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Two approaches to being a catholic church

Friday, October 31st, 2008

I observe that my Christian tradition – Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); and The Catholic Church both attempt to be catholic churches. That is, they both attempt to represent the wholeness (catholicity) of the Church. They both have very divergent approaches to their catholicity.

Disciples attempt to represent the whole through openness. Christians can disagree and yet remain united. There are no creeds, because of the division they may cause. The closest thing Disciples come to a standardized affirmation of faith is “I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior.” If you can affirm this statement (whatever it means to you), you are welcome.

The Catholic Church (capital C), on the other hand have a focus on complete uniformity. Unity in belief, practice, and structure. To be united means to be uniform. Anything outside of the predefined boundaries is not unified.

Neither approach is entirely appropriate. Disciples may err on the side of allowing unorthodoxy. This is unity in word only. That we are not really united, but we will just say we are to make everyone happy.

The Catholic approach on the other hand ignores the biblical and historical testimony of diversity in the Church (in belief, practice, and structure). This unity is not challenging because it is easy to be united to others who are just like oneself.

Disciples often put forth the saying “In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, and in all things charity.” To a large extent I like this philosophy, except that essentials are never defined. It begs the question: to what point does liberty lead to heresy? Where are the boundaries of what is acceptable? And how far outside of the core can we venture until we are no longer preaching the Gospel?

Still, a certain level of diversity is absolutely necessary, lest we all become “hands, eyes, or ears.” Diversity is necessiary for the Body of Christ to operate.

How can we be the catholic (universal) church; unitied and yet diverse? What are the essentials which ought to unite us, and where is diversity acceptable?