My response to the Rev. Thomas Reeves’ ideas on this subject has in turn received a response from him. That response is too extensive for a “comment box” type of response so I am devoting a post to the topic. I’ll quote parts of his response, but for brevity’s sake they’ll be short, but you can read everything he has to say on the subject.
One thing that probably separates our perspective is that Reeves has never had the thrill of being Roman Catholic. That will change your perspective on a wide variety of subjects; it certainly has in my case. Any discussion of Patristic Christianity and its place in the faith will sooner or later involve the Roman Catholic Church; it’s too important of a topic to ignore.
So we proceed:
I would submit that those at the Council of Nicea 325 (and the later confirming Council of Constantinople of 387) actually had agreement on multiple CORE AREAS that had little to nothing to do with the later scholastic theologies or developments argued or thrown to the side by most following the Reformers.
I agree that the fourth century fathers and councils are a nice place to start. That doesn’t address the “stopping point” issue. We’re not talking about “scholastic theologies” but things such as the Nestorian and Monophysite controversies and councils such as Chalcedon. The natures of Jesus Christ and his relationship with the creation he came to redeem may seem an arcane business, but the resurgence of Islam has brought the subject back into prominence. It can be argued that Islam is Nestorianism brought to its logical conclusion. Stopping at Constantinople I cuts these issues out of the loop. And that, of course, doesn’t address the issue of the icons in Nicaea II…
Nor would they have understood the word “catholic” as “everyone across space and time” and/or “everyone across the world” who has asked Jesus into their heart and/or who has made up their own definition of what church and salvation is.
Anglicans have traditionally interpreted the Creed’s “holy Catholic church” as including themselves. The RCC would disagree with that, many of the Orthodox would too. Be careful how you draw boundaries; you might find yourself on the wrong side.
They also believed that salvation/conversion through Christ was Covenental, Sacramental, AND personal. These realities can NEVER be cleanly separated in Holy Scripture or in any of the early church fathers. Whatever mysteries and complexities there are in understanding these theologies, they most certainly inform the statement of the bishops for: “a baptism for the forgiveness of sins”.
That’s the tricky part: as currently structured, Christianity has made “sacramental and personal” “sacramental or personal.” Most of the Apostolic churches have a built-in allergy for enthusiasm and a high-level of commitment among their parishioners. The Roman Catholic Church is a prime example of this. The RCC relies too heavily on its role as the dispenser of grace via the sacraments to bind the faithful to it, rather than developing its member’s spiritual lives individually or as a community. You can see this in some of its Eucharistic theology (which is still the best out there) and especially in its view of baptism. The result is that the RCC has bled members and opened the door for things such as covenant communities to fill the void. This is sad for a church with a rich a spiritual heritage and some of the most Christlike people who have ever walked on the face of the earth, but for many parishes and parishioners that’s reality.
Pietism (and, thus, the Wesley brothers) walks away from these central Christian doctrines, negates the realities of us all having informing traditions, and turns salvation into a personal decision removed from a grounding and communal salvation…and thus, a coherence with the Historic Church of Christ.
Probably the best way to respond to this is to recount the story of one of my church members, the Rt. Rev. Brian Barnett. His brother fought in the Battle of Britain (an awesome thing in itself) and he decided to follow his footsteps in the RAF. Before he was shipped out, his future wife invited him to a meeting where he got saved. So when he arrived at his first duty post he went to the chaplain and, offering his services to help, said he had gotten saved recently. The Anglican chaplain responded glumly, “You’ll get over it.”
Now I’m sure you would apply your extended speech on Wesleyanism to this situation. But the truth is that the chaplain’s response was pastoral laziness. It’s much easier to have people content to go through the motions every Sunday rather than to deal with the problems caused by enthusiasm. Barnett for his part ended up first a pastor and official in the Elim Church in the UK, then an Administrative Bishop in the Church of God on this side of the Atlantic. When we look at the bishops who are allowing the Church of England to fade away (lead by Justin Welby) it begs the question: what would be the case if the CoE encouraged more serious people?
Wesley never intended to leave the Church of England; that didn’t take place until after his death, and only after a lifetime of stonewalling. Neither did Barnett (he actually started out in a very secular home, CoE could have picked him up) nor I intend to leave the Episcopal Church. When I compared the lives of those around me with the challenge that came out of the Gospel read every Sunday, the question kept coming up: what difference is the Gospel making? When they decided that same Gospel and Scriptures weren’t enough, I realised I had had all the fun I could stand.
A few years back I ran a series on the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. I would encourage you to add him to your reading list. If the Apostolic churches, who have institutional descent from the church of St. Cyril, were up to his level, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. The real goal is to not to denigrate people but to rise to the occasion and for at least one of these churches to have this on a consistent basis and not just as a “special parish” or two.
When that takes place, we can have sacramental and personal at the same time, which is God’s intent.