Hump day, conversion, etc… (a long post this one)

Lent 4, Wednesday – Feria

[now playing?] Pilgrimage To Santiago – John Eliot Gardiner & The Monteverdi Choir (Soli Deo Gloria, SDG 701)

It’s “hump day”. No, I don’t mean a day when people all over the world start “humping” anything and everything. Though I’m sure that somewhere around the world, there is someone who is quite possibly humping anything and everything to get their money’s worth (or something like that).

I’m talking about a hump as in like a hill or a camel’s hump. We’ve passed the first half of the working week now because come midday or so on Wednesday, we’ve moved over to the other side of the hump.

It was a nervous hump day for me though. I had my performance review at work in the afternoon for the first half of fiscal/tax year 2007-2008.

I’m not one who enjoys being recognized for my achievements; I usually want to crawl under a desk or hide in a corner instead. But to get a rating that was a level above fully effective today for the third year in a row was a pleasant surprise. I’m proud of this achievement, but I know that anything that I do well at work or elsewhere should never be so much as of a reflection of myself but instead of the One whom I serve. Even with the cynicism combined with humor that I display at times while I’m working. I couldn’t help but go down to St. Stephen’s after work to light a votive candle as I said a thanksgiving prayer to the Big Guy above.

And I now have to work just as hard in the remaining few months of this fiscal year so that I can maintain it. Serving not only my clients (i.e. taxpayers) but also my fellow colleagues at work who may require my assistance with various tasks. And not letting that computer system get to me too much when it doesn’t do what it should or what I want it to do. Hopefully, that means less white hair on my head appearing in the next year. Then again, I could always shave my head bald to avoid anyone seeing it…

=====================================

I’ve been through one discernment phase thus far in my Christian journey as a lay Benedictine. So far, there have been a lot of obstacles with getting down to St. Mark’s Abbey in Camperdown, Victoria to discuss with Dom Michael about becoming an oblate there; my duties at work have been like that. Having said that, attending to those duties and my colleagues in need has taught me a helluva lot about one of the hallmarks of Benedictine Christian spirituality: hospitality.

My Benedictine walk may end up being limited to establishing a regula with the good ol’ Rule of St. Benedict being its primary inspiration for the strictures of my own walk as a member of the laity in the church catholic. Oblation would thus not become part of it, though there will always be a soft spot in my prayer rule to pray for the Benedictine and Cistercian monastic communities and their Rule that has enriched and helped to sustain my Christian walk thus far in life.

Namely:

  • St. Mark’s Benedictine Abbey – Camperdown, Victoria. OSB (Anglican). Aggregated to the Subiaco Congregation; possibly the only non-Roman Catholic monastery to be included as part of the Benedictine Confederation by association.
  • St. John’s Abbey – Collegeville, MN. OSB – American Cassinese Congregation.
  • The Abbey of Gethsemani – Trappist, KY. Order of Cistercians of the Srict Observance (Trappist).

Now I’m currently going through another period of discernment. Some of you may know of this, but for many of you this may be the first you read or hear of it.

It’s become fairly obvious to me over the last two and a bit years that my theological, ecclesiological and sacramental views have changed substantially from what they were before. The goalposts have well and truly moved despite my calls four to five years ago that I would probably remain a staunch Methodist and Protestant for the remainder of my life. So help me God.

I’m no longer that convinced of historic Protestantism’s claims about the five solas (the logical implications and biblical arguments for sola scriptura and sola fide don’t appear as strong as they once did for me) as abolishing the role of church tradition as distinct from how the church catholic has viewed Holy Writ and Holy Tradition for the past almost two milleniums. Nor of modern evangelical Protestantism’s views on the sacraments (or ordinances, whichever term you prefer) and the church practices (including ecclesial structures and how to worship).

The issue of the Blessed Virgin (“Our Lady”, “Theotokos”, however you want to address her) and the communion of saints has been a lot murkier and I have worked through this one with a lot of tears, prayer, questions and reading on this matter. For the first time ever, the possibility of conversion from one denomination/tradition to another has strongly crossed my mind.

The Anglican Church has been one church where I have considered moving on to (if that be God’s plan for this aspect of my whole life). However, I have doubts over the faithfulness of a majority of Diocese of Brisbane to Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition (though the cathedral church of St. John the Evangelist is simply stunning!). There are a few evangelical (low) Anglo-Catholic parishes here in Brisbane but they are a long way from where I currently live. I say this knowing very well that my primary “home” of worship during the week is at St. John’s Cathedral (where certain short homilies I’ve heard during the lunchtime Mass/Eucharist service have made me question the integrity of hermeneutical principles of the priest who celebrates).

So apart from walking the Canterbury trail, that leaves the choice to swim the Tiber (Roman Catholicism) or to swim the Bosporus (Eastern Orthodoxy). Or to just stay put where I am currently even though I will end up being the “strange, weird one who has frooty beliefs compared to the rest of us at EMP”.

Given that down here in Australia, there is no such “pan-/post-ethnic” Eastern Orthodox church like the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), it is almost out of the question. It would look rather strange for me to be present at an Antiochian Orthodox or Greek Orthodox parish (then again, it’s like Colin currently attending EMP and being one of the very few non-Asian members of the congregation there). Though it is probably not unheard of though. I have read accounts of thoroughly Caucasian Anglo-Saxon believers being accepted into the Coptic Orthodox Church. And the Titular Bishop of Diokleia, (Timothy) Kallistos Ware in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain.

That leaves the Roman Church (in both its Latin and Eastern rite parishes). St. Stephen’s was for a time my weekday worship home. I still go there every now and again after work for some quiet time of prayer, meditation and reflection in the nave of the cathedral or in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel behind the altar at the eastern end of the cathedral, before my cramped train ride home (that is becoming ever more cramped by the day!) Having said that, I do take issue with “dogmas” like the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin (I’m with the Eastern Orthodoxy and historic Protestantism on this one) and of the issue of papal infallibility as pronounced at Vatican I (though I’m not averse to papal primacy and authority provided that it is within the context of collegiality and what I’ve read about it in the writings of the patristic period; Xavier Rynne’s book on Vatican Council II is also interesting reading on this topic too).

I’ve been re-reading the article in the November 2007 edition of Touchstone (“A Symposium on Evangelicalism Today”) that asks a particular question. The question is “What would you say to an Evangelical tempted to become Catholic or Orthodox?” Hopefully the Fellowship of St. James won’t get too pissed off at me for reproducing the answers (in part or full) from some of the participants in the article on this question here on my blog.

Russell D. Moore (Dean of the School of Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville KY):

There are some Evangelicals who genuinely become convinced that the truth claims of Rome or Antioch are persuasive. If that’s the case, one should indeed become Catholic or Orthodox rather than attempting to convince Shiloh Baptist Church to use icons or King James Bible Church of the benefits of venerating Mary.

Most Evangelicals I’ve encountered who are tempted to become Catholic or Orthodox, however, are going to make quite poor Catholic or Orthodox churchmen. I type that with fear, knowing many exceptions to this—including some colleagues on our editorial board.

Most young Evangelicals I’ve known who are tempted to become Catholic or Orthodox quite frankly aren’t heading in that direction because they’ve been convinced by Cardinal Newman’s critique of sola Scriptura or because they’ve found papal authority in the patristic writings. Instead, many of them become Catholic or Orthodox because they are tired of dealing with sinful, hypocritical, arrogant, mindless, loveless Evangelicals.

Just as some Catholics moving in this direction assume that every Evangelical church is sparkling with the warm piety of those who have personal relationships with Jesus (only to find otherwise), some Evangelicals tempted to leave seem to think all Catholics are Walker Percy or Richard John Neuhaus or that all Orthodox are Maximos the Confessor.

Many are then really disappointed to find what any Catholic or Orthodox person could have told them—that they will be dealing with some sinful, hypocritical, arrogant, mindless, loveless Catholics or Orthodox. Anyone on a search for Mount Zion will be continually disappointed unless he finds it in the New Jerusalem.

John R. Franke (Professor of Theology, Biblical Seminary, Hatfield, PA):

… in spite of the genuine problems of Evangelicalism, particularly in the area of ecclesiology, I would encourage someone who was tempted to become Catholic or Orthodox to remain Evangelical while working to establish more faithful and fruitful forms of ecclesiology. However, I have little doubt that the conversion traffic will continue to move in every direction and trust that God is at work even in this.

Michael Horton (J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, Westminster Seminary, near San Diego, CA):

I recognize the attractions. Raised in conservative Evangelicalism myself, I was introduced to a wider and deeper heritage through Reformed churches. As its name suggests, the Evangelical movement of the sixteenth century was an attempt to reform the church, not to start a new one. Unlike much of Evangelicalism today, these confessing Evangelicals had a high view of the creeds and confessions as subordinate authorities as summaries of God’s Word, of the sacraments as a means of grace alongside the Word, and of an ordered worship, catechesis, and discipline as aimed as driving the gospel deeper into our hearts.

Starved for mystery, transcendance, maturity, order, theological richness, liturgy, and history, many young Evangelicals are discovering Reformation Christianity. Yet for some, it is only a rest stop on the way to Rome or Orthodoxy.

Here’s how I would counsel such a person: Start with the gospel. The gospel creates and sustains the church, not the other way around. If the Evangelicalism familiar to you has been a constant stream of imperatives—moral exhortation, whether in rigid and legalistic or warm and friendly versions—the antidote is not to follow different rules for attaining justification, but a constant, life-long, unremitting immersion in the good news that Jesus Christ’s obedient life, death, and resurrection are sufficient even to save miserable Christians.

This is what the Reformation was all about, and it is why we need another one, even in Protestantism as much as in any other tradition. If our salvation depends on anything done by us or even within us by the Spirit, then our situation is hopeless.

There are many insights that we can—indeed, should—learn from the wisdom of these traditions and from ecumenical conversations. Distance breeds suspicion, while personal interaction often not only dispels caricatures but also provides opportunities for genuine spiritual fellowship even where our visible communions remain divided. We should not misrepresent each other’s views or engage in grandstanding polemics, but hope for a genuine reformation of all professing churches that will resore visible unity. …

David Lyle Jeffrey (Distinguished Professor of Literature and the Humanities, Baylor University. Guest Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Peking University):

Count carefully the cost. What you may well gain in Eucharistic worship and in prayer life, and even in some cases in biblical orthodoxy, carries with it a burden. Part of this burden is an institutional infamy for clerical abuse tragically comparable to, if not greater than, our own. …

But there is another element: A number of Protestants whom I have known who converted to the Catholic Church were positively drawn by a profounder sense of holiness and worship and by the sacraments, yet sometime after arrival found themselves deeply nostalgic for a deeper, richer preaching of the Word. Though such faithful teaching from Scripture is increasingly hard to find anywhere, if it is something your spirit needs, you will find it even less frequently in Catholic churches despite the weakening of expository biblical teaching among Evangelicals.

But in the last analysis, I would simply counsel prayer and discernment to assure as far as possible the spiritual authenticity of one’s personal prompting to move. If the Lord is in it, there wil be an unmistakable confirmation of his leading; if this is not transparently evident, a deeper and more thoroughgoing process of discernment should be undertaken.

I have seen much evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in conversions to the Catholic Church; I have also seen less convincing instances in which people appear to have “swum the Tiber” primarily for aesthetic or imagined “intellectual” reasons. The first motive is as appropriately to be honored as the second to be (however lovingly) lamented.

I have a lot more discerning to go. Pray for further discernment please to all of you who read this blog entry.

+ Pax,
bf 2230hrs

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