Supersessionist Shrug

An apologist’s post caught my eye and led to an exchange that produced this assertion:

I did admit Rome’s problems, but I didn’t bother laying them out in detail because that wasn’t the point of the post. And as I pointed out in the post and have said over and over again in our exchange, they don’t really affect my conclusion one way or another. If my main argument were that Protestants don’t act like Christians and Catholics do, you would have a point. But I never said that and never would. Sure, Rome has a lot of ‘skeletons:’ the Catholic Church is the oldest and largest of the communions; it makes sense that there would be more crimes, sins, and failures in her past than in that of the others. What of it? A one-by-one comparison of the crimes of the different Christian churches, even if we agreed on what constituted a crime, would tell us nothing about which one among them had the best claim to being the church founded by Christ. Again, the evil done by the Church is accounted for by hypothesis: that of being a Divine commission entrusted to fallen humanity.

Imagine if Jeremiah had said that to the Israelites. Don’t worry about your sins, you go all the way back to Abraham:

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: You have seen all the disaster that I brought upon Jerusalem and upon all the cities of Judah. Behold, this day they are a desolation, and no one dwells in them, because of the evil that they committed, provoking me to anger, in that they went to make offerings and serve other gods that they knew not, neither they, nor you, nor your fathers. Yet I persistently sent to you all my servants the prophets, saying, ‘Oh, do not do this abomination that I hate!’ But they did not listen or incline their ear, to turn from their evil and make no offerings to other gods. Therefore my wrath and my anger were poured out and kindled in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, and they became a waste and a desolation, as at this day. (Jeremiah 44:2-6 ESV)

Too old to fail? Where would anyone reading the whole Bible come up with that?

But if the church is so different from Israel in a supersessionist way, then the lessons of Israel don’t apply to the church. And by the way, don’t bother reading the epistle to the Hebrews.

That’ll Work

How to have a happy marriage:

First, divide all the work of running your family – from job to shopping to doing the dishes to feeding the dog — into three categories: Paycheck Work; House Work; and Childrearing Work. With scrupulous honesty (men, this means you!), calculate how many hours per week each of you spends doing these things; then add the two totals together. For instance, if Husband’s numbers are 45 hrs + 5 hrs + 10 hrs = 60 hrs total, and Wife’s are 40 + 21 + 21 = 82, then the combined total family work hours = 142. Now divide your individual numbers by the total to get the percentage of total work that each of you does: in this case, 60/142 = 42% (He), and 82/142 = 58% (She). Finally, multiply your respective percentages by two. The resulting final percentage compares you with the theoretical full contributor. Think of it as the percentage person your family setup is requiring you to be — or allowing you to be. In my hypothetical case, for instance, the husband is 84% of a fully contributing person, while his wife is 116%.

Is this part of Roman Catholic social teaching?

Why Does It Take an Election To See This?

But thank the dear Lord for general revelation.

Archbishop Chaput (of Philadelphia) thinks a leaner meaner holier church is preferable to one that is large but not very in charge.

In a stark prognosis for contemporary Catholicism, a leader of the conservative wing of the U.S. hierarchy has said that “a smaller, lighter Church” of fewer but holier believers is preferable to one that promotes inclusion at the expense of orthodoxy.

In a speech delivered Oct. 19 at the University of Notre Dame, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput also suggested that many prominent Catholics are so weak in their faith that they ought to leave the Church.

Chaput singled out Democrats such as Vice President Joe Biden and vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine for special criticism, linking them to the concept of a “silent apostasy” coined by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and saying Catholics who do not champion the truth of Church teaching are “cowards.”

“Obviously we need to do everything we can to bring tepid Catholics back to active life in the Church,” Chaput told a symposium for bishops and their staff members at the South Bend, Ind. campus.

“But we should never be afraid of a smaller, lighter Church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness.

“Losing people who are members of the Church in name only is an imaginary loss,” he continued. “It may in fact be more honest for those who leave and healthier for those who stay. We should be focused on commitment, not numbers or institutional throw-weight.”

No shrug there and some support for those of us who marvel at the seeming innocence of Bryan and the Jasons and wonder what they are seeing. And kudos for a bishop who is acknowledging what at least Orthodox Presbyterians understood 80 years ago.

The problem though is that Archbishop Chaput doesn’t hold the mirror up to his own visage. Why has his communion become so loose and amorphous? Don’t the bishops have the mechanisms and authority and charism (no less) to make the ship ship shape?

Perhaps the problem is the general problem of our time is that we all want to be victims, from the abused to the bishops. It’s the new source of authority — my victimhood trumps your legitimate authority. But if the magisterium is what Bryan and the Jasons say it is, sure Archbishop Chaput can do more than give a speech.

And the question remains, why would it take a presidential election to provoke the Archbishop’s call to holiness?

Chaput’s main focus, however, was on the wider threat posed by what he said was a secularizing culture and a progressive political agenda that “bleaches out strong religious convictions in the name of liberal tolerance.”

Too many Catholics are guilty of cooperating with that process, he said, transferring “our real loyalties and convictions from the old Church of our baptism to the new ‘Church’ of our ambitions and appetites.”

He named Biden, Kaine and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as prime examples of this phenomenon, as well as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Catholic and Republican appointee whose deciding vote in the landmark 2015 gay marriage case made him anathema to many social conservatives.

The politics of the U.S. hierarchy are in flux largely because Francis, who was elected in 2013, has begun naming and promoting bishops who embrace his outgoing approach to ministry and evangelization.

That trend away from the “culture warrior” bishops who came to dominate the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops over the past three decades was evident in the men Francis chose this month as his first American picks to be cardinals.

The three – the archbishops of Chicago and Indianapolis and the former bishop of Dallas – are known for their moderate tone and pastoral style while hard-liners like Chaput, who in a previous era might have been a strong candidate for a red hat, were passed over.

But Chaput, 72, and other conservatives in the U.S. hierarchy have been speaking out with greater frequency about the election. They tend to lament Trump’s obvious faults while singling out the Democratic ticket for special criticism and noting that opposition to legal abortion – which is part of the Republican platform and a Trump campaign promise – overrides every other policy consideration.

Called to this communion? Is Bryan and the Jasons serious?

From Crisis to Crisis

If Ross Douthat thinks conservative Roman Catholics are having trouble with the current magisterium, he should remember how liberal Roman Catholics felt a little more than a decade ago in the last years of John Paul II’s papacy:

Thirty years after Vatican II, liberal Catholicism is once again passing through a cycle of official hostility and internal disarray. In a time of crisis-mongering, it is easy to exaggerate the situation. In many sectors of American Catholicism, liberal Catholicism is the dominant outlook—in the academy, in many seminaries and diocesan agencies, among religious educators and liturgists, and, on many questions, in the Catholic population generally. Are these liberal Catholic church workers, people in the trenches, as they like to say of themselves, much affected by some of the tensions and conflicts I am going to describe? Do their moods sink and their energies flag with every week’s alarms sounded in the National Catholic Reporter? Reliable observers tell me no. Mostly they get on about their work and hope for the best.

Nonetheless, liberal Catholics have good reason to feel on the defensive and threatened from both within the church and without. Rome considers us suspect, and has been pursuing a slow but steady policy of discrediting, marginalizing, and replacing us, and now and again, where the cost appears sustainable, rooting us out. The same goal is being similarly pursued by a number of influential, well-funded movements and publications that identify themselves as “orthodox” Catholics, presumably in distinction to the rest of us who are heretics. The most obvious and fundamental working difference between these groups and liberal Catholics turns on the possibility that the pope, despite the guidance of the Holy Spirit, might be subject to tragic error. Liberal Catholics believe that this possibility, which all Catholics recognize as historical fact, did not conveniently disappear at some point in the distant past, like 1950, but was probably the case in the 1968 issuance of Humanae vitae and cannot be ruled out in the refusal of ordination to women.

But if liberal Catholics increasingly feel that they are not wanted in the church, they are hardly more welcome in the ranks of secular liberalism. American political liberalism has shifted its passion from issues of economic deprivation and concentration of power to issues of gender, sexuality, and personal choice. This shift has opened a serious philosophical chasm between liberal Catholicism and a secular liberalism that would demand an illusory stance of state neutrality, maybe even social or cultural neutrality, on all fundamental questions of lifestyle and therefore a relegation of religious claims to private life and, as Stephen Carter has argued, ultimately to trivialization.

Liberal Roman Catholicism, by the way, was not necessarily about liberal theology but about adjusting ecclesiology to the modern world of liberal politics:

Liberal Catholicism began with a concern for freedom, not of the individual, not of the dissenting conscience, not of an aspiring class, but of the Catholic church. Its pioneers were not revolutionaries but restorationists, who dreamed of restoring the church’s cultural power. Initially they rebelled not against the church’s use of the throne but against the throne’s intervention in the affairs of the church. Then they rebelled against the alliance of throne and altar because they saw the possibility of reconquering society for Catholic Christianity doomed as long as the church remained chained to bankrupt regimes. Only at the end of this process did they conclude that the freedom necessary for the church to prevail implied the general freedom of all.

What I wonder is why a bright guy like Peter Steinfels only sees two options — Roman Catholicism or secular liberalism. Is he so parochial — he worked for the New York Times mind you — to identify Protestantism with secular liberalism? Sure a liberal Roman Catholic has gotten over the idea that liberal Roman Catholicism is the church that Jesus founded.

Apples and Oranges

Bryan and the Jasons hang another scalp. But notice how anachronistic this conversion narrative is:

In American religion, the Evangelical community and the Presbyterian tradition specifically, there were various things happening that gave me pause to reflect. Several Reformed ministers and theologians I respected were dragged through the mud of the printing press and declared openly to be heretics by self-appointed theological judges. The blogosphere was a landmine of gossip and slander. These accusations brought to the forefront the problem of Biblical interpretation and the sufficiency of Scripture. One man’s heretic was another’s saint. I became angry and worried. The political climate didn’t help my moorings. The nation in general; conservatives and liberals in my own Reformed tradition were at each others’ throats. The Presbyterian world was fracturing into more splits as controversy after controversy began to wreck the Reformed world. Jesus had promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church (Matt. 16:18) and it seemed like He was failing.

To complicate matters further, I learned of Dr. Frank Beckwith’s resignation from the Evangelical Theological Society to return to Rome and the “resignation” of Dr. Bruce Waltke from a prominent Reformed seminary over interpretations of Genesis. Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all Truth (John 16:13), so how did all these splits in the Christian world occur, now numbering well over 20,000 (some estimate over 35,000)? How did I know where the “Church” was to be found? By the time I resigned from my presbytery in 2012, there were 48 splits, each claiming Calvin as their founder. One writer observed 22 different issues that keep Reformed Christians out of each others’ pews. As of this writing, views of theistic evolution, homosexual unions, female deacons, charismatic gifts, exclusive psalmody (in worship), liturgy, music styles, etc., only add to the problems and all using the same Bible.

The Sweater Unravels

I returned to my studies of Church history and started at the beginning: the apostolic fathers and Church fathers – both east and west and the development of the canon of Scripture. I was shocked by the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch; though I had read them 20 years before, I never read them with Reformed glasses. There was nothing in those letters that sounded at all Presbyterian! In AD 95, why was Clement of Rome bypassing the authority of the Apostle John to settle a matter of discipline in the Church at Corinth, claiming the authority of Rome to be that of God? The more I studied the more I felt drawn but kept saying “This can’t be right.” So, I sought the wisdom of friends and mentors alike to help steer me through these troubled waters but on whose authority should I accept their observations or interpretations correct?

In 2010, my daughter and I attended the confirmation of a friend. I remember being impressed with the amount of Scripture heard during the Mass. I had been working on liturgical studies, so I was shocked at how similar the mass was to the Reformed liturgy at my parish.

In the middle of 2011, I read John Henry Newman’s “Development of Doctrine” and G.K. Chesterton’s works on his conversion. They both were Anglican converts to Catholicism and I wanted to know why. In the process, I learned of C.S. Lewis’ devotion to Mary, belief in purgatory and his habit of praying the Rosary, but yet, he never became Catholic.

So this fellow looks at contemporary Protestantism and compares that to the ancient church or to Anglo-Catholics. Where are David L. Schindler, George Weigel, Richard McBrien, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Pope Francis, Joe Biden, John Courtney Murray, William F. Buckley Jr., Brent Bozell, the troubling debates over admitting divorced Roman Catholics to communion?

It’s like saying you still are an evangelical because of John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards. It’s like being an evangelical with a bishop in Italy.

What’s A Conservative To Do?

Ross Douthat explained what converts did not have in mind when they swam the Tiber:

Conservative Catholics need to come to terms with certain essential failures of Vatican II. For two generations now, conservatives in the Church have felt a need to rescue the real council, the orthodox council, from what Pope Benedict called “the council of the media.” This was and remains an important intellectual project, and the debate about what the council means for Catholic theology is a rich one that deserves to continue for generations to come.

But this work needs to coexist with a clear recog­nition that the council as experienced by most Catholics was the “council of the media,” the “spirit of Vatican II” council, and that the faithful’s experience of a council and its aftermath is a large part of its historical reality, no matter how much we might wish it to be otherwise.

It needs to coexist, as well, with a recognition that a major part of Vatican II’s mission was to equip the Church to evangelize the modern world, and that five decades is long enough to say that in this ambition the council mostly failed. Since the close of the council, we’ve seen fifty years of Catholic civil war and institutional collapse in the world’s most modern (and once, most Catholic) societies, fifty years in which only Africa looks like a successful Catholic mission territory, while in Asia and Latin America the Church has been lapped and lapped again by Protestants. The new evangelization exists as an undercurrent, at best, in Catholic life; the dominant reality is not new growth, but permanent crisis.

This doesn’t mean the council was a failure in its entirety, or that arch-traditionalists are right to condemn it as heretical, or (as more moderate traditionalists would argue) that the council itself was primarily to blame for everything that followed. The experience of every other Christian confession suggests that some version of the same civil war and institutional crisis would have arrived with or without the council.

But we need to recognize, finally, that for all its future-oriented rhetoric, Vatican II’s clearest achievements were mostly backward-looking. It dealt impressively with problems that came to the fore during the crises and debates of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (the Church’s relationship to democracy, to religious liberty, to anti-Semitism). But its deliberations simply took place too soon to address the problems that broke across Catholicism and Christianity with the sexual revolution and that still preoccupy us now.

In this respect, Vatican II partially resembles not the great councils of the Catholic past but one of the largely forgotten ones: Fifth Lateran, the last council before the Protestant Reformation, which looked backward toward the fifteenth-century debates over conciliarism and promoted some reforms that were half-implemented and insufficient to address the storm that began just seven months after the council’s closing, when Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door in Wittenberg.

Which is not to say that what the Church needs right now is a Council of Trent, exactly. The recent Synod on the Family suggests that, if attempted, the outcome would be either empty or disastrous.

This is not business as usual so shrug. This is crisis.

Obedience Girl

Wesleyans aren’t the only ones to promote perfectionism:

Following Jesus is a serious task, and, at the same time, one filled with joy; it takes a certain daring and courage to recognize the divine Master in the poorest of the poor and those who are cast aside, and to give oneself in their service. In order to do so, volunteers, who out of love of Jesus serve the poor and the needy, do not expect any thanks or recompense; rather they renounce all this because they have discovered true love. And each one of us can say: “Just as the Lord has come to meet me and has stooped down to my level in my hour of need, so too do I go to meet him, bending low before those who have lost faith or who live as though God did not exist, before young people without values or ideals, before families in crisis, before the ill and the imprisoned, before refugees and immigrants, before the weak and defenceless in body and spirit, before abandoned children, before the elderly who are on their own. Wherever someone is reaching out, asking for a helping hand in order to get up, this is where our presence – and the presence of the Church which sustains and offers hope – must be”. And I do this, keeping alive the memory of those times when the Lord’s hand reached out to me when I was in need.

Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defence of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded. She was committed to defending life, ceaselessly proclaiming that “the unborn are the weakest, the smallest, the most vulnerable”. She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime – the crimes! – of poverty they created. For Mother Teresa, mercy was the “salt” which gave flavour to her work, it was the “light” which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.

But did she trust Jesus as her savior from sin?