As Iron Sharpens Iron

An ongoing and online discussion between: an Orthodox informed Ecumaniac without a denominational home, an ordained Baptist youth pastor with an open mind, a Calvinist worship leader/seminarian with a staggering vocabulary and ability to make a point, and a cradle Catholic with a love/hate relationship to Rome.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

On the Header

Friends and fellow editors,

It seems only fair to acknowledge that I and the other brother are Evangelicals, albeit ones of different stripe. Whether in the common parlance of Christianity Today (or, for that matter, USA Today), or the technical understanding of those who divided the "Old Side" from the "New Side" when Wesley and Whitfield preached revival, my brother and I would be understood as Evangelicals.
The term, of course, is regrettable, not because it is too narrow, but because it is too broad, for what is an Evangelical ipso facto if not one committed to the Evangel, that is, the Gospel of Jesus Christ? And are we not those who, in addition to this basic Christian committment, add an emphasis on personal experience of salvation, and ongoing commitment to faith evidenced by a holy life? And not only this, but, committing the cardinal late modern sin of being intolerant (of the miserable condition of others), do we not dare to preach this Gospel all over the world? Surely, more is meant by "Evangelical" than meets the eye.
Let us consider, then, this ambiguous force pitted against us in debate. A Catholic Christian is one who understands themselves a member of the "Church Universal," that is, they understand themselves to be a member of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church established by Christ himself and left in the hands of the Apostles. (I might point out at this point that Evangelicals would happily include themselves in all these categories). The dividing point between those called "Catholics" and those called "Evangelicals" comes principaly on the location of the authority to determine faith and doctrine. Those called Catholics feel free to thus label themselves because they stand within a magisterium which claims some kind of formal authorization to draw a circle beyond which are the heathen. Whether the claim is the literal succession of Apostles, as in the East, or the vested authority which the Bishop of Rome claims to have inherited from Peter, those inside the circle are free to regard themselves as the only ones who may be called Christian in the full, historical sense of that word.
The difference between Catholics of the Roman variety and the Catholic here represented is that, while living under the authority of the magisterium that draws a circle around him, he is not compelled to accept the extent of the circle as dogma- that is, he is free to regard his Baptist or Presbyterian brothers and sisters as hellbound or not, however his conscience shall lead him.
And now, the point of controversy which I wish to promulgate: From the other side of the fence, as it were, one may imagine a much larger circle. In other words, although we Protestants are much more than Evangelicals, and refuse Roman doctrine on a few points, from our own vantage point, we could quite legitimately call ourselves Catholic! Indeed, we do so each time we recite the credo, and if we do not, we cut ourselves off from the Church Universal, that is, the one and only Body of Christ.
Further, this dogged Catholic of ours, committed as he is to the full and glorious Gospel of Salvation in the Name of Jesus Christ, and the vigorous working out of the soul's salvation through, (dare I say it), personal experience, could, without qualm, refer to himself as an Evangelical.

Therefore I conclude, dear friends, without deconstructionist intentions, (rather I hope to build, upon this foundation of untangled terms, a capacious house of faith), that we are Evangelicals and Catholics in dialogue with Evangelicals and Catholics- one in our love for Christ, and one in belonging to His Body. Although we draw our doctrinal distinctions with a fine brush, let us paint our circles in broad strokes.

Sir R.F. Burton


Blogger The Poor Blogger said...

I take your point and respond in two ways. First, I entirely agree. Second, on some level, we're going to have to let labels be labels, as limited as they are, that we might have discussions without digressing too much on accurate definitions.

That said, I have changed the heading (which just included my biological brother and myself) and broadened it to include all of us. As I wrote it, I realized how exciting this project could be. We four represent the true breadth of Christian theological belief. There is probably as much difference between you and Josh as there is between Josh and myself, despite the fact that you are both Protestants/Evangelicals.

I will take one exception to your portrayal of Catholicism/Orthodoxy. Your use of a circle which holds Christianity in it's fullness on the inside and heathens on the other is accurate, I think. However, I would say that Evangelical/Protestant churches have a similar circle which, at best, moves from purity in the center (in a Chinese cultural kind of way) to ever increasing levels of error (with Catholics and Orthodox being just before Mormons). At worst, you have the following:

6:42 PM  
Blogger Josh White said...

You know...I'm a long way out of seminary for you to be using those really long SAT words.

7:26 PM  

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