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Wednesday, August 08, 2012

One thing that moves me very deeply is to remind people in my life that God loves them. Insanely. Fanatically. Unendingly. If only I could believe that myself! But it is true to say that God loves us more than we could possibly love ourselves. The Cross shows us this. For many of you, the Cross of Christ is about the total removal of sin and guilt, and to be sure, there is an element of satisfaction in it. But it is not primarily transactional; it is relational. I was in dialogue with a guy who agreed with me (without knowing it) that it was relational, and this was his reason for being Reformed and not Catholic. But would he understand how far the Reformed tradition has moved back toward the Council of Trent in its popular piety!

On the ground, "faith alone" is freighted with everything that "faith formed by love" means for a Catholic. Loving trust, that heart of living faith, is already assumed. People would reject extra nos imputation as preposterous if they thought for a second that it led to mere intellectual assent. But that isn't what they mean by it. "Faith alone" to a Protestant might as well be, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so". This is why denying faith alone sounds like a forsaking of the gospel. This is also why the historic Catholic position sounds like trusting in yourself. After loving Jesus and trusting Him alone, what more could be done? And what should be? Nothing. But that's the point: the pastoral theology, the practical theology of Reformed people is nothing short of the theology of the Council of Trent, minus the submission to Mother Church. Say what you want about R. Scott Clark; he's 1000% percent right about what Reformed theology historically is supposed to believe. But you have to ask yourself: Does Dr. Clark have a theology that you recognize, day to day? And if you have to answer "no," are you prepared to re-examine the whole separation, when it becomes clear that where God is leading you is agreement with the Catholic Church? And not just agreement with the Church today, but at the very moment of her highest infamy, in the Reformed view? I'm just asking.

That's what I realized I'd done to Mother Church and to myself: I'd taken the moments where God had touched my heart with his love, and mapped it onto the theology of the Reformers, as if they were the same thing. That God moves any of us with his love shocks no one. But how we got from that to believing any number of batty things (and that our communities and ministers rightly taught about that redemption accomplished, and had the authority to apply it) is a mystery to me, now.

All that is to say, historical continuity is the truest test of legitimacy. That claim of continuity rested uneasily in tension with the necessity of discontinuity to legitimize the rival ecclesial bodies founded at the Reformation. Heterodoxy is only slightly worse than orthodoxy established in an ad hoc fashion. Honesty demands a principled basis; if I should find that my "catholic" faith owes itself to a community I had forsaken, then I must conclude that I was wrong to forsake it. Indeed, the Church is itself the visible sign of salvation for all the Christian people. [Wow, high-falutin' today!--ed.]

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