Stephen, I've been pondering this last statement of yours since we last spoke. Wasn't sure if I should respond, but the truth is I have a deep concern for your spiritual well being...A concern that you may or may not necessarily care for, I don't know. I considered not responding but I'm going with my gut and replying anyway and hopefully part of my honest prayer for you will come through...
I understand how you see our journeys as having started in opposite places, and then crossed, and that we both feel a sense of peace and freedom in our current paradigms. However, I would not be comfortable simply leaving it at that, as though it is a case of whatever works for us and wherever our journeys take us. In our freedom God allows us to forge our own paths...even when those paths lead onto rocky ground that makes it harder to discern the truth.
Why is this important to me? Because, while I have recently moved from an extremely open-ended and postmodern form of Christianity to 'The Most Traditional' form, this is not the only crossing I have made. I, like you, was first formed in a fundamentalist evangelical context, perhaps even more dogmatic and sectarian than your own.
My journey out of that constricting and judgmental environment was necessary and good. But when the pendulum swings it often swings too far...and I soon found myself embracing a form of Christianity so disfigured by human craftsmanship that I'm not sure how legitimate it is to call it Christianity in the truest sense.
Thankfully my evangelical background, and more importantly I believe, God's Spirit, caused me to swim uneasily in these new postmodern waters. Eventually I realised that I was giving up so much, that in the end my Christianity was nothing more than a kind of pluralism with Christian jargon - and plenty of other jargon as well.
The more I read about the history of Christianity the more I realized that I didn't actually understand the basis on which the Catholic Church makes her claims regarding things like, The Nature of the Church and her hierarchy, The Nature of Biblical translation and interpretation, the inability to maintain Christian unity without an infallible teaching office and a leading steward, who is the Pope.
I understand the desire to be free to forge your own path, explore the spiritual realm in the way you choose...and God really does give you that freedom...but from personal experience I know that without an authoritative teaching office and means of unity the Church has no real way of discerning truth and error, or making binding decisions for all Christians. Jesus established that authority and gave it to the Church for all time...I really believe you would benefit...not from returning to a fundamentalist protestantism...but to at least considering how Catholicism is different from Protestantism and how the freedom and peace I now have are very unlike the constricting influence of my former evangelicalism and far more freeing that the rudderless voyage of my postmodern pluralism - Perhaps this voyage of truth may even help the knot in your throat?
Perhaps my allowing your concerns to pass without reacting angrily, or defending myself from a position of utter weariness with continued concerns about my spiritual well being here at SP, will say more about my actual spiritual well being than any disagreement about the nature of divine inspiration. Perhaps not.
It may be my own fault for sharing so freely my kundalini issues. I may have to stop that. But it seems this recent concern stems from the aforementioned disagreement about our different understanding of scripture. Could it not just be we are different types of people, Jacques? There are lambs and then there is mutton. I am most certainly a little lamb; I am not mutton.
Wishing you well, Jacques.
Alas, sharing conviction is not without its' pitfalls.
I'm not actually calling your spiritual relationship with God into questions, nor really the way in which you choose to connect with Him. Thereby I'm also not saying you're going to hell. Neither am I saying that your relationship with God is fake, false or faulty.
What I'm suggesting is that postmodern Christianity, the kind I used to hold and the kind it seems (by your own descriptions of your faith) you hold, is not tenable as an historically grounded, authoritative expression of the Christian Revelation. It requires major departure from the 2000 year history of the Church. I'm not picking on you, I think all children of the Reformation are in the same boat - to varying degrees and I believe serious historical inquiry will reveal that, rather than sensational liberal inquiry as per the BBC and National Geographic.
To hold to such an absolute view of the truth is to rock the boat of those who don't hold to such....I could just keep quiet and pretend I don't believe what I do, but then that would grate pretty hard against the very thing I believe...could Paul simply pretend that he and his fellow Jews had contradictory but equally valid understandings of the future of the people of God and the coming of the Messiah. I know I sound like a bigot, judgmental and narrow-minded, not to mention arrogant, and pushy - oh and how about holier than thou comparing myself to the great Paul and all . But suggest what other option I have, based on my belief, a belief that is not simply grounded on intuition, though that is part of it, but on historical and theological grounds as well?
I think postmodern Christianity is set on a poor foundation. Yes, I'm responding to some of what you wrote regarding the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and the supposed oral tradition of Judaism...but this issue does not reside or originate in you, it forms part of a greater misunderstanding of historical Christianity which is fed by liberal and atheistic scholarship that seeks to undermine authentic biblical Christianity.
I'm glad you don't get angry with me, though of course you do defend yourself, and that in a charitable way, I wouldn't expect any different. Two years ago Pop Pop attacked my own brand of postmodernism and I too tried to defend myself in a charitable way. I try my best not to come across quite as aggressively as Pop Pop sometimes did, but I know that his intention was good - even if he did sometimes hurt my feelings or offend me.
And so, to reiterate, it is not your relationship with God that I am challenging you on, it is whether or not postmodern Christianity can truly lay claim to be a legitimate expression of the Historical Christian Religion. In the end there is only one Church, the Catholic or universal Church that Christ founded, even mainline protestants agree on that point, and all of us are a part of it to varying degrees...but what protestants forget is that the Catholic Church has Apostolic Succession which means that it has a living and visible hierarchy of leadership going back to Christ - we need to ask ourselves how well our brand of Christianity fits with that universal Church founded on Christ and the Apostles.
I'll stop now, cos unless you already believe what I've said I'm just reiterating my ecclesiastical snobbery - my concern for you comes across as pride and sadly this is not my intention.
May His Grace find you willing and make you able.
Fair dinkum, Jacques.
I'm not terribly interested in going down this road tbh. Life's too short, too full to get hung up on what's the perfect expression of the Christian religion. I'm happy where I am. And where I am also claims Apostolic Succession btw.
Ok, maybe just one retort, but not much more. It seems your entire argument is based on this claim:
My simple belief is that the church's relationship to that authority is contaminated, right from start. The fact that the church has committed so many horrors over the centuries testifies to that. Of course it has passed down wonderful truths like the Sacraments etc, but always, always there has been human motivation, intention, agenda, even corruption mixed in. I just don't believe the Holy Spirit inspired all the Councils, all the decisions about scripture, all the subsequent Papal or magisterial decrees. I think there was a lot of necessary human input, which has been my argument all along.
I confess my understanding of the inner workings of the Roman Church is faulty, but my apprehension of bullshit (pardon me) is not, and there has been too much bullshit for me to submit to its Authority. All the labels you throw around - post modernism, pluralism - mean nothing to me. I'm a poor man and Jesus is my Lord. Simples.
I utterly, utterly humble myself and become a little child in my Father's arms, surrendering to Him, to his still, small voice, not the Roman Catholic Church. I love aspects of Catholicism, but I have my thoughts, my experiences, and some of them are contradictory (even within myself). Kundalini does that to a man. So does the modern world. I live with contradiction, as someone eloquently put it. It's not a problem.
I also think this type of self-righteous drum banging is a major factor in why people don't go to church anymore. Pop and Shasha were fully paid up members of the Jeremiah fan club. You're a little kinder, Jacques, but it's incredibly off putting.
Ok I've said what I've said and I'll say no more.
Perhaps concern was the wrong word here. What I meant by concern is of course care and not worry. I care about the spiritual well-being of everybody in my life (virtual as well as physical). I would hope others have the same for me.
How terrible it would have been if everybody judged the early church on the example of Judas, who was a leading member. The Church does not claim to be sin free - the authority is protected by the Holy Spirit, human freedom remains and accounts for the sinfulness.
But I'm not even talking specifically about wickedness, Jacques. I'm talking about the understanding of the revelation, which just has to have human input. The nature of revelation is two way. Him who reveals and those who understand and act on the revelation. This receptive aspect is necessarily contaminated, because of our freedom, because we are imperfect, because of the limitations of culture and history. Having said that, I still think you can't discount a hugely political motivation in early church history.
And perhaps "spiritual well being" was the wrong expression. Maybe theological perspective may have been more accurate.
Stephen, correct me if I'm wrong here, but the Anglican church accepts all those doctrines, as do most of the mainline Protestant traditions. About the only one almost all non-Catholic traditions take issue with is the role of the pope as leader of the church (including the infallibility doctrine). But, yes, those teachings were "banged out" through crude human resources. How could it be otherwise? We are not a religion with a book that has been dictated by an angel, or is based on writings transcribed by an angel on golden tablets. Christian truth has come through the lived experience of the Christian community, which, from the first, includes admonishments from Paul about false teachers, scandals and the like. But, in the end, "God writes straight with crooked sticks." I rather like that thought.
Yes, but that doesn't preclude following a "liberal" or "post modern" theology...if that's what I'm doing.
Many a heretic in Anglicanism.
*should have said fully inspired or dictated.
I'm not sure what "liberal" or "post-modern" would mean, as those are labels that need to be qualified, but orthodoxy permits of a wide range of spiritualities and theologies. Sometimes, as Jacques has noted, things do drift too far so that the connection with core Christian teachings is tenuous, at best.
What do you have in mind when you refer to Anglicans who are "heretics"? I suspect we have them in all Christian denominations . . . e.g., lots of Pelagian Catholics out there.
I don't think I've strayed too far from core teaching, have I? Certainly not in regards to Trinity or Christ's divinity. The main disagreement here is about how we understand scripture and revelation, something which Jacques has made a big deal of.
Re. liberal and po-mo (and pluralism while we're at it), yes, I think I made that point when I said these terms mean nothing to me.
And as for Anglican heretics, I was being a little facetious, but someone like the old Bishop of York springs to mind, who made some strange comments about the resurrection and Christ's divinity a number of years ago. Then of course York Minster got struck with lightening and everybody said it was God's wrath on the wayward bishop .
That really happened? That incident would be enough to continue fueling that lightning-zap fear-of-the-Lord for another century or two.
It was after David Jenkins was consecrated Anglican Bishop of Durham in 1984:
"Three days after his consecration as bishop on 6 July 1984, York Minster was struck by lightning, resulting in a disastrous fire which some interpreted as a sign of divine wrath at Jenkins's appointment."
In 2012, as the Church of England synod met at the University of York to debate women bishops:
"Shortly after the houses voted to send the legislation forward, technicians said the University of York campus, which is hosting the Synod, was struck by lightning"
Yes, Derek, good, thanks...the Bishop of Durham, Dr David Jenkins. I had forgotten his name, and I think it was the virgin birth he questioned, rather than Christ's divinity.
That never happens to Catholic bishops or buildings . . .
Actually, there is a church in Baton Rouge, LA that was re-done in most expensive and luxurious fashion. The day before the grand-opening, the steeple was struck by lightning, causing a fire on the roof and setting things back a few months. After the repairs were made, and shortly before the second grand-opening, the same thing happened. That's when the airchair theologians really got going, claiming "wrath of God" and the like. The scientists got a word in as well, advising that lightning rods be put on the steeple and roof. No problem since then.
I can only vaguely remember it from the time. This is from a newspaper article:
Back in the 1960s, the Anglican Bishop of Woolwich shocked the Christian world by publishing a book titled "Honest to God," which in hindsight set the tone for the coming Anglican liberalism.
If you don't mind my asking, Stephen, how are the demographics of the Episcopal Church in Scotland? Any time I visit an Anglican church in Canada, I get the impression that entire congregation is quite advanced in years.
Mainly older folks. There is a membership in their 30s, 40s, but they don't attend regularly. Too busy I reckon. The problem lies in the younger group - late teens, 20s. Very low membership in that group. Not good for the future.
The Anglican Church prides itself on being super rational, but this emphasis can be a weakness, especially since our faith is supernatural. They need a good dose of mysticism.
Despite what I said above, it's not beyond the realms of possibility that I could become Catholic at some stage in my life, especially if the Anglican Church "loses it" all together or falls away somehow. Right now the nearby Episcopal church is just a very good church and I feel at home there.
Of course not
Over 10 years ago I entered a baptist seminary to study to become a baptist pastor, but what I found when I looked hard and deeply at the protestant church altered my course forever...
During my studies I was introduced to the Christian mystics (by a dear lecturer who ended up leaving the college to become Anglican), all belonging to the Catholic (and Orthodox) Church - I later wrote a paper on the need for more mysticism in the Protestant church.
Confused by the great schisms and divisions in the church I wrote another paper on Christian ecumenism and the need for Christian unity - again I found the Catholic church pioneering the effort.
Troubled by the narrow exclusivity (salvation by explicit confession of Christ only) of the Baptist soteriology, I took up a study of a more inclusive soteriology - and found again that the Catholic Church expressed my exact sentiments on the inclusivity of Salvation that stretches across religious and denominational lines;
Finally, through Shalomplace, my interest in Interfaith dialogue was rekindled from a Christian perspective, and I decided to explore the topic in another research paper - once more I found the Catholic Church at the forefront of the effort.
... and thus I ended my studies, seriously disillusioned with evangelical protestantism and on my way to the Emerging Church Movement and postmodern Christianity (I won't say any more about this part of the journey for now).
Sadly my formative stage as a Christian (before going to seminary) had been heavily influenced by anti-Catholic propaganda. Thus, in spite of all the good I discovered through my studies, I didn't ever consider the claims of Catholicism as as a whole. In fact the first time I encountered the more exclusive claims of the Catholic Church regarding things like the authority of the Pope and Magisterial office I was quite shocked. I was also more than happy for my non-Catholic friends to tell me that I should just forget about it since it couldn't possibly be built on credible information.
When I later explored Eastern Orthodoxy I fell deeply in love with all the Catholic elements of their theology and practice...and I really loved that I didn't have to submit to the Pope in order to fully receive all that the Orthodox had to offer.
But in the end it was that exact lack of ultimate authority that led me to reject the Orthodox claims. Orthodoxy is in crisis because they are unable to make binding and necessary decisions for the Orthodox in the modern world (for example Orthodoxy is seriously split over the Gregorian Calendar and cannot solve the problem since Orthodoxy has no central authority).
But even though I rejected the possibility of converting to Orthodoxy my Theology was still heavily biased towards the Orthodox claims regarding the Great Schism with the Catholic Church. It was Phil himself who challenged me on that bias, asking me to explore the history and see whether I could find concrete proof for the Orthodox arguments. I assumed I could...I was wrong.
As the great Cardinal John Henry Newman said, "To be deep in history is to cease being Protestant".
The more I read the Church Fathers the more I realized how completely Catholic they were. The Fathers expressed belief in every one of the doctrines and dogmas that the Protestant church later rejected, not to mention the Old Testament books that the Protestants removed from their canon.
In addition, it became clear that the Church was not instituted as a democracy (and as Peter says in his epistle, biblical interpretation is not a solitary sport), but was purposefully hierarchical and vested with very specific authority by Christ himself.
When the Church faced its' 1st, 2nd and 3rd major crises in the first 300 years of its' existence it didn't turn to biblical exegesis as the solution to the problem (the way an evangelical protestant would), but rather they turned to the authority of the Apostles, the authority of the Bishops, Apostolic Succession and the continuity of their teaching with that taught by all Catholic Churches everywhere. This bond of authoritative unity was the very thing Christ gave to the Church in Peter in order to build it on a rock that the gates of hades could not prevail against.
Once I understood how this authority kept the church united and doctrinally consistent with Christ and the apostles I had to face my own apprehension to submit to this authority.
As Jason Stellman, a Catholic convert from Presbyterianism, wrote, "I fought the Church, and the Church won"...
I love the way he ends his conversion story:
Very interesting, Jacques. Thanks for that!
Right now, we don't share the same focus. I'm not really interested in what's the right church, the historical church, the authoritative church. I have no desire to study history or doctrine in this way. I simply concentrate on my personal sanctity, my inner life. I think kundalini directs my focus a lot. Plus there are metaphysical anomalies (you know what they are ), and a more liberal social emphasis (again, you know). Being in an open, liberal church, which focuses on "one's own agreement with oneself" is what I need at the moment. I borrow from the Catholic Church. I believe her saints are all our saints, although most of them were devoted to their Mother Church. Much of pre-reformation history is a shared history anyway, and Anglicanism is still part of the Universal Church, not like those filthy Presbyterians or Baptists . It's sacramental, which is important to me. So for now...it's ok; in the future...who knows?
Yes, thanks for sharing so generously of your journey, Jacques. G. K. Chesterton is reputed to have said that "the Catholic Church is like a thick steak, a glass of red wine, and a good cigar." . . which tells us much about Chesterton, but also attests to the "earthiness" of Catholicism. I think we have kept the exoteric and esoteric in congruence, which is not an easy task. Push too hard on the exoteric side and you get dogmatism, moralism, and authoritarianism. Push too hard on the esoteric side and you get spiritual narcissism (what matters most is my experience) and ecclecticism. What keeps these together is a sacramental outlook -- that God manifests in and through creation . . . that creation is iconic . . . that the human body is the temple of the Spirit. . . that bread and wine consecrated by a priest becomes the Body and Blood of Christ. Catholicism has also strongly emphasized reason, self-knowledge and personal integrity in living the Christian life. Also, we do not pit faith against reason (e.g., the bible vs. science) the way other traditions sometimes do.
We have not always gotten these balances right in the short run, however, and that needs to be kept in mind. There are also "pendulum swings" within Catholicism, from progressive to traditionalist, for example, and these sometimes take decades to balance out. Indeed, there are many kinds of Catholicism out there. Mother Angelica's brand has little empathy with Richard Rohr's, and yet they are both Catholic. It's a very big roof that covers the Catholic tent.
Re. Scriptural interpretation based on Church authority vs. private interpretation, there is a middle ground where scripture is hammered out week by week in small community Bible Studies. I like these. Mine is good at any rate, and perhaps they're more in keeping with the ecclesiastical councils and the way they "hammered out" the doctrine of the church .
Thanks for taking time to read some of my journey guys.
Stephen, I hear you, you're not where I am at at the moment, and of course that is absolutely fine. I'll have to accept that you're a happy Anglican for the time being and you'll have to accept that I'm a passionately evangelizing Catholic
I honestly feel that the Catholic Church is the seed and beginning of the Pearl of Great Price - The Kingdom of Heaven. It is true that the Kingdom is more than the Church, but just as a seed is truly the Tree, so the Church is truly the Kingdom.
I honestly can't help holding this pearl up for others to see whenever I interact with them...it is just to precious to me to hide under a bushel. I know that this can sometimes rub people up the wrong way - and I pray that God helps me hold up the pearl without turning people off...but I guess I'll just have to learn as I go...because there is no way I can keep the pearl in my pocket until I learn how to show it to people without offending them...not really sure that will ever be completely possible anyway...but I'm open to the Spirit guiding me.
And just so you know, if you felt as strongly as I did that the Anglican Church was the seed and beginning of the Kingdom then I'd understand completely if you spouted constant praise in honour of your pearl...out of the heart the mouth speaks.
Stephen, I second your love of small weekly faith sharing groups, I love mine as well. But I don't share your sentiment that they are a valid 'middle ground' for Scriptural interpretation. The reason for my disputing your point is that in 500 years these small (and large) communities have failed to produce anything resembling a consensus on a large number of doctrinal and moral issues. If the Spirit will lead the Church into all Truth and the various small groups do not find themselves led into anything resembling agreement then I assume these small communities do not constitute the Church being provided for in this promise. If however we find a Church, existing for 2000 years, held together through divinely appointed authority, able to make definitive pronouncements on faith and morals, then perhaps here we have found a pearl of great price, a fulfillment of the promise of Christ to be with this Church until the end of the age, to give it the Spirit to lead it into all truth...I'm preaching again...but you get my point.
One last thing...I too am interested primarily in my own sanctity, but I find the help of the Church to be indispensable in my progress towards holiness.
I don't know, Jacques, this type of evangelising gives me the willies. And I worry about any huge body making moral "pronouncements" for everybody. Too much risk of control, not enough understanding of individual needs. It feels scary to have my morality prescribed. Too much power over the individual's immediate community from a centralised source has its dangers. I want to work through moral choices as I come to them. I'm sure the church can help with this without being heavy handed. Pope Francis seems to be striking a nice balance so far. There's hope.
But your "definitive pronouncements on faith and morals"? I run a mile...
Consensus isn't necessarily good. There's beauty in diversity, truth in contradiction.
Well then I must apologize, anything lacking in my evangelizing is due in totality to my inability to properly display the beauty of Catholicism and in no way should it be attributed to Catholics in general or to the Catholic Church.
I really believe however that your concerns are based, at least in part, on a misconstrued understanding of the Catholic Church and her teaching ministry. The Church does not dictate every inch of our spiritual lives, it does not try to conform everybody to the same exact mold. As Phil wrote above, there is plenty of diversity in Catholicism, just think about how different the Fransciscans are from the Jesuits for example. But even in this diversity there is a natural unity, a connection between the various part of the body.
Where I would disagree with you is that there is necessary contradiction in Christianity or in the Church. Where contradiction is found, the truth is not present. That is not to say that contradictions are always intentional or malicious, but I would say that where contradictions are found the truth has not yet been properly understood or assimilated. God is pure wisdom, eternal intelligence, there is no shadow within Him and contradiction is a shadow of sorts. There is light missing in a contradiction and while we now see through a glass darkly, then we will see face to face.
You know, I don't find it surprising that you worry about the Church making moral pronouncements for everybody, or that it feels scary to have your morality prescribed...this fear and concern is deeply imbedded in the human condition through original sin. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil symbolizes the desire of man for spiritual (including moral) autonomy. The eating of the fruit is the very act of asserting our own right to decide what is good and what is evil for ourselves.
I believe the fundamental problem with human beings is that we reject divine authority, both God's and the instruments of God's choosing. The parable of the Wicked Tenents (Mt 21:33-41) is a good example of the human attitude to God's authority. Why do the Pharisees reject Jesus, because they refused to submit to His authority, they preferred doing it their own way.
Imagine the horror of the Israelites in receiving the Law of Moses, that too must have made them "run a mile". I'm sure there were plenty of disciples looking for the exit when Jesus gave the Apostles the power to bind and loose (i.e. the right to decide doctrine, faith and morals) and that their authority extended even to forgiving, or not forgiving, the sins of the faithful.
Over the last two years as I've read, and re-read, the history of the Reformation, I am more and more convinced that one of the primary factors contributing to the success of the revolution was not individual spiritual agreement with the doctrines of the Reformers, but rather an understanding of the political and religious freedom that would accompany a break from the Papacy. The Reformation was successful because Christian Kings and Nobility liked the idea of spiritual and political autonomy. But this same autonomy was not initially granted to their subjects. They did not replace Papal authority with spiritual democracy, but rather ordinary citizens now had to obey the State Church rather than the Catholic Church...England and Anglicanism is such an obvious example. Even today the Anglican Church has a Political Head, the Queen of England, and it is unlawful for the Royalty of England to be Catholic as that would result in a Catholic Head of the Anglican Church.
But once the ball got rolling it was impossible to stop. In Germany the ideas of Martin Luther on Spiritual autonomy resulted in the Nobility cutting ties with Rome, but that is where they wanted the autonomy to stop i.e. with the power resting in them. Of course, what is good for one group, the nobility, must be good for all...and very soon you had the peasant revolt. But Luther and the Nobility were not inclined to follow the obvious conclusions of spiritual autonomy down to the man on the street and so they put down the revolt with violence. But the damage was already done and the Enlightenment, the various political revolutions of the last three centuries, and the eventual decline of Christianity throughout the world is a direct result of the tenants rejecting the Spiritual Authority of the Church.
You may not be interested in all this history and theology, and I know I haven't done justice in these few paragraphs to the complexity and scope of this subject, but perhaps I have at least opened the door a crack in explaining some of the issues involved.
Properly speaking there really can be only one Church, and oh how utterly arrogant it is to claim to be that Church - I know. But what is the alternative, that Christ came to give us disorder and chaos. That He died to leave us without any way to know the truth. If having the Holy Spirit was enough to lead us all to the truth, then we would all agree on what the truth is. The fact that we don't agree means that something is very wrong. I'm not speaking here about a lack of diversity...there is beauty in the different rites, orders and expressions of the Church, but I cannot agree that contradiction and lack of final authority is what God desired to leave us in as the Body of Christ on earth. If anything it was sin that broke the body of Christ as He hung on the Cross and it is that same sin that has broken His body the Church.
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