Church

confessions of a catholic: unity

At Easter Vigil 2015 I will enter full communion with the Catholic Church, which I hope will be a touchstone for greater depths in my spiritual journey toward God. In this series, I attempt to share ‘why’, not as defense or argument, but to point at something better for the mystical body of Christ. It is organized over five themes during Passion Week: merger, reclamation, hunger, visibility and unity.

Tonight I become more than simply Catholic, but ‘catholic’ meaning ‘universal’, the original meaning of the word. I begin a journey toward merging my double selves into a better, truer self; fighting in love for nothing of intrinsic value to be lost. I go hoping to bring out new treasures with the old, in search of an answer to the paradoxical question: how may Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism merge within me, without disintegrating who they are?

These are small, incomplete confessions of my spiritual biography, but I hope, more than anything it has stoked your imaginations, moving you to consider Jesus’ John 17 prayer for us and eventually, to also fight in love for a deep, Trinitarian unity in the Body of Christ, to see one, reconciled visible church.

What now? Where do we go from here? Honestly, I do not know, yet.

I only know we must go in search of an answer to our question, asking not where is this visible unity, or how can it be, or this is a hard teaching, who can accept it? Rather, we ought to ask ourselves how will this unity become visible and true within us? It is not the journey itself that will shape who we are, but our faith working itself out in action that will change us, and as we are changed, the church will change. And when the church changes, so will the world.

Yet, we must achieve a critical mass: two is enough to bring Jesus; three is even better; even more than that? Transformational.

Tonight is the Easter Vigil, as we prepare for the coming of our Lord. It parallels the hope of the Parousia, when he will break the sky and return for his Church. I believe it is time for us to trim our wicks and prepare to meet him, so that we may rise with him in and as a new, visible, unified creation. The alternative is, I believe, to fail Christ’s vision for us in John 17.

Jesus asked once, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Turned around on us, when the Son of Man comes, what kind of church will he find? One fractured and separated, feigning unity with a thin veneer of ‘ecumenism’? Or will he find a beautiful, visible, unified expression of the Trinity?

Who will Jesus find us to be when he comes?

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confessions of a catholic: visibility

At Easter Vigil 2015 I will enter full communion with the Catholic Church, which I hope will be a touchstone for greater depths in my spiritual journey toward God. In this series, I attempt to share ‘why’, not as defense or argument, but to point at something better for the mystical body of Christ. It is organized over five themes during Passion Week: merger, reclamation, hunger, visibility and hope.

The Incarnation has captured my imagination. As John said,

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us…

Imagine how he might have smiled… the cadence of his voice as he preached… how he carried himself when he walked… the conspiratorial look in his eye as he leaned in to tell his Apostles the secrets of the parables. This is the stuff of which faith is made. It was the formless becoming form, the unseen seen, the invisible visible. I hope the body of Christ can achieve the same.

I could write a multi-pronged intellectual argument to explain what I have come to see the visible and invisible church to mean. These, however, are my confessions and I want to express my views in a wholly different manner. I leave the rational arguments, with their differently constructed warrants, to hold on common ground concerning the nature of Christ and its connection the intended nature of the Church. Or as Paul might say it, leave aside the weak and beggarly elements for the substance of Christ.

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confessions of a catholic: hunger

At Easter Vigil 2015 I will enter full communion with the Catholic Church, which I hope will be a touchstone for greater depths in my spiritual journey toward God. In this series, I attempt to share ‘why’, not as defense or argument, but to point at something better for the mystical body of Christ. It is organized over five themes during Passion Week: merger, reclamation, hunger, visibility and unity.

I remember distinctly the moment I believed in ‘sacramental grace.’ It was the spring 2014 undergraduate class in Christian history I mentioned in yesterday’s post, where I encountered these words of Irenaeus: “For as the bread of the earth, receiving the invocation of God, is no longer common bread but Eucharist, consisting of two things, an earthly and a heavenly; so also our bodies, partaking of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of eternal resurrection.” Also Ignatius, “They [the Docetics] abstain from the Eucharist and prayer because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, which the Father in his goodness raised up.” Communion with the early church provoked in me a hunger for the Eucharist – not a remembrance whose only power is in the recollection of an event, but whose power resides in the Holy Spirit making real and substantive the Christ crucified for me by the will of the Father.

The common table is for those who share common belief, who have unity of mind. Only the baptized may take Communion, or Eucharist, as has been the Christian practice for millennia. I could not partake at the Eucharist table, however, with those whom I shared this common understanding; I would first have to enter full communion with the Catholic Church. I joyfully enter this full communion on Saturday. The hunger I have for the body of Christ will soon be sated – but I do hunger for even more. (more…)

confessions of a catholic: reclamation

At Easter Vigil 2015 I will enter full communion with the Catholic Church, which I hope will be a touchstone for greater depths in my spiritual journey toward God. In this series, I attempt to share ‘why’, not as defense or argument, but to point at something better for the mystical body of Christ. It is organized over five themes during Passion Week: merger, reclamation, hunger, visibility and unity.

A lone, strong tree alone in a field is my favorite scene. Passing one by, I will slow down and turn to meditate on it. Trees remind me of the church – strong, alone, ancient and with a great story to tell. Any good tree has a strong trunk and nourishing roots; I see the early church fathers – who are our heritage – as that strong trunk and roots. But, our Christian heritage has been denied us or censored by disunity.

As I listened to the early church, I came to see what we mean when we confess “I believe…in the communion of the saints…” for it is in communion with them that I came to see Christ more clearly. When I listened to the church fathers, I learned there was far more available to me as a believer than I ever knew. It was like a part of my soul had been found again.

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confessions of a catholic: merger

At Easter Vigil 2015 I will enter full communion with the Catholic Church, which I hope will be a touchstone for greater depths in my spiritual journey toward God. In this series, I attempt to share ‘why’, not as defense or argument, but to point at something better for the mystical body of Christ. It is organized over five themes during Passion Week: merger, reclamation, hunger, visibility and unity.

I was raised evangelical Protestant, so Catholicism was beyond me; I did not even think they were Christian. In my religious life, being Protestant was presented to me as the only true Christianity. Now, God has afflicted me with chronic spiritual restlessness: I am ever asking why things have to be a certain way and not another, better way. As I kept asking this, I became unmoored from what I knew and became a sort of spiritual magpie: collecting wisdom on prayer from Catholics; mysticism from the Eastern Orthodox; prophecy and tongues from the Pentecostals, and so on. I realized each are rich, valid Christian traditions. Then my restlessness began to ask: how is it that the same body of Christ whose bones were not broken on the cross, could be broken today into thousands of denominations? Is this what Christ intended? Is God pleased? Should we accept this? (more…)

Seeing Christ Is All and In All

If this man went to your church, or Tamir Rice or Trayvon Martin, how do you interpret Galatians 3:28 or Colossians 3:11 in light of their experience?

I have been troubled by this question for the past few months, as I live astride that blurred line between church and society. In conversation with other evangelicals, I have heard, echoing a popular commentary, social distinctions do not exist in the Body – we are all one in Christ. Often, discussion of racism and other structural sins is dismissed out of hand, based on the one in Christ idea, in order to maintain unity. I will not dispute that we need to focus on Christ, and our unity in him. My question is how do we do that? How can the Body of Christ truly recognize the Christ in all and also withstand the evil systems of oppression that intersect redeemed souls?

I do not want to be like the goats before Christ and he find me wanting, asking me, “Didn’t you see me bound? Didn’t you see me oppressed? Didn’t you see me hurting? When you saw them bound, oppressed and hurt, you saw me. Why didn’t you help me?

Let us approach the question another way – Paul also said that whoever is born again in Christ is a new creation, the old is dead and gone, the new has come. To use an old convention, I don’t know about you but… I don’t feel like a new creation. I fall short of the glory bestowed on me by Christ. Yet, Paul did not lie. To call my lived reality simply a lie and continue to speak or affirm what I do not know in my experience is willful blindness. No, something else is at work here.

The spiritual reality of the new creation is true, even if scarcely experienced. The dominating earthly reality is also true. We experience the gap between the two as, what I call, a “dissonance of realities”. But God is bringing a new experience, what I call “creative tension”: the bridging of the gap between our dissonant existence by the power of Christ. Faith is the strong force that pulls these two realities together, a concrete trust in action working creatively with God to remake earth into heaven. To apply it, my faith works with God to make the me that lives with Christ in heaven manifest on the earth.

Christ’s judgment of the sheep and goats reflects this idea. The material reality is that some are American and illegal aliens, white and black, male and female, rich and poor. The spiritual reality is that Christ is in and loves every single one of “them”, just as they are, in the condition that they are in.

But to follow Howard Thurman, if a Roman soldier kicked Christ into a ditch, how can we acknowledge the moral wrong of the kick, yet be willfully blind to the fact Jesus was kicked also because he was a poor minority living under the oppression of an unjust authority? The question should come back to us, “When you saw them bound, oppressed and hurt, you saw me. Why didn’t you help me?” Unity in Christ means peace, but not a negative peace. As MLK taught us, peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice. If Jesus is the prince of peace, he is also the prince of justice. As Jesus reigns over us, what he wants is not the veneer of unity, but the deep, powerful, abiding force of justice.

We can withstand evil when we realize and act upon the understanding that within the Mystical Body of Christ our brothers and sisters are not white-washed Christians untouched by the systems of oppression the adversary has constructed in the world he (for now) rules. No – our brothers and sisters are touched, hurt, violated by these systems – these demonic principalities and powers. To simply say there are no social distinctions and deny the lived experience is itself an oppression and a violation of the gospel. We can withstand evil when we leverage our faith in active confrontation with the systems of oppression, both struggling against the evil in our own souls, and with the systems outside ourselves.

This is hardly the end of the matter for me. Questions are better than answers, so I challenge you to ask some of the same question I’m asking myself:

  • Which parts of the Body of Christ hurt under the pains of injustice? Am I willfully blind to their pain? Am I complicit in their pain by my actions or inaction?
  • Do my politics – all of them, across every issue – truly accord with who Christ is? Do I support policies by my vote or donations that may oppress others?
  • Are there any people whom I view as the enemy? Do I love them as Christ commanded me?
  • Would Christ think I see him in all people?

5 Reasons I Gave Up Sola Scriptura or How I Learned to Love the Bible *and* Tradition

At the core of my beliefs are the unity of God’s family, that we be one as the Trinity is One. So what follows comes from a desire for unity, not attack, unbelief or to stir up trouble. I also don’t wish to frustrate anyone’s evangelical faith, rather to strengthen and deepen it. Inspired by a great post out there in the blogosphere, I promised the author my own thoughts. Of course, I didn’t expect it to showcase the more interesting aspects of my theology… nevertheless, here are my 5 reasons I gave up sola scriptura and learned to love the Bible *and* Tradition:

  1. Sola scriptura often sows division and controversy
  2. Jesus is the Interpreter: the one with ultimate interpretive authority
  3. The Apostles were given the authority to interpret the Interpreter
  4. Jesus’ interpretive authority flowed through the Apostles and is carried in his Body
  5. Tradition is also a valid and necessary authority for Christian faith and practice

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