The Crucifixion of St. Peter, etching, 1685 by Jan Luyken

Κύριε, ἐλέησον
Χριστέ, ἐλέησον

There are so many reasons why a Protestant would consider becoming an Eastern Orthodox Christian. I nearly did myself. My own journey into the Catholic Church included searching in various directions, but mostly in the direction of history and mystery, which led me to Orthodoxy, but also in the direction of authority and unity, which finally led to Catholicism.

I am no theologian or Church historian. My mind works more like a poet than a philosopher. I am not a logician nor am I a stickler for the minutiae of dogmatic disputes. Nonetheless, Truth (capital T truth) is important to me. And loving Christ, obeying His commandments, seeking holiness and perfection and theosis is everything to me — all things I am sorely bad at doing. My journey, and the decisions I have made along the way, are not criticisms of dear friends who have made different decisions. The best I can do is try to reasonably do my homework, be as humble as I can, and trust God. I believe I am right, or I wouldn’t believe what I believe, but I also know how easy it is to be wrong. And so I humbly offer here my reasons for becoming Catholic rather than Orthodox. I do not claim wisdom, only that by God’s grace did I find the true Church.

I’ve written many posts on this blog about my journey. You can find them by searching some of the topics and tags on the sidebar. One described my visiting a local Orthodox church; a visit that truly inspired me and moved my heart. I have friends that are members at that church. I also found the writings of some Eastern Orthodox authors amazing, especially those of Alexander Schmemann, and especially his book “For the Life of the World.” And I wrote about my struggles with Protestantism and my seeking something far more rooted in tradition than the anemic Evangelical culture I experienced. Finally, being a bit of a cinephile, my favorite filmmaker is the late Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, an artist deeply influenced by the Christian faith of Russia Orthodoxy. His aesthetic and artistic philosophy comes from that faith, it resonates deeply in my soul. Consequently, I was drawn very much to the Orthodox Church.

Eastern Orthodoxy offers a powerful antidote to some of our western culture’s religious ills. But, in the end, I could not make the leap. I had, instead, to first deal with Catholicism head-on. I realized that a key attraction of Orthodoxy for me was that I could get an ancient liturgy, the Church fathers, all the smells and bells, icons, mystery, penance, history, and on and on, and I could still fundamentally be Protestant. In other words, I could get most everything I was seeking (or thought I was seeking) without having to submit to the Pope. I had to confront this and find out what the Catholic Church taught, and if it was the better choice than Eastern Orthodoxy.

I was raised within and formed by a very anti-Catholic culture. I had a lot of fears of even getting slightly close to Catholicism. But I also realized that every negative thing I ever heard about the Church came from enemies of the Church. How would I feel if someone refused to give me a chance to defend myself against slander, claiming they already heard everything they needed to hear from my enemies? I felt convicted that I was being unfair. Even more so, I came to see that the final step was not the logic of an argument, rather it was the attitude of my heart. I began to see that I first must submit to God in all humility before I could sort through the various claims. In short, I realized the fundamental issue, the very crux itself, was whether I was willing to submit or whether I was going to continue to demand my own authority. The last thing I wanted to do was to continue to define and demarcate my faith, based on my own authority, as disunity with other Christians. I needed something transcending my own person to hold me accountable. I also realized I was no longer “protesting,” and therefore I found it absurd to be a Protestant. Rather, I had to turn to God and ask Him to lead me, even in a direction that scared me. My will, not my rationality, was the problem — a problem of the heart forged within me by the Protestant (and American) culture that made me.

In the end, the Catholic Church won me over. In fact, I believe it was God, through Mary, who led me to the Church in spite of my many worries, fears, and struggles. I am not an apologist. As I stated earlier, I am no theologian or logician. I’m a relatively bright guy, but my reasons for becoming Catholic are probably more poetic than apologetic. Catholicism began to form a kind of song in my soul, a resonance that called me home. The question I had to answer was if I willing to hear that tune and follow it. But I had to be clear to myself why I could not settle for Eastern Orthodoxy when it offered so much of what I was looking for, and when so many of my friends found a home there.

Following are some of my reasons. Needless to say, these are very personal reasons. I say this because I know each of us is on a journey and the big decisions we make in life, though often of a universal nature (Truth, Faith, Religion, etc.), are also uniquely played in each of our lives. Therefore, I can only speak for myself and not for anyone else.

In Protestantism, there is no true authority. As anyone who has taken a critical look at Protestantism knows, Sola Scriptura can only, finally, mean that an individual’s opinion is authoritative, which of course it is not. Every Protestant pastor establishes himself or herself as the authority, offering their interpretations and “applications” of scripture, and church members shop churches like consumers search for restaurants — some search for cheap drive-throughs and others for fine dining, but they all are merely searching according to their preferred tastes and immediate interests. Christianity in America, and much of the world, has become a kind of marketplace complete with producers and consumer, sellers and buyers. It’s a free market economy driven by marketing and business plans. But the Catholic Church has the magisterium, with its Pope and Bishops, handing on and defending the faith. Because it is a hierarchy based on a monarchy it demands submission to its authority which it claims is given by Christ our King. The Catholic argument for the primacy of Peter makes a great deal of sense to me, especially since it seems so clearly based on scripture. Doesn’t the Catholic Church’s interpretation of those scriptures, elevating Peter to the position of primacy, seem best? Individual Catholic churches will have small differences, and many bishops argue with each other over various topics, but they are all in communion with Rome. Every aspect of this is radically foreign to the Protestant’s heart and mind. Both Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism hold to Holy Scripture and Tradition as the sources of Truth and Revelation, but Eastern Orthodoxy, while demanding more authority for itself than any Protestant church, has no true living magisterium, or teaching authority that can supersede and arbitrate between reasonable but different positions on faith and morals, and continue to do so as history unfolds itself. Only the Catholic Church has the living magisterium. Any former Protestant will certainly experience a stronger sense of institutional authority within Eastern Orthodoxy than he did within Protestantism. And that might feel like more than enough; I’m sure for many that was already a tough pill to swallow and I don’t want to downplay that experience. Eastern Orthodoxy certainly has more substantive guardrails than the local Bible church on the corner, but the Orthodox Church is still, at best, a loosely unified church, and at worst a church falsely claiming unity, and perhaps self-deceived in that regard. This is the problem with not having a living magisterium. I came to realize that the question of authority was a huge issue for me personally; bigger than I ever imagined. God was calling me to submit to the authority of His Church on earth. Eastern Orthodoxy was attractive to me precisely because I wouldn’t have to submit in such a total way, perhaps not unless I wanted to become a deacon(?), but even then it would only be submission on a local and/or ethnic/national church level; just another particular church, not the universal Church. I could continue to avoid the pope. Some might take issue with this position, but it seemed clear to me then, and it seems clear to me now that there is no final source of authority in Eastern Orthodoxy, merely submission to one of the self-headed churches and their traditions and interpretations of scripture (however unified they can seem to someone from Protestantland).

To sum this up, because I realize I could be misrepresenting the Eastern Orthodox view (perhaps challenging its self-view) of authority, the real crux of the issue for me was my pride. I was wrapped up in my pride and the Catholic Church more than the Orthodox church confronted me on my pride. I need to be radically humbled and the Catholic Church does that for me. This fact I took as a key piece of evidence.

The question of authority, as stated above, is inextricably linked with unity. Although some try to claim that Eastern Orthodoxy is unified, it is not. In fact, it is quite fragmented and has been for centuries. Eastern Orthodoxy has divided along numerous ethnic and nationalistic lines; different but also similar to Protestant denominations. In my own town, I was faced with whether I would join the local Serbian Orthodox church or the local Greek Orthodox church. They are different churches, not merely different parishes. As a Protestant, I was used to having such decisions before me, but my soul was longing for something else. As a Protestant, Eastern Orthodoxy offered more unity (or seemed to) than I was familiar with, and therefore it attracted me, but in the end I wanted even greater unity. I couldn’t settle for partial unity. I didn’t believe the Holy Spirit would abandon the body of Christ to so much disunity for so long on such a scale. (Of course, I could be terribly wrong.) I didn’t want to sort through the battles between Russian Orthodox and Ukrainian Orthodox. I didn’t want to accept the αὐτοκεφαλία of a hydra-headed animal as a work of the Holy Spirit. I realized that Protestantism had trained me to accept disunity as a “natural” way of the Church, and I absolutely wanted no part of it. I felt the need to flee from disunity. Perhaps I was oversensitive, but I wanted a Church that could contain various rites and expressions of the faith, but was still in total unity with itself, transcending and judging national and ethnic boundaries, structurally bound together by a visible Vicar of Christ. I just found Eastern Orthodoxy far less unified than some try to present it (see the video below for more details). Of course, Catholicism has a lot of issues, a ton of internal squabbles, and many Catholics do not get along, but we are in communion nonetheless. We share in the table of our Lord, in His body and blood, and in our shared creed and dogmas regardless of the many other ways we can find ourselves struggling to be in unity. I also realized that most Catholic liturgical rites are, in fact, much like, or even exactly like those of the Eastern Orthodox churches. If I wanted, I could go to a church not too far away, pastored by a friend of mine, that uses the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. It is an Eastern Rite Catholic church in full communion with the Pope. It’s possible to have something quite “eastern” within the Catholic Church if that’s one’s preference.

Although many Catholics today, including many churchmen, take a very lax view of divorce, remarriage, and receiving Holy Communion while in a state of grave sin, the Catholic Church does, in fact, officially teach that divorce and remarriage is forbidden, and that receiving Holy Communion in such a state is a mortal sin. The Orthodox Church, however, officially has a less strict position. It’s not uncommon to say the Orthodox Church blesses the first marriage, performs the second, tolerates the third, and forbids the fourth. I have come to believe this position contradicts the direct teaching of Christ. I do not mean to speak lightly of the real struggles many couples have in marriage, but I believe the official position of the Catholic Church is far superior to that of the Eastern Orthodox; it is, in fact, orthodox while the Orthodox position is not. In fact, there are even different positions within Easter Orthodoxy given the lack of magisterial unity. But marriage may just be the defining issue of our age. Attacking marriage and the priesthood have become, I am convinced, the number one targets in the overall game plan of the Evil One to destroy the Church. Marriage was instituted by God as the means by which He educates mankind about His relationship with us. Marriage is fundamental to the story of salvation. God is the ultimate educator and marriage is His great analogical example for us. In this light, it is the Catholic Church that has the best chance to be the bulwark against these attacks of the Devil. There are many faithful Christians within the various branches of Eastern Orthodoxy, but institutionally it is the Catholic Church that is the primary instrument on earth in Christ’s hands to do battle against the principalities of darkness and evil. It is also the one institution most clearly under attack on every front, including from within. This alone should be a testament to the primacy of the Catholic Church, and was one of the clear and visible signs that finally drew me through its doors.

Authority, unity, and the profound issue of divorce and remarriage stand as primary touchstones for why I didn’t jump into Eastern Orthodoxy. But there are other reasons. The Catholic Church is truly catholic and global, it is also western in western countries. I am a child of so-called western culture. There is a fascinating and mysterious element to Eastern Orthodoxy that I find attractive because of its foreignness. But there is a kind of false fit with who I am. I felt my curiosity with Eastern Orthodoxy was due, in large part, because it felt extra mysterious to this west-coast white-toast American, and thus it felt radically non-Protestant. That attracted me, but I needed more substance than feelings. The Catholic Church has been more readily able to culturally adapt as it has spread around the world than Eastern Orthodoxy. This means I can be in unity with Catholics around the world, sharing in the same liturgy with them any day of the week, and yet find an appropriate cultural fit between the cult and the culture in which God placed me, and they with theirs.

Also, the Catholic Church more fully and properly venerates the Mother of our Lord. Mary has become an increasingly important person in my faith, drawing me closer to her Son. Eastern Orthodoxy tends to see Catholics as taking this devotion too far. I disagree. Catholic teaching on Mary is the clearest, most biblical, and most meaningful to the lives of the faithful than any other teaching.

Another issue that seems to come up is the filioque. This is a theological and historical issue having to do with the creed, and it’s easy to find overviews of the issue online if you’re curious. In looking into it for myself, I found it not only thin in substance but it strikes me as a rather cheap excuse for any Eastern Orthodox Christian to cling to as a reason for not becoming Catholic.

And then I found interesting that whenever people think of the “Church” they think of Catholicism. If our society has issues with Christianity, with its positions on marriage, sexuality, gender, etc, it always looks to the Catholic Church to see what it says. Our world so desperately wants the Catholic Church to change its positions on nearly every dogma and doctrine. For the most part, our society doesn’t care about what the Eastern Orthodox think, on any topic really. And few Protestants care all that much if another of their fold converts to Eastern Orthodoxy, perhaps they slightly tilt their head in confusion, but they practically foam at the mouth if that conversion is to Catholicism. This says a lot, strongly implying that in the grand design, and deep within the hearts of even the most unrepentant men, it is the Catholic Church that stands as the visible body of Christ in the world, even to those who deny every one of its claims, and the world knows it has to deal with that. If they hated Christ first, they will hate His followers even more, and they hate the Catholic Church more than any other institution on earth.

Finally, if I am honest, I did not choose the Catholic Church. Rather, and not to be trite, but it chose me. I was called, impelled, and even compelled into it. If I had chosen Eastern Orthodoxy I would have been merely fleeing Protestantism. I no longer wanted to be a heretic. Yes, I wanted a truly apostolic Church, and I do see the Eastern Orthodox churches descending from the apostolic tradition, but this longing within me wouldn’t let me settle for second best. In the end, my choice was no choice but to become Catholic. And continuing in honesty, it has not been easy. The Catholic Church is filled with sinners (me included) and has been ravaged by modernism, wicked bishops, unfaithful priests, sexual abuse and institutional coverups, financial corruption, rank idiocy, and numerous devious attacks by the Evil One, but this has only convinced me that the Catholic Church is the true body of Christ, for these hard facts merely confirm her core teachings through and through. We are truly sinners in need of a savior. We are a wayward bride continually being called back from harlotry to the all-loving bridegroom. More than any other church, and more than any institution on earth, the Catholic Church relentlessly experiences the most persecution from without as well as from within. This can only come from the Devil who wants to destroy the Church. And only this level of attack, combined with the Church’s resilient survival, could be part of God’s ultimate plan of salvation, presented to us in the prophetic words of scripture and the words of Our Lady. The Catholic Church is both the earthly means of our salvation and stands as the greatest visible example of why we so desperately need salvation from our sin, the world, and the Devil.

Do all these reasons for why I personally chose the Catholic Church over Eastern Orthodoxy mean all Eastern Orthodox Christians are wrong? I can’t say. Or I don’t want to say. I’m sure some are wrong, but perhaps not all. Each person’s journey is different, and where God has them is His prerogative. For many converts it was a huge personal decision to leave Protestantism and enter the Orthodox Church. I certainly do not doubt their faith. I would just say to former Protestants who made the big move to Orthodoxy that you might want to consider if you have truly moved far enough. Could it be that you changed the form without actually changing some core Protestant positions? Did you get history and mystery but are avoiding authority? Are you holding on to a desire for your own authority and wanting, perhaps subconsciously, to retain the “right” to your own biblical interpretations? Was the move to Orthodoxy the easier choice than Catholicism? If yes, why? Are you still clinging to your own authority, or perhaps to more of an aesthetic change, or now you don’t want to give up your community, or could it be you’re still basing your decision on that funny inner feeling so common to Protestants? I am not judging but seriously asking because all these reasons I had to wrestle with myself. And I realize any kind of change, especially this kind of change, is extremely difficult, complex, and fraught with all sorts of issues.

And I ask for forgiveness if I have misrepresented the Orthodox Church. I do realize there is far more complexity than I am able or willing to deal with in this post. Although, at this point in my own journey of faith, I have no interest in arguing about it. I’ll leave that to others. I am working too hard, and failing too often, at just becoming a good Catholic.

May God bless you.

Lastly, this post was sparked, in part, by this video below. It’s well worth taking the time to listen.

 

I really appreciate Stefanie’s story. She is thoughtful, intelligent, not afraid of her emotions, and serious. She also displays genuine humility and a desire to know the Truth. Her story is different than mine in many ways, I tend to shy away from politics and open critiques of other religions, but I find a lot to similarities too. Catholicism was the last place I looked in my own search.

The following are two videos from 2017 with The Most Rev. Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of Astana (Kazakhstan). The first is his lecture on the Social Kingship of Christ. The second is a post-lecture Q&A session.

The lecture and Q&A came after his excellency celebrated a Pontifical Solemn Mass. If you are interested, here is that Mass:

A great many people, both inside and outside the Church, will find much or nearly everything Cardinal Burke says in this lecture to be offensive in one way or another. However, he does an excellent job of laying out the Church’s traditional and dogmatic position on marriage in light of the main issues facing this position today. I believe it is worth listening to in its entirety. This (assumed) fact — that of traditional Catholic teaching and that many Catholics’ would take offense at its plain spoken expression — says volumes about the state of the Church today. I predict that the next council of the Church will be on marriage.

I’m reposting this, because it is so good. But also because we live in a society that has become a slave to sentimentality. This is also true of Christianity — sentimentality affects so much and we are so blind. O’Connor hated sentimentality. Ralph Wood speaks to this in the midst of so much else he says. A rich talk indeed.

flannery_oconnor_painting

A truly great lecture…

flannery

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There are a number of Church history timelines out there if you want to find them. They all support one argument or another. Of the ones I’ve found (via Google image searching) most seem designed to demonstrate how the more or less connected Eastern Orthodox churches are somehow, truly, the one, consistently intact, non-apostate church, by showing that both the Catholic Church and all the Protestant churches are apostate deviations from Eastern Orthodoxy. I don’t find these timelines or arguments very convincing (though I flirted with becoming Eastern Orthodox before entering the Catholic Church).

Very few timelines I’ve seen are about the histories of Protestant churches from a Protestant perspective for obvious reasons — pick any one and they don’t go back very far, and are rife with so many splits as to make one’s head spin. See this previous post for examples. Rampant disunity and proneness to division makes the Protestant churches visually impossible to establish their continuity with the Apostles (and opens the door to questions most Protestants would like to imagine don’t actually exist or are not important). Better to avoid that embarrassing visual altogether. Anyway, Protestants put their emphasis on other things.

Yet, we get clearly from scripture that Jesus, with His apostles, founded a Church; that that Church is both mystical and visible, is marked by unity, is full of sacraments, and Hell will not prevail against it. Thus we should expect to find a clear line through history that we can call the Church. Given that all human beings are sinners, and that the Church is made up of sinners, then we should also expect an imperfect Church, prone to struggles, run through with sin, and teaming with problems — perhaps even its own periodic “dark ages” and times of great distress. But we should also see the work of the Holy Spirit, working on the hearts of the Church’s members, guiding the Church through the struggles, chastising it, correcting it, disciplining it, but keeping the thread of continuity always visible. If we are willing to entertain such an idea, it doesn’t take long to discover the Catholic Church is the best choice for being that church. All others, except to some degree the Eastern Orthodox churches, pale in comparison.

But it’s not all that easy to find a timeline of Church history from a Catholic perspective. Perhaps that’s because Catholics don’t feel they need to create such a thing.

However, here’s a decent one showing the continuity of the Catholic Church as compared to various Protestant divisions:

Timeline of Catholic Church
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If the visual of this timeline means anything, then we see the Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodists grouped on one side, and all the rest on the other — which implies more or less deviation from the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church — depending on which side one is on. Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodists — the diagram seems to say — are closer to the Catholic Church than those on the right. This is the traditional Catholic perspective, though it has changed in recent years as generally only Evangelicals, Baptists, and some Reformed maintained traditional moral positions (mainly on sexual, gender, and life issues) and the mainline churches have deviated substantially.

My own history began in one of those Baptist strands on the right. I knew nothing about anything of Church history, and especially Baptist history. If Blessed John Henry Newman is right, that to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant, then it’s no wonder Protestants (especially of the radical reformation) don’t want to know anything about their church histories — it’s too much of a threat to their way of life. I got the impression that our church had sprung directly from the pages of scripture, which allowed us to blithely disregard most all of Christian history from the death of St. John to the present day. Nearly everything I heard about the history of the Church could have been boiled down to a handful of repeated (and easily refuted) tropes about the Reformation and “those Catholics,” accepted with knowing nods, and never questioned. That was my experience. Of course, we never asked any knowledgeable Catholics about anything.

Now we live at a time when questions of doctrine and dogma, Church history and practice, and the deep divisions among the faithful are shrugged off as being uninteresting. So much of Christian experience seems to reflect our broader societies values (beliefs are only personal and must remain so, faith is private, and choosing a church is more like choosing a new favorite restaurant) that people can’t see any purpose in asking if there is such a thing as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

While growing up Protestant, naturally I was told church history was unimportant — only Jesus and the Bible were important. But if the Church is the bride of Christ, then history matters — like your own history. You are a continuity of God’s grace in your life, and so is the Church. What is particularly troubling with this timeline is that it shows that Christians have been practicing separating (one could say divorcing) from each other for a very long time. As they say, practice makes perfect. What has this done to our souls? How has this spirit invaded our culture at all levels?

We read in John chapter 17, Jesus prayed:

“And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”

“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one…”

Did Christ intend that they, and we, actually be one — implying visible as well as mystical unity? Can we really, over the long term, have the mystical and not the visible? Can we be divided in practice, in doctrine, in life, and still be okay that somewhere, somehow, we’re all unified in Christ? Like the hardness of heart Christ speaks of when he discusses divorce, is the Church in time and space, in hearts and in actions, an example to the world of the hardness of ours hearts? I think so. This is a profound problem.

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Chrism Mass in Westminster Cathedral, procession at the beginning.

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I have come to believe that once one cares at all about the continuity of the Church down through the ages, it then becomes clear all arrows point to the Catholic Church as the one founded by Christ. For all of its problems, and its crazy history, it remains. If one cannot imagine becoming Catholic, then it’s best to forget everything about Church history, grab one’s Bible, and just claim Jesus as Lord. Right? To many this sounds like a good plan, but that very perspective is at the heart of that crazy timeline of disunity, with Christians splitting from each other, with every man a pope, creating havoc among the faithful, and shaming Christ before the world. There is something profoundly broken and wrong-headed about the “me and Jesus” mindset as the foundation for being the Church. There is something profoundly broken and wrong-headed about betting on sola scriptura. The evidence is everywhere.

This timeline shows that Christians have grotesquely failed in unity. Given human nature, original sin, and the incessant work of the Devil, this is no surprise. I have written about this before, but I believe the spirit at the core of the Reformation was the spirit of disunity (shored up by theological arguments that sound a lot like excuses), and that spirit has thrived down the centuries until today, and has affected all of modern culture — we are a culture of divorce on all fronts (we are constantly separating ourselves from others, reveling in our disunity, fighting against those “idiots,” and finding ever new ways to stay apart). But Christians should know that in and through Christ all those distinctions fade, and our human excuses disappear. Non-denominationalism (not caring about denominations any more) has not solved this issue. Evangelicalism has not solved the issue — though it embodies some good things. Cool churches in school gyms have not solved the issue. Gathering “outside” mainstream Christian culture in some small, radical biblicism enclave has not solved the issue. Social media, and our ability to be “connected,” has not solved this issue. Unity in Christ is hard enough, why then seek it and flaunt it?

Because I know that at the individual level there are many, many Christians who passionately love Christ, I have hope for a coming unity once again. That unity will, and must, be both of the heart and visible; of faith and structure; of the mystical Church and the church down the street. May we humbly follow Christ and be “one” again.


Post Script: Most Christians, as far as I can tell, could not care less about these things. This is true for both Protestants and Catholics. There is a happy cluelessness, a shrug and a “who cares?” or “I don’t see how that matters” attitude. I care, in part, because I was Protestant and converted to Catholicism. I had to wrestle with a lot of issues and claims raised by both “sides.” I was drawn by the Holy Spirit to wrestle with these things. I learned that history matters. It can teach us a lot. We each hold many assumptions and presuppositions, and those all have a history to them. I believe these are critical issues because I believe that truth matters, scripture matters, and what & who one has faith in matters. I don’t want to hold dear verses like John 3:16 …reveling in the love of God and feeling great, and forget that the Church, which was established by Christ, is also the body of Christ and the bride of Christ — something visible, living, breathing, acting, unified, in the world, reflecting Christ, and connected year over year through tradition, scripture, and structure. We believe in Christ by being a part of His Body. Belief is not about feelings only, or even mostly. One has to choose.

I have to care, make wise judgements, and then choose. I cannot not care. I cannot not choose.

Sanctus
Latin:
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus,
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.

English trans:
Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God of hosts
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.

Agnus Dei
Latin:
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi
dona nobis pacem.

English trans:
Lamb of God, you who take away the sins
of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you who take away the sins
of the world, grant us peace.

The text in Latin:
Te Deum laudamus: te Dominum confitemur.
Te, aeternum Patrem, omnis terra veneratur.
Tibi omnes Angeli, tibi caeli et universae Potestates,
Tibi Cherubim et Seraphim incessabili voce proclamant:
Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt caeli et terra maiestatis gloriae tuae.
Te gloriosus Apostolorum chorus;
Te Prophetarum laudabilis numerus;
Te Martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus.
Te per orbem terrarum sancta confitetur Ecclesia:
Patrem immensae maiestatis,
Venerandum tuum verum et unicum Filium,
Sanctum quoque Paraclitum Spiritum.
Tu rex gloriae, Christe,
Tu Patris sempiternus es Filius.
Tu ad liberandum suscepturus hominem non horruisti virginis uterum.
Tu devicto mortis aculeo aperuisti credentibus regna caelorum.
Tu ad dexteram Dei sedes, in gloria Patris.
Iudex crederis esse venturus.
Te ergo quaesumus, tuis famulis subveni, quos pretioso sanguine redemisti!
Aeterna fac cum Sanctis tuis in gloria numerari!
Salvum fac populum tuum, Domine, et benedic hereditati tuae!
Et rege eos, et extolle illos usque in aeternum!
Per singulos dies benedicimus te
Et laudamus nomen tuum in saeculum et in saeculum saeculi.
Dignare, Domine, die isto sine peccato nos custodire!
Miserere nostri, Domine, miserere nostri!
Fiat misericordia tua, Domine, super nos, quemadmodum speravimus in te!
In te, Domine, speravi: non confundar in aeternum. Amen. Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus.

Translation:
We praise Thee, O God: we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship Thee and the Father everlasting.
To Thee all Angels: to Thee the heavens and all the Powers therein.
To Thee the Cherubim and Seraphim: cry with unceasing voice:
Holy, Holy, Holy: Lord God of Hosts.
The heavens and the earth are full: of the majesty of Thy glory.
Thee the glorious choir: of the Apostles.
Thee the admirable company: of the Prophets.
Thee the white-robed army of Martyrs: praise.
Thee the Holy Church throughout all the world: doth acknowledge.
The Father of infinite Majesty.
Thine adorable, true: and only Son
Also the Holy Ghost: the Paraclete.
Thou art the King of Glory: O Christ.
Thou art the everlasting Son: of the Father.
Thou having taken upon Thee to deliver man: didst not abhor the Virgin’s womb.
Thou having overcome the sting of death: didst open to believers the kingdom of heaven.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God: in the glory of the Father.
We believe that Thou shalt come: to be our Judge.
We beseech Thee, therefore, help Thy servants: whom Thou has redeemed with Thy precious Blood.
Make them to be numbered with Thy Saints: in glory everlasting.
Lord, save Thy people: and bless Thine inheritance.
Govern them: and lift them up forever.
Day by day: we bless Thee.
And we praise Thy name forever: and world without end.
Vouchsafe, O Lord, this day: to keep us without sin.
Have mercy on us, O Lord: have mercy on us.
Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us: as we have hoped in Thee.
O Lord, in Thee have I hoped: let me never be confounded. Amen. Holy, Holy, Holy.

A lot of this is speculation, and may say more about me than anything else. Anyway…

Apostolic succession maze
I saw the above comic a while back on FB. As expected there were a few hundred comments arguing back and forth about apostolic succession. Some saying it’s true, some saying it’s not, and some just disagreeing with the particular take on apostolic succession presented in the comic. As we expect, some of the comments got rather heated and caustic (to put it mildly). Christians love forsaking Christ in the combox. Anyway, I find the comic rather funny, but more than that, I find it both true and pointing to something I’ve been thinking about for some time: namely that both Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches represent The Church established by Christ, and Protestant and evangelical and non-denominational churches do not. (I’ll concede that, perhaps, not many Christians think of themselves as Protestant anymore. They’re probably not really “protesting” the Catholic Church, though they may still uncritically hold many anti-Catholic prejudices.)

First: Here’s the idea that’s been in my mind lately – Saying Protestant churches do not represent the Church established by Christ is not to say that individual Protestants are not Christians (or, for that matter, saying individual Catholics are), or that the gospel is not preached from their pulpits, or that the Holy Spirit is not active in their lives, but it is meant to point us to that critical scene when Jesus met Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus and accused him of persecuting Him because Saul was persecuting the Church, that we should then ask if that Church is still visibly with us today. I say yes it is visible, but that visible Church is not the Protestant churches accepting (or embracing) the spirit of division and denying apostolic succession.

aquila-and-priscilla

We might think as an analogy of the story in Acts when Priscilla and Aquila met Apollos, who only knew the baptism of John, and they taught him the whole gospel. If Apollos had rejected the whole gospel and stuck only with the baptism of John, he would be lost even though he still had some crucial piece of the truth – though God, of course, could choose to save him. In a similar way, Protestants who claim to know only Christ crucified, and then reject Christ’s visible Church, put themselves on thin ice. Further, Protestantism is as fragmented and dis-unified a group as could be. Remember, when Paul writes to the Corinthians that he knew “nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified”, that he was arguing their disunity demonstrated they didn’t really know “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Paul was both pointing to Christ and defending the unity of the visible Church. They go together. Why not obey Christ fully within the Church?

The question one could pose is, what are you really protesting? What are you clinging to that is more important than following Christ and His apostles in their prayers and pleading for unity? Parsing theological nuances is interesting, wrangling over theories of atonement is somewhat important, but we must make sure we don’t fall into the trap that says: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is faith.” Faith alone leads inevitably to division. Love leads to unity. Faith is important, critical, required, but love trumps faith. Faith is not the greatest, love is the greatest. Unity is the result of love.

So back to the cartoon – and this is my real reason for writing this post – The Catholic Church views both Orthodox and Catholic together being the true, apostolic Church, though in schism and thus not without insignificant theological and practical differences that must be resolved. I may be selfish in this idea because I have friends who are Eastern Orthodox, and I was once at that doorstep contemplating giving my life to that confession, thus I want to see unity there. I know there is not unity as there should be, but perhaps hope, the other theological virtue, along with love, will have its day.

But it naturally follows then that the Protestant churches, being non-apostolic, yea even apostate, churches are in grave rebellion to the true Church established by Christ and maintained by the Holy Spirit. As implied above, this is not to say that individual Protestant Christians are not destined for the Kingdom of God, nor is it to say that all Orthodox and Catholic Christians are destined for the Kingdom of God. That is up to God alone. But if my intuition is right, why would one want to remain in an apostate Protestant church in outright rebellion against the historical, apostolic Church? Especially if one’s rebellion was really just handed down for generations and has lost much (or all) of its meaning? (Like either fervently or lazily maintaining a family feud for no reason other than that’s just what one is supposed to do.) Or especially if one is a non-denominational evangelical merely because in college one had a crisis of faith and found that the good vibes, warm handshakes, and upbeat music at a roommate’s church made one feel like something real was happening there (and there probably was).

I know many will answer with the predicted Protestant laundry list of arguments, but really, there are excellent, biblically grounded, Catholic answers to all of them – and if there are, even if the arguments end in a kind of tie, stop arguing and just join up. Bow the knee to Christ, who gave you the Church. One enters the Church not because of an argument, but because of Christ. Therefore one should not stay outside the church because of an argument. Come be with Christ, fellowship in His Church, partake of His body and blood in the Eucharist (Jesus Christ, and him crucified), embrace the communion of saints, do not harden your hearts.

130092-004-5E28A00C

When Christ first came to Saul of Tarsus He did not say, “Why are you persecuting My Church.” Rather, He said, “Why are you persecuting Me?” And yet, was not Saul persecuting Christians, was he not persecuting the Church? Had not Christ left the world? Paul was looking for real people, real Christians, looking for the places they worshiped, looking for the visible Church. He was not looking for Jesus. There is a direct connection between the visible, apostolic Church and Christ Himself. Therefore, if one rejects (not the same as criticizing or judging) the visible, apostolic Church one is rejecting Christ. Perhaps many who call themselves Christians are in greater jeopardy than they realize, like all those who say they love Jesus and hate religion. It may well be that those who make such declarations have unknowingly declared their love of an imaginary Jesus and have rejected the real Jesus.  Of course I can’t know anyone’s heart or what God will ultimately will for anyone, but I figure it’s at least worth examining oneself and the reasons for one’s choices in this regard.

In summary, I say do not remain outside the Church Christ Himself established because of weak arguments, tradition, laziness, what someone else told you, mere prejudice, what others might think of you, fear of the unknown, fear of being uncomfortable, or worst of all, pride. Perhaps pride and ignorance are the two main reasons why many Protestants remain Protestants. That’s the way it was for me.

As I see it, Orthodox Christians and Catholic Christians need to make a strenuous effort toward reconciliation, which I believe is already happening. And that Protestants need to repent of their rebellion and bow their knees to Christ’s authority (as do we all) which was and is promulgated through His apostles and their successors. I say this not to point fingers at individuals, but to speak in broad terms. We all need to bow the knee, but Protestantism, as an historical phenomenon, is a “tradition of men,” and is based on rejecting the Church established by Christ himself and maintained by the Holy Spirit, all in the name of self-determined Biblical interpretation. In other words, Protestantism arose not as a reformation, but as a rebellion; as a wrong response to very real problems. Protestants would have you believe the issues are theological, I know because I was one for more than 40 years, but in fact the issues are spiritual and of the heart. I would guess that most Protestants don’t know this, not consciously at least, and that there is something to “ignorance is bliss.” In fact, and this is the way I thought for most of my life, most Protestants couldn’t care less if a church is “apostolic”, not because they really don’t care, but because they don’t know they should care.

I have to come clean: I came into the Catholic Church in September of 2013. I’m a newbie Catholic, and naturally I have a tendency toward “Catholic good, Protestant bad” ways of thinking. I don’t want to be that way, but I did make a decision for Catholicism after years of careful study, prayer, and seeking the wisdom of others. Mostly, though, I made my decision in response to a call from the Holy Spirit.

The thing is, having been a Protestant for more than 40 years, and having wrestled with Protestant theology versus Catholic & Orthodox theology, I know the Protestant arguments rather well. I know the “laundry list” of Protestant reasons why they can’t be Catholic, and frankly, I know they don’t hold up. This is not to say I am much of a theologian, or Church historian, or even a good Christian, but I can say that the two biggest reasons Protestants remain Protestants are pride and ignorance. Ignorance of what Catholics really teach and, ironically, ignorance of what Scripture really says. Pride is that refusal to bow the knee to the authority of the apostles by insisting that oneself (or one’s pastor) be the final authority of truth. Sola Scriptura fails right at the point it is supposed to succeed because it finally comes down to interpretation – who is right, who wins, who has the authority to guard doctrine? Every man a pope as the saying goes. One of the fruits of Protestantism is rampant disunity, including a spirit of disunity that is worn as a badge of authentic faith.

The disunity between Orthodox and Catholic Christians is deeply troubling, and probably not unlike the grave disunity in the newly formed churches St. Paul addresses in his letters (I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Christ). And one could argue it’s due to ignorance and pride as well. What I see is that Catholics and Orthodox tend to be troubled by their disunity, though many may not yet see a solution. But the outright explosion of massive and inherent disunity among Protestants is deeply frightening. More than that, it speaks to something gravely wrong-headed and wrong-hearted at the center of Protestantism – a spirit of division based on personal interpretation of Holy Scripture (not unlike a consumerist “market economy” version of Christianity). In other words, the disunity between Orthodox and Catholic is a rending of a garment, a tear that is unnatural and needs to be repaired. The disunity at the heart of Protestantism is its reason for existence, not a result so much as the starting point, and that calls for repentance.

Commit oneself to unity, the kind of unity for which both Christ and the Apostles prayed. Repent each day. Remember that love is greater than faith. Pray continually. Embrace the Sacraments. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Commit to holiness. Be a saint.

Recently I have personally discovered Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy. He is a powerful advocate for Christian Non-Violence or Pacifism. Years ago I came across Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement. That was my first experience with Christian pacifism. More and more my inclinations lean in this direction. In fact, though I am willing to consider other arguments, and will change my mind if necessary, for now I cannot see any compatibility between being a follower of Christ and any kind of violence, including going to war. I say this while still finding stories of heroism in war deeply moving.

Here is one of several talks you can find online by Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy:

Some words from Saint Isaak of Syria:

Let yourself be persecuted, but do not persecute. Be crucified, but do not crucify. Be slandered, but do not slander. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep: such is the sign of purity. Suffer with the sick. Be afflicted with sinners. Exult with those who repent. Be the friend of all, but in your spirit remain alone. Be a partaker of the sufferings of all, but keep your body chaste. Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly. Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them. And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place, do not destroy their character.

God is not One who requites evil, but who sets evil right.

Paradise is the love of God, wherein is the enjoyment of all blessedness.

The person who lives in love reaps the fruit of life from God – while yet in this world – even now breathes the air of the resurrection.

In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the One who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised.

God’s recompense to sinners is that, instead of a just recompense, God rewards them with resurrection.

I believe my first exposure to Catholicism was from the film The Sound of Music. Remember the scene towards the end of the film when the von Trapp family was hiding from the Nazis in the convent, and the two Nuns then tell their Mother Abbess that they have sinned:

SISTER MARGARETTA:
Reverend Mother, I have sinned.

SISTER BERTHE:
I, too, Reverend Mother.

MOTHER ABBESS:
What is this sin, my children?

nuns

And remember how they then revealed the engine parts which they had dismantled from the Nazis’ cars, thus making it impossible for the Nazis to start their cars, which then allowed the von Trapp family to escape. That scene has always given me pleasant chills. Well, I didn’t really know a thing about Catholics then. I probably didn’t even really know those nuns were Catholics as I would now; I was a good Baptist and therefore rather ignorant of Christian and European history, but those nuns have always been heroes to me. Perhaps that scene planted something in my subconscious.

What that film does not say is that those nuns would likely have become martyrs for their actions like so many other devout Christians during the war—but that would have been too dark for such an uplifting story.


An apologia of sorts

What follows is the description of a spiritual and intellectual journey I’ve been on for a while, and am still on, though I won’t go all the way back to my childhood (including the fact that I was born in a Catholic hospital). And like the journey itself, my words may ramble and wander. I also recognize this is mostly self-serving, in that I want to sort out my own thinking in my typical, self-absorbed way. However, I hope that what I have experienced may help anyone else on a similar journey. I am also going to offer some personal critiques of Protestantism and some of the ideas common to the Christian communities in which I’ve been my whole life, and am still, more or less. Keep in mind I want to address how my own thinking has shifted and altered, not criticize people whom I love, and who I know love God and are seeking the Truth. What I believe now may change in the future. I am seeking the Truth, but my sinful heart and intellectual limitations usually overwhelm me. And really, none of us can know the hearts of others as God does, and all of our fates are in God’s hands. He will do what He wills, and He is trustworthy.

And certainly I might be wrong in my critiques and conclusions.

Surprised by the “dark side”

About seven years ago I began looking at Catholicism. “At” is the right word, for I did not and have not entered the Catholic church.  I was and am still on the outside looking in—or I could say: I am on one side of the river Tiber and the Church is on the other, but I am at the bank’s edge, dipping my toes in the flowing current. At that time I was  shocked, elated, curious—in fact, my emotions were hard to describe.

I had been brought up in an anti-Catholic version of Christianity (not emotionally,  rabidly, foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Catholic, but staunchly, knee-jerk anti-Catholic, i.e. Baptist), such that even getting near something “Catholic” brought about weird and uncomfortable feelings—it’s not unlike being trained to view alcohol as from the Devil and then going to a party where folks are drinking and having a good time (simultaneous shivers and fascination). I have to say, as far as I know, I never knew anyone who was Catholic or had been Catholic until much later in my life. And I couldn’t tell you where a Catholic church was in our city. I only knew Catholics were the worst possible sinners and idolaters because I had been told they were (and that they worshiped Mary, took orders from the Pope, can’t think for themselves, don’t read the Bible, etc., etc.). Old-school Baptists love their anti-Catholicism and their piety, that’s for sure. “Thank you God we are not like those Catholics.” (wink, wink)

Fortunately I know times have changed and many Baptists are quite a bit more ecumenical today than in the past, but this is not a natural outgrowth of Baptist teaching or culture. Perhaps this change is merely indicative of the waning interest of the larger culture in maintaining denominationalism as we become increasingly consumeristic in our faith and worship choices (or, I should say, in our market-driven church offerings). Churches can sometimes be more like brands than indicators of particular dogmas. And perhaps much of modern ecumenism has more to do with being influenced by popular ideas like, “I love Jesus and hate religion,” which has its own theological and Christological troubles.

Keep in mind that presuppositions run deep in all of us. We carry within us a myriad of unspoken and unexamined beliefs and ideas. To say they are “taken for granted” only hints at how embedded and profoundly ingrained they are within the recesses of our minds and souls. Religion is a great place for presuppositions to reign supreme. Nothing seemed more obvious to me than that Catholicism was wrong. Nothing seemed more obvious to me than that the basic Protestant worldview was true. And not just at the propositional level, but at the soul level. Deep within me I knew what was what. I am beginning to see just how profoundly ignorant I was, and perhaps still am.

But I can see now that I was driven to explore a richer, deeper, historical, visible Church in the wake of my second child dying in my arms. That was seven years ago, and it was a hard time. Words can’t really describe that kind of experience. Presuppositions can both triumph and struggle in the face of reality. Many friends rallied around us. We were deeply blessed. I was also having conversations with a Catholic co-worker and friend about God and faith and suffering. She was dealing with the impending and eventual death of her dearly beloved sister. The answers I heard from my Catholic friend showed me something of the profound depth of ordinary Catholic thinking about suffering and God’s sovereignty. The Catholic Church began to look less wrong and more right than I had presupposed. Or, at least, it began to look like a perfectly plausible choice for a faithful and thoughtful Christian. I was surprised. Perhaps I was also just tired of being a Protestant who had discovered there was no longer anything worth protesting—or if there was, it was more the Protestant culture and doctrines that needed to be protested. The old arguments were failing me.

So I explored. I decided to give Catholicism the kind of honest examination that I, and really every Protestant I ever knew, was never previously willing to give. According to Chesterton this is a truly fateful step for any Protestant to take, there is no half way, but I didn’t know that.

A Mysterious Call

Why Catholicism? Why toy with the “dark side”? I can’t really say. I do remember that when Pope John Paul II died I was strangely transfixed and emotional.  My reaction caught me off guard.  I realized that I had always deeply admired him without making the connection to his being the pope—strange as that is. I just saw him as the primary Christian of sorts. I was glued to the television, watched hours of coverage of those thousands upon thousands of people flooding into Saint Peter’s Square. It was overwhelming both emotionally and intellectually. I was then transfixed by the choosing of the new pope, Benedict XVI. I was so excited when a new pope was finally selected. Again, I was caught off guard. Why the emotional response I wondered.

There is an interesting phenomenon that can happen when one has been trained to view something as taboo (e.g. the Catholic Church), then comes into contact with the truth and realizes that that “training” was more an indoctrination into a web of prejudices and “self-evident” presuppositions.  When one’s eyes open there can be a feeling of excitement and something like joy and fear mingled into wonder. There can also be, for some, a sense of betrayal. Fortunately, I’ve never had hard feelings for my anti-Catholic training. It is just a part of the world I was in, and like all traditions it merely got passed on from one generation to the next.

What I discovered when beginning to scratch the surface of Catholicism was surprisingly profound theology, good and trustworthy people, rich history, true mystery, and a copiousness that made the Christianity of my upbringing, as well as the Christianity of the quasi-reformed, non-denominational “church” I had then been attending, look truncated and anemic. This is true even in light of Protestantism’s deep (though, I must say, frequently myopic) biblical scholarship and wonderfully great people. The people, it must be said, are never truncated and anemic, though their rich lives may not be fully matched by the Christian “church” culture of which they partake. And this really is an issue: Does the Christianity with which we engage, and to which we commit ourselves, fit with our needs, our souls, our nature? Are our churches truly and properly human?

Hearing the Music

Naturally we compare. Perhaps the best way I can describe how Catholicism compares to Protestantism is that Catholicism (and I’m still looking from the outside, so I could be imagining things) seems to sing to my soul in a way that Protestantism does not. This singing is not a little thing; it is not some lightweight thing over against weighty theology. No, in this sense singing is more like how Tolkien in his Silmarillion describes Eru creating Middle Earth. In this sense theology trails after the singing, is subservient to it. We are called to the completeness of Truth, yes, but we are called even more so to holiness and worship. We are called to knowledge and to know what it truly means to call Jesus the Messiah, but we are also called, regardless of our imperfect understanding, to love and the Eucharist. And I say this after having sat under the wise teaching of some of the best Protestant bible students and teachers I’ve ever known, or will ever know.

Do any of us want to be part of a religious tradition that does not sing to our souls? My prejudices had me believe Catholicism could never sing to my soul or, if it did, I was probably damned. But I have come to realize that I never knew the real Church, and neither did those who taught me those prejudices. My confidence had been built up by theological arguments, many of which I now know are either questionable or more nuanced than I realized. But my eyes were beginning to open, and so were the “ears” of my soul.

But what about theology? We should not view doing theology (or even Bible study) as the primary activity of the Christian. Perhaps this is a poor analogy, but think of doing theology more like the art critic trying to explain the experience of art works—what they mean, what they do to us, why we like or need them, what the artist’s intent was, etc. God is the artist. What He creates can be known, but more importantly, is wonderful. What is most important for the Christian may not be understanding but bowing the knee and doing God’s will. Seek understanding, yes, but worship always. There are many Bible teachers who would do well to set down their Bibles and fall on their knees before God. Theologians (and especially apologists) might have heart palpitations at the thought, but we are not saved because we have the right beliefs or the right theology (though we ought to seek those things as well); rather because we love God and the things of God. Theology cannot stand aloof, it must begin with love.

Therefore, I had to come to terms with the Church that God established and nourished through scripture and tradition if I was to love the things of God. I needed to love the Church, the body and bride of Christ. I needed to own up to the obvious evidence of scripture and historical fact rather than always looking for a hidden meaning somewhere. I realized that to turn away from the historical, liturgical, hierarchical, sacramental, mysterious Church was to turn away from Christ Himself (no matter the emotions I attached to my “love” for Christ). And if I was to turn away merely because my personality gravitated more toward the non-historical, non-liturgical, non-hierarchical, non-sacramental, non-mysterious, then was that not more an indictment of my heart and its tendency to use cheap excuses to avoid bowing my knee to God?

But was the Church I was looking for the one I had assumed could never be the Church? Was I going to have to sort out my presuppositions about Catholicism? Is the Catholic church, in a manner of speaking, one of the things of God? Was Saint Cyprian right when he said a person cannot have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother?

Anti-Authority Consumers

Perhaps another way to describe a big difference between the popular Protestantism with which I am familiar and Catholicism, is that it seems much of Protestantism is a kind of consumerism Christianity that succeeds in large part because of good marketing and solid business plans, and Catholicism feels like the exact opposite, even painfully so. When I say consumer Christianity, I don’t just mean that some churches have a Starbucks in the lobby, or a designer jeans wearing-goatee sporting-no pulpit using pastor; I mean a kind of Christianity that views church goers and potential church goers through the lens of a business marketing paradigm, catering to shifting trends in market “needs” and fashions; and where those church goers, happy to play along, select which church they want now based on what they want now, in much the same way that people pick their next favorite restaurant. A lot of good people can get together and participate in a heartfelt manner in the business of Christianity, even believing they’re doing it for the sake of their families, but that doesn’t make it right. And it certainly doesn’t make that church the Church. And even a non-popular kind of church can be a consumer choice, a kind of alt-church, that is based on eschewing what is popular—because for a niche market that is the popular choice—and even priding itself on doing so.

Or a group of non-conformist Christians, who seek to avoid any hint of the consumerism of popular Christianity, can get together to hear a well-preached sermon from the original languages, strip away all “pretense” of liturgy, strip away the sacraments, strip away everything except the barest minimum of organization, and yet that’s still not the same as partaking of Christ’s body in unity—no matter how wonderful the sermon. In fact, to do so (and this is a strong statement) is to worship disunity. A bible-centered, non-conformist Protestant community still has not solved the question of authority (hermeneutical theories only go so far). Authority is required for unity. God made us and the Church according to that need. That is our need. The fact that we can sorely abuse authority does not make it less a creation of God. We must eventually come to see that neither hipster evangelicals nor non-conformist children of the Jesus Movement can overcome human nature merely by declaring an anti-authoritarian stance in the name of Truth. In the end it rings hollow.

Inevitably Protestantism becomes such that each church (or each Bible teacher) makes its case, its argument, for what it believes, and much of the time each church is headed by its own “father”, its own localized version of the “pope”, having been granted a similar kind of authority by a local congregation that continually fluctuates as members come and go. So much for being anti-papist. Protestantism has not solved the issue of authority merely because it put a pope in every pulpit or a Bible in every hand. As John Saward wrote: “The man who would wrench the Scriptures from the hands of the Bride, in the belief that he will thereby become more ‘objective’ in his reading, traps them and himself beneath the black bushel of subjective opinion.” (The Beauty of Holiness, p. 39) The Bride here, or course, is the historical Church.

I know there are many who would argue against my position. They are convinced my perspective is lacking and easily dismantled. They have thought deep and developed their hermeneutic approach, their interpretive strategies. But I have heard the arguments, and though they may convince others, they no longer convince me. This does not make me right—I might be wrong—but to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Thus, for now, here I stand.

And still… if anyone would seek to study the Bible with integrity, preferably in the original languages, looking for Truth and seeking wisdom, and then desiring to share their conclusions, God be praised. I will champion that person.

So I dove into examining Catholicism, though as I said, entirely from the outside. I was too fearful to actually visit a Catholic church or talk to a priest. I read many books, listened to numerous podcasts, and read a lot of stuff on the Internet. One thing I did do that surprised me was I began praying the Rosary. (*gasp*) I found in my heart a longing to become Catholic, and I frequently prayed that God would make it possible for me to become Catholic. But I couldn’t on my own. I still had too many reservations (perhaps ghosts of anti-Catholicism), and I certainly did not want to make that kind of choice without my family alongside—I just can’t take that step without my wife beside me—and this was, at that point, a very personal, internal, and individual journey for me. So I put it all on the back burner.

Other Stages: Emergent, Anabaptist, Orthodox

My interests shifted. I began to explore the emergent church. I liked a lot of what they were saying, and I still like the exploratory emphasis of their project, especially their emphasis on the need for open dialogue. But I found the emergent church to exist as a kind of declaration of need rather than of a solution. It seems to me that the emergent church exists for people, at least for some, who are longing for the historical/mystical church but have yet to find it because they think it is hidden rather than in plain sight. Or perhaps the emergent church essentially exists as nothing more than an expression of existential story-telling meets religious mystery meets anything-you-want-to-eat spiritual buffet. So I moved on.

Keep in mind that my wife and I were frequently discussing what we needed to do with our family regarding church. We knew we needed something for our family to “plug into”, though I hate that term. We were not entirely sure what we were looking for, but we knew we didn’t want a programmatic kind of church that splits family members up by marketing differentiators. We wanted to be a family all together, worshiping together. We also knew that programmatic churches easily fall prey to worldly definitions of success, even while raising their hands in praise. Too much of Protestantism is popular American culture justified with Bible verses.

For whatever reason I was then led to a more Anabaptist/pacifist/anarchist kind of Christianity (a la John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, et al). Perhaps this came about because of my growing dislike of U.S foreign policy and it’s “war on terror.” I found the emphasis on the non-violence of Christ good for my soul—especially as an antidote to the violence-loving American culture in which I live. And I still lean towards pacifism, my politics becoming influenced by the way of the cross. Gradually I became even less interested in Catholicism, in part because I thought I saw a clear connection between the Catholic church and all that is bad about empire. I knew nothing of the great serving and pacifist traditions within Catholicism. I also had feelings that becoming Catholic might never be a possibility for me, given my personal and social situation. I started wondering if there were any good Anabaptist/Mennonite churches in my area. Clearly I was searching for something. But still, I couldn’t step beyond my reading about these things and actually taking the step of walking through the doors into one of these communities. I am very much a book learner and a wannabe lurker. It takes me a long time to make up my mind, especially about big things.

As an aside, I am perplexed by people who seem to not have issues with doctrinal wrangling or denominational allegiances—and I don’t mean obsessively so, just ordinary concern. I am not a theology wonk, I don’t study theology like I should, but it’s still a big deal for me to make a shift from a particular set of ideas to another. My world is easily rocked by basic theological “discoveries” and possibilities of fundamental change. I don’t take it lightly. I can’t change churches without it being a big deal personally. And I am constantly asking questions about who I am and why I believe what I do—constantly. Perhaps it’s a blessing, perhaps it’s a curse. At any rate, I move very slowly.

And then, for some reason, I discovered Eastern Orthodoxy. I cannot remember how, but once I learned of the Orthodox church I was fascinated and increasingly amazed. Where had this church been all my life? What richness and beauty. Again I began studying in earnest. My studying led me to write a number of blog posts, and eventually I visited a local Orthodox church. I have to say this re-grounded me in my interest in the historical church. Whereas before I might have been a bit more loosey-goosey about theology, doctrine, and worship, etc., I began to become more interested in the early church, its theology, doctrine, practices, and worship. I began to embrace a more Orthodox understanding of Christianity. I came to believe the Sola Scriptura I had trusted was, ironically, un-biblical. (I say “believe” because I cannot say definitively one way or the other.) And Sola fide rang untrue in light of the apostle’s teaching. Plus, through my study of classical education (another area of interest for me) I began to realize that God made human beings for liturgy, and that God gave us liturgy as a gift that fits with our humanness. The fact that we mess up our liturgies does not negate their inherent virtues.

Fitting the Nature

There is a profound fittingness between human nature and sacred liturgy that would be sinful to separate; we can argue about the structure of liturgy, its design and style, but liturgy itself is required. And, since there is a fittingness, our arguments are likely to be circumscribed anyhow—consider if two thousand years of practice, discussion, and tweaking count for something. Consequently, I came to the conviction that the non-liturgical anti-sacramental church I had been attending was practicing an essentially non-biblical anthropology in its “church” practice. This was key. I realized that a non-liturgical emphasis is an impulse away from God because it is an impulse away from man as God created him—even though a non-liturgical experience may feel like a more “pure” and unencumbered version of Christianity. This is the potential trap of seeking authenticity. What we “know” as authentic is too often just the preferences we inherit from our culture. I felt I could no longer live out a stripped-down, bare minimum version of Christianity; not only because I didn’t need to prove it could be done, but also because it is false.

Of course I can only look at myself and examine my own heart. Each of us are on a unique path, uniquely called by the Holy Spirit, uniquely held in the hands of God. We can only follow our conscience the best we know how. Who am I to judge? Who am I to presume? Who really?

There were more concerns. I realized that the Orthodox church appealed to me because it would give me much of what I had been seeking and still allow me to be “Protestant”. Orthodoxy allows me to avoid questions of popery and Mary and transubstantiation, the primacy of Peter, and more. And, perhaps most of all, I could avoid the stigma of being Catholic. It just seemed like it would be less embarrassing to say “I’m Orthodox.” Plus it would mostly leave people perplexed, which I though would be fun. “Orthodox? Huh?” But I realized I still needed to address these issues and sort them through. In short, there is only one Church on earth that one must take a definitive stance on regardless of whether one is Orthodox, Protestant, or other, and that is the Catholic Church. I had to come to terms finally with the Catholic Church.

Authority (and the Soul’s Destiny?)

A big issue for a Protestant is the question of authority. Without going into much depth, I realized two things:

  1. Deep in my soul I was longing for authority, not because I was weak (though I am), but because I was tired of the false security of Sola Scriptura. I needed more than a hermeneutic, more than an epistemology, more than an interpretive strategy; I need the Holy Spirit poured out through history in the form and structure of His authoritative and living Church.
  2. That my refusal to believe in an Apostolic and visible church instituted by Christ, maintained by the Holy Spirit, and carried forward through apostolic succession was a refusal to bow the knee to God. Prides gets us all, and it got me.

It seems clearer to me now that an apparently reasoned argument against apostolic succession and the primacy of Peter may, in fact, be an attempt to avoid softening one’s heart to the true reality of Christ’s Church, even if one’s arguments are fervently preached. Bible study can be as much about weaving arguments to avoid the truth as it is a pursuit of the truth. We all tend to live in our own little corners of the world, often never realizing that our pride has got us cornered. I had convinced myself that Sola Scriptura got me off the hook, as it were; I did not need to be bothered by Catholicism (or any Christian tradition). But I came to see that this was merely an excuse to build my own personal castle against the world—but this is foolishness, vanity, and pride.

I can only speak for myself. I do not know the hearts of others. We are in God’s hands.

The question of authority may be a litmus test for the hardness of one’s heart. I see that it was for me. For this reason I cannot embrace Protestantism, and I have come to believe the Orthodox church, though maintaining apostolic succession, is still on the wrong side of the issue of authority.

Pushed and Pulled

All this led me back to studying Catholicism with renewed vigor. And this is where I am today. But I must say that my movement towards the Catholic Church is more from being pushed in that direction by Protestantism and it failings than being pulled by Catholicism. Though the Catholic Church seems to be, as they say, the fullness of the Church, I am not swooning over it. I am not church shopping, looking for the next new (or old) thing, the coolest, hippest, most authentic thing, or just something really different. I just want Christ. I want to follow Him, to be a part of His body, to be holy. I think I see that in the Catholic Church unlike anywhere else. Tell me if I am wrong, but it seems clearer now that to be the best “Protestant Christian” I can be is to finally become a Catholic Christian. True?

But I am being pulled as well. I find Catholic doctrine more compelling than both Eastern Orthodox and Protestant. I still have many questions, and am still sorting through much, but I am finding it is not the richness of history or the liturgy so much that draws me to Catholicism, rather it is its doctrine, including its teaching on apostolic succession, on the primacy of Peter, on the role of Mary (I am coming to really love Mary), on Purgatory, on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the effectiveness of the sacraments, and much more. In fact, I can say that what attracts me now to the Catholic Church are precisely those things which are the traditional “sticking points” for the Protestant.

I am particularly drawn to the Catholic Church’s anthropology and Christology.  I am no theologian, and I am admittedly lazy when it comes to doing my homework, but there is a kind of depth in the Catholic church that is missing from every Protestant church I have attended, and I have attended a few. And I believe this must be true even when a Catholic mass seems rather humdrum and uninspired, because it’s not about emotions conjured in a church service, it’s not about the singing or the sermon, it’s about the true meaning of the Mass. Simply, Protestants do not have the Mass.

I must say that if the Church is like a person, then one might expect such a person who exudes a mysterious depth of character, even if one cannot fully describe it, to be more compelling than a person who lacks that depth. It seems to me that Protestantism, for all the good it offers, lacks the kind of mysterious depth of character that one finds in the Catholic Church. In all this, however, I could be wrong; I don’t want to look merely at appearances.  And one thing is clear, the Orthodox church fully embraces mystery in a big way, perhaps more than the Catholic church, and I find that very appealing. There is great beauty in mystery and the Orthodox church.

Keep in mind, I am not pointing to individuals. Though Protestantism on the whole lacks the depth I seek, the people I know and love have infinite depth. What I might hazard, is to say that there may be a discontinuity between many individual Christians and the Protestantism in which they participate. I think, for some, deep in their souls they want more. Perhaps this explains the tendency for a constant willingness of so many Protestants to change churches, and why many Protestants are beginning to examine Orthodoxy. Protestantism has become the seeker version of Christianity. Maybe it always was; just look at how many divisions there have been since Luther staked out his claim to the truth and broke from Rome. Of course, we long for the kingdom to come in fullness. Until that day all of us will live with the discontinuity, on some level, between our longings and reality.

Why Not Eastern Orthodox?

So Eastern Orthodoxy captivated me for a while, but then I am of the West, not the East. To cross over to the Orthodox church is attractive precisely because it offers a kind of escape from the insanity of western post-industrial consumerist society. There is something radically “other” about Orthodoxy in its non-western essence. To visit an Eastern Orthodox church is like stepping into the 8th century. I recommend it for everyone. However, for me to become Orthodox would be a kind of “get me off this merry-go-round” statement. But God has placed me squarely in the western stream of life; this is the world in which I live, the language I speak, the ideas that inform and make me. Though I wish to escape at times, I realize that escape is not the answer. It is better to embrace who I am, who God has made me, and go from there. I am western not eastern. To embrace the Orthodox church, which I would like to do at some level, would be, for me at least, merely a kind of continuation of my Protestantism, akin to jumping over the Catholic Church to the other side. To embrace Catholicism would be, for me at least, a step toward unity. To be loosely evangelical would be too mushy, to stay Protestant or become Orthodox would still be too divisive, to be Catholic, though not without its own history of drawing lines, seems to offer a more open arms position. Ironically, I find the Catholic Church to be the most ecumenical of all.

Remember that I am rather ignorant of all this. I’m sure my understanding of Eastern Orthodoxy is so limited as to be more a caricature than truth. Perhaps it is just best to say, that though God brought Eastern Orthodoxy into my life in a small way, perhaps to enrich it, He has called me to the Catholic Church, and that’s where my heart is.

Finally… for now

I must say, however, that I don’t believe I have a lot of illusions about the Catholic Church as an experience. My visits to Mass a few times convinced me that Catholics can be as uninspired as anyone. And I don’t believe Catholics are any more righteous in their behavior than other Christians, in fact they are likely less pious than many in Protestantism with its strong pietistic heritage.  Really, we are all the same, our issues and our desires are the same, and we bring ourselves wherever we go. If I were to become Catholic I will not suddenly change into someone else, become more spiritual, become holy, see the heavens open up, etc. I’ll still be ordinary, mediocre me. But I do believe the Catholic Church may truly be the “fullness” of the church Christ established. I do believe that Christ is present in the Catholic Mass in a way not found in Protestant churches. I do believe that apostolic succession points to Rome, and I don’t want to be disobedient. And certainly, though the Catholic Church is filled, as are Protestant churches, to the brim with sinners, there is a seemingly unending richness of Christian experience in Catholicism not found anywhere else. As a good friend of ours put it: History, Mystery Authority. It has it all. Plus, and my interest in this has surprised me, the Catholic Church has the confessional. That sounds to me like a difficult but glorious blessing. As Chesterton once answered when asked why he became Catholic: “To get my sins forgiven.”

Of course there is much more to be said. I am still on my journey, still exploring, still learning, and not Catholic. I have visited a couple of Catholic churches, I will again. I am taking up the Catholic Church’s Year of Faith by reading through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the documents of Vatican II, and numerous other books. I am curious where this will all lead. And I am praying a lot. I give this all to God, best I can.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.

Christian churches come in many flavors. If we are to pick a church and stick with it, as opposed to the common Christian practice of switching churches like people pick their new favorites restaurants, then which characteristics or touchstones might we look for to guide us? I have in mind six touchstones which I will describe below. For simplicity I also have in mind the main “flavors” of Christianity to be Protestant (and its many variants), Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox.

As  a Protestant I was trained to see right doctrine as the primary , evidential touchstone of faith. Sola fide—”faith alone” in the right doctrine—was the bedrock of salvation. Where one went to church was ultimately based on what doctrine was preached from the pulpit; that was the key discriminator of any church, so I was taught. Sola scriptura—”scripture alone” as the only source of right doctrine—followed as a very close second in importance. I still tend towards placing a heavy emphasis on doctrine, faith, and scripture, though what doctrines I believe have changed over the years. How tightly I hold on to various doctrines has also changed. And I do not believe in sola fide any longer, and I do not hold to sola scriptura. (Let me say, however, that I do like the spirit of sola fide and sola scriptura. I like emphasizing the importance of faith and scripture. I just think the doctrines are wrong.)

I now see the CHURCH as a living, breathing, even changing thing—it is a body after all. Yet I know there must be something changeless and fundamental about the Church. Practice is important. Right doctrine is also critical, and the Truth should be preserved, but Protestantism has destroyed much of that foundation by systematically dismantling the pillar and ground of truth. (see 1 Tim. 3:15) This our inheritance who have been raised Protestant. This is a harsh perspective certainly, but we should all be greatly troubled by the profound dis-unity produced by the Protestant Reformation (which I see more as a rebellion than true reformation). If we look at the fruit we have produced then we should grieve this particular aspect of our history. I grieve that I have played a part in that dis-unity.

As I try to get a handle on what I believe, why I believe it, and what Church I should follow (Roman Catholic, one of the many Protestant variants, or Eastern Orthodox), I realize my Protestant training has left me unprepared to make such a choice. What criteria do I use? What are the key characteristics of the visible Church? I’m sure there  are many who would be eager and willing to offer an answer, for they have it all bottled up, but that’s exactly the kind of certainty with which I grew up and which I am leaving behind—not because I dislike certainty, for I love it, but that the further I go in the life the more I realize there is a great mystery behind all our certainties. I want to follow Christ, to be like Him, and to have my life be an exhibit of love for Him. Something I have learned over the years is that following Christ is a far more mysterious and dangerous project than we typically assume.

With this in mind I see six possible characteristics or touchstones of the Church that seem to speak to me and offer guidance. They are: Liturgy, Theology, History, Unity, Authority, and Mystery. This list began with a couple of good friends who say “history, mystery, authority” is their elevator pitch as it were of why they converted to the Catholic Church. I have added liturgy, theology, and unity to that list because I find they must also be there for me. What I think about these things, and what I discover in light of these touchstones, perhaps will guide me.

Note: Faith, love, hope, righteousness, goodness, holiness, virtue, etc., are not listed below because, though they are also touchstones of the visible body of Christ, they are primarily of the individual. They are, as it were, assumed in the list below. I also have not included the sacraments as a touchstone, though they should also be assumed. Perhaps the sacraments are really just a part of each touchstone below.

The six touchstones:

Liturgy is made for us and we for it. By liturgy we infuse into our souls the truths we claim. Liturgy fits with the classical education model as well (something important to me) for liturgy is about the ordering of the soul, the whole person. We learn by memorizing, by practice, by repetition, by meditation, and through application. The body, and not just the mind and emotions, must be involved in learning. But liturgy is also an act of unity. We practice our liturgy with others, in solidarity, in love. Liturgy can be simple or complex, old or new, though wisdom and experience might find a balance. To deny liturgy, or to denigrate liturgy, or to ignore liturgy is to turn from the true nature of man, which is to turn away from God the creator of man’s nature. Which church offers the best, most fitting combination of man’s nature with liturgy? Which church seeks an “ordering” of the whole being in its liturgy?

Theology is the pursuit of understanding God and promulgating that understanding in both orthodoxy and orthopraxy. We should all pursue an understanding of God, though most of us are not called to be Theologians in a formal sense. So, on the one hand theology can stand for a particular orientation towards God, and on the other hand, those beliefs and practices that flow from that orientation. Theology here can also stand for the dogmatic cosmos that each Christian group or church claims as truth. Which church offers the best dogmatic cosmos, the best harmony of doctrines, the best total theology, that explains our experience and makes sense of what we know, how we should live, and what it means to be the Body of Christ?

History is the knowledge of where we come from, but also the debts we owe to those who came before us. History is the rich tapestry of accumulated experiences mystically present in the simplest of actions. History is the substance of our commitments and obligations in the light of past and future saints and martyrs. History is the voice of monuments calling us to the true richness in the historical and ever present body of Christ. Which church best presents and preserves the substantial history of Christ’s mystical body?

Unity is the solidarity of believers regardless our natural tendencies towards disunity. Unity is the demand of love in light of Christ’s death and resurrection. Disunity is a result of hate and pride, the result of the fall, evidenced first in the blaming of Eve by Adam and then second in the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. Because of our fallen state disunity should come as no surprise to us. However, staunch, systematic, historical disunity may be a sign of the hardness of one’s heart, either as a  kind of self-righteousness cloaked in dogmatic arguments or as a kind of complacent inertia. Which church best represents the movements of unity, embracing the universality of faith (and the diverse experiences of faith) in light of a holistic dogmatic cosmos? Which church seems to offer unity rather than demanding disunity?

Authority is the servant. As Christ told his apostles, to be a leader one must be a servant, even by becoming the least of all. The purpose of authority in the Church is to do the will of the Head (Christ) by serving the Body (us). One does not gain authority by claiming it, but by being anointed. But why authority? We are sinners, we are dis-unifiers, we are hard-headed. We need to be held accountable by something or someone with more authority than ourselves. This is the way God designed the world and us in it. It is a part of human nature to need, and ultimately thrive within, the bounds of temporal authority outside ourselves. And we need that authority to be visible, present, conforming to our human needs. To think otherwise is vanity. Which church best offers the guidance and solidity of authority so necessary in light of our weaknesses, in light of our disunity, in light of our vanity? Which church is the better servant of our striving for holiness and the kingdom?

Mystery is the nature of being. The heart of sainthood is a mystery. God is a mystery. Though He has revealed Himself to us, He remains beyond our grasp. Be we, who are made in God’s image, also are mysteries. Worship, prayer, and love are mysteries. What Christ did on the cross, and what the Holy Spirit does in our hearts are also mysteries. We can know what has been revealed, and be confident in what we know, including God’s existence and goodness, in Christ being the Son of God, in the story of salvation God has been telling since the beginning of time, but we also bow before God because He is “I AM”, the One who is, the source of being, a mystery. What church embraces a pervasive desire to know God and yet fully embraces mystery? What church has both a rich intellectual tradition and is simultaneously filled with mystics? Which church most consistently cries out: “Be a saint”?

Now I am both blind and optimistic. I will deny things that are there and see things which are not. How I answer the questions above may be very different than how others do. I may romanticize one “version” of Christianity over another, while someone else will do the opposite. While we should always desire Truth, we must realize the answer is not that we attain (or believe we have attained) Truth, rather that God has us in His hands. We are saved by God’s grace not because we have attained Truth. Of course we must seek Truth, but love is greater. We cannot “bottle up” our Christianity, for to be a Christian is to be a “little Christ” as it were, and Christ is the Word, the Son of God, the light of the world, a man, a mystery. Christ cannot be bottled up. That is why, though God has us as only He can have us, we work out our salvation in fear and trembling. Thus I propose the six touchstones above both provisionally and tenuously.

Each of us who try to follow Christ will often associate ourselves with a particular church. Broadly speaking we have three big choices: Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. For the Protestant the choices further multiply exponentially. But why do we make the choices we make? Why does one choose Protestant over Catholic, or Orthodox over Protestant? And, if Protestant, why choose Methodist over Presbyterian, or Baptist over Episcopalian? Or why not just choose not to care at all, as many do?

For those denominational apologists among us the reasons are clear, and each church, each camp, has its ardent (sometimes foaming at the mouth) defenders. But we live in a culture that, for the most part, believes it does not really matter which church one attends or which denomination one adheres to, as long as one goes to church somewhere and meets some vague, minimum requirements of “christiany” belief. Some take this further and say that any kind of organized Christianity is only likely to get in the way, that being a Christian is really and only about faith, which is really and only existential belief. I am inclined to view each of these positions as wrongheaded, though I have tended to be less “religious” and more in the “faith” camp.

Sometimes it seems that we, and I mean most Christians (at least in the U.S.), have lost somewhere in the recesses of history and memory what it means to be Christian. Naturally we will seek out other Christians in order to emotionally and psychologically bolster our desire to believe ourselves Christian, but does this cut it?  Sadly, how one looks, what one wears, the lingo one speaks, the food one eats, and where one shops, probably has more to do with being accepted by other Christians these days than right doctrine. We gravitate to those like us, give them slack in their “Christianity” because they are like us, and seek churches filled with people like us. We look for a comfortable Christianity where we are welcome and where we feel good. From my observations, this tends to be true more in Protestant churches than Catholic or Orthodox, but I’m sure it is everywhere. Fortunately, genuine faith still exists even in the midst of our many follies. In fact, I think we tend to live with this tension all the time—our tendency for a comfortably social Christianity and the pull of the Holy Spirit towards authentic religion.

As I wonder about my next steps on the path of faith, I do not want to give into a vague, mushy sentimentality (though I have many times before, and will certainly do so again), for it smacks too much of a kind of consumerism where churches become something more like brands than representations of particular doctrines and practices. On the other hand, I do not want to fall into a kind of apologist swamp where being a Christian is all about manning the barricades and where winning arguments effectively function as a kind of perverted beatific vision. In short, I want to pursue what is best. I want to pursue Christ. This may mean clinging to a particular expression/version of Christianity while simultaneously holding it loosely. In other words, seeking Truth while obeying Love.

One should have good reasons for being who and what one is. If one is a Catholic one should know why. Same for the Protestant. It seems one should have reasons better than, “I was just born a Baptist and I guess I never questioned it.” or “A friend invited me to their church and I just liked it, made some friends, my family is ‘plugged in’, why change?”, or “I’m on the ministry team and it would be too big a deal to change.” or “I just don’t want to deal with all the questions if I do change.” or “My father and my grandfather before him were Presbyterian ministers and there’s just no way I could change.” or “Once baptized a Catholic, always a Catholic. So I can’t change.” But these are exactly the kinds of excuses by which we tend to live. And often we don’t even get to the excuses. We frequently put up barriers that prevent true challenges from ever penetrating our minds; the questions aren’t even allowed in the room.

And perhaps most of us do not consciously choose which “version” of Christian we are. Much of the time, so it seems, we just are what we are, and don’t think much about it. But then that puts us in the same camp as anyone in the world who uncritically accepts the religion of their culture or their family. In other words, one can be a Christian in one sense, and yet be no more a part of the Body of Christ than is any Muslim, Buddhist, or Zoroastrian. If we are not careful our Christianity may be nothing more than the Dutch church critiqued by Kierkegaard. He argued that if everyone’s a Christian then no one is a Christian, and I fear that holds true for many today.

If one does not consciously choose, freely and intellectually and existentially choose, then is one’s choice truly valid? Of course we can all too easily fall into the whirlpool of constant self-doubt, wondering if we are truly saved. Nor should we assume or presume too quickly upon our salvation. The solution, as always and from the beginning, is God’s grace, in which our hope resides.

It is important for a Protestant like me (someone whom God has made a questioner and self-analyzer) to truly and honestly ask why am I Protestant. I know one thing at least: Through the “accident” of birth, at that particular time and place, into the particular family I have, within that particular social world, I was raised a Baptist. I was taught basic Protestant theology from my youth. I was taught to love the Bible, and genuine faith, and gong to church, and piety. And I was trained to be anti-Catholic (and anti-nonBaptist really) from my youth. I later found a version of Reformed theology appealing and dove in, leaving some of that Baptist world behind, but not all. I know my presuppositions played a big part in why Reformed theology made sense to me. But at some point it is important to ask, “Why these presuppositions? Why this church, why these doctrines, why these practices?”

I know that God is sovereign and thus He is the author of my life, but I also know that some will call Jesus “Lord, Lord” and He will say, “I never knew you.” Thus I have freedom, and I must use it wisely. While I know it is God who wills and works, I must also work in fear and trembling; I must also seek God, imitate Christ, listen to His apostles, and be a member of the Body of Christ. And part of this is to ask, “Why am I Protestant?” If I do not honestly consider my reasons, then I lack integrity. If I do not honestly consider my reasons, then I might also lack faith.

Of course, I have asked myself that question. I have asked why I am Protestant. My conclusion is that, though I am still deeply committed to Christ, still passionately a Christian, I am no longer Protestant.

What now?

The Apostle Peter is a fascinating man in the New Testament. In the Protestant world it is common for pastors to say they love Peter because he was such a  goof-up. Peter gives us all kinds of hope that any of us can be saved. But anyone who has grown up in, or spent a lot of time in, the Protestant world and worldview knows it is Paul who is Apostle number one. There are at least two good reasons for this. One is that Paul wrote those books of the Bible that are most central for Protestants: Romans, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, etc. Second is that Protestants are wary of Peter because Catholics say the true Church founded by Christ was founded upon Peter (the rock) as the first of the apostles, as the first “pope”. Get too close to Peter and one might be tempted to think Catholics are on to something.

But Peter is a big deal. To my count Peter is mentioned in the New Testament something like 155 times, whereas the rest of the apostles combined are only mentioned around 130 times. Of course mere numbers don’t necessarily add up to importance. It’s how Peter is mentioned, what he does, what he says, what others say about him, and especially what Christ says to Peter that show Peter is the central Apostle, the key figure of the New Testament Church. As we look at the Biblical references to Peter the picture begins to fill out.

An aside: I have heard many Protestant teachings on the famous Matthew 16:18 passage where Jesus says “upon this rock I will build My church.” That passage in isolation can be taken any number of ways. But after looking at a more complete picture of Peter as the New Testament writers saw him, I must say the Roman Catholic understanding of Peter as the Rock upon which Christ will build His Church makes the most sense. In fact, even without this particular passage, the other passages below add up to the same idea. Rather than seeing the Catholic position as some kind of crazy overlay to this passage, it now seems clear to me that it is the Protestants who must come up with a better argument. So far I have not heard anything better. Of course, this makes me, an old Protestant, very curious.

Below are the New Testament references I was able to find regarding Peter. I have tried to group them a bit, and added a few of my thoughts. I have not ranked them in any particular order. I’m sure I’ve made some mistakes. All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible.

Peter listed/mentioned first with the apostles

Peter being mentioned or listed first among the apostles:

Matt. 10:2  Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;
Mark 1:36  Simon and his companions searched for Him;
Mark 3:16  And He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter),
Luke 6:14-16  Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James and John; and Philip and Bartholomew;  and Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot; Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
Acts 2:37  Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?”
Acts 5:29  But Peter and the apostles answered, “ We must obey God rather than men.

Peter is first when entering upper room after our Lord’s ascension:

Acts 1:13  When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James.

Peter leads the fishing and his net does not break. According to Catholics, the boat (the “barque of Peter”) is seen as a metaphor for the Church:

John 21:2-3  Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will also come with you.” They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing.
John 21:11  Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn.

Though Peter and John are both very important figures in the early church, Peter is always mentioned before John:

Luke 8:51  When He came to the house, He did not allow anyone to enter with Him, except Peter and John and James, and the girl’s father and mother.
Luke 9:28  Some eight days after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.
Luke 22:8  And Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it.”
Acts 1:13  When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James.
Acts 3:1-4  Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer. And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!”
Acts 3:3  When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms.
Acts 3:11  While he was clinging to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them at the so-called portico of Solomon, full of amazement.
Acts 4:13  Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.
Acts 4:19  But Peter and John answered and said to them, “ Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge;
Acts 8:14  Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John,

Peter is mentioned first as going to mountain of transfiguration. He is also the only disciple to speak at the transfiguration:

Luke 9:28  Some eight days after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.
Luke 9:33  And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, “ Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah”— not realizing what he was saying.

Peter is the first of the apostles to confess the divinity of Christ:

Matt. 16:16  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Mark 8:29  And He continued by questioning them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.”
John 6:69  We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”

Peter ranked(?) higher than John

John arrived at the tomb first but stopped and waited for Peter. Peter then arrived and entered the tomb first:

Luke 24:12  But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened.
John 20:4-6  The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there,

It is Peter that is named as the eye witness even though both Peter and John had seen the risen Jesus the previous hour:

Luke 24:34  saying, “ The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.”

Peter seen as the Leader of the Apostles

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks Peter, and no one else, why he was asleep. It would seem Peter is held accountable, on behalf of the apostles, for their actions:

Mark 14:37  And He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?

Peter is designated (called out) by an angel as unique among the apostles:

Mark 16:7  But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘ He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.’”

Peter receiving Special Instruction and Revelation

Peter alone is told he has received special, divine revelation from God the Father:

Matt. 16:17  And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.

Jesus instructs the disciples by specifically instructing Peter to let down their nets for a catch. Peter specifically is told he will be a “fisher of men”:

Luke 5:4,10  When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch… and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “ Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.”

Peter speaking/Asking on Behalf of the Disciples

Peter asks Jesus about the rule of forgiveness. Peter frequently takes a leadership role among the apostles in seeking understanding of Jesus’ teachings:

Matt. 18:21  Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

Peter speaks on behalf of the apostles by telling Jesus that they have left everything to follow Him:

Matt. 19:27  Then Peter said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?”

Peter speaks for the disciples on their following Jesus:

Mark 10:28  Peter began to say to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You.”

Peter speaks for the disciples about their witnessing Jesus’ curse on the fig tree:

Mark 11:21  Being reminded, Peter said to Him, “ Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.”

Peter functions as the spokesman or representative (or vicar, to use popular a Catholic term) for Jesus:

Matt. 17:24-25  When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” He *said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?”

When Jesus asked who touched His garment, it is Peter who answers:

Luke 8:45  And Jesus said, “Who is the one who touched Me?” And while they were all denying it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing in on You.”

It is Peter who seeks clarification of a parable on behalf on the disciples:

Luke 12:41  Peter said, “Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?”

After many of the disciples leave Jesus, it is Peter who speaks on behalf of the remaining disciples and confesses their belief in Christ after the Eucharistic discourse:

John 6:68 Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.

Peter as Christ’s Representative on Earth

Protestants debate this, but it would seems that Jesus builds the Church primarily (only?) on Peter, the rock:

Matt. 16:18  I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

Only Peter receives the keys of the kingdom of heaven:

Matt. 16:19  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

Peter, by paying the tax for both Jesus and himself, is acting Christ’s “representative” on earth:

Matt. 17:26-27  When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt. However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.”

Peter given charge/care of the other disciples

Jesus prays specifically for Peter, that his faith may not fail, and charges him to strengthen the rest of the apostles:

Luke 22:31-32  “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

In front of the apostles, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Jesus “more than these,” which likely refers to the other apostles. Peter has a special role regarding the apostles:

John 21:15  So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.”

Jesus charges Peter to “feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep,” “feed my sheep.” Sheep appears to mean all people (or all believers), including the apostles:

John 21:15-17  So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “ Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “ Tend My sheep.

Peter Leading the Early Church

Peter initiates the selection of a successor to Judas immediately after Jesus ascended into heaven. Note: This passage also supports (or establishes) the concept of apostolic succession:

Acts 1:15  At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons was there together), and said,

Peter is the first apostle to preach the Gospel:

Acts 2:14  But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: “Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words.

Peter is the first to preach on repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ:

Acts 2:38  Peter said to them, “ Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Peter performs the first healing miracle of the apostles:

Acts 3:6-7  But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened.

Peter is the first to teach that there is no salvation other than through Christ:

Acts 3:12-26  But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all. And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. Moses said, ‘ The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed to everything He says to you. And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days. It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘ And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.”

Acts 4:8-12  Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

Peter resolves the first doctrinal issue on circumcision at the Church’s first council at Jerusalem, and no one questions him. After Peter the Papa spoke, all were kept silent:

Acts 15:7-12  After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.

Only after Peter finishes speaking do Paul and Barnabas speak in support of Peter’s definitive teaching:

Acts 15:12  All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.

The church prayed for Peter while he was in prison:

Acts 12:5  So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.

Peter acts as the chief elder (or bishop?) by exhorting all the other elders of the Church:

1 Peter 5:1  Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed,

Peter brings the Gospel to the Gentiles

Peter is first Apostle to teach that salvation is for all, both Jews and Gentiles:

Acts 10:34-48 Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)— you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “ Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.

Acts 11:1-18  Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, saying, “ You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, “ I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me, and when I had fixed my gaze on it and was observing it I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘ What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ This happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky. And behold, at that moment three men appeared at the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea. The Spirit told me to go with them [m] without misgivings. These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house. And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘ John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

Peter binds and looses

Peter exercises his binding authority by declaring the first anathema of Ananias and Sapphira (which is ratified by God):

Acts 5:3  But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?

Peter again exercises his binding and loosing authority by casting judgment on Simon’s quest for gaining authority through the laying on of hands:

Acts 8:20-23  But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.”

Peter heals others

Peter’s own shadow has healing power:

Acts 5:15  to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them.

Peter is mentioned first among the apostles and works the healing of Aeneas:

Acts 9:32-34  Now as Peter was traveling through all those regions, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years, for he was paralyzed. Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed.” Immediately he got up.

Peter is mentioned first among the apostles and raises Tabitha from the dead:

Acts 9:38-40  Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, having heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him, imploring him, “Do not delay in coming to us.” So Peter arose and went with them. When he arrived, they brought him into the upper room; and all the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them. But Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, “ Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up.

Angels are active in Peter’s life and ministry

Cornelius is told by an angel to call upon Peter. Peter was granted this divine vision:

Acts 10:5  Now dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter;

Peter is freed from jail by an angel. He is the first Apostle to receive direct divine intervention:

Acts 12:6-11  On the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and woke him up, saying, “Get up quickly.” And his chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

Other Apostles Testify to Peter’s Teaching and Leadership

James speaks to acknowledge Peter’s definitive teaching. “Simeon” is a reference to Peter:

Acts 15:13-14  After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brethren, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name.

Paul says he doesn’t want to build on “another man’s foundation” which may refer to Peter and the church Peter may have built in Rome:

Rom. 15:20  And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation;

Paul distinguishes Peter from the rest of the apostles and brethren:

1 Cor. 9:5  Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?

Paul distinguishes Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to Peter from those of the other apostles:

1 Cor. 15:4-8  and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

Paul spends fifteen days with Peter privately before beginning his ministry. This comes even after Christ’s revelation to Paul. Paul needed Peter’s acceptance and blessing:

Gal. 1:18  Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days.

Interesting

Peter is the only man to walk on water other than Christ:

Matt. 14:28-29  Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus.

Jesus teaches from Peter’s boat. The boat may be a metaphor for the Church, the so-called “barque of Peter”:

Luke 5:3  And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat.

Peter speaks out to the Lord in front of the apostles concerning the washing of feet:

John 13:6-9  So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “ If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter *said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.”

Only Peter got out of the boat and ran to the shore to meet Jesus:

John 21:7  Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea.

Jesus predicts Peter’s death:

John 13:36  Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered, “ Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.”
John 21:18  Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.”

Peter is mentioned first in conferring the sacrament of confirmation:

Acts 8:14  Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John,

Peter was most likely in Rome. “Babylon” was often used as a code word for Rome:

1 Peter 5:13  She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark.

Peter writes about Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s death:

2 Peter 1:14  knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.

Peter makes a judgement of Paul’s letters:

2 Peter 3:16  as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.

Peter was the first among the Apostles, perhaps struggled with that position at times, but proved to be the servant of all:

Matt. 23:11  But the greatest among you shall be your servant.
Mark 9:35  Sitting down, He called the twelve and *said to them, “ If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”
Mark 10:44  and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.

From the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom

Priest:
     Wisdom. Arise. Let us hear the holy Gospel. Peace be with all.

People:
     And with your spirit.

Deacon:
     The reading is from the holy Gospel according to (Name).
     Let us be attentive.

People:
     Glory to You, O Lord, glory to You.

(The Deacon reads the designated pericope of the holy Gospel.)

People:
     Glory to You, O Lord, glory to You.

The flow of church history and its major branches (click to enlarge):

The flow of Protestant and Reformed church history (click to enlarge):

Note: This second flow chart only barely represents the multiplicity of splits and various denominations within Protestants and Reformed church history. It’s only the tip of the iceberg.