So here is basically the conclusion I tried to reach before:
- The authority of our faith and theology is not found in any revelation but in God himself.
- We know God through revelation, but the shape of that revelation is not nearly as cut and dry as the Evangelical mindset wants it to be and cannot be equated merely with Scripture.
- Scripture comes to us through the Church and is interpreted within the body of the Church alongside the tradition of beliefs not found in scripture.
- To make sense of this sometimes confusing muddle we have to, I believe, start from the most basic, central part of our belief structures.
- This, I think, is found in the orthodoxy expressed in the creeds.
- This Orthodoxy then sets the parameters within which the rest of our theology can grow and develop, but it does not dictate theology.
- In fact, I think it intentionally, allows for diversity.
Just as clarification, this is not to say that scripture is not important to our theology. It is certainly very, very important. But it cannot be the ultimate foundation because before we can use scripture we have to know what scripture is. The essential point I’m trying to make is that this is not self-evident and therefore there must be some core, some foundation, that is prior to scripture and through which we interpret scripture. That prior foundation is the orthodoxy of the creeds.
From this orthodoxy stems, I believe, two poles around which our theology is built: the pole of scripture and the pole of tradition.
The point of their being two poles is not to say that one overrides the other or that on some issues we follow one and on some the other. The point is that through the processes of reason and experience we attempt to find the best harmony of scripture and the oldest, most widely attested (notice the importance of both of these tests, Apostolicity and Catholicity we might say) traditions to formulate an understanding of who we are as God’s people in this world.
This process happens through a cycle that involves both poles. It will always be true that we read scripture in light of our traditions. It should likewise be true that our traditions are informed and shaped by scripture. It’s the combination of the flowing of influence back and forth, shaped by our reasoning and experience, that gives rise to our theological beliefs.
So from all of that, I’m going to sketch out a very basic framework of where I am in terms of theology at this point in the journey:
The Narrative of Scripture is a Narrative of Redemption.
I think the word redemption is much better than the term salvation< because of the way the latter term is understood in popular discussions. The narrative of scripture does not lay out a one-time solution to sin, a say-this-prayer-and-get-into-heaven kind of message.
Its not so much about conversion, I don’t think, as about participation in what God is doing.
And what God is doing is working in and through the history of fallen, broken, sinful humanity to restore God’s creation to the state of completed, perfect rest in which it was meant to exist.
The call to make disciples is not a call to fill our churches with converts but to call others to join in the work that God has given the Church- the work of living as though in the Kingdom in the midst of a world that is still opposed to the kingdom, a task we will continue until Christ returns, the enemy is completely vanquished, and the Kingdom is fully established.
The Kingdom and the New Testament
This is the vision the church is meant to live out, I believe. But when we ask what that exactly looks like logistically we get little help from the New Testament:
- We know that the practice of the church was to gather together.
- We know that some in those gatherings spoke as teachers.
- We know that they sang and prayed together and that they shared in a meal and cared for one another’s needs.
- We get a few hints about organization- there were some sort of elders who had a major leadership role, some sort of pastoral shepherding role, deacons who served the needs of the congregation.
But beyond that we don’t know much.
It happens, however, that early church traditions cohere very nicely with the picture of the New Testament and fill in that picture quite a bit:
- Very, very early and almost universally the Episcopal form of church government develops.
- Along side it is the practice of infant baptism as a rite of initiation for children of Christians.
- The regular celebration of Eucharist as a feast of thanksgiving for Christ’s death and resurrection and the saying of liturgical prayers based on the Lord’s prayer are likewise an early and widely attested part of the church’s practice.
So far everything I have said would, I think, fit very nicely within a Roman Catholic framework of theology.
My Catholic roommate thinks that is wonderful, my Baptist roommate thinks me a traitor (not really, but I am officially the unfaithful Protestant)…
Unfortunately for the RCIA, there are a couple of fairly significant issues for me that prevent me from going all the way to Catholicism.
Some of these include how we understand the sacraments (I’m not sure I buy into the idea that baptism actually forgives sins or that I can agree with transubstantiation).
But chief among these is the issue of Roman Supremacy.
One of the reasons for the split between Eastern and Western Christianity is that in the West, Rome gains authority as the supreme bishopric, while in the East, there is a concept of equality of bishops.
I find a much more compelling case for the equality of bishops than for the supremacy of Rome and also am of the belief that equality of bishops can serve as a great safe-guard against the kind of corruption that emerged in the medieval Catholic Church and prompted the Reformation.
One of the things I have been challenged on both in thinking through theology on my own and in conversations since I have arrived here in New Haven is how to justify my existence as a Protestant, as someone who claims to be Orthodox while remaining part of a separatist group from the standpoint of the two Christian traditions that can claim a history stretching back to the Apostles themselves.
I certainly believe that reformation needed to happen in the western church.
However, I sincerely wish that it could have happened without schism in the Church.
The unfortunate fact of history is that the split did happen and that it can’t be undone at this point. I am deeply encouraged by the ecumenical movement, but I am not convinced that it will ever result in actual union.
What I do think can be accomplished by the ecumenical movement, however, is a new understanding of the equality of bishops in which orthodoxy becomes the focus of our union and not shared episcopacy.
So for the moment I situate myself somewhere in the Anglican tradition and continue to pursue a better understanding of the orthodoxy I think defines the entire Christian tradition.