09 June 2012

Anglican, Orthodox or Catholic?

A person questioning the validity of church of Christ ecclesiology posed a question on a forum I subscribe to. I began struggling with the same question over 22 years ago, and it’s only been the last year or two that I’ve really begun to see an answer to this question. The question posed is (at least, my interpretation of the question): “Which church is the Church of Christ? The Anglican Church, the Orthodox Church or the Catholic Church?” My question was a little bit different: “Which church is the Church of Christ? The Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Oriental Orthodox Churches or the Catholic Churches?”

I think this question is perhaps a common one for those wanting to leave denominationalism. (And, yes. The church of Christ is a part of denominationalism, or rather, a number of parts of denominationalism.) An in depth answer would be impossible in a single blog post; however, I am contemplating writing a book on the subject. The only problem is that the longer I wait to write this book, the better I understand the question and a possible answer. This means the longer I wait, the better this book will be. However, the longer I wait, the closer to death I’ll be, and when I’m dead, I won’t be able to write this book. This was a problem faced by Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky and, unfortunately, some of his great wisdom has been lost. I would not dare compare my small insights to the great wisdom of Metropolitan Sheptytsky, but, God willing, hopefully my small insights will get written down and be of some assistance to at least one person.

Why would anyone from the church of Christ consider the ecclesiology of the above mentioned Churches? I believe that the key is sola scriptura. Although many churches claim to have a monopoly on sola scriptura, I consider the church of Christ the most sola scriptura based group of churches of them all. Based on sola scriptura, we can construct a model of biblical ecclesiology that is reflected in the church of Christ. However, this reflection is not visible to members of the church of Christ until they step outside the reflection and look at it from a different perspective.

I see that I am headed into too much detail for a single blog post, so please forgive the condensing of my ideas and the lack of supporting evidence. I’d really like to finish this blog post tonight, so I’ll leave you to expand my ideas and think of your own supporting evidence. I’m going to refer to biblical evidence, but not provide quotes or interpretations.

Biblical ecclesiology gives us a model of autonomous churches. The head of each of these churches is a bishop. This is not how the church of Christ sees themselves, but looking in from the outside, there is always one elder (bishop) that takes a leadership role among the other elders; although, this leadership role may pass from one elder to another as circumstance dictates. Of course, members will never admit this unless they view themselves from outside the reflection.

Titus and Timothy were both bishops, and one of their main duties was to appoint priests for their respected autonomous church. Elders of the church of Christ decide and appoint who presides at the Lord’s Supper, the main duty of a priest. They also appoint deacons and other elders; although, they would never admit that they are the ones doing the appointing. Nonetheless, it is through the influence of the elders that these appointments are made.

Since each church is autonomous, a church can be led astray, particularly by a heretical bishop (elder). Through the influence of the bishops from surrounding autonomous churches, pressure is applied to correct an erring church. This would be a council. I’m sure you can see the similarities between the church of Christ model and the model of the other churches discussed in this blog post. The biggest difference between the two models is that the church of Christ is much quicker to excommunicate other churches.

This is perhaps too brief a description of my ideas on the similarity of the two models, but it will have to suffice for now. The only help I can provide right now is to point out that an autonomous church in the church of Christ model is a single congregation. The biblical model began as a single congregation, but as those congregations grew, the autonomous churches became what we now recognize as dioceses.

There is one office that is not shared between the two models, and that is the papacy. There is no equivalent of the papacy in the church of Christ, but there is in the biblical model. Of the above mentioned churches, the Anglican Church has transferred her papal allegiance from the Bishop of Rome to the Monarch of England. The other churches acknowledge the primacy of the Bishop of Rome; however, they disagree on how this primacy is interpreted and exercised.

Someone leaving denominationalism could consider the Anglican Church because it has the biblical ecclesial model. However, if the Anglican Church is seen as a part of the Roman Catholic Church that transferred her papal allegiance from the Bishop of Rome to the Monarch of England, it would makes sense to only consider the part of the Anglican Church that transferred her papal allegiances back to the Bishop of Rome. This is what the Anglican or Personal Ordinariates are. There is full communion between these churches and the Roman Catholic Church.

There is one problem for an Anglican with papal allegiance to the Monarch of England to transfer this allegiance back to the Bishop of Rome. There is a technicality that lasted a century that invalidated the ordinations within the Anglican Church. Thus, all of the sacraments that rely on the validity of Holy Orders, such as Confirmation and Eucharist, not to mention the passing on of Holy Orders itself, are also invalid. This means that changing papal allegiance would have to include Confirmation and First Communion, and, if one is to be a deacon, priest or bishop, ordination.

This is not so with the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Recent talks between the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Churches have made it evident that in Faith, nothing separates the Oriental Orthodox Churches from the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Churches. However, there is still not full communion between them, so someone leaving denominationalism should be cautious in considering the Oriental Orthodox Churches.

Parts of the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church are also not in full communion. However, parts of the Eastern Orthodox Churches are in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church and are now referred to as the Eastern Catholic Churches. Someone leaving denominationalism could consider the Eastern Orthodox Churches or the Roman Catholic Church. If the Eastern Orthodox Churches are considered, more consideration should be given to the parts that are in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, that is, the Eastern Catholic Churches.

There are many issues that on the surface divide some Orthodox and Catholics. If, however, this surface is penetrated, the division disappears. The doctrines that have been dogmatically defined in one and not the other still exist in the other, albeit perhaps hard to see. The essence of all Catholic doctrines are found in Orthodoxy, and vice versa. An example of this is papal primacy. The Orthodox accept papal primacy, though many reject the way this primacy is interpreted by many Catholics. However, not all Catholics interpret papal primacy in a way that all Orthodox would reject.

There is much work to do between Catholics and Orthodox, and nothing that divides them is set in stone. It would be impossible for it to be set in stone because they are the same Church.

Actually, today I was a witness to the closeness between Catholics and Orthodox.

I assisted at a Pontifical Divine Liturgy of His Beatitude, Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the successor of Metropolitan Sheptytsky. In much of the information printed about this Divine Liturgy, he was referred to as Patriarch. Practically speaking, this is correct, but technically, his title is Major Archbishop. The reason for this technicality is that the Ukrainian Church already has two different patriarchs, only one of which is canonically recognized by the whole Eastern Orthodox communion. The pope does not wish to offend this patriarch of the Ukrainian Church, so Major Archbishop Shevchuk is Patriarch of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in every aspect except in title.

Present at this Pontifical Divine Liturgy was His Grace, Bishop Ilarion of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Although he did not concelebrate or receive Communion, he was given a seat of honour in the sanctuary. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, Patriarch Shevchuk acknowledged Bishop Ilarion. Unfortunately, I don’t understand a word of Ukrainian, so I don’t know what was said, but I was told that it was significant. Although Bishop Ilarion did not take part in the Divine Liturgy, Patriarch Shevchuk invited him to take a place within the procession leaving the sanctuary. To some, these may seem like small gestures, but to those looking forward to full communion between Catholics and Orthodox, these gestures are very promising towards the unity we desire.

I’m sure I’ve thoroughly confused most, but what do you expect from four hours of spontaneous typing. Maybe one person got one small insight out of the above rambling. I promise, when, and if, I write a book about this, I’ll keep working on it until a few proofreaders can make sense of it.

I’ll just summarize what I hope is the take home message for anyone considering leaving denominationalism:
  • The only possible choices are the Anglican Churches, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. (Although I didn't mention it, there is also the Maronite Catholic Church.)
  • Of the Anglican Churches, the parts that have come back into full union with the Bishop of Rome merit more consideration. These are referred to as the Anglican Ordinariates or Personal Ordinariates.
  • The Oriental Orthodox Churches are worth consideration, but they are not in full union with the Bishop of Rome, so they don’t merit as much consideration as the others.
  • Of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the parts that have come back into full union with the Bishop of Rome merit more consideration. These are referred to as the Eastern Catholic Churches. (By the way, the Maronite Church is the only Eastern Church that has always maintain full union with the Bishop of Rome.)
  • The Roman Catholic Church has always been in full union with the Bishop of Rome. That is, except for the parts that left the Bishop of Rome and became denominationalism. And, yes. The church of Christ is a part of denominationalism, or rather, a number of parts of denominationalism. Of course, there are also a few churches that use the name "Catholic" but are not in full union with the Bishop of Rome and don't really belong to the label "denominationalism." However, I've confused you enough for tonight. You'll have to wait for the book. God willing, I'll write it before I die.