Peter Leithart was kind enough to respond to my rejoinder here. So let us not just talk about ecumenism, let us all continue to display the ecumenical spirit that properly begins at home. I thank Peter for his interaction. In this rejoinder to mine, Peter issues a clarification, and then notes an irony, a misdirection, a leading error, and concludes by offering an invitation to buckle up.
On the clarification, I am glad that Peter acknowledges that his proposal assumes a gargantuan surrender on the part of Rome and EO. But he wants to balance this by saying that we would have to give up a big part of our identity also, that of being “not catholic.” I am simply unconvinced of this. Most Protestant parishioners would have to attend a special Sunday School class on church history even to find out the rudiments of what is going on, and those who did not have to do so would be the ex-Catholics, whose reactions to their past would be largely personal, revolving around things like “Catholic guilt,” “somnolent worship,” or “mean nuns.” I know quite a few Protestants in this latter category, and the identity crisis threat does not seem to loom large at all. I do grant that a handful of Protestant theologians would be like an old-guard cold warrior after the collapse of the Soviet Union, unsure of what direction to point the guns. But enough about Scott Clark.
The irony that Peter notes is that I am an all-over-tarnation activist, and so it seems odd to him that all of sudden I turn quietist if the topic of ecumenical activism comes up.
“If he’s zealous for holiness now, why be a quietist concerning catholicity and unity? Doug is a living refutation of the logic he applies to me.”
My response to this is “do not awaken love before the time.” In other words, I try to limit my activism to things I can actually do, which includes doing things at the right time. I labor in my corner of the vineyard, and I hope I work hard, but if I tried to work the entire vineyard, everything would suffer. I would get in the way of others, and would necessarily be neglecting my own duties. And to anticipate a point I will make a few paragraphs down, working in the vineyard means planting when it is time, tending when it is time, pruning when it is time, and harvesting when it is time. If you harvest during the time for tending, you are just damaging the plants—“a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted” (Eccl. 3:2, ESV).
To change the metaphor, I have no problem with someone doing research on Ancestry.com and discovering distant relatives in the old country. And I have no problem with a trip to the old country, and looking some folks up to say hey, in the Scottish highlands, say. But if I take to wearing a kilt here in Idaho, and practicing the bagpipes every night after dinner, I am introducing far more disharmony on the local scale than bringing about harmony on the global scale.
In other words, Peter’s proposals, assiduously followed, would have a far greater potential for disrupting existent Protestant unity than they have for actually bringing about a broader unity. Why? It isn’t time yet.
The misdirection that Peter objected to was my use of the phrase Anglo-Catholic. I cheerfully grant that he did not use that phrase, but I still think his proposal amounts to that. If we acknowledge that Peter is entirely uninterested in granting the exclusive claims of Rome—which is the case—and we take his exhortations to mine the liturgical treasures of the medieval church seriously, then that leaves us adopting certain practices into our existent communions. We are still Protestants, but we are adopting medieval treasures, all of them he said, and which Protestant group is most like that? The answer that came to my mind was Anglo-Catholic. This is how Peter put it.
“Non- or anti-liturgical Protestant churches should adopt liturgies that more closely resemble the Roman Mass or Lutheran or Anglican liturgies.”
Now the only group in recent memory that I know of that wanted to “go there” without actually “going there” was the Anglo-Catholic movement. If it swings like a thurible, and smokes like a thurible, and smells like a thurible . . .
And by the way, while we are here, Peter says in passing that C.S. Lewis was a “real Anglo-Catholic.” That is, I am afraid, inaccurate. Lewis’ own view of it was that he was “a very ordinary layman of the Church of England, not especially ‘high,’ nor especially ‘low,’ nor especially anything else.” It would be more on point to say that he was a stout supernaturalist, and a conservative representative of a broad church approach in the tradition of Baxter. He could coexist with the Anglo-Catholics precisely because he did not share their liturgical, ecclesiological, or doctrinal principles.
Still, in the spirit of offering an olive branch, I will grant that Lewis was Anglican enough to give me the Presbyterian wim-wams. I wouldn’t want to introduce into our service things that Lewis was comfortable with—and the reason is that I wouldn’t want an unnecessary controversy over unbiblical innovations. To dispense with Peter’s irony, I am an ecumenical activist. I am actively rejecting an approach that I believe will result in far more actual disunity than unity.
Peter suggests that my leading error is my use of “institutional” unity as some kind of a scary thing. But I don’t believe it is a scary thing at all. I believe it is the overarching goal toward which all our efforts should be bent. Institutional unity is not un-Protestant unity at all. As a postmillennialist, I do believe that a governmental and institutional unity for the church is in fact coming, and as an activist I am laboring toward that end. But it is not here yet. To return to an earlier image, to oppose harvesting the buds is not opposition to harvest.
As far as the buckling up is concerned, I am happy to do so. Christ is taking human history right where He wants it to go. I am delighted to go there with all those He is taking with Him. All who are converted to God, confessing the name of Jesus, are going there, and amen. But we are not there yet.
This is a very informative interaction and conversation over ecumenism. Thank you. It’ll be curious if Peter finds something he needs to respond to in this response of his first?
THAT’S NOT A FULL MLA CITATION!
As an ex-Roman-Catholic, I agree with Doug’s assessment. Protestants with no immediate RC influences are largely oblivious to Rome, except insofar as they understand where Rome is wrong. And the public image of Rome, its practices, its tolerance of (or lack of influence against) nominal-ism, and understood beliefs all feed into that. Most protestant must be taught where they might agree. (I will say that I became a protestant, my catholic school education equipped me with a better understanding of the Trinity and nature of Christ than many protestants. And I will own my RC baptism having been done in… Read more »
Was your conversion to a Protestant belief preceded by a loss of faith in the RC church, or did it occur while you were still a practicing Catholic?
I went through about a 2 year process while in college where I heard the gospel on a number of occasions while under various degrees of conviction of sin. I was a relatively faithful Catholic in the context of 1970s America with a relatively strong (for the time, and with massive exceptions) moral compass but with many of the sins that go with being a 20 year old college student. Bottom line the reality of God, Christ & christian morality was my default position although I really didn’t know how to apply that reality.
Well, I suppose selling indulgences again would be a more effective way of raising funds for padded kneelers than a bake sale…
Doug, As usual, your words are helpful. Thank you. But… institutional unity in the sense that Peter means it is a scary thing, and ought to be avoided. To be postmillenial means that the true gospel of grace will prevail in the hearts of men. It simply does not mean that most of the world will wear Christian window dressing and be friendly with others dressed in liturgical garb. To introduce Catholic practices and their heretical understandings into a Protestant church even if we spin its understanding to something more palatable ought to be rejected ought of hand. The unity… Read more »
Doesn’t being postimil mean the gospel DOES prevail now in hearts and will continue to prevail as long as the Spirit is here?
Any progress in ecumenicism being a bonus?
Being postmil means a number of things and there are variations. But, as I see it, this understanding is the proper outworking of Reformed theology, as well as being biblically justified. If God is truly sovereign with an emphasis on the kingly aspect of that, as well as the notions of absolute control, then nothing can stop Him from enacting His kingdom on earth. In His wisdom, He uses depraved sinners, whom He restores in unmerited grace to accomplish this, but it is inevitable nonetheless. To believe otherwise is to fall into either some type of Arminianism or Platonic good… Read more »
Yeah, but … “… nothing can stop Him from enacting …” — but nothing ever has. There’s a fairly recent brand of postmil (Edwardsian – Rusdoonian – Wilsonian) that claims He WILL enact (somewhere down the line a few centuries or more) in the here & now in such a way to be unmistakable to all opposition. “We Win — They Lose”, Doug likes to tout. This future dispensational take does obscure a tad that Abel & Stephen & the beheaded Kurds didn’t lose — and we aren’t anxiously awaiting our foes’ comeuppance down here as a way to justify… Read more »
Kilgore, I have to tell you, I get intimidated just looking at your avatar. Dude looks so serious, he’s not messing round. It really gives me the impression that you are right, regardless of what you say.
Pastor Wilson, the jab at R. Scott Clark in this post is unnecessary, destructive to the peace of the church, and unbecoming of your position as the presiding minister of the CREC. Let your speech be seasoned with salt. Be at peace with all men.
elder, Christ the Redeemer Church (CREC)
D. Roorda: the jab is a case in point. How can there be an ecumenical movement when Clark tweets Wilson like a heretic? As an ordained elder in the PCA, I’ve had leading men in my denomination refuse to even speak with me because I have defended Wilson’s writings on family relations. It’s one thing to desire peace with Rome, et al., but shouldn’t we expect peaceful relations at home before we sue for peace abroad? Doug’s point is precisely the issue and instead of recognizing it, you are further highlighting his point, but trying to call him out, even… Read more »
Elder Taylor, thank you for your response. While I don’t follow anybody on twitter, I can certainly believe that all sorts of nasty things are happening there, and would be glad if no one were taking unnecessary jabs there, too. May the Lord be with you.
Douglas, you make is sound like you have no clue that Clark is one of Doug’s most vocal critics in books, academic journals, web articles, blog posts, podcasts, etc. If that’s the case, then you had better keep quiet, for you are not informed enough to give your opinion. If not, then shame on you for not letting on to the fact. Really, I don’t see how an elder in the CREC could be unaware of the constant assault coming from Clark and others at WestWest and other part of the presbyterian world.
Gentlemen, thank you for your responses. Yes, there is a long history between pastors Clark and Wilson. Pastor Wilson has the opportunity, for his part, to be at peace with all men by not increasing strife unnecessarily, and would be wise to do so. May the Lord grant peace, in truth, among all His children, and may he bless the labors of your hands today.
Douglas, I neither appreciate your tone, nor your sentiment. You are trying to make it sound like you are a peacemaker who has something positive to add to the conversation, namely a sharp rebuke. But I’m not buying it. First, you noticed that Doug made a delightfully funny point about Clark being prone to friendly fire. A point that carries a lot of weight in this discussion with Peter. It was not a nasty jab, but a pointedly funny observation. But, you accuse Doug of making 1) ‘unnecessary’ observations [no, it was helpfully insightful], 2) ‘destructive’ observations that will undermine… Read more »
Elder Taylor, thanks for replying. Yes, perhaps my post is a little pompous; I can be that way sometimes. Your suggested wording may be better. It’s pretty easy to say too much, too harshly and in the wrong spirit in comment threads like this.
Douglas: Yes, Christopher is correct. Mr. Clark has unfortunately damaged his witness tremendously by forwarding all sorts of gossip and slander from staunch opponents of Christ — but it’s OK by him, because it’s gossip and slander about Doug Wilson. And if you dare even mention what Clark is doing on Twitter, he blocks you without a word. Mr. Clark’s online activity is positively shameful.
Doug Roorda–he’s right ^^^^^
Tim, as I said to the others, yes, there is a long history between pastors Clark and Wilson. But Pastor Wilson has the opportunity, for his part, to be at peace with all men by not increasing strife unnecessarily, and would be wise to do so.
May the Lord grant peace, in truth, among all His children, and may he bless the labors of your hands today as well.
Not having a dog in this hunt — not knowing Clark from Adam, I read Wilson’s reference as simply some kind of illustrative reference for those in the know rather than some kind of jab.
But your input does reveal there must be festering under the surface, at least at the CREC.
I was told by a PCA pastor acquaintance to be careful about reading anything from this Wilson guy, which struck me as positively ludicrous.
The sad irony of this series of posts erupting on the 50th anniversary of the split between Lloyd-Jones and Stott over ‘already/not yet ecumenics’ should not be ignored. As Wilson rightly points out, an over realized ‘peace in our time’ can tear apart what little unity we had to begin with.
I get the sense that there has been a falling out between you two. I like you both.
“But if I take to wearing a kilt here in Idaho, and practicing the bagpipes every night after dinner, I am introducing far more disharmony on the local scale than bringing about harmony on the global scale.”
I you certain about that? I bet you have the gams for a kilt! ; – )
Maybe I’m projecting, but I see two men speaking past one another. One persevering in a relatively good denomination that he sees as obviously flawed (lesser of two evils flawed) not to mention the fact that it seems to want to vomit him out at times. The other in the best denomination possible, you might even say it was created in his image, it suits him so well (like Forest Gump in the army). Differences in point of view almost require the two men to have different time tables on the eschatological church they both (and we all) yearn for.… Read more »
Wilson’s Gone Low Church — Anglican Lite
Did not Lewis advocate getting more “liturgical” in the worship service — i.e., over against a propensity towards improvisation?
Being a fan of minimizing spontaneity in that environment, he’d appreciate how Wilson’s folks have moved their own services in that direction.
So I should think Leithart sees Wilson as a good example of adopting a liturgy like that of the Anglicans, albeit an especially low church one.
At a nursing home chapel, I recently added the regular recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and also a responsive reading of a psalm.
Those mostly baptist & church of god crusties took to it like Ruskies to icons.
We haven’t looked back.
The church is a society, and the unity we confess is a corporate unity. Well unity is always corporate in some sense; you need to have unity with another person. But the unity is not like a family that appears to externally conform that manages to holiday with another family. Rather it is a unity that in within the family and between the members, each having their own personality and getting on well with each other and doing things for one another. Such well adjusted families form a natural unity with other like families. So the focus needs to be… Read more »
What’s the need for buckling up on God’s airplane? Is it anything like Jesus needing to be baptized?
Lewis did have Anglo-Catholic tendencies; he took spiritual direction from an Anglo-Catholic priest and went to confession. He wouldn’t have any of the Marian devotion business, however.