2005-08-06

Will Nate ever go Catholic?

A friend of a friend named Matt (check his blog here) sent me an email after reading my blog the other day. In it, he asked me a rather blunt question, but one worth answering and sharing with y'all:

"Can I ask you a question? Have you ever considered becoming Catholic?"

Given all the stuff I write on this blog in favor of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, I felt I needed to answer this publicly and not just privately. Here it goes:

SHORT ANSWER: Yes. I have considered becoming Catholic with a big "C" (i.e. Roman Catholic). I already consider myself catholic with a small "c".

LONG ANSWER: We have all seen Church "family trees" in our Church history classes. Usually the denomination / sect / tradition that you are (and I say this for any denomination) in winds up being the middle of the chart, and all other forms of Christianity are seen as deviations to the right or left, if not fallen off entirely. This makes your particular denomination the "truest" expression of the Church, the norm to judge all others.


One of the things I like about Anglicanism is that I have yet to see a chart made by an Anglican in which we occupy the middle place. There is this constant attitude that the Anglican church, as it is right now, is a sort of "way station", a church en route to the reunification of all churches. As such, I know of few Anglicans who consider themselves to be part of the truest (or only) expression of the Church. Those folks are kind of treated as the lunatic fringe.

For me, the center trunk of the tree would be the Catholic-Orthodox Church up until 1054. Then they split, and there is no more center of the tree for me. The two biggest, and most central branches are Catholicism on one side, and Orthodoxy on the other side. Catholicism veers from center on issues of putting too much authority in the Pope and not enough on the worldwide brotherhood of bishops (although, I do believe that the Body of Christ should have a central "mouth", and the seat of Peter has as much claim to that as anyone... but a mouth never functions apart from a head or a neck or the rest of the body). I also think that in general there is an over-emphasis on Mary and the saints (which is more an issue of piety than doctrine for me). And there are a couple of other minor issues (clerical celibacy and others).

On the other side, Orthodoxy veers off center with a little too much in being enmeshed with both the civil governments and the cultures from which it comes out of. In most countries where Orthodoxy is prominent, it is (or has been) the State Church and has been heavily involved in power politics, and politicians have also played major roles in determining Church leadership. Also, Orthodoxy tends to be very heavily dependent on the native cultures it comes out of, and thus (a) resistant to changing things in the liturgy that are merely cultural, and (b) hesitant to be outreach oriented beyond its own culture and ethnicity.

With that said, I think the Orthodox and the Catholics have the best claim to being the inheritors of the Apostolic Church, and whatever doctrinal problems they have, I do not think them near as severe as any Protestant tradition's problems (my own Anglicans included). Which is closer to the "center of the tree" for me? Most days I say Orthodoxy, but other days I say Catholicism. It depends on my mood and what theological issues I am wrestling with. When those two branches finally combine back together, then I definitely see them as being the fullest expression of the Church.

So, why am I still Anglican? Because in the Anglican Church I can say what I just said and not be fired, or even told I am a "bad Anglican". I can be an orthodox, catholic Christian who accepts the doctrine, worship, and polity of the ancient ecumenical Church and its seven councils, and I can urge all sides of Christianity to re-unify. And yes, I stay Anglican because I do have this thing for women's ordination... but that is a second or third tier issue for me, and I would give that up if needed for the sake of unity.

I believe I will be an Anglican until either Catholicism and Orthodoxy re-unifies (which is improbable in the next half century, though we are closer), or until Anglicanism falls into heresy and I am pushed out because I can no longer function as an orthodox, catholic minister (which may be more of a possibility than I am willing to entertain right now).

All in all, if the Anglican Church takes a nose-dive, I could not go back to a Protestant Church. Not because I do not believe they are a Church. I do believe they are (and I believe you are). Yet, I do not believe they are nearly as close to the fullness of the Church. I mean, the lowest common denominator for being "Church" to me is baptism in (at least) Jesus' Name and living faith in Jesus. But does any of us want to live in the least common denominator? Do we want to live "Christianity Abridged"? I don't. I want the fullness of the Church. I have come to believe (and would love to discuss reasons why) that the fullness of Church involves everything Protestants and Charismatics have, plus (1) a sacramental and iconographic spirituality; (2) three-fold ministry of overseers, elders, and ministers (Bishops, Priests, and Deacons) in apostolic succession; (3) a worship liturgy in accordance with the early Church that emphasizes prayer, preaching, and the Eucharist; (4) grounding in the early and medieval Church fathers and mothers as resources for teaching, doctrine, and spirituality; and (5) adherence to the seven ecumenical councils as a doctrinal and hermeneutic basis for the interpretation of Scripture.

I can find these elements in Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Anglicanism, and some Lutheran churches (as well as some of the catholic and Anglican splinter groups in the states). Yet, from where I am at, I can only head toward something that is MORE rooted in Orthodoxy and Catholicism, not less. So, that is where I am at.

9 comments:

Matt Tapie said...

Nate dog,
I finally responded to your comment on my blog under the "Reading About Homosexuality" post.
Just wanted to let you know!!

Matt

Valerie said...

Nate, you are incredible. Remember the conversations in Del Rio where I mentioned "growing up"? You have hit the nail on the head with this one. Thanks for your insight. I am passing this around.

seth nichols said...

Nate! Loved it! Have you ever considered becoming Church of Christ? We could use you... :)

Jason E. Robertson said...

What?

Matt Tapie said...

Nate,
This is long over due--I know I emailed you about this but I wanted to make my affirmation of your response public. I want to let you know how thankful I am for posting such a well-thought-out response to my question. I have learned much from you so thank you for sharing your journey with me. I think you and I, as Protestants, are in a good place at this time and are able to strengthen the tree of the Church by supporting its strongest branches. May God greatly bless your ministry in his church.
Matt

DPLWrites2 said...

Sorry this is a bit late, but i just ran into your blog a few days ago. After reading your backgroung and a few of your posts including this one, I wanted to know your view/perspective on the Messianic movement, ie. Messianic Judaism which despite its sometimes misguided focus on Yiddishkeit and culture, has put forth a claim to be closer to the root of the branches. (See Romans 10 and 11.) Of course this is a relatively new movement built on the conversion in the 1960's of many Jewish young people during the Jesus Movement,and it has a wealth of problems, one being it is still trying define itself theologically. But the idea that the root is the faith of Abraham or the Messiah, and that the church rests on a Jewish foundation that it has largely ignored or vehemently denied is intriguing. Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I deeply respect messianic Jews, but feel that they are a distinctive "special interest" Christian organization, and not truly Jewish, but rather simply Christain.

As such, they seem like they are taking a certain type of culture (Jewish) and introducing it into a distinctively modernist, Protestant, Evangelical type of Christian theology. They are no more rooted into the early Church than any of the other "apostolic", "restorationist", or "primitive" revival movements that have flourished in the US in the past 100 years.

They are sincere, vibrant, disciples of Christ... but more "authentic"? I do not think so.

DPLWrites2 said...

I guess I wasn't so much concerned on them being more authentic, but wanted a response on the idea "that the church rests on a Jewish foundation that it has largely ignored or vehemently denied". There is much mention in the Messianic movement about "replacement theology" (which seems to ignores Roman 9 & 10.) Replacemnt theology promotes the view that the Church has replaced Israel in God's economy and that the promises and covenants made to Israel are now conferred onto the Church (when it is clear that some of them were unconditionally given to Israel).

In light of the topic of this particular blog, I guess I was asking about how the Church divorced itself from Judaism by ignoring/suppressing its Jewish roots and by ignoring/suppressing the Jewish bishops views on many issues --for example divorcing Easter from Passover. I also wonder about how the bishop of Rome became primary, when at one time the see at Jerusalem was primary or at least on equal footing with the other sees. My understanding is that it was more of a political move and the "succession to Peter" argument was merely one way to justify it. So when you say "With that said, I think the Orthodox and the Catholics have the best claim to being the inheritors of the Apostolic Church" I just wonder what consideration you have given to the rejection of the Jewish foundational perspective.

Jessica said...

Nate, thanks so much for visiting my blog and recommending this post. I agree with you on a really fundamental basis, and I'm glad that you're taking a stand for Christian unity. I also agree with your assessment of Orthodoxy, although I have (very lately) experienced Orthodoxy in both forms: Very politically staid and non-innovative and very alive and evangelistic. The parish I attend here in Montana is a "mission" and very, very welcoming. (I do get the impression that this may not, unfortunately, fit the Orthodox norm.)

All branches of the Christian tree can (and by grace will) benefit each other when the "Great Reconciliation" occurs. I do, however, greatly admire Orthodox piety and their relentless refusal to cave to the popular mindset of our times. Self-sacrificial fasting, prayer, and discipline can only benefit our intensely over-indulgent and materially dependent culture.

Thanks again, Nate! I can't wait to see more on this topic!

This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.