Monday, May 11, 2009

"I'm Comfortable With Where I Am."

This is something that you often here from religious folks in all circles, including (and maybe especially) Catholics. They have considered conversion to a different faith but are not going to take that step because they are happy/comfortable/content with where they are. The Internet Monk has a marvelous piece on this phenomenon.

But there is a different way to approach this situation than the back and forth of pleading apologetic arguments, collections of verses or authority claims. Without insult to any Roman Catholic or criticism of anyone who has converted or will convert in the future, I want to say some things to the rest of us.

The rest of us? Yes, those of us who are Protestant and will remain Protestant for the rest of our lives. Not because we are angry, but because we are “happy enough” to be Protestant.

I will readily admit that this sort of inertia is probably quite commonplace. It’s probably just as prevalent, if not moreso, in Catholic circles. I think it was Phil who made the comment a while back that when someone tells him they are Catholic, all he knows about them is that their parents were Catholic. Whether or not they actually believe Catholicism is still an unknown. Why don’t they convert? Because they are “happy.” Why are they “happy”?

But we are not changing churches because we believe we are part of the church.

Keep this firmly in mind as you continue.

We love our Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters, and respect the godly spiritual leaders and Biblical voices within those traditions. We are embarrassed by much of the anti-Catholicism that exists in evangelicalism, though we understand it as we understand the anti-Protestantism that exists within some of the Roman Catholic community.

This sort of thinking is quite problematic. Mostly because somebody here has to be wrong. If the Eucharist isn’t Jesus, then all Catholics and Orthodox are idolaters. There’s an old saying that if Catholicism isn’t true, then it is the most cunning and evil plot Satan ever devised. Whoever said that is absolutely right. If Protestantism (of whatever sort) is correct, then the Catholic Church is basically around to lead people away from God. If you believe in hell, that’s where we’ll be. If you don’t believe in hell, then we are still suffering from a temporal lack of God and His Truth. If you believe in multiple versions of Truth, then I am reluctant to call you a Christian of any sort.

We are “Happy Enough” Protestants. A strange title, I know, but an important one. We are happy enough as Protestants to remain Protestants, and we are happy to be protestant. We seek to practice a kind of Protestantism that is not characterized by unrest, anxiety and anger in relations with Catholicism. Our goal, in simple terms, is to be happy to be Protestant because we are happy in Christ and the Gospel that we find in Protestantism, even with all its flaws.

Whither Truth? What if the Protestant Gospel is false? Does that even matter anymore?

We are not seeking to evangelize Roman Catholics or to sell our churches as superior.

This indicates one of two things. Either you do not love us, as you do not wish us to know the Truth or you deny Truth exists. Make that three things. You may just deny that Truth can be known, which negates Revelation anyway.

We are “Happy Enough Protestants” because we believe that God, in his providence, called us to this part of his one, holy, catholic and apostolic body/church. We accept, even celebrate, his providence in allowing us to hear the Gospel clearly and simply in Protestantism, to be taught in its churches and schools, allowed to serve in its ministries, sit at the feel of its scholars and pastors, be inspired by its mission’s legacy, learn from its saints, be challenged by its openness to the Spirit and renewed by its ability to return, again and again, to the Bible for authority, nurture and truth.

We recognize the checkered, broken past of Protestantism, but we are happy in much of what we find in that past. We believe that though they were sinners, Luther, Calvin, Arminius, Wesley, Whitefield, Cramner, the Puritans, Spurgeon, Asbury, Ryle, The Baptists, Edwards and many other Protestant lights were called and gifted of God for the building up of his church and the equipping of his saints. We believe that within the Protestant tradition, God continues to call, equip, build, empower and demonstrate the presence of the Kingdom through his people.
God has sovereignly and graciously been at work in Protestantism, as well as in all Christian traditions.

So we are to believe that God positively wills for His People to be scattered. Or that God Himself does not wish us to know the Truth about Him. What other sort of God would “gift” Luther and Calvin and Wesley with such completely incompatible versions of the Gospel? Or would further the “building up of His Church” by dividing His Children over and over and over again?

At the points of our greatest disagreements, over authority, sacraments and justification, it is our prayer that we will all be “happy” in our convictions, and that should we find ourselves speaking over the greatest points of our separation, we will now have no agenda beyond living in the fruit of a joyful, “happy” experience of the truth. That someone should disagree with us should not send us into a tailspin of uncertainty or an attack-mode of anxiety. We are determined to be “happy enough” to speak of our convictions positively, winsomely and certainly without embarrassment before other Christians.

But haven’t you just admitted that you don’t really know what the Truth is? How can you live in an “experience of the truth” without knowing what it is?

Like I said, this is not directed against The Internet Monk or even Protestants in general. There are plenty of Catholics who fit this mold. While I think it is terribly misguided, I think that a lot of progress could be made if everyone was this honest. The guiding principle appears to be thus: What religion captures the thoughts of many is not about whether or not it is objectively true. The real issue for some folks is their own “happy” feeling and whether or not the religion conforms to their own ideas about what the Gospel is about.

We should pray a great deal for such people.

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