Sometimes I do a mental search and try to reconnect to my earliest memories. When they do return it is often in very simple bits and pieces. Perhaps a mental picture of a face, or just some words.
One of my earliest memories is of the death of my grandfather, in 1942 when I was four years old. He died that September, the results of a serious stroke. He collapsed a few blocks from his house, on the way to work one morning. A few days later he died in the hospital.
His funeral is the first I can remember. His was the first dead body memory brings back to me. He had been a foreman for the Chesapeake and Ohio steam engine repair shop in Huntington, West Virginia. The church was full of the men who worked for him. During the service someone played a xylophone , very somber, beautiful.
After the church we traveled to a country cemetery about twenty miles away, located at the top of a West Virginia hill. Very vividly, I remember the open grave, a pile of dirt at the side. And then after scripture was read, words were said, and prayers offered, the casket was lowered into the ground. There was not a vault, as we see today. Just a deep hole in the ground, the casket , and men standing around to refill the grave with dirt when we left.
During this Easter Season I have thought about just what it means, or should mean, to us as followers of Jesus. What is it we believe, and what is it that is any different from what everyone else may believe? What happened to my grandfather that day? What is it that will happen when Jesus returns?
Over time I have come to view what we believe as Christians is radically different from that of everyone else about “afterlife.” For what happened as Easter was much different from the ordinary. We believe that Jesus, though dead, rose bodily from the grave, was seen by many people, and ascended to God the Father. And when He returns, the dead will be raised and we will have a body like Him.
I want to add another book to discuss from time to time, as it works itself out. This one is Broken Lights and Mended Lives; Theology and Common Life in the Early Church by Rowan A. Greer. The author was on the faculty of Yale Divinity School and an ordained Anglican priest. Learning about the faith and practice of the early Church can be of benefit. I realize that we cannot copy their faith, or their practice, because their world was far different from the one we inhabit. However the young Church was a vital one, full of the excitement of something new which they felt to the depth of their being.
Greer’s book is a reflection of this. Today I would like to consider the direction Greer wants to take us, showing what he wants to do, and how he intends to do it. He talks about this in the first page of the Preface where he says
the only thesis of the book is that theology in the early Church was always directly or indirectly concerned with the common life of Christians. From one point of view theologians attempted to put into words the corporate experience of the Church. The Christian story, continuously repeated in the reading of Scripture and in the liturgy, found its focus for the Fathers of the Church in the victorious Christ, the new humanity. …. From another perspective the Fathers sought to use their ideology to explain and to shape the everyday life of Christians. To study the dialogue between theology and common life is to realize … that no broad thesis is possible save to argue that there was a persistent concern with the dialogue.
Now — just for a comment: If we would stop and think about the possibility of prayerfully considering and meditating on the above quotation. Perhaps I’m being far too simplistic, but it seems to me to hold tremendous power and possibility. Are we in our theological considerations attempting to put into words what it is that is happening as we repeat again and again our ancient Scriptures and conduct the liturgy in worship services? How is the victory of Christ happening today in our services? How is humanity being made whole? And just how is this affecting our common life? I have a feeling that we need to consistently talk to each other, in our churches, about what we believe is shaping our life together. We need to find some intentional ways of doing this. Greer, at this point is not doing this. It is my own idea.
He goes ahead to explain his approach by saying that he treats the Fathers of the Church sympathetically. He does this by attempting to enter into and imagine the world of the early Christians on its own terms. He also states clearly that he himself is a convinced Christian. Therefore he admits that he is not an impartial observer, and thus not totally objective in his study.
It may seem that I’m spending too much time on explaining his approach. But the remainder of the book cannot be properly understood without this understanding. In the next posting about Greer’s work, I want to explore this further.
I have come to like the idea of killing off old ideas so well that I’d like to expand it today. In Part One, I suggested that Protestants should give up on a doctrine that has never really worked itself out, even though it started with the best of intention: Sola Scriptura. In Part Two, I want to suggest giving up on the designation Protestant, by letting it die. I’m not sure what this “protest” amounts to in the twenty-first century. What specifically, is still being protested? After all we have taken ourselves out of the Roman Catholic Church, and for a long time have had our own church families, the many divisions of which are called “denominations.” The various denominations are the children our branch of the Church has produced. Each of them has a different name. But they remain in the Protestant family. In leaving the RCC, and starting our own family of churches, we let it be known that there was very little about our former family that we liked. But that was a long time ago. To hang on to the Protestant designation after so many years sounds like a child who many years ago threw a tantrum because of being angry at Papa. He was too demanding, too authoritative, was corrupt, and had some ideas that were damaging to the family. So the reformers walked out in protest and became known as Protestants.
However the Church that launched the protest is all grown up now — or at least ought to be. Therefore it should no longer have the character of the angry Church of five hundred years ago. Many of the arguments that made sense then, no longer work. And if we still have issues with the RCC, they should no longer have the nature of “protest.” And there should not be the need to fight even though disagreements still exist. Now our own family has multiplied into thousands of fragments disagreeing with each other over almost anything. We have serious trouble sharing the same table with each other, or at even having conversation.
So it makes sense to me just to drop the “Protestant” label. It no longer has a usefulness. There is a need to prayerfully look for something else. After all we are Christ’s Church. Our differences with the RCC and with our brothers and sisters of other denominations have become an offense to the world. They are a huge stumbling block. Protestantism needs to die. Some say it is already dead, although I have my doubts.
Protestantism is a negative theology; a Protestant is a not-Catholic. Whatever Catholics say or do, the Protestant does and says as close to the opposite as he can. …
Protestantism ought to give way to Reformational catholicism. Like a Protestant, a Reformational catholic rejects papal claims, refuses to venerate the Host, and doesn’t pray to Mary or the saints; he insists that salvation is a sheer gift of God received by faith and confesses that all tradition must be judged by Scripture, the Spirit’s voice in the conversation that is the Church. …
I urge you to read Lethart’s entire post. What he says has profound possibilities for the unity of Christ’s Church. Let the idea of “Protestant” die.
See also: Without Intent