Monday, August 24, 2015

Into the adventure

I am no fan of Rick Warren, but as an Orthodox Christian I do not judge him or his Christian ministry. If he feels called to do what he is doing, that’s fine with me. I don’t agree with him, or with anyone, who sets up a ministry outside the Church. I understand that there are many sincere Christians whose views of the nature of the Church are simply wrong, because they cling with mistaken loyalty to outdated protestant opinions. As long as I have been a Christian, I have noticed a constant, discreet movement of protestant believers towards the historic Church.

Though baptised a Roman Catholic as an infant, I too was part of that progression, passing from nominal belief, through questioning faith, passing through high church Anglicanism, back to Orthodoxy. Sooner or later all Christians must answer for themselves what Christ’s prayer to the Father, that His followers be One, means. If they don’t, I don’t think they will realize what salvation is. They will have only ideas, not the reality, of either salvation or the Church.

I am not saying that they will not be ‘saved.’ I am only saying that on the human side of the equation, they have made a serious error. I believe that Christ saves even those who do not know who He is, let alone those whose ideas about Him are incorrect. The only ones He does not, because He can not, save are those who, as He says to the Father, ‘chose to be lost’ (John 17:12 Jerusalem Bible). Judas Iscariot was the first, though not the last, of these.

So Rick Warren, by cozying up to the pope and recommending that other Christians do likewise, has now fallen under the gun of many who claim to be Christian apologists. The truth is, they are just ‘splitters’ who can’t stand the thought of Christian unity. I find it sullenly humorous that one of Warren’s detractors has as his surname an adjective which to my mind aptly describes his polemical style.

Matt Slick of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM) repudiates what he deems Warren’s heresies in embracing Roman Catholics as brother Christians. He writes,

‘Sure, there are Catholics who love the real Christ, the one who died on the cross for our sins. That is not the problem. The problem is the Roman Catholic Church’s false teachings concerning Mary and salvation. Rick Warren says both the Catholics and the Protestants believe in the Bible. But, there is a significant difference between the Bible of the Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church, which has added seven books. There are numerous problems in the apocryphal books, such as the teaching of salvation by works [and] the offering of money for the sins of the dead. Warren implies that both Protestants and Catholics have the same view of salvation. Though it’s technically correct to say that Catholics believe in salvation through Jesus Christ, they reject justification by faith alone in Christ alone. Instead, it teaches that good works of various kinds are necessary for salvation.’

This ‘Christian apologist’ then points to several Roman Catholic teachings on Mary, mainly from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), such as that Mary ‘by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation’ and that ‘by asking Mary to pray for us, we acknowledge ourselves to be poor sinners and we address ourselves to the Mother of Mercy, the All-Holy One.’ To conclude his scathing criticism, he adds,

‘Rick Warren has not only failed to recognize the problems in these serious areas, but he has lent his credibility as a Protestant pastor in support of the Roman Catholic Church. This should never be done by any Protestant pastor who takes the Bible seriously. I must conclude that Mr. Warren does not take the word of God seriously and/or he does not understand the damnable teachings of Roman Catholicism regarding salvation.’

I am not a polemical Christian. I do not battle other believers on points of doctrine. My actual faith in Christ is very simple and comparable to that of any other believer, Orthodox or not, and if and when I must disagree with a brother Christian, I disagree fraternally. As an Orthodox I cannot allow a split in the Church. I know that we are saved not by doctrine, but by love. I know the Lord says, ‘Love one another,’ and not, ‘Correct one another.’

I cannot, like the slick critic of Mr Warren, call the ‘teachings of Roman Catholicism regarding salvation’ damnable, even though I do not agree with them. I know that whether I agree or disagree with anyone’s teaching, that has little or nothing to do with my salvation, or anyone else’s.

Yes, I call Mary the Theotokos (Birth-giver of God) and the Panagia (All Holy One) and many other poetic and honorific titles. I am not ashamed of calling on her by these names and titles, because my Lord Jesus Christ was not ashamed to take human form in her womb, call her ‘Mother’ and obey her as her only son.

No Christian can even begin to understand this until he or she has decided to enter the community of faith called the Church, that is, ‘the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic’ Church that is cited in the Symbol of the Council of Nicaea. The Church, understood as it is in the Symbol, is no less than God’s family.

In this light, the saying rings true that ‘you cannot have God for your Father without having the Church for your Mother.’ This saying is not uttered to exclude those who are ignorant of what the Church is, but to include and invite all who are willing to wager all into the community of saints. It is only when we have decided to ‘believe in One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church’ that we can know ourselves and the saints, especially the Virgin Mary, and the roles we have been given in the plan of salvation.

Isn’t it time we stop playing Christianity and, unafraid of the wiles of men, go bravely forward into the adventure that our Lord Jesus Christ sends us?

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