Thursday, August 24, 2006

So Why am I not Catholic or Orthodox?

The previous post leads me, at least, to the above question. My co-pastor Tripp said to me recently said to me that he feared he would eventually loose me to Orthodoxy (I think as I told him I was studying the seven ecumenical councils and that I affirmed all of them, but neither of us feel that distant from the Orthodox or the RC). I don't have a clear answer, in my college years I came very close to becoming Catholic and then Orthodox.

My first year of college was a time of deep crisis of faith: That year I discovered in the Library both the magazine the Humanist and the Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Saint Ireneaus of Lyon, Gregory Dix's book The Shape of the Liturgy and Yves Conger (I think many of his books but one that explicitly saw ecumenism as a return to Rome). During this time I sought out the local Catholic Church where I prayed and meditated before the tabernacle, like any good Protestant does when in a crisis of faith, right!? At the end of the year I was actually allowed to give a talk at the college groups midweek Bible study on the failure of Protestantism and the need to at least consider that in the midst of leaving the Roman church that we had lost key points of the faith.

About the time I was preparing to give this talk, I discovered Luther's Works. Before reading Luther I was seriously thinking of becoming Catholic, Congar had been persuasive, mainly because the church I was in looked nothing like the church of Ireneaus and Ignatius, and other of the Apostolic Fathers, and little of what I found at this Covenant church looked like anything that called itself the Church prior to the reformation (except for heretical movements), though it also was looking less and less like the faith I had been taught as a child (it was not the Covenant congregation that I and my mother had grown up in). Luther was familiar, Luther was nuts, Luther at least early Luther was clearly Catholic. Luther confronted me with the problem of the Reformation and what becoming Roman Catholic would mean: Was I repudiating everything I had been taught and all my teachers in the faith? Was I simply running from a certain responsibility to the community of faith in which I was raised? What would entering the Catholic Church mean if I were doing so because the faith I had been given compelled me in that direction? What I concluded at the time was that the desire to convert had more to do with being right than being faithful.

So, I remained, and remained in a church more and more mired in heretical beliefs (of the "conservative" and "fundamentalist " variety and not the "liberal" variety) masquerading as zeal for Christ. I then wandered for a time through the history of Protestantism and sat for awhile at the feet of the likes of Bultmann and Barth, even Spong and the Jesus Seminar, but the dead end of such Protestantism was fairly evident, and the Word of God Theologians were never radical enough for me. At some point Dostoyevsky entered my life and would occasionally visit Orthodox churches, the parishes I visited some small, were always very friendly, the liturgy and icons were very compelling if at first a bit overwhelming. Though my own personal aesthetic couldn't quite penetrate what i was seeing and experiencing though I recognized in it truth and like praying before the tabernacle in the Roman Catholic church I knew I was in the presence of God. However, I never really considered becoming Orthodox, the same scenario seemed to apply here as with Roman Catholicism. Unlike, a number of converts I did not find in Orthodoxy or Catholicism the thing I had always been looking for, rather I simply saw the treasure I already had,: I saw that Christ was there clearly and fully. Though I have to admit that Orthodoxy has always had a greater draw for me than the Roman Church.

In short as I look back on these encounters these near conversions to Catholicism and Orthodoxy, I see that I was prevented from leaving Protestantism, not because I have ever felt the fullness of the faith is here, but that had I converted at the time that it would have been a private, individualistic and selfish act, i.e. a very Protestant act, and I simply would have been confirmed in a false faith that would have committed me to a Protestant faith in Catholic or Orthodox drag. Some converts I encounter seem to have such a faith: They have found the pure Church they seem to say, and i hear in their words something more akin to the Donatists than to the faith of the Catholic and Orthodox faith. But more to the point was that if I was to become Orthodox or Catholic that I was not to do it alone, that if Protestantism was indeed beyond the church then I needed to wait for the right time, a time that was not my own. I at times loose sight of the fact that this is in fact why I have neither become Orthodox nor Catholic. though I am not confronted with the puzzle of the schism between East and West and its meaning.

Ecumenical work seems the place to be in this trajectory towards the full faith of the Church. The question for me isn’t what is the faith or the Church really, but of living faithfully as one who did not choose to be a schismatic and not believing it would be true and faithful to simply comfort myself while leaving many to simply flounder on their own. So, I see my responsibility as a pastor to direct as many as possible to the full faith and in so doing stir up a discontentment with schismatic Protestantism and instill a love and respect for the Church of Christ, as being inseparable from faith in Jesus Christ.

But in the end I can only say that I have been mysteriously prevented in my self from becoming Orthodox. By all standard accounts I should have long ago returned and become Catholic or Orthodox, in many ways it would have been easier. But so much that I know is from God would not have happened including meeting my wife, Kate. And now in the very least becoming Catholic or Orthodox would include her.

A side note it is interesting that I counseled a Spiritual Directee into the Orthodox Church a couple years back.