Dear reader, you will know I am sure that I am an ecumenical Christian; which means that I navigate the differences between Christians, much like a surveyor navigates a landscape, I see high and low views everywhere; I envision the truth claims of the Christian faith much like a hill, there is a low view of the hill and a high view of the hill; but whether you are taking the low view, or the high view, you are indeed looking at the same hill (if you do not get what I mean – I promise you; you will just hold onto this image). I want to be clear; when I say Christian; I mean the disciples of Christ – who are seeking to organise their lives individually and collectively around Him; not make Him, fit into their cultural norms. It is to those Christians I am addressing this article. I want to highlight for your attention, even though there are real differences between Protestants and Catholics; that actually there is great scope for a deeper unity than we realise. I want to be clear; I am not being a fantasist, and I am not ignorant of the real differences; but – I believe Christ and His Apostles teach that we should work and strive for the unity of the Church. We need to recognise, that this is a process; not a given, and it occurs and is achieved at different levels; each generation of Christians must strive to make the Church one in their own time and age, and that is why I write this article; and why I encourage you to think and move likewise. I want to show Christians can and should be more united; if they can and should accept a high and low view of the truths they are considering; and cover the difference between these two perspectives with love. I’ve focused on reformed and catholic positions, instead of say, perhaps catholic and oriental orthodox per se, or Orthodox and Catholic. I genuinely believe Reformed and Protestant Christians have no excuse for the level of their division; as they seem to me for the most part to be paper-thin excuses for other motives that lead to the division; demonstrating a lack of virtue rather than some amazing theological discovery. So let us begin.
The first place where Christians – all Christians – actually stand in a hidden unity; is in the honouring of saints. This immediately sounds like it is a catholic practice, we think of icons, churches named after some spiritual celebrity of old, incense, bones in reliquaries; prayers to the saints and the like. This is certainly the high view of honouring saints of old; and today’s saints. However, I want to suggest that Protestants – rightly – also honour saints, just with modern equivalents and in a lower tone of honouring and veneration. Consider that lots of Protestant Churches have pictures of members of their congregations; I remember going into an Assemblies of GOD Church, and being pleasantly confronted, with a wall – upon which – were photos of members of their congregation who had gone to glory; and they were being honoured on that wall. Consider how many Protestant Churches, have such things as heritage centres like that of the Salvation Army; or the William Booth birthplace museum; to honour this great man of GOD. Now, granted, this is of a much lower tone, than say the shrine of Saint Ignatius of Loyola; or the Lourdes; but it is nonetheless a place of pilgrimage. People who love the Salvation Army; and why should you not, it’s great; go to these places. Consider the Billy Graham Library – a place where visitors can experience the Gospel he taught and learn more about his life. This is nothing more than a shrine by another name; and why not; Billy Graham should be canonised and recognised for the saint he was; if ever a soul is with Saint Francis in heaven it is him. I would wager there are artefacts owned by both William Booth and Billy Graham in these grand reliquaries – artefacts owned and used by saints; would be called relics! So protestants indeed rightly, do honour their saints as Catholics honour theirs; the tone is less theatrical, and the cultic practices are minimal; perhaps a quiet prayer thanking GOD for their life, or taking a photo of this or that ‘relic’ as a token of the trip; but the pilgrims still come and go. Centres, buildings, and entire organisations are named after these two great men of GOD. Their writings and theological and spiritual musings are held up as exemplary; just like Saint Bernard of Clairvaux; my point is, Protestants do honour their saints, they do recognise them, they do go on pilgrimage centres connected to them, and they do preserve the artefacts of their life; for people to see; their writings are held up. My protestant brother, if you can recognise this in yourself; and I observe it in you – without a hint of condemnation – perhaps you can be more charitable when you see a more ancient way of doing the same thing you are doing.
Immediately I hear the protest – but we do pray to the Saints – I accept that you do not, but a Catholic is not required to either; they can and do; and are encouraged to do so, but they do not fail in their faith if they do not. So how are you not just a ‘reformed’ catholic? My question is tongue in cheek, not a criticism; I ask to highlight, that it is not a salvation issue; to pray to the saints, even if you think it is an error, the worst a catholic is doing is asking a person who can not hear them (assuming you are right) to pray for them, to the GOD who can; you do believe as protestants that the saints are alive; the thief was with Christ that day in paradise; and you do believe that they are praying for the saints on earth; so the difference between protestant and Catholics on saints praying for us – is literally – can they hear our prayer requests.
The scriptures as understood by an interpretive tradition as an authority; is something both Protestants and Catholics, but perhaps are not aware of. Every Church Father of history; is known for their handling of scripture. The holy scriptures are used and should be used by all Christians as a rule for life, a standard of authority by which they can better prepare themselves to be a righteous soul. Now yes, there is a clear disagreement about whether this is the highest authority – as protestants can and do appeal to other authorities; so long as they agree with how they interpret the scriptures. However, both groups love the scriptures, and both groups use other authorities than the scripture – they disagree in the ordering; which one is higher than the other? I genuinely believe that the reformation contained rightful corrections to the Catholic Church of its time. I genuinely believe that Catholic Christians would benefit from a greater engagement with the scriptures; and should probably study it more than they do say the Rosary. We both need to accept that we are using authorities outside of the Bible to interpret the Bible – whether it be the dreaded Roman tradition – for Protestants; or the unacknowledged Protestant tradition – infuriatingly pointed to by Catholics. Once we both accept our tradition of interpretation; we can and should both honour one another for a genuine engagement with the scriptures. This brings me to the issue of Church Fathers, they still exist and Protestants have them; Calvin, literally is a church Father for many Protestants, he gave birth to a whole interpretative key of scripture and a Church. Reformed Christians; like the honourable Dr James White cling dearly to his every word. Catholics need to better engage with the insights of Calvin, Luther, and other reformation fathers, in a way that many Protestants do engage with the Church Fathers; I genuinely believe that this will result logically in something that looks like a Catholic Church, but where things are broadly dialled down; a little like what I imagine a functioning Anglo-Catholic Church. Protestants and Catholics, can and should unite in studying the scriptures; and one another’s tradition of interpretation – with a focus on where these two traditions of interpretation synergise.
Christians of all hews and colours should and many are concerned about the plight of the persecuted Church; though I think much more can be done than is being done presently. However, the fight for the freedoms, and liberties of our persecuted brethren, is something that both Protestants and Catholics are animated on and can and should unite in fighting for. From the Martyrdom of Polycarp to Foxes Book of Martyrs, both sides have honoured those who have given their lives for the faith. Therefore, why can we not join in doing more for our brethren? Why can we not organise to help them secure themselves security over their communities, help them end discriminatory practices, help them dig their way out of poverty, and free them from restrictions preventing them from living out their faith? Why can Protestants and Catholics not join together to bring to justice and expose those who persecute our brethren? Why can we not join together to pressure governments and politicians to do more to help the persecuted Church? Why can we not join together to call out the double standards of Progressives, who bewail the plight of Muslims faced with Islamophobia, whilst completely ignoring the Christophobic prejudices of that same community; and the resultant persecutions and discriminations; not just in the Islamic world, but here too in the western world. Why can we not join together to protest regularly on the street? Why can we not find legal means to establish security and defence forces dedicated to the protection of the Christian community, whether Protestant Catholic or Orthodox? Do you think those who persecute us care about our differences? To help defend any Christian is to help defend all Christians!
Christians who know and love the Lord; as opposed to those who only know Him or only love Him; know that our Lord will not bless gay marriage; nor will He sanction abortion; or be liberal with divorce; or believes that gender is fluid or changeable. Therefore Christians within both Protestant and Catholic circles have virtually perfect synergy in all their moral positions. Why then can we not UNITE based on these things, our culture at the moral level is pretty much identical. We should be supporting one another on the basis of those things that we are against politically. No Christian group owns any moral cause, morality is the concern of all Christians; and all those who are of goodwill outside of the body of Christ. So Christians should be working together to fight against economic injustice; and the whole gambit of progressive totems: abortion, euthanasia, redefining marriage, LGBTQT(P) – Ideology, the erosion of the Christian family unit, the increased villainization of Christians. I mean, are we really saying that because of our differences, we can not stand shoulder-to-shoulder with one another as Christians?
I can hear some misinformed readers say, “Well, by that logic we can join with Muslims” to which I would reply “Since Islam is an anti-Christian ideology, and since it has a non-sacramental view of the family, and a polygamous view of marriage, it, like the Progressive ideology is a threat to the Christian concept of the family; therefore whilst we can allow Muslims to stand with us, as we pursue our agenda, we can not pursue a common agenda – as it does not exist; and Islam is intrinsically anti-Christian. Furthermore, the normative ethical for all Christians is the practice of virtue; both types of Christians use it; so why can we not join together in studying it, and offering it as an alternative to all the ethical philosophies of the epicurean religion?
Sacraments Protestants and Catholics do have for sure different understandings of the sacraments; but let’s be clear, the division does not run straight down a protestant-catholic line; some Protestants; like Lutherans have views closer to Rome than they do say a more reformed position. However, we all honour in different ways and degrees – the sacrament of the Lord’s supper; and upon its importance, we can unite; most Christians it is fair to say have a high view of this sacrament holding that in its elements; in some way, the real presence of Christ is to be found; they disagree on how, but they do believe it, and a significant minority hold it in a low view – that it is merely a sign. Christians should be charitable (if we take the idea that we are all learning and growing in our walk with the Lord) to accept that we understand this differently. I accept that we can not take communion together, but we can be respectful of those that respect the Lord’s Supper and honour it; compared to those who abuse its reverence or do not in any way acknowledge it.
Baptism however is another matter. Christians here may be divided about whether a child can or can not receive baptism (both positions emerging in their own and socio-economic and political context) however the formula of Baptism unites both Protestant and Catholic Christians; and both believe that a layman can baptise; the former normatively and the latter extraordinarily. Therefore – Christians can and should recognise the baptism as being valid of the other; as the one baptised does not avow in baptism, any of the objectional doctrines or dogmas rejected by the other; but affirms the very basics of our faith shared by both. Incidentally, it is the rustic and basic confession of faith that is given by both Protestants and Catholics that is the fundamental key that shows the faith is one; and is another point on which unity can be built. Obviously, those who follow the erroneous practice of baptising in the name of Jesus; are carrying out invalid Baptism; and so I advise all those who have been Baptised by say David Lynn; in the name of Jesus – to seek a real baptism. However, this does not mean that David and his disciples are not also of the same faith as myself; they may have an erroneous practice; but that is not sufficient a reason to say they do not have saving faith – when the spirit of GOD is evident amongst them; their confession of saving faith in Christ is the same as my own. Christians should stop baptising people already baptised; there is no need; baptism is done to you – it is not something you do to yourself – and so there is no need to baptise someone who was never a Christian but came to saving faith, but was already baptised as a child; they have already had it done to them! If someone was baptised in a protestant church by someone who is not an ordained priest; it is still valid, so long as the person who did – genuinely believed; are we really saying GOD can give grace through his lay priesthood followers?
The ecumenical councils all Christians, are bound to at the first three ecumenical councils; and most Christians go with the first six; these councils define for us the relationship between the father and the son, they confirm the divinity of the Holy Spirit; that Christ is fully GOD and fully man being only one person; things all Christians agree upon; therefore all Christians are indebted in some way to these councils; certainly European Protestant and Catholic Churches are; and therefore; even if they do not formally use the ascribed formularies – can and should celebrate their theological achievements; and tap into them for the rich source of mapping they provide to the scriptural topography of our understanding of such doctrines as the incarnation; and the trinity.
Unity as N.T. Wright put it is the greatest calling; Christ said a time would come when those from the east and the west would come and sit at the seat of Abraham – which fulfils the promise made to Abraham of same. We see this in revelations of the banquet of the Lamb in Revelations of all the nations of the world being gathered together in celebration. This Church Catholic has all the ingredients to naturally pull it apart; which is why the Apostle Paul doubles down on the unity of the Church in His epistles. We are united in Christ, by the work of the Spirit; our forgiveness is given as a gift. When at the end of Romans; Paul instructs us to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you – he was writing to a Roman Church made of house churches from different backgrounds; as it is from this unity that prophecy of Isaiah that all the nations will hope in the vine of Jesse will find its fulfilment; as lion lays down with the lamb. That then – is our mission, our vocation of Christians; unity; is an essential part of the truth of scripture. The letter Ephesians points out that as Jew and Gentile are saved the same way; we are grafted into the same family; for in this redeemed temple heaven and earth have come together; we should resist divisions and build unity; we should not divide along the lines of ‘rituals’ as the Galatian churches were being encouraged to; by the intruders, who came to those churches. We must resist – there is neither Baptist or Methodist, Roman Catholic or Orthodox, British or American, French or German, Zulu or Tutsi, Arab or Jew, middle class or working class. Across all these divisions, we Christians must strive, must work actively, deliberately, passionately, for the unity of the Church. Rise to the challenge Christians!