Ecumenism Without Compromise (part 2)

The Golden Key

There is a golden key!  His name is Jesus Christ.  We can’t do it.  And He can.  We must be very clear about those two truths.  The main reason it hasn’t happened is that we do not fully believe both those two truths.

Christ Himself is the most powerful source of reunion in the world because it comes not from the world but from Heaven.  And He will have His way with us sooner or later, one way or another.  We don’t know whether it’s going to be sooner or later, and we don’t know if it will come by one way or by another.  But we do know that it will come because it is his will.  We don’t know when and we don’t know how, but we know who.

Pope John Paul II has voiced the bold hope that as the first thousand years of Christian history were the millennium of Christian unity, and the second thousand years were the millennium of Christian disunity, 1054, 1517, and the over twenty-thousand denominations that came from 1517, so the third thousand years may be the millennium of Christian re-unity, reunification.

But how?  The deepest division is obviously between Catholics and Protestants, for the Eastern Orthodox Churches have all remained one, not split into twenty-thousand in creed, code, or cult.  They have preserved the fullness of Catholic faith.  Except for universal papal authority, but that has changed its form quite a bit throughout Christian history, though not its reality, and it can change again.  The pope himself explicitly said that in Ut Unum Sint.  But how can Catholics and Protestants achieve reunion?  I will prescind entirely from the question whether Anglicans are Catholics, Protestants, both, or neither.  Well it cannot be by yielding or weakening or compromising one iota of divinely revealed truth!

All the serious differences between Protestants and Catholics concern how much territory this category of divinely revealed truth covers.  For instance, the Church’s doctrines about Mary, and the saints, and the seven Sacraments, and Transubstantiation, and purgatory, Catholics accept them because they believe they are true and divinely revealed.  Protestants reject them because they believe they are not true and not divinely revealed.  Protestants say Catholics believe too much.  Catholics say Protestants believe too little.  Protestants say the Church added to Christ’s original, pure and simple revelation in the New Testament.  Protestantism is thus Catholicism stripped down: the Catholic Ark with what Protestants claim are the non-scriptural barnacles scraped off of it.

When I was at Calvin College and investigating things Catholic and falling in love with them and feeling guilty about it, because this was the wrong church, I took a course in church history to try to get things clear.  And the very first day of the course, the wise-old professor said, “What is the Church?”  And we were all just freshman, we didn’t know for nothing so nobody answered.  So he said, “Well, you’re going to meet a Roman Catholic someday and he’s going to say, ‘You’re in the wrong church!  You’re a Calvinist, you’re in the church John Calvin founded 500 years ago.  We’re in the church Jesus Christ founded 2000 years ago.’  What do you say to him?”  Nobody had an answer.  I said to myself, “I’m in the right class.”

He said, “Well, here’s what the Catholics will say: the church today is a great big thing and it looks very different from the simple thing you read about in the New Testament, but it’s the same just as that oak tree is the same organism as that little acorn.  What’s wrong with that picture?  The Catholic will say that Luther and Calvin broke off some branches of the church because it was really rotten and they tried to start a new one, but that can’t be done cause there’s only one Jesus.  And therefore, only one church.  What’s your answer to that?  What’s wrong with that picture?”  And nobody had an answer.  I said to myself, “I’m in the right class!”

And he said, “Well, here’s what’s wrong with that pictures, here’s what happened: Jesus founded one church indeed and it is the church described in the New Testament, and it’s like Noah’s Ark, and it did get rotten, and Luther and Calvin and Knox and others said, ‘Gee, this Ark is sinking!  We gotta scrape the barnacles off!’  So they scraped the barnacles off and restored it to its simple, pure, primitive, New Testament essence.  So we’re in the right church!  It’s the Catholics who are the upstarts.  They’re the ones who added all those pagan barnacles.”  I said, “Oh that makes me feel good.”  I remember asking a question, I said, “Professor, do you mean to tell me that, if my Catholic neighbor and I both found a time machine and went back to the first century,”  I still remember his look, “What’s this guy, a weirdo?  Science fiction?”  “…and worshipped together, that I as a Protestant would feel more at home in that church than he as a Catholic would?”  And then he smiled.  He said, “That’s exactly what I’m saying.”  I said to myself, “Good, that means that I don’t have to be a great theologian to figure out who’s right.  All I have to do is read the Church Fathers to prove to myself that they were all Calvinists.”  Well, I read the Church Fathers and proved to myself they were all Catholics, so that’s why I’m here.

But the very word “Protestant” means protesting, refusing some of the Catholic whole because they think it’s anti-scriptural and unscriptural barnacles added to what Christ gave us.  While the very word “Catholic” means universal, or whole.  The whole deal.  So this has a problem, apparently without a possible solution because no faithful Catholic could dream of unity with Protestants except on Catholic grounds.  For to be a Catholic is to believe that those grounds are holy grounds, divinely revealed.  It is the Protestants who must remove their shoes.  Catholics cannot negotiate away any of the deposit of faith because it is not theirs, it is Christ’s!  The divinely appointed mail carriers may not edit God’s mail.

Ecumenism without Compromise – Peter Kreeft

2 thoughts on “Ecumenism Without Compromise (part 2)

  1. Jim Gettmann says:

    I appreciate that you’ve been on a journey of discovery. I know there are many things not right with the protestant churches right now, things so far off what we should be that we need more of a revolution than a reformation. I too have been learning a great deal lately and open for thoughts I never had before.

    One question, that is vitally important. Have you gone back far enough in history?

    I would suggest that you have not. The “church fathers” that are generally referred to, were already far down the path of paganism by the end of the 2nd century. The changes that they made to the teachings and practice of the early church were substantial and not biblical. Some, like Ignatius of Antioch were very early (wrote ca. 110 AD) but his writings were radically different than the early church, so much so that it is obvious that he was introducing a new and dangerous belief system. Yet he was fairly early. The reason that their writings were reproduced and maintanied until today is that those who came after were their philosophical children. They preserved the writings that confirmed what they believed, and destroyed all others.

    Only in the pages of the scriptures will you find what the church was meant to be. I could never find the church of today in the New Testament or the book of acts. And that is regardless of whether we are talking the Catholics, Mainline protestant, baptist or charismatic – what is practiced today is not to be found there. That is the same as the remark the Apostle Paul made to Rick Joyner in the Quest when he talked to him there – they cannot recognize the life and the ministry of the church today because there is almost nothing left of the real thing. And he said, we need to regain the life and the ministry.

    May I suggest that you read a great book: “From Eternity to Here” by Frank Viola? A good follow on book is “Pagan Christianity” and “Reimagining Church,” by the same author. Much of what he describes we had already been discovering, led into it by the Lord in practice. The books helped us to understand what we had been learning, gave definition to it and now what we are doing – we see in the pages of the bible.

    Be careful of the siren call of tradition.

  2. iwka says:

    To make a statement that the church fathers were pagans at the end of 2nd century would put all of Christianity in the same category (pagans) and at stake, as the same fathers were transmitting the traditions and teachings of the Apostles until the canon of the Bible was established.

    I can’t believe that you would put Rick Joyner’s personal revelation (I am not even gonna discuss the possibility of error here) as a point of reference to dismiss what so many holy men established throughout centuries.

    I would also like to see your reasoning behind the claim that the church fathers were intermingling with paganism in their writings.

    Blessings and Happy Easter season to you all.

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