Thursday, December 03, 2009

Church Unity and the Future of Anglicanism

One of the reasons I was eager to join the Anglican Communion was because I became convinced that it was the way forward - for realizing the unity among catholic and reformed impulses in the church. Dr. Peter Kreeft - a Dutchman who made the journey all the way to Rome from the Reformed camp - lays out the issues beautifully. I wanted to give you the opportunity to read for yourself. (Source: the Layman.)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Boston College’s Dr. Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy, kicked off Southern Evangelical Seminary’s 16th annual National Conference on Christian Apologetics with a call and challenge.

Openly acknowledging his perspective from “one side of the confessional,” Kreeft set out an argument for visible Christian unity that would strengthen the witness of the Christian Church in the world.

Kreeft was speaking at the 2009 National Conference on Christian Apologetics at Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C. Approximately 2,500 attended the two-day conference, “Apologetics and the Local Church,” held Nov. 13-14 and sponsored by Southern Evangelical Seminary.

“The devil is very clever. He attacks the Church from within and from without,” Kreeft reminded the audience of pastors, seminary students and committed Christians. “His tactic is to divide and conquer. If you can get your enemies to fight with each other then you win without much effort.”

To answer that attack, Kreeft proposed an “apologetic for Church reunification” based on Jesus’ appeal for unity in John 17 and the theology of the body of Christ.

“For 1,000 years,” he said, “the Church was one. So, it is possible …. Once upon a time Humpty Dumpty was sitting on the wall, in one piece. So, just because we cannot see how to get him back into one piece does not mean that it is impossible.”

Kreeft then asked the question that was reasonably on the minds of everyone in the room, “How?” “Well,” he answered, “first we have to want to do it.”

“Sometimes you only see the roadmap after you’ve traveled it. Love is like that and faith … the mind sees God only after believing, not before. The motor that drives the mind is always the heart, the will. When the Pharisees asked ‘how can we understand your teachings?,’ Jesus replied that one must do the will of the Father – it’s a matter of the will, then the mind,” Kreeft opined.

Kreeft argued that the original “split” in the Church of Jesus Christ, that between the Eastern and Western varieties of Christianity, was more about politics than theology. “But the 1517 division,” Kreeft acknowledged, “that split was theological. And theology is a non-negotiable thing. Are we saved by faith alone or by faith plus good works? Luther argued the former; the Council of Trent settled on the later.” What resulted was the reality of the Protestant and Catholic division of the body of Christ.

Why? What was so important that the visible unity of the Church would suffer such fracture? Kreeft’s answer was simple, “theology.”

“Theology is about absolutes. Politics is about relativities. So, you can never solve theological problems with politics. It will not work. You cannot compromise on theology. Ever,” Kreeft affirmed.

Then he declared, “You may not have heard this, but the Reformation is over.” Kreeft then presented “The Decree on Justification” approved by the Vatican, the Anglicans, the Lutherans, the Methodists and others as evidence. The decree declares that Christians, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, “really do agree in essence on the issue of justification, without compromise.”

Kreeft continued, “No one 50 years ago thought that was possible. Except one guy, who in the 1950’s wrote Luther and Aquinas on Justification, arguing that they were both arguing from the same source, namely, the Bible. So they are both right without contradiction and without compromise.”

Luther, argued that those who are saved are saved by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone, made his arguments from Romans and Galatians. “So,” Kreeft affirms, “he’s right.”

“The Council of Trent, arguing that those who are saved are saved by faith and good works, made their argument from James and I Corinthians 13. So, they too, are right.”

The real conversation, Kreeft contended, is in the definition of faith. “By faith,” he asks, “do you mean ‘justified’ or do you mean ‘perfected?’”

“Justification is achieved by grace alone, yes; sanctification by grace plus works, yes. We’re saved but we’re not fully sanctified. His work in us and our work in response. The roots are not yet fruits,” he said.

Kreeft then led the audience through a philosophical exploration of the question, “What is faith?” He acknowledged that faith is both essentially an intellectual apprehension (one must believe) and essentially an act by which you accept Jesus Christ into your soul … which inevitably produces good works. This combination, Kreeft contends, “is saving faith.”

Challenging his audience to consider an ecclesiastical apologetic for reunification, Kreeft pleaded, “We need each other. The body needs all its organs. The Church is not an organization. It is an organism. … to tear apart the body of Christ is a blasphemy, an obscenity against the body of Christ.”

Kreeft’s theology of the body seeks to teach Protestants and Catholics alike. “Christ does not have more than one body, one house. The house may have been divided by sin, but the integrity of the unity of the house still stands. And “everyone in the whole house needs the precious things that now exist in different parts of the house.”

Kreeft then outlines the things that Catholics need to learn from Protestants – things they have forgotten, including:
  • Primacy of Jesus: Christ is not one element among many. He is everything. He is the center. He is the foundation.
  • Primacy of faith: You cannot have fruits without roots.
  • Primacy of Scripture: All other authority is based on the authority of Scripture.
  • Importance of evangelism and the diversity of gifts.

He then enumerated things that Protestants need to learn from Catholics:

  • The body of Christ is physical, literal and concrete. It’s not an ideal – that’s Gnosticism and it’s a heresy. God has a physical life, forever. Christ did not get out of His body when He rose again – He rose physically. The second person of the Trinity has a human body, forever.
  • What is saved is the Church, not just individuals. Salvation is simultaneously individual and collective.
  • Absolute importance of works of love. It is part of the Gospel, part of the main course, not dessert.
  • The Scripture is always taught by a teacher – the teacher and the book go together. We do not worship the book, we worship God. The Word comes alive in the hands of a living teacher.
  • Christ is present in the Eucharist. You can debate “how” but you cannot debate “whether.”

In conclusion, Kreeft asserted that “we have to be open to the mysterious and unknown and something we cannot see, yet. Stop being a control freak and let God be God. Who knows what will happen?”

The philosopher showed through arguing, “now, it has to be a ‘more’ not a ‘less.’ Catholics will become more Catholic by greater exposure to and cooperation with Evangelicals. Evangelicals will become more Evangelical by greater exposure to and cooperation with Catholics.”

Kreeft acknowledged that very idea of Church reunification is too big and too much for many people to even consider. “Our problem should always be that which we consider ‘too big,’ lest we settle for things that are ‘too small.’”

Kreeft challenged his listeners, “You have to be a fanatic. Good fanaticism – you cannot love God too much. You cannot love love too much. You cannot love unity too much. You cannot love the lost too much. It cannot be overdone – it is your fidelity to God, alone.”

How, you ask? Kreeft answers, “One foot up and one foot down. Make a step in the direction of God’s desire: unity.”

Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and at the King’s College (Empire State Building), in New York City. He is a regular contributor to several Christian publications, is in wide demand as a speaker at conferences, and is the author of more than 55 books including: Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Christianity for Modern Pagans and Fundamentals of the Faith. For more information about him or his books, visit his Web site.


peter said...

It seems to me that the crux (pun intended) of the matter between Rome and the Reformation regarding justification is not the nature of faith but the nature of justification. Is justification infused righteousness or is it imputed righteousness?

Do you know if Kreeft addressed this question?

Fr. Chris Larimer said...

Unfortunately I don't. But Kreeft is a private theologian. The Vatican itself has addressed the question and have said that Luther was right (or at least not wrong). He was right about justification - and he was right that - life fire & heat & light - faith and works cannot be separated in actuality.

But that's a generous read. R. Scott Clark takes his usual hard line. Frankly, I'm inclined to believe Clark because it truly is unconscionable that the local ordinary of Rome would depart from Trent.