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.
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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.