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.