Does Conciliar Post Exist?
This nerdy niche that we’ve carved out on the internet for ourselves called “Conciliar Post” is a pretty neat place. Here we tell stories about how to live as a Christian in this world, theologize about the historical distinctions between liturgical and low-church worship, write poetry about how worthy the God-Man is of our worship, and debate the schisms and skirmishes of Christianity’s past. Some of us have more professional credentials to be doing this sort of stuff, others, like me, are simply musing amateurs.
In the midst of this wide range of expertise, writing styles, ecclesial commitments, and opinions, we tell ourselves that we are bound together, performing “meaningful dialogue across Christian traditions.” We tell ourselves that we can do this kind of intrafaith dialogue because we all “affirm the Apostles Creed and write in a thoughtful, loving manner.” These two qualifications, it appears, form the foundation with which we can then discuss and debate our various interests within Christianity. Southern Baptists and Eastern Orthodox, so the story goes, can dialogue within the bounds of Christianity because of both charity and creed.
What I want to do in this article is probe the assumption of this website’s founding fathers, that the Apostles Creed is sufficient for creating a Christian space within which we can have meaningful intrafaith dialogue. What makes Conciliar Post intrafaith dialogue, within Christianity, as opposed to interfaith dialogue, dealing with different religions? This question, it seems to me, hinges on whether or not something like “mere Christianity” actually exists out there in the world. I want to argue that if mere Christianity does not exist, then the unsavory conclusion holds; the Southern Baptists, Eastern Orthodox, Catholics, and Presbyterians of this website are debating across religions, not within one. Second, it seems that those who believe most strongly in a visible Church ecclesiology (i.e. “we are the one Church passed down from the apostles”), will be most disagreeable to mere Christianity, begging the question as to what ultimately binds us together as Christians.
So, does mere Christianity exist? C.S. Lewis, following the ideas of 17th century puritan Richard Baxter, certainly believed so, making the concept the bedrock of his book Mere Christianity, an explanation of beliefs and practices held in common by all Christians. He wrote, in distinguishing between his own Anglican beliefs and the beliefs of other Christians, “I am not writing to expound something I could call ‘my religion’, but to expound ‘mere’ Christianity, which is what it is and what it was long before I was born and whether I like it or not.”1 Lewis assumes that mere Christianity exists and has existed for centuries past.
Conciliar Post has had something of a checkered history when it comes to agreement with Lewis. Jacob Prahlow, in a recent article, concludes that he can embrace a particular Southern Baptist church despite minor theological disagreement, because of a commitment to a “mere Christianity tribalism.” Because the Saint Louis church embraces, as Melanchthon says, “things necessary” of Christianity, he can seek the flourishing and oneness of the congregation he has bound himself to. Jody Byrkett, in dialogue with my article this past August, wrote that, “Sometimes I wonder if we at Conciliar Post focus too much on our differences rather than ‘mere Christianity’, I wonder if we are adding to the schisms of the past or helping folks to close the gaps they think are there.” Ben Cabe, in the same comment thread, disagreed with mere Christianity, arguing that there is no “list of details” that we can all agree with.
If Ben Cabe (not to pick on him) is correct and mere Christianity does not exist, what binds us together here at Conciliar Post to do intrafaith dialogue? Certainly, the founders of the website responded to this question by instituting the rule that we all assent to the Apostles Creed, thereby assuring that each writer would be a Christian within the (lower case) orthodox tradition. But is this sufficient? I ask this not as someone who is hoping to cause needless division, but someone who hopes to clarify what binds Christians of all stripes together. It seems to me that if one disagrees with mere Christianity, exemplified at Conciliar Post by the Apostles Creed qualification, then Conciliar Post ceases to be a place that exists as “meaningful dialogue across Christian traditions.” This seems to me to be most problematic for the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox of the blog, for they hold to a strict visible Church ecclesiology, the exclusive faith passed down by the apostles. Can these traditions assent to mere Christianity? If not, is there something else we can appeal to in order to bind ourselves together as Christians?
Coming from a Protestant background, it seems natural to believe in an invisible church ecumenism. What matters, so my tradition has it, is that we are united to Christ, full stop. If Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Methodists, and the Pentecostals down the street are believers in Christ, well then we’re all in the same club. As believers, we are repentant, forgiven, baptized, and called to live a life pleasing to God.
As Jacob Prahlow cites from Philip Melanchthon, “In things necessary, unity. In things not necessary, liberty. In all things, charity.” Can Conciliar Post exist using the Apostles Creed as our “things necessary”? Does believing in this require the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic of this blog to change their ecclesiology to incorporate more of an “invisible church” model? Or, are we willing to swallow (God forbid) that we are simply doing interfaith dialogue?
View Sources 1. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, (San Francisco: Harper One, 2002), 6
1. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, (San Francisco: Harper One, 2002), 6