All Divided Christians Have Contributed to the Scandalous Disunity of the Body of Christ the Church (Which Called itself the Catholic Church in the Undivided First Millennium) – Both Today’s Catholic and Non-Catholic Christians must Avoid the Two Ways to Abuse this Book:
Catholic Triumphalism among Catholic Christians and Anti-Catholic Bigotry That Attempts to Maintain the Protest Against the Catholic Church at All Costs (Even Basic Christian Orthodoxy) among Non-Catholic Christians
Volume I of So That The World May Believe: A Call to Christian Unity establishes that the majority of today’s divided Christians who conserve the traditional essentials of orthodox Christianity are already mostly in wonderful agreement our saving Christian faith, whether they be Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant (or “Messianic Jews”), and that just by having different expressions and celebrations of this vast common faith we are already much closer to the Early Church’s mutually enriching Unity in Diversity than we usually realize. Volumes II and III then seek to tackle our two biggest areas of disagreement, Mary and the papacy, in order to demonstrate that in these areas too we are not so different as we first appear, our different perspectives in these areas do not compromise the Christian fundamentals but have been developed and understood in ways that keep them intact, and therefore we can (and must for Jesus’ sake) talk about these substantial differences in brotherly love, so that we can eventually (with the Holy Spirit’s aid) come to commonly agreed solutions to our current disputes that are likely to clarify Christian beliefs in these areas, incorporating insights and legitimate concerns of both sides. Unfortunately, long-held habits of division, ignorance, prejudice and even outright bigotry against each other for being different will, I am sad but sure to say, lead some, Catholic or non-Catholic, who read or who merely hear about this book, to abuse it, opposing it or otherwise approaching its presentation and call to unity with the small hearts or small minds which will keep Christ’s one Body the Church wounded and divided so that it remains much less effective against Satan’s Kingdom of Darkness than it should be. In this chapter I exhort those readers, Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, who would be tempted by the Devil to in one way or another abuse this book and reject its call to loving unity for Jesus’s sake and for the sake of the world He loves which needs to see Jesus love in all of us, to not do so.
Catholic Readers must Not Abuse this Book by Misusing its Strong Presentation of Catholic Positions in its Contribution to Ecumenical Dialogue to Bolster Inappropriate Attitudes of “Catholic Triumphalism” Which Were Rejected by the Second Vatican Council – the Church on Earth Is a “Pilgrim Church” Not Yet Perfect but Still Working Towards God’s Ideal for Us, and Neither the Catholic Church Nor the Non-Catholic Churches Are What We Are Meant to Be as Long as We Are Separated from Each Other
Although I have taken great pains to establish genuinely loving ecumenical dialogue, this book still presents the Catholic contribution to that Christian dialogue in a way I believe is a powerful defense of the Catholic position in areas about which Christians disagree. Some Catholics who already have a “triumphalistic” attitude about their Church (even though this approach was rejected by the Second Vatican Council) might be tempted to abuse this book by thinking it proves the Catholic Church is right “as always” and non-Catholics have to just submit to the Catholic position and join the Catholic Church. This would not be an appropriate use of this book. If the Catholic position is indeed stronger, as I believe it is, it is only because the Catholic Church has deliberately clarified its position taking into account the objections and concerns of non-Catholic Christians (thus being enriched in itself by non-Catholic Christians!). And the Catholic Church is not as truly Catholic, truly Universal, as it should be, as long as there are orthodox Christians with their own valid and fruitful expressions of the common Christian faith outside of its Catholic or Universal Christian Communion of orthodox Sister Churches. The Catholic Church needs non-Catholic Christians to rejoin it in order for it to be most truly “Catholic” or Universal, most truly itself, but such reunification must not happen simply by non-Catholic Christian Churches becoming Catholic, and most certainly not by them coming into the already vast Roman Rite of the Catholic Church whose great size has already obscured the true catholicity or universality of the Catholic Church in the eyes of most people. Now that the Catholic Church, since its 21st Ecumenical Council in 1962-5 (Vatican Council II), has formally rediscovered and dogmatically defined its ancient nature and structure since the First Millennium of the Undivided Early Catholic Church, Catholic Christians (who are mostly Roman Rite Catholics today) must really learn the Catholic Church’s new official (and irrevocable dogmatic) understanding of itself which clearly expresses the lived reality of the Undivided Early Church, and have it sink into their minds and hearts, so that non-Catholic Christian churches will want to rejoin the ancient Catholic Communion in order to be like the Undivided Early Church, both regaining what they lost when they left it and also enriching the Catholic (Universal) Church with their own distinct rituals and customs and practices which validly express that great common Christian (and Catholic) faith their founders took with them when they left the Catholic Church in history. Catholics also have to admit that there are certain features or characteristics of the Undivided Early Church which today Evangelicals and other orthodox Protestants generally speaking preserve better than Catholic Christians do – such as love for Bible reading and evangelical zeal to spread the message of Jesus as He commanded. They really can help the Catholic Church to better be all that Jesus meant it to be.
I think that most of the Catholic Christians who would still hold inappropriate attitudes of “Catholic Triumphalism” are from among the majority Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, most of whose members for centuries forgot that they were only Catholic Christians at all and not merely Roman Christians because they were still part of the ancient and unbroken Catholic (Universal) Communion of orthodox Sister Churches, Eastern and Western, united under the Head Pastorship of the popes who directed or ratified all the Early and later Ecumenical (worldwide) Councils of Christian East and West. Such Roman Catholic Christians need to fully understand that their own Catholic Communion pastored by the pope is much more than merely their own very large Roman Rite Catholic Sister Church, and come to appreciate how as Catholics they are already enriched by being in full communion with over 20 ancient non-Roman Rites or Sister Churches within the Catholic Church. Then they will more easily appreciate the enriching contributions the Eastern Orthodox and orthodox Protestant churches can make to the ancient Catholic Communion if they were reunified within their own non-Roman Catholic Sister Churches according to the model of the Undivided Early Church. In fact, the Catholic Church today is already enriched by them informally, and has borrowed many good ideas and worship songs and devotional artwork, and other good things which express our vast common Christian faith, from non-Catholic Christian churches (for more details see Volume III’s Chapter 7 subsection entitled Catholic, Orthodox, and (Conservative/Evangelical) Protestant Christians Are Already Much Closer to the Early Church’s Unity in Diversity than We Usually Realize, and We Already Borrow Good Things from Each Other and So Enrich Each Other as Did the Early Church’s Different But United Sister Churches).
If this book presents a powerful case for the Catholic position in areas Christians disagree, its power is largely due to my reflected presentation of the Catholic Church’s sophisticated recent official and dogmatic self-understanding promulgated at the 21st Ecumenical Council of Vatican II, which for the first time clearly articulated the NATURE and STRUCTURE of the UNDIVIDED EARLY CHURCH which transformed the ancient world with God’s love. Thus the power of these Catholic arguments cannot reasonably be used to bolster the inaccurate and inappropriate pre-Vatican II notions of many Roman Catholics that the Roman Catholic Church was simply the “true church” and all other churches simply needed to join her. Roman Catholics are already in full communion with over 20 other non-Roman but completely Catholic Sister Churches in one truly Catholic (Universal) Communion as they were in the First Millennium of the Undivided Early Catholic Church (when unlike today only one quarter of all Catholics were Roman Catholics). So one does not need to be Roman at all to be entirely Catholic, as indeed, at least half of the great Saints of the First Millennium Catholic Church were not Roman but Eastern Catholic Christians. And moreover, even outside of the Catholic Communion, both Catholic and non-Catholic Christians are already imperfectly united together within the one Body of Christ the Church and both sides are effectively used already by the Holy Spirit for the salvation of their members . See Chapter 7 of Volume III: The Papacy and Christian Unity in Diversity, entitled “The Catholic Church Since the 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican II) Has by Far the Most Well-Thought-Out and Sophisticated Position on its Own Participation in the One Body of Christ the Church and That of its “Separated Brothers” in the Non-Catholic Christian Churches, a Strong Position That No Christian Who Values the Christian Unity Jesus Values Can Afford to Ignore but must Seriously Consider.”
Non-Catholic Readers must Not Abuse this Book By, Motivated by Deep-Seated Unreasoning Anti-Catholic Prejudice and Bigotry, Trying to Unlovingly Attack its Strong Ecumenically-Minded Presentation of Catholic Positions Instead of Rationally and Prayerfully Considering Them in Christian Love and with a Will to Dialogue
Having once been an anti-Catholic Evangelical Protestant Christian myself, and having read much anti-Catholic Protestant literature ranging from the simply ignorant and uninformed to bigoted vitriolic hate literature, I know how deep-seated can be the prideful Protestant urge to remain in protest against the Catholic Church our ancestors left behind centuries ago, at all costs. Costs which, sadly, for many Protestants include losing basic Christian orthodoxy in the “doctrinal liberalism” which follows from taking Protestant “Bible Alone” doctrine to its logical conclusions, and thus logically not considering any of the early Christian disputes over Bible Canon and Bible interpretation which were settled by the First Millennium Catholic Church’s Councils and Popes (citing Catholic Sacred Tradition) to be truly settled for all time. This means that no Protestant Christian can logically be certain they have the correct New Testament Canon (the traditional 27 books were collected by the Catholic hierarchy and ratified by Pope Innocent I in a very Catholic process from 367-405 AD) nor the correct fundamental interpretation of the Bible (“Jesus is fully God and fully man,” a phrase not in the Bible, is a doctrine articulated in depth by Pope Saint Leo the Great who directed and ratified the 4th Ecumenical Council of Eastern and Western Catholic bishops in 451 AD). Catholic Christians consider the traditional New Testament Canon and the traditional fundamentals of Christian faith as absolutely certain truths because they trust that the Catholic Sacred Tradition of how to interpret the Bible and the Catholic Magisterium (teaching office) of overseer/bishops (including the chief overseer/bishop, the pope) which settled the early Christian controversies in First Millennium Christian history are functions of the “profound mystery” (Ephesians 5:22-32) revealed in the Bible that the Church is the Body of Christ Himself, led by the Holy Spirit into “all the truth” (John 16:13) such that the Body of Christ the Church is indeed, as the Bible itself proclaims, “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Luther’s foundational Protestant doctrine that “the Bible alone is authoritative and binding on a Christian’s faith,” which deliberately excluded any authority belonging to the Catholic Sacred Tradition and Magisterium of the Church, logically excludes any certainty being given to the judgements of the Early Church Councils in settlement of the early controversies as to just what constituted basic Christian orthodoxy and even the New Testament Canon (list of Sacred Books) itself, which is precisely why the character of “Liberal” Protestantism is to not be certain about just which parts of the Bible are truly inspired Scripture and to not be certain even that Jesus is God – my personal discovery as an orthodox Protestant was that orthodox Protestants do not really follow Luther1 but are unconsciously “Catholic at heart” by their insistence that the New Testament must be the traditional (Catholic) New Testament and it must be interpreted according to the Catholic Sacred Tradition clarified concisely in the traditional (Catholic) fundamental Christian doctrines by the early Catholic Magisterium in the Early (Catholic) Church Councils (Jesus’ Divinity was the judgement of the First Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church which declared that the Bible must be interpreted to mean that Jesus is “one in being with the Father” on the basis of Sacred Tradition and which declared the sophisticated and thorough alternate (“Bible Alone”) interpretation of the Arian Christians to be heretical). I discovered that the main difference between “doctrinally conservative,” orthodox Protestants (like I was) and “doctrinally liberal,” unorthodox (or uncertain) Protestants is that orthodox Protestants do not strictly practice Protestant “Bible Alone” doctrine but in fact give priority to their denomination’s orthodox Creed or “Statement of Faith” (which passes on the Catholic Sacred Tradition of how the Bible must be interpreted, as clarified by the First Millennium Catholic Magisterium in a very Catholic process Protestants were never involved in – they simply borrowed the end results from the Catholic Church they left), whereas unorthodox Protestants give priority to Protestant “Bible Alone” doctrine over the traditional Creeds of Christianity (which are not from the Bible but interpret it) and because of this over centuries of Protestantism they have gradually lost confidence in the fundamentals of traditional Christianity and in the traditional New Testament Canon itself. Orthodox Protestants unknowingly stand upon Catholic Sacred Tradition and are essentially “Catholic at heart,” whereas unorthodox/heretical Protestants stand strictly upon Protestant “Bible Alone” doctrine and are essentially “Protestant at heart,” their Protestantism itself, as it matured, being what gradually and logically led their denominations to lose confidence in the traditional Bible Canon and traditional Christian fundamentals .
[Unfinished section – I mainly wish to point out here that it is fine for non-Catholic Christians to disagree with Catholic positions, but let us talk about our disagreements and do so lovingly so that we are not a bad witness of the God of Love to the world. We should be able to do so based on our vast common Christian faith, which Protestants are more at risk of losing their grip on in doctrinal liberalism and uncertainty than Catholics are, which in itself should motivate Protestants to dialogue with Catholics instead of allowing any deep-seated anti-Catholic prejudice to cloud their judgement.]
Small Hearts and Small Minds on Either Side Will Keep Christ’s Church Scandalously Divided:
We must Pray for Big Hearts to Love Our Fellow Christians from Different Churches as Family and Pray for Open Minds to Patiently Unpack the Subtleties of Each Other’s Different Perspectives until We See How They Are Related to Our Common Fundamentals of Saving Christian Faith (After this We Can Lovingly and Patiently Work Towards Mutually Agreed Solutions to Current Disputes – Mindful to Maintain Bonds of Unity in Love on the Basis of Our Vast Common Faith “So That the World May Believe” Even While We Remain Formally Divided)
[The following section to the end of Chapter 6 is also excerpted from the full version of my book The Bible’s “Big Picture” – Using “Family Theology” to Understand the Single Overarching Story Told Throughout the Scriptures, Which Makes the Bible Our Family History as Christians, specifically from its lengthy Chapter 1: Introduction to the Bible’s ‘Big Picture’ and its Implications For Christian Unity – this section is not part of the Excerpts from the Bible’s ‘Big Picture’ which is currently published on this site]
The Importance of Currently Divided Christians Listening to Each Other Respectfully for Our Mutual Advantage and for the Eventual Healing of Our Divisions to Fulfill Jesus’ Prayer for Christian Unity
The Very Few (And Comparatively Unimportant) Actually Substantial Differences Between Us Are Not Insurmountable When Seen in Light of Our Vast Common Faith and They Certainly in No Way Justify Our Failures to Love Each Other as Christian Brothers and Sisters on the Basis of Our Great Common Faith for the Sake of the Christian Mission to the World Which Is Greatly Hampered When Christians Are Not Loving to Each Other
There are very few (and comparatively unimportant) substantial differences which (for now) still justify fundamentally orthodox Christians (Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant – including “Messianic Jews”) not being in full formal communion with each other, but these in no way justify our failures to love each other as Christian brothers and sisters on the basis of our vast common faith for the sake of the Christian mission to the world which is greatly hampered when Christians are not loving to each other, and these few real differences must not be seen as insurmountable obstacles to our eventually restoring the early fully Universal (Catholic) loving Communion of orthodox Sister Churches, to fulfill Jesus’ prayer for us. Rather, these comparatively few and comparatively unimportant substantial differences are the areas we need to practice our Christian love for one another on (John 13:35) , really listening (in love and respect) to each other’s different understandings on these points, and how they relate to our vast common fundamentals, so that we can eventually come to some common understandings even on these currently disputed points, and hopefully (with the Holy Spirit of unity’s aid) eventually heal our current divisions, so Jesus’ prayer for our unity may be granted, “so that the world may believe” (John 17:21-23) in Jesus Christ when they see the wonderful love of Christians for each other (John 13:35) . It is important that all fundamentally orthodox Christians (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant) already united in the above common creed understand that “the other side” understands their different secondary doctrines in the light of these common fundamentals. So as a general rule you should approach other Christians recognizing that “the other side” has developed their different doctrines you do not share with the common essential fundamentals of Christianity very much in mind and they have been careful to understand these different doctrines in ways which do not compromise the fundamentals. So if your understanding of their different doctrines seems to compromise or deny the Christian fundamentals, your understanding is probably wrong or incomplete, and this is why Christians must respectfully listen to each other in love in order to come to really understand each other, instead of accusing each other of heresies! History shows that such real, loving dialogue between Christian brothers is likely to result in newer and better formulations or explanations of the disputed doctrines which address the concerns of both sides and makes the doctrine’s connection to the common fundamentals more clear to all .
A Historical Example of Genuine Loving Dialogue Towards the Healing of Divisions:
at the 1439 17th Ecumenical Council the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Leaders Met and Determined That Once Both Sides Had Defined Very Precisely What They Meant by Their Different Theological Language (Including a Latin Versus Greek “Language Barrier”), That They Were All “Aiming at the Same Meaning in Different Words” and Thus They All Shared the Identical Ancient Universal (Catholic) Christian Faith, and That Their Different Customs for Practically Expressing this Common Faith Were Valid (The Council Expressed its Exuberant Joy over this Healing of Christian Division)
As one example of how it is to our mutual advantage to thus respectfully really listen to each other and learn from each other: There was a great deal of drifting apart and gradually increasing tension between the Eastern (mostly Byzantine) and Western (mostly Roman) Rites of the ancient Catholic (Universal) Christian Church for several centuries, because both sides eventually lost sight of the loving unity in diversity among the Eastern and Western Sister Churches in the Catholic Communion which had characterized the 1st Millennium Undivided Christian Church, and both sides, fuelled by cultural prejudice, started to mistakenly judge each other’s Christian faith as different because they expressed it differently (in different theology and practices based in their different cultural perspectives). There were many examples of both disunity and continued (though strained) East-West Christian unity for centuries,2 until the 17th Ecumenical Council (at Florence) in 1439 at which the Eastern and Western Christian theologians, overseers/ bishops, and patriarchs (including the pope) hashed out their differences very precisely, and concluded, once both sides had defined very precisely what they meant by their different theological language (including a Latin versus Greek “language barrier”), that they were all “aiming at the same meaning in different words” and thus they all shared the identical ancient Universal (Catholic) Christian faith, and that their different customs for practically expressing this common faith were all valid (and they all recognized the pope as the Head Pastor of the Universal/Catholic Church as well as the Patriarch of the Roman Sister Church in the Universal/Catholic Christian Communion). The council expressed its exuberant joy over the healing of the strained unity of the one Body of Christ the Church. The most deep and precise explanation of the primary Christian Mystery of the Trinity came out of this Ecumenical (worldwide) Council of all the Eastern and Western Christian Sister Churches, enriching all (For an in-depth consideration of this Council’s definition of the Trinity, and how the entirety of Christian faith flows naturally from the primary Christian doctrine of God’s nature as a Trinity, see my book-length essay Love Unbounded: Tracing Salvation History from the Eternal Trinity to the New Covenant Church – Using Family Theology to Answer the Question “How and Why Does Jesus’ Death Save Us?”). Sadly, it was not long after this joyful reunion of Christian East and West in one loving Catholic (Universal) Christian Communion (the love had been strained though the Sister Churches had never totally separated from each other) that the Muslims conquered Byzantium (Constantinople), in 1453, and shortly after that (in 1472) they forced the Byzantine Churches (and the other Eastern Churches they influenced) to cut all ties with the Western Catholic Church (mostly the Roman Rite), creating the Eastern Orthodox Churches as churches for the first time completely independent from the ancient Catholic Communion of orthodox Christian Sister Churches, Eastern and Western, known collectively as the Catholic Church. Some Eastern Sister Churches were never so separated from the Catholic Church (like the Antiochene Maronites) and some returned to the ancient Catholic Communion of East and West at the first opportunity (like half of the Byzantine Ukrainians).
Catholic Christians Have Learned Much and Have Greatly Benefitted from Really Listening to the Concerns of Protestant Christians (And Borrowing Great Worship Music and Other Good Things from Protestants)
Again, we must listen to and learn from each other for our mutual advantage. The large Western, Roman Rite of the Catholic Church has already benefitted greatly from listening to the concerns of the 16th Century Western, Roman, Protestant Reformers who left the Roman Catholic Sister Church (and the Catholic Communion) during a “backwards” stage in the typical “back and forth” motion in the process of growing into maturity in love which the ongoing Covenant Family has always gone through (the 16th Century “backwards” trend was not as bad as the previous 10th Century one from which the Roman Catholic Church also recovered – and there has been nothing near since, indicating the continued growth in maturity in love of the New Covenant Church as in the older Covenants).
As a brief digression, it should be noted that all the worst of the “backwards trends” in Church history were related to the meddling of political rulers in the life of the Catholic Church, especially “investiture,” the practice of political rulers choosing who would be ordained to Church leadership, and often choosing on the basis of loyalty to the ruler rather than for their Christian spirituality. The Catholic Church struggled with these problems for many centuries, problems which are akin to the Old Testament Covenant Family’s problems of the political rulers of Israel and Judah who also wielded tremendous influence over the Covenant Family of Israel. The two Books of the Kings in the Bible show clearly how Old Covenant Judaism thrived or languished largely on the basis of whether the King of Israel or Judah submitted himself to Judaism or tried to set religious policy himself. Likewise, the New Covenant Christian Church, the continuation of that same one ongoing Covenant Family of God since Adam, also thrived or languished largely on the basis of whether Christian political rulers submitted to the Church or dictated to the Church. Like the Kings of Israel and Judah, Christian Kings and Emperors were frequently tempted to exert their political power over the Covenant Family entrusted by God to their material protection in ways which were detrimental to the Covenant Family.
In any case, to return to the point, the New Covenant Family of the Catholic Church spiritually benefitted greatly from listening to the concerns of the Protestant Reformers. The impatience of the Protestant Reformers with the slowness of the much-needed Roman Catholic Reformation which had begun before the Protestant Reformation (Saintly Cardinal Ximenes had already successfully reformed most of the clerical and other abuses in Spain, which is why the Protestant Reformation never took root in Spain – there was nothing to protest against) helped to give an impetus and an urgency to the very slow (Roman Rite) Catholic Reformation (the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church had no such need of reformation – as mostly persecuted Churches in Muslim territories they could not afford to get lax in their Christianity). English Cardinal Reginald Pole, who opened the post-Protestant Reformation Council of Trent (the 19th Ecumenical Council), acknowledged the responsibility of Roman Catholic leaders for allowing the laxity among the clergy and other abuses to go on as long as they had, which had provoked the great wounding of Church unity in the Protestant Reformation, and the Council of Trent went on to correct or abandon a great many less-than-fruitful (always reformable!) theologies and practices which had entered the Roman Catholic Church and contributed to the many problems which were indeed worth protesting against – without changing any of the orthodox, fundamental, irreformable dogma of the ancient Catholic Christian Church. Many of the Catholic leaders had attained their positions through the non-ideal methods which needed reform, and so they had resisted and slowed the Roman Catholic Reformation which led to the Protestant impatience. The Protestant impatience and schism then finally motivated the 19th Ecumenical Council at Trent which effectively dealt with the legitimate complaints of the Protestant Reformers (note that there had been a smaller 18th Ecumenical Council shortly before Luther posted his 95 Theses, which had already brought up some of the issues the Protestants were concerned about, but this Council had not been effectively implemented in the Church because of the resistance of Roman Catholic leaders who were part of the problem). The Council’s hearing the Protestant concerns about the poor medieval standards of priestly education led to its replacing the previously sub-standard training of priests with the modern much-higher-quality seminary system which has done much to ensure that the “backwards trends” in the back-and-forth cycle of the Covenant Family’s life and growth through the centuries have never gotten near so bad again. The Roman Catholic Sister Church is a vigorous force for Christian truth in the world today – Pope John Paul II being identified by historians as the individual person most responsible for the fall of atheist Soviet Communism (and acknowledged by Evangelical Protestant Billy Graham as “the strong conscience of the entire Christian world”) – because it listened to the concerns Protestant Christians had with Roman Catholic teachings and practices and so was greatly aided by Protestant Christians in its close examination of its (always reformable!) theology and practice in the process of its self-reform. Moreover, the Catholic Church has long been open to borrowing and being enriched by Protestant ideas and practices based on the vast majority of Catholic Christian fundamental doctrine or dogma which the Protestant Reformers took with them when they left the ancient Catholic Communion – hundreds if not thousands of classic hymns and modern praise and worship songs written by Protestant Christians are regularly sung in many Catholic churches of both Eastern and Western Rites, and many good ideas of Protestant Christians have been borrowed by Catholic Christians (such as the Evangelical Protestant “Promise Keepers” men’s movement which has been copied in the Catholic “Saint Joseph’s Covenant Keepers” men’s movement).
Protestant Christians Can Learn Much and Benefit Greatly from Really Listening to the Concerns of Catholic Christians (As They Have Already Benefitted Greatly from Borrowing the Orthodox New Testament and the Orthodox Christian Fundamental Interpretations of the Bible from the Catholic Church They Left)
Fundamentally orthodox Protestant Christians would likewise do well to really listen to and learn from and be enriched by Catholic Christians (of whichever Eastern or Western Rites) or Eastern Orthodox Christians explaining their different beliefs in brotherly love, in order to help Protestant Christian churches not be so prone to becoming doctrinally liberal or unorthodox, doubting or abandoning the ancient Catholic Christian fundamentals, as so very many Protestant Christians, Protestant congregations, and even whole Protestant denominations (among the 35,000), already have. For their own benefit, currently fundamentally orthodox, Conservative and Evangelical Protestant Christians (including Fundamentalists and Pentecostals and “Messianic Jews”) who do not wish their churches to eventually go doctrinally liberal/unorthodox, as so many other formerly but no longer orthodox Protestant churches have, need to come to understand just what it is that the Eastern and Western Catholic Sister Churches and the Eastern Orthodox Churches preserve from the ancient Undivided Early Catholic (Universal) Christian Church which the Protestant Reformers abandoned, which has allowed Catholic and Orthodox churches to remain absolutely true to affirming and never denying fundamental Christian dogma (even during sad times of moral laxity and abuses in practice) for 2000 years, while the oldest and largest Protestant churches in less than 500 years have gone increasingly liberal and unorthodox, huge numbers and whole congregations and denominations (including the one I was raised in) doubting or denying Christian fundamentals of both belief and morality. Eastern and Western Catholic churches and Eastern Orthodox churches simply do not have this problem – and orthodox Protestant churches should be motivated to find out why in order to preserve their own orthodoxy in the long run. This requires respectful and loving dialogue among these currently divided orthodox Christian brothers and sisters of the Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic Churches.
The Protestant ‘Doctrinal Liberalism’ Which Has Ravaged the Traditional Orthodoxy of the Oldest and Largest Protestant “Mainline” Denominations Affects Only the Fringes of the Catholic Church, and Only Through Liberal Catholic Theologians (With No Authority to Compromise Catholic Dogma) Who Were Trained in Methods of Biblical Study Developed by Protestant Christians Working from Protestant Assumptions – Fundamentally Orthodox Protestant/Evangelical Christians Should Be Motivated to Dialogue with Catholic Christians to Learn Just What Catholic (And Orthodox) Churches Retain from the Undivided Early Church (Which Protestants Do Not) Which Makes Catholic and Orthodox Christian Churches Immune to the Worst Effects of the Protestant Doctrinal Liberalism Which Doubts or Denies Essentials of Christian Faith and Morality (Catholic Christians Should Also Be Motivated to Continue to Dialogue with Protestant Christians to Be Even More Enriched than They Have Already Been by the Protestant/ Evangelical Churches Which Have less of a Problem with Nominalism than the Catholic Church Does – in Dialogue We Can Help Each Other)
Doctrinal liberalism today affects only the fringes of the Catholic Church, primarily through liberal Catholic theologians who were trained in methods of Biblical study developed by Protestant Christians working from Protestant assumptions foreign to the Undivided Early Universal (Catholic) Christian Church. Such liberal Catholic theologians have no authority in the Catholic Church to change the Catholic Church’s irreformable orthodox Christian dogma and so the worst effect they have in the Catholic Church is to help encourage the nominalism within the Catholic Church which affects all religious bodies – Protestant and Catholic, Christian and non-Christian – within our very secular culture. Nominalism means becoming in greater or lesser degree Christians (or members of whichever faith) in name only, not taking your religion very seriously, usually in favor of secular ideas. Most of the liberal Catholic theologians (trained in Protestant methods of Biblical study built on Protestant assumptions) do not even dare to challenge the orthodox Christian fundamentals of Catholic dogma, but only challenge secondary points of Catholic doctrine and moral practice, enough to simply put doubt about Catholic teaching in general in the minds of the Catholic Christians who listen to them, encouraging them to become nominal, to not practice their Catholic Christian faith very much or well. In contrast, doctrinal liberalism has ravaged the Protestant churches, it has engulfed especially the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” denominations in heretical denial of aspects of traditional, supernaturally empowering orthodox Christian faith and morality, or at least engulfed them in doubt about orthodoxy which still greatly reduces the supernatural power of Christian truth in their lives (I have experienced this personally, being raised in a formerly orthodox Protestant denomination which has in my lifetime lost its grip on fundamentals of traditional Christian faith and morality). Even during the worst times of abuse in Roman Rite Catholic Christian history, the “backwards” movements of the ongoing Covenant Family’s typical “back and forth” motion in the process of only gradual growth in maturity, when many Roman Catholic leaders sinfully did not practice morality themselves, traditional Christian morality and orthodox Christian faith was still taught by the Catholic Church (an ideal the Church was failing to live up to) – whereas in contrast, whole large Protestant denominations and seminaries which train Protestant pastors today now teach immorality is not sinful and even teach ancient unorthodox heresies condemned by the early Catholic Christian Church (or at least teach Protestants to not be certain about fundamental Christian orthodoxy). Those Protestant Christians who are still fundamentally orthodox (“Catholic at heart”) need to listen to and learn from Catholic Christians and Eastern Orthodox Christians to find out just why Catholic and Orthodox Christian churches are immune from these worst effects of doctrinal liberalism, just as Catholic Christians have listened to Protestant Christians and have already been enriched by them. Protestant Christians who really seek brotherly dialogue with knowledgeable Catholics will be surprised to learn, as I did as a Protestant, that the two areas of Catholic belief they object to most, once properly understood, actually do the most to protect the Catholic Church from Protestant ‘Doctrinal Liberalism’ and unorthodoxy, as I will demonstrate in Volumes II and III . The two main topic areas which contain the very greatest differences between Protestant/Evangelical Christians on the one hand and Catholic and Orthodox Christians on the other hand are Mary and Church Authority (including the pope’s authority – Eastern Orthodox Christians have the same authority structure as the Catholic Church except they have a different understanding of the nature and limitations of the pope’s authority than Catholic Christians do, and they have essentially the same beliefs about Mary as Catholics do, only less developed and worded differently). I have written books on both of these main topics to help Christians truly understand each other’s different perspectives and how they are related to the common core doctrines of Christianity we share (two of them are included as Volumes II and III of this book). In my own Christian faith journey I have discovered how the Catholic teaching in both of these areas, properly understood (Protestants have many misconceptions about both of these areas), actually supports the common fundamentals and protects Catholic Christians from doctrinal liberalism and heresy. It is my conviction that the widespread doctrinal liberalism and unorthodoxy in the Protestant “mainline” churches (including the one I was raised in), which are the oldest and largest Protestant denominations, is directly related to the Protestant misunderstanding of and subsequent rejection of the Catholic and Orthodox beliefs pertaining to Mary and Church authority, which actually supported the fundamentals of Christian orthodoxy against the heretics in the Undivided Early (Catholic) Church. I am convinced that it is by losing these Catholic and Orthodox beliefs that the oldest Protestant churches have also come to lose their grip on the fundamentals of Christian orthodoxy, which is exactly why Protestant Christians should seek to dialogue with Catholics to educate their many misconceptions about the Catholic teaching on Mary and Church Authority (including the papacy). I have written this Three-Volume book as part of this process of respectful and loving dialogue between Catholic and non-Catholic Christians, but I would like to stress that in this dialogue I not only want to help my Protestant/Evangelical Christian brothers and sisters in Christ to never suffer the gradual loss of traditional Christian orthodoxy my own former Protestant denomination suffered, but I want them to share their great Christian strengths with my fellow Catholic Christians. Though I am convinced Catholics can help Protestants with the particularly Protestant problem of doctrinal liberalism and unorthodoxy, I am also convinced that Protestants, especially those of Evangelical and Pentecostal flavor, can help the Catholic Church with its problem of nominalism which is not uniquely a Catholic problem but which is more noticeable in the Catholic Church than in other Christian denominations .
The Historical Fact That All of the Christian Churches Which Still Hold to the above Essential Fundamentals of Christian Faith Either Still Belong to the Ancient but Ongoing Catholic Communion of Sister Churches, Eastern and Western (The Catholic Church in its 26 Already-Unified Eastern and Western Rites) or Once Did (The Eastern Orthodox and [Western] Conservative Protestant Churches), Means That a Reunification must Be Possible, as the Holy Spirit of God Continues to Fill Our Hearts with Love for All Our Christian Brothers and Sisters United in this above Faith and We Seek Forgiveness and Reconciliation for Our past Sins Against Each Other Due to Our Failures in Love (And as the Catholic Church Gradually Implements its Own Recent Reforms in Vatican II to Make Today’s Catholic Church Consciously and Visibly Much less Roman and More Truly Catholic (Universal) like the Undivided Early Catholic Church, Despite the Current Numerical Dominance of the Roman Church among the 26 Unified Sister Churches Which Together Make up Today’s Catholic Church)
Especially once one recognizes that the Undivided Early Church which should be our model for Christian unification called itself the Catholic Church and Catholic was the word that identified orthodox First Millennium Christians from heretical First Millennium Christians, there should be no offense caused when I refer to many of today’s non-Catholic Christians being truly “Catholic at heart.” Eastern Orthodox Christians, and those Protestant Christians who have not gone doctrinally “liberal” or unorthodox but still hold to the above fundamentals of traditional Christian orthodoxy which were proclaimed in clear and concise manner by the early Catholic Communion of Sister Churches in the early Ecumenical (worldwide) Councils of the Undivided Catholic (Universal) Church, can be said to be truly “Catholic at heart” already despite their current formal divisions from the ancient and ongoing Catholic Christian Communion, because they preserve the above core of the ancient orthodox Catholic Christian faith unlike the many early heretics and unlike the many modern doctrinally liberal/unorthodox Protestants. Both Eastern Orthodox and Conservative Protestant Christians have distinctives in how they express and practice this above common Catholic Christian faith which already enrich the ongoing Catholic Communion of Sister Churches even while they remain out of the Universal/Catholic Christian Communion, since the Eastern Orthodox theological tradition and worship customs are still held by the portions of the Eastern Churches which never left or which returned to the Catholic Communion, and since the Catholic Church has borrowed many things from Protestant Christians (especially worship hymns and songs) which are completely valid and useful expressions of the above common Catholic Christian faith. Protestant Evangelicalism might even be said to be part of a distinctly North American cultural response to the Gospel – in theory just as valid as the ancient Roman and Greek cultural responses to the Gospel represented in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches – which has much good to contribute to the Catholic Communion, which is why Catholic Churches in North America borrow good things from Evangelicals even while they remain out of the Catholic Communion.
All of us – Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians – must remember that the many great past and present failures of Christians to be what God intended and the great Christian failures to love each other in the past and present are to be expected because we are the continuation of God’s ongoing Covenant Family who God the Father is only slowly and patiently raising towards the perfection of love, and therefore we must forgive each other and ourselves for these past and present failures and move on to the future, deliberately working with the indwelling Holy Spirit to become ever more mature New Covenant Children than we have been in the past. Once we now-divided Christians start loving each other on the basis of this above great common faith, and seek each other’s forgiveness for our past sins against each other due to our many failures in Christian love, and seek to truly understand each other’s different secondary doctrines and practices in the light of our above vast common Christian faith which all our differences are based on, we will recognize that most of our differences are complementary not contradictory, as were the many mutually enriching differences among the different but united Sister Churches which together made up the Undivided Early Universal (Catholic) Christian Church! Lovingly united already in such vast common faith, expressed in different complementary and mutually enriching ways (as in the Early Church), we will find we have no excuse to uncharitably accuse each other of heresies (denials of the above saving Christian faith) whenever we do not yet understand how some secondary doctrines (with accompanying practices) of other fundamentally orthodox Christian churches are related to the fundamentals and rooted in devoted theological reflection upon the above common Christian faith. Our Christian love “one for another” by which the world will know we are indeed Jesus’ disciples (John 13:35) united in the above saving Christian faith will motivate us to really listen to each other in love regarding the few remaining issues that for now are truly substantial differences among us, towards the eventual loving resolution of our current theological disputes on secondary issues.
Having myself been a member of all of the major branches of orthodox Christianity, I can personally testify that all of the secondary doctrines and practices of “other Christians” which I once thought were heretical or which I thought in some way compromised the above essential core of Christian faith, were misunderstood on my part, and those “other Christians” understood these few substantially different doctrines and practices in ways that did not compromise the above life-changing fundamental Christian truths. Because of a “language barrier” between the different branches of Christianity, whereby different Christians define the same terms differently, which greatly exaggerates the appearance of substantial differences between us, it took a lot of time, patience, and Christian love on my part to unravel all of the misunderstandings between Conservative/Evangelical Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic Christians. I have written books based on my experience to help Christians understand each other better.3 Because of this I know that once we truly seek to understand each other in Christian love, together we can surely come up with better, more precise, less easily misunderstood and more complementary expressions of the different insights we have had while reflecting upon our common Christian faith within our different divided churches. Indeed, this was the very process of the Ecumenical Councils of all the different Christian Sister Churches who were lovingly united in the same above faith that we are still united in, wherein disputes among Christians were settled with the aid of the Holy Spirit . Our long history apart from one another will mean that engaging in the loving Christian dispute-resolution process will take much time and effort and patience, as we learn the quite different ways we have become used to expressing ourselves, but it is something we can and must do if we are to remain faithful to Jesus who died to make us one (John 11:51-52, 17:21-23).
We are meant to be One Body of Jesus Christ the only natural Son of God, one Family adopted by God His Father and indwelt by His Holy Spirit. In what kind of family are all the siblings the same? While differences among the Sister Churches have been used as excuses for divisions when the Eternal Love who binds the Family together was forgotten, we must recognize that in our different expressions of the above common faith is our strength and beauty. The Sister Churches are like jewels in Jesus’ crown which is all the more magnificent because of their variety. The many different orthodox Eastern and Western Christian spiritualities represented in different Rites and religious orders (and Protestant denominations) are like different flowers which together make a stunning bouquet.
It will help us to work towards the goal of Jesus’ prayer for our unity when we see how Family Theology uses the entire text of the Bible to show how God in creating humanity specifically intended to bring about the Christian Church as it actually existed in early Christian history – as the New Covenant Catholic (Universal) Communion of Sister Churches, Jew and Gentile, Eastern and Western (collectively known as the Catholic Church) sharing a unity of Christian faith in a mutually enriching diversity of faith expressions (in theology and practice) which together more deeply illuminate the mysteries of God revealed in Jesus Christ far better than any one “Sister Church” could do alone . The above fundamentals of orthodox Christianity were articulated clearly and concisely for all Christians (settling all disputes) in the Early Ecumenical (worldwide) Councils of the Undivided Catholic (Universal) Christian Church precisely through the sharing of the different but complementary theological insights of the different Sister Churches in the Early Catholic Communion.
The concise words and phrases “Trinity,” “Incarnation,” “Jesus is Divine, one in being with God the Father,” and “Jesus is fully God and fully man” – absolutely essential to Christian orthodoxy – are not from the Bible, but represent the Undivided Early Church’s fundamental interpretation of both the Bible (the written word of God) and of its traditional lived experience of Jesus the Living Word of God – the Church being the one living Bride and Body of Christ Himself, a Body animated by His Holy Spirit who leads it “into all the truth” (John 16:13), and thus the Church is indeed “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), as the Bible itself proclaims, when it as one Body makes such proclamations of “all the truth” as it does in the Ecumenical Councils of the Universal (Catholic) Church. Those many “doctrinally liberal” or unorthodox Protestant Christians who deny essentials of Christian faith and morality do so precisely because they are “Protestant at heart” and not “Catholic at heart” (as conservative, orthodox Protestants are) – they are open to the possibility that the ancient Undivided Catholic Christian Church was wrong in identifying the above common Christian fundamentals as the only proper and orthodox way to interpret the Bible – as also all the early heretics believed everything the Bible actually said but differed with early orthodox, Catholic Christians as to the Bible’s interpretation. Liberal, unorthodox Protestant Christians are more committed to maintaining the protest against the Catholic Church than they are committed to maintaining these fundamental tenets of Christian orthodoxy proclaimed by the Catholic Church in history as the only proper way to interpret the Bible. Conservative, orthodox Protestant Christians are more committed to maintaining the above life-transforming traditional Catholic essential fundamentals of Christianity (the early Catholic Church’s official interpretation of the Bible) than they are to maintaining the protest against the Catholic Church, showing themselves truly “Catholic at heart” despite their many misconceptions about lesser Catholic teachings (some of them mere Catholic theological opinions which are non-obligatory even for Catholics), misconceptions which sadly, for now, motivate them to remain separate from the ongoing Catholic Church of today. But in fact the early 20th Century Protestant Fundamentalist and Evangelical movements themselves (orthodox reactions to the huge doctrinally liberal/unorthodox trend in the Protestant “mainline” denominations) were subconscious and instinctive movements (led by the Holy Spirit) away from Protestantism and back towards that Catholic Church which in ancient times established the above essential fundamental orthodox Christian doctrines against a constant stream of heretical Bible interpretations such as those which have been newly considered or embraced by the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” churches precisely because they are Protestant and not Catholic and therefore cannot be certain the early Catholic Church with its Councils of bishops and popes correctly identified the New Testament Canon and the fundamentals of traditional Christian faith .
All Christians who hold the above common Christian faith and who are absolutely sure that the Bible must be interpreted so as to yield these fundamentals are holding the Catholic faith and they belong in the Catholic Church as it was in the First Millennium of the Undivided Early Catholic (Universal) Christian Church – but the ongoing Catholic Church of today, while maintaining all of that Early Catholic Church’s essential qualities, has itself been wounded by many sins and failures of its human members in the Second Millennium including divisions and attitudes which hide its truly Catholic (Universal) nature, as discussed in Volume III. All fundamentally orthodox Christians who are still divided from each other have historically and presently contributed to the unacceptable divisions in the Body of Christ the Church, we have all sinned against the unity of the Church which Jesus wanted from us. So there is no place for the attitude of “Catholic Triumphalism” which some Catholic Christians display, wherein they assume that because the Catholic Church today has maintained more of the faith and structure of the Undivided Early Church than any other Christian church that it has no need of further reform. Unity is a goal which all of those Jesus wishes to be unified need to work towards. Those of us who remain in the ancient Catholic Communion of Sister Churches collectively known as the Catholic Church (the Catholic Church in its Eastern and Western Rites or Sister Churches), as well as those who left it at particular points in its history while maintaining its essential orthodox Catholic Christian faith (the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the conservative and Evangelical and Pentecostal Protestant churches), ALL bear responsibility for our divisions against the clearly expressed will of God, and ALL will have to make some changes to our current attitudes towards each other and our current ways of doing things and organizing ourselves if we are to heal our divisions for Jesus’ sake and for the sake of the world who can only see Him clearly when we His Body are one as He prayed for (yet none of us will have to give up anything essential to our faith) . Fortunately, the leadership of the Catholic Church of today have already taken huge first steps at restoring the clearly visible nature and structure of the ancient Undivided Early Catholic Church of Jesus Christ at the 21st Ecumenical Council of Catholic Church (Vatican Council II in 1962-5), which was the very first Christian Church Council in history to prayerfully reflect upon and with the aid of the Holy Spirit definitively proclaim the nature and structure of the Church of Christ itself (see Volume I Chapter 7 below). When enough Catholic Christians, who are obligated to form their Christian understanding according to the Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church, have the 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican Council II)’s teaching fully take root in their attitudes and the Catholic Church of today consciously restructures itself in accordance with the Council’s Holy-Spirit-led proclamations (which clearly defined the nature and structure of the Undivided Early Catholic Church), many of the barriers currently preventing orthodox but non-Catholic Christians from rejoining the ancient Catholic (Universal) Christian unity will disappear. All this will be discussed in detail at the end of Volume III .
In the meantime, Conservative Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, and Catholic Christians are already much closer to the goal of Christian unity than it usually first appears. In fact already the vast majority of the differences between Eastern and Western Catholic Christians (who are still in full Christian Communion with each other), Eastern Orthodox Christians, and conservative/orthodox Protestant Christians today (not liberal/unorthodox Protestant Christians, who may be closer to the early Christian heretics depending how advanced their liberalism is) are still complementary NOT contradictory differences in theology and practice, just like the Early Church Catholic Communion of Sister Churches who met in the Early Ecumenical Councils to formally establish the fundamentals of Christian orthodoxy shared a unity of Christian faith in a great diversity of faith expressions (in theology and practice) which allowed them to greatly enrich each other with their different insights – meaning all fundamentally orthodox Christians today are already much closer to Early Church-type Catholic unity than we usually realize, and we can already likewise enrich each other if we listen to each other in love .
We Should Be Trying to Consciously Re-Establish (Permanently) the Kind of Christian Unity the Undivided Early Church Lived Instinctively for Centuries Which it Lost Because it Never Consciously Defined the Nature of its Unity the Way the 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican II, 1962-5) Finally Did
[unfinished short section to connect to Chapter 7]
© 2005, 2009 Peter William John Baptiste SFO
Go To Chapter 7: How the Unity in Diversity of the Undivided Early Church Was Lost in History, and How the 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican Council II) Laid the Groundwork for its Eventual Restoration
1That is, they do not follow Luther’s “Bible Alone” doctrine strictly and to its logical conclusions, as unorthodox Protestants do. They do follow Luther’s personal example of remaining unconsciously “Catholic at heart” despite his protest. Luther insisted the Bible must be interpreted according to the traditional fundamentals of orthodox Christianity, mistakenly believing that these truths were “obvious from Scripture alone,” not realizing that they were only “obvious” to him because he was a Catholic priest who had been steeped since birth in the Catholic Sacred Tradition of how to properly interpret the Bible. Many of those Protestants since then who were not raised in the Catholic Sacred Tradition but strictly followed Luther’s “Bible Alone” doctrine eventually ended up coming up with many of the same linguistically valid possible Bible interpretations as did those Early Christians who did not take the Church’s Tradition and Magisterium seriously – such as the Arian heresy which denied the Divinity of Jesus! A great many “doctrinally liberal” Protestants today are modern-day Arian heretics after centuries of following “the Bible Alone,” while “doctrinally conservative,” orthodox Protestants strictly follow not “the Bible Alone” but also the Catholic Sacred Tradition of how to properly interpret the Bible which is preserved in their orthodox (“Catholic at heart”) Creeds or Statements of Faith.
21054 AD is often mistakenly cited as the date of the “Schism” between the previously undivided Eastern and Western halves of the one Christian, Catholic (Universal) Church. This date was a particularly bad example of disunity, when the pope (the Patriarch of the Western, Latin, Roman Sister Church based in Rome) and the Patriarch of the Eastern, Greek, Byzantine Sister Church based in Constantinople, excommunicated each other. But these mutual excommunications applied only to the two patriarchs personally, not to the entire Byzantine and Roman Sister Churches under each patriarch’s jurisdiction. This did cause an East-West breakdown in communication after 1054 because the Eastern Byzantine Patriarch who was not talking to the Western Roman Patriarch (the pope) exerted influence over the patriarchs of the older but much smaller Eastern Sister Churches of Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria – the first one having always been small and the latter two having been reduced in size by heresy and then decimated by Islam in the First Millennium. However, such lacks of communication and drifting apart – in an era where communication and travel was not easy and East and West had little contact at the best of times – did not divide the Church, and there also were many examples of East-West unity for centuries after 1054, including the participation of many Eastern overseer/bishops, theologians, and Patriarchs at several of the Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church before the 1439 Council which definitively confirmed the continuing East-West Catholic unity.