Not So Strange Bedfellows

One of the larger bits of news breaking this week is that the Roman Catholic Church is providing a means  for conservatively minded Anglican priests and congregations to become part of the Roman Catholic Church, while retaining their worship traditions and – in the case of the priests – their wives.

The full-text of the Vatican statement can be read here  or here.  For a more pro-Anglican response, you can read here.  If you’d like to read a less than intellectual and deeply disturbing Anglican voice against this move, you can read here.  But be warned, it isn’t pretty.   

It would be good to note (since I didn’t know this myself until my colleague Mike pointed it out to me) that this is not the first time that the Roman Catholic Church created a way for members of another church body to enter into the Roman Catholic fold without having their liturgical traditions destroyed in the process.  The Eastern Rite allows for Eastern Orthodox congregations to enter into the Roman Catholic fold. 

But this situation with the Anglicans could be much, much bigger.

In light of the factionalization of the Anglican/Episcopal denominations in recent years, there are a lot of disaffected, conservative, Biblically-centered Anglicans out there who are deeply hurt by and angry at the liberal elite of their denominations.  In particular, the African branch of the Anglican Communion has been particularly vocal about their abhorrence at the decisions that have been made by Western leaders – decisions such as ordaining women as clergy and ordaining practicing homosexuals as clergy.  While conversations have undoubtedly been going on for a long time between Rome and conservative Anglicans, these recent issues have definitely cut the fuse a lot shorter for folks who are inclined to walk away from the Anglican Communion. 

And this points to a larger issue – that of ecumenism.  While there’s a lot of talk about this idea in evangelical or protestant circles, it generally remains just that – talk.  And it certainly remains talk that doesn’t mean to include the Roman Catholics at all.  After all, they have the Pope, and regardless of what other compulsions there might be towards reunification, the Pope is likely the single biggest issue that stands in the way of such reunification.  But Protestant arguments against the Pope are just that – arguments.  They aren’t Scripture, and therefore, they constantly need to be examined and re-examined to see if the issues at stake in the past are still issues today.

Are we one body of Christ, or are we not? 

We get caught up in the short term view of things – and I think this is particularly true in America, where our historical horizon is fairly truncated compared to most of the rest of the world.  All of our national history is rather a blip on the map compared to the much longer histories of Europe, or Asian, or the Christian Church.  So it’s easy to think that what is here today will always be here today, and how things are today is how they will always be.  Clearly, this isn’t a viewpoint that the Roman Catholics assume is necessary in terms of working for reconciliation – albeit reconciliation on Rome’s terms.   They see only one Body of Christ, and patiently work to reintegrate those who have strayed away from the Body.  Is this something that must be firmly resisted, or is it to actually be desired? 

Biblically, we’re told that there will be a showdown.  The faithful in Christ vs. the powers of darkness and those who are under their sway.  We don’t know when it’s going to happen, but it’s easy to feel as though, with the strident clamoring of the New Atheists and the inroads of Islam across the world, that the stage for this showdown is being assembled.  And at that point, the finer theological distinctions that we’ve had the privilege of making and maintaining for several hundred years are likely to appear rather inconsequential.  Maybe it’s time to take more seriously what we profess in the Nicene and Apostle’s Creed – that we believe in one universal church. 

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