When I was an Anglican priest I had the cure of souls in two country parishes. In one I was the Vicar. In the other I was the Rector. When first appointed they asked which I should be called and I said, “I think we will combine the two titles into one and I shall be called ‘Victor’.” At which a quick witted parishioner replied, “They might combine the two and call you Wrecker.”
Our local Rector in the combox has given a long response to my plea for an Anglican model for unity and ended up by asking: “Do we better demonstrate Christian unity by seeking to bring Christ himself, visible in his followers, into the lives of those who do not know him, or by squabbling over who is a ‘real’ Christian and who isn’t?”
These are fine sentiments, but I must say they do remind me of the sweet Methodist lady who, on hearing that I was converting to Catholicism said with tears welling up, “But Vicar, surely all that matters is how much we love Jesus!!” While her sentiments and the Rector’s noble words about sharing Christ seem to make someone like me seem hard hearted, they do beg several very large questions. It is very fine to say that we must ‘bring Christ into the lives of those who do not know him,’ and it is moving to cry, “Surely all that matters is how much we love Jesus!” but how do we know that it is Christ we are bringing to people and that it is Jesus we are loving?
This is where some definitions and dogma are required. Who is the Jesus the Methodist lady loves and who is the Christ the Anglican Rector is sharing? It should seem obvious to any thinking Christian that such definitions must be required at some point along the way for all sorts of people claim to ‘love Jesus’ or that they are ‘sharing Christ’ while many other followers of Christ would be alarmed to think that such people are Christians and they would reject them from the fellowship.
The Rector wishes us to focus on ‘sharing Christ’ as a way to demonstrate Christian unity’ but where are the Rector’s boundaries? This is where living in the United States begins to make ‘Christian unity’ seem not only an elusive dream but a crazy nightmare. Just ‘shares Christ’ alongside us to ‘demonstrate Christian unity’ and how do I determine just who is ‘loving Jesus’ and ‘sharing Christ’. Here in the USA where Christianity takes increasingly wild and wonderful expressions the question is live.
For sake of argument we may accept that the Catholic and the Anglican and the Methodist and the Presbyterian all ‘love Jesus’ and ‘share Christ’ and that they all enjoy a certain kind of ‘Christian unity’ but shall we include the Baptists? If we do, shall we include just the Southern Baptists who are quite sensible, or may we invite the independent Bible fundamentalist Baptists? If they ‘love Jesus’ and ‘share Christ’ may we include the snake handling, rootin’ tootin’ poison drinking Baptists? If not, why not?
Let us go further. The Seventh Day Adventists claim to ‘love Jesus’ and ‘share Christ’. Shall we admit them to Christian Unity and overlook their heresies as mere eccentricities or ‘differences of opinion’? If the Seventh Day Adventists, then surely the Worldwide Church of God and the Christian Scientists, and if the Christian Scientists and Worldwide Church of God, then why not the Jehovah’s Witnesses, for they too claim with all sincerity and seriousness that they ‘love Jesus’ and ‘share Christ.’ For that matter, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints claim to ‘love Jesus’ and ‘share Christ’, and if the Mormons, then why not the Moonies, for the members of the Unification Church who follow Reverend Moon also claim to ‘love Jesus’ and ‘share Christ’.
The Rector and my Methodist lady friend are guilty of sentimentalism. They have put lofty and sweet emotions above the need for real definitions and dogma. It is complained that ‘dogma divides’. Indeed it does–just as any declaration of truth does. In fact, Catholics, who point out the need for definitions and delineations are simply doing what all Christians do, for even the most bland and liberal of Anglicans will turn up his nose at the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witness and Snake Handlers and attempt to exclude them from being ‘real Christians’–and he is right to do so for they are not ‘real Christians’ and they are not because they are heretics. That is to say, they have held to some truths to the exclusion of others or they have distorted truths by the addition of falsehoods.
This is why I am a Catholic–because definitions are necessary and if definitions are necessary, then one must have an infallible authority to make the definitions–otherwise one drifts into individualism. sentimentalism, and the rampant sectarianism that Protestantism has become. The Catholic Church draws boundaries and says, “Here is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Join us if you like, but don’t complain when you choose not to join us and then we point out to you that you are not one with us. Don’t come to us and say, ‘Oh we really are Catholic you know…’ Why do you want to be ‘Catholic’ but you don’t become Catholic, and why do you protest when we simply point out the fact that you are not actually Catholic when that has been your clear choice?”
Catholics are also accused of being black and white and saying that everyone else isn’t ‘a real Christian’. Not so. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that all who are baptized and have faith in Christ are truly our brothers and sisters in Christ, and are to be treated as brothers and sisters. However, we can go on to explain a hierarchy of relationship to the Catholic Church which illustrates how some of the separated brethren are close to full communion with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church than others, and why this is so.
I will attempt to post more on this later.