Saturday, March 3, 2018

Split. . .

Some have been predicting a split in the Roman Catholic Church for some time.  The tensions between those who think Vatican II to be a stepping to a long needed renovation of Roman Catholic dogma and church structures and those who fear Vatican II was detour away from the linear shape of tradition seem impossible to resolve.  For as long as many have known, Roman Catholic popes have kept this tension in check while holding onto the reins of both forces.  The moral authority of John Paul II and his patience in physical suffering kept silent those who felt his doctrinal rigidity too constraining.  The erudition and intellect of Benedict XVI was itself a ballast to keep the Roman ship righted.  But Francis has proven adept at pitting side against side without necessarily identifying with any side and yet he is clearly a progressive force himself.  It has seemed at many points that Francis was actually encouraging the kind of tensions and conflict which might distract us from the doctrine itself and would allow an embrace of a kinder and gentler Rome, at least in practice.  Whether these tensions will simply follow the cardinals into the next conclave or they will explode before then, who can know.  But it does raise a question.  Are we waiting for something that has, in effect already happened?

Rome has already created structures to support the various sides in the dispute.  There are societies and confraternities designed to give support and cover for either side just in case either of the sides gains ascendance.  There are bloggers and newsletters to make their positions clear. There are books and publishers to make sure their voices are heard.  They are in communion but they are clearly at odds with one another.

Perhaps it is not only Rome that finds itself in this boat.  There are conservative voices in many Christian denominations fighting against liberalism, progressivism, relativism, and all the other isms that remain skeptical about Scripture and orthodoxy in their pursuit of the church of now.  Lord knows, nearly every Christian jurisdiction has become a battleground against those who follow the will, desires, and opinions of culture and those who stop somewhere before that (whether a decade ago or a millennium).  There are liberal voices in those same churches intent upon pursuing an agenda to support a changing truth and an evolving sexual ethic as the primary form which the Gospel takes today (as well as everything from justice to climate change).  In between are little communities trying to remain aloof from all the disputes yet they cannot be complete immune from the tensions as the structures of their churches seem to cave in the face of a progressive vision that is unrelenting.

The question is this.  Is it possible to rein in the fringes and restore unity in doctrine and uniformity in practice in any way that restores integrity to a church body?  I write this from the vantage point of a church body that fought the battle for the Bible and seemingly won, only to have had division and diversion ever since.  Are we already split?  Is Rome already split?  Are those Christian denominations that were once bastions of their confessional identity already split?  Is there every hope for a day when the various forces will come together and find a common voice, give that voice to a common confession, and practice consistent with that confession?  I do not know.  I wish I did.  I have hope that the proverbial genie is not out of the bottle, never to return again.  I have hope that the distance and divergence so clearly evident in nearly every Christian communion can be reconciled and reunited. . . but. . . there remains the distinct possibility that these churches are all so divided and split as to make this an impossible dream and a doomed hope.  Can Rome be united?  Can Missouri? Will there be a day when all parties will converge together or is that a foolish wish?

I know what I pray for and what I fear. . . perhaps, you make the same petition and live within the same angst about the future.  It is a question worth asking.  Are we already split even though the warring groups claim allegiance to the same structures and insist that they are the authentic voice of their tradition?


John Joseph Flanagan said...

This article is very insightful indeed, and clearly described the nature of the problem in the church at large.. Lack of unity and the ongoing tension between adherents of progressive religion vs orthodoxy affects the Protestant denominations as well as the Roman Catholics. I sometimes wonder if it is more of a cycle that will change from time to time as the fickle winds of cultural blow across the Christian landscape. Essentially, we see this tension throughout the history of the church on earth, too often leading to sectarian violence and political divisions. I for one do not concern myself with the problems of the RCC or factionalism in the Protestant sector. It is enough of a struggle fir me to strive to live my own Christian life in a way that is God pleasing, and my sins often weigh me down during this journey. Thank you, Lord, for your grace, and your patience with us, we who are unworthy and too often unable to find unity together.

Carl Vehse said...

For the Romanists, names were named. For the Missouri Synod, names need to be named, but won't because of Bylaws 1.8 and 2.14. The corrupt and incompetent have protected themselves.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters asks, "Are those Christian denominations that were once bastions of their confessional identity already split?" In reply, I would point to Anglicanism, my own group.

In the early 20th century and before, Anglicanism was definitely a traditional, catholic faith. Sadly, the 1930 Lambeth Conference adopted a position allowing artificial contraception under some circumstances. This opened the flood gates to all the havoc that has since followed. Today, in the USA, we find on the one side the Episcopal Church USA and on the other side the Contining Anglicans. Similar splits are found all around the world.

The ECUSA endorses and accepts homosexuality, women priests, and any other deviant ideas you care to name. Their emphasis is on "radical inclusivity." There is nothing at all that is forbidden in the ECUSA, and everything is allowed and approved.

The Continuing Anglicans are badly fragmented, I think due to what is called "purple shirt fever." There are far too many bishops, each protecting their own turf, and too few priests caring for the folks in the pews. The Continuing Church is generally agreed on most points of theology, although there is quite a divergence in worship forms. This ranges from the Low Church folks, who are strictly BCP 1928 with cassock and surplice, to High Church folks using the Missal and full Eucharistic vestments. There is, however, a little movement toward unification. Four of the major groups met jointly last October and came to some minimal agreements; it will take longer to ever reach true and complete unification.

Speaking as a retired Anglican Catholic Church priest, I can say that it is possible to hold on, to continue in the traditional ways, even in the most adverse circumstance. It is also very trying at times.

Fr. D+
Continuing Anglican Priest

David Gray said...

The only thing that Anglicans had like a confession were the 39 Articles.

James Kellerman said...

David Gray,

...which nearly all Anglicans of every stripe have ignored for at least a couple centuries. (Not all, since I have a fine two-volume commentary on the 39 Artickes by some Anglican divine somewhere in my library.) Fr. D and I had a fruitful exchange some time ago in which I noted (and he agreed) that Anglicanism doesn't have the same attitude toward the 39 Articles that Lutherans have toward the Augsburg Confession or even the Reformed have to their various regional confessions (Second Helvetic, Dort, Westminster, etc.). High Church Anglicans ignore the strictures of article 28 forbidding veneration of the sacrament and article 22 that forbids the invocation of the saints. Low Church Anglicans, which have tended to be Arminian since at least the eighteenth century, have muted Article 10 on free will and 17 on predestination. And Broad Church Anglicans chuck even the foundational Trinitarian and Christological articles. And when did an Anglican of ANY stripe publicly read the homilies of Edward VI to his congregation on an annual or other basis, as Article 35 requires them to do?

James Kellerman said...

Fr D,

I wholeheartedly agree that Continuing Anglicans suffer from "purple shirt fever." A schismatic Episcopal priest is likely to make himself Metropolitan of Kenosha and All North America (with 3 parishes and 400 people in his diocese). But Lutherans have a corresponding disease: "seminary professor mania." If you get 5 disgruntled Lutheran pastors to leave a major Synod and form a new denomination, you can bet they will form a seminary; one of them will be named President; another Dean of Students; another the Abraham Calov Professor of Biblical Studies; and yet another the Jakob Andreae Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology. One poor guy may be stuck without a title, but maybe he could be appointed Registrar?

David Gray said...

Which means the notion of a confessional Anglican is not sustainable.

Carl Vehse said...

James Kellerman: But Lutherans have a corresponding disease: "seminary professor mania."

And even within a "major Synod" there is the pretentious "honorary doctorate title mania."

Anonymous said...

As it was explained to me by a rather learned Priest when I first began to explore leaving Lutheranism (I was WELS at the time) and moving to Anglicanism, he said "Anglicanism is a creedal Church, not a confessional Church." He was correct. We believe that the creeds contain all we need to confess, and certainly do not see the 39 (or is it 42?) Articles as binding on us here and now.

The various confessional statements of the Lutherans and Reformed are attempts to address the questions of the 16th century. Lutherans claim to be holding to the Augsburg confession while at the same time distorting their worship beyond recognition. As Continuing Anglicans, we endeavor to hold our worship fixed, according to the BCP 1928, and address the questions of today according to traditional Biblical morality.


David Gray said...

Saying you are holding your worship "fixed" while basing it on a document from 1928 is kind of ironic.

Xnihilo said...

Francis needs to be watched very carefully. He is very, very clever, no doubt about it. It's no mistake that he's a Jesuit. The attack on Humanae Vitae comes through the "pastoral" approach set out in his most recent teaching document, Amoris Laetitia ("Happiness [found in] Love," rather than the mistranslation, "The Joy of Love). While paying lip service to traditional orthodoxy, Francis "slips in" a hidden time bomb in a footnote about "accompanying" people in "irregular" marriages to the point of admission to the sacraments. This is causing division and consternation all around the RC church. Watch very carefully what your own liberals try to do in the name of "pastoral" concerns.

Anonymous said...

"Saying you are holding your worship "fixed" while basing it on a document from 1928 is kind of ironic."

David, let me help you with that irony. The BCP 1928 is almost exactly the same, on a word for word basis, as the first book, the BCP 1549. I can lay them side by side and see very, very few differences.

But it goes further. Many Continuing Anglicans, myself included, use the Missal which is directly derived from the Sarum Use from almost 1000 years ago. That was originally in Latin, and the Missals in use today are all in English, so there is the necessary difference due to translation. Aside from that, the Missal Mass is very nearly the same, again on a word-for-word basis, as that of 1000 years ago.

You find irony in seeing continuity based on a document only 90 years old, but I have to remind you that the big rupture, the big change, came in 1979 with the false BCP promulgated by ECUSA. Every BCP prior to that was in solid continuity, so the irony is not real, only in your evident lack of familiarity with the subject.


David Gray said...

I find it ironic because changes mean not "fixed." I have my own copy of the 1549 BCP as well as the 1552. You didn't invoke the Missal, you invoked the 1928 BCP. Anglicanism has long been the sick man of the Reformation including its lead on the promulgation of contraception in the 1930s. And as someone who spent years in England observing Anglican worship I find LCMS worship to be in substantially better condition than Anglican worship. If you wish to limit your observations to a tiny subset of Anglicans then don't compare yourself to Lutheran practice in general but to the confessional subset of Lutherans. Of course this would invalidate your comparison, for a different reason than the invalidation of the comparison you actually made.

Padre Dave Poedel said...

Perhaps the answer is not found in the poles, but somewhere in the center. To hold to a rigid orthodoxy in a wooden way on either pole causes division and sides gather to fight it out.

In the middle are a lot of hurting people, who may not have done everything right...i am one of those....who are trying to be faithful to Christ and His Holy Catholic Church. We seem to be overlooked in the kind of polemical exercises going on in the blogosphere of the Roman and, dare I say even in our LCMS as a blood sport. Those of us bloodied by life and sin cling to the Means of Grace as our assurance that we serve a loving God. We don’t want to “ease” the burdens of the Law, nor do we accept “cheap grace”. Contrary to the stereotypes, we are largely trying to live lives in Christ and with one another. Yes, we want recognizable Lutheran Liturgy, the Sacraments offered at each Liturgy and the altar open to those who, repenting of our sin, cling to Christ as really present in, with and under the species of the Eucharist.

Things are rarely as neat and clean as the poles define it. Life is hard....God is good!