I just finished listening to a “debate” between members of the current apologists of “Catholics and Evangelicals Together,” a movement spear-headed in the nineties as the next phase of the so-called, “Ecumenical Movement” .
One speaker was a convert to Catholicism from Protestantism, another, a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, and a third, an Anglican/Evangelical. They each described themselves as “left-brainers” (linear/logical/analytical thinkers), and each sport quite a few letters after their names. Nevertheless—or perhaps because of—their study and training, they all praised the movement cited above as a good thing because it can unite Christians of disparate denominations by focusing on the essentials of a common faith while agreeing to disagree on non-essentials.
But, gentlemen of the debate, should you read this, it’s those non-essentials that can, like bad yeast, spoil the whole loaf.
Granted, there is a little bit of truth in every genre of belief system, Christian or not; on that, we can rely. However, having come from an intensely Roman Catholic background (twelve years Catholic education, and reared in adherence to all the rites and rituals of family and home life as well) I believe we are amiss if we don’t regard the underpinnings of the religious system, Catholicism, with whom some are now “in community,” not just the seeming surface similarities. Some of the beliefs are the same, but others are really not the same. Things can look pretty good on the surface, but they may only seem so.
I believe we run great risk in the quest for unity on a few essentials we do agree with if some of the non-essential realities/teachings/breaks with classic Christianity, in all the power and prestige of their intellectual and/or spiritual power to seduce, are regarded nowadays as merely “divisive.” Because, friends, the yeast still permeates the hearer, the participator, within the intricacies of heart, mind, soul, and spirit and might result in unintended consequences. And it’s those non-essentials that can cause considerable “spiritual collateral damage,” as it were.
A dollop of experiential leaven here (a la old, Catholic mysticism re-packaged as the “contemplative” prayer movement, now in vogue) and one believer is off into some, in reality, New Age nirvana. A skosh of Roman Catholic “tradition” there (of an add-on variety such as a new regard for Jesus’ mother Mary, her “immaculate conception” having been decided upon by Catholic intellectuals as recently as the mid-nineteenth century) and another believer is drawn to adding another mediator, that is, Mediatrix to the Gospel. Or, a hint of a new hierarchical structure in some other corner of Christendom (speaks for itself) and yet another believer forgets that there is only One Who heads the Body of Christ…
But the power of words is seductive. Isn’t “unity” good, “division,” bad? Are we not supposed to “judge not” lest we be judged—by God?
This thinking (albeit truncated) makes so much sense! And if the people with all the letters after their names are telling us it’s so, it must be. Don’t they know more? Isn’t “left brainism” superior to “right brainism?” Aren’t intellectuals somehow better/more knowledgeable than the rest of us? They certainly hold most of the power positions. And they speak so well…
The power of words, of course, is well known and well regarded. I teach rhetoric. There are all kinds of artful, clever, and skillful ways to craft language to sway thought and incite action. Results can be both good and bad. Consider the results of the great orators who by their words inspire us to become the best we can be. On the other hand, consider the spinners, the verbal artificers, the seducers, the con artists. They use words well, too.
Am I saying that people who subscribe to the new ecumenical push are all con artists? No, certainly not, because I reject the false dichotomy to begin with, while at the same time keeping in mind the spirit of anti-christ who has been continually at work in the world.
In fact, I think there is an entirely and completely different “unity” at work, here; one that transcends all humans can do on our own steam in the quest to understand spirituality.
Granted, some of us come to this other unity through intellectual, “left brain” pursuits, others, through more creative, “right brain” investigations (so-called “linear” and “global” thinkers as this particular theory defines the groups). Still others come to it through emotional hunger, others through spiritual “awareness,” and still others due to Divine intervention of some kind (consider the circumstances of St. Paul’s conversion). So, there is some value in debates, investigations, experiences, studies and so on.
But, and here is my point: the unity I reference is not man-designed at all. I believe the end-all of the effort we put forth is not engineered in ivy halls, experiences, traditions, translations, hierarchies, creative or logical pursuits.
The unity I reference doesn’t necessarily come in polished words or sterling talent or shining intelligence, nor does it come as a product of humbler circumstances or intellect. It isn’t found more in one thinking propensity or another, one gender or another, one station in life or another, or any other category of human belief or endeavor. And it doesn’t evolve.
It is found in the unity that occurs through grace, by faith (that, a gift of God) in the only Way, Truth, and Life: Jesus Christ.
Although we come to Him from myriad places physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually, His Body, that is, the Christian church, is united—by Him. In Christ Jesus, and Him alone, we are one.
I fear that if we forget that ultimate truth, we risk being seduced by the window dressing of religious pomp and circumstance, the allure of “presentations” (real, intellectual, or assumed), the yeast of doctrinal “add-ons” from high places that may tragically, in the end, divert our attention away from that “dark glass” that must needs inspire us to keep as close to Christ as we can so that by His power at work in us and our yielding to it, we indeed remain “one”.
Fortunately, the same Word of God that on the one hand can suffer so many perhaps unintentional—but also intentional—twists and turns in the mouths of men and women is still “…alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, (penetrating) even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart“ (Hebrews 4:12). It continues to be a source on which we can rely.
Here are some truths that gently brought—and continue to bring—me out of my own spiritual quest through all the usual avenues of human effort right to the feet of Christ where I congregate, united in Him, with other believers from every tribe, tongue, and era:
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me (John 14:6).
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).
For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (I Corinthians 1:22-25).
By grace saved; by same, united.
 For more information on this topic, here is a good starter reference. The researcher is encouraged to go further by reviewing the scholarly critiques by Christian apologists, some of whom are cited in this introductory piece: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelicals_and_Catholics_Together
NOTE: For a comprehensive primer on what Catholics still believe today, here is a good site: http://www.catholic.com/
P.S. Here is one my own “ministry underpinnings,” if you will, that I share today with you in hopes that you, too, are edified and encouraged to draw closer to Jesus Christ: