Must the Reformation Wars Continue? (Part Nine)

image020I begin this post by sharing, as openly as I know how, that I have seriously considered God’s call on my life in terms of the very pressing questions that I’ve engaged with in this series. I have earnestly considered my relationship with Christ’s Church on earth, including both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. I think everyone who takes the visible church seriously should at least remain open to these questions. This is especially true if you have encountered all three of the great traditions personally as I have done through my charism that has led me to work for unity. Those who have struggled with these ecclesial questions, and many of you have who are my faithful readers, know that I regard your own journey with utmost respect. There are readers here who have become Catholic and still others who have become Orthodox. Your “conversion” is something that I have celebrated with you as my friend if we know one another. (This stance confuses people who are resolutely opposed to every side but their own. For me this is really about friendship and the love of Christ.) Rather than  assume that we are all members of “the right church” we should be open. For me, after continually asking the hard questions, and praying often about this, I am more sure than ever that I cannot join the Catholic Church. My reasons are simple – I cannot affirm some of her core doctrines. But this does not mean that I “hate” the Catholic Church, or even that I “hate” her basic beliefs even though I disagree strongly with several of them. I “hate” no Christian church! I do not even “hate” non-Christians or non-Christian religions. How could I “hate” any person, or what they believe in their hearts, in the light of what our Lord teaches me about “love” for my neighbor? I hate only what destroys the body and souls of men and women but I am never certain that I know precisely what this is when it comes to the private conscience. I simply do not think “hate” has any role in the Spirit’s work. What I am called to do is “to speak the truth in love.”

Catholic beliefs, in particular, have helped me grow deeper in my faith in a number of important ways. This is why my not becoming a Catholic does not mean that I cannot understand why others are drawn to commune with her and to receive the Mass. I think I get that point. And I profoundly respect it. I find beauty and power in Catholicism, something that is missing in entertainment-driven evangelicalism. Such evangelicalism is a form of faith that is built on personality more than upon a growing trust in Jesus and Christian tradition. I have found little or no power for my own soul in this kind of evangelicalism. But the alternative for me is not Catholicism. (The major issues for me might change but I doubt that I will live long enough to see this happen; e.g. that the Catholic Church will reform several of its core dogmas that remain central to her understanding; e.g. Mary, the Mass and papal authority are all such dogmas for my conscience.)

There are two kinds of critics and two kinds of friends that I’ve made over the last twenty-five years. On one side there are those evangelicals who believe I have denied the faith, if not in doctrine at least in my heart and affections. They either misunderstand me or simply disagree with me. (The latter stance is a good one, if to disagree means you rightly understand me and just do not agree.) Then there are those Catholics, and generally these Catholics are ex-Protestants, who think that I lack the grace and courage to convert. They seem to believe that I should do the right thing and become Catholic just like they did. On the other side there are two kinds of friends. These include a growing number of Catholics who love me where I am. They accept me as their brother and welcome me in every way possible into a deep and growing friendship. They never bring up conversion knowing that in doing so they would be interfering with the Holy Spirit’s work. Along with them, of course, there are multitudes of Protestants who love and respect me as I am. Add to this some Orthodox friends as well, and you get the picture. Both Protestant mainline Christian ministers and evangelical ministers welcome me. (The issue of how to resolve their respective differences remains a huge one thus the evangelicals tend to respond more negatively than the mainline ministers do.) We all realize that we cannot share a common eucharist at this time in church history but we can share the bonds of Christ’s love and grow in his grace better together than apart. My conviction is simple really: What unites us is far greater than what divides us. This does not mean that we do not realize we still have some significant differences in how we should live and confess our faith in Christ.

The ACT3 Network board represents this breadth. We represent the three great Christian traditions. Since our work is one of missional-ecumenism, not that of a church gathered around the eucharist, we can serve Christ’s mission in a unique way and work together in mutual respect with the different communions. Our board members must receive Christian baptism, believe in the earliest creeds and have an open profession of personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. For our particular kind of work, a unique John 17 witness, this confession is enough. This is what C. S. Lewis called “mere Christianity.” Thus Catholic, Orthodox, mainline Protestant and evangelical friends can all contribute to our ACT3 and find a safe place here for dialogue and discipleship. All of these respective churches, and in various and divergent ways, welcome me to serve them in the renewal of Christ’s mission and, in particular, in his prayer for our visible unity. This network has allowed me the greatest joy imaginable, that of sharing Christ’s love as broadly as I can among all of Christ’s people. By this I have tasted the goodness of the Lord anew. I am a blessed man. Because of this rather unique journey I have learned to flee the “Reformation Wars” which I participated in decades ago. I do not think all the issues have been decided. I do not believe we should deny truth. I do believe unity is a central truth and I dare not pursue it was widely as faith in Christ is confessed in the context I’ve outlined above.

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