerful force combined.

    • Josh in FW says

      Thanks for the background.

  4. sarahmorgan says

    I live in an isolated town where moral therapeutic deism has conquered the churches, worship services are all about what the people in the church have done (and yes, everyone must feel good about it) instead of what God has done, and the most fervent churchgoers — church leaders, too — are so preoccupied with achieving their own personal best-spiritual-life-now that they don’t have a clue how to communicate the wonder of the Gospel to anyone else, much less to any of the number of hurting people in this town who occasionally wander into their churches desperately looking for something better than their current situation. It’s sad that I can’t remember the last time I heard the Gospel communicated clearly in a church here.

    I should say that I can deal a bit better with a church whose worship services are more about its people than its God as long as the people are enthusiastic about making sure *everyone* is included (which would include making sure everyone knows the Gospel, even if they have to communicate it in their non-Sunday time). When this isn’t the case, though, the whole worship service projects more of an “us vs. them” vibe, and one leaves feeling more like a permanent outsider instead of a redeemed sinner.

    (If you live in a great town with wonderful, Gospel-proclaiming, maturely-led churches, pray for those of us who aren’t in that situation. There are more of us than you might think.)

  5. David Cornwell says

    As to the discussions above about mainline, megachurch,, fundamentalist, etc. it seems to me that Rosenthal isn’t really talking about any of them, but as to a type of church that does the things that he thinks are important, which he describes as: “Here we worship our Savior in a community of saints with mutual accountability, shepherded by a pastor who knows our names, prays for us, and delivers Christ to us week after week, month after month, year after year.”

    Churches of many theological positions can either do this in a good way or fail totally.

  6. Jeff the Baptist says

    I can identify with Shane and Jim in my own personal story. I am a member of a rather large (for the town I live in) Southern Baptist church whose theology I must say I concur with, though I am less of a fundamentalist than most who attend. That being said, I appreciate the sermons from the Sr. Pastor who has been there for many years. However, the music, along with what I would call “the show”, can be a bit depressing at times. I don’t mean to be critical but I would like to see some simple (yet profound) attempts at worship. It seems, at least in my area, that you have to pick either a contemporary megachurch setting or an old-fashioned southern gospel setting (if you attend a Baptist church). Surely, somewhere, there is a happy medium for those of us who are ‘pretty Baptist’ but yet want to be less ‘happy-clappy’ or, as the article mentions, not so ‘chummy’ with God.

    Great article – great post.

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