Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Where I'm at with my faith and my search in Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, etc.

Most of you know that I have been grappling with the Church, broadly. That means grappling with church history, the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, etc.

See, here's the thing. I am not necessarily loyal to evangelicalism or even Protestantism. I don't care about them as institutions. What I care about is finding what is true and following my Lord and the gospel that He has given us. If this is best found in evangelicalism or somewhere else within the grounds of Protestantism, then here I will stay. If it is in the Catholic Church or Eastern Orthodoxy, then... hand-in-hand with Isaac... there we will go. If, however, all Churches are on equal footing as flawed but genuine attempts to serve the Lord, then we will stay where we are and work to correct and guide back to Orthodoxy in places where we stray.

I do not, however, believe that we evangelicals have a corner on truth. I don't believe that all of our faith is fully, explicitly developed in scripture and that it is all that we need. I think we need tradition, and that our history (including the Catholic and Eastern Othodoxy part) is extremely important. I love liturgy. I shift towards a Catholic understanding of the Eucharist. I am increasingly discouraged by much in the evangelical culture - our politics, our lack of understanding of history and our dismissal of discussion with Orthodoxy and Catholicism, our individualism and our eschatology.

So.

Since I no longer definitively identify myself as evangelical, I look around, particularly through my husband's education in church history. Catholicism grew deeply attractive to me, beginning with the conversion of Francis Beckwith when he was the President of the Evangelical Theological Society. I began looking, reading, debating, and investigating. I am attempting to give up preconceived notions about Catholic theology that dismiss it all as being a "dead church" that believes in "salvation by works". I am most of all deeply attracted to the continuity of the church from the early church until now. I don't buy the idea that the church somehow went completely off-track for generations until the Reformation somehow rediscovered truth.

However.

Investigating Catholicism is difficult because no matter what issue you are looking at, everything... everything comes down to ecclesiology - your belief about the nature of the church, and where authority comes from. Everything trickles back to the idea that the God set up the Church to be the bearer of salvation, and it is infallible and lead by the divinely given authority of the Pope.

I sometimes read the blog on the Called to Communion website. This week there was a post titled "A Grammar of Conversion (and a Conversation)" in which one man describes the process in his mind and heart of his conversion to the Roman Catholic Church. He wrote a couple of paragraphs that really sum up the wall that I have run up against as I have looked at the Catholic church.
The largely intellectual process whereby I came to reject certain doctrines and affirm others,...was a matter ...in which I could exercise a fair amount of control. This process was much less daunting than the prospect of submitting to the infallible teaching authority of the Church... I lost my specifically Protestant beliefs, and acquired many Catholic ones (which I at least held as opinions), long before I was received into the Catholic Church. The most fundamental Protestant habit could not be shaken. I was addicted to autonomy. Church infallibility made me angry. The particular doctrines of the Catholic Church were not nearly so bad as having to believe them.

That is the crux of it. Regardless of whatever fondness I now have for the Catholic Church, however increasingly accepting I might be to certain doctrines, none of it matters unless I accept the authority and infallibility of the Catholic Church itself, in the authority of the Pope. In a series of posts about Catholicism on the Internet Monk blog (which Amy at A Chase After the Wind pointed me towards), the Catholic writer Brian cross acknowledged that, "Even if we share the same faith, and the same sacraments, until we are one in government we are still divided."

There is no flexibility there. Either you believe in and fully submit to the authority of the Catholic Church, or you cannot be a part of the Church.

Phew.

As I wrote about a month or so ago, I am simply not convinced that whatever authority passed from Jesus to Peter was passed inherently to the Bishop of Rome. In fact, I am pretty convinced that it was NOT - and in this I would fully stand with the reasoning of the Eastern Orthodox Church in their unwillingness to give the Pope the singular authority over the Church. They believe that authority is given to Bishops to lead the church. It's true that I like autonomy, but that is not the point - if Christ ordained authority to pass from from Peter to the Bishop of Rome as an infallible head of the church, we all better stand up and follow. It just seems to me that that is wrong... and so it seemed to the entire Eastern half of the church in the Great Schism.

So. It's not that I believe the Catholic Church is wrong in all things.. that is not it at all. However, by their own belief system, because I can't accept this one thing.... I may discuss with the Church and look at the Church, but I would never be accepted into communion with the Catholic Church.

So where does that leave me? At the moment, really analyzing what the "Church" is and what it was meant to be. And... reading a lot about Eastern Orthodoxy and the Early Church. I am currently reading Facing East: A Pilgrim's Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy. I am barely beginning to understand what the Eastern Orthodox actually believe, right now all I really know about them is their place in Church History and their response to Roman Catholicism. To be honest, though, I feel a sense of helplessness in the investigation of Eastern Orthodoxy because no matter how much I may agree with what I read, Eastern Orthodoxy in the US primarily consists of Russian and Greek churches that are pretty inaccessible to someone like me.

And then I think about the tribal people I grew up around. How is it possible that all of the finery and liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox (or Catholic) church is the place they need to go to find God? Something in me is struggling - while I long for the liturgy and I long to connect with history, at the same time I believe also in the simplicity of the gospel. I believe that God has reached out to man, and just as much as I may connect with God in a great cathedral or through the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox, I believe God can just as much reveal Himself and His gospel to the precious Papuans that don't know a bit about church history or the ins and outs of justification.

Somehow I keep coming back to the fact that I seem to be finding people that love and know God and His grace in so many areas - Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, conservative Bible Churches, and places where none of those things make sense at all, like Papua. I am not saying I am a universalist - I am not. But is such specificity really necessary? Or is perhaps God sought and found in variety of ways and places, all within the grounds of Orthodoxy (not meaning Eastern Orthodoxy, but the idea of orthodox doctrine).

Is it possible that despite what I object to about the "culture" that too often surrounds evangelicalism in the US, because of what I believe about the nature of the Church and the Gospel itself, I remain an evangelical? If I do remain an evangelical then a quote I read yesterday from St. John Chrysostom’s letter to the Bishop of Rome is pertinent. He is addressing the controversy that caused him to be exiled from Constantinople. In his first few sentences he says, “”Report carrys the tidings of what has happened to the very extremities of the earth, and has everywhere caused great morning and lamentation. But inasmuch as we ought not to mourn, but to restore order, and to see by what means this most grievous storm of the church may be stayed.”

Perhaps serving God in a broken world means that the Church, all of its expressions, is always in a grievous storm. Perhaps it is the task of all who long to know the Lord and serve His church to strive to see "by what means... the church may be stayed."

13 comments:

That Married Couple said...

I really appreciate your honesty as you share this journey with us. I love your passionate search for truth and willingness to follow it. I have two comments:

1. It can't be limited to an intellectual process.

I'm positive you already realize this and you are praying a lot about it all - I just wanted to make sure to reinforce that! This is of course frustrating, because the intellectual part is the part we (think we) are in control of. Being patient with God's timing for the rest of it is tough. (In the meantime, I do think it's good to pursue the intellectual side.)

2. I think Catholics and Eastern Orthodox would agree that God can and does reveal himself to all people, of whatever background. God's love and grace are present, I think, in all forms of Christianity.

The thing about liturgy and the beauty and grandeur of cathedrals is, it's not about us. It's about bringing glory and honor to God. That was one way I really had to change my focus in becoming Catholic. I was so used to attending church focused on myself - how does this music help me to connect to God, how does the sermon affect me, etc. It took a while to realize that I needed to go to give back to God instead of focusing on getting.

Amy said...

Bryan Cross says: "Even if we share the same faith, and the same sacraments, until we are one in government we are still divided."

I suppose he has an argument for this, but I wonder what it is. Because, although at first glance it seems that this must be right, the more I think about it I begin to question the assumption behind that question. WHY do we need unity of government exactly? And what is meant exactly by such a supposed unity?

And as you so eloquently explain, infallibility and authority are where my objection also centers. I feel that the things that the Catholic church says I MUST believe unto salvation is an unacceptable addition to the Gospel.

Kacie said...

yeah, I do agree it can't be limited to an intellectual process... I supposed that's part of the difficulty of it. Spiritually, emotionally - while I love the history and liturgy and all of those things, at the same time my love for the Lord and my worship of Him, love for scripture, conviction to serve... all of that has been born and nurtured right here in evangelicalism, despite the flaws that I am ever-more aware of.

Amy - yeah, that's what I've been thinking about. NDo we really need unity of government? Now that I study the Great Schism and the Reformation, I see the tragedy of when conflicts and splits were needless. However, I also am beginning to realize how it seems God has maybe used our "lack of unity"... and how perhaps the different churches have at different times been used in a particular culture or a particular time in ways that others havent. Each has their own strength and weaknesses... much like personalities.

I suppose I'm wondering if maybe this IS the best way - the beauty that God has sovereignly brought out of our own brokenness.

CM said...

I wonder about all of this. My heart cries out for unity. Yet, I feel my faith life is so much richer for the different traditions that have influenced it. I am Catholic for so many reasons, but I am deeply grateful for the grace that God pours on all of us that earnestly seek Him. I love that He draws us closer to Him in so many different ways. I also love that even in what is a tragic thing in many ways (splintering from one another), God can use those differences to teach us something if only we are willing to learn from one another.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Rae said...

Kacie, your faith and love of truth are an inspiration to me.

In the past I tried to counter some of your arguments (particularly on the "Patriarchates, Bishops, and Popes" post) but Firefox would not work with blogger and ate my comment. I am glad of that because I really don't think that you need me to argue with you. Suffice it to say that I follow your journey with fascination and am grateful that you share it here.

Kacie said...

Rae and anyone else who stops by here - I LOVE and appreciate comments - even when I seem firm in an opinion I think that discussion is NEEDED. Perhaps I've never seen the other side, or have never seen it as you might describe it? Please don't hesitate to comment!

Young Mom said...

The fact that we must adhere to the churches teaching is actually starting to attract me more and more. At first I was kind of annoyed by it, (I mean come on is it really any of there business?) but as time has gone on I like that there is SOMETHING holding people accountable. I am so tired of everyone having different interpretations of truth!
I still struggle with the many manifestations of Gods grace in the church. I truly believe that my family are christians and truly know God, but I have run into Catholics that say that they are not since they are not part of the Catholic Church.

CM said...

Young Mom- I'm sorry that you've run into Catholics that are telling you your family is not Christian. A Christian is anyone that follows Christ. That is a title that legitimately belongs to all of us who seek Him! In my family, there are a lot of different beliefs represented. I may disagree with some of those beliefs, but in no way do I question the Christianity of my family, or my many non-Catholic friends through the years.

Kacie said...

Yeah, Young Mom, I agree with you, as I grow older there is something attractive to having beliefs clearly defined in the Catholic Church. It seems... well this is going to sound bad, but it seems easy.

To a certain extent I think that all Christians should have their beliefs defined for them - we can all go back to the early creeds - orthodoxy defines things for us. The Trinity, the nature of Christ, salvation in Him, etc. Underneath the big things there are little things that all churches, even the Catholic church, have differences on within themselves

Janet said...

I appreciate your wrestling here. So many good thoughts. Thanks for sharing your journey.

I've given you an award over at my blog.

DebD said...

I'm new to the site, coming over from Janet's blog - congrats on the award.

I've wrestled with the same things. I know what it's like to struggle with these things. Do not despair - His sheep hear His voice. I'm now Eastern Orthodox and God is good. Loved the book "Facing East" and have met Khouria Frederica on several occasions. She is a wonderful and humble person. If you ever get a chance to see her in person it is well worth it.

God bless you in your journey. I know from experience that it can be a difficult road at times, but well worth it in the end.

Young Mom said...

I agree! Alot of our differences are small and the founding creeds really help keep orthodoxy on track. However I continue to be amazed by how many of us need details defined. I know professing christians who are pro-choice. I that problem wouldn't go away in the Catholic church, but having truth defined by an authority eliminates the "its just between me and God" excuse.

PresterJosh said...

I've hesitated to comment on this post since you covered so many things, and I want to do justice to all of them. So forgive me if I post too many comments. :-)

Regarding the idea of finding goodness and truth in all sorts of different denominations, I totally agree with you. Holiness and goodness isn't something found in only one denomination. Here is what the Catholic Church had to say on the subject at Vatican II in the decree on Ecumenism.

http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19641121_unitatis-redintegratio_en.html

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Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ.

The brethren divided from us also use many liturgical actions of the Christian religion. These most certainly can truly engender a life of grace in ways that vary according to the condition of each Church or Community. These liturgical actions must be regarded as capable of giving access to the community of salvation.

It follows that the separated Churches(23) and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church.