20 April 2007

Eight Points Of Clarification


A very compelling blog I’ve been visiting lately is reformedcatholicism.org. A recent post offers Eight Reasons on Who We Are and Where We Are Coming From which I’ve copied below:

I’ve recently read many comments, on this site and others, which insinuate everything from “those Reformed Catholics only want to be charitable toward those who agree with them,” to “those Reformed Catholics want to embrace everyone who says nice things about Jesus.” It’s rather obvious that both of these things cannot be true, so allow me to offer some points of clarification.
1. We believe in historic catholic creedal orthodoxy. Anyone who falls outside of these boundaries we reject as not being of the catholic Christian faith. By this, I mean that we reject Gnosticism, Docetism, Sabellianism, Arianism, Donatism, Nestorianism, Eutychianism, Monothelitism, and all the various other “isms” which fall outside the bounds of historic, orthodox Christianity. We also reject the various modern heresies which have arisen in our day, such as theological and moral liberalism and the “Health and Prosperity” movement.
2. We believe in unity, not uniformity. We do not believe that, where secondary matters are concerned, everyone must agree with us in order to belong to our particular group. In fact, we are quite a doctrinally diverse bunch ourselves. We believe in the catholicity of the Church, that is, its essential unity and universality. The Church is one; it is a whole. It includes particular assemblies, but is not to be identified with or reduced to these assemblies. This is the meaning of the creedal idea of “the holy catholic Church.” Thus, we reject schism as being just as damaging to the body of Christ as propositional heresy. We do not reject confessionalism—else we’d not claim to be Reformed—but we do reject sectarianism, and hold that a firm conviction in confessional distinctives far from necessitates sectarianism. Indeed, we hope for a day when the various orthodox confessional traditions can exist in one visible Body while yet retaining their confessional identities. This may seem impossible from our perspective, but with God all things are possible. The same One who strengthened Luther to say “Here I stand” is also more than able to soften our hearts toward one another and give his Church a universal conviction in her own catholicity which will cause all of our disputes over secondary matters to fade into the background.
3. We hold in reverence the Reformation and those doctrines formulated by our Reformation fathers. We acknowledge that the Reformation was fundamentally a movement within, not outside of, the catholic Church. It was not a revolution, but a reformation; a reformation of that which has existed from the day of Pentecost to now: the one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church. Thus, we acknowledge all groups which have their roots in that fundamentally catholic movement as being members of the one catholic Church of Jesus Christ. Our goal is to recognize, proclaim, and spread this idea of the fundamental catholicity of the Reformation.
4. Flowing from the above, it should be self-evident that the assertion that the term or the idea “Reformed Catholicism” is oxymoronic is itself moronic. The Reformers themselves claimed to be such. Luther, Calvin, Bullinger, Bucer, Melanchthon, every one of them to a man claimed to be nothing other than heirs of the historic catholic faith. Those who reject the term, or the idea, as oxymoronic only demonstrate by doing so that their heritage is not from those with whom they seek to be united, but from their Reformation era nemeses, the Anabaptists. We view the failure of anyone to see the historic validity of the idea or the term to be due to either a simple neglect of historical facts, a lack of concentrated study of the thought of the Reformers themselves, or worse, intellectual arrogance and self-justification. We do not want to impute anyone with the latter of these, so we assume that the problem is the former two.
5. Over against the above, we reject that those who are Anabaptist or Dispensational in their thought are “Reformed” in the historic sense of that term, and that the claiming to be Reformed by such groups is itself what is truly oxymoronic and historically dishonest. We acknowledge and admit that such men may be soteriologically Calvinistic, but this is not what it meant to be Reformed to the magisterial Reformers themselves or to their immediate heirs. To be traditionally Reformed is to adhere to historic orthodox Christian doctrine and to hold to the system of doctrine contained in the Reformed confessions. Those who are Anabaptist or Dispensational cannot claim either of these, as 1. they reject “one baptism for the remission of sins,” thus falling outside of the historic creedal orthodoxy (It can also be argued that they reject “holy catholic church,” but this would require some argumentation which it is not now my purpose to give.), and 2. they cannot claim the system of doctrine contained in the Reformed confessions, as they reject the importance which Reformation doctrine places on Church and sacraments, as well as the place of children of believers as heirs of the covenant and thus rightful recipients of baptism. Accordingly, we reject the novel idea that all that is required to being Reformed is an intellectual adherence to a five point soteriological scheme as disjointed from the rest of historic Reformation thought. To be properly Reformed, in our view, is necessarily to be also Catholic. The Reformers railed just as much against the ecclesiology and sacramentology of the Anabaptists as ever they did against that of Rome.
6. We do not, however, reject those who are not Reformed as unorthodox, for we reject the sectarian idea that the Reformed tradition is the only valid one which is held in Christ’s one, catholic Church. We embrace Lutheranism and Anglicanism as also orthodox, and we view the Roman and Eastern churches as also being component parts of the one Church of Christ, as they find their historic roots in the Great Tradition of the Catholic Church. We also embrace the Baptist churches which find their identity in historic, orthodox Christianity, and urge them to discard their schismatic practice of re-baptism, as this is a deviation from creedal orthodoxy.
7. We hold the Bible as supreme in authority. But we also see that the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura has been badly misunderstood, misrepresented, and misapplied in our day. This Reformation doctrine is not that every man has the right to his own private interpretation as separate from the catholic Church. The Reformers acknowledged this, and thus claimed the traditions of their catholic fathers as their own. God has given the Scriptures to his Church to be her source of authority, by which she will be led by the Spirit of Truth into all the truth. But it is just this which is missed in popular applications of Sola Scriptura in our day. The Scriptures are for the Church, to be interpreted and expounded upon within the context of the church’s life, as she is led along by the working of the Spirit to reveal to her the glorious truths contained therein. Thus, it is imperative that the Church look to how she has understood the Scriptures in previous ages and hold such historic teachings in reverence. It is also imperative that we adhere to the regula fidei, as contained in our historic Creeds, as the guiding principle to a proper, orthodox interpretation. Thus, it is not for every man to simply exercise his own private opinion as the supreme authority, for this is not what Sola Scriptura is, much less what it was for the Reformers.
8. We find the simplistic arguments, self-justification and self-authentication of modern pop-apologetic methods insipid. What we need in our day more than anything are apologists for unity, not more schism. We fully acknowledge the rightful place to defend the propositional truths of orthodox Christianity and we hold such defense to be invaluable in our fight against the schemes of the evil one. Nevertheless, we recognize that Christ is just as much—perhaps more so—glorified in the manifest, visible unity and concord of His Body as he is in the proclamation of propositional truths. It is, after all the unity of the Church by which Christ said in his dying prayer that the world will know that he has sent us. And thus, we acknowledge and strive toward the fulfillment of both aspects of our Lord’s prayer in the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel: “Let them be one” and “Sanctify them in your truth.” But in our fragmented context, where we find ourselves divided and yet fighting against so many common enemies, we believe that what needs to be proclaimed now more than ever is the unity and catholicity of the one Church of Christ. It is the one Church which the gates of hell will not prevail against. The Church is always strongest and her witness is always clearest when she stands united in Christ. As one Body we can destroy the enemy as a unified, unstoppable weapon, but as separate little sects, all we can do is fire our little mini-pistols at our enemies and hope that we will make it out of the battle alive.

People often complain that we hold to “nebulous” opinions, or that we cannot be understood and that this is why we are often dismissed with condescending remarks. We contend that the reason we are misunderstood is not due to these things, but to the uncatholic context in which we exist. We are combating ways of thinking so embedded in our evangelical context that it sounds to others like we’re either speaking gibberish or that we are so far from the traditions of individualistic evangelicalism that we must be enemies of the truth. Fully acknowledging that we are, in fact, very far from the individualistic scene in which we find ourselves, it remains our contention that we are on the side of truth, not against it. Thus, the charge that we are mere post-modern relativists (as if post-modernism is accurately understood by our detractors anyway), is unfounded and untrue. However, we do understand truth differently than our detractors. We do not–as many are seemingly wont to do–adhere blindly to Cartesian foundationalism or to the ideals of enlightenment rationalism. We see Truth irreducibly as an incarnate, crucified, resurrected, divine Person, through faith in whom all of our seeking of understanding must be mediated. And he calls the Church his body—his fullness—for a reason. He gave it the keys to his kingdom for a reason. The truth of the Church, her unity, and her authority did not cease with the apostolic age; it has continued through history and it is our goal to play a part in leading her into a greater self-awareness, a greater reverence for her Lord, a greater appreciation for her fathers, and a greater love for one another. We may fall short of the ideal at times, and we appreciate charitable correction when this occurs, but we aren’t just a bunch of mindless dolts, and we certainly have a purpose in all that we say and do. You may find yourself an enemy of this purpose, but please do not be so mindless as to think that we just don’t care about the truth. Rather, pray for us, that we might live up to our ideals.

I asked for further clarification to point #6 and received this response:

All of us here share an ecumenical vision that is distinctively Protestant and distinctively orthodox. We understand the various confessional traditions of Christendom and what conditions their beliefs. Thus, we do not seek the abolition of confessionalism. But we do hold a vision of the universal Church which sees her catholicity as supreme and superceding those things which divide those groups which are rooted in the Great Tradition of the historic Church catholic, and thus vitally connected with the crucified, risen Savior himself. So, while not seeking to abolish confessional distinctions, we do seek a merger of the various confessions (however far distant the possibility of this may be) in one visible, universal body, i.e. the full realization of the creedal ideal: “The holy Catholic Church.” Not all contributors here have the same vision as to how this should come to be or even what form it should take. Actually, most of us are still in the process of working all that stuff out. But what we hold in common is a conviction that something is not right. The fragmentation of the church in our days is horrifying, and we want to play a part in changing things. And we are always excited to see others join us in that vision and who want to join us for the ride as we struggle through these issues together.

Perhaps other contributors could add their $.02 here, but for me personally, what conditions my thoughts in this regard is the reality of the mystical union of all believers with Christ, and thus the reality of our being one Body in Him, our common Head. As we are all united with our Lord Jesus through Faith, Word, and Sacrament, we are therefore also united with each other, and it is this existential unity which we already possess that we are called to bring to the surface in our lives together in this world as the body of Christ: Eph. 4:1-16. Thus, if one is a Christian, one is united with Jesus Christ through Baptism into his death and resurrection.

Our union with Jesus or with each other does not take on varying degrees depending on how perfect our doctrine is. Having “better doctrine” than others does not make us united with Christ any more than they (though we should always be striving toward greater understanding). Thus, it is my goal and passion to live out the working toward unity which the New Testament calls us to with all those with whom I am already united in Christ. And the goal, in my opinion, should be real, tangible, structural unity under one body, not compromising our differing convictions on secondary matters, but always holding as supreme the Great Tradition which all true catholic Christians have in common.


Excellent stuff and worth giving some time and consideration to thinking through these ideals.

5 comments:

Gordan said...

As with a lot of stuff, much discernment is required here, I think. Dr. James White has had numerous run-ins with this group, and they are, in practice, a heckuva lot less charitable than their statements make out. You might try going to aomin.org and searching for this group. Like you say, good stuff to consider and think about.

Reformed Renegade said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Reformed Renegade said...

I see run-ins between alot of Christian groups. Unfortunate but true. As I stated at the end, "Excellent stuff and worth giving some time and consideration to thinking through these ideals."

Reformed Renegade said...

Let me further clarify. I'm not going to take sides in this kind of thing as there maybe fault on both sides. All I'm saying here is that RC's premise is interesting and worth some thought. For the record, I am, with all my heart, mind and soul, a confessional Reformed believer!

Jonathan Bonomo said...

gordan,

The lack of charity works both ways. I'll be the first to admit that some of us over at Ref. Cath. have not been so nice to Mr. White at times. But there is a long history between both groups that loyal followers of White usually don't take into account when assessing the mudslinging sessions. White is prone to play the innocent victim card in his dealings with us, but the fact of the matter is that he misrepresents us with glee on a regular basis and doesn't even think twice about it. He is often demonstrated to be manifestly mistaken about his assertions. Apologies? Never. Humility? Nada. Charity? Good luck. He seemingly gets a kick out of it. He recently accused me of being an enemy of the Reformation, a compromiser of the Gospel, and one who denies the sovereign grace of God. None of these things are true in the least. And this is merely the latest example. I won't touch on the countless time my good friend Dr. Paul Owen has been misrepresented and effectively anathematized by White.

Like I said, this doesn't excuse us of any misconduct on from our side, but let's not be naive and think that Mr. White is innocent in this regard. Because of his popularity, he usually gets the benefit of the doubt that he is in the right by his followers. Sadly, he is often manifestly in the wrong and no one cares, because he is... James White. He can make condescending and insulting remarks about us all he wants (if I had a dime for every time he called our thinking oxymoronic I'd be rich), but once we respond in kind for some reason we're portrayed as a bunch of vitriolic, big bad meanies. Forget the fact that many of us are accomplished scholars, some of us ordained ministers of the Gospel, yada, yada, yada... none of that matters, because James White doesn't like us.

Listen, I used to love White when he slammed others. But once my perspective on things began to change I saw through his show. I'm not assuming that you're one of his devoted followers, but even if you aren't and you just read what he has to say without getting thorough exposure to where we're coming from (on our own terms and from our own mouths, not from his skewed misrepresentations of us) then you're getting a rather distorted understanding of what we're about.