Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Why not become Anglican? some have asked since I laid out a case for “Reformational Catholicism” at the forum on the future of Protestantism at Biola University last month. Anglicans, they tell me, already have what I want. Others wonder why I stay in a “sectarian” Presbyterian denomination. Others ask, Why not drop the “Reformational” and become just “Catholic”?That goes a long way towards describing a lot of my issues, but to it, I would add one more - POLITY.
Thanks to all, but no thanks. I’ll stay put, as long as they’ll have me. I have pragmatic reasons for staying put. If I were to move into a new ecclesiastical world, I’d have to pick my way through a new, bewildering landscape, pocked with unknown landmines. I’d have to figure out all over again who my friends are, and my enemies. Even pragmatic reasons aren’t entirely pragmatic. As James Buchanan put it, the status quo isn’t decisive, but it does have ethical weight.
My main reason for staying put is theological. God is alive, and that means he surprises, and that means he frustrates the silly projections of creatures who can’t see past the horizon. Jesus will unite his church. He asked his Father to make his disciples one, and the Father won’t give his Son a stone when he asks for one loaf. But the united church won’t look like any of the products presently on the market. God is an entrepreneur who is in the business of creating new markets.
I have additional reasons for staying contentedly on the Wittenberg/Geneva side of the Tiber and to the West of Constantinople. For all my profound admiration for Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy, and for all the vibrant renewal in those churches, I continue to have standard, biblically grounded Protestant objections to Purgatory, to Marian doctrines, the Papacy, and icons, as well as lingering puzzlement about ambiguities concerning justification and the role of tradition. Though both are crucial to the future of Christianity, neither Roman Catholicism nor Orthodoxy is the Church of the future.
There are churches that align with the Presbyterians theologically (although it could readily be said that Presbyterians no longer have a theological core, I am looking at this from an historical perspective) and navigating a new church is not really that hard, but what is truly unique about Presbyterians s their form of government. It is, I believe, God inspired. It has been horribly abused, but that is not the fault of the system it is the fault of those of us operating it. Properly executed it balances the perversions that come from one person being able to declare God's will (something the Catholics and Pentecostals share) against the chaos and cultural ineffectiveness of serious congregationalism or whatever the hell it is Baptists do.
My only concern is that Presbyterians have become so bad at doing this stuff that it may get lost forever.