I was glad to see this article about Anglicanism at the Gospel Coalition. I love my Anglo-Catholic friends, I love all my other Reformed friends, and it's good to see them celebrating what they share in common.
It's also good to get a bit more clarity on the ways in which I disagree with both of them.
"In Anglicanism, Scripture alone is supreme as the saving Word of God."
I love the Bible, and the more I read it, the more I find in it to love. But like all faithful messengers, the Bible does not point to itself. It points to Jesus.
Jesus alone is supreme as the saving Word of God.
Not Moses, not Elijah, not John the Baptist, not the angel Gabriel or the Virgin Mary. Not even the Bible.
Scripture is God-breathed, and useful for instruction and training in righteousness. But Jesus is the living and active Word of God who sees every inward thought, understands our weakness, and stands before the Father as our great high priest.
I've often heard Hebrews 4:12 quoted as though it referred to the Bible, but that is an impossible reading of the text.
The writer of Hebrews does not praise this Word for its power to teach us, but for his power to see, understand, and judge us. "No creature is hidden from his sight" is a very odd thing to say about the words that became our book, but it is most emphatically true of the Word made flesh.
Moreover, this reference to the "Word of God" appears within an argument for the supremacy of Christ over every other form of divine revelation, including (indeed, starting with!) the Bible.
At various times, God has revealed himself to us through various prophets. Some of their words have been preserved for us and bound into books. This is a very great blessing.
But Jesus is greater.
The Bible is an important messenger, and we should listen to it well. But if we listen to it faithfully, we will obey it's call to worship no mere book, but the living Christ, the Wisdom through which the Father created the world, revealed in human flesh.
We search the Scriptures, because we believe that in them we have eternal life. And indeed we do.
But only if we are willing to look beyond them, to the Word to which they point.
I wrote a nice long essay about the Virgin Mary, and it was almost ready post. I wrote about how she's the biggest obstacle in our journey toward Catholicism, but also maybe part of what's drawing us in. I also talked about the rosary, and learning styles, parenting, and my lifelong obsession with epistemology. All that remained was to tie it all together, which, come to think of it, may or may not have been possible. But now I'll never know, because I forgot to save the file.
I've been doing that a lot, lately. It makes me very glad that Jesus is the one responsible for saving my soul, and that his memory is better than mine.
Anyway, having thoroughly demonstrated my inability to save my files, let alone my self, I'm back to my old method of writing my first draft directly into blogger. Automatic cloud storage ftw!
Of course, this approach has risks of its own... so if I say something stupid, just assume that the baby was messing with my phone, okay?
I am actually pretty paranoid that Amos will grab my phone and do something ridiculous, which is one reason why we held off for so long before jumping on the smart phone bandwagon.
But the cost of traditional phone service went up, the cost of cellular went down, so here we are, and on the whole, I'm glad. It's quite possible to be well organized without a cell phone, but I've never actually managed to do it, and I'm glad that we live in a time and place with so many useful tools. We stand on the shoulders of lots and lots of mostly ordinary people, all learning from one another and building on each other's work, together doing things that none of them could have done alone. Technology is a great blessing, both flowing out of and facilitating the greater blessing of human community.
Homescooling is much easier now that I can fit dozens of books in my pocket. I spend more time reading with the kids, and less time looking for books, which is good, and less time getting upset with the kids over lost books, which is even better. My electronic to-do list is the real game-changer, though, because it provides enough structure to let me flexibly respond to the kids' ever-changing needs.
I like these new rhythms. It's been a good back-to-school week, made all the better because I've been meditating on John Neumann, who dedicated his life to helping kids learn, founded about a kabillion schools, and wrote amazing prayers of repentance drenched in grace.
His feast day was on Monday, and even though I can't keep track of such things, the editors of the Magnifcat do. They've laid out a daily banquet of prayers, hymns, and Scripture readings, along with beautiful reflections by and about all sorts of saints. There are so many different ways of becoming like Jesus, and each one shows me a different aspect of holiness to aspire toward, a different beauty to pray to see in others. I don't know how time and consciousness operate in glory, but I do know that we're all in this together, around the world and across the ages, and I am glad.
On my own, I'm pretty bad at remembering all the things I need to know if I'm going to run this race well. I'm grateful to be surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.
As we contemplate a transition to Roman Catholicism, there's a lot to think about, and some of the differences are pretty intimidating.
But the doctrine of justification doesn't bother us at all.
All Christians believe that we're not saved by our own merits, but by the meritorious work of Christ. (Catholics affirm this in every mass!)
It's all grace. All of it.
Moreover, all Christians believe that the God's saving grace inexorably draws us into ever increasing conformity with Christ.
Salvation is a free gift, not a thing earned. And true Christians are characterized by their active fruitful love. It's impossible to take the Bible seriously without affirming both of those things, but there are a number of different ways of talking about it.
Because of Jesus, God forgives our sins and makes us holy. When we talk about salvation, do we mean just the forgiveness part, or do we mean the holy-making part as well? Is sanctification part of justification, or something separate that comes afterward?
It all depends on how you define your terms.
Words matter. But I'm pretty sure that our salvation doesn't depend upon our deft definitions and delineations.
We're saved by grace, and we can't earn God's favor by our cognitive merits. Whatever the words "justification" and "sanctification" ought to mean, it's safe to say that God regularly gives both of these gifts of grace to people who define them imperfectly.
Which is actually one reason that I was quite content to remain Protestant long after I became convinced that the Catholic way of talking about salvation is more helpful.
Careful Catholics and careful Protestants agree that the process of growing into love (sanctification) is a gift of grace. It's not something you can bootstrap yourself into. Trying harder doesn't work. You have to wait upon the hope of righteousness.
But even though we all agree that it's all gift, it's easy for a protestant to slip into the habit of thinking that we're sanctified by our own efforts.
I'm sure that Catholics are not immune to this pitfall, and I know that not all Protestants fall into this trap.
But even though I've never met a protestant who seriously thought that we can sanctify ourselves by our own efforts, that's the logical implication whenever the Catholic view is characterized as "earning your salvation."
Thinking of sanctification as a part of justification has nothing to do with earning, unless sanctification is something we do for ourselves.
But it's not. It's all gift. It's all grace.
Day by day, I'm struggling to remember that God alone can rescue me from my sin. I need all the help I can get, and it really helps to think of my journey into love in salvific terms.
I don't see this as something to break fellowship over. But it does seem like a good reason why maybe we don't really need to go out of our way to avoid fellowship with the Christians in our neighborhood.
Last night, we sat down with the elders at our church, and explained why we're seriously looking into Catholicism. Not all roads lead to Rome, but right now, it sure looks like ours does.
We've been uneasy protestants for a long time, but for a long time, we've been committed to making it work. These are our roots, and one should never break with tradition lightly. Besides, the grass is always greener on the other side, and we were never quite ready to trade the familiar problems of Protestantism for the unknown troubles of the Catholic church.
There came a point, though, where it stopped mattering where the grass was greenest--we just needed some grass that we could get actually to.
Without completely exhausting ourselves.
If you've ever tried to groom, feed, and transport six high-energy kids anywhere, you probably know what I mean. Getting everyone to church is a superhuman feat, and for a while, we just stopped being superheroes.
But we could get to the big Catholic church down the road. Not usually all at once, mind you, and only sometimes at the time(s) we intended. But there were enough masses that we could miss church twice, and still end up making it on time.
And then we would find ourselves at home an hour later, strengthened and refreshed, sure of God's presence, and ready to face the rest of the day.
Nathan says that when you're in the mass, it feels like it's forever, but then when you step outside, almost no time has passed. That's exactly what it feels like, and if the Catholics are right about transubstantiation, then I think it must be so. The eucharist is a temporal version of the miracle of the loaves, where time itself is divided and multiplied, broken and gathered, as we all meet together across the centuries in the eternal moment of the cross.
Stretched thin, exhausted, and overwhelmed, this is what I'm hungry for.