A reader writes with some questions…

…and I stumble along trying to help as best I can.  Sez he:

I’m working through your book and enjoy it very much.  I’m not going to send you dozens of emails and ask you tons of questions, but I’m hoping you can point me in the right direction on this one specific item.   Briefly, I born in 1957, I’m married, we have 5 children all grown up now and all married and now with several grandchildren.  I was raised Catholic, my parents were very devout and my wife was raised Catholic.   I went to a Catholic grade school for 8 years, we raised all our kids Catholic and were very devout in practicing our faith.  In the mid 90’s we left the Catholic church (for too many reasons to go into here) and have been attending an evangelical church with a heavy emphasis on Reformed theology.  (think Gospel Coalition, John Piper, RC Sproul etc)

Okay.

I have been on a spiritual journey the past two years and considering coming back into the Catholic church.  I have been reading books, listening to hours and hours (well over a hundred) of videos and debates and such with all the folks from Catholic Answers and listened to dozens and dozens of The Journey Home programs with Marcus Grodi, reading through several books, the early church fathers and on and on.    I am trying to work through all my questions very much like you wrote in your book By What Authority  (again, I think you did a great job of “thinking out loud” if you will, in the book.)

Thanks be to God!

I’m working through many questions on topics on the real presence, on sola scriptura, on the authority of the pope and such, I’m still not totally sure on these things, but I’m having a hard time with something that if you can direct me to some books I would be extremely grateful.  I have two friends who, like me, left the catholic church around the same time we left.  They both are now in what I would  call “the organic church.”  They are followers of people like Jon Zens, Frank Viola, George Barna and many more.  I read one of their “recommended” books ” they gave me called “The Reformers and Their stepchildren” (I read it twice in fact, once about two years ago and again when I started on this journey.  They have other books and articles they promote such as Pagan Christianity by Viola, and “searching together” with Jon Zens.

Barna is the only one of these I have even heard of.  I can’t speak to this much till have a clearer idea what they mean by their jargon.  As a Catholic, I will confess my amusement at “Pagan Christianity” since that, of course, has been the great charge leveled at Catholics since the Reformation, and most especially by Fundamentalists.  Like C.S. Lewis and, especially, Chesterton I have never understood what was so bad about the paganism that has been preserved by Catholic culture.  We’d be a poorer place without Christmas trees and maypoles.  I’m glad some Protestants are seeing the goodness there.  As Chesterton observed, the last thing pagans did was ask for baptism. :)

Here’s the one major objection that I’m having trouble with.  These above authors make the usual claim for what early church was like (and yes, much they get from “the bible” which I understand more and more is a problem in itself just as you so well pointed out).  These “organic church authors” quote many biblical scholars and seem to give a lot of evidence to what the early church was “really” like.  Again, this email is already longer than I wish it to be, but I’ve listened to Dr William Marshner’s  talk on The Coming Home Network on “how do we know the early church” but in that talk he only briefly touches on the material.   I’ve read Ignatius of Antioch, I’ve read Clement of Rome, I’ve read the didache, I’ve read the Epistle of Barnabas and others…but when I read those I think to myself “well maybe that was just a particular group at that time…or maybe some thought as these Fathers did but not the majority or not all the churches…”  Its still fuzzy in my head and I haven’t been able to sort it out and get clarity on it.  So I’m writing to ask if you can you send me a list of some books or authors or articles you would think would be find helpful and get me started in this.    Has anyone written a rebuttal to Frank Viola’s Pagan Christianity” or this whole idea of this spirit flowing early church.

I don’t know Viola so I don’t know what he claims.  The tendency in some circles is to try to paint every heretical sect as just an “alternative Christianity” with the orthodox Christians winning and writing the histories.  I don’t see how to maintain a coherent account of the faith if we take that road.  It is obvious to me, at any rate, that there is a remarkable coherence to the early Church, just as there is to the Catholic Church today.  Yes, of course, there is squabbling and there are figures like Tertullian who wander off into the weeds.

But what really sticks out about the Church is the Lenny Bruce Test, which works just as well in antiquity as it does now.  Bruce (a Jew) remarked that there is only one “The Church”.  When you say “the Church” in antiquity you mean only one thing: that body of believers in union with the bishops in succession from the apostles and in union with Peter.  Every other sect operates in response to and reaction to that.  They are margarine, it is butter.  They claim to be just as good as the Church.  The Church never bothers with needing to prove it is just as much from Jesus as they are.

I hope that is helpful.  Again, not knowing Viola I’m not sure I’m scratching where you itch.

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