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May 28, 2013

A longer road less traveled

This is an old post that I found while doing some cleanup, it’s a reflection of my mindset a little over a year ago. Today I’m no longer straddling the fence, I’m not sure why I never published it, so instead of letting it waste away, I’ll share it instead.


When I started my journey from being apostate and living in the evangelical wilderness, back into the world of faith, I never expected it to take me all the way to the doors of the Catholic church. But a little over two years ago, Michelle and I attended our first mass, at what is now our home parish. We actually hid it from the children, because we didn’t want them freaking out until we had a chance to finish freaking out ourselves. The good Father who greeted us that morning, would later take my first shaky confession, and would witness tears of pain and joy, as I confessed my sins.

Now we are facing our first anniversary as new Catholics this Easter, we have been faithful to our parish and faith, and we have found peace in simply being Catholic. We are sponsoring an older couple who come from a pentecostal background, it’s been good to sit and listen to their concerns and know that we had to face the same questions. The road that brought us here has been painful at times, and for a while we were sure that we had finally found home.


I never stopped looking for the truth, I knew that there was more, and the only way to find it was to keep digging until I had satiated my desire for authenticity and truth.

That has led me to a new place in my personal theology, somewhere I never expected to be. My wife is not there yet, and I’m not sure she ever will be, she doesn’t want to go back to the road. Too many painful events, memories, lost friends, and emotions. I agree with her, but I need, or more directly, Have to know where the truth is. As I have mentioned before I also have begun to look at the differences between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, and that has opened up a new world for me, one that quite honestly I didn’t even know existed for most of my life.

My theology has come to the point that I don’t think any church in existence today can claim full irrefutable authority or divine providence in matters of faith, certainly no evangelical church can make that claim. Much less the Orthodox or Catholic churches, even with doctrine that explicitly states otherwise, the history of each branch of Christianity tells a different story than the doctrine they present. I’m not trying to state that every church has faults, few would argue that point, rather my point is that no one body of believers has fully held the original deposit of faith handed down from the Apostles. Each has modified or changed it in some way, I’m not sure how you could expect any less. The world has not remained static, and each generation, and age faces new and more difficult challenges. This paired with constant attacks on Christianity from all sides (and often within), and modify doctrine becomes the only way to survive.

I no longer believe the dogma that the papacy is infallible when declaring dogmatic teaching. I know this will bother my Catholic friends, but the theology of infallibility was not even fully decreed as dogma until 1870 at the Vatican I council. And that after a long and bothersome history of the papal office expanding the role of the bishop of Rome, from a primate position among bishops (which is how the early church viewed the bishop of Rome), to the most powerful chair in the world. This expansion of power led to abuse and scandal, and was one of the key linchpins in the schism between east and west in 1054. Let me be clear that I’m not referring to papal cyclicals, doctrinal positions, or the personal human nature of the bishop of Rome. I’m specifically stating that the dogma declared by the Vatican I council is a position that cannot be supported from either Tradition, or Scripture. And despite apologetic claims to the contrary, it is clear from history and the writings of the church fathers that the original deposit of faith, was not seen as giving petrine supremacy to the bishop of Rome.

The Orthodox churches who share the same deposit of faith from the Apostles, certainly have never seen the papacy as universal in the same sense that the Catholic church defined it in 1870. That’s not say that the petrine doctrine found in Matthew has no significance, in fact it’s evident from the early church writings that the early churches looked to Rome and specifically the papacy as the guardian of doctrine. But it was never viewed in the same way that the Catholic church has defined it, and certainly not as Vatican I dogmatically decreed it.

This is not to say that I don’t believe in the primacy of papacy, or the magisterium. I think both are critical to protecting the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church, Michelle and I have found stability in knowing that the structure of the Catholic church is not open to the whims of the changing times. At the same time, this very attribute of protecting orthodoxy creates a situation where the church can seem lethargic when reacting to a quickly changing world. So there’s good and bad, but we see it clearly as a positive. And I do dearly love the Catholic church, I love the liturgy, the aesthetic practices, the clergy, the structure and the grandeur of the whole thing. It’s safe, consistent and reliable, even if the people are not.

But I would be lying, if I was to tell you that I think it’s perfect. I cringe when I read apologist or others who feel the need to claim full inerrancy of the dogmatic or doctrinal teachings of the church, because when you take dogmatic teaching like the assumption of Mary, you can’t defend the position without playing the ‘on faith’ or ‘it’s a mystery’ get out jail card. There is nothing substantive in the writings of the church fathers, nothing in scripture on the topic, and the Orthodox have never seen a need to dogmatize the assumption. It’s really christian legend, and I’m not saying that it couldn’t have happened, just that if you are going to make something part of your dogma, you should be able to clearly and concisely argue your position.

So what about the Orthodox church?, my exposure so far has been scholastic in nature. But even with that type of limited exposure I have found that there are divisions among the various Orthodox churches, and you can find Orthodox churches that are exceedingly strict to the western palette, and ones that conform more to the needs of a modern society. The one thing that I find attractive is that in all my reading, the Orthodox do their best to protect what was handed to them by the Apostles, and aren’t afraid to admit when they are standing on less than solid ground. I do admit that I find that kind of frank honesty missing in Catholic apologetics, where the answer is always absolute, it’s only rarely will you find someone willing to admit that some doctrine is simply not very defensible.

So from my position, no one can claim full authority. Even with Apostolic succession, you end up with two institutions that haven’t gotten along since 1054,   both showing a clear succession from the Apostolic traditions to today. That doesn’t mean they are bad, or wrong, my point is more subtle than that. It means that until the two can join together and speak with a united voice, neither can really be considered the one true church.

I am, for lack of a better term, stuck in the middle. I love the Catholic Church, I don’t think it’s perfect and I don’t buy into all of it’s dogma, but I’m reticent to leave because I find so much beauty in what it is and what it does. I find that the Orthodox faith makes so much more sense, and on matters not relating to Rome, they seem to be so much more reasonable. I’ve learned more about being Catholic from reading Orthodox authors than I have Catholic ones, there are exceptions, but they are pretty scarce.

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