Translate

Monday, June 09, 2014

I Still Love Reformed University Fellowship

I went to a PCA seminary with a dude named Kyle. I'm telling you this because I got this article from Kyle because we are Facebook friends. Hi, Kyle! Hope things are going well!

Anyway, this got me thinking (again) about some stuff that isn't probably on this guy's day-to-day radar. Mr. Cannon writes: "I am on the team that believes the PCA’s existence and survival is incidental to the work of the Kingdom. 
Mind you, if we go belly-up I will be sad and disappointed but I do not embrace the notion our denomination is essential (or even that important) to the commission Jesus gave his church to make disciples, baptize and teach." 
Did you catch it? Did you notice the "invisible church" ecclesiology? At the risk of sounding rude, he's probably assumed it so long, he'd never even think to question it. Let me ask it this way: What if (let's assume the PCA was the Church Christ founded) the PCA was not incidental to the work of the Kingdom? What if it was the Kingdom, for lack of a better turn of phrase? You're not supposed to hammer people with questions when making an argument, so this sentence is here to break up the monotony. Ha! Who or what decided that visible structures were incidental to the Church? Actually, Sola Scriptura and the self-justification for the Protestant Revolt decided that. You know you believe in an invisible Church when you leave one denomination for another, because (for whatever reason) you thought it wise. I have never met a person who did this and feared for his soul. Why? Because he's not leaving the "Church," per se, just this particular outpost of it. And that would be fine, if we stopped thinking about it. But our hearts won't let us, because we have to ask, "What does this body do, if not preserve the gospel as it has been handed on to us?" We'll come back to this.

Pope Pius XII wrote in his encyclical letter Mystici Corporis Christi, "From what We have thus far written, and explained, Venerable Brethren, it is clear, We think, how grievously they err who arbitrarily claim that the Church is something hidden and invisible, as they also do who look upon her as a mere human institution possession a certain disciplinary code and external ritual, but lacking power to communicate supernatural life. On the contrary, as Christ, Head and Exemplar of the Church "is not complete, if only His visible human nature is considered..., or if only His divine, invisible nature..., but He is one through the union of both and one in both ... so is it with His Mystical Body" since the Word of God took unto Himself a human nature liable to sufferings, so that He might consecrate in His blood the visible Society founded by Him and "lead man back to things invisible under a visible rule."
 For this reason We deplore and condemn the pernicious error of those who dream of an imaginary Church, a kind of society that finds its origin and growth in charity, to which, somewhat contemptuously, they oppose another, which they call juridical. But this distinction which they introduce is false: for they fail to understand that the reason which led our Divine Redeemer to give to the community of man He founded the constitution of a Society, perfect of its kind and containing all the juridical and social elements - namely, that He might perpetuate on earth the saving work of Redemption - was also the reason why He willed it to be enriched with the heavenly gifts of the Paraclete. The Eternal Father indeed willed it to be the "kingdom of the Son of his predilection;" but it was to be a real kingdom in which all believers should make Him the entire offering of their intellect and will, and humbly and obediently model themselves on Him, Who for our sake "was made obedient unto death." There can, then, be no real opposition or conflict between the invisible mission of the Holy spirit and the juridical commission of Ruler and Teacher received from Christ, since they mutually complement and perfect each other - as do the body and soul in man - and proceed from our one Redeemer who not only said as He breathed on the Apostles "Receive ye the Holy Spirit," but also clearly commanded: "As the Father hath sent me, I also send you;" and again: "He that heareth you, heareth me."

I can remember when I first read this, and the relief in knowing that someone could feel and articulate what I felt: the acute sense that the dogmatic principle was being lost. If these visible bodies can't tell us what God said, or at least preserve what we already know, why do we have them? More than this, by what mechanism would they preserve the faith once delivered, even if we intend them to do so? I'm sure Cardinal Newman says it better, but I say it nonetheless.

Even before I could wrestle forthrightly with Catholic claims, the invisible Church died. It had to, by necessity. "An invisible Church cannot define itself, or what it believes." If you respect theological claims in their particularity, you must also respect from whence (and from whom) they came. But that's why debates and polemics are historical: It honors the fact of the Incarnation. He came, he walked, he wept, he sighed, he breathed on the Apostles, he died, he rose, and he reigns! This becomes very challenging to any Christian who is not in full communion with the Church, but it's also comforting. God has not been distant in history. We have not "lucked out,"; the gospel has never been lost, needing to be recovered.

I appreciate what he says about a so-called "Middle-Ground Fallacy," because I've met a few of those folks, who don't seem to care what you say, as long as you say it nicely. But what's the point of being at "full throat" about anything, if you say right from the hop that you are one among many? Are you Reformed and not Methodist for some non-theological reason? Does that make sense?

The thirst for historic Christianity is a desire to see God's faithfulness concretized and actualized in horizontal fellowship, in visible unity. What if Sola Scriptura makes it impossible?

2 comments:

Timothy R. Butler said...

I think you hit on something important in the end. I can be Reformed for a theological reason and still not think the PCA is "the Church." There are those who are Reformed who aren't in the PCA. For someone who is meaningfully Reformed, Reformed theology is more important than being PCA.

Jason said...

Of a truth, Comrade. But if whatever juridical body someone was a part of is not the Church, those juridical decisions mean precisely diddly. "If God didn't say it, it doesn't matter."