Christ’s Banquet is Open to All

, , Comments Off on Christ’s Banquet is Open to All

I had the delight of visiting the Cathedral of St. Cuthbert in Durham, England, and, two days later, the Cathedral of St. Giles in Edinburgh, Scotland. The first is part of the Anglican Church – the Church of England. The second is Presbyterian – the Church of Scotland: in short, Anglican and Presbyterian.

Both emanated from the Protestant Reformation and both were influenced by the teachings of John Calvin. However, as a mix of reformation in religion and politics, John Knox, or more specifically, the Church he founded in Scotland, split with Calvinism and the Church of England and ultimately came into its own after what was known as the “Glorious Revolution” of 1697. The result of which is that St. Giles from that point forward remained firmly Presbyterian and St. Cuthbert remained firmly Anglican.

I visited St. Giles about a half hour before a noon service. It consisted of some prayers and scriptural readings. Prior to the service, I had asked a Deacon what the fundamental difference was between Presbyterianism and Anglicanism as it unfolded in today’s age. He talked primarily about the relatively horizontal organizational structure of the Presbytery in relationship to the organizational structure of the Church of England, which tends to be closer to the Roman Catholic hierarchy of Archbishops and Bishops.

I told him I understood the organizational point, but I was more interested in the actual theology. He was unable to answer that question, but did punt to the residing Reverend. After prayers and scriptural readings, I asked the residing Reverend (I forgot his name, but who recently returned from a stint in Chicago) the same question. His initial answer dealt with the organization of the two.

I told him I understood that, but that I was more interested in understanding what the actual theological break was between Presbyterianism and Anglicanism. His response was that while there may have been some theological nuances during the Reformation, those have softened to such an extent that Presbyterianism and Anglicanism are at this point just about one and the same. Some minor differences still remaining are premised upon the harder line by the Presbyterian Church of Calvin’s view of predestination, which was either softened or not substantially adopted by the broad Anglican community, which tended to lean more towards the Roman Catholic view of grace, acceptance and good works.

I grappled with this blending because, for close to a hundred years, blood spilled throughout the island as various political forces attempted to control the ultimate religious destiny of both England and Scotland, even though they both accepted Jesus as their Savior.

And there I was, sitting in the heart of it all, not quite sure why Montrose and Argyll both had to lose their heads over religious nuances.

The separation between Islam (Allah/Muhammad) and Christianity (Jesus Christ) is fairly obvious, of course. The divide which separates Magisterial Protestantism from Catholicism is iconic, certainly after Luther, but both are still under Christ’s tent. But the divide which separates the Anglican community (including its American counter-part, Episcopalians), Methodism and Presbyterianism – all products of the Reformation – is razor thin, and yet it accounts for a major fragmentation in the body of Christianity.

I wonder, when I tend to wonder about these things, what possible good is served by such marginal interpretations which appear to fragment the fundamental Christian message, which is, after all as old as the books of the Old Testament dating back to Deuteronomy and Leviticus: love thy God above all else and love thy neighbor as thyself. It’s a New Testament theme, as you may remember from Matthew, but it predates Matthew by twenty-five hundred years.

In a strange way, it reminds me of the bloodiest war America ever waged – the Civil War. The mandate to rid western civilization of an evil Hitler was understandable. But to this day, there is a clear question as to whether the Civil War, as brutal and bloody as it was, achieved any useful purpose for the South. We all know what it did to preserve the sanctity of the constitutional Union, but what exactly did it do for the South?

So too the question remains as to whether the Reformation, killing more Christians in the name of Christ than any other war, was ever worth it. Also remaining is the question of whether the Reformation, as influential as it was on the unfolding of western civilization, served any useful purpose except to humble the all too arrogant and self-righteous Roman Catholic tradition.

I wonder about these things for their own value, but also because I now see Pope Francis, at this point, attempt to reposition the standards for Catholicism, although I do question why it took so very long. After all, at the end of the day, the Roman Catholics simply responded to the Protestant Reformation five hundred years ago with the Council of Trent modernizing itself between 1545 and 1564, again with the Vatican II Ecumenical Council in 1963, and now by Pope Francis resetting the heart of Catholicism.

As to Magisterial Protestantism, when I look over the horizon, I wonder to what extent Christ’s work has been advanced when the Reformation set in motion doctrinal divides that turned the four Gospels and Paul’s Epistles into millions of pages of interpretation, disputation, nuances, and literally thousands of Protestant denominations.

None of this is intended to be critical – neither of the Roman Catholics whose doctrinal arrogance, clerical abuses, and patriarchal condescension forced Luther’s hand; nor of the churches spawned by Luther, Svengli, Calvin, and their followers, who were initially only attempting to reexamine the role of scripture and its relationship to salvation. The discussion isn’t about criticism at all. However, there are two real considerations from an intellectual historical standpoint. First, how did a particular set of ideas influence the unfolding of history? And second, accepting the notion that there was influence – and certainly the Reformation was a seminal event in the history of ideas – to what extent are we better off because of it?

It may seem futile, at this point, and very possibly impolitic, to even frame the question, but if history is proscriptive – if past is prologue – we may very well be looking to the Mideast to revisit the Dukes of Montrose and Argyle in search of more than just their heads.

As simple as it sounds, it seems to boil down to just this for me. How big is Christ’s tent? How all-encompassing is God’s love? Or, as a friend of mine said just the other night, as we were discussing my observations, “it’s Christ’s banquet, not ours. And his invitation is open to everyone.”