Sometimes finding the right church family takes a leap of faith. I recently began working towards the goal of getting closer to God. My intent is to strengthen my faith and become a better person. I am largely motivated by shedding my old self and starting anew. Part of it stems from the new year, as it is often the case. For me, however, this year it runs deeper.
I have begun facing a cataclysmic shift in my fundamental views on Christianity. I am beginning to ask questions I previously took for granted.
There has always been one underlying rift in all of Christianity, the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and those churches that exist outside of Roman Catholicism.
At the core of this rift is the authority of the church. The question is where does Church authority lie, in the laymen, the piety or the hierarchy? Depending on how one answers that question is the core of whether or not that person can even begin to consider the process of entering the Catholic faith, if they started their journey outside it’s doors.
Beginning in the 1500’s there was a Protestant Reformation. Originally the intent of the priest who began the reformation was to address issues that was perceived as errors within the church. Specifically Martin Luther had concerns he wished to resolve. Originally his intention, as I understand it, was not to leave the church but to reform it, or cleanse it from the errors he perceived. At the crux of his argument lied within the central authority of Rome. The papacy, or the Supremacy of the Bishop of Rome was called into question. Those who rejected the Papacy split into their own denominations. The common narrative is there had been one, central Christian church united world wide before the Reformation. Except this is also not entirely accurate.
Five hundred years before the Reformation was another Schism, this one known as the Great Schism by those who study church history. The rift then was also over Papal authority. The Catholics claim papal authority is traced back to Saint Peter, an Apostle the Church claims was given profound powers directly by Jesus himself, the Son of God according to Christian beliefs.
This was further complicated as there is a 400 year period between the life of the apostles and the official canonization of the Holy Scriptures collected into the modern interpretation of what Christians of many faiths refer to simply as The Bible. As such there is a question of authority all churches today do have to wrestle with. The catholic claim of apostolic succession is well documented but it has some areas that is often used against the church. The early Church Fathers did believe in Apostolic Succession, this is the laying on of hands and ordination. Churches today express ordaining of ministers in different ways but the concept of passing the faith on from the Apostles to their followers is not in dispute. The dispute comes from the extent of the authority of the Church that was established in Rome and the central figure who sits as the Bishop of Rome.
At the heart of it the split comes over does a believer accept the Church on earth as established by Jesus as the central authority whose role is to keep the Word preserved and to protect the flock, or is the Bible alone the sole authority one must live by and church authority is merely relegated to communal worship matters?
This question has beleaguered the Christian faithful since the last Apostle passed on to the next world.
All other matters of Doctrine, be it Predestination, Calvinism, Dispensationalism, Pre-Tribulational Rapturism, Fundamentalism, Catholicism, Marianism, Iconography, and the list goes on and on, they can be debated until the Second Coming of Christ.
What all churches within the Christian faith do have in common is a few key points. They are mostly contained in what the Church historians call the Nicene Creed. This creed is an explanation of the faith. It lists the key points all the churches that existed at the time agreed upon and is the doctrinal basis for the faith. It is not the source of the faith as some might try to say, it is merely a confirmation of what Christians ought to agree as universally true.
There are no single points in the Nicene Creed I, raised a Baptist and Baptized as such, disagree with. There are matters of worldly doctrine, things that in my view have no bearing on ones salvation, that are contested by the thousands of denominations.
While the Catholic Church can claim their roots to in fact go all the way back to the Apostles as Paul frequently visited the Church in Rome, they are not the only Christian denomination which can claim apostolic succession. While I have come to accept that as essential to the faith, the apostles did anoint their successors, I do not yet feel convinced there is sufficient evidence to claim only those anointed by the and into the Roman Catholic Church can make that claim.
This is not a treatise on anti-Catholicism nor is it a declaration of intent to convert, rather what I am wrestling with is discovering the truth. Can a Christian come to salvation without the aid of the Roman church, and likewise can a Christian lose their salvation by participating in the practices of said church?
At the end of the day my calling to the Catholic Church remains overwhelming, I have always been plagued by the schism and the Reformation as signs of disunity in the Church, I am merely an individual person who doesn’t have the authority to speak definitively on such matters. Yet I am hesitant as there are a number of issues I have to reconcile. Either I accept the churches authority and let them settle the matters or I let that be a sticking point keeping me from entering the Catholic Church.
What I can say is, I have attended a Catholic service and it wasn’t what I expected. Being raised Baptist I was expecting to walk into a pagan ritual that looked nothing like Christianity. Instead I saw something entirely different.
I have since read books on the history. I have researched the topic from the perspective of the Catholic church, those outside it and from a purely neutral humanist or educational perspective, meaning I have explored it from all three possible angles.
I have come to the following conclusion.
1, if the church is not necessary for salvation and 2, if it cannot hinder one’s salvation then 3, there must be no objection to the services of the church other than orthodoxy and doctrinal issues. Doctrine and Orthodoxy are not issues that would, or should, keep any Christian from fellowship with any body of believers. I in fact now believe we shouldn’t lump together with only like-minded individuals but rather should congregate with others with different views so we can all share ideas. Personally, my intention has been to explore a separate entity entirely, namely the branch of the Anglican church in the United States known as the Episcopal Church. My reason for the struggle has been settling the issue of the liturgy and the doctrine. Once I came to the conclusion that man’s salvation is based solely on their faith and intent alone, I removed my doubts about attending a church I felt comfortable in.
At this moment in time I am leaving the door open to Catholicism. I have reached out to the local church to welcome me in. They have yet to respond to my request. I have since met with a pastor of the Episcopal Church and have, at the time being, found a peace knowing I am comfortable leaving behind the Baptist tradition as I seek something new. I am not denouncing my faith, I never identified as Baptist I merely attended their churches, almost exclusively for one reason or another.
I am at a point where I do wish to be in one of the three branches closer in nature to the original church, as I understand it to be. Since the Apostles were all Jews it stands to reason the churches that express their faiths similar to the Jewish faith, modified as it were to show the fullness of the Christ, it means to me reasonable to consider those, at least on matters of liturgy and Orthodoxy, closer to the original church.
Thus my new study is to reconcile my questions regarding the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church or the Anglican (Episcopal) church. If at such a time as I can settle this issue maybe I will find the peace I sat out to find. I was initially turned off by the liturgy as quite different to the church services I was used to. Recently I have found myself not attending any church at all and that is a lonely place for any Christian to be.
My entire life has been spent worshiping the Lord in one of the mostly uniquely American denominations there is. As I have realized much of my objection to the “un-American” churches stems from that core belief in American Exceptionalism, American Freedom and American Values, I have to set that aside and declare I am a Christian first, an American second. That is a point of view contrary to some “Patriots” who conflate patriotism with unquestionable devotion. I do not. I believe one can love their country and question it’s actions at the same time. Likewise I believe the Church, the Universal Church of Believers that makes up the Body of Christ on this Earth, is made up of imperfect beings in a world tainted with Sins of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve.
That being the case my current view is I have to accept the good with the bad. There are points of contention with any church. I have found none, including the Baptist and even the Catholics, are not perfect. Yet if you really pay attention, none of them claim to be. Neither do I.