October 23, 2017

2,000 Light Years From Home

Texas_Instruments_TI-30_electronic_calculatorI recently announced on these pages my decision to leave evangelicalism to venture into Catholicism. I am taking some time to share some of what went into this decision. These are my thoughts just as it is my journey. I am not telling anyone else what to do. If you find that remaining an evangelical is the safest and most appropriate home for you, then by all means, that is where you should stay. If you are comfortable in a mainline Protestant denomination, or in the Orthodox tradition, I rejoice with you. This is my journey. Read, and then comment. All are welcome to weigh in.

There is something very comforting about math to me. Don’t get me wrong—I am no mathematician. To own the truth, I never went above geometry in high school, and I took the easiest college math class, something called Math and Society, just to get my math credit to graduate. But I like the fact that math is a constant. Two plus two equals four was true last year, a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago. And while there are always new ways to apply math, at least we don’t have math nerds coming up with new “rules” every other week. I have no interest in someone with a pocket protector who wants to tell me that two plus two now equals purple.

While Pythagoras is generally considered as the father of modern math, there are those who think math did not really exist until the first Texas Instrument calculator appeared in the early 1970s. (And there are those who think math, or at least the ability to think mathematically, ended with the invention of the handheld calculator. But that is not the topic of conversation here today.) That we don’t have to learn math any longer since we can just push buttons and let a machine do the thinking for us.

We would think it very odd for someone to toss aside 2,500 years of math in order to teach some new “revelation” or teaching regarding numbers. Again, there are always new ways to apply the principals of math, but no reason to create new numbers.

Yet that is what evangelical Christianity seems to do. Let’s disregard two thousand years of tried and proven true theology and instead go with the revelation du jour.

We have conveniently forgotten that the early church fathers fought—and some died—to perfect the faith we have today. Sometimes the fight over a single word led to church splits that are still in place. (See tomorrow’s post by Mule for just such a battle that led to the Great Schism.) But the Catholic Church found a way to keep together through these trials, and the theology that was forged in fire in the early centuries solidified and became a firm foundation until the sixteenth century when all Reformation broke loose. Still, this was not a time of throwing out all teaching and starting over. It was actually an effort to get the Church back on track. What ended up happening was a splintering into a thousand and one pieces. The djinn is out of the bottle and refuses to go back in.

It amazes me the number of well-meaning men and women who, for whatever reason, seem to believe Christianity was invented in the last century. Or the last decade. It is the same as those who believe math was virtually non-existent before the calculator came into being. These throw away 2,000 years of teaching because … because? Perhaps because the “old” teaching is too difficult to understand, while the “new” teaching comes conveniently packaged in PowerPoint presentations.

Not all teaching of the Catholic and Orthodox traditions is deep, just as not all evangelical teaching is shallow. I also recognize there are differences—small and great—between Catholics and Protestants, and Catholics are not always on the right side of these differences. Theology, for better or worse, is not as cut and dried as a mathematical formula. So don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying Catholics are infallible in areas of theology. I’m just saying that evangelicals who ignore the theological precepts begun with the first apostles are really missing out. New is not always better.

There is a Target store here in Tulsa that has been open for less than five years. The foundation for the back third of the store is sinking, causing giant cracks in the floor of this “new” store. You would think that modern technologies would prevent something like this from happening. You would think that building on a firm foundation would be something any architect or engineer would ensure these days. New is not always better.

Only two evangelical churches I have been associated with over my forty years of being a Christian have even acknowledged that the early church fathers may have known what they were talking about. Or that they even existed. Most have been too concerned with wanting to be “relevant” to bother looking from wince we have come. Think I am exaggerating? I have a question for you, then. When is the last time you sang a worship chorus in an evangelical service that had rich theology? Or when was the last time you heard an evangelical preacher quote a church father?

I am sure I will have questions about Catholic theology as a venture on this road. Yet the Christian faith did not begin the day I was born. The questions I have have been asked and answered for two thousand years. I feel confident in those who have gone before me, and can rest knowing the foundation the Church rests on is sure. I could not say the same as an evangelical.

Comments

  1. Jeff:

    When we were becoming Orthodox, I wrote the following as a blog post:

    While sharing with a friend this week about our journey to the Orthodox Church, she asked me why I didn’t choose the (Roman) Catholic Church.

    That’s a fair question, and I gave her a partial answer somewhat along the lines of the following:

    The Catholic apologists’ and converts’ books and stories I read that argued for Catholicism and the Papacy versus Protestantism and/or Orthodoxy didn’t convince me or resonate with me.

    (I read a lot of them over quite some period of time, both in print and on the Internet, and several are still sitting on my bookshelves. Since there are many more converts to Catholicism than to Orthodoxy, and more collections of their stories, I no doubt read more Catholic converts’ stories than Orthodox converts’ stories, too.)

    I also felt that Catholicism was dogmatic and legalistic in ways that Orthodoxy wasn’t, and in ways in which I didn’t think the Church should be or need be dogmatic and legalistic. E.g., as I understand it, you have to believe in Papal Infallibility, Purgatory, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and the Bodily Assumption of Mary to be a faithful Catholic. Orthodoxy, as I understand things, rejects the first three, and though the fourth is believed by some (or maybe by many), it’s not a doctrine of the faith. As for my describing Catholicism as being more “legalistic,” I’m thinking in terms of things like prescribing “holy days of obligation,” and categorizing sins as “venial” and “mortal,” and saying things like if one deliberately misses Mass, and does so consciously without a valid excuse or reason, it’s a mortal sin – and if one dies in a state of mortal sin, one goes to hell, period. Etc. (Forgive me if I err in my comments here about Catholicism. I am writing somewhat off the cuff, and this post is not intended to be a precise treatise on things Orthodox or Catholic.)

    Now, I’m not automatically saying that Catholicism is wrong in being dogmatic and legalistic (as I term things) in these ways vis-a-vis Orthodoxy. For all I know, Catholicism could be right and Orthodoxy wrong (though I don’t think that is the case; otherwise, I would probably not have chosen Orthodoxy over Catholicism). But these different approaches to the faith (and I’ve not really discussed them, just briefly mentioned a few things) definitely affected how Catholicism and Orthodoxy differently impacted me.

    Coincidentally, a couple weeks ago our priest talked about the differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, and he gave the following list:

    History of the Estrangement
    * Council of Elvira 306 – Clerical continency even if married; then celibacy
    * African Code 419 – ” ”
    * Third Council of Toledo, Spain 589 – Filioque
    * Charlemagne and the Franks 800
    * Photian Schism 861 – 1009 Pope’s name omitted from diptychs
    * 1054
    * Sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders 1204
    * Council of Florence 1438-1439 – attempt to heal schism

    Theological Differences
    * Filioque
    * The Papacy
    * Purgatory
    * Original Sin
    * Atonement
    * Indulgences
    * Divorce, indissolubility of marriage
    * Saints after 1054
    * Views of each other (My understanding: The Roman Catholics consider Orthodox to be schismatic, but to have valid sacraments – hence a Roman Catholic can take the Eucharist from an Orthodox priest – a moot point, though, because an Orthodox priest can’t knowingly give the Eucharist to a non-Orthodox Christian. The Orthodox consider the Roman Catholics to be heterodox, not merely schismatic, and will not state that the Roman Catholic Church has valid sacraments.)

    New Roman Dogmas
    * Papal Infallibility
    * Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary
    * Assumption of the Virgin Mary

    Christian Practice
    * Fasting
    * Chrismation separated from Baptism becomes Confirmation
    * Communion of infants
    * Form of Baptism: immersion vs. pouring
    * Leavened vs. unleavened bread for the Eucharist
    * Communion in both the Body and Blood
    * When does the transformation of the Bread and Wine take place?
    * One Liturgy a day vs. several Masses
    * Unction vs. Supreme Unction (I think the correct term is “Extreme Unction”)
    * Married vs. celibate clergy
    * Sign of the Cross
    * Legalism
    * Priestly misconduct
    * Varied forms of piety
    * Icons vs. Statues

    (The above is just a list, and one will have to look elsewhere to find out how Orthodoxy and Catholicism differ with regard to these things, as to discuss them here would take many pages.)

    A reason I chose Orthodoxy over Catholicism was that I found myself more in agreement with Orthodoxy than with Catholicism on some or many of the above things. My conversations in person and online with Orthodox folks (mostly converts, but others as well) also encouraged me to continue to investigate Orthodoxy, as well as influenced my eventual decision to embrace it.

    I personally like to think that it’s not just a matter of me liking Orthodoxy more than Catholicism, or feeling that Orthodoxy seemed to “fit” me better than Catholicism, that caused me to choose Orthodoxy over Catholicism, as well to choose to become Orthodox rather than remain Protestant. I.e., I believe that the Orthodox Church can support its claim to being the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church declared by the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, and I also believe that there is in truth a depth and fullness of Christianity in the Orthodox Church that I did not and could not have in my previous Christian experience.

    At the end of the day, though, I have to allow that after being presented with the same information, and after doing the same amount of study, and after looking at and into the same things, some people will become or remain Protestant, some people will become or remain Catholic, and some people will become or remain Orthodox, and they will all be able to give reasons for their choices that are as satisfactory for them as my reasons are for me.

    So those are some of the reasons I chose Orthodoxy instead of Roman Catholicism. I don’t claim that my decision to become Orthodox was totally objective or that my reasons should be or have to be convincing to you.

    NOTE: I didn’t mention my experiences at 3 different Catholic Churches in the vicinity (more than one visit to each), which left me less than impressed with Catholic worship and/or its priests/ministers.

    Also, as you know, I am no longer Orthodox. As many problems as I have with Evangelicalism, I could no longer confess and believe some of the things the Orthodox Church taught. Interestingly, my godfather, also a convert, left the Orthodox Church several months before I did. Part of what compelled him to do so was that he was working on a dissertation for an online Orthodox seminary in which he was trying to refute the claim often made by Evangelicals – especially Charismatics/Pentecostals – that the waning of the charismata in the church was directly related to the increasing institutionalization and hierarchicalization set in place, especially beginning during the 4th century, I believe. During his reading and studies, he was confronted with facts and evidence that convinced him that this indeed was what had happened. As he says, he saw his dissertation crumble in his hands.

    FWIW, here is what Scot McKnight wrote 10/01/2008 re: Catholicism and Orthodoxy:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2008/10/01/why-i-am-not-a-catholic-or-eastern-orthodox/

    • (I didn’t want to put 2 hyperlinks in a post)

      Then there’s this book: http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00DJZWQWS

      Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanism

      Research indicates that on average, Americans change their religious affiliation at least once during their lives. Today, a number of evangelical Christians are converting to Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Anglicanism. Longtime Evangelicals often fail to understand the attraction of these non-Evangelical Christian traditions. Journeys of Faith examines the movement between these traditions from various angles. Four prominent converts to Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Evangelicalism and Anglicanism describe their new faith traditions and their spiritual journeys into them. Response chapters offer respectful critiques. Contributors include Wilbur Ellsworth (Eastern Orthodoxy), with a response by Craig Blaising; Francis J. Beckwith (Roman Catholicism), with Gregg Allison responding; Chris Castaldo (Evangelicalism) and Brad S. Gregory’s Catholic response; and Lyle W. Dorsett (Anglicanism), with a response by Robert A. Peterson. This book will provide readers with first-hand accounts of thoughtful Christians changing religious affiliation or remaining true to the traditions they have always known. Pastors, counselors and students of theology will gain a wealth of insight into current faith migration within the church today.

    • Within the Catholic church though, are also the sui generis churches, the Eastern Rite Catholics with their own traditions and distinct from the Latin rite Catholics (Romans in American parlance). So the Ruthenians, I believe, also use leavened bread and at least one of the Eastern Rites makes the filioque an optional part of the creed. Also just about all of them have married men who were ordained to the priesthood (as does the RCC now with the Anglican Ordinariate).

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      You missed “the battle of the beards.” Western-Rite clergy were clean-shaven; Eastern-Rite grew ’em like ZZ Top or the Ayatollahs. To the point that shaving became blasphemy; one of the East-to-West flames in that long-ago flamewar denounced Roman(TM) priests for the blasphemy of shaving.

      I think the rationale was similar to the Russian folk belief at the time of Peter the Great — That “God Made Man in His Image” and since men grew beards, God obviously must have had a beard and the beard was part of God’s Image.

      Which ties in with the artistic convention showing God the Father as old with a long white beard. As the first of the Fifties flying saucer cults (the Adamskyites) commented: “You conceive of the Creator as aged but Eternal, yet Eternity has no age.”

    • Eric, thank you for your irenic and well-informed words. It is nice to see a survey of the issues like this, and to get your perspective. I always appreciate it when you take time to comment.

  2. Kenny Johnson says:

    I came to faith in an Evangelical church and currently attend an Evangelical Covenant Church. Out church and our pastor have a deep respect for the early church fathers and the Catholic Church. We often recite the creeds and every service ends with a benediction from the past. I appreciate your journey but as for me I’ve found a good balance respecting tradition while always reforming. I believe the Catholic Church has much to offer but I could not see myself under the authority of the papacy.Besides I think there is good evidence the early church was more congregational than controlled by a hierarchy of Bishops or especially a pope.

  3. Jeff….first of all, blessings on your journey, where-ever it may lead you!! My darling husband and I are both cradle Catholics, with my family of origin a bit more devout. We were talking in the car Sunday morning about why we are still Catholic after all these years…..what it comes down to, if this is the most obvious statement in the world, is a choice of a faith expression that WE feel has gathered more of the Truth than others. I believe that almost all Christians and a fair number of other religions contain some part of the Truth of God, some more than others. I further believe that many, many roads ultimately converge at the entrance to Heaven.

    So, I am quite sure that the Catholic Church has some things wrong; but that She has more things RIGHT and less wrong than any other options out there for me/us. I hope that you can see through the debris of all forms of Christianity, and find the most solid core with the most truth and the least “junk” and errors.

  4. Dan Crawford says:

    Jeff,

    May God continue to bless you on your journey. May you always keep your eyes on Jesus and your heart fixed on his mercy. May you be an instrument of Christ’s peace and reconciliation. And may none of us be distracted by the many reasons we use to rationalize our failure to take Christ’s priestly prayer seriously.

  5. “I am not saying Catholics are infallible in areas of theology.” But are you willing to say, and believe, that the Pope speaks infallibly when he is speaking ex cathedra? If not, then no matter what other motions you go through on your journey into the institutional RC Catholic church, you will not actually become Roman Catholic.

    • Yes, but it sure doesn’t come up often. I believe the Assumption of the BVM was pretty much the only one. And I don’t believe I was ever quizzed on the subject when I was Catholic. In truth, I felt it and the Immaculate Conception cheapened the Incarnation by turning Mary from an ordinary mortal into a demigoddess, but meh, not really enough to get in a huff about.

      The Institution of the Papacy is smart enough to only use the tool of ex cathedra infallibility sparingly. Otherwise, it will receive the same respect the Ordinary Magisterium receives.

      • Actually, there is no official count, and church historians disagree about the number of times it was invoked and the specific incidents when it was invoked. The Assumption and the Immaculate Conception are the only two that are widely agreed to unquestionably be infallible definitions, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t others. The Vatican does not give an official list.

      • “In truth, I felt it and the Immaculate Conception cheapened the Incarnation by turning Mary from an ordinary mortal into a demigoddess”

        Yes, me too, cermak_rd. If God could take upon human skin and bones to redeem humankind, he could do it through a woman who herself needing redeeming. I have no doubt that Mary was special as she was chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus and I honor her. But I feel that considering her to be the Immaculate Conception does not honor her. Nevertheless, it is not a point that I feel I must “fight” to win.

        • Dan Crawford says:

          Though not a Roman Catholic, I’ve never had much difficulty with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. If Yahweh could require his Chosen People to create a sanctuary to which nothing profane or earthy could be admitted without prior purification, it makes sense to me that the Father might “purify” the womb of the Virgin Mary – even cleanse the entirety of her being – to prepare a resting place for his Son. Thus, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Nothing superhuman about her – but obviously a work of God – something the Church has always taught. She was “immaculately conceived” by the grace of God and the foreseen merits of her Son. It is not a doctrine necessary for salvation. You find those teachings in the Creed.

        • As a doula, I get weird research sometimes about women, babies, birth, etc. Oddly enough, some research results that came across my desk when I was studying the Catholic church and considering conversion, and it convinced me that the Immaculate Conception was absolutely necessary.

          You can see this link for more info and for further links to the research itself:
          http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=scientists-discover-childrens-cells-living-in-mothers-brain

          But basically following pregnancy the DNA of the child carried remains within and part of the mother for her entire life. Because Mary not only carried Jesus while pregnant, but in fact her body was imprinted forever with His DNA, because He was always a part of her, she had to be Immaculately conceived.

          I’ve also heard it explained that if someone fell into a muddy pit and was pulled out, that would be saving them. But they could also be saved by someone preventing them from falling into the pit in the first place. The Immaculate Conception.

    • Seeing as there have only been two ex cathedra proclamations (both dealing with Mary), I’ll take my chance on that, Robert.

      • Jeff,
        We might also want to remember that papal infallibility involves more than just the pope speaking ex cathedra. This doctrine also requires that ex cathedra teaching be in agreement and in unison with the bishops. In essence, the whole church is speaking with one voice – in communion with each other and with Christ (if you believe the doctrine).

        I find this inspiring and quite moving as opposed to threatening. On this issue, the keys are in good hands. Our faith blesses us that it will remain so. I’m willing to take that chance.

        My prayers to you as you move forward.

        • If you want to disqualify all other forms of Christianity from being the church, then the Pope speaks for all; if you don’t, then he doesn’t.

          • Hence the presence of 20,000 popes. The buck always ultimately stops with someone.

          • flatrocker,
            So you believe that non-Roman Catholic churches are not true churches?

          • Robert F,
            Not sure how you made that leap. But since you raised it, what would you say constitutes a “true church” and does the RCC have a membership card to the club?

          • I do believe that the RCC participates in the Church Catholic, unlike, say the Church of Latter Day Saints. But, like other Christian churches, it is not always true, and it is never infallible.

          • I got there because you stated that when the Pope makes an infallible definition it is the whole church speaking. Is he speaking for the Protestant churches, too? We Protestants do not believe he does; if we are part of the true church, then he is not speaking for the whole church.

            And I noticed that you didn’t answer my question.

          • Robert F,
            All churches (and all individuals for that matter) are capable of and do make infallible statements. “Jesus is our Lord and Savior.” “We are saved by grace.” “Jesus will come again.” All of these statements are deemed true and without error by the church catholic – and thus become infallible. The issue is not about infallibility per se but about who is allowed to make the statement. We tend to place ourselves in the position of the infallibility traffic cop in making a statement that infalliblility is not even possible. And to remove the temptation that the above infallible phrases are all scripture and the popes utterings are something else, this line of thinking demeans a particular faith community’s conviction that authority and tradition walk together with scripture.

            As far as what constitutes a “true church” your statement that the LDS church is “out” supports the contention that we all tend to become our own popes. Upon what authoirty do we make such judgments? Hence my comment that every denomination ends up with its own pope – we just don’t want to call it that. We all want ot set up the rules acoording to our own standards. We need to grant the pope the same right. Which leads to the ultimate contention – when it gets a litle sticky, who arbitrates?

            And finally in answer to your question, yes we are all part of the church catholic. However, it is never that simple. Questions of theology (LDS for instance) and Christ’s intentions (a visible church as well as the invisible communion of believers) require alot more space than we have here.

            Blessings to you. Thanks for the jump start before my morning coffee.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Which leads to the ultimate contention – when it gets a litle sticky, who arbitrates?

            The Supreme Court Five-to-Four, who else?

          • flatrocker,
            Making a true statement and being infallible when making a true statement are two different things. I may make true statements, and the statements may possess infallibility, but that does not mean I am infallible, even in limited and circumscribed ways, as with Papal infallibility.

            And as far as my rejection of the LDS’s claim to be Christian: I have certain criteria for that, and I believe I’m correct about my assessment, but I may be wrong; when the RCC is willing to acknowledge that Popes may be incorrect when issuing definitions, even ones that have good theological and historical reasoning behind them and are made under the correct conditions for what is now considered papal infallibility, then I will drop my criticism.

          • Robert F,
            We are in agreement that no pope is infallible. Never has been and never will be. However this is not what the doctrine is about. Please bear in mind our criticisms carry much more heft if we argue from what the issue is instead of what we want it to be.

            Time to move on – see you around the bend.

          • One last and then I’ll leave it alone: you say it’s not about any Pope ever being infallible under any circumstances. If I go along with your premise that the RCC doctrine does not involve narrowly defined papal infallibility, times when, under certain conditions, papal definitions concerning doctrine and morals can not be false, then it must be the church itself that possesses that infallibility, since the RCC definitely claims that certain definitions it makes are guaranteed by God to be true. In those circumstances, the RCC says, the church is unable to make a false definition. The proclamation is guaranteed to be true.

            I do not believe that any church has such infallibility. Now, I may be wrong; some church, or somebody, somewhere, may make utterances that have to be true. But I see no credible evidence that any church, or person, has or ever has had such infallibility. To make the claim that one, or one’s church, does have such infallibility does not prove it so. I do not believe the RCC has a plausible claim to such infallibility, and I see no evidence of such an ability other than the naked claim that it in fact possesses it, which is actually no evidence at all.

            Enough said.

            Peace

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          An additional requirement of Ex Cathedra pronouncements is that like legal decisions they cannot go against precedent, “precedent” in this case meaning the Bible or the Church’s parallel oral tradition. In each case before, the Ex Cathedra pronouncement was to give a final ruling decision on some matter of doctrine, faith, or morals. (Ex Cathedra pronouncements are limited to “matters of faith and morals”.) Very similar to appealing to the Supreme Court in the USA, and we know how head-scratching frivolous some of those Supreme Court appeals can get.

      • A little infallibility goes a long long long etc. way.

        • Sounds like a jingle to a shampoo commercial.

          • I think it was; but I’m not buying any of it. I’ll take my chances popeless.

          • Historical sidenote: After he had converted to Roman Catholicism, John Henry Newman actually prayed that Pope Pius XII would die before being able define the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary infallibly, so divisive did he feel the doctrine would be if it were infallibly defined, and so much politicking did he see behind the effort to have it defined infallibly.

            After it had been so defined, over a period of years he came to accept it, not because it had been defined by the Pope, but because he believed the church catholic had come to accept it as truth, and he deferred his own conscience to the conscience of the church. Not the conscience of the Pope, mind you, but the conscience of the church.

          • Newman was not big on papal infallibility.

          • Correction: it was Pope Pius IX and the definition of the Immaculate Conception. That’s what happens when I work from memory instead of checking my facts first. Apologies.

          • Yeah… there was nearly 1,000 years of politicking and disagreement about the IC prior to Pius XII’s pronouncement. I wish cooler heads (less inclined to believe in it) had prevailed, but then, there’s no doubt that we Protestants (whether low church or high) have our own rash of “peculiar” beliefs, so…

          • Yes, we do have our own “peculiar” beliefs, because we, just like the Popes, are never infallible, though we may sometimes be correct.

  6. I was raised in the RCC and didn’t really leave it as much as I was driven out of it by their idea of sin and forgiveness. I found that I couldn’t stop sinning, and after being reprimanded by a priest in the confessional I just couldn’t go back. Despair is what I experienced, not Christ’s love and forgiveness.

    Now, after being an evangelical Christian since 1971 (in fits and starts) I have to admit that I miss the sense of the Holy when attending Sunday worship services which seem to me to be, at times, too familiar with the Godhead as opposed to fear and trembling or awe. Often times, in my occupation, I have the opportunity to service churches, and it gives my great pleasure, and a sense of peace, to just sit in a pew in a RCC church while on a break.

    But, then again, when I begin to consider all of the issues which which I cannot reconcile my conscience concerning that church I give up the idea of ever going back to it. I DO have to say, though, aside from Mariology and praying to the saints my GREATEST disagreement with Catholic theology is that church’s stance on ANY issue not based in scripture. What I mean is this, when the RCC is questioned WHY they believe a certain way their answer is no better than “Because we said so”, which amounts to holding tradition equal to scripture and papal fiat as God’s word.

    As for the Orthodox path, I just might be convinced if, as Eric pointed out (if I am not mistaken) you have to buy in with the culture from which that tradition originated, i.e. Greek, Serbian, Russian, etc. Can there be a WESTERN Orthodoxy? Would that look more like Anglicism? I don’t know.

  7. David Cornwell says:

    This entire conversation about the movements back and forth within the Church has an element of strangeness to it. On a personal level I have friends, close ones, who have left Catholicism and joined up with Protestant churches. Mostly they are longtime Catholics. However they do not hate the Church. In fact one can tell that in some ways they will always be homesick. These people were active Catholics and people I considered strong in the faith. Their reasons for leaving are mostly institutional and strong disagreements with the last Pope

    By-the-way, I have never encouraged a person to leave Catholicism. To me that would be sinful.

    Up until recently I always thought of the Reformation in positive ways. Reform has been a good thing, I thought. However if one examines the consequences closely another picture begins to emerge. “The church reformed and always being reformed according to the word of God” now seems somewhat empty to me. It’s more like “always being tinkered with.” Or like “always innovating.” Or looking to one of the various Protestant popes who have installed themselves to change things according to “their” word. And so we have chaos. Empty and bland choruses replace hymns that have any theological meaning. Topical sermons preach to our “felt needs.’

    Stanley Hauerwas wrote a piece that shook me to the core. It may have been part of sermon he preached on Reformation Sunday. Hauerwas is a Methodist who has taught at Notre Dame and Duke. He was born in Dallas and went to a Methodist Church near there as a child and teen. (Many years later Marge and I were members of that same church for 7 years.) However he has a radical side to him, though very conservative in many ways. His mind works differently.

    You need to read the entire piece to understand his perspective. However in part of it he wrote the following:

    ” I often point out that at least Catholics have the magisterial office of the Bishop of Rome to remind them that disunity is a sin. You should not overlook the significance that in several important documents of late, John Paul II has confessed the Catholic sin for the Reformation. Where are the Protestants capable of doing likewise? We Protestants feel no sin for the disunity of the Reformation. We would not know how to confess our sin for the continuing disunity of the Reformation. We would not know how to do that because we have no experience of unity.”

    He questions whether “Reformation Sunday” is in actuality a time for celebration. More apt it should be a time of repentance.

    If you should desire to read the entire article, go to his web site or do a simple Google search.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      “The church reformed and always being reformed according to the word of God”

      To the best of my knowledge, this expression is specifically from the Reformed tradition. I don’t believe that I have ever heard it in a Lutheran context, nor would I expect to.

    • I’ve read that article years ago, and it too has had a great affect on how I think about the Church. Unlike Jeff though, I just cannot see myself joining up with the Magisterium. I guess people like me are just bound be floating haplessly around in this vast and chaotic sea called modern spirituality.

  8. Scott Fisher says:

    I appreciate your honesty in sharing your journey and the generous spirit with which it is written. I definitely agree that there are weaknesses in the evangelical approach as there are in every Christian community. I think we just choose the weaknesses we can live with no matter what community we choose. For me, the strengths of the evangelical faith community outweigh its weaknesses. I am also a person who likes the solidity of tradition and much of what you write resonates with me. However, I found myself reflecting on the radical change Jesus introduced in the reaction to Him in the gospels by the religious traditionalists. I wonder if we can go too far in clinging to tradition and not recognizing the new work God is doing around us. At least I see that tendency in myself.

    • However, I found myself reflecting on the radical change Jesus introduced in the reaction to Him in the gospels by the religious traditionalists. I wonder if we can go too far in clinging to tradition and not recognizing the new work God is doing around us. At least I see that tendency in myself.

      Scott, as a fellow prottestant traveler (anglican now, after yrs of bible church/then vineyard), I would ask you to reexamine the comparison of the “religious traditionalists” and the mainline denoms. Yes, there are parallels, I’m sure, but the whole line of thought is a black hole/dead end, and has more going against it than you might have thought. Much of push to the “new thing” type of thinking and teaching is built upon a false idea that what churches have given us the last 2000 yrs is “dead tradition” or the “traditions of men”. This is not at all the case (generally), and the gist of what Jeff, and many others I think, is saying is that GOD has been doing something right, HIS kingdom has been going forward (generally) for centuries. Much of what modern evangelcalism rails against as “lifeless” or “of man” should be looked at again. Unsolicited, hope you don’t mind the Tuesday ramlble.

      • Scott Fisher says:

        Gregg R,

        Good thoughts; I appreciate the feedback. I think there are dangers on both sides; putting too much weight on tradition or putting too much weight on “the new.” Evangelicalism is such a broad and diverse community that it is hard to describe it accurately. I know there are excesses out there and a definite lack of rootedness in well established theological truths. My comments are more personal in nature to the degree that I am always challenged by the reality of the Son of God being unrecognized by the most religiously observant people of His day, people who knew the Scriptures better than anyone and jealously guarded their interpretations. I do respect the denominations and I know that God has used them over many years to preserve and promote His truth. I am also biased by the fact that I came to Christ in an evangelical framework and have been so helped spiritually over the past 30 years of my life. I realize, however, that other traditions are more meaningful and helpful for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Like Pau, “I rejoice that Christ is preached…”

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I think there are dangers on both sides; putting too much weight on tradition or putting too much weight on “the new.”

          To quote the Moody Blues, it’s “A Question of Balance”.

  9. Good for you, Jeff.

    I have found myself more attracted to Roman Catholicism in recent years – especially in regard to the depth of their tradition, when compared to my sort-of-evangelical upbringing. But things like purgatory and papal infallibility have always disquieted me. Plus, I have a suspicion that I might have been misled by well-meaning protestants regarding what Catholics actually believe, on issues such as justification by faith, indulgences, purgatory etc.

    • I have wrestled with similar issues. I decided to use the Catechism myself instead of what other would say. It has been well worth the time and effort to go the source.

  10. Daisey former Missionary and Carmelite says:

    Jeff,
    I’m inclined to believe it took a good amount of courage for you to share what you have here. The RCC is still in so many protestant / evangelical circles looked down upon, viewed as being wrong on so many fronts, criticized, almost endlessly, in so many ways … and yet, because of their focus, so many miss the Heart of what the Church is all about .. They stay so consistently focused on “certain issues” : the Papacy, the Mother of Jesus, things they clump together under legalism and works…. What happens thus is they do not allow themselves to see clearly the Merciful Heart at the core of Catholicism that consistently is calling us, encouraging us, at times with a sense of urgency , to open our hearts and lives to the greatest intimacy possible. Intimacy with God who truly dwells within us while He holds the entire universe in His Sovereign Almighty Hands…

    From this Living Reality, once the eyes of the heart are open to see this Living Reality, then the other things falls into place and can be seen under a new light with a new understanding. When we hold fast to our learned interpretations; when we cling stubbornly to preconceived beliefs about anything, we don’t allow our eyes nor hearts to be open to a new and often different understanding. This is true of all of us.

    I could say so much more, my heart is so full of things I so wish people could know and experience. But I pray peoples hearts, our hearts, always be open to the Holy Spirit to allow Him to tare away the layers that cloud our vision. Not so that everyone choose to become Catholic, but so there be an deeper understanding of the living reality in the RCC so there can be a greater unity as Jesus so wanted… that all may be one in Him.

    As always Jeff, you are in my daily thoughts and prayers 🙂

  11. Let’s get real simple and go back beyond the “isms” and “ists” and take up the message of Christ and the Apostles in A.D. 33. Read the Acts of the Apostles and learn about the establishment of the New Testament church, early church government, God’s plan of salvation, and simple worship from the establishment and beginning of the church. Then grow deeper as you read the epistles and the gospels. The New Testament message is deep and wide, simple and complete.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Let’s get real simple and go back beyond the “isms” and “ists” and take up the message of Christ and the Apostles in A.D. 33. Read the Acts of the Apostles and learn about the establishment of the New Testament church…

      Like every Reverend Apostle Joe Soap following in the footsteps of Joseph Smith with their One True New Testament Church (a DOZEN strong!) “Founded by Jesus Christ in 33 AD”? Reinventing the wheel in the process?

      Like the Salafi movement within Islam, trying to get back to the Pure Islam as it was in the Days of The Prophet (pbuh)? And whose most forceful splinter movement became the Taliban, forcing reality back to the Days of the Prophet (pbuh)?

      • The original teachings of Islam are still an abomination, because its prophet was a liar and a heretic. But the original Gospel of Christianity is the Truth. It was only corrupted later, when YOUR church snuffed it out of existence, hiding the light of the Gospel under a basket of man-made dogma. (Not so different from what Mohammed did when he wrote the Koran.)

        I’ll give you Joseph Smith, but the Protestant churches are usually a bit more substantial than a bunch of “Reverend Apostle Joe Soaps.” Your popes are a bit like Joe Soaps.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          And so the Reformation Wars rage on, 365 years after the Treaty of Westphalia.
          “NO POPERY! DIE, HERETICS!”

        • Not sure how Mohammed can be a “heretic” if he was neither Jewish nor xtian in the first place… Islam is a different monotheistic religion, not some sort of Jewish or xtian “heresy.”

          • The reason Islam became a different religion than Christianity, is because Mohammed started his own religion, which he broke off from Judaism / Christianity. The Koran is basically a bunch of Bible stories, except that it denies the divinity of Christ. There is no mention of love or forgiveness in it.

            Another cheap joke / ad hominem from HUG. Just because Protestantism is not at war with Catholicism anymore doesn’t make the Reformation unnecessary, Your “Tradition” goes back, not to the 1st century, but to the 4th–i.e. when the church was taken over by the Roman Empire, whose corruption it has imitated ever since.

          • Mohammed was a polytheist who borrowed/absorbed certain aspects of Judaism and xtianity.

          • Oops – I meant to say that Mohammed was a polytheist who then became a monotheist, not to imply that he was a polytheist for his entire life!

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Your “Tradition” goes back, not to the 1st century, but to the 4th–i.e. when the church was taken over by the Roman Empire, whose corruption it has imitated ever since.

            Ah, yes, Apostate Mystery Babylon, courtesy of Constantine.

            In this you are in total agreement with Joseph Smith, Ellen G White, Charles Taze Russell, and every One True Revived New Testament Church (a whole DOZEN strong). All that’s needed is for yourself to be Specially Chosen by God to Revive the REAL One True New Testament Church from Apostasy. Pick a number and stand in line.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      Does this mean that you are going to do things my way, or that I should be doing things your way?

    • Randy Thompson says:

      “Let’s get real simple. . . ”

      Sounds good. I tried it, when I was young. I learned then that “New Testament” churches or “house churches” were just another denomination. They couldn’t escape history, despite all their huffing and puffing and pretending.

      For better or worse, we are where we are in history, and are blessed AND cursed with 2000 years of history. Christian history is a one way street–forward and into the future. Again, for better AND for worse.

      As a Protestant who genuinely and deeply respects the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, I more and more find myself a Protestant Catholic or Protestant Orthodox (as opposed to “Eastern” Orthodox). You can’t escape tradition, and you should not pretend you can. If you’re Reformed, you’re not Biblical, your the product of a tradition. Ditto for Lutherans, Wesleyans of all stripes, Fundamentalists and Pentecostals (albeit a shorter tradition). No one church is “Biblical.” All of them are Traditions, whether ancient or relatively modern.

      To own your place in history, to own your own tradition and to respect the traditions of others, to recognize that all Christian traditions are equally Biblical and unbiblical, is move toward what our Lord prayed for in John 17–that we all might be one.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Sounds good. I tried it, when I was young. I learned then that “New Testament” churches or “house churches” were just another denomination.

        And JMJ/Christian Monist had a couple horror stories to tell about house churches he was involved with. Totally independent, without any reality check outside themselves (“just Us and the LORD”), they flaked out in some real extreme ways.

    • Given that Jesus promised that the Spirit would lead us into all truth, I’d be cautious of simplifying His last 2000 years of leading out of existence. Yes, the works of man have gotten tangled with the works of God, but if we excise the works of man in an effort toward simplicity, then how do we know we haven’t excised God’s work, too?

  12. Klasie Kraalogies says:

    I am not saying that the one is better than the other (Orthodoxy, RC, Protestantism, Oriental Orthodoxy etc) – I know what it is to feel the pull this way or that. But when it comes to ancient truth – aren’t we forgetting that there is something as a ancient error too? Just like there is modern truth and modern error. While we shouldn’t say that the modern is better than the ancient by virtue of its youth, neither should we claim that the ancient is better than the modern by virtue of its age.

    The comparison to math fails for me – because I have done quite a bit of math since leaving High School. Math depends on proof, on axioms etc etc. (simplistically put). Faith – well, it depends on faith. Therefore equating age (or the lack thereof) with truth (or falsehood) is fundamentally flawed. Pantheism is older than all of these (for instance). Is it therefore more true or more false?

    • I’ll be posting on this [pantheism and subjectivity] eventually, Klasie. I hope I can get to a place where I understand it well enough myself to present it in language that doesn’t sprawl all over the place. I for one will be eagerly awaiting your response.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      But with a long historical trace and institutional memory, a lot of the “ancient errors” will have run their course and burned out. As opposed to reinventing the wheel over and over.

      “Nine out of ten new ideas are really old mistakes. But to a generation who were not around the last time these old mistakes were made, they seem like fresh new ideas.” — G.K.Chesterton

    • Definitely, I would say most here would not agree that older is better, otherwise everyone should become Hindus or Jews or Animists or whatever the first religion of men was.

      Although it did give me a tool to use when I converted. My in-laws (rather obnoxious super Catholic types) started arguing with me that I was choosing what they called the Church of What’s Happening Now, until I pointed out I was becoming Jewish, a religion that was older than their own! Interestingly, they’ve never given my partner grief for his choosing Atheism, I guess they consider him still lapsed while I’m clearly an Apostate (well, they call me a heretic, but I think Apostate is more apt)

    • Klasie,

      Fellow math nerd here (math major in college, currently a math teacher). I don’t think Jeff was making the comparison with math to make an epistemological point–i.e., “this is old, so we know it’s true.” Rather, he was making the comparison to show that, like math, once we know it’s true, there’s usually no reason to re-invent the wheel. We still teach Euclid, right? (yeah, yeah, Gauss and Non-Euclidean geometry is great, but Euclid is still valid and taught in schools around the world). So why can’t the Church still lean on Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Irenaeus, etc?

      • Klasie Kraalogies says:

        Ryan – sure. But you can prove Euclid. I’m not saying Polycarp is wrong, but you cannot prove him right in a game-set-match argument, can you? IE, I’m saying the comparison is not only wrong, but it misses the fact that the issue is faith/lack there of.

        • No, you can’t prove Polycarp that way, but Jeff wasn’t trying to, and I don’t think the comparison was wrong… different areas of knowledge, different epistemological methods, but “faith” need not mean irrational or even just non-rational… I know that since many Protestants reject the analogia entis, that that’s often not seen as being the case, but we can and do have actual theological knowledge that isn’t just a blind leap.

      • That depends, can you separate out their teachings from their flawed worldviews? Aquinas and Augustine were quite the misogynists due to their time period (they probably weren’t any MORE misogynistic than their peers, but misogynists they were). Can their teachings be separated from the flaws of their zeitgeist?

        • I sincerely hope so…since that accusation holds to pretty much all writers, including those who penned the Bible. We don’t share the same flaws today, but we have flaws and warped world views like all people. I think we can understand things in their context, and choose those things that are good to pursue.

        • Thomas Jefferson was racist (more than many of his contemporaries, not just a product of his time), but we still view the Declaration of Independence as an exemplary document.

          Also, I’ve been told that Augustine’s view on women is often oversimplified and caricatured, though I haven’t read him much myself.

          • Most of Augustine’s views are oversimplified, in my experience….

          • I’ve seen two separate occasions where someone produced a nasty-sounding Augustine quote to show what a big bad misogynist he was, and then someone more knowledgeable showed that in context he was actually explaining a view he thought was mistaken in order to refute it! One time it was him saying women shouldn’t be educated, the other time it was him saying a rape victim in a fictional story deserved it.

            But like I said, I’m cautious to say much as a non-expert who’s read very little of his writings.

  13. We aren’t simple enough for that approach.
    You aren’t either. I’d be willing to wager good money there’s a sectarian bias hidden somewhere in your “simple” message.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      There always is a sectarian bias, a personal bias, a tribal allegiance, a matter of taste. We just need to be honest about it.

  14. Jeff, I understand the frustration with relevancy in many evangelical churches. But there are serious ones out there (maybe not within 20 minutes drive, but probably within an hour).

    Do you think the Reformers were wrong?

    • Better yet, do you think Father Capon was wrong? He was Episcopal, you know, and totally in the spirit of the Reformers.

  15. ” When is the last time you sang a worship chorus in an evangelical service that had rich theology? Or when was the last time you heard an evangelical preacher quote a church father?”

    Now I may be one of the few evangelicals I know who has read the Ante-Nicene fathers through from cover to cover. (Every volume). I would say however that in the circles I have travelled the cry has been “We need to be a New Testament Church” and get away from all the extras that have been added over 2000 years. In these circles the early church fathers are held in some esteem.

    As for the worship songs. Check out the CCLI top 25 worship songs. These are the song sung most by evangelical churches. As a group I would hold them up theologically against just about any set of hymns. People have mentioned the “Jesus is my boyfriend” type songs. This I have found to be the exception that proves the rule. I can also point to some truely awful hymns. The fact is the best hymns tend to survive and get promoted, the same can be said of worship songs.

    • I love how you keep insisting that the CCLI top 25 ain’t so bad. There’s more to good hymn-writing than avoiding Arianism or denial of the divinity of Christ. Hymns used to be poetry by pastoral theologians. With the exception of anything written by Keith Getty, CCLI top 100 tends to be jingles written by rock stars. They’re not heretical, but they’re largely emotive and insubstantial. Fore pete’s sake, most of then do not even speak in complete sentences. I’m sorry, but “Our God is healer” is just flat out grammatically incorrect. And it hurts me to sing “my heart will choose to say blessed be your name” when I know it’s not true. It’s right up there with “I Surrender All.” “The Godhead three in one, Father Spirit Son, the Lion and the Lamb…” are simply phrase fragments. Same goes for “Jesus Messiah.” Good songwriting requires more than cycling through different terminology and names for the object of adoration. “Forever Reign” could absolutely be about any deity if a disembodied reference to “Jesus” weren’t thrown in at the end. There’s nothing they’re saying about Jesus that is exclusive to him. Same goes for “One Thing Remains,” except that Jesus isn’t a part of that song. And I still haven’t figured out who “Open the Eyes Of My Heart” is referring to. 😛

      Don’t get me wrong, I sing these songs, most of them, on a semi-regular basis. They’re not the spawn of satan. But neither are they sufficient for a balanced doxological diet. In our church, we use them sparingly as a “spoonful of sugar.” In most of evangelicalism, these dessert items comprise the entirety of the diet. If it’s not about the Christ, it’s not Christian, period. And therefore, much pop-CCM, though written by well intentioned disciples as expressions of faith and love, are not necessarily “Christian” by substance, even if they are by intention. Sometimes a troubled soul just needs the comfort of singing about Jesus, who he is and what he has done. Singing about how much I love him and am committed to him and what his attributes are just don’t give me a ton of hope when I’m struggling with anger, burnout, depression, and despair. I need a Jesus who does something about evil beyond just existing in all his awesomeness and deserving my wholehearted devotion.

      And FWIW, without exception, every single church I’ve seen who is trying to “get away from all the extras added in 2000 years” is highly reluctant to question the developments of the last 35. Instead of pruning tradition, it seems they’re throwing away what has stood the test of time and replacing it with novelties. This I would LOVE to see an exception to. But let’s just be honest about it: the traditions that handed down the faith for 2000 years are just too boring to float the boat of most religious consumers. The early church didn’t gather around state of the art A/V systems and sing a bunch of top 40 pop hits. They sang ancient poetry (a cappella, at that), and participated in mass ritual. They followed a liturgy of hearing God’s Word and bring requests to him in prayer. Heck, that’s even how Jesus worshiped. But that doesn’t seem so important to many “New Testament Churches” today.

    • As a group I would hold them up theologically against just about any set of hymns.

      Oh, you had to go there 😀

      I’m gonna pretend you didn’t say “as a group.”

      “Oh, what their joy and their glory must be, those endless Sabbaths the blessed ones see! Crowns for the valiant, to weary ones rest; God shall be all, and in all ever blest. In new Jerusalem joy shall be found, Blessings of peace shall forever abound; Wish and fulfillment are not severed there, Nor the things prayed for come short of the prayer. We, where no trouble distraction can bring, Safely the anthems of Zion shall sing; While for Your grace, Lord, their voices of praise Your blessed people shall evermore raise.”

      -VS-

      “Oh, how he loves, oh, oh, how he loves us, how he loves us, oh.”

      😛 Just saying, I happen to find one of those particularly comforting, and I’ll let you guess which is which.

      • Oh, now you’re just laying on, Miguel! I’m sure the good Mr. Bell doesn’t have to run such lyrical gauntlets each Sunday as you’re describing. I hope not, anyway…..

        I retain this hopeful sense, however vague, that if by some miracle popular taste suddenly revoked the poetic licenses of the Chris Tomlins of the world (“And like a flood, His mercy reigns”), there would in very short order be a new flowering of lyrical arts in the world of sacred music. That is, the talent IS out there. It just doesn’t get much of a chance to influence the larger culture at this time.

        The technical mathematical term for much of the CCM worship music you describe, by the way, is “permutation invariant.”

        • I sure don’t. What ever does that hymn mean anyway?

          • …the CCLI top 25 worship songs. These are the song sung most by evangelical churches

            Every song I quoted or referred to was from the CCLI top 25. According to you, this is the lyrical gauntlet run by “most evangelical churches” every Sunday. Is your the exception here?

            What ever does that hymn mean anyway?

            That’s a pretty good question. For all we know, John Mark McMillian’s “How He Loves” could indeed be singing about the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but you just can’t tell for sure by the lyrics alone.

            …oh, wait. Did you mean the other hymn, the one that actually speaks in complete sentences and forms coherent thoughts? I know, I know, Evangelicals aren’t use to singing things that engage their mind anymore. Heaven forbid they find comfort in some theological truths beyond “God loves you” and “Jesus is totally freaking awesome.”

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        Oh yeah, Miguel?

        Let me direct you to an awesome Christian band, Faith + 1, headed by the Spirit-filled Eric Cartman of South Park. With songs like “Three Times My Savior,” “Jesus Baby,” and “I Wasn’t Born Again Yesterday,” I think I can really feel the Spirit inside of me. And, those guys really rock hard.

        That’s the kind of theological depth to which the church should be led, right?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          This is called “It’s Funny Because It’s True.”

          “Writing Christian Rock is easy. Just take twenty-year-old pop music and substitute ‘JEESUS!’ for ‘Ooooo Baby!'” — Eric Cartman, CCM star

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            I really can’t get over how insightful that episode was. Really blew my mind at the same time that I was laughing, too.

            And, just to make sure, I went on Pandora and looked at the lyrics for some of the top-selling CCM artists. You really could turn any of these songs into something for Miley Cyrus or Maroon 5 with very little effort.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            And while CCM is stuck in a rut, you know where a lot of the fresh creativity is coming from?

            My Little Pony fandom. There is a LOT of great original songs and other musical compositions in all styles coming out of that fandom; a couple Brony composers/musicians have even managed to go pro on their track record in the fandom.

    • “I would say however that in the circles I have travelled the cry has been “We need to be a New Testament Church” and get away from all the extras that have been added over 2000 years. In these circles the early church fathers are held in some esteem.”

      Yes!

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      As for the worship songs. Check out the CCLI top 25 worship songs. These are the song sung most by evangelical churches. As a group I would hold them up theologically against just about any set of hymns. People have mentioned the “Jesus is my boyfriend” type songs. This I have found to be the exception that proves the rule. I can also point to some truely awful hymns. The fact is the best hymns tend to survive and get promoted, the same can be said of worship songs.

      The “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs are only category of problematic worship songs. There’s also the “Jesus is great/He is so awesome and beautiful and wonderful/And he loves me, loves you, loves everyone” category of songs. Those songs do not necessarily express any bad theology; however, they also don’t express theology that is very deep. After a while, all of these songs begin to say the exact same thing in slightly different chord progressions, and there is nothing really edifying about that.

  16. Jeff, I think it’s good for you to go where your heart and conscience are calling you… Equally, it’s a journey that I don’t believe I could ever make, even though I have spent a lot of time with Roman Catholics (lay and religious) and have a lot of respect for many, many aspects of the RCC.

    However, about new not necessarily being better – I think there are nuances there as well. Your example of the cracked foundations at the Target store point to faulty engineering, (possibly) substandard construction materials and cut corners, maybe even an incomplete or inaccurate survey of the property. (Not to mention possible architectural problems.) I don’t see the newness of the building per se being the thing that made it bad, but the many elements that went into its making (very much including human error)… well, that’s a different story!

    Again, I don’t think tradition per se is bad, but… there are *many* nuances to it, layers and layers and layers of them.

    Take your time, OK?

    • Traditions were once innovations.

      • Yes, they were. One thing that happens a lot is that people tend to think that traditions are unchanging. doesn’t work like that, really… to say that (for example) Irish “traditional” music is what was played (theoretically) prior to 1920 is a lot like saying that insects trapped in amber are still alive, because they’ve been so “perfectly” preserved.

  17. RANDOMMENTALITY says:

    So here are some random thoughts from someone else who has walked this road:

    Doctrinal conundrums and crises of faith will happen in any religion. I don’t believe the Catholic church has everything right. That said, neither do I believe the Evangelical church has it all figured out either. Coming from a Protestant tradition, it seems expected for us to search for a faith that speaks to us and our understanding of the world. If we don’t feel that the Church is right on a point, or we just don’t feel the love, we change churches to find something that is a better fit. Which is not wrong, but does make us lean towards forming the church around our understanding. As we wrestle with the issues, one question to ask yourself: Is it not also arrogant to think that *I* have it all figured out? I’m not saying one shouldn’t seek the truth as we understand it. But we should be open to the idea that our personal understanding of truth is as evolving as anyone else’s. It is our own unique personal bias, which should be questioned just like everything else. My cradle-Catholic spouse often points out that being Catholic is rather like being American – we may not like the President or Congress this year, but we don’t change citizenship to one we like better. Neither should we change religions because we think Pope Benedict is better than Pope Francis, or vice versa when Francis is eventually gone. We should work together with our brothers and sisters to prompt the changes we would like to see. The Church moves at a glacial pace, but that is in part due to the amount of history that goes into forming its doctrine and choices. Its only in the past hundred years that I’ve even had the right to vote in America, so when you put that against 2000 years of church history, it isn’t surprising we don’t have women in more positions of power within the Church. It’s a new-fangled invention as far as the Church is concerned. Doesn’t mean I’ll give up on it, just that it will take time.

    I don’t disagree with many of the issues of the Reformation. Many of them have been addressed within the past couple of hundred years or so, some of them are still out there. What I’ve come to realize is that perhaps the baby was thrown out with the bathwater. If the church proper seems to move too slowly, the alternatives pop up all over the doctrinal map, and some of them are just plain kooky. I lived through the name-it-and-claim-it fad of the seventies, Bible roulette, “words” from God, speaking in tongues, and the whole shebang. Everyone seems to have a brand new idea on how to get this God person to be with you on a more personal level, so that our own desires of the heart are put into Psalms 37:4, almost as though they are written between the lines. So that God will take up our burdens for us as in Psalms 55, and our way will be made easier. So that we see our pleas for help in those of Job or Jairus and know that God will heal us or our loved ones, or restore our wealth, etc. But as I get older, I have evolved to see that religion is less about getting our own happiness or our own hearts filled, and much more about what we should do for others. I am finding Evangelical religions self-centered. We’re so obsessed with getting close to God ourselves, having our own needs met, our own marriages blessd, our own finances in order. As for others, we are so busy judging what we think everyone else is doing wrong, and trying to force others to live up to our standards, that many of us actually argue against aid for the poor and healthcare for the sick, just in case the recipient isn’t worthy enough. We quote Thessalonians to back ourselves up – no working, no eating, without even reading it in context as an admonition to Church leaders to stop bickering and get back to work, and NOT an excuse to literally starve a child. That is so far removed from what Jesus taught that I am consistently amazed that it gets passed on as doctrine.

    So in sum, I don’t regret moving back toward an older religion, even one I don’t think has everything right in it’s doctrine. I am tired of riding the trends, of listening to hour-long teaching sermons during which the Bible is only quoted once as a “jumping off” point, and popular references make up the rest. I will work to make the Church more progressive. Pope Francis helps, certainly, but I made the leap under Benedict so I am willing to work with the others as well.

  18. New is not better…unless Jesus is in it. I wonder if evangelicalism popped up as response to the watering down of Jesus in Catholicism or Orthodoxy. My sense – based upon what I hear and certainly not witnessed – is that Catholicism tends to make church more about “other things” than Jesus. (And I certainly recognize that this is often the case in evangelical churches.)

    I think every church and denomination should continually evaluate and re-evaluate: What are we doing that makes church more about “other things” than Jesus?

    • BTW, Jeff…thanks for sharing your own testimony and journey. And you get bonus points for use of the TI-30 pic! Oh my…the memories!!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I was always more of an HP man myself. To this day, it’s hard to use a regular calculator, I got so used to RPN protocols. My old HP (bought secondhand in 1978) is on its third set of batteries and second set of on/off switches and still going like the Energizer bunny.

    • Exactly.

      “Semper reformada”

    • You should read through the mass sometime. Jesus is dripping from every single word of it. And this is how the Catholic church worships EVERY Sunday, without exception. …and just how is it done down the street at First Generic Community of Celebrity Personality? There is nothing inherent to Evangelical worship or their typical revivalist liturgy that MUST be about Christ. Consequently, Christ can be subtly removed without drastic alterations to the worship style: He can gradually be relegated to a minor character or mascot for morality in the sermon, and reduced to simply an awesome guy worthy of kudos in the music. This can’t happen in the Catholic church: In order to remove Jesus from their worship, you’d pretty much have to scrap everything and start over. …which will happen when pigs fly.

      If I hadn’t snuck off to mass a few times as an Evangelical, I may not have become so blatantly aware of how much my tradition was hell bent on opposing the things that could best keep Christ at the center of our worship life. It’s not to say Catholicism doesn’t have their own celebrity leaders (most of them died centuries ago), but overall, my experience is that they are MUCH more about Jesus in everything they do. It’s hard to find pockets of Evangelicalism that aren’t more interested in your best life of purpose now.

      • And when you’ve read through the RC Mass, read through The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which is recited – or, rather, CHANTED – nearly every Sunday in every Eastern Orthodox Church in the world (that is, when the Divine Liturgies of St. Basil or St. James aren’t being chanted on special occasions):

        http://www.goarch.org/chapel/liturgical_texts/liturgy_hchc

        Now, imagine chanting through this for 1-1/2 hours every Sunday while standing the whole time (except when doing prostrations as occasion may require; unfortunately, some Orthodox churches have put in or use pews), interspersed with the periodic censing of the icons. It compels – it attracts – it commands your worship. It always points to the Father-Son-Holy Spirit God.

        Yes, there are some things I miss about the EOC.

      • Daisey former Missionary and Carmelite says:

        Thank you Miguel for your accurate presentation… and may I add what you portrayed as our Christ centered Sunday worship actual happens every single solitary day throughout the world… Given the time differences world wide there is always a Mass being celebrated somewhere in the world! You could be anywhere in the world, not know the language, and yet be able to know what is taking place and what words are being spoken at key moments because it is the same Eucharistic celebration worldwide.

      • Thanks for your insight, Miguel. And I must admit that when I went to a Catholic friend’s wedding several years back, wondering what I would see in terms of Christ, I was pleasantly surprised to find so many Jesus elements being brought into the wedding mass/service. That’s why I have no doubt that the Christ-message is being delivered through a “denomination” which I had perceived as having no Christ-message.

        That said, there’s no way anyone will convince me that the Roman Catholic Church isn’t without is man-made flaws, either. The Papacy, the Cardinals, the over-reverence of the Virgin Mary, the confessional system…these are just some of the things that detract and distract from Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. It saddens me that the RCC’s image is about as good as whoever the current Pope is and that abuses within the church are so easily covered up. My main problem with the Roman Catholic Church is in its structure and systems, the power that the leaders have and wield, the things established that create barriers between believer and God. I don’t know how many Catholics or former Catholics have told me, “Oh, I don’t read the Bible. That’s for the Father to do. He’ll tell me what I need to know.”

        Anyway, I do appreciate you sharing your thoughts. I hope I’m not being too argumentative here. 😉

  19. David Cornwell says:

    The Roman Catholic Church has reformed since the Reformation. Would Luther stay if he were alive today?

    • This is a very good question that we Protestant need to seriously consider.

    • Luther would have stayed, then.

      They kicked him out. And then tried to have him killed.

      Details. Details.

      • Good point, Steve. People forget how much courage it took for Luther to stand in the face of the mighty Holy Catholic Church; he was bound to be a stubborn,fighting ox, no other kind could have survived it.

      • Dan Crawford says:

        Really? Only Protestants were murdered and massacred during the Reformation? Really?

  20. Without the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church would not have reformed; Luther was a primary catalyst in whatever reform has occurred in the RCC. Therefore, if there had been no Luther before Luther to launch the Reformation, there would have been no reform in the RCC, and Luther would not have stayed, but rather would have started the Reformation.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Hmmm. Maybe time travel?

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Yea, I just do not see any reason to believe this either.

        A following B is a correlation, it does not necessarily imply causation.

        But what happened happened, so it seems entirely academic. Personally I feel the reformation was a sad event in history and a failure on all sides polluted by no shortage of inflated egos and power mongering.

        If Napoleon had been right handed he would not have lost the battle at Waterloo!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Hmmm. Maybe time travel?

        Too wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey.

    • I’m not so sure about that. Several of those reform movements centred in or were begun from Spain, which remained almost entirely untouched by the Reformation throughout the period (it had its own issues but in other areas). But of course the question is purely academic.

  21. Dude, as long as you keep pumping out your Saturday Ramblings, we’re good. ~a

  22. Sorry to be this guy (I’m not really!) but we have been introducing new types of number through the years. We (in the west) started with the idea that all numbers were integers. Then we expanded that to the idea that all numbers were ratios of those integers. It was a massive shock when we realised that we needed a new type of number that wasn’t a ratio of whole numbers. That was fine for a while, but then we realised that we needed another type of number that was lower than zero. We pottered along with that set up for a while, and then we realised that we needed a new type of numbers to deal with the whole pesky problem of the square root of -1.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      I was thinking of that too, but didn’t want to be “that guy” 🙂

    • RE: square root of -1

      And physics and engineering have been arguing about how to express it ever since. College courses were fund when you got to switch between i and j hourly.

      No schisms in science. 🙂

  23. Thanks for the post, Jeff. I feel that, when one is genuinely seeking Christ, the journey is more important than the ultimate destination, but I applaud you for chasing Him even when it goes against the grain of some long-held convictions.

    Just a couple of other observations about this thread.

    First, from the inside, (Roman) Catholicism is a huge tent. For instance, if you’re not big on Mariology, you’re not obliged to pray to Mary. When you show up for Mass, no one quizzes you to see if you pass the “doctrinal litmus test” (no one will prevent you even from receiving the Eucharist if you haven’t been to confession when you should have). There are disagreements among the faithful in several areas, but that doesn’t make anyone less Catholic. Pope Francis, in particular, has stressed unity in the essentials (which, for him, means the Gospel), and charity in everything else.

    Second, it’s odd that people rail against having one Pope but are comfortable accepting the teachings of a number of Christian leaders/authors/”theologians” that develop new doctrine without much regard for Church History, and which are often inconsistent. Popes seldom define new doctrine, and when they do, it rarely departs from existing doctrine. Many also seem to believe that a Pope can use papal infallibility to demand, on a whim, that every faithful wears Crocs, when in fact it’s only used to affirm streams of thought already held within the Church (and are in line with previous doctrine).

    Peace,
    Rafael

  24. Mariolatry …. Co-Redemptrix … Papal infallibility … and the list goes on.

    These alone are enough for me. I love and respect my RC friends, but, theology (doctrine) matters.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Purity of Ideology, Comrade.
      Just like the Calvinists.

    • I agree that theology matters. However, not to be confrontational, who gets to decide which theology is correct, or at least more correct than the others?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Whoever is in POWER, of course.

        And that holds for CELEBRITY Megachurch Pastor/Dictators and Wanna-be Commanders of Holy Gilead as well as Borgia Popes.

  25. I cannot fathom how anyone who has read and understood NT soteriology can find solace in Rome and reconcile these truths with their conscience. My word association with Rome is “guilt” rather than “comfort”.

    Equally, as someone has already pointed out, old is not necessarily “safer” or “sound”. Islam goes back 1,500 years too…

    That being said, Jeff you have made some VERY valid comments about modern evangelicalism’s “chronological snobbery” (to quote Lewis) and its obsession with all things new and novel in reinventing the wheel. However, the idolization of novelty is no worse than the idolization of tradition.

    Having done full circle from EO to Pentecostalism, I’ve ended up somewhere in the middle in the Lutheran tradition (quite recently).

    All the best to you Jeff. (John)

  26. Perhaps too late for the conversation about this post (are you still reading the comments?), but possibly very relevant (if you read the links) to this and Mule’s upcoming post on the Filioque:

    http://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2013/06/10/the-road-to-rome-why-orthodoxy-deserves-a-second-look/