Saturday, January 10, 2015


A friend posted a question on Facebook about those who are Reformed and the use of prayer beads.  A discussion of those who were more or less committed to sola Scriptura ensued, with some Anglicans and Orthodox chiming in.  What was said isn't particularly relevant to what I'm writing right now -- the discussion proceeded down the same old talking points that are common to such things.  No real surprises at all.  For me, the important thing is once again how shaky it all is for us humans.  Either the Church fell into idolatry rather quickly (icons are being found earlier and earlier in the archaeological record, mosaics -- even of the Zodiac -- adorn Jewish synagogues; invocations of the saints are on record from very, very early, etc.) or the Reformation got it wrong.  I've tried, and maybe it is just my feeble mind, but I cannot see it any other way.  Of course, along the way, there were abuses: we shouldn't expect anything else.  But could the Church, whom Christ said He through the Spirit would lead into all Truth (Jn 16:13 -- or could our Lord be saying only the Apostles would be so led, with their descendants having to fend for themselves?), and which St Paul called the "pillar and ground of the Truth" (1 Tim. 3:15), have so monumentally failed in her dogma and worship (the twins that comprise the word "orthodoxy") that the Reformation (in its Calvinist and Zwinglian forms) was necessary to reset it?

And with the ongoing difficulties I've had in my faith, this question has loomed large.  The question is important, since being part of Christ's Body is tantamount to salvation (maybe this is why the Reformation developed the teaching of the "invisible Church"?): but which Church?  Which authority do we submit to that faithfully carries the life of Christ into the world still?  I've been told that I just need to have faith, by which seems to be meant blind belief: but the question of how I might be saved, how I might be healed and restored and glorified -- and the world along with me -- seems to need more than just "faith" in that restrictive sense.  It strikes me as more akin to Kierkegaard's "leap of faith" than what we see in the Gospels and Acts, which is predicated on the active presence of the Spirit.

While I flirted with a certain sort of ecumenism for awhile, I don't think in the end that it works: the mutually conflicting claims from all sides cannot jibe with one another.  We might say that many disagreements affect matters that are not important to salvation, such as a cappella music versus pianos/organs versus modern instruments.  However, if we believe there is any part of our doctrine and practice that does not lead us to or away from salvation in Christ, then we would do better to completely excise that thing.  I've heard, although I cannot confirm it, that Zwingli did not have singing in his churches.  If it doesn't matter how we worship God in song, then song is an unnecessary distraction from the real work of the Church.  If, however, how we sing helps to form us in Christ (and chanting of the Psalms, not metrical singing and certainly not praise bands, has the historical upper hand here), then we should hold firmly to it.  This doesn't mean, by the way, that there is an overly restrictive formula at work, an "if you sing like this, then God must save you" sort of thing: I cannot get into the theory behind the expansiveness of boundaries at this point, but let me point to Zeno and his paradoxes as a guide.

One way forward might be to ask, again, what the nature of salvation is.  If it is merely getting to heaven when we die, then there is no authority by which we might examine that claim.  All near-death experiences are unverifiable, even that little boy's from the popular book and movie, so there really is nothing but blind faith here.  The authority, I think, often lies with those able to be rhetorically astute in their (well-intentioned, no doubt) manipulation of fear.  In other words, sophistry.  We are all afraid of death, or at least have reservations about it, and these sorts of guarantees salve troubled souls.

Let's imagine, then, that salvation is becoming a 'good' person (whatever that means -- a problem with this possibility already).  Many of those who would be considered either heretical or pagan by ostensibly Christian groups produce impeccably moral people.  I'd even, and this is controversial, include atheists into this: I've met many who treat other human being respectfully and with love -- sometimes with greater earnestness and intensity than card-carrying Christians.  The objection might be made that those others are moral without stable reason.  That is, their morality is part of "common grace" but ultimately fails because it is irrationally held: it goes against their deepest held beliefs since only those who believe in the Christian God can be truly moral.  Understandable, but impossible to prove.  Plus, there is plenty of empirical evidence to show that, prima facie, the objection is false.  At any rate, the reality of the virtuous atheist shows up the theory that salvation is being/becoming moral.  This isn't to say that morality plays no part in Christian salvation, but it cannot be the be-all end-all.

Two down.  Maybe salvation is being made into a saint.  Now, you might think that I'm just repeating the "salvation as morality" claim, but I'm not.  A saint is not the same as a moral person, as any look at the history of saints will show.  Nor am I using the common Protestant definition of a saint as any one and every one who believes -- I've yet to see any Scriptural evidence to back up that particular understanding of sainthood (I've come to believe -- and I need to write this up -- that the differences between Colossians and Ephesians hinges on what a "saint" is).  No, a saint is one who has been healed of the corruption inherited from Adam, that is, who partakes of the Holy Spirit to such an extent that they can truly exclaim with St Paul "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me" (Gal. 2:20).  But again, how can this be shown?  Have I met any saints?  If this is the true definition of salvation, to be made a saint, what is the process by which this happens?  In other words, here is the crux of the matter: which ecclesial tradition allows for the possibility to become like the Apostles, like St Mary, like our Lord Christ Himself (albeit by grace, not by nature) in holiness?

And so, again, I'm stuck.

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