"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Rome or Geneva?

At the end of his book titled Justification And The New Perspectives On Paul, Guy Waters writes,
"All expressions of Christianity are on the path to one of two destinations, Rome or Geneva."
A little over a week ago, Rick Philips wrote the following:

"The axiom holds true: one is moving either in the direction of Rome or of Geneva."
Philips' post was prompted by Scott Clark's "The CRE is Not Enough?", where Clark writes:

The problem is that they are in danger of trading one form of magic for another, of trading American revivalist magic&madash;just pray this prayer and whammo x will happen‐ for a mediated magic. There's nothing wrong with Genevan robes (we wear them at OURC) and a high view of the sacraments (the confessional Reformed Churches confess that the Lord's Supper IS the "proper and natural" body and blood of Christ!). There's nothing wrong with Protestant collars (it's white and goes all the way round vs. the Roman collar that has the little tab in front; I'm amazed to see allegedly Reformed ministers going about in Roman, tab collars). Priestcraft, i.e., transubstantiation and priestly absolution ("I absolve you"), however, is just mediated magic versus revivalist immediate magic.

Here's the dilemma for Clark's position. Either nothing happens when Clark consecrates the bread and wine, or he too grants some form of 'magic'. But if he too grants some form of 'magic', then it seems arbitrary to reject priestly absolution as "mediated magic". But if nothing happens when Clark consecrates the bread and wine, then we could "do church" from home, listen to the sermon from home, and eat our own bread and wine from home. We could fulfill the requirement not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together by meeting online. That is where the pure formalism of gnosticism leads, though that is not its final destination.

But what of the Waters/Philips "axiom" that any Christian is heading either toward Geneva or Rome? Perhaps the two destinations are not so far apart. Recent books like A Faith That is Never Alone, Robert Sungenis's Not By Faith Alone and Jimmy Akin's article Justification: By Faith Alone? give reason to believe that with regard to justification, sixteenth century Geneva and Rome were not as far apart as some have suggested. Recognition of that common ground is an ecumenical benefit; it helps us avoid the mistake of assuming that our disagreement is greater than it actually is.

But if people are heading either to Rome or to Geneva, what will they find when they get there? If you go to Rome, you will find the pope. You might not like the pope. You might think he looks silly in his tall pointy hat. You might disagree with him on many theological matters. You might think he has badly misinterpreted the Bible. But you will find him there nonetheless, writing encyclicals, appointing cardinals and ordaining bishops, and generally doing what popes do when governing the Catholic Church around the world. If, however, you go to Geneva, will you find a Calvinist figurehead? A thriving Calvinist church that serves as an example to all Reformed churches around the world? No. The last census (in 2000) showed that Protestants made up only 16 percent of the canton's religious landscape, and that number is steadily dropping. See
here. Of that number, only a much smaller percentage are even practicing. There is essentially no Calvinist leadership in Geneva, no Calvinist headquarters in Geneva, no Calvinistic religion left in Geneva. There is essentially no Calvinism left in Geneva. If every Christian is either on the way to Rome or on the way to Geneva, then those on the way to Geneva are either on their way to losing religion altogether, or they are on their way to becoming something other than a Calvinist.

I have previously pointed out the many ways in which Protestantism is gnostic in its de-materialization of Christianity. In Protestantism, for example, Apostolic succession is purely formal, not material. Baptism is emasculated; it does not wash away our sins or regenerate us. In Protestantism there is no sacrament for the filling of the Holy Spirit. (This leads to a kind of Gnostic Montanism with respect to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as can be seen in the Westminster Confession of Faith I.10.) In Protestantism the Eucharist is something less than the Body and Blood of Christ. (If you're not sure; apply Pontificator's Eleventh Law.) In Protestantism, the righteousness of Christ is transferred to us purely formally (extrinsically), not materially (infused); at least that's Luther's version. In Protestantism, absolution is purely invisible and immaterial; you just pray straight to Jesus to have your sins forgiven; you do not need a priest. In Protestantism, the Church per se is invisible; only its embodied members are visible. In Protestantism icons and relics are scorned. And so on. To this list we should add one more. Protestantism has no physical center, even while some Protestants speak as though Protestantism has some kind of physical counterpart to Rome. If you believe the Church is invisible, then why pretend it has some kind of physical center or headquarters? But if you believe the Church has a physical headquarters, then why pretend it is located at Geneva? As Chesterton wrote in The Catholic Church and Conversion: "There are Catholics who are still answering Calvinists, though there are no Calvinists to answer." There is a sense in which Waters and Philips are right with respect to there being only two directions in which we can be headed: as I have argued here, either we are headed toward a deeper understanding and acceptance of the implications of Christ's incarnation (i.e. God's enfleshment in matter), which is a movement toward Rome, or we are moving toward gnosticism, i.e. a rejection in some respect or other of Christ's incarnation or its implications.) The history of heresies is filled with those who tried to sit in the middle.

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