Sunday, June 29, 2008

Denominationalism and Kreeft.


The prayer of our God and Savior is recorded in the Holy gospel of St. John as follows,

"that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one." (John 17:21-22, NASB).

Thus we are told the purpose of unity, namely that humanity can see the power and veracity of Jesus Christ and that God has sent Him into a fallen world to redeem it. However, is this true in today's day and age? Instead of unity we have disunity, instead of a complete picture of the Church on earth we have a fragmented many-faced distortion (see painting above). I know many people that refuse to come to Christianity because in their eyes Christianity is self-refuting. How are we going to believe in a religion that is so shattered and cannot come to terms with itself in theological unity? They ask. This distortion that has entered Christ's body (and is due to sin) I submit cannot in principle last forever. For it is not our Church to run and mis-manage, but it belongs to Jesus Christ as the Head of the Body. The current situation is a mystery but as St. Paul reminds us throughout the New Testament, - mysteries ultimately serve the will and purpose of God to His glory.

Dr. Peter Kreeft1 is one of my favorite lecturers and authors. It has been a number of years now but I have given his lectures a fresh hearing and his lecture on "Ecumenism without Compromise" is one of the sanest presentations around on this subject. In it he tackles some of these issues, a few issues that I will now comment on.

Kreeft first marshals 1 Corinthians as the locus classicus that speaks against the splitting of the Church. Denominationalism Kreeft remarks, is not a sub-division within an organization but an amputation of limbs from an organism. St. Paul notes in Corinthians,

"I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions2 among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgement." (RSVCE, 1:10)

St. Paul as Kreeft cites cannot be clearer and more forceful in his rejection of schism. A divided Church weakens the witness of the truth claims of Christianity. Professor Kreeft goes on to cite nine commonly cited foundations for ecumenism;

1. "Reasonable Compromises." Which is an oxymoron in the strictest sense. This term brings to mind some dialogue's that I have read between Catholics (liberal) and Mormons. We can put away some theological issues as long as we can reach some common agreement - so this argument runs.

2. "Understanding/Education." Or the view that claims that differing Churches are simply misunderstanding eachother and at heart the theology is the same.

3. "Mystical Experience." If you experience one of these you will see that the teaching is compatible.

4. "Tolerance." Why can't we all just get along?

5. "Subjectivism." There is no one truth, truth is relative to each person - so why disagree?

6. "Skepticism." No one can find the truth anyways, so why bother?

7. "Rational Argument." Through critical and academic discourse, we can persuade eachother towards agreement.

8. "Vague Optimism." It will all pan out in the future, so no need to strive today.

9. "A Unified Front." Union for a common cause.

All of which has failed according to Kreeft. The "golden key" on the other hand is Jesus Christ. Through Him agreement can be found, soley done by us, we are doomed to fail. The Christian churches world wide have failed to grasp this and thus ecumenism has failed accordingly. Kreeft cites John Paul II when he said that the first millenia of Christianity was a time of unity (and it follows, a time of apologetic prosperity when the Church spread in unprecedented levels). The second millenia however has been an age of disunity, with the split of 1054, 1517 and the now (closer to 30,000) Protestant denominations. The hope is this third millenium will be the age of reunification.

How can we start this time of healing? First, the split between Eastern Catholics (Eastern Orthodoxy) and Western Catholics (Roman Catholics) must take place. Thankfully, the Eastern Church has remained unified and not split into thousands of sub-divisions. Theologically, the East remains essentially Catholic and the main stumbling block remains universal Papal authority but Rome has responded with open arms willing to modify the form (but not the reality) to better accomodate the Eastern Church3.

The harder reunion will be that of Rome and Protestantism. As have been pointed out already this will not happen with yielding on important theological tenets in one camp of the other. One of the major problems as Kreeft sees it, is the issue of acceptance of tradition. Catholics (Protestants complain) accept too many traditions that go beyond what should be held. Protestants (we retort) believe too little, theirs is a truncated Christianity, a faith reduced to the bare minimums.

Kreeft then gives a personal experience that can act as a way through the impasse. When (as a Protestant) he was studying at Calvin College he took a class in church history when the professor asked the class this question in the first day of the semester, "If a Roman Catholic challenged you why you are a Protestant since Protestantism is a novelty and Catholicism has been the same Church established by Christ 2000 years ago, how would you respond?" Nobody responded with an answer. "The Catholic will say" continues the professor, "that the big church of today is essentially the same little church of the first century, just as an oak tree is the same as the little acorn it came from." How do you answer this objection?, again asked the professor and again no answer. Here is the answer, claimed the professor, Jesus Christ did found his church, picture it as an ark. This ark through the centuries started to corrode, get rotten and it was left to Luther and the other reformers to scrape the barnacles off of it and thus restore it to it's pure and primitive New Testament essence. Immediately a question came to young Kreeft's mind. He asked that if he was put into a time machine and transported back into the first century, would he feel more at home in the ancient early church as a Protestant than a modern Catholic would? The professor smiled and said, "That's exactly what I'm saying."

Kreeft felt a relief. Instead of getting lost in the modern controversies he can simply read the early church fathers and draw his Protestant doctrines from the original contemporary interpreters. The fathers however turned out to be much more Catholic than Calvinistic and to make a long story short, Kreeft is now a Roman Catholic.

To be a good Catholic is to try and be the best Evangelical Protestant there is, says Kreeft. For the essence of Protestantism is to be one and to meet with Christ. In turn, this is the kernel of Catholic doctrine and sacrament as well. Contrary to popular misconception, Catholicism does not idolize the saints, Mary or relics but rather proud in idolizing Jesus Christ. Christ alone is the absolute ground of worship in Catholicism. For unity between Protestants and Catholics to manifest itself, Protestants must understand this point. Jesus Christ is the main pillar and object of worship for Catholics. St. Mary, the Saints, the authority of the Pope and such things only draw whatever meaning they have from their relationship too Jesus Christ, the ultimate Head of the Body.

If Protestants were to make only one adjustment in their thinking, it is to think of the Church in a different way. The Church is the Body of Christ. The Church then is not a thing to be feared or derided but to be loved, admired and cherished. The Church is the physical manifestation of Christocentristic Christianity. Therefore, the true Church of Christ points all her teaching, doctrine and living to the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is the essene of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it's Christocentrism.

It is none other than providence that has given us the most Christocentric and ecumenical Pope in history at the close of the second millenium, namely John Paul the Great. Before any tremendous reunion is possible kreeft holds, first Catholics must change. Not a change in theology but a rediscovery of relation. For this is the great advantage that Evangelicals claim over Catholics, their personal relationship with Jesus Christ4. Thus the Catholic rediscovery and the Protestant appreciation of Catholic Christocentrism are the prerequisites for unity. The Church being powered by the Holy Spirit moves to the tune of His beat. Protestantism itself is a tool being used by the Holy Spirit to teach people step one of the full Catholic faith. Many converts from Protestantism can attest to this fact, that in Protestantism the personal relationship with Christ is strong and real. But this relationship is just the foundation of the fuller house of Christianity. Catholicism rightly understood is the full flower of the relationship of Jesus Christ manifested in doctrine and practice.

Kreeft is confidant that when Christ comes again for His bride He will not be found a polygamist. But that she will be one bride waiting for her groom.


____________________

[End Notes].

1. Catholic Professor of Philosophy at Boston's College. I have greatly enjoyed Kreeft on Aquinas, (Summa of the Summa) and Kreeft on logic, (Socratic Logic). His website that includes free audio mp3's can be found here - http://www.peterkreeft.com/.

2. σχίσματα is where we get the word schismatic from. I am fascinated at the length Protestant commentaries go to waterdown both the meaning, translation and theological import of σχίσματα here. Without entering the huge debate to the exact meaning of the word here (i.e., as "political bickering"; John Lightfoot (Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul. 151), or as "personailty cliques" J. Munck (Paul and the Salvation of Mankind. 135-67), etc) the main thrust of St. Paul is clear, the spirit of fragmentation is anti-Christian at it's very root.

3. Cf. on this point John Paul II's Ut unum sint that can be found on-line here - http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25051995_ut-unum-sint_en.html. An excellent discussion can also be found in, Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives. Vol 2.

4. I disagree with Kreeft's statement that a personal relationship is more important than a correct conception of a person. Mormon's can claim vehemently that they have an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. But once studied, their Christ is not the Christ of the Sacred Scriptures. Our advantage is that Protestants and Catholics worship the same Christ.

14 comments:

~Joseph the Worker said...

What a joy to find your blog! First, I must say that it is the most beautiful blog I've ever seen. I need to take some style points from you! I believe your thoughts about Protestantism and Catholicism are right on target in many aspects. One thing that I did not understand, and am still working on as a convert is the idea of doctrinal development. Simply put, since Christ's body is a living organism, we should expect it to grow over the years. Protestants ignore this, and by "going back to the Bible", they tend to ignore not only that development, but everything the early church stood for. I would expect that if an early Christian was transported to our time in a time machine, he would be extremely confused to walk into any church without a liturgical tradition. That's a starting point.

R. E. Aguirre. said...

Joseph, thanks for the kind words.

- On Doctrinal Development, still one of the best treatments on the matter consult John Henry Newman's (An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.) It is heavy philosophical reading but brings much fruit if carefully read.

R.E. Anno Domini MMVIII.

George Weis said...

Hi Brother Rick,

Here I am commenting again :)

This is a very interesting post... very intelligent.

I think it is very curious what Kreeft notes about the Protestant and Catholic.

One of the largest stumbling blocks in even considering Catholicism is the lack of fruit I see in large. I cannot help but be leery about people who claim to be Christians, and yet seemingly have no fruit that shows the stamp of Christ work in their hearts.

I am not speaking of you my friend, because from day one you have been incredibly cordial, but you were also a protestant in the past :)

Even one of my closest friends whom I love, who is also very generous, seems like he is off the deep end. He loves "The Church" but what he believes is some kind of twisted blend of Catholicism, mysticism, new age thought, self empowerment, self enlightenment kinda thing. Now, he would never say that outright, but it is clear when we have heart to hearts. His Ideas are very liberal and centered on self rather than God. More than that, he could say something about "his faith" one moment, and blaspheme God the next. It is repulsive.

This is much of what I see. So it is hard for me to even get passed that. I honestly would rather have the basics down, then to be steeped in the "more" and not even have the basics.

Christ IS the center. He should always be our center. How could we even call ourselves Little Christ if we are far from having Him as our Lord.

My wife and I just discussed this topic last night. "What if we became Catholic?" We both shuddered at the thought. Yet I said "If it was proven, what choice would we have?" Rick, as I have said many times before, it definitely gives me the willies.

One part of me likes the idea, and the other hates it.

Simple as it gets. Sorry for the rant brother! I hope your week is blessed.

For His Sake,
-g-

R. E. Aguirre. said...

George,

Good to hear from you again and as always, heartfelt questions!

Let me pose the question back at ya' What is you're understanding of fruits? Not surprisingly, most Christians (Catholic/Protestant) misunderstand the Biblical conception of fruits of the Spirit.

Fruits have a wide range of meaning and different fruits come from different people, "each according to the grace that they have been given." So, it is basic mathematical fact that Catholics have produced far more "fruits" than Protestants. There are 1 billion plus Catholics in the world today (the overwhelming majority of Christians). Moreover, in the 1500 years before the Protestant Reformation, only Catholics were producing fruit in the first place.

The logic is inescapable. Watch this short video for the "fruit" accomplishments of Catholic Christianity.

-http://www.catholicscomehome.org/

-Then click on bottom left movie entitled "epic."

George Weis said...

Hey Brother Rick,

first off let me tell ya that I love ya! (the "ya" makes it less creepy :D )

Secondly, I have already watched that video and scoured that sight. Very inviting :)

Thrid, I am not saying there are no fruits or that all fruits are the same. Certainly God gives grace to each person in a unique way, that is what makes the Body of Christ a living organism. We all have different strengths. But in my life, I am surrounded by few that I can note as faithful followers of Christ thought their life's action. I could list the negatives I have seen, but that is not helpful. For me, I see a greater number of Evangelical Christians who are concerned with the Glory of God. Don't worry I am trying to rub elbows with more Catholics to prove myself wrong.

This is not evidence of the truth of the church necessarily, but does create a personal stumbling block to any possible conversion in regards to me.

Sorry if I offend, I only wish to be honest.

Bless you brother!

-g-

R. E. Aguirre. said...

George, you don't offend at all but rather encourage with you're honest probing questions.

Again though, there are bad apples in every tree. And as you point out - that doesn't make the tree itself bad. But instead of judging a tree by the few bad apples that have dropped to the ground around you, stand back and judge the tree by it's true standards, it's total fruits, their quality and quantity.

I have done that very thing and have found that the oldest and biggest apple tree in the grove is far superior to the smaller and more recent trees, many of which, have already fallen, are in the process of falling and will fall in the future.

~Joseph the Worker said...

George, I totally agree with what has been said before. I think one obstacle is that the Church is so large that we will see so many who really aren't dedicating themselves to Christ's teachings. That being said, when I converted I was amazed to see people in our parish who showed up half an hour before mass or stayed half an hour afterwords just to kneel and pray. Also, to see (even though it may be the minority) the amount of dedication that those few have to Christ just blew me away. I think two things, attending mass and reading about individuals like Mother Teresa (or any of the Saints, or even about individuals who do works that we don't realize) will help us understand more about the real nature of the Church. Christ will sift out the tares from the wheat at judgment.

George Weis said...

Thank you gentlemen for the delicate way you treat the subject.

The fact that I even consider this at all is quite amazing as I was raised with a totally negative view of the Catholic Church, and I know that you both know that many actions of the Church in the past fuels this kind of perspective.

I have read books and watched movies of men burnt alive or tortured, because of differing beliefs they held contrary to the Church. Has the Catholic Church repented of those killings? Weather or not the Reformers were wrong or right, doesn't mean they should have been killed. Aligning myself with those things is impossible for me.

I was thankful to hear of some good will towards what happened with Huss. Huss was such a humble guy, and did not want to create schism, but only reform... they killed him while He sang to Christ. This kind of stuff makes it more than difficult for me to be able to except the Old Tree.

Blessings to both of you in the name of Christ our King!

-g-

R. E. Aguirre. said...

George, you really need to learn how to get past these arguments based on emotion my friend.

If it is not the perceived "lack" of fruits it is the killing of the reformers. All of these emotive points can be thrown back at Protestants and with more force. I have already pointed out that Catholics produce far more good fruits throughout Christendom as a whole, globally.

John Calvin is notorious for his vote in the burning alive of the Trinitarian-denying Michael Servetus on theological grounds. There are also numerous barbarous examples of death and torture of Catholics at the hands of Protestants.

But all these events are still more examples of bad apples that exist in all the traditions. I would suggest not focusing on these or basing you're apologetics on these grounds. All traditions including the Jews are guilty of these types of killings.

Instead, focus on what is the theology of the tradition you are critiqing rather than the practice of a few rotten apples.

Ashley Weis said...

Rick,

You are indeed right that emotion is a part of all of this. I cannot help that I am wired with emotion, yet you bring up some very good points. This is why perhaps there is an urge in a fellow like myself to believe in the Body as invisible, and aligning myself with any organized body is difficult.

Please be patient with me, as I am also examining the theology, but the emotion/gut is something all together real also.

However, It would help to hear a retraction of such brutality (on everyones part). I once was so taken aback by a Reformed friend who laughed that Anabaptists were drowned to death... horrific!

Blessings to you Rick!

-g-

George Weis said...

Ooops! There I go commenting as my wife again :)

Sorry Rick!

Hope you had a great Sunday!

-g-

R. E. Aguirre. said...

Np, I figured that one out.

God bless and great family picture of you guys!

George Weis said...

Hi Rick!

Glad that didn't trip you up :)

Thanks for the kind words! Now can I ask for some kind words? Would you be so kind to shoot me a brief e-mail testimonial about working with tekeme?

Much appreciated brother!

Blessings to you!

-g-

R. E. Aguirre. said...

Will do.