Authority of Rome: A Protestant Perspective

This post is the second installment of a series on papal supremacy/infallibility and the authority of Rome. The first installment on the authority of Rome from a Roman Catholic perspective can be found here. The series was the product of fruitful discussion on a post concerning the 185th anniversary of Anglo-Catholicism. Please feel free to comment on any post in the series, or offer your opinion on this callout post for ideas, theories and opinions on the authority of the Bishop of Rome.

Before we begin this post on the protestant perspective of papal authority, it is important to define the boundaries of protestant theology within the context of this post. Dissent among protestants regarding the pope and the Roman Catholic church in general range from opposition to a handful of doctrines to complete rejection of everything catholic all of the way to ascribing a heinous mission for the Roman church as the whore of Babylon spoken about in the Book of Revelations. Before I can begin a discussion outlining the various protestant positions, I would like to make it clear that we will not be concerning ourselves with outlandish, ill-founded and flat out unChristian ideas about the catholic church. This post will specifically focus on the theological positions of the Anglican Communion (disregarding the Anglican Catholic movement in this particular series for now), and Reformed Christian churches. Note that the position of the  Eastern Orthodox and Russian Orthodox churches will not be covered in this series, those will be part of the third and final installment on the authority of Rome from a catholic perspective. If you want some information on extreme positions against the catholic church (if not for curiosity sake), I encourage you to check out Are You Drinking From The Babylon Cup who has a very respectful blog with a lot of information (even if I do not agree with his opinions at all).

Another important item to keep in mind when reading about the various protestant positions on the supremacy of the pope is that historically opposition to the pope did not fall along the lines of how we understand the doctrine today. Given that the formalization of the supremacy/infallibility of the pope was first defined in 1870 at the First Vatican Council and then further defined at the Second Vatican council during the 1960s, we have to remind ourselves when reading about bold statements of opposition to the pope from history, that those dissenters were not writing about the doctrine as defined today, in fact in most cases what they were historically opposing was concurred by the church during the First and Second Vatican councils (more on that below). In history, traditional opposition to the bishop of Rome, rested on his temporal ability to make or end monarchs through out Christian Europe, to forgive regicide and to control the public decisions of catholic secular leaders– all items which were defined by the First and Second Vatican councils as in fact falling outside of the authority of the bishop of Rome.

Protestants the world over generally disregard the doctrine of papal infallibility based on a few common points:

  1. The Roman church relies on a overly literal reading of Matthew 16:18 (when Jesus apparently called Peter the Rock upon which He will build His church). James Robert White points out that in the passage Peter is the second person “you” but that “this rock” (being in the third person), refers to Christ. Protestants read Matthew 16:18 as Christ telling Peter that He is the Rock and Peter (along with the other apostles) is laid upon it to build the church
  2. Protestants point out that this interpretation of Scripture was supported by Saint Augustine of Hippo when he wrote, “on this rock, therefore, He said, which thou hast confessed. I will build my Church. For the Rock (petra) is Christ; and on this foundation was Peter himself built.” (On the Gospel of John Tractate 12435)
  3. Protestants understand “the keys” mentioned by Christ in Matthew 16:19 to be the Word of God which ties in with instructions given to Timothy by Saint Paul regarding the defense of the true gospel accounts by apostles
  4. Reading Luke 22:32 when Jesus prays for Peter’s faith to be returned and strengthened, Protestants assert that infallibility cannot possibility rest with Peter as that would make the prayers of Christ regarding his faith redundant and pointless
  5. Protestants maintain that Peter’s prominence in the Book of Acts is overplayed by Roman Catholics. A reading of Acts as a whole together with the epistles presents a division within the church between Peter and Paul over the admission of Gentiles. During the First Council of Jerusalem, Protestants agree that it appears Peter rose to make final judgement, but the debate leading up to the council played out between Peter and Paul in their letters. Many times Paul rebukes Peter for not accepting Gentiles into the Christian faith as Christ directed. Protestants assert that it is Paul who takes center stage during the Acts of the Apostles and any inclusion of Peter is done to justify Paul’s position of authority among the Christians (many times Paul appeals to how he has the same powers and Spirit as Peter despite not being a direct witness of the life of Jesus Christ)
  6. Protestants point out that no formal Jewish magisterium existed and yet the faith endured for over a thousand years before Christ, Protestants use this historical fact to point out that the Roman Catholic teaching is a new doctrine (more on ‘new doctrines’ will come in the third installment, in this argument Protestants are pulling from the catholic playbook, and it gets a little awkward because of that)
  7. Protestants sift through history and point out several occasions when popes have spoke heresy (as recognized by the Roman church herself today, see mention above about temporal authorities of the pope) and use this to refute the claim that the pope alone is infallible. Specifically, Protestants will ascribe little weight to a pope stepping in to avoid heresy on the grounds that heresy was avoided because the opinion of the pope prevailed, Protestants consider this to be a cyclical argument that is illogical and has absolutely no direct Scripture to back it up
  8. Protestants point out that the Roman claim that monarchical leadership by an infallible pope as being inevitable within the universal church (or the more secular argument that any large organization needs decisive and clear leadership) as being directly contrary to Scripture where the church hierarchy is explained in a more local manner with deacons, priests and bishops (Titus 1:5-7, see also Saint Ignatius of Antioch quote in previous series posts)
  9. Protestants argue that over the entire history of the church, papal infallibility/supremacy lacked universal or widespread acceptance in the Christian world (even within the Roman church herself) which supports the claim that there is a lack of scriptural and historical basis for the doctrine itself. This was the issue addressed by Cardinal Newman in his quote about doctrine not being defined until it has been violated, but a historical review of how the First Vatican Council came to discuss papal authority will reveal that it was on the suspicion by church authorities that Pope Pius IX had overstepped his own authority in unilaterally ruling in favour of the Franciscan view of the Immaculate Conception of Mary over the Dominican view within the church which makes Newman’s casual observation about the defining pre-existing doctrine a little rich, considering the subject was the potential violator in this instance

A simple statement to capture the Protestant position concerning the Roman doctrine of supremacy of the pope can be summed up thus: it is not supported in Scripture or the historical record. They claim that the Roman church relies on a overly literal reading of certain passages of the gospels in order to justify a position of leadership for Peter above the others. Furthermore, they assert that claims to papal supremacy have more to do with secular issues than any ecclesiastical ones (this is supported historically, in that no pope has ever had to exercise papal authority to keep bishops from erring against the Creeds, it has always been done when theological questions fell along potentially new doctrine development, for example asserting the Immaculate Conception of Mary).

Individual Protestant churches have articulated their position on papal authority via various statements of faith or articles of faith. Again, we have to keep in mind that more often than not however, these articles were composed well before 1870 and therefore are not direct objections to how we view the papacy today, but to the clear abuses of papal authority that even the Roman church acknowledges today (no reasonable catholic argues that the pope has the authority to make or break world leaders or demand that a catholic government official does something).

The Anglican Church articulates her position against papal authority in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (which according to Anglo-Catholics contains nothing which is contrary to true catholic teaching):

XIX. Of the Church. The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred, so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.

XXI. Of the Authority of General Councils. General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of Princes. And when they be gathered together, (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God,) they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture.

Note how the Anglican Church acknowledges that councils and the faithful are subject to err and that they have erred in the past but that the metric for determining the error was not a secular office, but the Word of God itself.

John Wesley amended the Anglican Articles of Faith for use by Methodists. The Methodist Articles of Faith are similar to the Thirty-Nine Articles but omit the lamenting about councils being in error in the past, or capable of error in general.

V. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation. The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation..

Reformed churches and Presbyterian churches reject papal infallibility outright. The Westminster Confession of Faith, which was meant to replace the Thirty-Nine Articles of Faith in 1646, outright call the pope the ‘anti-Christ’:

(Chapter one) IX. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.

(Chapter one) X. The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

(Chapter Twenty-Five) VI. There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.

Evangelical and Pentecostal churches all reject the authority of the Pope. As does the Church of Latter Day Saints and the Jehovah’s Witness. These churches tend to oppose the pope along the same theological lines as the Methodists (going so far as to call the pope the anti-Christ and ascribe heinous intentions regarding its formation).

The next installment of our series will cover the authority of Rome from the catholic perspective. It will require the reader to divorce the concepts of Roman and catholic and to understand them as two separate things. We will cover the position of the Orthodox churches, the Old Catholics and the Anglican Catholic perspective. To get the brain working before that installment is released, I leave you with this article from the 1860 edition of Keenan’s Catechism which was widely in use across England, Scotland and Wales within Roman Catholic schools (it was approved for use after being found to contain no catholic doctrinal error):

(Q.) Must not Catholics believe the Pope himself to be infallible?

(A.) This is a Protestant invention: it is no article of the Catholic faith: no decision of his can oblige under pain of heresy, unless it be received and enforced by the teaching body, that is by the bishops of the Church.

Authority of Rome: A Roman Perspective

A very interesting discussion has unfolded on this blog concerning the authority of Rome and whether such authority is legitimate and catholic. It started with a post I had written on the 185th anniversary of Anglo-Catholicism with a historic sermon delivered by John Keble at the University Church of St Mary’s in Oxford. Ben (Politics for Catholics) and Must Follow If I Can both added substantial comments on the subject of the supremacy/infallibility of the pope. I also added a callout for opinions on the authority of Rome (that was where Must Follow If I Can jumped into the discussion) I would be remiss not to admit that this topic appears to have dominated by intended summer series on the catholic liturgy– but clearly the Spirit is alive and well around here and there is a need to explore this topic.

In this post we will examine the authority of the Bishop of Rome from the perspective of the Roman church. We will dive into the teachings of the Roman Catholic church concerning the supremacy and infallibility of the Bishop of Rome and how this manifests itself in the day to day workings of the church as a whole. We will specifically focus on the articulation of the doctrine during the First and Second Vatican councils.

The Roman Catholic church teaches that the Bishop of Rome is the “true vicar of Christ, the head of the whole church and the father and teacher of all Christians” (Pastor aeternus Chapter 4, para 2, First Vatican Council from the Council of Florence). This authority stems from a link between Peter the Apostle to the bishop of Rome which was articulated during the Council of Lyons, “[s]he truly and humbly acknowledges that she received this from the Lord himself in blessed Peter, the prince and chief of the apostles, whose successor the Roman Pontiff is, together with the fullness of power.” The Roman Catholic church relies on nine sources of scripture to defend the link:

  1. Peter is listed on the top of the ‘apostolic list’ when Jesus calls His followers together (Mk 3:16, Lk 6:14)
  2. Peter is often singled out among the other apostles (MK 1:36, 16:7, Lk 9:32)
  3. When the temple tax collectors approach Jesus’ followers to collect the required taxes, they approach Peter which signifies his eminent position of leadership within the group (Mk 17:24-27)
  4. Peter often spoke to Jesus on behalf of the twelve apostles (Mk 8:29, Lk 12:41, Jn 6:66-69)
  5. Peter is one of the three apostles who is given special attention by Jesus; when Jairus’ daughter is raised from the dead (Mk 5:37), during the Transfiguration (Mk 9:2), witness to the Agony in the Garden (Mk 14:33) and Peter is renamed by Jesus as well from Simon to Peter meaning ‘rock’ (Mk 3:16)
  6. Jesus told Peter that He prayed for him personally at the Last Supper that Peter would turn again and steady the faith of his brother apostles (Lk 22:31-32)
  7. When the tomb is found empty and Peter and John find out, John races ahead of Peter but waits at the entrance for Peter to enter first (or with him), signifying the esteem the other apostles held Peter in (Jn 20:3-8)
  8. Jesus appears privately to Peter after the Resurrection and Peter is the first of the twelve apostles to witness the Risen Christ (Lk 24:34, 1 Cor 15:5)
  9. Jesus promised that He would build His church on Peter (Mk 16:18), make him the keeper of the keys to the Gates of Heaven (Mk 16:19) and put Peter in charge of His sheep (Jn 21:15-17)

The Council of Florence articulated the hierarchical structure of the Roman Catholic church with the Bishop of Rome at the top, followed by the Bishops, followed by the Priests and then the laity. The Council spoke of the “pre-eminence” of Rome which was made clear in previous historical events in which Rome rules on heresies within the church (as pointed out in the comments, the overruling of Pope Leo the Great following the Council of Chalcedon).

The First Vatican Council formalized and crystallized the authority of the Bishop of Rome in the dogmatic constitution, Pastor aeternus. That document states clearly that the Pope has supreme authority over:

…matters of faith and morals … and … discipline and government of the church throughout the world.

And furthermore, the constitution called on all members of the church to obedience on the doctrine at hand:

…clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity, … bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience.

The Second Vatican Council continued to see the fruit of the doctrine of Papal supremacy and infallibility grow on the tree of faith. In the dogmatic constitution on the church (Lumen gentium), the manifestation of the articles contained within Pastor aeternus were explored further, especially in regard to how the Roman Pontiff worked with fellow bishops from around the world. What arose was an ecumenical concept that called for “bishops [to be] joined with one another, and the Bishop of Rome, by bonds of unity, charity, and peace.” (Eusebius of Caesarea, Hist. Ecc.). How we understand the Pope today in the modern church is the function of the articulation of the doctrine during the First and Second Vatican councils. A lot of scholarly reading that I did over the weekend on Lumen gentium spoke with a hopeful tone of how the new concept of the Bishops working together with the Bishop of Rome would materialize in the church. Today we see this with national, regional and topical synods that produce rich and thoughtful theology and dogma to inform the vicar of Christ and indeed the whole church. It is because of this careful balance between supremacy and ecumenism that was developed from the First and Second Vatican councils that we can say today that a unilateral action of the Bishop of Rome has not happened in modern times, and most likely will not happen in modern times– that is not to say he lacks the authority to do this. But it speaks to the secular practicality of the governance of the church as a whole, when the system  which has been developed (or inspired) eases historical tensions.

Furthermore, Lumen gentium explained the relationship between the Bishop of Rome and his fellow bishops thusly:

But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head.

The Roman Catholic Church maintains that the authority of the bishop of Rome was present in Peter from the start of the early church. For this it largely relies on nine moments from the Acts of the Apostles:

  1. Peter initiated and oversaw the replacement of Judas following the Ascension of Jesus (Acts 1:15-26)
  2. When the Spirit rained down on the apostles during Pentecost, it was Peter who delivered the inaugural sermon (Acts 2:37-41)
  3. When crowds accepted the testimony of the apostles, it was Peter who urged them to repent and be Baptized (Acts 2:37-41)
  4. It was Peter who recorded the first healing within the church (Acts 3:1-10)
  5. When Peter and John were arrested and asked to account for their actions, it was Peter who spoke on their behalf (Acts 4:5-12)
  6. Peter handled the first case of ecclesial discipline within the church (Acts 5:1-11)
  7. It was Peter who brought the Spirit to endorse the new missionary as the church spread beyond Judea and into Samaria (Acts 8:14-17)
  8. When God had arranged for the first Gentile conversations, He sent Peter to preach and administer the Baptisms (Acts 10:1-48)
  9. When the first recorded council in church history took place in Jerusalem, it was Peter who stood up and ended the debate with a solemn proclamation of Christian doctrine (Acts 15:6-11)

The Roman Catholic church maintains that this authority has developed over time within the church. Cardinal John Henry Newman (thanks to Must Follow If I Can for the quote) provides one the best explanations for the development of the papacy when we look through the historical record in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine:

When the Church, then, was thrown upon her own resources, first local disturbances gave exercise to Bishops, and next ecumenical disturbances gave exercise to Popes; and whether communion with the Pope was necessary for Catholicity would not and could not be debated till a suspension of that communion had actually occurred. It is not a greater difficulty that St. Ignatius does not write to the Asian Greeks about Popes, than that St. Paul does not write to the Corinthians about Bishops. And it is a less difficulty that the Papal supremacy was not formally acknowledged in the second century, than that there was no formal acknowledgment on the part of the Church of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity till the fourth. No doctrine is defined till it is violated.

And, in like manner, it was natural for Christians to direct their course in matters of doctrine by the guidance of mere floating, and, as it were, endemic tradition, while it was fresh and strong; but in proportion as it languished, or was broken in particular places, did it become necessary to fall back upon its special homes, first the Apostolic Sees, and then the See of St. Peter.

The Second Council of Lyons I think sums up the authority of the Bishop of Rome from the Roman perspective in one simple line: the Bishop of Rome is the head of the “Holy Roman church [with] … supreme and full primacy and principality over the whole catholic church.”

The Authority of Rome

You might have missed it, but Ben over at Politics for Catholics and I had what I consider to be a very interesting discussion on the question of authority within the Church and specifically the authority of the Bishop of Rome. This discussion took place in the comment section of my post on 185 Years of Anglo-Catholicism. Our discussion was frank but respectful and dare I say took place between two well-informed catholics (he might be skeptical the catholic claim on my part, but that is at the soul of the issue so it can certainly be excused). But in the end I have to agree with his closing remarks here:

I think both of us might benefit from a more in-depth examination of papal infallibility. I know I’m not educated enough in the subject to get much deeper. I am pretty sure the last time the pope spoke infallibly was in 1950. What I came to recognize in becoming Catholic was 1. There is a historical basis for the papacy and 2. There is a practical basis for the papacy. I’m willing to discuss those two aspects at greater length if you like. But how/when infallibility/dogma/doctrine takes place and the history of this development of papal authority seems outside the scope of this comment section and my poor little brain…

I find myself able to admit clearly that I believe in everything about the catholic church, those parts of which reside within the Roman Church, and to some degree the Anglican Church (certain within Anglo-Catholic traditions), and the Eastern Orthodox Church. However, specifically with the Roman Church, I find myself unable to accept the supremacy of the Pope and how that manifests in the infallibility of the Bishop of Rome on matters concerning faith and morals. I cited many reasons why I have doubted this particular doctrine as being suspect in the Editor’s Manifesto of this blog and as well in more detail in the aforementioned comment section with Ben. And Ben certainly brings up very valid points about authority and oneness of the church which I do not disagree with but I am able to separate catholicism as articulated in the Creeds and the marks of the church and this particular doctrine.

So this is call out of sorts. With an open mind I would like to know what you think about the doctrine of Papal infallibility. Bonus points if you read the comment thread in the aforementioned post and comment on any points raised by Ben or myself. Help us better understand the doctrine itself from the perspective of the Church and from outside as well, and if anything else your own personal opinion. Leave a comment below!

A Word on Orthodoxy

I have had a few people message me concerning my last post, specifically about how I defined ‘orthodox’ as being an emphasis on early church liturgy and worship. The first few messages I tried to address privately with the individuals in question, but since a few more have landed in my inbox, I decided to write up a quick hot take on orthodoxy and how it is a word and term that gets used in such a perverse manner within Christianity today.

Around the end of the Middle Ages a movement began to take form within the Christian church in Europe. There was a desire to go back to a more “pure” church that was more like what the church would have been for early believers throughout Israel and the entire Roman world immediately and shortly following the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. When we speak of the church in that period we call it the patristic church. There is a spiritual and temporal reason for this push to go back to how things were done originally within the church. First from a spiritual perspective, the men and women who established those practices were closer to Christ in terms of time and space than we are, so that could give them more insight than we have today regarding what Christ’s intention was for His church. And secondly, from a temporal perspective, without any sort of guidance in the face of multiple forms of worship and adoration, the Church Fathers concluded (no doubt with the guidance of the Holy Spirit) that the best litmus test to determine what would be good and bad liturgy should be whether or not it was practiced in the patristic Church.

So having this historical perspective in mind regarding roots of the movement to turn to the early church for guidance in how liturgy should look today, we can say that orthodoxy is a desire to justify all forms of modern worship and liturgy using the rites and customs that were developed by the early church. True orthodoxy goes a step further and says that only those rituals and customs established by the early church are pleasing in God’s eyes and validates a human action as liturgical, orthodoxy is embracing a single form of liturgy to the exclusion of all others. It is important to note that orthodoxy should not be confused with the development of liturgical forms of worship via sola scriptura. An example of this would be an evangelical church that baptizes anyone who walks in the front door on any given Sunday on the grounds that Scripture does not explicitly state a catechist period is required. Interpreting Scripture alone personally and developing modern liturgy around that unilateral understanding of the Bible is not catholic and it certainly is not orthodox. To go back to the baptism example I used, we know that in the early church that there were established and enforced time periods for a potential convert to Christianity, and that catechism classes were a fixture of the early church right from the start. Taking that historical fact and building it into our liturgical practice today is exactly how true orthodoxy manifests itself within the church. It is orthodox that we have Christian schools for our children, adult initiation programs for converts and an entire liturgical form around the act of baptism.

But the problem with how the word orthodox is used today is that it has been warped to really mean ‘conservative.’ Meaning, a person or catholic who adheres to the traditional precepts of the church (but more often it specifically relates to how one see social issues within the church). This is wrong. It is wrong because what this little change in meaning of the word orthodoxy does is paper over partisan positions within the church using ecclesiastical terms. And if you are an Anglo-Catholic you probably hear it all of the time, that priest who wears his cassock after mass when speaking with parishioners during lunch is described as being “very orthodox” by parishioners who are not used to seeing a priest in a cassock. Or a person will write on a Christian blog that they are “orthodox” and therefore will never accept gay marriage as being a Christian concept. Who gets to be married by the church is not a question of orthodoxy, it is a question of church teaching and Biblical interpretation, which are entirely different things. Whether or not we have a marriage ceremony at all is the orthodox question in that mix. If a church suddenly decided that marriage was no longer a sacrament worthy of a liturgical movement, that would be unorthodox (there are churches that practice this, they are unorthodox). The fact that some churches allow same-sex couples to engage in the beautiful liturgical movement that is the Christian wedding ceremony is not unorthodox, it is the application of church teaching within a very orthodox practice of two people going to church together for their special day to witness before their friends, family and God their Christian commitment to one another. It saddens my heart to scroll through the ‘Christian’ or ‘catholic’ tags here on WordPress and see post after post of Christians attacking other Christians for not being orthodox or being too orthodox over a debate of whether or not the priest should face the people or not during mass. They miss the mark because while they are fighting over this trivial issue, there are actual unorthodox churches that have gone away entirely with a organized form of worship that includes an officiant– that is unorthodox. It is not unorthodox for a pastor to set up a youth geared mass with music from instruments like guitars and drum sets. It is unorthodox to conduct a so-called Christian service with only that music and nothing else, saying that the music alone gives us the Eucharistic form of worship we need and that God instituted for us during the Last Supper.

So how do you avoid this very common misunderstanding of the word orthodox and it’s use within the church? Before you label something orthodox or unorthodox, ask yourself if this wasn’t a spiritual issue but a temporal one, would you find yourself using the word ‘conservative’ instead of orthodox or ‘progressive’ instead of unorthodox. If that is the case, chances are you are not using the term properly. If you are calling yourself orthodox because you like to discern yourself from your fellow Christians who believe in Christian same-sex marriage than you are using the word improperly. If you are calling yourself orthodox and you show up to a church that never prays the Kyrie together (literally the oldest form of worship we know in the church) and this troubles you than you are bang on the definition. Partisan categorizations, even ones that are given fancy ecclesiastical terms to paper over the temporal labels, have no place within any Christian church. We are not conservative Christians or progressive Christians or classic Christians or [insert temporal partisan adjective here] Christians– we are Christians. And we are part of the catholic church, which means our Christianity is universal, meant for all, regardless of whether you are a conservative, progressive, liberal or otherwise when you are not sitting the pews. We undermine a legitimate catholic principle of justifying the sacredness and importance of our liturgy using practices from the early church (orthodoxy) when we remove the true meaning from the word orthodox. We give some form of legitimacy to truly unorthodox liturgy when we try and take this term and apply in within the church in a way it was never meant to be used.

185 Years of Anglo-Catholicism

Many Anglican Catholics are probably already aware that this past July 14th marked the traditional commencement of the Ango-Catholic Movement within the Anglican Church with a sermon by John Keble at the University Church of St Mary’s in Oxford. I’ve pulled this quote from Ritual Notes via The Anglophilic Anglican concerning the event:

“Most Anglo-Catholics know that 185 years ago today, John Keble ascended the pulpit at the University Church of St Mary’s in Oxford to deliver the sermon at the opening of the Assize Court. If the date is not remembered, the result certainly is. John Henry Newman wrote that this sermon, easily forgotten during any other time, was the beginning of the Oxford Movement.”

I am personally a recent convert to Anglo-Catholicism from the Roman Catholic Church. I was raised Roman Catholic and attended a conservative Roman Catholic school from junior kindergarten to grade 12. The fact that I am not entirely comfortable using the word ‘convert’ when I speak of my recent membership in the Anglican Church and specifically the Catholic wing of said church, is proof of the complexities that dominate the catholic debate within the Anglican Church and indeed among many protestant flavours of Christianity.

Because I was raised Roman Catholic I spent the vast majority of my life under the impression that the Bishop of Rome and the entire Roman Church had a monopoly on the word ‘catholic.’ I’ve always believed (as per the Creeds) that the catholic church is the one, true, holy and apostolic church founded by Christ. I just, like many Roman Catholics, equated ‘catholic’ with Roman and the Pope and all that came along with that system. I was first introduced to the idea of universal catholicity (specifically the Branch Theory), or the core of the Oxford Movement– which is quiet simply that the Roman Church does not hold court over what is catholic and what is not– a few years ago after a Roman Catholic commentator who I had great respect for left the Roman Church after having an epiphany over social issues within the church. His leaving the Roman Church and taking up worship in the Anglican Catholic church piqued my interest and I began to research. I learned that what made a church catholic was not adhering to the will of Rome or speaking in Latin but rather it was a staunch devotion to the Creeds, to orthodoxy (meaning placing emphasis on the original forms of worship of the Church) and to an understanding of a truly universal church founded by Christ. I always knew that I was a catholic, if not because I do not feel like I am worshiping God in a manner that is pleasing in His sight unless there are bells and smell (as those who criticize the richness of catholic liturgy like to say). I knew I was a catholic because I believed firmly in the Creeds– never, even in the darkest and loneliest moments in my faith have I doubted the articles of the Creeds. And I knew I was catholic because I had a deep conviction that Christ did not found a fragmented and broken form of Christianity with sects fighting between each other each holding a nugget of truth, I firmly believe that the catholic church is the one Christian church founded by Christ.

But here is the kicker: catholicism can never be confined to one single sect. Catholicism is universal, it is applicable to all people, all races, all tongues because it is the Body of Christ here and present on earth. And because we are all creations of God, no matter where we come from or what we do in this life, we can all be part of and served by this catholic church.

I am an Anglican Catholic today because I do not believe that catholic is the same as being Roman. I believe that the Roman church places too much emphasis on culturally important aspects of the faith (like not eating one hour before Mass) to the point that what is dogma and a core belief and what is a cultural or best practice is often just lumped in as essential all around. I also believe that the doctrine of the Supremacy of the Pope is flawed and uncatholic– there is nothing universal about linking the movement and spirit of the universal church to one arbitrary geographical location here on earth. I also take issue with doctrine that has come out of the direct authority of the Pope such as Papal Infallibility and the Immaculate Conception– I do not see these as core catholic concepts, but they are certainly Roman.

“The Catholic Revival in the Church of England had nothing to do with gin, lace, and backbiting, as is often caricatured. Yes, elaborate ritual and church building followed in the next generation, but this was a logical development of the belief that the Church is not the same as the Post Office. [Or, as I sometimes put it in defending the use of traditional language in worship, “The liturgy – the worship of God – is not Uncle Joe’s barbecue.”] The Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives and not the same as chicken tetrazzini at the weekly Rotary Club. The development of ritual and devotion was the servant, the handmaid, to the truths Keble turned our minds to 185 years ago.”

I have never felt more catholic, more Christian than when worshiping and sharing fellowship in an Anglican Catholic church.

Christ in Social Media and Current Affairs

The world is a complex and a complicated place. There is a lot going on whether we are talking about the local level, around your community, the state/provincial level, the federal or national level and right up to the international community. In our modern age, we seem to be bombarded with current events that are happening all around the world. The 24 hour/7 days a week news cycle and the instantaneous nature of the internet have collided to bring every day people reams of information and data about the world around them; not just what is happening close to home, but what is happening literally on the other side of the world. This is both a blessing and a burden in disguise. Never before in the history of our humanity have we have such readily access to such a vast and articulated amount of information. Never before has the entire human race been so connected, so close. And yet, it seems, never before have we felt so far from one another, so isolated in our own little worlds and ideologies.

Social media plays a huge role in how we see the world– certainly a larger role that I think most Christians realize. In a world where information is boundless and accessible, we have built systems that serve to filter what we see and hear and this in turn creates pockets of intense ideology and thought often with little or no dissenting opinions or ideas among the ranks of followers and collaborators. Take Twitter for example. Users are able to curate their own list of followers, they can block (and are encouraged to block) users which opinions or ideas that they do not agree– opinion and ideas that are fleshed out in 280 character snippets, leaving much to the imagination in most cases. If you are a Marxist, chances are your followers and people you follow lean along the same flavour of the political spectrum and chances are you are validated over and over by fellow Marxists, content in your own comfortable worldview without ever feeling challenged in your opinions and formulations on the activities of the world. This is not necessarily a good thing and from a Christian perspective I would like to unpack that issue a little here.

Anyone can create a social media account and begin spreading their thoughts and opinions on the internet. This is a good thing. It is wonderful to see such a broad range of opinions and diversity of those participating in the discussions. But what also comes from this is the fact that consumers of user generated content are left holding the bag to determine what is false, true and actually worth exploring more. Tweets generally do not contain enough information to dive deep into issues and explore all sides of a coin, generally they are short, snappy statements that capture a sentiment related to a larger concept or idea that is shadowed in the Tweet. This rapidly makes the fact that anyone can create an account a bad thing. Often the most retweeted and popular remarks on Twitter are not from so-called subject matter experts, but from clever users who are able to capture the perfect balance between wit and common sense in a 280 character Tweet that is relatable to the broadest group of people.

So what can Christ teach us about social media? Perhaps it seems a little silly to ask that question. Literally no one in the Bible had a Twitter or Facebook account. Jesus did not take selfies during His Sermon on the Mount to share on his Instagram account. Saint Peter didn’t create the hashtag #RealMessiah to share the Good News with his friends and family. And #HeIsRisen certainly was not trending in the aftermath of the Resurrection. But Christ does have a lot to teach us about the use of social media in our lives and the formation of our opinions on current affairs around the world. For the average Westerner, the message from Christ regarding these things may be a little hard to swallow, because in this age of social media and the internet, we’ve come to believe that as humans we are all little gods who are entitled to opinions and ideas based on the sheer fact that we are capable of cooking them up in our brains.

The first, and obvious, lesson that Christ teaches us about our use of social media as Christians is that we ought to comport ourselves online in a manner that does not permit us to surrender the fundamental aspects of our faith. Namely, our Tweets, Instagram photos, Facebook likes and Snapchats should be aimed at the glorification of the Lord. The anonymous nature of being online does not change the fact that we are held to account for our actions individually, and as much as Twitter doesn’t know who you are when you Tweet, God does. And regardless of the username and the creativity of the fake name you’ve used, God knows everything that you have said and done online. Everything. Even the “in cognitio” feature of Google Chrome cannot withstand the all seeing eye of God. The same rules of how we ought to act among real people in the world apply to how we act around virtual people in the online social media universe. So ask yourself, does your online presence bring glory and honour to God and to His Son Jesus Christ? Do you allow the Holy Spirit to guide your online footprint, or do you hide behind a false impression of anonymity and become a little less Christian when sitting behind the keyboard? If that answer is a yes, you need to rethink your use of social media and perhaps consider this warning from Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew:

And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

The second lesson that Christ teaches us about social media is about the content of what we share and the opinions that we are forming while we use social media. Especially for those of us who are maybe a little more political when we are online with our social media accounts. A concept that I have been fleshing out for a long time in my head, but have been unable to fully grasp, is the idea that Christ was killed by real geo-politics that were alive and well at the time of His ministry in Jerusalem. You had a Roman governor who was already in hot water with the emperor of Rome for having some issues holding down dissent within the region. No doubt, Pilate was not a fan of his tenure in the Middle East and we know that historically the man was a careerist who most likely wanted nothing more than to end his time in the Holy City without issue so that he could move on to bigger and better things in Rome. On the flip side we have the leaders within the Temple who represent a segment of Jewish society that are affluent and are willing to work with their Roman overlords in order to keep the peace and maintain their own power over the Jewish people in the region. It was the mutual intersection of the Jesus-problem for these two worlds that the cross literally comes to bear upon the world. It would have been difficult for Jewish leaders to seek the crucifixion of Christ from the Romans had the Romans not already been troubled by any sort of dissent during the largest religious festival of the year at the time. Equally, it would have been hard for the Romans to assert their authority in the punishment and eventual killing of Christ had the Jewish authorities in power at the time in that region not wanted to work with the Roman leaders in order maintain the status quo. The death of Jesus in Jerusalem can easily be explained from a historical perspective using a cursory understanding of politics and specifically geo-politics that was present at the time of Christ. But what does that say about politics in general? I think it is a lesson of what happens when the wishes and desires of mankind (which are the driving force of all politics) do not include Christ. When we remove Christ from our political lives, we contribute to His death on the cross– and to add injury to insult, often under the guise of a well-intentioned policy or idea. Because no one would deny that keeping the peace during a large religious festival is a bad thing– unless in that process you murder the Son of God.

How often do we remove Christ from our politics? In the Western world, I would wager that for most of us it happens all of the time. Indeed, the vague concept of separation of Church and State has seemed to manifest itself into a public policy process that is completely void of Christ and worse void of almost any sort of Christian inspiration or basis. Given what we unpacked earlier, this is a dangerous road to be heading down. Separating the Church and the State when it comes to having an official state religion or having civil leaders who are interchangeable with religious leaders is one thing (and something that is good and Christian actually), but separating the State from the Church when it comes to how we individually formulate our ideas and opinions on matters of current affairs is dangerous and entirely unChristian. And I go back to the sentiment that I expressed earlier in this post; never before have we had access to so much information, so many events to form opinions and ideas over. For the Christian who has removed Christ from that opinion formulating process, it can all seem very confusing and overwhelming. Which is exactly why we need Christ in our lives and in the formation of our political understanding of the world. For example, perhaps you are confused over the migrant crisis and the issue of immigration to help those around the world who are poor and in need. Perhaps you are having trouble finding a balance between welcoming these people in need and the security of your own country. And yet, Christ is clear on all fronts regarding this issue. We are to help the poor. And if our brother strikes us, we are to turn the other cheek. Very clear. A funny thing happens when we bring Christ in our political realities, things start to fall in place and the path becomes very clearly illuminated. Albeit, no easier to walk and actually put into action (which is I wager the hang up for most people). The bottom line is that Christ teaches us that in our use of social media and specifically when formulating/sharing our opinions we must include Him, otherwise we are lost and confused without a compass to guide us through these current affairs.

Lent is the perfect time to reflect on how we are using social media as Christians and how we are formulating our opinions and ideas about the world around us. Do we cut Christ out of the equation? Do we find that we are lost and confused when it comes to working how we think and feel about a particular issue of the day? Do we profess to be Christians in the pews but rapidly lose that sentiment when we are typing on our phones in the church parking lot? Perhaps it is time to invite Christ into our political lives. Perhaps it is time to ensure our social media accounts and online presence is reflective of the Christian nature of our real lives. We also focus on fasting from certain foods during Lent, and this is an old tradition. But I propose an idea, perhaps we can start to consider fasting from social media and the internet. Just as food nourishes our body and can be bad for us if we eat bad food, so too does social media nourish our brains and souls and can be bad for us if we consume bad social media. Perhaps this Lent, consider fasting from social media and the internet. You might be surprised what starts to happen with your relationship with Jesus.

God of power and might, wisdom and justice,
through you authority is rightly administered,
laws are enacted, and judgment is decreed.
Assist with your spirit of counsel and fortitude
the  government leaders around the whole world.
May they always seek
the ways of righteousness, justice and mercy.
Grant that they may be enabled by your powerful protection
to lead our country with honesty and integrity.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.