Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Christian Unity, Part Two

My earlier post on “Christian Unity” seemed to get a good response from folks. It generated far more comments than I usually receive (I think of these as “blogger ratings” as well as opportunities to meet new and interesting people all named “Anonymous”), and one or two folks apparently even linked the article to their own blogs. That’s very cool.

However, the thing that struck me most about the comments was that not one of those who weighed in to express their dislike for what I wrote bothered to refute or even actually to address the issues that I raised. Mostly these people wrote to tell me that it was arrogant of me to dare suggest that there can only be one true Church in existence, thereby relegating all others (Ahem, "theirs") to the status of schisms. Isn’t that fascinating? If you say that there is one true Church, people will get very worked up against that idea. But if you say that Christendom is horribly divided in direct contradiction to the will of God, nobody gives a hoot.

Of course Protestant Christians in particular are not really in a position to lament such disunity with any sincerity, for their entire church experience over the last nearly five hundred years is nothing but schism after schism. In fairness, Martin Luther never meant to wind up as a schismatic. He only sought to bring reform to the Roman Catholic church, but got the boot instead. Hopefully it was at least made from fine Italian leather. Once outside, he ranted and raved about the Papists for the rest of his days, even using terms against their priests that made the poor fellows sound like witches. In fact he made quite a lifelong hobby of inventing new and clever invective against his former church, between sips of beer presumably. But other Protestants soon bored of this, or else didn’t drink as much, and instead turned their righteous wrath against one another. An entirely new hobby was born which involved pointing out all the “biblical errors” in the other guy’s church so that you could divide from him to form your own, more pure church.

The basis for deciding such biblical purity was entirely subjective of course, and depended on many factors including Western society’s steady move toward rationalism. The sacraments were the first to get cut, for they simply did not make sense in the new age of reason unless they were reduced to mere mental memorials only. The ever-virginity of Mary was soon dismissed as well. Never mind the fact that it had been believed from antiquity; demented Protestant theologians apparently could not imagine the aged Joseph keeping a 13-year-old cutey like her around the shack without desiring a little “comfort” in his old age. The backwater theology of Anselm of Canterbury was foolishly resurrected, and aided by John Calvin, freshly inspired by his tulip garden, was churned up into a new “biblical” theology introducing the world to a God and Father of wrath and Perfect Justice, who could only forgive us if we afforded Him the strange pleasure of putting His own Son to a horrific death.

And so it continues. Protestants, armed with the termite-ridden wooden sword of Sola Scriptura, have “played bible” with each other for generations and have endlessly hacked away at one another’s belief with no apparent concern that someone just might put an eye out, and along the way have battled themselves into ever-increasing schism, heresy, and even blasphemy. Today such stalwart doctrines as those concerning the Holy Trinity, the virgin birth and deity of Christ, and His bodily resurrection are among the last remaining relics of a past and forgotten orthodoxy being freshly overhauled in light of current “biblical truth”.

And what is the response of those Protestants in such progressive denominations who disagree with these doctrinal overhauls? Well, what else? They divide and form a new church, much more pure than the one which they left.

Well, perhaps there is something good in all this after all. With all this healthy division and schism going on, hundreds of years worth of it in fact, you would think that someone, somewhere must be just on the verge, maybe just one or two more divisions away, from finally producing (Drum roll, please) the Biblically Perfect Church. And it only took mankind around two thousand years, give or take! We can all look forward to that accomplishment.

Yes, I can see why people might have a hard time believing that the one true Church is the one that God made way back at the first Pentecost. For one thing, such a belief leaves so little room for us men to champion our own personal biblical interpretations and make a name for ourselves. What’s the point of having a bible if we can’t use it to show some other fellow how wrong his church is? If we were all members of one Church what on earth would we do all day except pursue our salvation according to the gospel of Christ and share the fruit of that with others? What kind of a life would that be, for goodness sake!

Yep, God sure made it hard for us to find His one, true Church. But let us simply remember that any God who would take such delight in the death of His own Son probably doesn’t really care for us all that much either.

8 Comments:

At 3/07/2007 9:49 PM , Anonymous Kevin said...

Ouch!!

 
At 3/08/2007 4:40 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a Canadian member of the Anglican (Americans read 'Episcopal') church, which is dealing with the schismatic 'gay' issue.

I read this morning Ezekiel 22:26 which I found very telling in this day: (NIV) 'Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.'

If you read 'pastors' for 'priests' then you can see one of the current sources of today's schisms.

Keep spreading the truth, brother.

 
At 3/08/2007 5:17 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking for myself, I don't use the Bible to just point out other people errors. I use it for the direction of my life. Whose interpretation of the Bible do you want me to listen to? Yours??? Why should I list to you over my pastor?

 
At 3/08/2007 8:41 AM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

It is heartbreaking to see what is happening to our devout Anglican/Episcopalian brethren who are literally losing their church to elements more concerned with being progressive and inclusive than with preserving the word and faith of Christ. Folks must feel as if they are standing on a small iceberg that is melting away right under their feet.

Some have sought to come under a more conservative communion, a process which typically involves expensive lawsuits to retain possession of their church properties. But one wonders if this is only a temporary fix at best. How long can such communions hold out against the spirit of the age and the pressures upon them to “modernize”?

Many Anglicans are making the move eastward to embrace Orthodoxy, but this is not always an easy solution either. Many ethnic churches within Orthodoxy are unwilling to receive converts. The Antiochian Archdiocese in North America, under His Eminence, Metropolitan PHILIP, is one jurisdiction that has an open door policy to such folks, and even offers a western rite option to ease the culture shock of conversion.

The only real answer to schism is for godly believers to “come home” to the historic Orthodox Church, whose foundation is firm and certain. The division and disintegration of Christendom outside the Church’s communion should be evidence enough of that.

 
At 3/09/2007 5:15 AM , Blogger Seraphim said...

The only real answer to schism is for godly believers to “come home” to the historic Orthodox Church, whose foundation is firm and certain. The division and disintegration of Christendom outside the Church’s communion should be evidence enough of that.

Which Orthodox church would that be? The Russian Orthdox Church outside of Russia? The Oriental Orthodox Churches? The New Calendarists? The Old Calendarists? The Greeks? It is easier to speak of the division without than the division within.

What of the currently existent non-canonical situation in America? What do we do about 'one bishop one town' when we can have the Greek church the OCA and others blocks away, each part of it's own jurisdiction?

What do we say about the fact that before the collapse of byzantium the church went to different cultures learned their language and became the Font of Truth for that culture? And now in America since the Old Worlds have collapsed, services and priest hold on to their culture and turn away converts?

I remember something about splinters and logs... or was that beams of wood and eyes.....

 
At 3/09/2007 8:53 AM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Seraphim,

Where human beings are involved, there will always be strife, contentions, divisions, and even war. It was a daring thing indeed for Christ to establish His Church upon the earth, admit men into it, and bid them to remain one with each other as He and His Father are one. Divisions from the Church began almost as soon as it was founded, as St. John records in one of his later epistles (“They went out from us, because they were not of us”).

Shall we assert as the Protestants do that Christ’s “experiment” failed? Shall we claim that the one Church no longer exists and it is up to every individual to find his own way to God through the bible alone? Both the history and even the current experience of Orthodoxy in the world would seem to prove this assertion to be a lie.

Certainly there is contention within Orthodoxy over many issues, including ethnicity, the role and interpretation of certain canons, various calendars, the Monophysite controversy and so forth. Has this human division among the Orthodox brought harm to our combined witness? Of course it has. Has this divided the Church itself? I am less inclined to think so.

Although there are many “camps” within Orthodoxy, it seems to me that most of us are still united under a much larger tent and remain one Church in God’s eyes, if not our own. Take the Coptic Church for example. Though separated from “the rest” of Orthodoxy for some 1500 years now, there is no doubt that the Coptic Church is thoroughly Orthodox and still holds to the same faith and life as the rest of us. This is no accident. It illustrates that the division was human only, and not a split of the Church itself. I believe this will be proven when our two groups eventually reunite.

On the other hand, the Roman Catholic church has existed as a separate entity for 1000 years, and bears little resemblance to Orthodoxy in matters of faith and spiritual life. The Protestant schisms from that body are even further removed from Orthodoxy in many areas. We Orthodox may have our squabbles with one another as men will, but the last I heard we still share one faith and one life in Christ as a testimony, not to ourselves, but to the Head of the one Body who holds all together.

I may indeed have a beam in my eye as you assert. I cannot know that, and must rely on wiser men such as you to point that out to me. Yet I think that those who claim that Orthodoxy’s many failures are equal in severity to the schisms of those who are outside the Church have much more than a splinter in their eyes, and fail to see the deeper unity of Orthodoxy which can only be from God and not men.

 
At 3/10/2007 3:26 AM , Anonymous Jeremias said...

The Episcopal/Anglican problems is an interesting discussion in just how much any Chruch's hierarchy should be followed with no "murmurring".

If the archbishops are "given their postions by god" then what of the churches that fall under Gene Robinson's district?

Should they just acquiesce to a church hierarchy "and pray for their leadership"? or would it be the will of the Lord to utterly reject such a man being in a postion of leadership?

I know what I would choose..

 
At 3/11/2007 8:26 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Well Jeremias, I’d be happy to hear otherwise, but the last time we discussed such matters you admitted that you weren’t attending any church at all. If that is still the case, can you see how it would be fairly easy for you to make the grand pronouncement that you would piously leave such a troubled church, when in fact you have no particular ecclesiastical loyalty to begin with? Many of our Episcopalian brethren who deeply love their church and its traditions are truly torn by such a dilemma, and by the painful decisions facing them.

I think your comment also reveals a fairly common Evangelical conceit, namely that Christians who look to bishops both as overseers of the flock of God and defenders of the faith more or less deserve what they get if their bishop “goes south”. Is that their “just reward” for not interpreting Christianity for themselves?

In the long history of Christendom there have certainly been many errant bishops, and some very notable ones. But these have existed in a very small percentage relative to the vast number of godly bishops who have fulfilled their duties in a manner pleasing to Christ. Christianity simply would not exist today if God had not raised up such faithful servants to serve the Church. The underlying suggestion in your comment is that Christians should only depend upon themselves and their own reading of the bible to guide them into the truth, and not any “man” appointed by the Church. Strangely, such a view actually leads you to assume a position of authority above any bishop ever consecrated by the Church; for bishops are only put in charge to protect and perpetuate the faith, not decide for themselves what it should be. Human ego may well assure us that we are quite capable of fulfilling such a role, but the vast majority of Christendom throughout time would strongly disagree.

 

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