29 April 2005

The "emergent" church: the new neo-orthodoxy?

The orthodox Christian has paid a very heavy price, both in the defense and communication of the gospel, for his failure to think and act as an educated person understanding and at war with the uniformity of our modern culture. (Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 1 Complete Works, 12)


My friend and colleague, Lee Johnson has done some chronicling of the Federal Vision debate. (See, e.g., "Westminster LC Q.68 and Federal Vision", Friday, Two-Edged Sword, 22 April 2005, http://twoedgedsword.blogspot.com ) I have appreciated this work on his part, but I wonder if there isn't perhaps (possibly) a bigger concern than Federal Vision; I mean the so-called emergent church.

I believe the basis for concern is this. Whether Reformed theologians agree or disagree with the assertions of Federal Vision thinkers like Mark Horne, there is at least this much in common: the argument is taking place on the same philosophical and theological footing. The double footing has, among others, at least two elements: the laws of logic are universal; and the Bible is the source of true theology. That is to say, both sides agree that whatever the resolution, such resolution will be on the basis of what the Scriptures teach. Indeed, the argument is precisely about what the Scriptures teach. This is not the case with the emergent church, which, according to at least one of the movement's many websites, has no "...desire...to rescue people from the grips of postmodernism" (See "Our Mission," The Next Wave: The Church and Culture, Homepage, April 2005, http://www.next-wave.org/credo.html ) Like neo-orthodoxy in the last century, and the Old Liberalism of the 19th century, the emergent movement is willing to make some peace with, if not entirely embrace, the philosophical spirit of the age, which at present ispostmodernism.

Postmodernism has at least three features which serve to make it incompatible with Christianity. First,it rejects the idea of objective knowledge or that we can know anything with certainty. Postmodernism has no confidence, such as is found (without sufficient grounds, of course) in modernism, that we can know things with certainty. Knowledge, on this view, is uncertain, subjective, relative, and tentative. Our knowledge is not an accurate representation of reality. Second "postmodernism views logic as being at best only true for a given individual, community or certain communities or 'interpretative community[ies].' In other words, logic is not universally valid or applicable; it is relative only to a given context--person(s), place, or time--or only true for certain individuals or societies or cultures. For example, it is generally true for individuals or communities or societies that have been influenced by Western or Aristotelian thinking. Thus, Westerners should not impose their modality of thinking on Easterners or Eastern cultures or on anyone else who does not grant logic's validity." (Craig S. Hawkins, "The Bible, Logic, and the Postmodern Predicament", Apologetics Information Ministry, Arpil 2005, http://www.apologeticsinfo.org/papers/logicpostmodern.html ) Third, truth is relative. This doesn't mean that there is no truth at all, only that there is no absolute or universal or universally true truth. None of this, of course, prevents postmodernists from making knowledge claims.

The trouble with embracing postmodernism is that it, like the modernism which preceded it, is a worldview, a somewhat eclectic looking worldview, but a worldview nonetheless. And Christianity is a worldview. One of the first things I learned about the Reformed expression of the Christian faith is that it rejects the notion that Christianity can be embraced alongside another worldview. Sooner or later, those who have embraced Christianity and some other view, or their descendents, will have to make a choice. When this choice is made it will be a choice for either orthodox Christianity (as expressed by the seven ecumenical councils), or some bastardized version of it, or they will embrace entirely the second worldview, thus rejecting orthodox Christianity. As one author, whose name escapes me, put it, Christianity and all other worldviews, at some point, are moving away from each other. When the boat starts to pull away from the shore one can no longer stand with one foot on the boat and one foot on the shore. One must choose.

Late in the last century, Francis Shaeffer outlined how the "new" theology amounted to nothing more than existentialism dressed up in orthodox language. Readers of his The God Who Is There will remember what he called the "line of despair." He utilized this line to show the progress of existentialist thinking from philosophy through art, then music, the general culture, and finally (of course) theology. (See Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 1 Complete Works, 8.)

A similar outline could be given of the travail of postmodern thought from philosophy, beginning in the 1960s or thereabouts, throught art, music, general culture, and now theology. But I shant do that here. I don't believe it necessary for my present purposes, which is simply to explain why I think something like the emergent church movement may be of more concern than something like the Federal Vision controversy.

A problem besets one who would discuss the emergent church. That problem is precisely that it is postmodern in flavor. Those involved in the movement are as diverse as any group can be whose members claim to have embraced postmodernism. This means that some churches in the movement may be truly orthodox, but have simply adopted more traditional (i.e., liturgical) worship styles. I have no difficulty with this: I grew up with liturgical worship, first as a Roman Catholic, then as an Anglican. Some may embrace certain practices, such as "centering prayer", which are closely associated with monasticism. (I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, as a former would-be monk I do not reject monasticism out of hand. On the other, it depends on the kind of so-called centering prayer we would be talking about.) Others seek to return to a model of church organization and form which would resemble the "early church". They want their leaders to be possessed of true spiritual authority and not be merely CEOs, managers, executives, administrators and the like; they want holy men. Who could argue with that? Of course, wanting that "early church" model and knowing what that early church model really looked like are two different things. (This is also problematic when you factor in postmodernism's denial, in general, of the possibility of certainty with respect to knowledge claims. When knowledge claims are merely perspective-driven constructs, what is the early church except the early church as it is constructed by the postmodern mind seeking the early church?)

Some of what emergents talk about is not foreign to me. Indeed, I well remember how much, in my young Christian life, discussions with other Christians my age were dominated by "The early church didn't do this" and "The early church didn't do that" and so forth. I well remember lecturing an episcopal priest on how there were no bishops in the early church. The word translated bishop was also used by Paul in Ephesians in such a way as to make clear that "pastor", "elder", and "bishop" are equivalent terms, I instructed him. Therefore, I informed this priest, I did not believe in the episcopacy. He replied simply that it depended on how you looked at the church and went on his way. Fifteen years later I know that he is right. If, as Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox believe, the church is one and visible, then the church is presbyterian in polity: the bishops are the elders of that one-and-visible church. If, as others believe, the church is one-and-invisible, with only individual congregations being visible, then the elders of the local congregation are the elders of the church. (I happen to hold to the latter view.)

Another concern of emergents is the centrality of the preaching personality. Note I did not say the preacher. Emergents who are truly orthodox, or at least want to be but find their postmodernism getting in the way, understand that the Scriptures must be proclaimed. But their concern, and I think it a valid one, is that people flock to hear a preacher preach and not the Scriptures proclaimed.

So, I can see some of the concerns of emergent thought. And everything about them isn't bad. However, postmodernist Christians have at least two problems. Postmodernist Christians claim to disdain system (just like existentialists). They want to embrace a relationship with Jesus, and want to commend such a relationship to others. They do not want to embrace a system; and they do not want to commend a system to others. Of course, in embracing a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, they are embracing a system whether they want to or not; and they may as well accept it. Surely, they are desirous of a risen Lord Jesus, not the mythical Jesus of neo-orthodoxy. If such is the case, and if they do in fact have this relationship, then the universe is such as to make possible this relationship. In other words: if they have a relatinship with Jesus Christ, then it is possible for a man to come back to life after he has died--even after he has died a horrific death. This means that miracles are possible. (Note the logic: if a thing has happened then it is possible.) Thus, embracing Jesus Christ--a Jesus Christ risen from the dead--one embraces a metaphysical and epistemoligical system. For not only is it possible for one to have a realtionship with One who was once dead and now lives (metaphysics); it is possible to have knowledge of this Person. (St. John says that he wrote his gospel so that we could know that Jesus is the Christ.)

Also, postmodernist Christians complain that many who criticize them have just gotten them wrong. When one writes a criticism of the movement one can expect some of them to ask, "What are they reading? That's not us." Unfortunately, they have embraced a (non?) system that should really make it difficult for them to complain if their writings are misinterpreted. There is nothing to interpret. On a postmodern view, there is no objective text, nothing that has a meaning. The text does not control the reader; quite the other way around in fact. The reader controls the text. So when these postmodernist Christians complain about being mis-read, one just has to wonder what are the grounds for the complain. After all, that's just happens to be how we read them! I do not think they can take the position they seem to take with respect to postmodernism and at the same complain about being read wrong.

Of course, as I've already mentioned, some of them are not truly postmodern. They have simply decided to find a way to give postmodernists what they want, or not give them what they do not want. If postmodernists don't want a system, they'll not be offered one. If postmodernists are sceptical of exclusive claims, they won't hear any. If postmodernists do not believe in certainty, they'll not be asked to have any. If a postmodernist believes that the truth about reality is forever hidden from us, and all we can do, therefore, is tell stories, then narrative--and lots of it, including narrative theology (or, a/theology)--is what he will get. Never mind in all this that repentance calls us to surrender our worldview and embrace Christ--and the worldview that He has.

Now, none of this means that every emergent has jettisoned orthodoxy. But there are some in the movement who truly do have a non-orthodox theology and have, just like the neo-orthodox before them, adapted orthodox language to the postmodern intellectual milieu. Let me offer a few tid-bits of what I'm talking about.

Do you believe that Jesus died a substitutionary, propitiatory, atoning death for your sins? Well, according to at least one emergent theologian, you have fallen prey to the literalizing of Scripture. Take this example of an emergent theology of the cross:

"Then there's the cross as the once and for all sacrifice for sin. If we literalize that language, as much of conventional Christianity has done, the only way God can forgive sins is if adequate sacrifice is offered: Somebody has got to be punished, and that person is Jesus. Also only those people who know and believe in that story can be saved. Thus, literalizing that language is a slur on the character of God. If you see Jesus' death as part of the divine plan, as part of the will of God, that suggests that God required the suffering of this immeasurably great man. It is never the will of God that an innocent person be crucified, and to suggest that is to suggest something horrible about God." (Marcus Borg*, "What is the significance of the cross and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ?" April 2005, http://www.explorefaith.org/questions/cross.html)


Those of us who, with virtually all Christians in all ages, believe that Jesus died for sins are guilty of slurring "the character of God." And how dare we suggest that God requires the suffering of the innocent for the sins of the guilty. (Never mind that under the Old Testmant sacrificial system, innocent animals suffered for guilty humans all the time.)

If we were to handle the language correctly our problem would disappear, or as Borg puts it:

"If, on the other hand, we understand the language of Jesus’s being the sacrifice for sin as a post-Easter interpretation of his death that emerges within the early Christian community, we can then see that, metaphorically, it's a proclamation of radical grace. The connection is this: If Jesus is the once and for all sacrifice for sin, understood metaphorically now, it means that God has already taken care of whatever it is that we think separates us from God. It means that God accepts us just as we are and that the Christian life is not about getting right with God. God's already taken care of that. The Christian life becomes about something else, namely, living within this framework of radical trust in God and relationship to God that makes possible our transformation, and, ideally and ultimately, the transformation of the world." (Borg)


Ah, words worthy of any neo-orthdox theologian of the last century--or even an Old Liberal of the 19th. (Truly as Schaeffer's students at Farel House used to say, "The new theology is the old theology.")

Do you believe that the eternal divine nature, precisely because of being eternal, is unchanging? Here is a sampling of an emergent theologian on whether God changes over time:

"Recent scientific theories, such as evolution and quantum physics, for instance, have provided a rich source of metaphorical speculation about God’s nature. Such thought is exciting to me, because it proposes a God whose characteristic creativity implies constant change, the exercise and expression of the same freedom given to us. When you stop and think about it, it makes sense that the very evolution of human history and its consequences for all of creation call forth from God new responses all the time. It’s an interactive and emergent view." (Rev. Dr. Katherine M. Lehmen,* "Does God make mistakes?" April 2005, http://www.explorefaith.org/questions/cross.html)


and

"Yet even in this view, it’s not that God makes mistakes, but that God has new ideas and takes new actions as God wills. We outgrow earlier notions of God, and scripture records some of that evolution. My own notions about God have been transformed over time, and I hope insistent inspiration will continue to stretch me. Does God outgrow previous notions about us? Another way to ask that is to ask if we can surprise God. Freedom seems to require that astonishing possibility." (Lehmen)


Do you believe that Jesus Christ rose bodily and physically from the dead? You need not do so in order to be a Christian--at least according to some emergent theolgians:

"...I don’t think that to be a Christian we have to believe that Christ literally, bodily rose from the dead and that he literally, bodily ascended into heaven. Yet I do believe that these words are our best attempt to give expression to an experience which was true to the followers of Jesus in his time, and is still true to those of us who engage with Jesus in heart, mind and spirit still today. What Jesus’ rising from the dead means to me is this: That life is eternal, and that we are a part of that eternal life even now, in this life we are living. That we live in eternal life was true of us before we were born; it is true while we are living here and now; and it will be true after we have died. We live always in the embrace of God’s eternity." (Rev. Margaret B. Gunness*, "Do I have to believe that Christ literally rose from the dead in order to be a Christian?", at http://www.explorefaith.org/christ.html


"The most Christ-like professor I ever had once turned to our seminary class and asked us a question with an intensity that made us know he was serious: "What if they proved without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus of Nazareth never lived! What would that do to your faith?"
He stared fiercely at us. There was a long, awkward silence. Then he said, "I can tell you what it would do to my faith. It would not change it one bit. I would believe in the myth of Jesus. It's the best story going!"
(Lowell Grisham*, at http://www.explorefaith.org/christ.html


This stream of emergent thought is obviously something to be concerned about because it is precisely the sort of thinking postmodernism can make seem attractive.

We could say of all this that postmodernism is a passing fad and we should not devote much time and attention to it. In many ways, it's something old that's just been re-packaged...or re-released. But every spirit of every age is and will be a passing fad, or the re-release of an older fad. And when we are dealing with people who believe that the words coming out of our mouths are merely constructs used to exercise power over them, it may make more of a difference right now than whether the Federal Vision implies a works-based salvation. I simply suggest that, at present, it may make more of a difference whether the people in our pews even believe in real truth than whether they believe in the Federal Vision. Postmoderns in our pews will not hear an exposition/demonstration of Federal Vision's falsity; they will hear only an attempt to instute a "regime of truth" over them.

Of course, I'm willing to concede that any concerns about the emergent church/postmodernist Christianity may be much ado about nothing. But I haven't noticed as much discussion of it as I might have hoped for. Certainly it doesn't seem to be arousing as much of a stir as neo-orthodoxy; and I think it should be. It's just as dangerous. (Could be I've been looking in all the wrong places.)

Finally, don't think I don't know how much disdain you have for the term postmodernism, Dr Powell.


===========================================================================
(To sample some emergent thought see http://www.emergentvillage.com/Site/Explore/EmergingStories/index.htm and the article by Bob Hyatt, "Just who is emergent, anyway?",10 April 2005, The Next Wave: Church and Culture, http://www.the-next-wave.org/ with the comments that follow.)

*I refer to these theologians as emergent theologians primarily because the writings I am citing here are posted at a website (namely, explorefaith.org) that is listed in answer to the question, "What is the Emergent Church?" at next-wave.org.
27 April 2005

"Imposition of religion?"

Heard a caller to the Rush Limbaugh Show (3rd hour, 4-27-05) disagree with Rush's assertion earlier in the program (1st hour) that there is no imposition of religion in our society. This caller's evidence that there is, in fact, such an imposition going on was this: that he lives in an area that has outlawed the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sunday. This, which if anything, may be an imposition of morality, is supposedly a prima facie case! For this caller, morality is religion. So if a moral position is embodied in the law, this is the imposition of religion.

When Limbaugh explained to this caller that perhaps he could work to have the council members replaced who voted for this measure, or at least work to have the measure repealed, the caller asked, "Don't you think the Christian right will just change that?"

Just change it? How? All anyone can do is vote. Just like this guy. When this guy is out-voted, the Christian right has imposed its religion on him. (He probably calls it democracy when the Christian right is out-voted. He probably doesn't think that the Secular Humanist religion has been imposed on anyone when the Christian right has been out-voted.) Limbaugh did explain to the man that, on this view, any legislative act constitutes an imposition, rather than the result of the democratic process at work.

But what concerns me is how people think some religion is being imposed on them if a moral position (which they identify as being held by the "religious right") becomes law. Let's just ask which religion is being imposed by this religious right. Assume for just a moment that every member of this religious right is some stripe of orthodox (as opposed to theologically liberal) Christian, whether Catholic, Protestant, Reformed, charismatic, or pentecostal. Ostensibly, then, the religion being imposed is orthodox Christianity, right?

Wrong!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Orthodox Christianity is, minimally, summed up by the seven "ecumenical councils" of the Church. Of these, let us just make reliance upon the Nicene Creed. (The following is a literal translation of the Greek text of the Constantinopolitan form , from the Catholic Encyclopedia [online at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11049a.htm]. The brackets indicate the words altered or added in the Western liturgical form in present use.)

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, and born of the Father before all ages. (God of God) light of light, true God of true God. Begotten not made, consubstantial to the Father, by whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. And was incarnate of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary and was made man; was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried; and the third day rose again according to the Scriptures. And ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of the Father, and shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, of whose Kingdom there shall be no end. And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father (and the Son), who together with the Father and the Son is to be adored and glorified, who spoke by the Prophets. And one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We confess one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen."


Here, in the U.S., "orthodoxy" isn't talked about as much as Christian "fundamentalism". What is this so-called Christian fundamentalism? Well, it is summed up in the so-called Five Fundamentals:


1. Inerrancy of the Scripture

2. The virgin birth and deity of Jesus Christ

3. The substitutionary atonement

4. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ

5. The validity of miracles or the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ


This is the religious right. Now, I am both a drinker and an orthodox Christian. Please, someone, tell me how not being allowed to buy booze on Sunday constitutes being required to believe either something like the Nicene Creed or the Five Fundamentals. Please explain how, if it were to happen, not being allowed to have an abortion for just any reason would constitute being required to believe either the Nicene Creed or the Five Fundamentals.

Of course, what they'll tell us is that when we want our position on abortion, for example, to be the law of the land that is an imposition of religion because our view of abortion is rooted in our religion. Of course, it escapes their notice that their own view of abortion is rooted in their religion, the religion of secular humanism. Now the debate degenerates into nothing but name calling:

"You're religious!"
"No, you are."
"No, you are.!"
No, you are."
"No, you are."

And so forth.
21 April 2005

Long live Benedict XVI! (from a "reluctant" Protestant)

I haven't blogged for a while because I was sufferring "internet exhaustion" after the whole Terri Schiavo affair. And then I was joining my Roman Catholic brethren in prayer for the late Pope. And then I was eagerly anticipating the results of the conclave...

Well, I for one am happy about Cardinal Ratzinger's election to the papacy. For one thing, the media seem not to like him. That bodes well in my mind. For another thing, he is theologically conservative. No, he's not Reformed, but you can't have everything...even in a Pope.

Of course, since, unlike the Pope, I am Reformed, one may wonder why I even care. The reason I care is that I consider myself not just "reformed"; that is to have a modififier without a thing modified. I am not a "reformed" Christian; that would mean that I was once a Christian and have recovered. No, I am a Reformed Catholic. For the better part of 12 years, from 1978 to 1990, Pope John Paul II was my pope. And I was fairly proud of him. So I am very pleased that one of his disciples has succeeded him.

This alone is not why I care. The big reason I care is that I still feel a certain afinity for the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps this is because my experience as a Roman Catholic was not the same as that had by other former Catholics.

As difficult as it may be for some Protestants to believe, I first heard the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in a Roman Catholic Church. I took catechism in St. John's Roman Catholic Church in San Marcos, Texas. (My catechism teacher was Sister Maria. And I'm sure that I was not her favorite student.) And in that church (or Sister Maria's class anyway) catechism was all about Jesus. I learned that he was God and the Son of God, which I absolutely did not understand (being in elementary school.) I learned that he became man and lived and died for me. I learned also that he rose from the dead three days after he died. I learned that I was not a good person; that is why Jesus died for me. And I needed to believe in him in order to go to heaven. I learned that Jesus expected me to obey his Father, and my parents, and the government and all other authorities (including, of course, the Church). In catechism I was not taught very much about Mary, though I was taught to pray, on certain occasions, "The Hail Mary." (And I still object to a football pass being referred to as a "hail Mary" pass. To me it is disrespectful. What if such a pass were called a "hail Calvin" pass? After all Calvin trusted in the sovereignty of God, right? Does not such a pass connote trusting in something like either fate, or divine sovereignty?). In my childhood, I never, when I prayed, offered a single prayer to any saint (with the exception of the aforementioned occasional prayer to Mary); I prayed either to the Father or to the Son. (I did not understand the Holy Spirit.)

One of my fondest recollections of my childhood, is the huge (and I do mean huge) mosaic of the risen Lord Jesus behind the altar. St. John's has a high vaulted ceiling. It must be twenty feet high. The mural starts at about 8 feet and goes up just about to the ceiling. There he is, facing the congregation. The holes in his hands and feet are visible, and he seems to be reaching out to the congregation. To the left and the right of the altar are smaller statues (only a few feet high) of Joseph and Mary. At St. John's, this mural of Jesus was not easy to ignore. Indeed, it demanded your attention.

In my teens, I lost whatever sort of faith I had as a child. At one point I became an atheist. But I was done being an atheist by the time I joined the Army in 1984. When I enlisted I declared Roman Catholic as my religious preference. In 1988 when I finally came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ I believed myself to have become a real Roman Catholic. The things I believed at that time were the things stipulated in the Nicene Creed, a creed I learned as a child in the RCC and the first creed that I truly believed when, in 1988, I professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And I had no doubts in my mind that I truly had become a Christian. And the morality that I adopted--overnight--was the morality of the Roman Catholic Church. Overnight, I was pro-life, anti-euthanasia, sexually chaste. The Church's teachings on abortion, life and death, sexual morality, and contraception were the moral teahcings I adopted; and they still are. When I cried out to the risen Lord to save me, I cried out as a Roman Catholic; and I knew what was expected of me, morally, as a Roman Catholic, and had resolved, so far as God gave me strength, to obey the moral teachings of the Church.

I shant go here into my reasons for leaving the Roman Catholic Church, except to say that they are, for the most part, just the sort of reasons one can expect a Calvinist (I still prefer the term Augustinian) to have.

Unlike the RCC, I do truly believe that humans are totally depraved, a state which extends to ratiocination. This condition requires an unearned, even unsought for act of God to save the sinner; in short I believe in unconditinal election. I believe that although the sacrifice of Jesus Christ can certainly atone for all sins committed by all people, since the saved are elected to that status, Christ's death atones only for those elect. I believe that election, being an act of God's free, unmerited grace, is completely certain; the elected sinner will by faith turn to God in Jesus Christ for his salvation. I further believe that the sinner, being elected and saved by almighty God himself, shall persevere to the end; he cannot lose that salvation which God has given him (unless, of course, we will assert that God takes back what he has given as a gift). The church of my childhood, regrettably, believes none of these things--despite the great comfort they offer!

And of course, I believe in justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and have done from the first moment of my Christian life. On an evening in September 1988 I (literally) looked up to the heavens and cried out to the Lord Jesus: "Lord Jesus Christ, I now know that you are the Son of God. Have mercy on me, forgive my sins, save me and change my life." I don't think I bothered to say an "Amen". And I believed at that very moment that Jesus had heard me and saved me. I did not know it then, but what I believed was that I had been justified by faith. The RCC, last time I checked, still anathematizes such people.

There are other reasons for not returning. I reject transubstantiation, as well as the notion that the mass recapitulates the sacrifice of Christ. I reject the notion of prayers offered to saints. I strongly suspect that Peter was never in Rome; and doubt that he was the first Bishop of Rome. I do not find it easy to believe that Mary was protected by the Holy Spirit from all sin. I do not claim to know how major or minor these things are. It suffices for me that I believe these things to be false.

Of course, my Catholic friends and relatives would ask me if I am not just a little arrogant. After all, I am only one person. For one person to argue against thousands of Catholic theologians and thousands of years of tradition is a bit presumptuous. And if I tell them that I believe that the Scriptures trump tradition, they will remind me that we have those Scriptures by the very same tradition a large part of which I wish to deny. Is it not, they might ask, more humble simply to accept the teachings of a thousand scholars and over a thousand years of tradition (most of which is accepted by both Roman Catholics and the Orthodox) even if some of it may be mistaken than to assert that a relatively small band of zealots is right and the vast majority of Christians are wrong? After all, they would remind me, we are saved by grace, not by purity of doctrine. I will admit that it is this sort of argument that I find more difficult to overcome than all the arguments the Romans and Reformed have about salvation by faith alone, predestination, the Real Presence and so forth. In truth, I would rather be humble than right all the time, about everything. It does take some doing, at times, to believe that the Church started going wrong almost right after the apostolic fathers died and remained in error until Martin Luther came along. (For example: the liturgies of both East and West were relatively fixed within the first couple hundred years of church history, as was the custom of referring to Mary as Mother of God--and offering prayers to her.)
Perhaps we Reformed (Catholics?) are in need of some humility. Well then, may God give it to us.

Whatever my present feellings and beliefs about Rome, it still remains the fact that the Catholic church was my spiritual mother. I learned the basics of the Christian faith and most of my morality at her feet. Although I feel that she has disowned me, I still care about her and pray for her. So I care who her Pope is. I look forward to seeing good things from Benedict XVI, especially as a co-belligerent in the fight against "the tyranny of relativism". Of course, I doubt that the RCC will embrace Reformation thought during his pontificate. But, like I said above: you can't have everything--even in a Pope.

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James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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