On the Saturday before Easter - or as some would insist, on the eve of Easter, the liturgical calendar beginning days at night - a previously Protestant friend was confirmed in the Roman church. I note this merely as background; as explanation or perhaps the provocation of the following. In itself the circumstance was (for me) hardly unique: I could likely have said the same thing for any of the past five or six years, with regard to the Roman or Orthodox churches, though matching particular names to particular years is more than I can do now.
My own opinion of the Roman church I have probably stated before in this space: however, I will restate it briefly. While possessing a certain superficial historicity, the Roman Catholic church is wracked by un-Scriptural doctrines and practices. Any argument which would convince me to join the Roman church would have to either convince me of the validity of the pope's authority (if he has that authority, I am no one to argue doctrine, certainly not from outside "the Church"), or present a sufficient apology for the Roman church's doctrine from Scripture, or represent the conclusion a true reformation within that church.
Yet the point of this post is not to debate Roman views. If demand requires, I will do so - elsewhere or at another time. (As for the Orthodox: my knowledge is less, but the second and third criteria would also apply.) No, this is more a record of self-reflection. I am Reformed in my own theology, and attend generally churches both presbyterian and Reformed - though I am not a particularly convinced presbyterian. I spent several months last year attending and studying at a Lutheran church - on invitation - due mainly to this lack of conviction, with additional impetus provided by a growing concern over the general practice regarding the Lord's Supper among Reformed churches: which is to say, in practice if not in confession, we lean too much towards mere symbolism.
The Lutheran experiment foundered, on a double (or perhaps treble) difficulty of its own. The first: the use of the crucifix in worship, to say nothing of bowing, if not actually scraping, to the thing. My greatest distaste for the Roman church I found in abridged form in the Lutheran - though at least there were no parades of and towards likely specious relics. The second: a certain lack of utility - not to say precision - in the Lutheran doctrines of the Church and its governance, at least as presented to me. To be more accurate, the Lutherans seemed to want all of the exclusivity provided by Roman or Orthodox doctrines of Tradition and infallibility (of church-through-pope or council, as may be), while claiming with Luther that "councils have erred" - and presumably must still continue to do so: a most curious stance. Perhaps a more thorough investigation would have clarified matters, but I suppose I lack patience. Also (note my count to three!) the music tends towards the excessively Germanic - and German native rhythms are noticeably different from those which fit English lines. I suppose I should have been grateful that at least the words were English, but would it be too difficult to reset the tunes - as most other Protestant hymnals have done - to suit the different flow of words? This is however a highly technical complaint, and not one which holds that much water in light of the rampant banality, not to say occasional stupidity, of many modern compositions spread widely throughout my own Reformed circles.
Once again, I wander fairly far afield. The crux of the matter, brought home to me this weekend, is that maybe I do not care.
Does this sound strange? Most people who know me know I am Christian; the rest probably assume so correctly. I periodically - as now - discuss matters of the Faith here and elsewhere in public. I can defend my faith, as Peter commanded, both as a Christian generally (all the way to the details of forcing talk of presuppositions) and as to my particular denominational choice (though less certainly here - for example, I have no significant attachment to and only slightly more defense for presbyterianism as currently practiced and taught as a system, Biblical or otherwise, for governing the church) and I do so, when occasion has arisen.
My friend's father remarked - I summarize - that he had been thoroughly impressed, though not a Catholic himself, with the zeal of my friend's friends for Christ. Myself?
Well, I have some knowledge; a certain confidence; assurance - one might suspect self-assurance, I suppose; but not so much any burning energy. I have a certain amount of self-discipline even with regards to my religious devotions; but I do not go out of my way to be conspicuous; rather the opposite. Praying in the closet comes far more naturally to me than taking the pains to make sure my actions will cause others to glorify the Father.
Again, on my own denominational particulars, I accept what I have been taught to accept, but not always with the confidence of complete understanding. Consider the acronymic summary of the Reformed confessions: the TULIP. I rather suspect flaws in some arguments for limited atonement; yet those flaws depend on phrasing. Is it the extent (as some would have it) of the atonement achieved that is limited? This seems to fly flat in the face of Scripture's proclamation of redemption and love for the world. Or is it (as others would say) the application that is (or will be, or has been - tenses melt in the face of eternity) limited? - this much at least seems undeniable in light of the testament the Word bears to the goats and reprobates. And then what is the functional difference? I illustrate: I could produce a similar contrast or dilemma in interpretation for each point, and then go on to consider problems posed by the phrasing of the formal confessions and catechisms. I am tempted to believe that the majority of schisms in the Church over the years have been caused by such too-quibbling confrontations over various parties' attempts to explain the ineffable - but then there are battles that needed to be fought, as well, and who am I to draw the line?
On the other hand, in that I try to stand away from public debate on doubtful points. who is to say I am taking a wrong part? Given my uncertainties, would adding "zeal" do any good? Lewis writes, in various places, that he did not consider himself one to address any difficult points of the faith - even going so far as to avoid writing at all on subjects he had no knowledge of or temptations he had not experienced. For me, the state of affairs is such that I simply have no opinion, or only the most guarded of opinions, on many of a wide range of topics. The Nicene Creed I can defend in detail; an inquisitor refuting the Westminster Confession would find me rather more short-handed in apology. Should I put in the effort to study further - or simply trusting God accept that I am not called as a theologian and put myself under the teaching of those who sit, as it were, in Moses' seat? Or both? The danger to me seems rather to be charging off in approximately the wrong direction - or am I simply too cautious, held back by my own habits and character?