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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?

Marriage, Eucharist and Unity

Monday, June 16th, 2008

Some say that unity must proceed the Eucharist; others say that the Eucharist leads to unity.

We can look at Marriage to serve as an analogy for this question. When a couple first mets, there is little unity. As they learn more about one another that unity grows until one day they may express a desire to be as united in the sacrament of matrimony. That sacrament actually unites the two, and while they are still individuals they continue to grow in love and unity.

Unity is on both sides of that sacrament. A marriage does not actually take place unless both parties truly desire unity prior to the sacrament. At the same time, unity is fulfilled as a result of the sacrament.

So, both statements are true: unity must proceed the Eucharist and the Eucharist leads to unity. However, the unity preceding the sacrament will be incomplete.

I believe the unity which precedes is largely absent from both parties (Catholics and Protestants). With out the desire for unity (again, on both sides), the act unifying us is not possible.

The wide-spread sharing of the Eucharist is certainly the end goal, but this is “putting the carriage before the horse.” Its like proposing on the second date. Even statements of common faith produced by high-level Church officials is a bit too soon.

Unity must begin on the lowest level; between congregations and individuals. We must know each other before we can express our unity with one another. Let us participate in ministry together, have fellowship, and study the Bible together. Through this our unity may grow to a point when we may be able to express it more fully.

My visit to an Eastern Catholic Church

Monday, April 28th, 2008

A few people have informed me that Eastern Catholic Churches allow for a married priesthood. I had never considered looking at any of these churches, but I am at least open to any path which God may be calling me on. So, I visited an Eastern Catholic Church yesterday.

It was my local Melkite Greek Catholic Church. A brief history of the church can be found on their website:

The Melkites, or Byzantine rite Catholics of Middle Eastern origin, are the descendants of the early Christians of Antioch (Syria). Christianity was established in this area of the Middle East by St. Peter before he traveled on to the imperial city of Rome. In the 5th century, there arose some teachers who said that Christ was not truly God and truly man as well. They would not accept the teaching of the Catholic Church as defined by the Council of Chalcedon (451A.D.) Those in the Middle East who did accept the decision of Chalcedon followed the lead of the Byzantine emperor and were dubbed Melkites or King’s Men from the Aramaic word “melek” meaning King. (link)

It was foreign to me, and yet very beautiful. The church building was covered from floor to ceiling with icons. They were primarily tile mosaics which surrounded hand-drawn paintings. Each set of icons illustrated a piece of scripture or history. The words of scripture themselves were as important as the images in the display.

The priest walked around the sanctuary carrying incense with him as he went. This actually happened several times and the icons were also “incensed.”

Nearly the entire liturgy was chanted, and there was a high degree of participation required of the laity present. The faithful were not merely spectators at this celebration.

I am not sure if they use the same calendar as the Western Churches. The Easter declaration was proclaimed within the service: “he is risen,” which suggests they too are in the season of Easter. The lectionary is certainly different however. They used Jn 9:1-38 which is typically a Lenten scripture in the West. (USCCB)

It was simply nothing like anything I had seen before. It certainly was not Roman Catholic. And yet, they are a church which is in full communion with the Bishop of Rome. There is a great deal of diversity which can be found within the realm of the Catholic Church, both in practice and theology (to some extent). These Eastern Catholic Churches are self governing, have their own liturgy, practices, and canon law.

Unity is not the same as uniformity.

Ever since that experience I have wondered if the Eastern Catholic Churches might serve as a model for the unity of the Protestant Christian Churches with Rome. Could the Protestant denominations one day be in communion with Rome and yet be self governed with their own liturgy, practices, and law?

Why is a return to the Roman Rite necessary for Christian unity (in the Protestant/Catholic question)? There are 22 Eastern Catholic Churches which while different remain in communion with Rome. Maybe this type of unity could some day be offered to Protestant churches.

Someday we might see church marquees that read Lutheran Catholic Church, Episcopal Catholic Church, Disciples of Christ Catholic Church, Pentecostal Catholic Church, and so on. I understand the high degree of simplicity I express here, but I am still young enough to be an optimist.

Paths to unity?

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Roman Catholics call it “full communion.” Protestants call it “Christian unity.” Whatever it is, what does this look like? How will we know when we have achieved a truly one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church?

I wonder about some of the possibilities that a united Church might look like:

1) A return to Rome.
Catholics: We are right and you (Protestants) are wrong. The brokenness of the Church is solely your fault. Repent and submit to the authority of the Church. Abandon your belief in x, y and z and start believing a, b and c (just like we do.)

2) A change in Rome.
Protestants: We are right and you (Catholics) are wrong. The brokenness of the Church is solely your fault. Repent and recognize that our reformations were necessary. Abandon your belief in x, y and z and start believing a, b and c (just like we do.)

3) Unity in words alone.
Protestants and Catholics (to each other): We will believe what we want to believe and you believe what you want to believe. There is no need for us to agree because I am comfortable where I am. Let’s just agree to disagree. If we just say we are united, that is good enough for me.

4) Reconciliation.
Protestants and Catholics (to each other): I am sorry for the brokenness of our relationship, it is not acceptable. You were wrong and I was wrong. The division was really no one’s fault. I can recognize you as part of the Body of Christ. Let’s sit together and grieve about what we have lost. We need to define what our relationship looks like together. I am willing to work hard at this if you are. It is going to be a long and difficult path, with many small steps. Only with Christ’s help can we truly, visibly be one.

Imperfect Communion

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

Kevin wrote, in a comment on my post about intercommunion:

I will pray for you and that God will guide you in discerning where he is calling you to be! Just a reminder too-only Catholics who are in a state of grace can receive our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Until/unless you enter the Church, please refrain from physically receiving our Lord. Instead, you can do like I do when I am not in a state of grace, and gaze upon our Lord in the Eucharist, praying that He comes to you in a spiritual communion.

Peace, and God bless!

First, I want to say thank you Kevin for your comment and for reading my post. That is very useful guidance – to pray for a spiritual communion during the Service of the Eucharist. I pray quite fervently both for the unity of the broken visible Church and for my the possibility of my individual reception of the Lord in the Eucharist.

I do need to make one point of clarification however. Particularly the view “Until/unless you enter the Church.” This is not a question of all or nothing. One is not either in the Church or against the church. The Church recognizes the fact that Protestants are in an imperfect communion with her; not completely outside.

“For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect.”(unitatis redintegratio, 3)

And in the Catechism, “Baptism constitutes the foundation of communion among all Christians, including those who are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church.” (1271)

So, Protestants like myself are necessarily already members of the Church, though not as full as we could be. It is our job to increase our communion so that one day we might be one.

Wherever my path takes me, my individual decision about which Church to call home will not solve the larger fundamental problem of the (partial) brokenness of the Church.