Here’s a brief overview of the trajectory that is leading me toward the Catholic Church. The following is excerpted from a letter to a friend…
It’s been a real process for me, obviously. When we lived in Burley, if I had taken RCIA the class would have been taught by a coworker of mine, who although is a very nice person is also a bit flaky. Made a big stink about wanting the cafeteria to accommodate meatless Fridays, but compensated for no meat with two large pieces of chocolate cream pie. Everything she taught, I would have been wondering if that were really what the Church taught or one of those things she got confused about. I found out later that on the day we pulled out of town to move here, she had a near-fatal stroke. Although I wouldn’t dare suggest any connection, that always haunted me for some reason. Here in [the place we live now] (a college-town outpost of tree-hugging lefties in a Red State) we never did find an evangelical church we fit into. When it comes to the evangelical world, I have seen the future, and it is… vanilla. Christianity Today had an article a few months back making the same observation I was making: that evangelicalism’s interaction with postmodernism would lead to a split: some retreating back towards fundamentalism with its cultural isolation and avoidance of complexities, and some following in the footsteps of liberal Protestantism but a generation or two behind. I’m already seeing it. I can’t look at seeker-sensitivity taken to the extreme of allowing anything and keeping people entertained –oops, I mean engaged– without thinking that church has become a mere plaything and some very subtle form of practical atheism is at work. So for probably a couple of year now I have regarded my self as a CS Lewis-style “mere Christian” and strongly rejected most of what would be considered evangelicalism. I guess that’s fine for starting out, but that’s milk, not meat, and no outlet for doing anything useful. Since then it’s felt like I’ve been sent to the moon. I need a “version” of Christianity that wasn’t hatched in a focus group at Willow Creek 10 years ago.
Just recently Willow Creek made a momentous announcement that they were wrong about their seeker-sensitive model of church, that it wasn’t producing mature disciples. So now the same evangelical world that was slavishly following Willow Creek’s wisdom is waiting with bated breath for their next theory about how to do church. Come on, people!!! Is it really that hard to tell that we are just making it up?
You know how a song gets stuck in your head all day and you can’t make it stop? Well as I have been watching this with growing amazement, something Bob said once started coming back to me over and over: After 2000 years of church history, evangelicalism is still trying to reinvent the wheel. And Michele once remarked to me that evangelicalism’s least-common-denominator theology is just relativism. At the time I disagreed with that, because evangelicals don’t deny the knowability of objective, propositional truth. But OTOH if the things we can be sure about can all fit on a page of a church bulletin then there is a sort of relativism practically speaking even if it’s denied in theory. And relativistic thinking has definitely taken hold in evangelical churches.
You recall the dilemma I had: if the Protestant solution to its various competing doctrines all based on “the Bible alone” was to appeal to accepted rules of hermeneutics, but those rules aren’t clearly taught in scripture then there’s a contradiction. Never mind that the apostles when quoting the OT seem unaware of these rules >.< I posed this to three pastors, one of them a good friend of mine, and none had anything even approaching an answer. Two of them, who fancy themselves as intellectuals, tried to bluff and dance around it, but my friend Brian being the honest guy he is didn’t even attempt that. He did say however that this shouldn’t lead me to become Mormon or Catholic or anything like that.
So all the time that I’m looking at the train wreck that is Protestantism, here is the Catholic Church: coherent epistemology, holding to the truths of historic orthodoxy, paradoxically relevant despite not seeking to be trendy, theology so deep that you won’t mine it all in a lifetime, and for some odd reason it is the focal point of the secularists’ war on Christianity. Rather odd if the Catholic Church is full of worldly idolatries.
You also recall that I saw the question of authority in the church as the determinative one. The problem with hermeneutical assumptions, if they are properly taken into account, is that Sunday sermons are not “Thus saith the Lord” so much as “Pastor’s interesting thoughts on topic X,” which it’s understood you may agree or disagree with. Pretty thin gruel. It was last week as this was weighing on me that I saw this verse in a new light:
[Paul to Titus] Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. Titus 2:15 (ESV)
All authority. But Titus wasn’t an apostle; he was a bishop. So there it is: a bishop holds authority from the apostles. And so the missing puzzle piece falls into place.
Our Lord was not done confirming this decision. Shortly before we felt the pull to leave Burley and move to Moscow, Lynda felt that God was giving us this passage as a personal message:
Isaiah 43:16-21 (ESV) Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.
We believed that God was leading us [here] and telling us we would be blessed so much we’d be tempted to forget Him. So for 4 1/2 years since we’ve been here we’ve been wondering what the “new thing” was. Every time we began to think we were mistaken and imagined the whole thing, we would immediately see a verse or hear a comment to the effect that we shouldn’t give up, that God would do what He promised. The night of Feb. 21, after our umpteenth conversation about lack of a church home, we agreed to start attending the Catholic church where Josh already attends (!) with his Catholic girlfriend. The very next day after we made that decision, Lynda looked up the daily reading for Mass. Guess what. It was the same passage! Not only confirmation, but God showing us that Liturgy set up years in advance can speak to us on the exact day we need it, like hitting a bullet with a bullet. Only God could have done that. We were blown away.