Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Ivan's Solution to "A House Divided" & Follow-up Arguments

That's right folks, I'm totally writing this as if presuming to have the "real" answer. Well, I don't. But I think that what follows is honestly a decent (if radical) proposal to effect unity in the Church (supposing the Church exists, but while encompassing many Christian denominations, particular churches, and ecclesial communities). I don't think the Vegas odds on this ever happening are that great (don't bet your house on it... well, maybe just your mother-in-law), but I'm writin' it down anyway - just try and stop me!

And for those just tuning in: this effort is born out of a personal struggle concerning whether conversion to the Roman Catholic communion (or any other Apostolic communion, like the Eastern or Oriental Orthodox churches) is necessary to fully be in Communion with Christ and His body of disciples, or whether there is any other way for true unity to be accomplished.

14 Steps to Full Communion within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church:

1. Have the Major Tritinarian Communions sign a joint Declaration to strive for Full Communion within 100 years, pledging all the leadership to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures in its enactment.

2. Have the major Trinitarian communions sign a joint statement praying for forgiveness for nearly 1600 years of division. After all, we are all culpable for the pitiable state of division that exists between Christ's disciples today.

3. Unite the Eastern and Western liturgical traditions by setting the date for Easter on an agreed upon astronomically-correct (as much as possible) date, and never change it again.

4. Encourage liturgical and interpratory (sure, that's a word... at least it is now) cooperation in English speaking congregations through use of the Revised Common Lectionary, use of the NRSV and ESV bible translations, and use of a hymnal that draws from each of the traditions. Use of these tools would be encouraged, but not required. Non-english equivalents would be used to bring common worship and teaching to non-English speaking congregations.

5. Each of the Credal churches would have to scrap all but the canons of the first two Ecumenical Councils and each of the non-credal churches would have to accept these two councils. The reasoning for this is that the first two are agreements the entire Church made together regarding the establishment of Scriptural canon and the Trinity (which is clearly inferred from Scripture). All orthodox, Trinitarian accept these principles today, whether credal or non-credal and whether Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican or Protestant. These also happen to be the only two Councils the entire Church agreed upon together.

Also, they both took place before Theodosius made Christianity the State religion in 391 AD - thereby corrupting it with riches and lands, while also making it a political tool to be leveraged. This would also give enough guidance and interpretation to unite the Church on issues that Scripture is less clear about.

Finally, while the Apostolic Fathers especially (Ignatius, Clement, Polycarp, Didache etc.) and the other early Church Fathers are useful (as are many theologians into our own times), their authority should only be read in light of the Trinitarian and Canonical understanding of Scripture and the first two Ecumenical Councils.

6. The churches would have to make Scripture their primary authority for Church doctrine. This would be followed by the two Ecumenical Councils. All other Church dogma would be decided in councilliar agreement between all the bishops. However, the Church councils or synods (after the first two historically Ecumenical Councils) would not be able to enforce decisions on local congregations. In line with #5, the Apostolic and early Church Fathers would definitely guide interpretation, but only in so far as they conform to Scripture and the first two Councils.

7. The churches would have to agree that episcopal succession, from its origins in the New Testament relies not just in the Office of Bishop, but also in the Office of Presbyter. Scripture treats these (and the position of Pastor) as synonymous in Acts 20, Titus 1:5-7 and 1 Peter 5:1-2. Division of the two offices would be optional in each tradition, but ultimately those traditions which only ordain presbyters and deacons would still lie within the episcopal succession through their presbyters (in effect, making them presbyter-bishops).

8. The diaconate would be a seperate office dealing only with temporal affairs, being local and congregational in nature. Within these guidelines, and in accordance with scripture, the presbyter-bishop (or presbyter and bishop separately) and the deacon would be the only clergy. The congregation, as a corporate body, would exhibit the priesthood of all believers. Otherwise, administrative positions would be allowed locally, based on election or appointment, whatever each tradition desires.

9. The churches would have to agree that all bishops (including presbyter-bishops) are equal in authority. This would be tempered with the understanding that the Roman bishop would be first in honor among the rest, followed by the bishops of Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria and Constantinople (in that order), then all bishops after that would be equal in honor (as well as equal in authority to all bishops).

10. Local congregations would elect their presbyter-bishops. Likewise, if groups of congregations wish to split the office of presbyter and bishop, a council of all the elected presbyters in a jurisdiction would then elect their bishops, and these bishops would attend synods based on jurisdiction or the greater Church council with other bishops and presbyter-bishops. These presbyter-bishops should conform to the teaching of Scripture in their character (each tradition would decide whether they could be married or not, though they should probably be men only), and while they would be elected locally, their ordination would be effected by the laying on of hands of other bishops - thereby maintaining both episcopal succession and the sovereignty of the local congregation.

11. Each congregation, or groups of congregations, within the Church would be free to govern their own customs and practices in regards to style of worship, veneration, architecture, liturgy, hymnody and local governance (and related issues, like speaking in tongues); as long as these conform to Scripture and the two Ecumenical Councils.

12. The communions would sign a document recognizing each other's baptisms, table fellowship and ordinations. This means locally or by tradition, each group would have the choice to follow either traditional baptism or believer's baptism, and all would need to recognize the mysterious real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

13. The communions (their general superintendents, patriarchs, popes and bishops) would have to sign an agreement, effectively conforming themselves to these principles, declaring themselves to be in Full Communion with each other. This would probably take a while, and there is no doubt congregational-polity churches would need to vote on these before sending their pastors as representatives to sign. It would be a good idea for the signing process to be available online (once identities are verified as actual representatives of congregations and communions) and then disseminated to each church.

14. The Church would be required to elect Ivan as King of All the Popes. Just kidding... I couldn't think of any more points, so this one's optional (though definately recommended).

Please note, this list is not intended to be guidelines for a new denomination, but solely to unify existing ones. Anybody that creates a new denomination based on these terms will get a swift kick to the weener from yours truly.

I'm sure there's a myriad of problems with the above steps. But I feel that they are the most orthodox steps that would still include Roman & Traditional Catholic, Eastern & Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian, Anglican and Protestant (including Mainline, Anabaptist, Adventist, Messianic, Evangelical, Fundamentalist & Pentecostal/Charismatic) congregations and communions.

Since there's no doubt in my mind that Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Universalists, Mormons, New Age groups & Non-Trinitarian Pentecostals (& Anabaptists) are heretics, I don't mind not catering to them.

Anywho, I'm no prophet or apostle, so I'm sure there are better ways of goin' about this. My hope is just that this get people thinkin' & praying that we would all be one (without sacrificing or watering down the Gospel), as Jesus prayed in John 17:20-21.


Stevick said...


I could express a few questions at this point, but I want to just ask one. Why NRSV and ESV? I can understand NRSV to an extent because it is so ecumenically affirmed and represents the best scholarship at the time (which is still needing to be revised), but ESV? That's been around for what, five years? Seven? On what basis can we possibly claim that the ESV should have such ecumenical weight? Because John Piper likes it? I hope not.

Joel said...

Sounds like the articles for a new denomination.

#6 is a major presupposition. Why the Bible?

Not to mention it is differences in Biblical interpretation which has us in this mess to begin with.

Brother Ivan, the Sinner said...

wooo John Piper! he's the pope of the evangelicals. but besides that, i know a lot of the more evangelical and conservative churches (Baptists, Pentecostals etc.) never really liked the NRSV. The ESV is still a good, relatively literal translation and is mostly the conservative answer to the NRSV. I figure if it got more groups on board, without sacrificing Scriptural integrity, then it's worth a shot.

to joel: yeah, i thought about putting the book of mormon in there and of course, science & health by mary baker eddy, but i figured we could cater to the heretic crowd at a later point in the process.

anyway, it is different biblical interpretations that got us in this mess, but i figure these guidelines include enough freedom for different interpretations while also excluding major heterodox groups.

Brother Ivan, the Sinner said...

also, i'd like to think it sounds less like the articles for a new denomination and more like the canon of an ecumenical council...

but, you're probably right. freakin' denominations!

trent13 said...

Wow, well I can think of a couple of problems of your solution right off the top of my head:

#2: The Catholic Church should not and would not feel any need for forgiveness for the multiple denominations or the divisions that exist between them. That would the devil who needs to ask God for forgiveness. The Church is literally the Mystical Body of Christ - you wouldn't expect Christ to be asking anyone for just wouldn't make sense.

4. "Liturgical and interpratory cooperation by congregations" is something that Vat.II tried to promote. What it does is break down the unity of the Church. The Catholic Church is unified in not only its doctrine but also in its liturgy, hence "law of prayer is the law of belief." While certain parts of the the liturgy are something the Church can change, the liturgy of the Mass was defined. It is not a question of interpretation on the part of the faithful - in fact interpretation on the part of the faithful is a throwback to Luther. The faithful don't interpret authoritatively because it protects the integrity of the Faith via the Holy Ghost guiding those who are to determine what is to be believed (doctrine).

5. The Catholic Church cannot scrap any doctrines (or canons, or defined decrees from past councils) for the very least reason that that would admit that it is culpable of error and thus is not the true Church, which is an impossibility.

You mention the corruption after Theodosius - I think you don't realize the difference of how a Catholic sees the Church and how you see it. Despite all sorts of corruption on the part of the Church's human counterparts, there can be no error in it's doctrine - it is protected by the Holy Ghost - and were such a thing seem to take place, it would show that that person is outside the Church.

6. Part of unchangeable Catholic doctrine is belief in Tradition as part of the magisterium of the Church. It is as important to Catholicism as Sacred Scripture. And the subject of tradition is so big here is a link that explains what I don't have time to: - also if what the bishops determine is not to be believed as the truth then what is the point of them coming up with a body of belief at all - and Church dogmas are not beliefs that they decided would be a good thing to believe they have to be something that was in scripture or tradition and has always been believed.

10. Local congregations elect their priests/bishops - no, there is no sovereignity of the local congregation as you put it. There is the Catholic Church, and Catholics make up the Catholic Church by adhering to her doctrines - whether or not we believe in them, they are still there. Power to decided who is to become a priest or not or a bishop or not does not come from the congregation by any means (thank God for that). The setup of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church is not like a government or a committee (don't let the Novus Ordo fool you!)

11. I have already discussed regarding the liturgy, but here is another link for that:

12. The sacraments of baptism, ordination, etc... are performed according to certain rites - a Catholic cannot accept as valid or licit any baptism, any ordination, as follows (look under the section regarding the matter and form):

Anyway, this was a long post, but I hope it is helpful

Brother Ivan, the Sinner said...

dangit! i accidentally deleted instead of submitted my own comment.

and it sounded so good too. well now i'm just frustrated. i'll rewrite it later... *grumble, grumble, grumble*

JMC said...

Trent13 makes an excellent start in addressing some of the problems with your proposal; I would like to focus specifically on #6.

(Ivan) The churches would have to make Scripture their primary authority for Church doctrine.

Do you understand that this would require the RC Church to completely repudiate one of her foundational beliefs?

" ... sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God's most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others." (Dei Verbum #10)

However, the Church councils or synods (after the first two historically Ecumenical Councils) would not be able to enforce decisions on local congregations.

Why not? This is a statement that the truth cannot be known, even by the Church, therefore each local congregation is free to define its own truth. This is a very Protestant view and explains why there are 30K (and growing) denominations. If you really want there to be one church this rule cannot stand.

the Apostolic and early Church Fathers would definitely guide interpretation, but only in so far as they conform to Scripture and the first two Councils.

Since you allow no authority - even the bishops - to definitively interpret Scripture this guideline is meaningless. If you and I disagree on some interpretation we have no way to decide which of us is correct.

It seems to me that one objection runs throughout your comments: you will not be told by someone else what to believe. I am a convert myself and remember my first day in the RCIA program when someone told me about the things all Catholics had to believe. My (unvoiced) response was that I would decide for myself what I would believe, thank you very much.

That was the Protestant in me and it took me some time to become comfortable with the Catholic view of truth.


where.the.protagonist said...

Ivan, I'm curious about the thought and reflection that has gone into this desire for ecumenical unity. What, for you, would constitute a fractured church or unified church? What is the upshot of a unified Christian church? What about a concern for inter-religious dialogue and unity as a community of believers/seekers?

Brother Ivan, the Sinner said...

Trent13 and JMC bring up some good points concerning the problems that my "solution" bring up, and they reveal a few very fundamental differences in how Catholics and Protestants think.

I don't necessarily have a problem with accepting tradition, or having councils and dogma guide me (even if they were decided many centuries after Christ and the apostles).

but i do see, within the long and rich history of the Church, many church fathers that disagreed on many topics. There were many other topics that they almost universally agree on (and i think we can consider these binding).

but in areas where they differ (and where they depart from scripture), i think that a serious argument can be made that says they were flawed. which would make certain traditions flawed. it's a big issue that we would need to address.

also, Trent13 especially makes an important point in how we see the Church. i see the Church as the Body of Christ, for sure, but even as such we are in a constant state of reformation and sanctification. I don't think individuals will fully reach that point until the Resurrection, and I think the Church is the same.

But this isn't a problem for me, as the blood of Christ covers all our sins and the virtue of Christ makes the Church perfect (even as it grows, stumbles, repents and becomes better).

but for those who see the Church as essentially perfect in doctrine by nature (without which, it isn't the Church), i can see how this would be a MAJOR problem.

to answer where.the.protagonist really quick: i think the "upshot" of a unified church lies in that it more fully displays the working power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. i know a lot of athiests and agnostics who bring up the argument that such a fractured state of believers clearly shows there is no "true Church". i argue otherwise, but i think the argument would be easier if we could come together (without sacrificing the Gospel).

also, the Church in the West, especially, is gonna face a lot of pretty hefty problems in the 21st century: postmodernism, agnosticism, Islam and conflicting socio-political identities. if we learned to work together a little more, we could better address these issues.

finally, Jesus' last prayers in John 16 & 17 really stuck with me. i can't ignore 'em: when we fight against each other, we disobey Christ. that's a serious problem and i don't think any of us are innocent in the matter.

Brother Ivan, the Sinner said...

oh, also i didn't answer where's first question:

the fractured church, to me, consists of those believers, who as disciples of Christ, seek God's glory and trust in Hist redemption, gained solely through Christ's death and resurrection, and fully realized in our own (resurrection), but who don't recognize each others' communities, prayers, worship, clerical orders or table fellowship (the Eucharist).

to me, a unified Church would consist of those same believers, but they cooperate in prayer, worship and ministry; and they recognize each others' clerical orders, baptism and practice of the Eucharist.

trent13 said...

"but in areas where they differ (and where they depart from scripture), i think that a serious argument can be made that says they were flawed. which would make certain traditions flawed. it's a big issue that we would need to address."

Areas that were disputed are or eventually will be decided on by popes or councils in an infallible manner. For example the most recent one was the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception which was defined, because it was something that was held in tradition, but nevertheless needed to be defined in order to settle any disputes that were going on, or for the sake of the souls of the faithful.

The Tradition of the Church wouldn't be flawed - certain things may be disputed because individuals are unclear on them, in which case it is the job of the hierarchy, coming down to councils and the pope, to make the situtation clear and end the debate.

trent13 said...

Sorry to rain on your parade - it seems as though you have the best of intentions, but the Catholic Church can never change one iota of her doctrines on anything (the sacraments, what constitutes heresy, etc...) - not because the Church is unwilling to change but because it is the unchanging Church. Truth does not change - you would never expect it to, and it would just sound silly to say, "truth is just unwilling to change." The Church is more than something just made up of individuals. It is the true religion, independent of whether or not people adhere to it. Like math - math is true, regardless of how many times one would say, I don't believe it, I'm going with 2+2=5. So any sort of solution involving the Church allowing that other religions are equally acceptable or anything else that would go against the doctrine of the Church is simply an impossibility. This religion is not the true religion b/c I believe it is the true religion. It's the true religion b/c Christ founded it. God does want one Church worldwide - He wants everyone to become Catholic, b/c outside this Church there is no salvation. Even one who is invincibly ignorant would still have to obtain Baptism (into the Catholic Church) of Desire in order to attain heaven.

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