Victor or Wrecker?

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.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01198856128213307540 Elizabeth

    I remember reading a quotation by Pope Benedict. "Truth without love is sterile and love without truth is mere sentimentality." It's not always easy to combine the two.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09627986880884206811 flyingvic

    When Christ asked the disciples, "And who do YOU say that I am?", did he either offer to or demand from them a definition, to ensure that when Peter (you've heard of him?) replied that Jesus was the Messiah he was being theologically orthodox and not in the least bit sentimental? Or did he accept that which came straight from Peter's heart – and only then begin to try to explain (unsuccessfully, as usual) what was going to happen to him?You conjoin me in your memory with a sweet Methodist lady. I don't mind at all, even though my wife might have something to say on the matter… All of us, I suspect (reading these pages!), choose, when we are able to do so, those with whom we prefer to worship and shudder at some of the practices and beliefs of those with whom we do not choose to worship. But beyond that? Does not that parable about the great banquet suggest that God wants them all to come in, and on his terms, not ours?Especially in the face of radical and aggressive Islam, can we afford the luxury of deciding on God's behalf who is and who is not on God's invitation list and which denomination will be sitting at top table?I repeat my question about demonstrating Christian unity, and suggest to you that it is not in the slightest degree sentimental.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04886340260525847592 boredoftheworld

    There is a new series from the BBC called "Rev." The rev. is The Reverend Adam Smallbone, newly assigned vicar of St. Saviour in the Marshes, who is frequently called "vicarage" by one of his parishioners.I don't recommend the show for the easily scandalized (or even the not so easily scandalized, it's pretty vulgar), but for anyone who's ever worked in the Church it pretty much nails the usual cast of characters. In fact, the archdeacon approaches, everyone look busy!

  • http://divineheartofgod.wordpress.com/ Shadow

    Excellent, loved your post, thank you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10263336790979057510 A Little One

    It seems to me, flyingvic, that although God invites to all to come sit at the table, not all choose to do so.You chose the verse where Jesus established his Church. As a convert to the Catholic faith, I love this verse. It gives me the faith to know that what Christ established is not destroyed. The verse continues to Matthew 16:18-2, "And I tell you that you are Peter,and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Yes, unity comes from re-uniting the broken off part with the original branch.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09627986880884206811 flyingvic

    Actually, Little One, I was following St Mark's description of the conversation, quite probably an earlier account than St Matthew's. [Mk 8.27-33] He has no mention here of a 'rock'; rather, he says, "Out of my sight, Satan! You think as men think, not as God thinks."I guess that's a warning for all of us.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08383178253798427977 Anthony Brett Dawe

    In a somewhat recent issue of the British periodical Faith- available online at faith.org.uk- that little known modern Roman Catholic apoogist one Fr. James Tolhurst wrote a marvellously succint article on the topic of Heresy.The good Padre still suffering from a slight tinge of his Anglican tea sippin dayze is too mild to really state the meaning of the word.All about 'choice' from the Greek.People may well be heretics at any stage of their 'Christian' pilgrim's progress but they can only be dogmatically condemned after repeatedly CHOOSING to follow 'christian belief patterns of thought' outside the Canons and tradition held by the Othodox Catholick (read universal) Church of all Time and Times.p.s. the Holy Angle bro Daryl and i once went in search of a 'primitive Baptist' Church to see the 'show' so to speak. Darly, being holy thought this was a bit naughty because we were intending to laugh at people, ok heretics fo sure, but still 'christins'.I, being rather less-than-holy, by most major news outlet reports wanted to see them actually 'take a fang for God' and maybe-maybe-not prove St. Paul right.Good inexpensive 'entertainment' at any rate. Still, I have ought aginst thee auld Padre… you know how I dislike Earl Grey… hopefully your hearty yeomanry-descent wife will get you on the Orange Pekoe on the adroit side-o-the-pond.Hey, new website on that truly fantastically brilliant North American philosophe/theologian:Pogo Possum.'We have met the enemy and he is us.' (nary ta b confused with US)Where have you gone Thomas Cranmer our communion turns it's lonely eyes to you…boo-hoo-hoo.A and O- gotta go.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08383178253798427977 Anthony Brett Dawe

    uh…Although a rare occurence due to my Classic Scottish Calvinist Education at the Univ de Ste. AndreI occasionally make a spelling mistake (no spell check on here good Padre, pray forgiva and forgetta)to wit:the good Father Tolhurst should be an 'apologist' (!) as above not the Milnean Jungian slip o the lip.Hey , speaking of old Jimbo the Tollhouse Cookie Moster what does that old Anglo Vicarage (luv it) phrase:'Many a slip between the cup and the lip' said by Anglican vicars who have not been 'priests' since the time of old Hanky-Panky the Octavo (don't take that as libel Liz)Jacobites rule OK… by me … OK???SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORRRRRRRY.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09627986880884206811 flyingvic

    Google translate, anyone?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08383178253798427977 Anthony Brett Dawe

    that sort of 'hair net' thingeewill serv wellin the slish splashing hot oil frying pan fired worldof McDonalds.second career mate.good old Ameeeerican cuppa Joe (as the holy Angle Dareel always saz) same watery concoction here in Blighty as over there…goes good with Pope (of Rome) Leo xiii approved tabac fags…ahhhhh… the nicocaffeine rush…then to the Oratory for Masss and clouds of incense (man that Hermann blagger is 'spot on', muxt be a mystic)you told him naughty Padre one of my deepest darkest confessed and absolved secretos:yer, about my incense smoking addiction…I CAN'T HELP IT- it was old (now dead men tell no tells thank… goodness) 'Fr. Bryce at that dire St. Andrews Greenville, SC who got me hooked and tryied to soft soap me about the book burning of the Thirty-Nine Articles and even predicted the repeal of the secular law and every good Angle's right to have a 'habeus corpus' much loathed by old George II (no relation, well, actually if ya look in DeBrett's there is IN FACT0)alas and alack…Help us good Churchy La Femme …you are our only hope…Princess Leia is outta Bobo's book cuz she is PROVEN to fall outwith the bounds of the now forgotten Table of Kindred and Affinity found in the trad 1662 BCP (yes, last page, pc shriners)My oldest son , i.e. Bobo is tres Orthodox – to be sure.Lord have mercy on the 'spare' re the 'heir'.(usuarer he be tho so will survive in the Novbus Order Mass and Secular Seculorum just round the bend of the November elections)Och weel, as we auld Scot's say…we DID try Padre…really we did…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12082251909728928600 railrider

    Very nice Father,MQ