Committed Christians in a Christendom that has many competing Christian bodies have to do something they really should not have to do: decide which Church they should belong to.

Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanism

edited by Robert L. Plummer (Zondervan, 2012) recounts faith journeys among the various Christian traditions: Evangelicalism, Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Anglicanism.

A convert explains why he left, for example, the Baptist Church for Orthodoxy. A Baptist responds, and then the convert gets to respond again. It is a good format.

All churches have their severe problems. I have documented some of Catholicism’s worst problems, so I have no illusions about the Roman Catholic Church. Evangelicalism, Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism all have severe problems; some are historical accidents, some may by intrinsic to the traditions.

For my part, it has always been clear to me that the Roman Catholic Church has all the elements of the complete Church as described in the New Testament, including a central authority, the papacy, to strengthen the brethren and to foster unity.  Whether they are in the right proportion or operate in the right manner in another question entirely.

In reading the rehearsal of the Catholic-Protestant arguments on justification in this book, I keep sensing that nominalist, voluntarist  assumptions have made the controversy insoluble. God is the cause of all things, the creator of all things, including all actions. Every human action is created by God, or it would not exist. But a human action is both free and caused (a concept difficult for modern Westerners to understand – we have a nominalist, voluntarist conception of freedom in the air we breathe). God causes some things by acting through free agents. Therefore the actions are both the action of God and the action of the agent. This is true in the orders of nature and of grace.

When God acts in us, God acts in us. That is, out just actions are truly His, but they are also truly ours. Since they are truly His, they are saving, since they are truly ours, they are worthy of blame or praise, that is, they are meritorious. Paul was confident that the just God would give him the crown he had merited.

Chrysostom explains this in the context of friendship. Friendship finds or makes friends equal. A friend when he discovers that his friend needs something, gives it to him, but in a way that makes the recipient seem to be doing a favor to the giver.

As to the Eucharist, the best explanations I have ever read was by a member of the Eastern Church. He explained that the same thing happens invisibly at the Eucharist as happened when Jesus was on earth. When Jesus ate bread, it was transformed into his body. In the Eucharistic banquet, the same thing happens invisibly. Although we see bread, it has truly become Jesus. This explanation avoids terminology that sounds foreign to the New Testament (transubstantiation) and better preserves the whole context of the Heavenly Banquet at which God and man are sat down.

The Evangelical in this book also takes some swipes at the supposed unity of Roman Catholicism by comparing it to Hinduism. If he knew more about popular Catholicism, he would have even more ammunition. But the imperfect assimilation to Christianity in many Catholic cultures (an endless source of frustration to the clergy) has two sides. Less so than Protestantism, the Catholic Church (for all the charges of cultural genocide) has tried to transform rather than totally destroy the cultures it encounters, so that the riches of all nations will serve the Lord. But the result is often an odd mixture, sometimes charming, sometimes appalling.

Leave a Comment