A Liturgical Year in Review

Feb 17th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

One liturgical year ago on this day, Ash Wednesday, we launched Called to Communion with the vision of engaging Reformed Christians on the fundamental issues that keep us divided. Our ultimate goal has ever been the restoration to full sacramental unity of all of God’s people. The division among Christ’s followers scandalizes a fallen world.

In 2008, several of us who contribute here were involved in a Catholic Philosophy forum when Sean Patrick noted that most of us who were in the forum had previously been Reformed. Sean suggested that we start a group blog aimed at dialogue with a Reformed audience. Tom Brown, in the process of converting to the Catholic Church, about the same time, envisioned a site titled “Called to Communion” that would feature weighty articles published in careful sequence, as opposed to the sporadic nature of a blog. The goal was to encourage an in-depth consideration of these important theological issues. We married the two ideas, and the site as it stands now is the result.

Our early lead articles, such as this appreciation of Reformed Christianity, were well received and did not cause much debate. We wanted to focus initially on important issues where we felt we could establish some common ground. Our next set of articles were ecclesiological. Although they presented direct counter-claims to the Reformed position, there weren’t any notable refutations; none of the replies we received challenged the conclusions of the arguments. This was a bit discouraging, and as predicted, those same false assumptions which were refuted in the ecclesiological articles, mostly ecclesiological, continue to be the go-to arguments against our position for many of our regular interlocutors. e.g. We say, “You must read Scripture with the Church,” and they say, “We do,” but they continue to use “Church” in a different way, despite our earlier arguments against their concept of Church.

Certain readers have perceived some of us, particularly myself, as coming across cold and overly confident in our discussions. Part of this, no doubt, is due to personal shortcomings. But some of it, to be fair, is attributable to our culture of relativism. Though we do not speak for the Catholic Church, we represent her in a way. And the Catholic Church is a beacon heralding objective and knowable truth amid the stormy sea of relativism and skepticism in which we’re so accustomed to living, thinking, and unfortunately, worshiping.  To represent her faithfully is, on some level, to stand against the chaotic billows of society.   None of this is an excuse for poor tact (mea culpa), but as Dr. Liccione said in a recent discussion, the Catholic claim is extremely difficult to demonstrate to those caught in the grip of the ‘hermeneutic of suspicion.’ Moreover, one who truly believes in a visible Church established by Christ, when speaking of such, will always clash with another who has only a nominal conception of the same.

Our next set of articles focused on the authority of Scripture and was recently concluded by Tom Brown’s article on the Canon. Bryan Cross and Dr. Neal Judisch previously co-wrote a thorough refutation of Keith Mathison’s thesis regarding sola scriptura versus solo scriptura, which thesis has gained tremendous popularity in contemporary Reformed apologetics. Some readers attempted to contradict this article, but the rebuttals failed to show the arguments to be false. Taken as whole, the Protestant objectors didn’t quite know whether to agree with the argument and disagree with its implications, or to agree with its implications but disagree with the argument. Those in the second camp were the ones whose rebuttals were refuted in the lengthy combox.

We are preparing to close our first major round of lead articles with the next two: on holy orders and apostolic succession. These two will complete the general opening argument we have been making, that without an objective criteria for “Church” independent of personal interpretation of Scripture, an individual assumes for himself the full authority of the Christian magisterium. That is, the individual assumes the entirety of the authority which Catholics reserve to the successors of those appointed by Christ including the successor to St. Peter.

Regardless of how bad the situation in the Church gets, schism is never justified. Moving forward, we hope, against overwhelming odds, to heal that schism. These words I write are unwelcome to those who disagree, but I hope my readers can ask themselves a question that Bryan Cross once asked a denier of schism: “If Rome really were the Church, and you, as a Reformer, were actually in schism, how would you know it?” The Reformers have no answer except, “I would know it because Rome would be faithful to the Scriptures and I would be unfaithful.” But as Mathison stated, any appeal to Scripture is an appeal to private interpretation of Scripture. Therefore, the answer is really, “I would know it because Rome would agree with me.” This natural internalization of the faith is painfully difficult to avoid. “I know I’m a Christian” we reason with ourselves, “and I can’t have been deceived on the fundamentals of what it means to be Christian.” To honestly entertain the possibility that one, especially one advanced in age or ecclesial status, has inherited and acquiesced to an incomplete version of the faith, which is the center of their life, is something akin to fitting a camel through the eye of a needle.

With this difficult road ahead of us, that is, the road to unity, let us proceed in humility and with much prayer.

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