I hope you don’t mind if I comment on your reply to my fellow Catholic’s invitation to join us.
I’m truly sorry you cannot make the step to full communion with the Catholic Church, and I think I understand your position. However, your very polite letter does raise questions in my own mind, and I hope you don’t mind if I put them to you in this forum. You say in passing, “I am already at home as a Catholic.” I am curious as to what way you are in fact “Catholic.” As we know, the word ‘Catholic’ means ‘universal’, but the Anglican Church is not universal. It is, as you mention, a small denomination within the Christian tradition that is less than 500 years old.
I can only think of three other ways in which you might think of yourself ‘Catholic’ at this time. The first is that you worship with Catholic mannerisms and costumes. I’m sure this is not what you mean. You would agree theology is more than chasubles and liturgies. A ten gallon hat and cowboy boots don’t make you a Texan.
Later on you mention your ‘reformed Catholic’ church as opposed to our ‘great Roman Catholic Church.’ But how could there be two Catholic Churches? Our Lord said there would be ‘one flock and one shepherd’ didn’t he? Perhaps by ‘reformed Catholic’ you mean that you follow the ancient Catholic faith, as it was reformed by Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer; but it was not their intention to simply reform the Catholic Church. They intended to break with the Catholic church. Their ‘reform’ was actually a revolution. As you know, they actually denied some very important Catholic beliefs. Not to believe in transubstantiation, for example, is not a reform of the Catholic faith, but a denial of it.
To now call their breakaway church a ‘reformed Catholic’ church is a contradiction in terms. You might just as well call the Four Square Baptist Church a ‘reformed Catholic Church.’ Their ‘reform’ goes further than yours it is true, but the intent and result is the same. As you know, the Catholic Church did reform itself in the sixteenth century in the Council of Trent. It continued to do so in the two Vatican Councils. The Catholic Church, therefore is already the ‘reformed Catholic Church’ you speak of.
By ‘Catholic’ I expect you mean that you hold to the ‘Catholic’ faith once delivered to the saints…what C.S.Lewis would call ‘mere Christianity’. This is laudable, and there is probably much that we agree on within this formula, however to call this the Catholic faith is incorrect since ‘mere Christianity’ is so much less than the fullness of Catholic belief, discipline, prayer and practice. I suppose ‘mere Christianity’ is ‘catholic’ inasmuch as it is what is believed by all everywhere and at all times, but this is a very watered down definition of ‘Catholic’ and any orthodox Christian might well call himself ‘catholic’ by this definition.
As you know, Catholics actually have a very simple and clear definition of what it means to be a Catholic. It means to be in full communion with the successor of Peter. You mention later that full visible communion between our two churches can only be accomplished by Our Lord himself. In a sense this is true, but with respect, isn’t it just a pious cop out? In fact, full communion between our two churches could be accomplished for you as an individual if you were to join us.
When I was on a similar journey I can remember praying for unity and then hearing the Lord ask what I was going to do about it. It then became clear that the best thing I could do to further the cause of church unity was to end the disunity and schism in my own life by becoming Catholic. I was only one person, but I did what I could do. My entering into full communion meant there was one less Christian who remained divided from the great majority of Christians in the world today and down the ages.
Finally, I thank you for your prayers for the Catholic Church. We need it, and I love the list of things you are praying for us to receive: “great outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the children of the Roman Church, a revived knowledge and love of the Scriptures and sound doctrine, the conversion of the great mass of sacramentalized but unevangelized laity, a resurgence of zeal for gospel mission, holy clergy who love Jesus and minister in his power, and excellence in preaching”. You are absolutely right. We need all these things.
Think how much more easily this prayer would be answered for our church if gifted evangelicals like you and your flock were to join us!
As a former Evangelical myself, I do not make this invitation in any sense of coercion or triumphalism, but out of a sincere desire not only for your own joy in being received into the fullness of the Catholic faith, but also because, as our documents on ecumenism clearly state, we Catholics are impoverished without you.
All that you affirm, we affirm. We simply invite you to affirm even more. As C.S.Lewis would say, ‘Come further up and further in!’
You and your flock need leave nothing behind. Your gifts, your experience, your learning and passion for Christ and his gospel, your zeal for evangelism will all find further fulfillment within the one flock and under the one shepherd.
Your friend in Christ,
Fr Dwight Longenecker