Angels trapped in stinkin’ flesh

May 20th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

A recent post titled “Off-Duty Megachurches” on Christianity Today’s blog, led me to Joe Johnson’s Mega Churches gallery (at the gallery, click on “projects”, and then click on “Mega Churches”). The photos almost made me feel sick. (What I say below assumes that the reader has looked at the photos.)

Miraculous Mass

Miraculous Mass
Martini Simone (1312 – 1317)
Cappella di San Martino, Lower Church, San Francesco, Assisi


Yes, I’m privileged to worship regularly in one of the most beautiful buildings in North America. But, architectural beauty is not limited to cathedrals. Local St. Louis photographer Mark Abeln has given hundreds of hours over the last few years to capture the simple but stunning beauty of scores of Catholic churches in the Saint Louis area. Many of these photographs can be found on his blog, and in the recent book Catholic St. Louis: A Pictorial History. Some of his photos can be seen in the following video:


But St. Louis is not entirely exceptional in this regard. These beautiful churches exist all over the country, and many are now being shuttered, while American Christians choose to ‘worship’ in the architectural equivalent of a cross between a hockey arena, a Home Depot, and a movie theater.

Why? Why have we [American Christians] traded the beauty of these older churches for the hollow, plastic, artificial emptiness of a more technologically sophisticated form of Vaudeville meets the Truman Show? Why has what was called the sanctuary, and in which the central item was the altar, been replaced by a stage? Why does this eight-thousand member megachurch in South Carolina play Highway to Hell (backup link) on Easter Sunday?

The answer to these questions is painful to hear, and I’m not speaking as someone entirely unfamiliar with this phenomenon. The “megachurch / emerging church” phenomenon is the natural outworking of a gnostic philosophy that is intrinsically dualistic. The sacred is reduced to the profane because in gnostic philosophy the spirit (heart, internal) is what is important, not the body, the physical or the outward. In gnostic philosophy God looks at the heart, and only at the heart. That’s why it doesn’t matter whether you meet in a warehouse, an arena or a polebarn. What drives ‘megachurch’ architecture is the same gnostic philosophy that justifies the pastor preaching ‘on stage’ in ripped jeans with his shirt hanging out, apparently without having recently bathed or groomed, and often using crude or profane language. We’re angels trapped in stinkin’ flesh.

That’s why reverence is irrelevant, not only because there is no such thing as sacred place or sacred space, but because there is no sacred posture, no sacred time, no sacred behavior, no sacred tradition. Those are all external. Nor is there any sacred sound or sacred sight. And if it need be said, gnosticism abhors the sacraments; gnostic Christianity doesn’t know what to do with sacraments. The sacraments do not fit into gnostic philosophy, so they are reduced to stipulated commands or ordinances. “We do this because Jesus commanded us to do it.”

If God looks only at the heart, and the external doesn’t matter, two factors take over by default: functionality and consumer appeal. And those two factors quite sufficiently explain megachurch architecture, and what goes on within those structures.

In addition to a recognition that humans are body-soul composites, another key principle that needs to be recovered is this: grace perfects nature. For that reason, in order to understand what Christian worship is, we have to understand not only Old Testament worship, but even pagan worship. So let’s step back and consider the fundamental basis for worship of God.

Justice is one of the four cardinal virtues; it is the virtue by which we give to each his due.1 We know justice by our natural power of reason. This is why children so easily recognize injustice: “Mom, he isn’t sharing.” Or, “He took my toy.” By the natural power of reason (i.e. in the form of the natural law), we recognize also that something is due to God. What is due to God? It is contained in the term ‘religion’. Religion is a species of justice, because religion is giving to God what is His due.2 Cicero explains this in his De Inventione, written almost a hundred years before Christ. And Aquinas affirms it again in Summa Theologiae II-II Q.80 a.1.

Aquinas points out that religion has two sub-categories, one being internal, and the other external. The two internal acts of religion are devotion and prayer. Aquinas defines devotion as “the will to give oneself readily to things concerning the service of God.”3 Gnostic Christianity stops right there. If we were merely angels trapped in bodies, our acts of religion would be internal. But because we are by our very nature embodied beings, specifically rational animals, therefore our acts of religion are not merely internal, but are also, necessarily, external. And the first of these external acts of religion, according to Aquinas, is bodily reverence.4  Aquinas, quoting Damascene, writes:

As Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iv, 12), since we are composed of a twofold nature, intellectual and sensible, we offer God a twofold adoration; namely, a spiritual adoration, consisting in the internal devotion of the mind; and a bodily adoration, which consists in an exterior humbling of the body. And since in all acts of latria that which is without is referred to that which is within as being of greater import, it follows that exterior adoration is offered on account of interior adoration, in other words we exhibit signs of humility in our bodies in order to incite our affections to submit to God, since it is connatural to us to proceed from the sensible to the intelligible.5

The interior is more important than the exterior. But, (and here is what so many people miss, and what gnostic Christianity misses entirely) the bodily and the external is what incites our affections to submit to God. The exterior moves the interior. Why? Precisely because we are humans, and not angels trapped in bodies. This is why it is connatural to us, says Aquinas, to proceed from the sensible (i.e. the physical, external, material) to the intelligible (i.e. the internal, the spiritual). By kneeling in prayer we move our will to humility before God. By standing for the reading of the Gospel, we instill reverence for the Word of God internally, in our heart. By seeing and hearing the priest say “The Body of Christ” as he in persona Christi places the Host on our tongue, we are moved to joy and gratitude internally for what Christ is giving to us. Because we are animals, and not angels, not only does our heart influence our behavior, our behavior influences our heart.6

But bodily reverence is not the only external species of the virtue of religion. Just as religion is a species of justice, so sacrifice is another external species of religion.7 Sacrifice, like bodily reverence, is a natural virtue prescribed by the natural law. Aquinas writes:

Natural reason tells man that he is subject to a higher being, on account of the defects which he perceives in himself, and in which he needs help and direction from someone above him: and whatever this superior being may be, it is known to all under the name of God. Now just as in natural things the lower are naturally subject to the higher, so too it is a dictate of natural reason in accordance with man’s natural inclination that he should tender submission and honor, according to his mode, to that which is above man. Now the mode befitting to man is that he should employ sensible signs in order to signify anything, because he derives his knowledge from sensibles. Hence it is a dictate of natural reason that man should use certain sensibles, by offering them to God in sign of the subjection and honor due to Him, like those who make certain offerings to their lord in recognition of his authority. Now this is what we mean by a sacrifice, and consequently the offering of sacrifice is of the natural law.8

Because grace perfects nature, therefore Christianity does not destroy or remove or abrogate sacrifice as a necessary component of the natural virtue of religion, due to God from man, on account of justice. We come together on the first day of the week to participate in a sacrifice. That’s why we need an altar. If in our “church” building there is a theater stage, and no altar, then there’s no sacrifice; grace has destroyed nature. Does that mean that we re-sacrifice Christ at every Mass? No. The Church teaches that “the Eucharist is a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross”.9 “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice.”10 In the Mass, the priest offers to the Father on our behalf one and the same sacrifice that was offered on Calvary. That has been the Church’s belief from the first century. The Didache (90 AD) reads:

On the Lord’s own day, assemble in common to break bread and offer thanks. But first confess your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure. However, no one quarreling with his brother may join your meeting until they are reconciled; your sacrifice must not be defiled.”11

And that is why the Council of Trent taught:

[The Mass] is, finally, that [sacrifice] which was prefigured by various types of sacrifices during the period of nature and of the law,[9] which, namely, comprises all the good things signified by them, as being the consummation and perfection of them all.12

Frequently I hear people talk about finding a place of worship that meets their needs, a place where they are getting fed spiritually. That ecclesial consumerism [updated link] dominates the Evangelical mind. It derives from a failure to understand that Sunday worship is fundamentally about giving to God His due; we come to give something to God. That’s the nature upon which grace builds, the natural law that Christianity perfects. Our love for God does not destroy our natural obligation according to justice to give to God His due; rather, it perfects it. Love does not fall short of giving what is due by justice; love fulfills justice, and then gives even more.

Fundamentally, Sunday worship is not about meeting our needs, even though the Eucharist is a greater gift to us than any other gift, because it is Christ giving to us Himself, His very Body and Blood. Fundamentally, Sunday morning is not about getting to know each other, even though by sharing together in the Eucharist we are knit into a greater unity even than that between a husband and wife. Fundamentally, Sunday morning worship is about giving to God the sacrifice due to Him according to the natural law, as now specified and perfected by grace, through Christ, under the New Covenant. If there is no sacrifice, then there is no reason for us to come together Sunday morning; we can listen to preaching over the radio, TV, or internet. What Flannery O’Connor wrote about the Eucharist, applies equally to the whole Sunday morning event.13

Understanding that grace perfects nature does us no good if we do not understand nature, that is, if we do not understand the natural requirement of sacrifice due to God by natural law, and the fundamental nature of the human being as rational animal. That’s what the megachurch / emerging church communities need to recover, because fundamentally that is what explains the night and day difference between the ‘worship service’ of the South Carolina megachurch linked above, and the Mass, such as the one shown below at the Parish of St. Nicholas of Chardonnet in Paris, France. When Christ is present in the Eucharist, both the liturgy and the architecture must reflect that. But if I’m going to enjoy some praise music and hear an entertaining speaker, then a stage and arena-seating will do.


  1. Summa Theologiae II-II Q.58 []
  2. Summa Theologiae II-II Q.81 []
  3. Summa Theologiae II-II Q.82 a.1 co. []
  4. Summa Theologiae II-II Q.84 []
  5. Summa Theologiae II-II Q.84 a.2 co. []
  6. See Fr. Riccardo being interviewed by a Protestant pastor in this four-minute interview, concerning how the fact of our embodiedness entails the need for the sacraments, and particularly the need for the Eucharist. []
  7. Summa Theologiae II-II Q.85 []
  8. Summa Theologiae II-II Q.85 a.1 co. []
  9. CCC 1366 []
  10. CCC 1367 []
  11. Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, 14 []
  12. Council of Trent, Session 22 []
  13. I was once, five or six years ago, taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy and her husband, Mr. Broadwater. (She just wrote that book, “A Charmed Life.”) She departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual. We went at eight and at one, I hadn’t opened my mouth once, there being nothing for me in such company to say. . . . Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them.

    Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the most portable person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.

    That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.

    From a 1955 Letter to “A”. []

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  1. Why did you twice write “mega/emerging church” ?

  2. Jim,

    Because with respect to the problems I’m addressing in this post, there is no principled difference between the megachurch phenomenon and the emerging church phenomenon. Given a certain personality or charistmatic figure, an emergent church can become a megachurch, just by increasing attendance. Of course we can find theological differences between megachurches and emergent churches, and between megachurches and other megachurches, and between emergent churches and other emergent churches. But those differences aren’t related to the problems I’m addressing in this post.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  3. I think I must be in the wrong place. All the entries I’ve read so far basically boil down to “Protestants are wrong” but it somehow takes hundreds of words to say it.

    Good luck.

  4. hmmm… interesting point, Jim. I can understand your concern. But maybe it’d be more accurate to say the posts here basically boil down to “Catholicism is right,” which is a conclusion that’s being reached by quite a few sincere Christ-followers these days… Give this site some time. I get the feeling that these writers are onto something. Besides, when someone reaches the conclusion that the Body of Christ “subsists” in the Roman Catholic Church, you can’t blame him for shouting it from the rooftops, can you?

    You know, Frank Beckwith calls himself an Evangelical Catholic. I like that. And I’d say the title applies to CTC, as well. Don’t you think?

    thank you

  5. Dear Jim,

    Suppose in the hypothetical that Protestantism is wrong? In that case, would you agree that the mere words “Protestantism is wrong” do not suffice to bring Protestants to the truth? Likewise, suppose in the hypothetical that Catholicism is wrong. Is it a fair critique of Protestants trying to call Catholics to the truth that they need a lot of words to make their case?

    With these thoughts in mind, I do not understand the charge you made. This discussion deserves and demands hundreds of words because with those words we are able to express our reasons for believing in proposition X and disbelieving proposition Y. It gives others a chance to adopt or reject our propositions in an informed way. Otherwise we would just be shouting contradictions back and forth at each other. (For a humorous skit about how contradictions do not produce results, see here.)

    Peace in Christ,

  6. Jim,

    Happy Feast of the Ascension!

    Tom is right that arguments are not the same as table-pounding assertions. And what we have been posting here at Called to Communion are arguments, not mere assertions. When a truth-seeker is confronted with an argument whose conclusion he believes to be false, he seeks to refute the argument. He attempts to show that at least one of the starting premises is not true or that the conclusion does not follow from the premises. If he cannot do so he either resolves to keep looking for a flaw in the argument, or he accepts the conclusion as true.

    St. Paul also describes another sort of person, and implies that in the last days there will be many such persons. These persons are not seeking truth; they want their ears tickled, and surround themselves with people who say what they want to hear. (2 Tim 4:3-4) They isolate themselves from those saying what they don’t want to hear, refusing to speak with them or listen to them. That is the equivalent of taking the theological blue pill, and for obvious reasons it results in perpetual fragmentation, asymptotically approaching not “one Church”, but for each individual a “Church of one”.

    Here at Called to Communion we welcome comments expressing disagreement or contrary evidence or a refutation of an argument. (See the rules.) We have not set up this site to provide ear-itching, but to pursue truth and unity, in charity. When two parties disagree, it is useful for them to recognize and affirm their common ground. But that is not enough for resolving the disagreement. They must then consider the point of disagreement, and present arguments for or against either position. And that is why here at Called to Communion we do not intend either to focus exclusively on the common ground between Protestants and Catholics (which is substantial), or to sweep substantive differences under the rug (that wouldn’t bring true reconciliation), or to claim sentimentally that where they truly contradict each other they are both right (that would be to abandon the laws of logic). Where they truly disagree we are going to offer evidence and arguments showing why one side is right and the other side is wrong. We cannot sacrifice truth in the pursuit of unity, because unity is possible only in the truth. See my post titled “Two Ecumenicisms.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  7. Those photos are disturbing on a spiritual level, but actually quite moving on an aesthetic level. What an amazing eye he has, not only for irony, but symmetry and form: it’s good modernist stuff, and more reflective, more spiritually compelling even, than the indulgent semi-sanitized regurgitations of pop culture that pass for worship in those very buildings.

    You have to ask yourself what kind of religious beliefs and sentiments regularly and reliably find this sort of impoverished artistic expression. Big-boxers don’t seem to be aware that their architecture, music, and crass language pose this kind of aesthetic obstacle.

    I think your theological explanation for what “boils down to” *bad taste* in certain sectors of Protestantism isn’t obvious, but it’s pretty compelling. Good stuff.

  8. Bryan,

    Forgive me if I might be out of line with this comment, but isn’t today’s ultimate shift from the Sacred to the deplorably Profane but an inevitable consequence of Protestantism then (in particular, I am referring to the ruinous ransacking/destruction of ancient monasteries/churches in Europe during the Protestant revolt)?

    Is it really any surprise that ineluctably the Protestantism of today has finally reached the point of annhilating completely even from its own short tradition the remaining shred of that Sense of the Sacred that initially they themselves had, in a fit of certain nihilism then, emancipated themselves from concerning the once shared & ancient Sacred Tradition all of Christendom treasured for more than a millennium then, of which that very Sense of the Sacred ultimately finds its origin?

  9. […] Called to Communion, Brian Cross writes: “The interior is more important than the exterior. But, (and here is […]

  10. Forgive my self-publicizing, but I was rather excited to see this post, because I’ve been thinking about all this a lot lately. I’m in mid-conversion from Protestant to Catholic and have been noticing the difference between Protestant gnostic Christianity (as you put it Brian) and the dual natured Catholic. Particularly, the lack of attention Protestants give to the resurrection of the dead caught my notice. I began to see a disconnect between the physical and spiritual in all things Protestant, and recognize the connection in things Catholic. So here’s my discussion on the resurrection that may be relevant:

  11. Troy,

    more spiritually compelling even, than the indulgent semi-sanitized regurgitations of pop culture that pass for worship in those very buildings.

    I agree. (I should have made it clear that I wasn’t criticizing the photographs, or the photographer, but what they reveal at an initial level of analysis.) Your point is that the photographs make us ask questions like: Is this what life is all about? Isn’t it obvious that man (not to mention God) is more than this, and that any deity for whom such structures are worthy, is ironically thereby shown not to be worthy of our attention? If this were a man-made religion involving a ‘man-made deity’ (in the L. Ron Hubbard sense of man-made-religion-for-profit), what would be different architecturally and aesthetically? Why, in their minds, is beauty so entirely disconnected from truth? And “Whoever thought this is beautiful, fitting or apt for the worship of God, ought not to be trusted for a moment in matters theological.” Isn’t that precisely why the photos disturb us? And why doesn’t that irony occur to those who make use of these structures? Sadly, these same questions are also prompted by the architecture of some recent Catholic churches. (Michael Rose makes this case in his book Ugly as Sin.) Fortunately, some recent Catholic structures such as the Shrine of our Lady of Guadalupe, just completed last year, and the new chapel at St. Thomas Aquinas College are truly magnificent.


    Vladimir Soloviev in his book The Russian Church and the Papacy offers a brief argument that the heresies faced by the first seven Ecumenical Councils were each, in some respect, a rejection of the incarnation. That includes the seventh Ecumenical Council, which condemned the heresy of iconoclasm. Insofar as the Reformers embraced iconclasm (see Jonathan’s post on this subject), and, I would add, insofar as they denied the visibility of the Church, they embraced gnostic positions that are contrary to the incarnation, even while in other respects they affirmed the incarnation. But this gnosticism manifests itself more clearly as time goes on, in a movement toward self-destruction. Yet, the true (and Catholic) elements of sanctification there “are forces impelling toward catholic unity” (Lumen Gentium 8). In other words, that which is false in a Christian sect tends toward its destruction, but simultaneously that which is true in it draws its members toward catholic unity, and such unity can only be found in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church from which those “elements of sanctification were ‘borrowed’, so to speak.


    Thanks for your comments. I wrote a post in November on the subject of the resurrection of the body. You can find it here. I asked my students last year what is the meaning in the Apostles Creed of the line, “I believe in … the resurrection of the body”. They all replied that it was referring to Jesus’ body. I was quite shocked that they didn’t know that it is referring to the resurrection of our own body. They were quite shocked as well, that Christianity taught the resurrection of *our* body. So we were both shocked, but for different reasons!

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  12. Thank you so very much, Bryan. You articulated so well what I see in so much of Protestantism now. We have been fed like baby birds, our mouths open and hungry, nothing but spiritual beliefs and thoughts.
    In the almost 3 years since coming back to a true and deep love of the grace Our Lord has given me, I have been hungry for the His truth.
    I actually started in a mega church because I thought I could come and worship and be “invisible” there. But, the more I studied and prayed I realized that this was a scary place and that along with juice and donuts, those who came had their hunger filled with more water and juice in their baby bottles.
    I remember well the Sunday that the “worship band” played a rousing rendition of an Elvis Pressley song about being a hound dog?? Everyone loved it and clapped rising to their feet in joy??
    At the end of the service, one is asked to bow their heads and say silently, “Jesus, I don’t know you or what purpose you have for me, will you come into my heart now and teach me.”
    They didn’t even bother to tell them they could find some answers in scripture because sola scriptura is now “don’t worry about that, we have it on the screen for you to read twisted to fit our agenda”.
    My husband and I, after much prayer and study have both arrived at the same place – we have no choice if we are to live a life of obedience but to drop the swords that have been used for years to cut everyone to shreds and cross the Tiber.
    We have started our RCIA classes and have been to Mass three times. I have never felt such a powerful and true spirit of reverence and awe.
    To the Protestant, the Reformer and others, Sola Scriptura has become the “sword which is the Word of GOD” and they have used it well. They have all cut one another to shreds and killed many with it as they battle each other over creeds and meanings.
    Didn’t someone with great authority say, “those that live by the sword will die by the sword”?
    I praise Our Lord that HE has opened our eyes to the truth of the fullness of the gospel.
    Thank you again Byran for standing up for truth. I will continue to read CTC because when our family, who are members of RPCUS, learn of this we will be declared dead.
    They hold the WCF long and short almost as if it was delivered to them from Mt. Sinai – Calvin descending with them in hand as the Papist worship the golden statue of Mary below.
    They are the post mil, theocratic Rushdooney, Bahnsen group and when they preposed the death penalty for sins as in Calvin’s Geneva, I had to keep searching to find out how the Early Church fathers would deal with that. There my story begins and ends.
    Peace be with you,

  13. Alister McGrath, an Evangelical Anglican theologian, called Protestantism the most dangerous idea. It can destroy traditions for the sake of the Gospel.
    We have seen how Liberal Protestants critiqued everything – including the Bible itself. Megachurches started as a way to “be cool” to appeal to youth in the Seventies and Eighties, to get away from the stereotyplical Baptist/Evangelical traditions of four hymns, sermon, and altar call. Now they are a tradition unto themselves.

    Perhaps someday, we’ll all laugh at Megachurch silliness. Rome (which retains the best of Christian history and worship) is now the bastion of sense and sensibility in a mad world.

  14. Bob – I’d argue that she (Rome) always was.

  15. Teri and Bob, thank you for your comments.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  16. WOW! Bryan, Those photos and that video made me want to hurl too!

    Again I have nothing to add, but a word of thanks.

    I guess my ‘personal’ enjoyment of the beauty of antiquity and the reverence given in those places of worship isn’t a bad thing after all. I thought it was just my love of great architecture and my new leanings toward reverential worship.

    Many thanks!


  17. Again I’m thankful for God’s providence in showing me so many things through you all. God bless you as you hear Him and as you teach us. The AC/DC version of an Easter service? Enough reason to not look back….

  18. Hello Bryan,

    I was led to this site by another blogger’s page that mentioned your article. I understand and empathize completely with your assessment of the megachurch gnosticism. I see this phenomenon as the spirit of the anti-christ in our time.

    We all have our jouneys to tell. Those journeys are comprised of many inward struggles in a pursuit of the truth. I speak here of those who actually care about the nature of truth, for not all journeys lead to the truth.

    Having been raised in an atheist/agnostic home was an advantage in the sense that I didn’t experience hypocrisy, false forms of worship, excessive legalism, self-righteous fundamentalism, and a myriad of other factors that can be attributed to a religious upbringing. My initial quest began in an earnest desire to know if the existence of God was real or myth. In a concise manner as possible, I will tell of my journey.

    Jesus Christ revealed Himself to me in such an exuberant fashion that my inward being was immediately transformed, something which I later came to understand as regeneration. I became involved in a sect that turned into a toxic cult, and by the mercy of God escaped its clutches. Then began my travels through Protestantism, from the Pilgrim Holiness Church, to the Assemblies of God, to a short stint with the Mennonites, to the Wesleyan Church, to the Reformed Baptist Church, which I spent the most time in, to a non-denominational church, to a short stint with the Methodists, to the Lutheran Missouri Synod, to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, to the Roman Catholic Church….no that was not the final destination. My desire to find the church which most resembled the early church of the Apostles and early fathers of the faith led me to the Ancient Eastern Orthodox Church.

    I would have crossed the Tiber, but further and deeper scrutiny of Christian history, Tradition, and Scripture prevented me from such a course. Just as you demonstrate in your article that our form of worship reflects the nature of our faith, and that both intrinsic and extrinsic faculties must be present, so it is that I have been led to the Divine Liturgy. My experience in the RCC became a disappointment as I increasingly became aware of a lackadaisical attitude that was present in worship. I attended a modern Roman Catholic Church that was stripped bare of any real beauty. The “mass” could have just as well been a service from a mainline Protestant church. I decided to move on to what I thought was more of a traditional RCC, but was appalled at the lack of reverence when the priest made an announcement from the altar about the upcoming trip to the casinos in Atlantic City. I went to another parish and was left bewildered and dismayed when the priest gave what must have been a 7 minute homily with no substance and an attitude that he would have rather been anywhere else than at mass. Upon dismissal, he darted off somewhere and didn’t even greet the parishioners. Worship was not my only disappointment. However, expounding upon my reasons for fleeing the Roman Catholic call to jump the Tiber would take quite a bit of time and space. Suffice it to say, in good conscience I could not make Rome my home.

    The struggles along the way have been filled with immense joy in new discoveries of the ancient faith. Nonetheless, much heartache, anguish, and sorrow have also accompanied me along the way. Yet all these experiences have been worthwhile since they have led me to the Ancient Orthodox faith.

    In Christ’s Love,


  19. Darlene,

    Thanks very much for your comments. I’m quite sympathetic to what you say, and your accounts of your experiences at various Catholic masses doesn’t surprise me at all. All of us have experienced those as well, and they have just the disturbing effect that you describe. Some of us (including myself) are fortunate to be near parishes where Mass is celebrated licitly, reverently and beautifully, on a daily basis.

    It is my experience (though somewhat limited) that the Catholic Church in the US is now in a slow but definite state of liturgical recovery. From what I understand a new (and much better) translation of the Missal is forthcoming within the next two years. And better music is in the works as well. (Put “The New Liturgical Movement” on your feed reader.) We also are seeing some effect of the motu proprio from 2007, in the increased frequency and appreciation for the extraordinary form, and its positive influence on the ordinary form. But these things take time, like turning around a giant ship. The younger generation of seminarians in the US seem, on the whole, more committed to reverent and beautiful liturgy. Pope Benedict himself seems to be setting the example with his liturgical practices, receiving on the tongue and kneeling. And the bishops he is appointing seem, on the whole, to be directing the Church toward recovering sacred form and reverence in liturgy. That’s my impression.

    So, I think I can speak for all of us here in saying that we have some sympathy for your liturgical reasons for becoming Orthodox. However, I wonder if you are aware of the Byzantine Rite Catholic Churches. If you have reverent liturgy in both Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic parishes, as well as the extraordinary form of the Latin Rite, as well as many Novus Ordo masses that are celebrated reverently (they might take some searching, but they can be found), then the Orthodox or Catholic question cannot be answered on the basis of liturgy. The most important question is: which is the true Church, and which is in schism? And we believe that Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom to Peter, and to his episcopal successors, such that the successor of Peter is the principium unitatis for the Church and, for that reason, in relation to whom schism is defined.

    Here we are seeking to help bring reconciliation between Protestants [especially Reformed Protestants] and Catholics, in full communion. But that goal extends to the reconciliation of Orthodox and Catholics as well. So I hope that even though you are now Orthodox, you do not abandon the call of the Apostle that there be no schism among us, and the prayer of Christ that we be perfected in unity, even Orthodox and Catholics. Please continue to comment here at Called to Communion, and pray and work with us for the reconciliation of all Christians in full communion.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  20. Hello again Bryan,

    I am still in the catechumen stage and have not yet been chrismated Orthodox. I’m not quite sure when I will “officially” become Orthodox. I would move more quickly if I only had myself to consider. My husband is very much of an Evangelical Protestant, and I know he is somewhat hesistant (even possibly suspicious) of my desire to become Orthodox.

    You mentioned that your mission is especially toward the Reformed Protestants. Many of my close friends are Reformed 5 point Calvinists; we attended the same church at one time. Recently, my closest friend, who is a staunch Calvinist, issued warnings of a severe nature when I informed her of my inclinations toward EO. Basically, she said we wouldn’t be worshipping the same Jesus. Having been a member of a Reformed Church for 10 years, I am well aware of their cynical attitude toward the EO. They are even more strident toward the RCC.

    I am aware of the Byzantine Rite Catholic Church, but as I said, my reasons for not becoming Catholic entail more than just the manner in which liturgy is conducted. In my studies of church history and Tradition, I became convinced that the dogma of papal infallibility was indefensible. I understand how others can arrive at the same conclusion as yourself, but I think the premise is faulty. Furthermore, in reading quite a few papal encyclicals, both from the early centuries immediately after the schism of 1054 up until the present day, I became especially convinced that papal infallibility is not even a workable paradigm, and has been blatantly contradicted in the documents of Vatican II and afterward.

    Another issue why I cannot be Catholic is that I think the ecuminism of the present day is misguided and dangerous. JPII publicly kissing the Quran was, imo, a scandalous action that cannot be supported. A far more egregious matter was that of the ecumenical prayer meeting held in Assisi in October 1986, when JPII prayed with pagans, witch doctors, Muslims, Jews, all religions that deny Jesus Christ is God. How we pray, whom we pray with, says quite a bit about our understanding of worshipping the True God. Nostra Aetate blurs the distinctions between the God of the Christians and the “god” of the Muslims. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard Catholics give assent to other non-Christian religions as an acceptable means to know God and enter Heaven. Several months ago, I was going through a period of vacilation, wondering if my decision to refrain from crossing the Tiber was right. I started doing some of the “Catholic” things again, such as praying the Rosary, attending adoration, watching EWTN, etc. One evening, I turned on the t.v. and saw a priest, rabbi, and imam being interviewed by a local reporter. During the course of the interview, the priest commented to the effect that all religions are an acceptable means to arrive at the truth and come to know God. This particular priest pastors one of the largest parishes in the diocese in which I live. I came to the conclusion that the RCC is saturated with an ecuminism that is willing to lay aside the truth for the sake of some false fellowship with those who deny Jesus Christ is God. That was the end of my indecision.

    There are even more reasons that I could give for my decision to quit pursuing Roman Catholicism. I wrestled with the Roman Catholic dilemma for almost three years. During that time I attended RCIA and received one-on-one counsel from a priest. I prayed the Rosary regularly, learned the Divine Mercy Chaplet, read about the saints, read the Missal, posted on the Coming Home Network regularly, watched EWTN enthusiastically, read Catholic apologetics, and truly believed that one day I would become a member of the RCC. However, my earnest quest to discover the truth would not and could not lead me to Rome. I concur with your comment, “The most important question is: which is the true Church, and which is in schism?” My answer, according to all the evidence I have thus far perused, has prompted me to a different conclusion.

    In Christ’s Love,


  21. Darlene,

    Claiming that papal infallibility is “indefensible” is a very strong claim. A defense of papal infallibility can be made, and has been made. So “indefensible” is easily refuted. I think what you mean (if you don’t mind me trying to speak for you) is that there are apparent difficulties with the dogma. I’ll grant you that. But these difficulties, we believe, are not insurmountable, or we wouldn’t have become Catholic. (Papal infallibility was one of the sticking points for me too.) Just to be clear, the dogma of papal infallibility is not a “premise”; it is a teaching of an ecumenical council, i.e. Vatican I. And it is a workable paradigm, because it has been the *explicit* paradigm of the Church for over 130 years. I’m curious what documents of Vatican II you think contradicted papal infallibility.

    I understand and agree that a certain form of ecumenicism is dangerous, but there is another form of ecumenicism that is required of us. I have written about these two forms of ecumenicism here. The former type of ecumenicism is not the dogma of the Church. This is why the Catholic Church is not a member of the World Council of Churches. Pope John Paul’s kissing of the Quaran was, in my opinion, a mistake, as was the meeting in Assisi. But so was Peter’s denying Jesus three times. Papal infallibility does not entail that everything the Pope does or says is prudent or correct. The Church that Christ founded does not cease to be the Church that Christ founded when the pope makes a mistake; history gives many examples of popes making mistakes. But I assume you know why Donatism was a schism, and why it was wrong; the same principle applies here. I said when I first became Catholic: “I did not become a Catholic because of the state of the Church; I became a Catholic because of the identity of the Church.”

    As for the God of the Christians vs. ‘god’ of the Muslims, this requires care. If you say that Muslisms who claim to worship the Creator of heaven and earth, are worshiping a different ‘god’ than Christians worship, then you approach the error of Marcionism. Marcion claimed that the Creator was a different God from the Father of Jesus in the New Testament. That is why Marcion believed Jews worshiped a different God than do Christians. But Marcionism is a heresy. Jews worship the same God that Christians worship. But, then it is ad hoc to say that another sect, claiming to worship the Creator of the heavens and earth, is worshiping another god than the God Christians worship. If St. Paul was justified in saying to the Athenians regarding their altar to an unknown god: “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it … (Acts 17:23-24), then how much more should we be cautious in telling people who specifically claim to believe and worship the God who made the world and everything in it, that they worship a being other than the God Christians worship? Either we fall into Marcionism and deny that Jews worship the same God we worship, or we are ad hoc. So, care is due here.

    I cannot tell you how many times I have heard Catholics give assent to other non-Christian religions as an acceptable means to know God and enter Heaven.

    I hear you. Right now, this is a very serious problem. But the problem isn’t in the doctrine of the Church; it is in a misunderstanding of the Church’s doctrine. The Church teaches that no one gets to heaven except through Christ and His grace. Persons of other religions, if they have invincible ignorance of Christ, are not thereby damned for that ignorance. (The Church has always believed that.) The Church teaches that if they, following their conscience, and the grace God gives them, have perfect contrition and love for God, they may be saved. But if they, knowing that Christ has established the Church, refuse to enter it, they cannot be saved. I have written about that here.

    Several months ago, I was going through a period of vacilation, wondering if my decision to refrain from crossing the Tiber was right. I started doing some of the “Catholic” things again, such as praying the Rosary, attending adoration, watching EWTN, etc. One evening, I turned on the t.v. and saw a priest, rabbi, and imam being interviewed by a local reporter. During the course of the interview, the priest commented to the effect that all religions are an acceptable means to arrive at the truth and come to know God.

    I don’t know exactly what he said. If he said that it is possible to be saved in these various religions, that is the Church’s teaching; God, being omnipotent, is able to operate outside the limits of Christ’s Mystical Body. But if this priest said that all religions are an equally acceptable means to arrive at the truth and come to know God, then he misrepresented the Church’s position. There are some priests who misrepresent the Church’s position; don’t let them be a stumbling block. The Church is what she is, not what those who misrepresent her say she is. Go by the Catechism.

    Regarding all the things you did in pursuing the truth about the Church, those are good. But don’t give up; don’t stop pursuing the truth. If you were caused to stumble by persons who misrepresented the Church, don’t let them prevent you from discovering the pearl of great price, which Christ wants you to have. I refuse to let bad Catholics keep me from the grace Christ wants me and my family to have through being in full communion with the Church He founded. If you study enough of what the Church actually teaches in her official documents, and search out orthodox and devout Catholics, then when you encounter bad Catholics, you won’t be moved away from the Church; you’ll recognize them as deviating from what the Church teaches, and you’ll be moved to pray for them, that they would come to a better knowledge of the truth.

    Keep pursuing truth, and the full communion that we know from John 17 that Christ wants all His disciples to have. I won’t be able to reply for a little while. Let us keep praying for full communion, between you and your family, and your friends, and us and our families and friends, for all Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants. May we find the way to the unity that reflects before all the world the perfect unity of the Most Holy Trinity.

    A blessed Pentecost to you.

    In the peace of Christ, and the fellowship of His Holy Spirit,

    – Bryan

  22. Darlene- Wow, what a story you share. Your devotion and your dedication to seeking the truth of Christ alone is encouraging! Having tread my own path from Protestantism toward historical Christianity, I must say I can certainly relate to much of what you’ve written. I certainly felt a VERY strong pull toward the East before accepting the fact that the Catholic Church was what I’ve come to understand to be the rightful home for all Christians.

    Interestingly, a fellow I met recently, a theology professor in his early 30’s, who is now an Orthodox Catechumen (from a Lutheran background), told me that he basically sought Rome’s approval (I think he used the word “permission”) of his decision to become Orthodox. He openly accepts the primacy of the See of Peter. He told me that there isn’t a single portion of the CCC which he doesn’t fully accept. Nevertheless, largely as a result of his reading of Eastern Fathers, he is becoming Orthodox. He recognized his spiritual home among the Fathers of the East. And according to his reading of the documents of Vatican II, he claims he felt Rome’s affirmation and approval of his charting a path toward the East.

    I guess my point in mentioning all of this is to say that, regardless of this fellow’s respect toward Rome, I can’t help but feel the sting of christian division as I hear him tell me that he is, all things considered, pursuing Orthodoxy. And here is where Bryan’s Principium Unitatis does seem to weigh in…

    And though I’ve heard countless stories from Catholics about how particular priests or deacons did things so insensitive as to cause them to feel justified in leaving the Church altogether, can’t these mistaken actions and poor representations of Catholic teaching be forgiven for the sake of the unity of the Body? What it seems you’re saying is that -generally speaking- you have issues with hypocrisy among Catholics moreso than problems with the teachings themselves. Is this true? And if this is the case, I’d like to ask you, then, don’t these poor representatives give you MORE reason to become Catholic so that you may build the Church up rightly from within (as it seems to me, the folks here at Called to Communion are doing), rather than dissociating yourself from these mistaken individuals altogether by seeking Christian communion elsewhere?

    I’d be interested to learn of, as Bryan mentioned, some degree of explanation concerning your hang ups with Papal infallibility, for example. It would certainly seem that so many priests, and even the beloved Pope John Paul the 2nd, at times have acted in ways which have led to some confusion among those outside of (and within!) the Church. But aren’t these misrepresentations and failings of our leaders to be expected? As Bryan mentioned, even St. Peter, who clearly had a unique relationship with Our Lord, denied Him not once, but three times, publically. How much more, then, may a modern bishop or priest find himself in effect “denying his Lord” as he attempts to extend a charitable hand to unbelievers in a society more concerned with tolerance than it’s concerned with truth, and in doing so, fail to affirm some of the most basic aspects of Christian teaching?

    Again, Darlene, your story, though I’ve only heard a tiny little bit of it, is encouraging. I thank you for posting here. But let me say that it seems to me regardless of any perceived rapprochement which may be taking place, or any hope of full reconciliation in the future, despite inklings of brotherhood and mutual affirmation, the East and West are, objectively speaking, scandalously divided (History only knows what degree each party is responsible for this division!).

    So in closing, if you care to respond, let me ask you this: What do you see within Orthodoxy which gives you confidence or hope that you may one day see the fulfillment of Christ’s prayer expressed in St. John 17:20-23? Do you see Orthodoxy as providing the basic framework necessary for such unity? Personally, this consideration weighed heavily on me as I considered the division that seemed to come along, part and parcel, with any expression of christian faith found outside of Rome

    (a paper found here presented some of these ideas in a very clear, concise way: pdf).

    Thank you for your time.



  23. Herbert,

    Thanks for linking Dr. Koons’ paper. Because its 95 pages I thought I’d highlight his portion that I think you are referencing:

    Could the success of the Eastern Orthodox Church over the last 1000 years (since the great schism in 1056) in maintaining both unity and orthodoxy proof that the papacy is not in fact needed? (…)

    The acid test for papal necessity is the experience of Eastern Orthodox churches in North America, and here the results are not encouraging. In the United States, the Orthodox churches enjoy liberty without state regulation, exactly the sort of condition most liable to division and doctrinal confusion. In America, the fifteen independent, ethnically defined (autocephalous) churches of the East have been unable to achieve anything like a normal, episcopal structure. It is axiomatic for Catholics and Orthodox alike that there should be a single ruling bishop in each metropolitan area. The Orthodox bishops in America are divided along ethnic lines, with massively overlapping jurisdiction. There are no signs of progress toward regularity, thanks to the decline in the power and authority of the patriarch of Constantinople, and the virtual insignificance of the apostolic sees in Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria.

  24. In the following video Jeff Bethke, who graduated from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon in May of 2011, represents quite well the popular Evangelical notion of religion discussed in the body of the article above.

    Some Catholic videos responding to Jeff’s video can be found here.

  25. Fr. Barron has responded well to the “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” video with two of his own, embedded below. What he says, especially in the second of the two, fits well with the body of the article above.

  26. Fr. Claude Burns’ response is the best yet. (H/T Marcel LeJeune)

  27. The thing that drives me craziest about this “Religion” vs. “Gospel” stuff is that it that the people seem to be redefining a word, “Religion,” to suit their needs. If you ask a normal person whether or not they are religious they are likely to think that you are asking them whether or not they have a regular practice of prayer in a communal setting. Now, that is being redefined in very contrived sort of way. Take for example this recent blog post:

    RELIGION: I obey, therefore I’m accepted.

    THE GOSPEL: I’m accepted, therefore I obey.

    RELIGION: Motivation is based on fear and insecurity.

    THE GOSPEL: Motivation is based on grateful joy.

    RELIGION: I obey God in order to get things from God.

    THE GOSPEL: I obey God to get to God, to delight and resemble him…

    It just seems very dishonest to me to get to define “religious” people as being motivated by fear and insecurity. There is a certain arrogance to it.

  28. Father Burns’ video is excellent, and done with such class and respect toward the young man Jeff Bethke. I truly hope that Jeff watches this video, and all those who think erroneously on this matter, and that they might see the beauty and grandeur of the faith.

  29. The 10,000 lb gorilla in the living room is that Jeff’s video is extremely religious.

    Like the relativist who absolutely does not believe in absolutes, Jeff Bethke does not avoid religion at all by resisting its label, he merely creates a hypocritical contradiction. He is promoting his religion in the video. And with 16 million people in our country watching a video like this, I think it must be because of antinomianism. People love to hear that it is OK to hate what they percieve as rules being placed on them.
    Here is more of my thoughts.

  30. Jeff Bethke’s video is the logical consequence of Protestantism. There’s no such thing as having “no pope.” If you reject the authority of the church, you make yourself your own pope.

  31. Bryan.

    Thanks for posting Father Claude’s response. That hit the mark.

  32. Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s response is my personal favorite. It isn’t a video. It was published on the First Things website.

    Here is the key line, I think:

    The young man in the video was clearly attracted to a Jesus Christ who was a young, table-turning radical. His Jesus was impatient with the religious establishment and on the side of the sinners and revolutionaries. His Jesus was the quintessential outsider—the rebel with a cause—a punk who all those rich hypocrites excluded and persecuted. In other words, he was just like the young man in the video.

    We all fall into the trap of making Christ in our own image, so it is understandable, and if understandable, forgivable. This, however, is the main justification not only for religion, but also for a dogmatic religion. A dogmatic religion corrects our tendency to make Jesus in our own image.

  33. Just over two years ago, Jeff Bethke’s “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus” video (embedded in comment #24 above) went “viral” (with 26 million views as of today) in large part because it resonated with the sentiments of many people who embrace spirituality, but want nothing to do with “organized religion.” In their view, institutions and hierarchies are obstacles to true spirituality. And this notion resonated with many Protestants as well because it is the inevitable entailment of treating the “priesthood of all believers” as a denial of the distinction between the ministerial priesthood and the baptismal priesthood, and thus both a denial of the sacraments as the divinely established means of grace, and a denial of the Church as an hierarchically constituted (and thus visible) institution. Given this docetic ecclesiology, Bethke’s “Institutional church, no; Jesus, yes” message makes sense and is attractive. The institution is just a man-made thing that gets in the way, and competes with if not detracts from loving and following Jesus, which is fundamentally spiritual, and in no way sacramental. I wrote about this in 2008 (see here), drawing from Pope Benedict’s general audience from March 15 of 2006. Persons who want to follow Christ but reject “organized religion” generally tend to be unaware that Christ Himself founded the Church with her Apostles, and through them the hierarchical succession of bishops, priests, and deacons, and called us not to form a schism from or remain in schism from the Church which He founded as a visible sign to the world of the unity of love between the divine Persons of the Holy Trinity.

    Today Pope Francis spoke words that reply to Bethke’s notion. He said:

    Being Christian without the Church doesn’t make sense. That’s why the great Paul VI, said that the most absurd dichotomy is loving Christ without the Church. To listen to Christ, but not the Church. To be with Christ, but stay at the margins of the Church. It’s not possible. It’s an absurd dichotomy.

    Here’s video from the homily:

    In 2006, Pope Benedict said something similar:

    Between Christ and the Church there is no opposition: They are inseparable, despite the sins of the people who make up the Church, … Therefore, there is no way to reconcile Christ’s intentions with the slogan that was fashionable a few years ago, ‘Christ yes, the Church no.’ … Moving in this direction, in the catechesis I begin today,” Benedict XVI said, “I would like to show that precisely the light of that Face [Christ’s] is reflected in the face of the Church, despite the limitations and the shadows of our fragile and sinful humanity. … The individualist Jesus is a fantasy. … We cannot find Jesus without the reality that he created and through which he communicates himself — the Church. Between the Son of God, made man and his Church, there is a profound, inseparable continuity, in virtue of which Christ is present today in his people. [Jesus] is always our contemporary — our contemporary in the Church built upon the foundation of the apostles. He is alive in the succession of the apostles. (source)


    On June 25, 2014, in his General Audience, Pope Francis said this:

    In the Church there is no “do it yourself”, there are no “free agents”. How many times did Pope Benedict “describe the Church as an ecclesial ‘we’”! At times one hears someone say: “I believe in God, I believe in Jesus, but I don’t care about the Church…”. How many times have we heard this? And this is not good. There are those who believe they can maintain a personal, direct and immediate relationship with Jesus Christ outside the communion and the mediation of the Church. These are dangerous and harmful temptations. These are, as the great Paul VI said, absurd dichotomies. It is true that walking together is challenging, and at times can be tiring: it can happen that some brother or some sister creates difficulties, or shocks us…. But the Lord entrusted his message of salvation to a few human beings, to us all, to a few witnesses; and it is in our brothers and in our sisters, with their gifts and limitations, that he comes to meet us and make himself known. And this is what it means to belong to the Church. Remember this well: to be Christian means belonging to the Church. The first name is “Christian”, the last name is “belonging to the Church”. (General Audience, June 25, 2014)

    On January 1, 2015, Pope Francis said:

    Likewise inseparable are Christ and the Church; the salvation accomplished by Jesus cannot be understood without appreciating the motherhood of the Church. To separate Jesus from the Church would introduce an “absurd dichotomy”, as Blessed Paul VI wrote (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 16). It is not possible “to love Christ but without the Church, to listen to Christ but not the Church, to belong to Christ but outside the Church” (ibid.). For the Church is herself God’s great family, which brings Christ to us. Our faith is not an abstract doctrine or philosophy, but a vital and full relationship with a person: Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God who became man, was put to death, rose from the dead to save us, and is now living in our midst. Where can we encounter him? We encounter him in the Church. It is the Church which says today: “Behold the Lamb of God”; it is the Church, which proclaims him; it is in the Church that Jesus continues to accomplish his acts of grace which are the sacraments.

    He says this in the 34th minute of the video below:

  34. Related to comment #33 above, Denny Burk, associate professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently writes,

    Leaving the church means leaving Christ. And that is true no matter who you are….

    Unless, apparently, you’re a Protestant leaving the Catholic Church. Then, it is perfectly ok, and isn’t leaving Christ at all. (Because otherwise Burk would undermine his own existence as a Protestant.) But, says Burk, don’t you dare leave the target we’ve painted around our own interpretive arrow, for another, less institutional, more invisiblish target you might paint around yours, because if you do, you’ll be committing “spiritual suicide.” But it isn’t spiritual suicide when we do it; when we do it, it is just keeping the faith.

    Burk also warns his readers to “Beware of Self-Appointed Pastors.” But, because sola reduces to solo, apart from apostolic succession every ‘pastor’ is self-appointed. Being appointed by a group one picked out on the basis of its agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture is no different, in principle, from claiming directly to be called by the Holy Spirit, and starting one’s own ‘store-front’ “church.” Protestantism could not have come to exist if people had not followed “self-appointed pastors,” as St. Francis De Sales shows clearly in The Catholic Controversy. So here too Burk undermines the very basis for the existence of Protestantism.

  35. Responding to the same Donald Miller article (and follow-up) Denny Burke responded to (discussed in #34 above), Jonathan Leeman (of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and editorial director of 9Marks) writes in The Gospel Coalition:

    In other words, Don, the main thing I want to highlight in response to both of your posts is the difference between what you call “community” and what the Bible calls the “church.” Jesus actually gave authority to those local assemblies called churches (Matt. 16:13-20; 18:15-20). The assembly is not just a fellowship, but an accountability fellowship. It’s not just a group of believers at the park; it preaches the gospel and possesses the keys of the kingdom for binding and loosing through the ordinances. It declares who does and does not belong to the kingdom. It exercises oversight. And exercising such affirmation and oversight meaningfully means gathering regularly and getting involved in one another’s lives.

    Again, the problem with Jonathan’s position is the same with Denny’s discussed in comment #34 above: it is ad hoc. Jonathan claims (rightly) that Jesus gave authority to the Church, and that the Church possesses the “keys of the kingdom” and that the Church “declares who does and does not belong to the kingdom.” But he has to make a giant exception regarding the departure of Luther and the other first Protestants from the Catholic Church. Jonathan, like Denny, is trying to have his ecclesial cake and eat it too, trying to have Church authority among Protestant communities while rationalizing their remaining in separation from the Church Protestantism departed from five hundred years ago. His position amounts to: The Church has authority, except when [I judge that] it doesn’t. Jonathan’s position is thus self-contradictory. He cuts off the branch on which he sits. To undercut Jonathan’s claim, Donald need only point to Protestantism’s 16th century beginning as a separation from the Catholic Church. Of course Jonathan, like Denny, would respond to this objection by simply redefining ‘Church’ in terms of his own interpretation of Scripture regarding what are the defining “marks” of the Church. Hence, according to Jonathan’s interpretation of Scripture, the Catholic Church had no authority in the 16th century, but 9Marks in the 21st century does have authority. But, when he does that, he opens up the possibility that Donald Miller could do the very same thing. Jonathan’s interpretation has no more authority than does Donald’s, except without presupposing Jonathan’s interpretation, and thus begging the question.

    Donald’s position is the logical out-working of the rejection of apostolic succession, as explained in “A Reflection on PCA Pastor Terry Johnson’s “Our Collapsing Ecclesiology.”

  36. Continuing to respond to the Donald Miller fallout (see comments #34 and #35 above), Jonathan Storment, who is a “preaching minister” at Highland Park Church of Christ in Abilene TX, first quotes [Protestant] Shane Claiborne saying:

    The Church is like Noah’s Ark. It stinks, but if you get out of it you will drown.

    Then Storment writes:

    … I can’t get Jesus without the church, because Jesus is the one who dreamed this whole thing up, and any Jesus that doesn’t involve messy, back-stabbing, power-playing people isn’t the Jesus that the Gospels are giving us.

    Todd Pruitt, the lead pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Harrisonburg, VA, in response to Miller writes:

    I was sad because one cannot be a Christian and reject Christ’s body, his bride, his building.

    All these Protestant pastors are responding to Miller by claiming that one can’t have Jesus without the Church. They keep forgetting to add the qualifier any Protestant must add in order to justify/rationalize remaining Protestant: “except when you can.” Sawing off the branch on which one sits is theological suicide.

    Yes, this is a catch-22. If they insist that one can’t have Jesus without the Church, they undermine their own existence as Protestant in separation from the Church they left in the sixteenth century. But as soon as they grant that leaving the Church is fine whenever like Luther the Church doesn’t fit one’s own interpretation or conscience, they must remain mute in response to Miller, while watching their flocks [and financial income] trickle away.

    When schism is reduced to heresy, and heresy is reduced to not-my-interpretation, there is no such thing as leaving the Church; there is just leaving some other person’s interpretation/congregation/denomination.

  37. Kevin A. Miller is the associate pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois. On February 18, 2014, he published an article in Christianity Today titled “The Strange Yet Familiar Tale of Brian, Rob, and Don,” referring to evangelical leaders Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and Donald Miller, and examining why they have all left evangelicalism. Miller writes:

    As a movement, we treasure the individual getting right with God, the religious born-again experience, the innovative way to do mission. Sounds good, but when individual trumps communal, experience trumps received teaching, and innovation trumps the Great Tradition, you get exactly what we’ve all just lived through. It can go no other way.

    How else can you explain Don Miller’s nostalgic delight in do-it-myself Communion: “I remember pulling over on the side of the road with friends, climbing into an old abandoned building that we thought looked interesting and doing communion on a loading dock using hot chocolate and cookies. … It was a fantastic bonding moment between us but also between us and God.”

    The same soil that grows create-your-own sacraments feeds create-your-own moral teaching. This explains the recent PRRI/Brookings poll that shows (in the words of scholar Gerald McDermott): “While only 15 percent of white Evangelical seniors support gay marriage, 51 percent of white Evangelicals under thirty-five do.”

    It turns out that we evangelicals need a loftier ecclesiology, where the words of St. Cyprian sound natural to our ears: “He can no longer have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother; . . . he who gathers elsewhere than in the Church scatters the Church of Christ.” [We evangelicals need a loftier ecclesiology.]

    Are we willing to grow in our love for Holy Church? To accept her teachings, her worship, her cultural rejection? Will we embrace not just the Head but the Body, and love not just the Groom but the Bride?

    I agree with what Miller says here. But as in the other cases discussed in the previous comments above, Miller (apparently) doesn’t yet see the real source of the problem. What makes this almost painful to read, coming from a Protestant, is that Miller here attacks the very essence of Protestantism as such, and thus his criticisms find their only resolution in a return to the Catholic Church from which Protestants separated in protest in the sixteenth century. He then writes:

    Let me get specific about what this will take.

    [Bullet 1] A more robust view of the role of the minister. “The priesthood of all believers” has been used to excuse rampant individualism. But when God spoke to the Israelites, “You will be for me a kingdom of priests,” he also gave them Aaron and his descendants to serve as priests in a particular way. The New Covenant removes the need for new sacrifice, but not the need for covenantal elders and guides.

    [Bullet 2] A more robust view of Scripture. “Sola Scriptura” has been used to mean, “Only the Bible and me–whatever I read the Scripture to mean.” It means instead “Only the Scripture has primacy in authority—yet that Scripture was written by the church to the church for the church, so it must be read within the church.”

    [Bullet 3] A more robust view of rejection. Brian, Rob, and Don wanted what we all want, a faith that will make sense to our culture and take hold there. But Jesus taught that the applause is loudest for the false prophets, so we need to learn how to rejoice in being maligned, especially with the growing prospect of persecution.

    First, Miller doesn’t just need a more “robust view” of the role of the minister. He needs Holy Orders. (See comment #59 in the “Clark, Frame …” thread.) Genuine pastoral authority cannot be bootstrapped, or pulled out of thin air, or derived from an interpretation of Scripture made by one with no more interpretive authority than anyone else.

    Second, he doesn’t need a “more robust view of Scripture,” if he already views Scripture as God-breathed. He is exactly right that “Scripture was written by the church to the church for the church, so it must be read within the church.” But just as in the cases I discussed in the previous comments, Miller cannot talk about the need to rediscover the Church while consciously remaining as a Protestant in separation from the Church the first Protestants left in the sixteenth century. He’s trying to hold an impossible middle position: advocate essential union with the Church, while standing in separation from the Church as a Protestant 500 years in protest.

    Third, the only way for there to be a principled moral and doctrinal distinction between the culture and the Church (rather than arbitrarily picking and choosing, or simply denying everything in the culture) is through a magisterial authority by which there can be a principled distinction between dogma and opinion, and thus through a rediscovery of and reunion with the Chair of St. Peter.

    Miller doesn’t need three more robust “views.” He needs the history by which to see that teaching the necessity of the Church, while in separation from the Church, is self-refuting unless one redefines ‘church’ as whichever group of persons conforms to my own interpretation concerning what is at least minimally essential, in which case teaching the necessity of the Church is vacuous, since given that definition the “Church” is impossible to leave without utter and absolute apostasy and repudiation of the Christian faith.

  38. Fr. Dwight Longenecker writes,

    A Catholic Church is first and foremost God’s house. It is where the Divine Presence resides. It is not primarily where we come to meet one another. It is where we all come to meet God. God is here and we come here to worship him. The fellowship we share and the community we build is part of our greater life together that flows from our worship of God in God’s house. (“On Church Architecture: Preaching Hall or Temple?“)

    Consciously maintaining transcendent beauty in the mass reflects the theological truth of the Real Presence:

  39. In this Symbolon video excerpt, Patrick Coffin briefly explains what lies behind the popular “spiritual but not religious” notion (expressed in the Jeff Bethke video in comment #24 above):

    Patrick is right, but it is worth reflecting on the following question: Is there any principled relation between the reason why people are “spiritual but not religious,” and the ecclesial consumerism embedded in sola scriptura’s implicit assumption that the individual has higher interpretive authority than does the Church? If “spiritual but not religious” is the natural outworking of “solo scriptura,” and (as Neal and I have argued) there is no principled difference between “solo scriptura” and “sola scriptura,” then there is a non-accidental relation between Protestantism’s “sola scriptura” principle and the “spiritual but not religious” mentality that is the natural outworking of what is implicit within that principle.

  40. Jeff Cook, who lectures on philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado and is the author of Seven: The Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes (Zondervan 2008) and Everything New (Subversive 2012), and helps pastor Atlas Church in Greeley, Colorado, writes:

    Perhaps the reason many churches look so racially, politically, viciously uniform is the common absence of the Eucharist. Without the meal, you’ve come to hear a word from a Bible scholar who agrees with you. You’ll enjoy free childcare and hear a few (helpful?) announcements. You’ve gathered for the stale cookies, awkward conversations and the musically-inspired emotional high.

  41. What notion lies behind the reasoning evident in this news article about the decision by many to leave Church altogether? The same spiritual-but-not-religious notion found in the Bethke video in comment #24 above, the antidote to which is the theological truth that (a) Jesus is found in His Church, that one cannot have Jesus and reject His Church, because the Church is the ark in which we are to be saved, and (b) the Church is not the set of all the elect, but a hierarchically organized body from which one can be separated through schism.

    So what’s my point? Any ecclesiology in which the visible Church is superfluous because she is not the sacrament through which and in which Christ is found, is an intrinsically self-destructive theology, because the adherents of any such ecclesiology naturally and inevitably embrace the “spiritual-but-not-religious” position implicit in this ecclesiology, and in a generation the children of these adherents are no longer Christian at all, as I explained in “A Reflection on PCA Pastor Terry Johnson’s “Our Collapsing Ecclesiology.”

  42. NPR interviews Gospel singer Kirk Franklin on his conception of Christianity that is similar in some ways to the Jeff Bethke message in the video in comment #24 above. Notice both the similarity and yet important differences between that position and Pope Francis’s approach described by Bishop Barron in “Pope Francis and the Evangelicals.”

  43. In “Is Church Membership Biblical?” (originally posted here), Matt Chandler, “lead pastor of teaching at The Village Church, a Southern Baptist church in Flower Mound, Texas and the President of the Acts 29 Network,” writes:

    “Local church membership is a question of biblical obedience, not personal preference.”

    In this way, he’s taking the same line of reasoning defended by Denny Burke (cf. comment #34 above), Jonathan Leeman (cf. comment #35 above), Jonathan Storment (cf. comment #36 above), Shane Claiborne (cf. comment #36 above), Todd Pruitt (cf. comment #36 above), and Kevin Miller (cf. comment #37 above).

    He (and they) are right regarding the need for divinely designated Church authority and membership for Church discipline. The problem with their position, as I have pointed out in the comments above and the links embedded therein, is that they draw their magisterial target around their interpretive arrow, and thus reduce “biblical obedience” to “personal preference.” And the tu quoque defense of this move against the Catholic paradigm presupposes precisely what is in question between the two paradigms – see “The Tu Quoque.”

  44. Following up on the Jeff Bethke message in the video in comment #24 above, when there is no Eucharist, and no sacrament of Holy Orders, ‘church’ is just fellowship, and you can get that anywhere, without any institution or hierarchical authority, as Justin Bieber pointed out in an interview last year:

    It doesn’t make you a Christian just by going to church. I think that going to church is fellowship, it’s relationship, it’s what we’re here on the earth to do, to have this connection that you feel there’s no insecurities. I think that’s where we need to be. Like I said, you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. If you go to Taco Bell, that doesn’t make you a taco.

  45. Joe Heschmeyer on “(Why You Can’t Have) Jesus Without the Church.”

  46. In view of the conversation above from comments #24 through #44, here’s a post from non-denom pastor and blogger John Pavlovitz, of Wake Forest, North Carolina, who writes, “Relax Christian, You Don’t Have to Go to Church.”

  47. The spiritual-but-not-religious trend continues. (Pew Study 2017)

    “Becoming Truly Human”

  48. What it looks like when Church is conceived of as invisible (i.e. not essentially hierarchically unified), and the sacraments are not even necessarily material (because purely symbolic), implying that Christ did not truly take on flesh and blood (docetism). Conversely, because Christ truly became human (i.e. rational mammal), we are saved through water (real water, not virtual water) by baptism, and we must eat His body and drink His blood, and the Church He founded is truly an essentially hierarchically unified community, from which schism is possible.

    Real pastor holds church in VR, baptises anime girl

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