20- A Proposal for Reunification According to the Model of the Undivided Early Church

Go To the Beginning of this Booklet The Spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the First Millennium of the Undivided Early Church: An Overview of the Family Theology that Revolutionizes Bible Reading and its Implications Towards the Eventual Re-Establishment of the Undivided Early Church’s Unity in Diversity

A Proposal for the Reunification of Today’s Divided Christians According to the Model of the Undivided Early (Catholic) Church’s Catholic (Universal) Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches, for the Great Benefit of Both Today’s Catholic and Non-Catholic Churches and Towards the Belief of the World Which Jesus’ Prayer Linked to Our Christian Unity

At the outset I wish to explicitly express the fact that both the Catholic and (orthodox) non-Catholic Christian Churches have best preserved different aspects of the Undivided Early Church’s character and spiritual life along with their common fundamentals of orthodox Christian faith, which means we need to learn from each other for all of us to be all that we are meant to be as the Body of Christ on Earth. For example, the Catholic Church of today has best preserved the Undivided Early Church’s Universal/Catholic Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches based on Scripture as interpreted by a Sacred Tradition and Magisterium (functions of the Church as the Living Body of Christ) which guarantees traditional Christian orthodoxy in the long term (and with the Orthodox Churches it has best preserved some other doctrines and practices very important to the Early Church). But those “doctrinally conservative” Protestant/Evangelical churches which (unlike “doctrinally liberal” Protestant churches) maintain fundamentally orthodox Christian faith have best preserved the Undivided Early Church’s passionate love for Scripture and Bible reading and its Evangelical zeal to transform the greater culture for Jesus Christ. I personally quite literally received “the best of both worlds” by having been raised Evangelical Protestant but later becoming Catholic, I have personally experienced the best of what each tradition has best preserved from the Undivided Early Church and so, although I am a thoroughly committed Catholic Christian, I do not simply wish to promote Protestants becoming Catholic but rather I wish to promote their doing so by bringing with them their special gifts to greatly enrich the Catholic Communion to help make it all it was meant to be, as it was in the Undivided Early Catholic Church. And I wish to promote Catholics getting ready to receive such Protestants returning to the Catholic Communion (in large numbers in their own new Sister Churches, “daughter” Rites of the ancient Roman Patriarchate) with open and loving arms, enriching their returning brothers with those vast treasures of Early Undivided Christianity which Catholic Christians have never lost at the same time as being enriched by the evangelical zeal and great love for God’s Word in the Bible of their returning brothers and sisters. As my professor, Protestant pastor turned Catholic scholar Scott Hahn wrote,

“in the writings of the early [Christian Church] fathers … I ran smack up against a Church I could only recognize as Catholic. It was liturgical, hierarchical, sacramental. It was Catholic, and yet it held all that I loved about the Reformation tradition too: a deep devotion to Jesus, a spontaneous life of prayer, a zeal to transform the culture, and, of course, a burning love for scripture”

so it must be possible to genuinely reform the Catholic Church according to the Undivided Early Catholic Church model for reformers and Catholics to once again belong to one Church.

The Church is the “profound mystery” of the Bride and Body of Jesus Christ Himself (see Ephesians 5:22-32). Jesus Christ the “Head” of the Body directs the Church His Body through His Holy Spirit who indwells individual Christians and who animates the Body of Christ the Church as a whole and guides its ordained leadership offices into “all the truth” (John 16:13) as Jesus promised His Apostles and their successors the ordained overseers (bishops or eparchs and patriarchs, including the chief overseer/bishop and patriarch, the pope). The Non-Catholic Christian Churches which left the ancient Catholic Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches collectively known as the Catholic Church in the Second Millennium can indeed be fundamentally orthodox and share in the above common saving Christian faith, and can indeed be used of God as instruments of His salvation in the world, but only by being “Catholic at heart,” and acting as if the First Millennium Ecumenical and other major Councils of the Catholic Church, directed or ratified by Catholic popes, had genuine Holy Spirit-guaranteed authority to settle for all time the many disputes among early Christians over just which books should be in the New Testament and just how the Bible should be fundamentally interpreted.

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 overseers/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 – orthodox Protestants do not really follow Luther 2(scroll down for footnote 2 below) 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 (this Catholic Sacred Tradition is usually preserved in fundamentally orthodox Protestant creedal “Statements of Faith” which include words and phrases not from the Bible Alone such as Trinity, Incarnation, “Jesus is one in being with the Father” and “Jesus is fully God and fully man”).

The early 20th Century Protestant Fundamentalist and Evangelical movements were (unconscious) movements away from Protestantism and back towards Catholicism, wherein orthodox or “Catholic at heart” Protestants clung to the Catholic Sacred Tradition preserved in their traditional creeds instead of clinging to Protestant “Bible Alone” doctrine the way “Protestant at heart” liberal Protestants do. In response to the huge 19th and 20th Century trend of “doctrinal liberalism” and unorthodoxy within the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” churches, which was simply the result of Protestant churches maturing in their Protestantism and thus naturally and logically becoming uncertain of the traditional Catholic New Testament Canon and fundamentals, those Protestant Christians whose traditional orthodoxy was vitally important to them reacted with the early 20th Century Fundamentalist and Evangelical movements. These movements stressed the traditional fundamental Bible interpretations of Catholic Sacred Tradition (not realizing the fundamentals were simply the official Catholic interpretation of the official Catholic New Testament Scriptures), and thus “Evangelical” and “Fundamentalist” Protestants no longer strictly followed the “Bible Alone” doctrine which leads logically to doctrinal liberalism and unorthodoxy (even though Evangelicals still pay “lip service” to “Bible Alone” doctrine, they do not truly practice it as historical Protestants did, which led the mainline Protestant churches over centuries to gradually lose their grip on even the basic Christian fundamentals). Conservative, Evangelical, orthodox and therefore “Catholic at heart” Protestants cannot win arguments based on the Bible Alone with their fellow Protestants who are “doctrinally liberal,” because on the basis of the Bible Alone they cannot justify why the Bible must be interpreted according to Catholic Sacred Tradition and why the New Testament must be the traditional collection of 27 books that the Early Catholic Church Magisterium said it was in the late 4th Century. The only way the “Bible Alone” can be used to win arguments against knowledgeable “doctrinally liberal” and unorthodox Protestant Christians is to recognize that the “Bible Alone” testifies that it is not meant to be taken alone but in concert with an authoritative Tradition and Magisterium as functions of the Mystery revealed in the Bible that the Church is the Living Body of Christ Himself. (For much more on this, see my book Sola Scriptura? What Scripture Alone Testifies Concerning the Church as the Body of Christ Expressing Himself in Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium: The Biblical Basis for the Early Church’s Formal Repudiation of Heretics, Which Is the Biblical Basis for Refuting Modern Doctrinally Liberal Christianity Which Likewise Rejects or Doubts Traditional Christian Faith and Morality).  Catholic Christians can explain and justify their belief in the common fundamental doctrines of traditional, historic Christianity in terms of their beliefs in certain of the uniquely Catholic secondary doctrines, especially the Succession of Apostolic authority including the papacy as functions of Mystery revealed in the Bible that despite the weaknesses of its human members the Church is the Living Body of Christ; Protestant/Evangelical Christians cannot explain or justify their belief in the common fundamental doctrines of traditional, historic (Catholic!) Christianity in terms of their beliefs in the uniquely Protestant secondary doctrines, especially “Bible Alone” doctrine, the “Pillar of the Protestant Reformation,” which is exactly why so many of the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” churches have lost their beliefs or their certainty about their beliefs in the traditional fundamentals of historic (that is, Catholic) Christian faith and morality (for more on this see Volume III Chapter 7 of So That The World May Believe).

Having said this, it should be noted here that it is not only the Protestant Churches which can benefit from Christian reunification. Although orthodox Protestant/Evangelical churches, in a future formal restoration as new ‘Sister Churches’ within the ancient Catholic Communion of orthodox Christian Sister Churches which they already belong to in heart, would gain the solid foundation for their “Catholic at heart” traditional orthodoxy which they currently lack (which leads many once-orthodox Protestant denominations, including the one I was raised in, to eventually lose their grip on even basic Christian orthodoxy), the Catholic Communion itself would also greatly benefit from their formal return to the Catholic Communion NOT by rejoining the Roman Rite they left but within their own unique Rites or Sister Churches. The Catholic Church is not as truly Catholic (Universal) as it should be as long as there are orthodox Christians outside of its ancient and vast Christian communion, and the huge Catholic Church has a not unique but more noticeable problem of nominalism (having many more or less nominal or “in name only” members) than Evangelical Protestantism does, meaning in reunification Catholics can help Protestants with their “tendency towards doctrinal liberalism and unorthodoxy” problem and these returning Protestants can help Catholics with their nominalism problem. In reunion we can help each other with our different strengths, as well as being a much better witness of Jesus Christ to the world, as God intended when Jesus prayed that we would be one “so that the world may believe.”

It is also worth noting that there is important precedent for the return of the Protestant churches to the ancient Catholic Christian Communion of the Undivided Early Church not by being absorbed into the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church they left but by being constituted as their own new Sister Churches within the Catholic Communion, “daughter” Rites of the ancient Roman Patriarchate. Even some former Nestorian heretics, who had been separated from Catholic Communion since they rejected the 3rd Ecumenical Council of 431AD which dogmatically defined Jesus as one person with two natures, Divine and human, and condemned Nestorius (who had been Archbishop of Constantinople) for his position against this orthodox view, were received back into the Catholic Church in the mid-16th Century as the new Chaldean Rite of the Catholic Church, which is one of the over 20 Rites within the ancient Catholic Christian Communion today. The Chaldeans recanted of their formerly-held Christological heresy, and, according to the Biblical principle from Acts 15 that “no more burden than is necessary” should be asked of people coming into the Catholic Church, because “the point is to make them Catholics, not Romans” (as Pope Benedict XIV in the 1700s said of returning Eastern Orthodox Christians), after accepting all necessities of Catholic faith the Chaldeans were allowed to keep all of their worship customs and practices which they had developed in over 1000 years of separation from the Catholic Church, which were based on their majority of common Christian faith and not based on their one heresy (their worship and devotional customs in any case were similar to that of their original “Mother Rite” before they left the Catholic Church in the 5th Century, the Antiochene Patriarchate of the Catholic Church).  Only the very few Protestant ideas or practices which are directly tied to their errors would need to be altered or abandoned for reunification. Indeed, some Protestant Christians today in the classic Protestant denominations like the Lutherans and Anglicans/Episcopalians, which did not stray so far from 16th Century Roman Catholic norms as later Protestants did, still have more solemn and “traditionally Roman Catholic” worship habits and styles than those of many more modernized Roman Catholic parishes do today! The older and the newer forms of Christian worship and devotion, like the Eastern and the Western forms of Christian worship and devotion, are all valid expressions of Christianity as long as they do not contradict the common Rule of Faith! (See below, The “Common Creed” of Christianity).

In all this, the Biblical principle “no more burden than is necessary” and the papal principle “the point is to make them Catholics, not Romansare the key principles for the Catholic Church, following the groundwork laid in Vatican II for restoring the Undivided Early Catholic Church’s unity in diversity, to eventually invite back into the Catholic Communion whole non-Catholic denominations and congregations which are ready, for their own benefit and for the benefit of the Catholic Church, which is much more clearly seen as truly the Universal Church of Jesus Christ the less other orthodox Christians are outside of its ancient and vast Universal (Catholic) Communion of orthodox Christian Sister Churches.

As we seek the Holy Spirit’s loving guidance in this endeavor, the practical “nuts and bolts” of full Christian reunification will surely still take many years to work out. Today’s divided Christians must conquer their prejudices against other Christians; we must eliminate habits of divisive thinking successfully sown by the Devil, whose work we have been doing for centuries, marring the attractive beauty of the Body of Christ. Since the Hebrew word for accuser is in fact satan, and the Greek word for accuser is in fact diabolos (devil in English), this means that when Christians accuse each other of being wrong for being different we are doing the Devil’s work, and we Christians are showing the world Satan, the Accuser, instead of showing the world Jesus. We must first master unity in love despite our differences, based on our vast common saving Christian faith (below), keeping the Undivided Early Church’s unity in diversity in mind, before even attempting full, formal, structural reunification, which is a process that must be worked on lovingly and cannot be rushed. But Reunification is a goal that is worthwhile to work towards and indeed, all Christians are obligated to work towards this goal, since Jesus Himself linked the success of His Church’s mission to the unity of His followers:

Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another … By this all men will know that you are [Christians], if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).  Jesus prayed to His Father “that all [Christians] may be oneso that the world may believe that You have sent me … May [Christians] be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent me and have loved them even as You have loved me.”  (John 17:21,23)

The Common Creed of Christianity: The Great Common Faith of Catholic, Orthodox, and Conservative/Evangelical Protestant Christianity (and “Messianic Judaism”) Which is the Basis for Restored Christian Unity

the One God, Creator of the Universe, who is Love, exists as a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the Incarnation (enfleshment) of God the Son in Jesus Christ through Mary’s Virgin Birth, making Jesus fully God and fully man, able to make Atonement for the sins of all humanity, which He did by dying on the Cross and rising from the dead so that humanity can be forgiven and saved (and find human fulfillment) through Him; we acquire this forgiveness from sin and salvation unto eternal life through, drawn and empowered by God’s Grace, our turning away from sin (anti-love), accepting what Jesus has done for us and coming into loving, saving relationship with Him (and His Father and Holy Spirit) through belief and baptism, as He taught (Mark 16:16), which makes us members of the one Body of Christ the Church; Jesus’ literal Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven; Jesus’ future return in glory and judgement and the bodily resurrection of all the dead; the tenets of traditional Christian morality (described in the 10 Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, among other passages of Scripture) as how to be loving and so how to please the God who is Love; the inspiration and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures which testify to all these things.

© 2008 Peter William John Baptiste, SFO

Go To the Next Section The Catholic Church’s Official Understanding of the Nature and Structure of the Church as the Mystery of the Body of Christ (see Ephesians 5:22-32) organized in the World as a Catholic (Universal) Communion of Orthodox Eastern and Western Christian Rites or Particular (Sister) Churches Pastorally Guided by the (Universal) Pope and the (Particular) Patriarchs, in the Words of Vatican II (the 21st Ecumenical Council)

Go To the Beginning of this Booklet The Spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the First Millennium of the Undivided Early Church: An Overview of the Family Theology that Revolutionizes Bible Reading and its Implications Towards the Eventual Re-Establishment of the Undivided Early Church’s Unity in Diversity

* That is, orthodox Protestants 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.