The Times of London reports in today’s edition (www.timesonline.co.uk) that proposals to reunite Anglicans with the Roman Catholic Church are to be published later this year. Senior bishops of both churches are involved in these proposals and have written a 42-page statement through an internal commission of both churches. The statement urges exploration. Catholic bishops, according to The Times, are preparing a formal response.
The issue that presently divides the worldwide Anglican communion is gay ordination. This issue reflects a long downhill slide in the Western church that has led toward radical rejection of both biblical and historical authority. There is a deep longing among many conservative Anglicans for some form of churchly authority that can stop this awful slide.
There are 78 million Anglicans worldwide and over one billion Catholics. The Anglican Church’s credibility is being undermined in a world that many believe, and I include myself, needs a strong witness to historical Christian unity. This new report comes from the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, begin in 2000 by Archbishop George Carey, himself an evangelical Anglican. Working with Carey was Cardinal Edward Cassidy, the head of the Vatican’s Council for Christian Unity at that time. Both men were seriously engaged in ecumenical discussions with evangelicals during their years of service.
This new document admits that there is “imperfect communion” between the two churches presently but it also says there is enough common ground to make this new “call for action.” In considering the primacy of the Pope the document suggests that this could be a potential value for renewed unity since the Protestant position offers no obvious way to solve these vexing issues of moral compromise. Anglicans are urged to pray for the Pope during intercessionary prayers in the liturgy and Catholics are urged to pray publicly for the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is a step that most should be willing take in good conscience in today’s moral and spiritual climate.
But, the question persists: “Would Anglicans be willing to submit to the Pope?” It is true the Anglican Church was formed under the authority of a secular king, who ditched his wife and wanted the church’s support for his actions. But it is also true that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, in God’s gracious providence, had a different vision and it was his vision that came to fruition in due time. He saw a spiritually renewed church, submitted to the authority of Scripture alone, devoted to reading the Holy Scriptures in both public and private life, committed to daily prayers and to regular sacraments. This is the core of healthy and true Anglicanism, i.e., Thomas Cranmer’s vision of the church as built around his Prayer Book and his Protestant vision of authority.
If Anglicanism accepts the papacy’s authority it will be required to assent to the infallible dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church, which include both the immaculate conception and the bodily assumption of Mary, doctrines strongly rejected by Protestants and Eastern Orthodox Christians as extra-biblical.
Solving the issue of gay ordination is an issue that entails a double-edged sword. Rome might allow married Anglican priests, as it already has in some who have joined the Roman Catholic Church, but it would never allow women priests. The Christian Church is, in a truly Protestant view of things, about freedom within the Holy Spirit’s ministry without a hierarchy that leads to one final human voice over the whole.
The Gene Robinson consecration will finally destroy the Episcopal Church in the United States. It is only a matter of time, maybe a decade or two, maybe a century, but its vitality will be gone in due time. The solution of rejoining Rome in its present state, with its extra-biblical dogmas, as much as I applaud real ecumenical efforts, will never work for serious evangelicals. There are still a good number of them in the Anglican Church, in fact they appear to be in the majority in the worldwide Anglican communion.
Many conservative Catholics who commented on The Times Web site noted that their Church was founded by Peter and the Anglican Church was founded by a secular king. They simplistically argued that only way to reformation is to “come home.” One Anglican responded by saying “The Queen is the governor of my church and that is the way it is going to stay.” I rather doubt that this vision will last in the long run too, for entirely different reasons. In this case radical conservatives on both sides are likely to be proven wrong. But real compromise is not possible either if the evangelicals are to remain faithful to their truly held Anglican beliefs and the Catholics to their faith.
The sad state of the Anglican Church should grieve all who truly love Christ’s kingdom, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. The extra-biblical doctrinal additions of the Roman Catholic Church cannot be affirmed at the end of every communion service by conscientious Protestant evangelicals. It just will not happen. While I applaud these discussion I suggest we are a long way from meaningful union. You can’t run until you can walk, you can’t walk until you can first crawl, and serious discussion about these matters is just now at the crawling stage. I expect some kind of informal Catholic and evangelical dialogue to continue in the coming years but even the majority of Anglicans are unlikely to go along with reunion with Rome under the papacy as we now have it. For my Catholic friends, I would remind you that John Paul II actually opened the door to a discussion about what it would take for the papacy to cease to be a stumbling block to ecumenism. I would suggest this discussion will have to precede others and this will likely take years unless the Spirit does something rather remarkable. Meanwhile, we must pray for one another and retain our own faith in good conscience. Giving away biblical doctrinal distinctions is not an option but this is precisely why the gay ordination debate is so vexing to those Protestant groups that have already officially surrendered to an anti-biblical stance.
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Where did you get the idea that the dogmas concerning the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary are extra biblical? Certainly, the Catholics do not believe the doctrines are contrary to the Bible nor do they believe that any Protestant of any stature is capable of standing in judgment of the Catholic Church. So, now we have your opinion and the teaching office of the Church – positions you know are irreconcilable. Yet, you go about visiting Catholic institutions and even posturing to hold “ecumenical dialogue” with Catholics. Why not conserve your energy and be frank to yourself about these showmanship displays. Your position in this article seems clear to me – you do not foresee a possible coming together of Protestants and Catholics. Why in the world you write more about Rome on this blog than any other stuff, including all of Protestantism, is beyond me.
I guess you make it clear what you think about me and my motives. Sorry I offended you but my conscience is captive to what God has revealed to me in Holy Scripture. I long for the healing of ancient and modern divisions and work every single day against them. These doctrines of Rome do divide us but it does not make me anti-Catholic, insincere, or a showman in any sense of the word.
I would honestly suggest you read your own words and ask simply: “Do my words reflect the love of Christ or are they my a reflection of my Catholic passion and zeal that spills over against a brother I sincerely disagree with?” Ecumenism is of many sorts, formal and informal. I am not engaged in much formal ecumenical dialogue, if any, but in terms of my true friends I have many who are Catholics and are my brothers and sisters that I engage in active friendship with. None of these would respond as you do to my words, but would rather admit we grieve over our disagreements and still seek God as his people. Do you have such friendships with people like me Dozie? It would very likely do your soul much good to humbly listen to people you do not think are in the right church, or who hold to the faith that you so ardently believe, but who nonetheless are neither heretics nor your enemies, but rather friends in the gospel of Christ. Our beloved brother Benedict XVI has a far more charitable attitude about people just like me than you manifest in your response.
I have prayed for you this morning and hope you will do the same for me. May God make of us both earnest followers of the Lamb who love deeply and sincerely. I humbly ask you to pray that for me Dozie.
I would like to thank you for your article. I believe that we have a long walk ahead of us as Anglicans but that real unity is a real choice for us all. The real question is not wheither we will or should defend our distinctives but wheither we are still pleasing to our Lord. If we are serious we must recognise that we have sinned against our Lord and His high priestly prayer that we be one as He and the Father is one, that the world might believe…..
The central issues are not Papal authority or women priesthood, much less OUR INTERPRETATION of Solo Fede or the role of Tradition in a teaching magisterium, but rather the blatant failure of the western Church to live a reconcilled life together and to conduct an effective mission in their society. I am an anglican priest who loves his tradition and who also respects and appreciates the strengths and qualities of the Roman Catholic Church. I personally believe we will find a solution when we actually WANT ONE! The rigid positions espoused are dated at best. Postmodernist society renders both reformation and medievial scholastic theology irrevelent. We should not define ourselves by our “NON-Romaness” or by our “Romaness” rather by our common faith, common baptism, common human experience of grace & mercy, common sacramental life, common historical roots, common repentance for 400 years of obstinate division in the face of divine command to unite and serve together the living God. Paul in 1 Cor.3:1…. calls CARNAL those who take identity from person & faction. We have no ground in tradition or scripture for selfseeking immaturity or rebellion. Here in europe the masses go to hell while we posture and debate who is the greatest! Lord help us but isn’t it time we grew up. Christianity is not our instution, but rather His future Bride. Isn’t it time we cleansed our hearts and minds before Him and became “Friends of the Bridegroom” again?
I can relate to Dozie’s reaction (from a Protestant perspective however). Such discussions can and do elicit strong emotional responses. My intitial exposure to any ecumenical discussion was quite negative. I now realize much of my reaction was based in fear; fear that perhaps my own convictions were not so convicting and that they had not made me an effective vessel for God’s will.
It seems as though this issue involves the old tension between being faithful to the truth as we sincerely know it and the love that we are commanded to reflect in our lives.
I’m sure I’ll never know as much about the bigger debate as Dr. Armstrong or Fr. O’Flaherty. But one thing I do know:
My humble submission to God can allow me to “live a reconcilled life together and to conduct an effective mission” to the world that God puts in my path. I’ll let God decide on the definition of “effective”.
The hurting person God brings to me does not care how much I disagree with RC or any other group. He only wants to know if I have something real and effective for his life.
On further reading I may have mistaken Dozie’s background. My apologies if that is the case.
Where do you find the common faith? For example, I believe in the “Immaculate Conception” and the “Assumption” to be part of the faith (which no Catholic can deny without making a shipwreck of his/her faith), but the other guy denies them and still claims to have the same faith with me. No. We do not have the same sacraments; and this is not just me talking. Anglicans for example do not have valid “ordained ministry”. It is very easy to say we have “common faith, common baptism, common human experience of grace & mercy, common sacramental life, common historical roots”, etc, but you are not Catholic and I am not Anglican. We have seen sufficient reason to divide. An Anglican would not knowingly be admitted to Communion in a Catholic Church because Catholics and Anglicans do not believe the same things. Is this not common knowledge? Why would anyone want to dismiss the differences with an appeal to some new kind of theology? Is this mentality not exactly what is wrong with the West – to go against that which common sense and the entire human patrimony prohibit and to do so as a sign of courage and audaciousness?
In any case, I am not so much against ecumenism as much as I am opposed to the kumbaya type ecumenism that says “whatever you believe, you are fine”. The only ecumenism that makes sense is the ecumenism of return (in one shape or the other) to the one fold.
The West, and in particular, Protestantism, has been dangerous to the Christian faith. As a Catholic, my faith is not arrived at by my trying to figure God out (where would I begin to figure). My faith, including faith in the Word of God, was passed on to me and I accept all of it on the authority of the Church only. The Church tells me she is trustworthy, and I believe. Now, the Church says that Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary are dogmas that I must believe and here comes Ms. X, relying on her own authority and reasoning ability, telling me that the Church is wrong. First of all, Ms. X must establish greater and convincing credibility than that enjoyed by the Church before he gets my hearing. Then Mrs. Z tells me that it really does not matter what the Church tells me, that all that matters is that we have a common faith in a yet to be defined ideology.
You wonder why the world is in a mess; look to this kind of mentality. Men, beginning notably with Martin, claimed that the Church was irrelevant and replaceable; that they could invent their own “church” and liberate the world from the Church – from Rome. If Martin could rebel against the Church, why not this or that other man or woman? This is what is sending the masses to hell in Europe. The Church has become utterly irrelevant – Protestantism in this sense has succeeded. Men and women have been liberated from the Church. In another sense, Christianity as defined by Protestantism is failed project and Europe is a testimony to this fact. But Europe is only the beginning. The false sense of freedom that make men stand in judgment over the Church is the same sense that is turning men and women the other way – away from the Church. Where do you draw the line?
>>My humble submission to God can allow me to “live a reconcilled life together and to conduct an effective mission” to the world that God puts in my path>>
A Catholic would interpret the above as listening attentively to the voice of the Church founded by Christ and living as the same Church proposes. There are many discordant voices (outside of Catholicism) out there and how anyone knows which one has the voice of God is beyond me. For me, I have pitched my tent with that Church founded in Rome by the blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul.
I appreciate the honesty and clarity of Dozie’s last post. There are certainly real differences that will continue to divide.
Just for the record John stated: “Giving away biblical doctrinal distinctions is not an option…”
One of the dividing differences will involve which “biblical doctrinal distinctions” are optional and which are not. And many, if not most, Protestants and Roman Catholics (although perhaps not Roman Catholic to Dozie) will to some degree determine which distinctives are important and how to interpret them.
I’m guessing Dozie will see this as a confirmation of his assessment of the Protestant movement (and perhaps some aspects of the the Roman Catholic church).
Thanks to John for a (another) thought provoking post.
Dozie, you know as well as I do that you are being faithful to your Catholic beliefs in what you say but you should also know that I am not advocating anything like what you are seeing in my words. You have not read me carefully at all, but rather read me simply as being “outside the church.” Vatican II, and the last four popes have offered a different version of these matters. I urge you to read Cardinal Kasper and Cardinal Cassidy and especially Benedict XVI on these things. Yes, they would say I am outside the holy catholic church but then they would also say I am a brother in Christ and somehow, someway, in fellowship with Him and thus with you. The fellowhsip is broken externally but there is more to our fellowship than the externals, as important as they are. This is my major point and one consistently made in good faith by Catholics and Evangelicals who are committed to ecumenism.
At this time Rome has no place for unity without us coming back. We can’t come back in the present state of things. This is our struggle. But we are obliged to love one another as brothers and to continue to pursue how we can seek to pray and fulfill John 17.
Catholics have a unity in the magsiterium I respect but they are not of one mind anymore than Protestants. I have taught Catholics who are devout in their practice but deny many tenets of their faith yet they take Mass regularly. Reformation is needed in all our churches, not just our Protestant ones. The world is a mess, the church is divided and I am committed to this pursuit in good faith, not for showmanship. If you knew me you would likely find you could have more “real fellowship” with me than with Christ denying Cahtolics who doubt the resurrection, question their church openly, and defile their bodies sexually and otherwise.
I am simply advocating what C. S. Lewis called “mere Christianity” without saying we give up anything in the process. This has been around long before me so you should at least recognize that the Spirit works in ways that your own church sees as a mystery, not just in the approved channels. I respect the same and thus my many faithful Catholic friends remain my brothers and sisters, dearly loved.
When I go to Catholic seminaries, monasteries, and Masses that I visit, as you have noted in your first response, everyone knows that I do not take the Mass or barge in as a rude guest. And, I would add, I am treated wonderfully. More time than not what evolves is a beautiful fellowship that ends in real prayer and sharing in God’s gifts outside the sacramental life of our churches. One Catholic apostolic order invited me last year to an audience with Benedict XVI, which sadly I could not attend. I had given my word to teach a seminary class that I could not reject at the last minute. This same order asked me to lead a discussion on the gospel of Christ and laid their hands on me in prayer. These beautiful things can be done, short of full agreement.
You can say we evangelicals do not have a valid ministry, or valid sacraments, but serious ecumenists on the Catholic side are increasingly entering into concordats that challenge your way of thinking.
Will the Anglicans go back? I doubt it as I noted in my blog. But if they do I will not throw stones or attack motives. If they don’t you should show Christian love for your brothers even if they are “separated.” Your own church calls us “separated brothers, ” not “separated” people.
I wish you every blessing as you worship Christ and seek to be faithful to him as he had led you. The world desperately needs us to stop the “war of words” and to get on with loving Christ, one another, and the lost. Surely we can do that in our divided state.
Father O’Flaherty has given us all a wonderful and subversively provocative prophetic word. It should make us all a little nervous but it should also make us humble about all we are discussing here. Thanks for sharing your insights and challenges. I would love to sit down and explore this with you. Such a blog allows a tiny bit of that to happen when we respond in Christian love with a desire for right faith and practice.
I just want to express my respect for your zeal for the Roman Catholic Church. However, having said this, I also believe you demonstrate a somewhat prideful and un-Christlike spirit in your response to Dr. Armstrong. I too am a Roman Catholic, having returned to our Church after over 20 years away. I have been a very devout Evangelical Protestant for about 13 of those years, and spent the past 2 years on a difficult but very rewarding Spiritual journey that led to my final return to the Roman Catholic Church a little over a year ago. I became aquainted with Dr. Armstrong in the fall of 99′ and he has become a true friend who loves me like a brother and has significantly influenced my thinking and understanding of the Christian faith and the whole Christian Tradition; including Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant-Evangelical. Indirectly John’s influence and friendship assisted me on my journey back to my Roman Catholic roots. I have learned many lessons on this journey and continue to learn many more, and often the hard way! Now I truly believe and accept everything the Roman Catholic Church teaches as “infallible dogma”. This does not mean, however, that I fully understand all of it. Also, just as Church teaching has matured and developed over the centuries (as per Cardinal Newman) I believe the Church will continue to grow in her own understanding of Her dogmas and how it affects the life of the Church. Dr. Armstrong is absolutely correct in stating that the documents from Vatican II and the perspectives and convictions of the past 3 Popes plus our current one, are much more truly ecumenical while remaining fully orthodox in their theology. The RCC takes the words of Jesus about how we love and treat one another both in the Body of Christ as well as in the world around us very seriously. We know we are commanded to “love one another, as I have loved you” in the whole Church, including, maybe even especially those with whom we disagree and who disagree with us. We are also commanded to “love our neighbor as ourselves”, even to “love our enemies”. Obviously that means those who are our enemies because they are enemies of Christ and His gospel and His Church. Well, a true believer in Christ IS NOT an enemy of the gospel nor of the Church even if in our human weakness and finitude we don’t see the Church necessarily the same way. Dr. Armstrong is one of the most sincere and Christlike Christians that I have met in my short lifetime, and it is easy to recognize the Holy Spirit’s presence in him and the work He is doing through John in the larger Body of Christ, especially in the Protestant-Evangelical world. These challenges that John has taken up under the leading of the Holy Spirit have cost him tremendously, yet God has continued to give him sufficient grace to sustain him and encourage him on. And I am certainly not the only person to recognize this. Many deeply devout Christians in both the Roman Catholic and various Protestant Traditions have recognized this and have committed our friendship and prayers to support this brother in what our Sovereign Lord has called him to do on behalf of the whole Church. If you haven’t already, I suggest you read our Holy Father’s encyclical “Deus Caritas Est” and the book “Is The Reformation Over?’ by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom. I have learned that even while submitting to Church teaching and authority, we also must humbly submit to the Holy Spirit who often does things in our lives and the lives of others, especially brothers and sisters in Christ from different traditions, that surprise and even confound us! God alone posseses infinite knowledge and wisdom of all things actual and potential, and even infinite knowledge of even Himself, who in His eternal Trinitarian existence is an infinite being who holds and guides all of creation to its ultimate purpose. None of us, not even our Magisterium can always discern perfectly or completely what the Holy Spirit is doing now, much less in the future. I will pray for you my brother and would ask your prayers for me. And I would ask that we all keep our brother Dr. Armstrong in prayer and stand with him in cooperating with the Holy Spirit in what He is doing in the whole Church in our own day. God bless you brother!
I have serious problem understanding clearly the argument you make in your long essay. Is your argument that I was “prideful” in what I have written or that no one should disturb Protestants in their separatedness because they are Christians too? I have argued elsewhere that even Moslems worship the same God that Christians worship because there is ultimately only one God that can be worshiped. Protestants claim to be Christians; I have never called them non Christians. I have only pointed out that Catholics and Protestants do not have the same faith and that Protestants do not belong to the Church proper as has been officially stated by Popes.
What I think you are doing is simply providing false consolation to Protestants in their separatedness (and covertly denying the uniqueness of the Catholic Church, as Popes have also stated) instead of inviting them to return to the Catholic Church. It is still official Catholic teaching that no one who knows the claims the Catholic Church makes for herself – as the new ark which men must enter to be saved – to be true and still refuses to enter into communion with her can be saved. If this position is false (that is, the teaching has been repealed), please provide particular citation and I will have no problems apologizing for my ignorance on the issue.
I have read Mr. Armstrong’s responses to me and I am humbled by what he had to say. I do not doubt his sincerity and I have no problem saying that the man is a better person than I am. I read this blog everyday and rarely pick fights. I read because Mr. Armstrong says lots of sensible things. Therefore my angst is not against “the man” – I hardly know him – my problem is with the philosophy called Protestantism. Basically, I do not agree, as you do, that the Holy Spirit can lead a person who claims that the official dogmas of the Catholic Church are mistaken – the same dogmas promulgated, at least claimed by the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If we are not abusing the person of the Holy Spirit as we abuse the word ‘love’ (a word that has become meaningless), we must agree that the Holy Spirit cannot play this kind of game we attribute to Him. My belief is that we cannot reasonably be expected to believe that God can be for something in one camp and then against it in another camp. Unless we want to reduce the idea of God to simply our imagination, we must be careful what we attribute to the Him.
I find it interesting that while you are even dogmatic about your belief that the Holy Spirit is leading those who oppose official Catholic dogmas, you seem to equivocate on the Church’s willingness/determination to consistently and definitively hold-on to her teachings; thus there is the expectation that the Church’s dogma will undergo renovations in the future. Regardless of where this notion is coming from, modern Catholics need to be reminded, for example, that there is nothing in ‘Deus Caritas Est’ that is contrary to what is stated in ‘Dominus Iesus’ or any other official teaching of the church.
Now, I am interested in knowing why you thought it necessary to return to Catholicism. Many Protestants are very comfortable being Protestant, why were you not? Is it wrong for a Catholic to invite a Protestant to see the deficiencies in the nature of Protestantism and to call him/her to the fullness of the faith? Does God make any demands on Christians with regard to what must be believed? If yes, how have you come to know those demands?
Welcome back to the Church, but you must decide to be firmly Catholic.
Thank you for your firm but thoughtful response to my post. You and I may need to continue this dialogue through personal e-mails as I do not want to unnecessarily tie up Dr. Armstrong’s site. First, I apologize for stating that you were being prideful in your response to Dr. Armstrong. Since John is a personal friend, I was probably reacting more so than just over a discussion of ideas and doctrines. About my return to the Roman Catholic Church I’ll give just a brief sketch. I was one who attended Mass growing up, went to Catholic schools from 1st through 12th grades, and even thought that I could answer “fundamentalist arguements” against Catholicism. Well, for various reasons, I failed in this regard. However, in my years as an Evangelical Protestant I learned much about God, Christ, and the Bible. I met many wonderful Protestants whom I have no doubt that they truly love our Lord Jesus Christ, unfortunately more than most Catholics I had met growing up. Yes, some were hostile to the Catholic Church, however the former Catholics were often the most hostile. Others were either indifferent to the Catholic Church, and many had a deep respect for it though they disagreed with some of our doctrines, Like veneration of Mary and the Saints, authority of the Papacy, and the like. Even though I learned much through this experience, I was never quite settled spiritually no matter where I was at. I kept thinking that if I could get all my doctrinal understanding right and just find the “right” church, (the one that agreed the most with me of course) Then I would be OK. I constantly wrestled with not having a sense of security in my salvation, though I believe I had experienced some special times of blessing and fellowship with the Lord. As I stated, I went to Bible College and studied Scripture and theology and Church history, and continued to read voraciously on these subjects, as well as attending conferences, seminars, discussions, Bible studies, etc. Once I became aquainted with Dr. Armstrong, he was going through a transition is his own understanding of the gospel and the nature of the church. He began to emphasize in his writings that if Christ is One, then His Church must also be One, Holy, and Catholic, though not necessarily Roman Catholic. His work influenced my thinking tremendously and I decided that since I was agreeing with him, and was growing in love with the whole of Christian Tradition, that I needed to rexamine the Catholic Church on Her own terms, and by her own authors and teachers. This lead to an immersion in writings by Catholic authors Scott Hahn and Karl Keating, and Pope Benedict XVI’s writings from when he was Cardinal Ratzinger. I also became fascinated with the life of Pope John Paul II and started regularly watching EWTN TV or listening to their radio broadcasts. I also began to read selections from the Church Fathers, both written and edited by Catholics and Protestants. I had read several books aimed at Evangelical-Catholic dialogue which emphasized where we agree but didn’t minimize where we disagree, and yet maintained a very respectful tone in the discussion with a recognition of our common brotherhood in Christ. I even read some introductory works on Eastern Orthodoxy, which were both fascinating and insightful, as I had known nothing previously about this Tradition. I was amazed at the agrrements Catholics had with the Orthodox, and intrigued by our differences. I also tried to read widely about Luther, Calvin, and what events and circumstances led to the reformation, from both Protestant and Catholic sources. I must admit that I had many sympathies with Luther and Calvin, though much less from the so called “radical reformers”. Through all of this I came to realize that I was still very Catholic in most of my convictions, though needed to struggle longer with Marian doctrines, the supremacy of the Papacy, and the exact nature of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. All told, I found no reason Scripturally to reject the Marian Doctrines, in fact many of my favorite early Church Fathers seemed to hold similar views, though not officially defined of course. I also found that I could find support in Scripture and Tradition for the idea of the Petrine authority of the Papacy, though this has been severely abused at times through Church history. My military and fire dept. background helped me to understand and accept this. I was fascinated with the depth of Roman Catholic theology and moral theology and the balance between the spiritual and the social responsibilities demanded of us in the Gospel. Lastly I wrestled with the Eucharist. I had accepted the seven sacraments, the real presence of Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the consecrated bread and wine, but really wrestled with the teaching of “Transubstantiation”. I came to simply accept that on faith realizing that many truths about God and Christ are beyond our comprehension, and that Transubstantiation was just a philosophical attempt to explain and define a truth that is really beyond our comprehension, just like the Trinity. Something I learned from studying the Eastern Fathers and the Orthodox Tradition is the idea of “Apophatic knowledge of God”. Which basically says that since God is an infinite and eternal Triune personal being, that often we are safer saying who or what God isn’t than trying to descibe or define who or what He is in His ineffable essence. There are significant differences in the approaches taken to theology between eastern and western thought. And this is true of our brethren in the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches as well. So, even though I came to accept all of the Curch’s official dogma’s by “faith seeking understanding”, I also began to read our official Catechism, and some statements since Vatican II and from our former Pope. It seemed to me that as a result of Vatican II, and in some of John Paul II’s statements, that Protestants are considered “separated” (though true) brothers and sisters in Christ through faith and Baptism, and therefore truly united to Christ though not fully in communion with the Roman Church, and therefore certainly not excluded from the possibility of salvation. I know this is not a direct quote, but tell me if you think this is an innacurate summary and paraphrase, for that is how I understand it. Catholics began to cooperated with Billy Graham Evangelistic Crusades, and vice versa, and Catholic-Orthodox-Protestant ecumenical dialogue on a level unprecedented in Church history began to occur. Now as I look at the scriptures and read how Jesus basically stated that no one could love Him and be opposed to Him at the same time, I began to realize that this doesn’t mean that every believer understands Him to the same degree. A casual reading of Church history bears this out. So, my personal and certainly not infallible conclusions based upon all of my study and experience was that the Holy Spirit seemed to be doing something amazing and unique in Church history by stirring up this incredible desire for ecumenical dialogue and mutual respect among Christians, Clergy, and theologians among the various Christian traditions, demonstrating in an imperfect form, a true desire to see our Lord’s desire in John 17 come to fruition and a genuine growing love for one another in the Body of Christ. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that what the Holy Spirit seems to be doing now is inconsistent nor irreconcilable with official Church teaching. I believe, based on Church history, that God often acts in ways that surprise and even shock us thoughout history to remind us that He is God, and that even when we have “right doctrine” we only “see through the glass darkly”, we only know imperfectly as stated by St. Paul in the very Epistle that deals with disunity in the Church-the Letter to the Corinthians. In time, through hindsight, as God gives us wisdom, we will see what He was doing to accomplish His purpose in His Church without violating or contradicting anything He has revealed to the Church throughout the ages. God always works on His timetable, not ours, and
His is often much slower and seemingly mysterious than we want it to be. So basically this is why I believe that all protestants and Orthodox who truly love our Lord Jesus Christ are united to Him, and are my true brothers and sisters in Christ, and are not outside of His salvation. Now of course I hope and pray and strive toward the goal that one day before our Lord returns that we would all truly confess, be and live the truth of being “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church” but I know God must bring this about ultimately in His time and in His way. Yes I wish we were all Roman Catholics, and I do believe that She is ultimately the True Church or at least it’s foundation and main supporting branch, but having gone through my own experience, I refuse to judge the heart of any one who truly loves our Lord, and is committed to Him and the Truth of the Gospel, and His Church, even though they for whatever reason don’t understand of see it the way I do. I truly love the Roman Catholic Church. I sense an incredible sense of peace and security at having returned “Home”. But I was a “fallen away Catholic”, and I believe that Protestants who have never been Roman Catholics aren’t neccesarily in the same danger that I was in, they’ve never broken a covenant with the Lord like I had. And I know God leads many of them to return to the RCC. However, I don’t believe that He is necessarily leading them all to make this transition right now, as He has much work to do in all of the traditions of Christianity, in the divided yet “one” Church in Her “catholicity”. And brothers like Dr. Armstrong, whom I believe have hearts even more sensitive to the Holy Spirit and His Scripture then I often have, are NOT knowingly nor willingly resisting what He may be leading them to do. I think this is an example of God’s words to Isaiah that His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts”. This doesn’t necessarily mean that our Magisterium is wrong or in error, but rather that we never fully comprehend what God is doing at any point in human and Church (redemptive) history. As one of the early Church Fathers stated: “We live by faith seeking understanding”. I think he got it absolutely right. Well, these are my thoughts here. “take what you liked and leave the rest” God bless you always my brother.
You are a dear friend and you have shown this to me again and again. I am honored and I love you as my brother in Christ.
And Dozie, you are to be encouraged for speaking up as you understand these matters. I welcome you to keep posting about this important subject, so long as all who post on this site avoid acrimonious incivility. You have both wonderfully done this and thus I welcome you to keep this dialogue going. All of us can learn from two serious Catholics. One thing Protestants will see is that no two Catholics are exactly alike.
Nick, I am sure some Protestant readers will use your words to further misunderstand my motives and position on ecumenism but this is fine with me. As you know I did not “push” you back to Rome but rather allowed you, with much prayer and encouragement, to go where you believed God was leading you. I even gave you my best shot at thinking otherwise, sending you some fine Protestant theology to read, but I rest in the grace of our Father who gently led you in his own way. This to me is the strength of the ecumenism I promote. It honors conscience and also maintains love between us. It is not perfect, and it does not solve all our issues as Dozie notes correctly, but it is the correct place to start I believe.
Dozie, I will try to comment more on your direct challenges when I am in a place to do so. Right now I can’t get to my documents and resources but the last two popes have made it very clear, as did Vatican II, that we are not enemies and that seeking to bring us back to Rome in any way that violates conscience would not be right. I believe the discussion is to be far more nuanced than your posts allow for so far. I am open to learning and listening so do keep writing anything you feel adds to my/our learning and growth.
Grace and peace to you both! I esteem you both for Christ’s sake.
Thank you for taking the time to explain where you are coming from. If you would write in paragraphs, it would help slow people like me read more comfortably. You have however written a lot that I am not able to respond to tonight. I will therefore address one or two of your points.
You stress the point that the God works in ways that surprise us and that all Protestants and Orthodox are Christians. Fine, my confusion comes from pondering the question of whether God has said anything that men can understand about who He is, what He is like and what He commands. If yes, what is the excuse for men of our age branching out on their own; if not, why do we bother at all?
When you think of it, the Catholic Church makes provocative and audacious claims about her history and place in God’s plan of salvation. These claims, if I understand them correctly, emanate from the fact that the Catholic Church believes she has heard the voice of Christ and clearly understands what He commands. The other communions, on the other hand generally respond to the Catholic Church: “you are not the one true church, my church is not the one true church either and no one is the one true church”. Either someone has heard the voice of Christ and correctly understands it, or no one has heard anything, or Christ has said nothing at all. This is the discussion that Christians ought to be having and not worrying about someone not looking like a duct but really being a duck. By this argument we can also say that the Buddhists are also Christians; we just don’t know it.
You also imply that anyone who is Protestant is a brother or sister in Christ. At one point can a Catholic say, “they are not of us”? What happens when one opens a Kenneth Copland Church or a Creflo Dollar Church or even a Luther Church? Is a Catholic obligated to say that they are brothers and sisters? Is he free to say: “they have departed from us”?
I notice also your journey of faith and your attempts to figure out God through learning and reading. I appreciate your effort. However, I personally do not believe we can really arrive at true Christian faith through academic work. Studying is not contrary to faith, but it does not necessarily lead to it. In fact, it can be inimical to Christian faith. As a man in the pew, I read just enough to know what people are talking about, but I no longer read to prove or disprove something. I have faith that if Christianity is true, it is to be found in the Catholic Church alone and whatever the Church teaches, I give my full assent. It is not complicated at all.
As a young boy growing up in Nigeria, during the Nigeria-Biafra War, we had no food and ate anything that had flesh to it. We would hunt squirrels. Every boy knew that the squirrel would do itself a favor by staying on the tree. If it attempted to be imaginative by jumping off the tree (and landing on the ground), it was food – captured. The Catholic Church is that tree and once a Catholic disembarks the tree, he is fair game and would be captured by all kinds of philosophies and new religions. Only grace can bring him or her home. Another example is driving on the highway, behind a slow moving truck. Often one would get irritated that the truck is not moving fast enough and may attempt to pass it, sometimes, illegally and risking all kinds of dangers. I have learned, with deep humility that often the truck keeps one in check – protects one from going too fast and from being stopped by the police. When the policeman stops you, you lose all the time you gained and some. Because the truck observes posted speed limit, it also protects you, if you follow it, from deadly accidents. The Church is like that slow moving truck, it goes the speed limit; following it one would not go wrong and would be protected from danger – she is slow, but she is sure. Following the Church saves one the worry and excessive anxiety of having to discover the Church anew – does baptism save or does it not save?, are we saved by faith alone or by faith that is not alone?, we have the sense to count infants in our national census; should they also be counted as members of our church (baptism)?
One of my issues with Protestantism is that while they talk about ‘faith alone’, they really have no confidence that the faith they have received is it. Everyone is busy learning, buying every edition of the Bible and concordances and busy worrying what the Bible says in Greek or Hebrew or Aramaic. They spend more time doing exegesis than understanding the Christian faith.
I do not think that personal theology and exegesis will give one an assurance of the faith. I also believe that theology belongs to the Church and those who do it should do it for the Church and for her use only. In the Catholic Church, the man in the pew is called not the theologian, but the “faithful”. It is very simple- really uncomplicated.
In any case, too much learning tends, in many cases to give men and women a false sense of liberation, especially when they also possess some charisma or power of oratory. I am not against learning in any way since I also have two Masters degrees and currently working on another graduate certificate. I do not think that in Christianity a Christin should aspire to know it all – that’s too complicated. There are many holy men and women in the Church who can neither read nor write; these are Christians too. On the other hand, the Church should encourage theological studies among those who wish to be docile to God through His Church. Theological pursuit is not to know it all, it is not to sell books, and it is not to display how much one knows, or to have a ‘hot’ blog presence. Theological studies should be a vehicle for the Church to understand clearly the voice of God and to teach and preserve the same.
We are at the point where liberty, brought to us by Protestantism, and fuelled by higher learning, is about to unmask Christianity – is this faith true? The challenge then for Christians as I see it is whether this religion is worth believing, if so, what parts of it should be believed? You speak of truth of Christianity; the question is, where can this truth be found? This is crucial because Christianity is fast losing its meaning and relevance. Another question, I repeat, is whether or not God has said anything about Christianity that the members of this religion can say they have heard and understood? How we answer these questions will determine the justification or otherwise of Protestantism and Catholicism for that matter.
I started to respond to your points but I think I got carried away and reflected on a number of issues.
Thank you as always for your kind, gracious and encouraging words to me. Your friendship means far more to me than you realize. And I thank you again for the terrific theological material you sent to me from Dr. Bloesch, I respect him highly. Thank you also for permission to continue this discussion on your “blog” site.
Thank you for your thoughtful response. I will try to remember to break up my writing into paragraphs. 🙂 My brain works faster than my fingers! Your comments deserve a longer response than I can give right now, but I’ll try to respond to a few of your points.
It’s interesting that you stated that “either God has said anything that man can understand about who He is” or implied that He has not, and that whether the Church has heard the voice of Christ or has not. (not an exact quote, I know) One of my problems with Protestant “fundamentalism” was a tendency to reduce every arguement and proposition to strict “either-or” categories; while one of the beauties and riches of Catholic, Orthodox, and serious Protestant theology is much room for “both-and” categories. For example, God is both Transcendant AND Immanent. Jesus is both fully God AND fully human. Yet not two persons, but One Divine Person in two distinct natures, neither combined, nor separated, nor mixed, with each containing it’s own proper properties. God is Ineffable in His essence, yet He has revealed Himself in history so that He can be truly, though not fully known. He revealed Himself through Moses and OT Law, and ultimately in the Person of His Son Jesus Christ, who is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit through the written Scriptures and the Apostolic and Patristic tradition of the Church. Now I simply gave a you a few very basic theological points and affirmations based on the ancient creeds of Nicea and Chalcedon. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox Traditions confess and affirm these creedal statements regularly in our Mass or Divine Liturgy. Many, though not all, Protestant bodies also confess and affirm the Truth of these ancient ecumenical (catholic and orthodox) creeds. What sets any truly orthodox Christian Tradition apart from psuedo-christian cults, heretical and heterodox groups are the faithful adherance to the Truths of Scripture and Apostolic Tradition confessed and affirmed in these Creeds. The most familiar of these creedal formulas are: The Apostle’s Creed, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and the Chalcedonian Creed. These creeds evolved out of the Church’s need to define more fully what she believed as taught in Scripture and Apostolic Tradition, and to set authoritative boundaries defining what true Christianity (which was truly catholic in the sense of universal – there were no major divisions yet) was in contrast to heresies like Arianism, Sabellianism, Nestorianism, Monophysiteism, and Gnosticism just to name a few. These groups were claiming to be the correct understanding of Christian teaching, but the Holy Spirit guided the Church to define Her true doctrine and defend Herself from these counterfeit claims. However, that being said, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, which officially split from the Roman Church in 1054 A.D. still hold to these doctrinal affirmations and therefore are within the boundaries of historic Christian (and catholic) orthodoxy. Also, most Protestsnt bodies such as Lutheran, Calvinist-Reformed, Anglican, Pentecostal, Baptist, and various “Free Church” bodies also hold to the truths contained in these ancient and catholic creedal confessions, though some more loosely than others. This puts all of these “Ecclesial Communities” within the pale of historic Christian orthodoxy. Groups like “Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, and other TBN “favorites” deny and teach many things contrary to these historic affirmations of historic Christian orthodoxy. (See Hank Hanegraaf’s book “Christianity In Crisis”) Now having said this, there are significant and important differences that divide Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestant Bodies from “full communion” with one another, but not from Union with Christ and therefore union with one another in Christ. All truly orthodox and faithful believing Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant-Evangelicals affirm and confess the Eternal Triune Nature of God; the Divine Inspiration and Authority of the Scriptures; the full Deity and Humanity of the Person of Jesus Christ. The full Deity and Personhood of the Holy Spirit; The Incarnation and virgin birth of Jesus, the Son of God, to Mary His virgin mother. All confess the substitutionary and atoning death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ; His ascension back to Heaven and being “Seated at the Father’s Right Hand in Glory”; His future bodily and glorious return in judgement of all; the necessity of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ for salvation; the reality of eternal life with God for all who truly believe in Christ; and eternal damnation for all who ultimately reject Christ. These are truths that God has revealed to us in Scripture and Tradition that all true Christians everywhere believe.
Now, yes I know we differ and disagree on important matters also, such as: the number of OT books in the OT Cannon; The role of primacy or supremacy of the Pope; The authority of the Church’s teaching Magisterium in regard to the Scriptures and Tradition; the dogma’s of Mary’s “Immaculate Conception and Assumption”, to what degree and in what way can Christians seek the intercessory prayers of the saints in Heaven; the number of the Sacraments; and the precise definition of the Real Presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist. I know there are other points of disagreement, but these are the most common and most significant. I do not mean to in any way minimize the importance of our differences here, we do no one any favors by doing so. However, I am not convinced, that these differences are inherently connected to our individual salvation. And as I understand some of the documents from Vatican II, The current Official Catechism, and the statements of our former and current Popes, neither does the Roman Catholic Curia and Magisterium see these differences as insurmountable or putting each other beyond the hope of eternal salvation in Christ. The Church affirms unequivocally with the Scriptures that Salvation is a gift of God’s pure grace received through faith in Jesus Christ. Yes, this includes, to the degree that one is able, to believe all that the Scriptures and tradition tell us who Jesus Christ is, (and isn’t) and what He did for us by His cross and Resurrection. It’s interesting that you brought up the so called Protestant teaching of “faith alone”, whereas the great Protestant reformers Luther and Calvin themselves affirmed that the “faith that saves is never alone”, ie, that it must bear fruit for Christ in repentance from sin and good works like charity, etc. The modern Protestant concept of “faith alone” would be foreign to the original reformers. So any true Christian, Catholic-Orthodox-Protestant proffesses faith and trust in the same Triune God and the same Incarnate, crucified, and risen Son Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. If only the Holy Spirit can bring a person to truly believe and confess that “Jesus Christ is LORD” and that “He died for our sins, was buried, and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures” as St Paul says in I Cor. 15, then how can we say that a person or an orthodox Christian tradition that affirms this faith is NOT Christian? That doesn’t make any sense if the Scriptures are true, and it doesn’t truly contradict with official Roman Catholic teaching, though it certainly leaves room for further understanding and clarification that only the Holy Spirit can ultimately give.
You also mentioned that theological learning is not synonymous with real faith, and can even be detrimental to true faith, well I couldn’t agree with you more. However, even the early Church Fathers called theological inquiry “faith seeking understanding”. Theological knowledge alone will not produce faith, (some contemporary theologians make that obvious) faith itself is a gift of God, but God calls and equips men and women of faith in the Church to explore theological understanding to help teach and instruct the whole Body, and these people are NOT limited to the clergy. Again, a basic study of Church history will bear this out. I studied for years as a Protestant for the sake of “faith seeking understanding”. However, for me there was a more subtle and insidious motive that I was not aware of. Being at that time a former Roman Catholic, who left “for all of the wrong reasons” I was also determined to prove the Roman Church wrong on many points, as this would be the only way I could justify my continued separation. I do believe that my Confirmation, made in good though immature conscience, is a type of Covenant bond with God in Christ, and I had violated this without understanding. Therefore, as I became convinced of the validity and the unique Truth claims of the Roman Catholic Church, I came to know with a deep sense of growing certainty that God was leading me to return to my roots in the Roman Catholic Church. However, even going through this process did not negate the experiences I had as an Evangelical, nor of the things God taught me through the Scriptures and other Christians through this period. I don’t know how to really classify the Reformation, maybe a “tragic necessity” is as close as I can get. I have discussed this extensively with a good friend who is a Jesuit Priest, (an inheriter of the legacy and thought of St Ignatius of Loyola and the so-called “Counter-Reformation”) and he made the point that for some reason known only to God, the Holy Spirit neither caused nor stopped the protestant reformation, but allowed it with all of its ensuing aftermath and confusion for His own sovereign purpose. To me this makes sense out of what the Holy Spirit seems to be doing in our own day of beginning dialogue among Christians of the various traditions with the ultimate goal of healing the breaches and once again manifesting the Church as truly “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church”, the One Body of Christ on Earth.
Now again, based on my understanding of Vatican II and the work and writings of the current and past 3 Popes, and the teaching of our Catechism, none of this is ultimately contrary to any of the official and “infallibly defined” dogma of the Catholic Church, though some of it is clearly beyond our comprehension at this time. Yet Church history reveals that in God’s providence His ultimate plans and purposes are usually not clear until well after significant events have occured. Scripture and history bear this out. I agree that we can not “figure God out”, but we can pray and seek discernment in humility as to what the “Spirit is saying to the Churches”. Yet this is NOT done as an individual enterprise, but should be sought within the larger body of the Christian faithful-clergy and laity together. Well, these are just more of my thoughts. I’ll have to write more later!
And to those who would falsely accuse Dr. Armstrong of “leading me down the wrong path”, I would just ask you to STOP IT and take my words on their own merit; That Dr. Armstrong as a true friend and spiritual memtor simply encouraged me to seek and to follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance in my own journey with our Lord, wherever that may lead. “We walk by faith NOT by sight”. God bless you both, my true brothers in Christ!
I had one more thought after posting this response. If we in the Roman Catholic Church really are the “True Church Christ founded” as we claim, then we should be the most committed to initiating a serious and loving ecumenical dialogue and seek greater understanding of and love for our “separated brethren” in Christ. The gospel compels us to a ministry of Reconciliation with our brothers and sisters, not coercive arm-twisting and argument. If we are called to be One Body in Christ then let’s act like it and not treat our Protestant and Orthodox brothers and sisters as “second class” (or worse) Christians. The spirit of Christ-like charity must guide us in everything! Amen!