Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Which Reformation History?

I found this brief Protestant Reformed version of reformational history, by Rev. Wayne Brouwer, on the Christian Reformed Church's publication's website. It's quite well written, especially given the space constraints the author faced.

As part of my discernment over the claims of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, exploring history has been one of my two major tasks (the other being authority). I'm no historian, but I've read enough to know how much this version of history is tailored to meet its own ends. It's a self-licking ice cream cone.

Of course, historical and theological scholars have composed incredibly lengthy volumes on church history, and discerning ecclesial historical "truth" is no easy task. Rev. Brouwer gives a crisp summary of the Reformed "party line" of church history. The church healthfully grew until Rome's (the Empire, that is) collapse. For the next millennium it slid into increasing error. In this time east and west did not agree on authority and theology. The pope's importance grew in this period, and the perception arose that he was a primate. The East nicely allowed children to commune (I've observed a growing admiration for this Orthodox practice in CRC literature and PCA practice and teaching), while the West developed sacraments for discipline, as tools of power. The East experienced the Spirit, while the West limited Him. Eventually, power and corruption of the sacraments led to the Reformation, where the new church in the West came to look like the church in its original pure form.

I believe that much of these observations are debatable at best. The Real History, I venture to say, was not nearly so clean, and not nearly so supportive of the Reformation's claims. We do not look like the early church. We never have. Do you think your church would be brave enough to try to so look?

5 comments:

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

I think we tend to separate the East and West too easily. This seems to be reading the Great Schism back into the early Church rather than reading the ROOTS of the Schism back that far.

We see tensions begin in the second century - there's no doubt about that. But we don't see two different Christianities and two different systematic approaches to theology - at least not as much as many modern historians would like us to believe.

Before the schism, Eastern patriarchs wrote to the Pope and asked for intervention in certain cases, the pope considered himself powerful enough to excommunicate the entire continent of Asia in the middle of the second century, and the modern polemics defending the papacy can be found almost verbatim by the fourth century.

Its too easy to forget that before the schism, the east called themselves Catholic too.

Thos said...

GFF,

I agree with your observations. I made a brief comment that deserves more attention than I am of a mind to give it presently (since I'm staring at a 20-page legal memo due on Monday - yack!). Reformed churches seem to be increasingly enamored with all things Eastern - As the Catholic apologetic effort has seemed to increase in volume and substance against post-Jesus Movement evangelicalism, the counter-apologetic has been on its heels. We have had to defend against claims of what the "early church" looked like. We have construed the affiliation of bishops within Orthodoxy as a loose bible-based fraternity as part of this defense. It's ironic to me. The Reformation sought to reform the Western church, but now it needs to dump all things "Romish". Hence I am seeing several indicia of movements toward paedocommunion -- and these all seem to begin with an observation that the East has "always" allowed their children to commune. But it's a practice very inconsistent with Reformed confessions and formularies. And we are still so Western - we still claim belief in original sin and the filioque.

I know Ware made clear in his "The Orthodox Church" that Her similarities with the Latin Church are much closer than Her similarities to Anglicanism or other Protestant movements. Really an equivalent "Reformation" in the East would have been much more tenable than ours from the West, no? And I suppose they've had their fractional bishops several times over... it just has never been as earth-shattering as it was in the West.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Yup. I follow what you're saying. My friend (a shepherding elder in the OPC) attended my wedding. There were some strong words from the priest during the mass on why Protestants could not receive but I specifically asked him to remind the congregation that the Orthodox could (since I had several Orthodox friends present).

The next time I saw him, my friend the OPC elder mentioned in passing "I thought the Orthodox believed in Consubstantiation like the Lutherans not Transubstantiation". I could tell the issue was bothering him if only a little.

But I thought, why? Why do you care? The Eastern Orthodox view you as much in error as Rome does (if anything Rome is probably a little more lenient regarding your eternal salvation). And like you said, the Eastern Orthodox Church is much closer to Rome than to Canterbury or Geneva.

Incidentally he and I both briefly discussed paedo communion as well. I have another friend (PCA elder) whose greatest hurdle (or atleast one of them) to becoming Catholic is paedo communion. Go figure.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Rather - lack thereof.

Thos said...

GFF,

Interesting. I am truly baffled that you're friend is hesitant about becoming Catholic because of paedocommunion (but willing to remain in a TEACHING office within the PCA). The paedocommunionists in the PCA are frustrated by the tension they face with the Standards of our denomination. We require the elders to examine a baptized Christian before admitting them to the "table", to ensure that they have a knowledge of what they are about to receive. I've seen this (in San Diego) be as little as a Q&A that goes something like this: "do you know why we have communion?", "Jesus". The youngest child I know to be admitted to the table is 3 in the PCA, but wouldn't be surprised if others are running farther assunder from the clear implications of the Standards (that a person should be able to truly examine themselves before taking the elements).

My point, I guess, is that these people, while perhaps well-intentioned, are no more in conformity with the Reformed tradition than are the Baptists who exclude children from the waters of Baptism. Which tradition? Which History? Which Authority? Around and around we go, eh?

Peace in Christ,
Thos.