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Denomination Discombobulation: The Disorienting Effect of Protestantism and Conciliar Post

Sitting in my cushy Sunday morning chair, immediately following a fairly lengthy sermon, my Presbyterian church’s suit-clad pastor prepares the congregation for the weekly partaking of the Lord’s Supper. I think to myself, Isn’t it interesting, other congregations from other traditions on this very morning are probably kneeling or chanting or something at this point in their liturgy. And how come the pastor isn’t wearing some special clothing or collar or something? Other traditions do that stuff right?

“God has not left us with mere doctrine,” the pastor explains, “He has given us tangible signs of our salvation, such that we can taste and see that the Lord is good. God’s faithfulness to his people is expressed in this very meal.” Here is that beautiful Calvinist teaching I’ve come to know and love, tasting and seeing the Lord is good. Wonderful. Yet, don’t the historic traditions (ya know, the ones existed before the Reformation) believe that it is not merely God’s faithfulness expressed in the meal, but Christ’s very presence, body and blood?

The congregation moves toward the front, row by row, until it’s my turn up to the front. I move toward the bread and wine, standing behind the next in line. Waiting for the line to move, I recognize that the walls and windows are bare, the only fixture in the room is a single cross hanging above the pastors serving the meal. Why must the room be so bare, devoid of any images of the Christ I am told is so faithful to me? I guess some of the Reformers thought iconography to be idolatrous, but how would my experience of the Eucharist be different with peculiarly Christian construction and art surrounding me?

If you let it, Conciliar Post will disorient you. Here, virtually every doctrine and practice that is essential to a particular Christian tradition, from predestination to Popes to the Real Presence, have been and will be discussed and debated. For some, particularly those on this blog who have settled into the rigid ecclesiologies (I mean this with respect) of Orthodoxy or Catholicism, these virtual exercises will bring opportunities for clarification of one’s own views, rather than consideration of taking on another tradition.1 For others like myself within the fragilities of Protestantism, Conciliar Post contains the reader/writer within a plethora of possibilities, creating what philosopher Charles Taylor calls cross pressures, defined as “the simultaneous pressure of various spiritual options.”2

This unique environment of diverse writers from a variety of theological traditions, coupled with the historical location of Conciliar Post within 21st century America, creates three distinct disorienting effects.

First, Conciliar Post focuses and tightens the cross pressures already existent within American Christianity. Here in America, as we all know, virtually within any town or city in which we live, there are a number of different spiritual options for the Christian believer, seen most especially within the Bible Belt’s “church on every corner.” Most of the time, individualistic Americans are pretty good at sequestering themselves within these spiritual enclaves, rarely coming into meaningful-dialogue-contact with those of another Christian tradition. Further, It seems that the internet fosters this spiritual segregation, creating website hot spots for any plausibility structure one may wish to cultivate.4

By bringing together each of these “churches on the corner” together to have “meaningful dialogue across Christian traditions,” Conciliar Post forces one to understand (albeit virtually and maybe too intellectually) that there are a multitude of Christianities within this thing we call “Christianity.” Key terms such as “gospel,” “atonement,” and “body and blood” are interpreted, practiced, and utilized differently within each church on the corner. This is disorienting indeed.

Second, Conciliar Post forces Protestants to readily disagree with one another, bringing Reformational disagreements to the 21st century, revealing that there is no authoritative “center” to Protestantism or Evangelicalism. When I started to write for Conciliar Post, I tended to view the Baptists, Methodists, and Lutherans of this blog as intellectual and spiritual allies against the onslaught (to be tongue-in-cheek) of Orthodox and Catholics on the blog. We all believe in the five solas (most essentially sola scriptura), I reasoned, so we must pretty much be on the same page when it comes to the essentials of the faith.

However, I’ve come to find out that there isn’t a true center of authority on which I could believe that my fellow Protestants are my intellectual and spiritual allies. Opposition to certain forms of sacramentalism doesn’t work, those Lutherans and Anglicans seem to insist that’s pretty essential. A general agreement on soteriology doesn’t really work, my crazy Calvinism seems to be the odd-ball in every conversation. Thinking that Catholics and Orthodox are deficient Christians in some way, maybe that they are semi-Pelagian or have a deficient view of justification, has been disproved time and time again by the beautiful writings of the Catholic and Orthodox on this blog.

Moreover, once one begins to do historical research on the Reformation, one finds that Protestants never intended to be fundamentally united with one another. There was no comfortableness with a generic “evangelicalism,” or a unity on the five solas, or a simple appeal to an “invisible church.” Countries, governments, and lands were separated based on distinct practices of the Lord’s Supper (among other things), there was simply no Gospel Coalition or Christianity Today or mutual love of Billy Graham with which to create a common ground authoritative center. Maybe if we were more historically aware of the origins of our traditions, Protestants wouldn’t be so comfortable with each other’s supposedly “minor” or “non-essential” beliefs. Conciliar Post’s Round Tables continue to re-present this historical truth of the disunity of Protestants/Evangelicals on central truths of faith and practice. Disorienting indeed.

Third, within this disorientation, we are all heretics. There is no simple “receiving the faith handed down from the apostles,” as the Orthodox on this blog are want to emphasize. No writer on this blog (with the potential exception of Deion Kathawa) was raised and remained within a Christian tradition that claims to be the once-and-for-all historic Christian faith. It is truly awesome to read the author profiles on this website and see the massive variety of explorations, unsettled convictions, and conversions.

By “heretic,” I mean the original Greek definition of the term utilized by Irenaeus in his tract Against Heresies, meaning “one who chooses.”4 In Irenaeus’s time, a heretic would be one chose to believe contrary to the faith received and handed down from the apostles. The difficult thing for the authors of Conciliar Post is that no one has received and remained with a Christian tradition that claims to be handed down from the apostles. Again, none of us were born, baptized, and bred within a tradition that claims to be the historic Christian faith of the apostles. In effect, then, even those who have converted to Catholicism/Orthodoxy/Anglicanism (the traditions that claim to be the unbroken historic Christian faith), have utilized heresy (“choosing”). For one (like me) who is exploring the truth of these supposedly “received” traditions, I have to, in an awkward sense, heretically choose to enter into these historic communities if I were to convert. Disorienting indeed.

And yet, in the midst of it all, Conciliar Post continually calls its writers and readers to reflect on how we may be “one,” just as Christ is in the Father (John 17:21). Disorienting indeed.

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George Aldhizer

George Aldhizer

Raised in North Carolina, George works as an accountant and lives in New York with his wife and son. His writing is animated by Abraham Kuyper’s exclamation, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

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