Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hello, friends. As a sidebar before I even start, certain enthusiastic Lutherans asked me to call a little more often. I'm notoriously bad about this; for one, I hate talking on the phone. An impersonal device where I cannot see a person's face and they can't see mine is not my idea of a good time. [You do it all the time.--ed.] But it is a concession to time and distance; nothing more. And I wouldn't know anything about the impersonality of technology causing painful ruptures in my relations. [Ouch.--ed.] I know, right? In any case, I will get better. I was feeling a little bog of sadness that I didn't want to foist on him.
Anyway, that Bryan guy is at it again. Michael Horton needs to give this its due attention. But I also know that Bryan's philosophical nature and attention to detail causes problems he does not intend. There is ground in the discussion that has been trod over many times, which many interlocutors have not seen, not accounted for, and noted. Because new ones come all the time. Having been over it many times, he refers to other lengthy discussions where those preambles have been established and discussed. This is what CtC is in existence to do: put everything on the table in the Protestant-Catholic dispute, and test it together in the light of truth. But a Crossian (especially the head one himself) may well forget we're not all philosophers, and to deploy words like "invalid" (or others) in such a discussion, while philosophically appropriate, might cause an unintended emotional reaction. And since he is so detailed, those responses are like tomes, as he well knows. And so he gets an unfair reputation in some quarters as trying to intimidate with many words. Others, however, may well not understand the depth of the Catholic position itself, how familiar so many Catholics really are with common objections, and "how deep the rabbit-hole goes." I'm just telling you; if you want to understand fully the Catholic position--especially with respect to Protestantism--you need about 2 years. You can have one other big Life Thing and be OK, like say, graduate school, or a job as a PCA pastor. But if you think you can waltz in with some bromides dusted off from Boettner or wherever, and lead the Catholic captives in your train back to Geneva, well, that's almost as funny as a Jim Gaffigan sketch. Flat-out, most people don't understand what the Catholic Church is saying; they don't understand her sense of self, from which comes all the pronouncements and claims to authority. Some of you may be--not naming any names here--using your perceived lack of time as an excuse to ignore that gentle knocking on your heart, asking to explore this more deeply, if only to understand.
If you want some grist for psychoanalyzing me and my conversion, I'll give you some, even though it's not intellectually honest or fair for Horton or Dr. Anthony Bradley to attribute to the whole thing some emotional baggage. The one thing that made me willing to listen to the Catholic Church was, in my view, the indefensibility of Sola Scriptura as a principle. Because it undermines the very ecclesiastical authority the well-known Reformers were keen to establish and maintain. The very principle upon which their protest was legitimized in their own eyes bears fruit in the churchless, mindless evangelicalism so many of today's leaders decry. I had seen enough of the Protestant world to know that sin does not satisfactorily explain the variances in Scriptural interpretation one can observe. It just doesn't. In fact, because I could see that those interpretations are often in good faith, it made the problem urgent. Thus, I cannot and could not posit some bad faith or intellectual deficiency to those who disagree with me. To posit the Church as a mediator between me as the interpreter and Christ the Revealer of the Father in the Holy Spirit only invites the question, "Which 'Church' do we mean?" My local church with my elders and pastor? No; most often we mean the universal Church. And when we do not, we fail to distinguish it. Next obvious question: "What is the relationship between the Church and my local church?" I realized--still as a Protestant, mind you--that there wasn't an obvious one. My session could bind me to any particular of Reformed orthodoxy it wanted, whether the ancient common orthodoxy (even if held without principle) or the distinctives of the Reformed tradition, and if I disagreed, I could leave. And this is the key point: I could leave, in either case, still believing I belonged to Christ. That is, by our own agreed definition of Church, these elders did not and could not speak for Christ. And they'd agree, depending upon the issue. But then, I reasoned, why submit in any case? Because I'd still be a Christian, wouldn't I? They could be wrong. But wouldn't I have this same veto power over them all? Thus, they can't be branches of Christ's Church, because they don't agree on what Christ's Church is, or what it believes. If no smaller body with any surety whatever can say they are binding and loosing on behalf of the universal Church, what is the point? I knew just from this that if I could move from one visible expression of church to another still within the Body of Christ as I understood it, I could go really very wrong doctrinally or morally, and still retain that veto power. In other words, I could not say that such a motion would be principled. And this pushed me to ask what it meant to 'submit' in the first place?
What of these communities then? Knowing of their historic doctrinal disagreements with one another, I had to ask what truth value those distinctives really have, if doctrinally I could reside anywhere, profess any of them, and be welcomed. Morally, the same holds. If I do not believe the Bible condemns my behavior x, can I not find a church somewhere that will agree? I could easily presume God is pleased with me when He is not.
We're still not into Catholicism yet. Not even close. Well, realizing this obvious problem--that Christ's invisible Church and its members can believe whatever they want, and no one can do a thing about it--the Noltie Conundrum, though I could not name it--I picked up a book. This book. Some of you seem to think Mathison is not an able defender of Sola Scriptura; on the contrary, he does it well. And he adds plenty of well-deserved shots at the evangelicals and fundamentalists I alluded to earlier.
Later, once I started to live among Catholics and how they receive Christian truth, I saw that Mathison's first section critiquing Catholicism was off point; he didn't understand it. What he critiques there is a boogeyman that has never existed as Catholicism proper. But I didn't realize it at the time, and I didn't care. What does interest me still is his devastating critique of what he calls "Solo Scriptura"--the ahistorical, positivistic assertion that me, my Bible, and the Holy Spirit is all that is needed. Chapter 8 in the book. It is fantastic. It cannot be done better.
I did feel an instant sympathy with the Catholic Church, because I knew even their second-rate apologists could take these fundies down with the same arguments. Said I, in the summer of 2009, still nearly 2 years from being Catholic: "I've never read a better argument for Catholicism than this." And what I began to see is that Mathison's appeals to creeds and history and the giants of our Christian faith was not paradigmatically different than the fundamentalists; oh, mind you, in practice of Christian life and discipleship, it is very different. Healthier. More catholic (and Catholic). But the interpreter is still the same: me and my Bible. I decide which parts of history conform to what I believe the Bible to teach. I decide what the creeds really say. I decide who was right and wrong.
But don't you see? I could do the same thing with the church I live in. As I pointed out above. So, I'm an individualist (which is really what 'fundamentalist' truly means) who's read more and personally appreciates more of pre-Reformation history than [insert fundamentalist you disdain here].
But who cares? I wanted to know what Christian truth was, not celebrate my intellectual honesty and breadth. This forced me into history. If you like, "What did they know, and when did they know it?" [Oh, brother.--ed.] Or, rather, how? How did the patristics understand truth? How did they then know what the Church and the gospel, revealed in Christ, was? Well, each church father certainly has his own distinct emphases, opinions, and the like. If we simply appeal to the fathers as the reason not to be Protestant, we do a disservice. We just give ourselves more fuel--and even a presumed authority--to our own ad hoc judgments about what the gospel is. What was most compelling from the church fathers was three things: The primacy of the Petrine office, apostolic succession, and their understanding of the Eucharist. And in fact, I knew by then that the heart of the Catholic claim upon me was actually these three things. That is, if the Catholic Church today was the same as this patristic Church I saw, then I must be Catholic, because it's the Church. All that is to say, by their emphases, the fathers asserted that the Church was visible, which was problematic and comforting at the same time. Quite frankly, in terms of soteriology, I found Calvinism amongst the ancient authors--among those later deemed heretical. But it was also important to see that the leading lights of the time--including Augustine--were synergists. And despite their insistence that grace was always and everywhere necessary for any good work, an unsaved person need not be redeemed before he responds to God. That was important, as a side issue to the dispute of whether Rome or the Reformers were faithful interpreters of the early Church. The final thing that clicked into place before I was forced to choose was the link between Thomas and Trent. I, along with some others, read sessions V-VII of the council one summer and fall, all the while being involved in a reading group of St. Thomas's work Summa Theologicae for the two years between 2009 and April, 2011. There is no discernable soteriological discontinuity between St. Thomas and the Council of Trent. Any Calvinist who appeals to St. Thomas for support is being selective (and probably dishonest, if intentional).
But importantly, I was forced to ask what the authority of that Council or any council had. I began to see that Catholics rightly practicing accept Ecumenical Councils as true as such. They are the outworking of a visible Church at work, discerning the meaning and application of the faith once delivered. The very definition of a Council is tied irrevocably to the successor of Peter. So, of course we will disagree if I say, "The Council is true; it must be" and you say, "councils may err." There's your paradigm difference, in a nutshell. But I got my answer. Why was I a creedal Christian? What was the link between what I had always believed and the ancient Church? I was Catholic, and I just didn't know it. And I had to receive those conciliar decisions on the terms in which they were offered, under the authority of those who offered them. And that's why, on April 23, 2011, I became a  member of the Catholic Church. I did it because it is the Church Christ established. And I have always endeavored to follow Christ, since the day He showed himself to me.

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