Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Week of Christian Unity: Day 3, Me (Dan Lower!)

This is a reflection I wrote today, which focuses on the notion of what unity means in terms of unity of heart and mind, and the repairing of a little-c church which has surely been further exacerbated, though perhaps more climaxed than caused, by the disunity of the Reformation, however well-intentioned the Reformers may have been. It expresses my hope that in re-uniting with each other Catholics and Protestants will be able to work more perfectly towards what the Church was intended to be from the start. At any rate, I had felt I should write something of my own for this project. Guest-posts or links to others' posts should resume tomorrow if all goes according to plan.

Back in college (in my Sophomore or Junior year), a guy a knew then (and know now) named Corban gave me an interesting theory on the brokenness of the body of Christ, as in the little-c church. Now Corban's theory was this: Essentially, that after the Reformation Protestant churches had retained a fervor for the Scriptures that the Catholics had lost somewhere along the way. Now I think that the intellectual Catholics, even in the day of the Reformation, certainly had not lost this fervor: It seems clear that the Catholic Church's theologians always retained a knowledge of Scripture. However, it also seems clear that in traditions where the authority of the Church is emphasized alongside the authority of Scripture, it is not always made so clear that a drive for the Scriptures is necessary. (I think Corban was in an especially interesting place to make such observations, having attended Protestant churches regularly for a time when he was younger.)

Now I do not think that Christianity needs to have as a whole the same type of fervor that a non-denominational church down the street does; perhaps the same degree, but not the same type. Many in Protestant Christianity would have you believe that this fervor implies that people should be reading the Scriptures for themselves, as well as in corporate contexts, on a daily or almost-daily basis. Now I agree that regular reading of the Scriptures is important, but it is only really helpful if it contributes to an understanding of who we are as Christians. Individual interpretation of the Scriptures is dangerous because it has been shown to have just as much potential to contribute to disunity of heart and mind, as to unity of the same. Don't believe me? You can always retreat into the amazing visible unity of that subset of believers professing a belief in the Bible alone as divinely authoritative. Chesterton once said that:
“When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also, and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad.” (Orthodoxy)
The virtue of reading one's Bible is one such virtue. But here's the thing, even aside from the question of further disunity. Fervor for the Scriptures is important. But it's not capable of bringing us salvation, just further understanding. It's essential for being a Christian theologian. But, it is not as essential as the Sacraments—Eucharist and Baptism chiefly, but also the others. And these were held even from the earliest days by those men such as Ignatius of Antioch, or Irenaeus of Lyons, to be things by which men received graces of God. In many of the churches in which the sole sufficiency of Scripture is taught, the necessity of Sacraments is not. And this is a problem. It flies in the face of catholic (yes, little-c) and apostolic truth to insist that Sacraments aren't really sacraments.

So a fervor for the Scripture in each Christian is important, but this doesn't mean, that every single person needs to be deep in the study of Scripture all of the time, especially not “for themselves” or independent of other authorities on the matter. The fact is, some persons shouldn't try to read the whole Bible, and in the process introduce themselves to unnecessary stumbling blocks to the faith. The more obvious fact is that because not everyone who will receive the Gospel will be able to read the Scriptures on a daily basis—for fear of persecution, for illiteracy, for circumstances which limit their time, etc. And the historical situation seems to be that Christianity as intended really does teach that grace comes to us through the Sacraments. Therefore, we must provide a framework of relationship to God that doesn't rely on the Scriptures alone. But wait! There's already a church like that! Bonus: This church also provides a place where everyone can go to regularly hear and meditate on the Scriptures and partake of Christ's Broken Body, all in the space of about an hour.

Now one of the things that has led me towards this Church in recent times has been the amazing influx of converts from Bible-believing congregations, who discovered to their surprise that the Catholic Church made them more, not less, free to believe in the Scriptures. After a lot of historical study (not the least of which was my study of the matter of the Eucharist in Ignatius of Antioch, for Dr. Michael Cameron's class), I am coming more and more to the conclusion that the fullest expression of Christian faith is indeed in the Roman Catholic Church. The examples of those persons, for example, Dave Armstrong, or Tim Staples and Jimmy Akin of Catholic Answers, have shown me how truly beautiful it looks when Catholics in the laity have a real grasp of the implications of Scripture for their lives, when it is something that they meditate on day and night. There are a whole host of other reasons for me joining the Catholic Church. But this is certainly one: That it is a Church where the fervor for the Scriptures and the necessity for the Sacraments and for authority are both acknowledged, if sometimes imperfectly, and put into the most proper proportion manageable. Catholicism means a proper and proportionate unity of ideas, as well as of the people who have them. It is, I have come to believe, the best expression on Earth of what we should be as Christians. So in a way, my contribution to the project of Christian unity this year is myself. I'm becoming part of the project of re-unifying the Church, one person at a time if it be the case that this is necessary.

3 comments:

Peter said...

Hey, Dan! I really like this post; you raise a lot of interesting questions. I would elaborate on them, but I'm too tired to coherently comment right now.

Jeffrey Morgan said...

I appreciate your cogent reflections, Dan. I agree with you that many more Bible-believing Christians are coming to realize that in the One True Church the fullness of the life of faith subsists. Thanks for your sharing your thoughts.
Would I be able to send this reflection along to some folks so I can talk about it with them?

God is good!

Dan Lower / KKairos said...

Absolutely!

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