My blog has moved!

You will be automatically redirected to the new address. If that does not occur, visit
and update your bookmarks.


I believe in the holy catholic church.

The other day, I heard a friend comment that she loves the liturgy of a high church service (i.e., Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian), but she wants a church where her faith can remain a private, individual matter. It's her faith, no one else's.

At the time, something about the statement struck me as wrong, but not being able to put together exactly why I felt that way, I tucked it away in the back of my mind, and decided I would think about it more when I didn't have a stack of student journals waiting to be deciphered and graded.

Now, 48 hours later, I'm still ruminating over the ideas of a private faith, and I think I have a somewhat coherent, though incomplete response to the idea.

The most obvious response is that Jesus didn't call us to a private faith.

Okay, maybe that's not so obvious. At the risk of oversimplifying and skimming over 400 some years of history, I will say this: since the Enlightenment, "religion" (in a broad sense) has been relegated more and more to the private sphere, separating itself from the actions of the State, and becoming more and more a matter of private thought. My coworker, then, like most Americans, is merely a product of her time: my relationship with Jesus is just that, mine, private and alone.

However, despite this overwhelming individualism and privatization of faith, Jesus didn't call us to such a thing. He didn't call us to say, "This faith is mine and mine alone, and I don't have to share it with anyone." No! Indeed, he gave us brothers and sisters to travel along with us, to be our companions, and he gave us the Church as the bride to himself, the bridegroom, His Body reflected in our individual natures.

Today in class, my professor read a section from a book I didn't catch the title of, but the sum of it was this: Protestantism is highly individual - it is the relationship of the individual with the individual; it is about a man's relationship with Christ. Catholicism, on the other hand, is about the relationship of the individual as a cell to the ever-growing and working Body of Christ. This, then, is the heart of why the statement of "I like the liturgical tradition but I want to keep my faith private" becomes so ridiculous. Essentially, it translates to divorcing oneself from the Body of Christ.

We Protestants speak a lot about the Body of Christ, but we use it as an individualizing force. I am a hand, you are an eye, that guy's a foot, etc. We each have our own separate distinct roles, which is all fine and good. It's one interpretation of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 12. It is, however, an incomplete image, and allows too much room to say, "Oh, I don't have the gift of compassion" or "I just don't have to love my neighbor - someone else will cover that part." We forget that no matter what the role we may play, the one things that matters overall is that love which binds all parts of the Body together. We allow the Body of Christ to become this amorphous creature that has a million different faces (read: denominations) and a million different hands (read: doctrines), and we don't truly know what Christ looks like.

Catholicism, on the other hand, presents one unified face, but sometimes at the lack of the individual playing a role - there's a large problem (attempted to be solved by Vatican II) of the individual Catholic not understanding the Mass, which is why they go through confirmation. Clearly, however, as exhibited by my coworker, the theology of community doesn't always stick, and therefore the whole concept of the unified Body of Christ can be lost.

Now, this post isn't to bash Catholics or Protestants. It is more or less my own "writing out loud" so to speak, about the issue of the community of the Body of Christ. I have been to two Catholic services in my life, and clearly have no authority to speak on the inner workings of the Catholic faith. Having grown up Baptist, I can only speak to the evangelical tradition in American churches.

What I do know is this: the Body of Christ is one that stretches beyond the boundaries of denomination, it is both transcendent and immanent, and requires that your faith not be private.

It is, therefore, impossible to participate in a church that reflects the Body of Christ, impossible to live in relationship with Him - regardless of whether you view that relationship as an individual with an individual, or as a cell in a much larger Body - without community. I have become more and more convicted of this as I have grown up. The love of Christ is such that we cannot do it alone. Reflected in the Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a social reality, and we humans, made in the image of our father God, are impelled to be social, communal creatures.

Regardless of doctrine, creed, or denomination, if you claim the love of Jesus as your own, it will not remain your own.

My challenge: to step outside the bounds, to begin seeing those around you not merely as those you attend church with, or discuss theology with, but as members of this gigantic universal Church that stretches across the bounds of time and space to include all of us who claim Jesus as Lord.

And the mark of those who who belong to this Body of Christ?

Matthew 22: 36-40: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."


Photo credit: Jonathan Kirkpatrick, a dear friend who lovingly puts up with 24 Americans invading his house every fall and spring in lovely Oxford. It is of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.


  1. great entry!

    How true it is that God is bigger than our doctrine and denominations.

    Also, I agree with your point that the protestant train is far too individualistic. And, outside of cultural factors that you mentioned, assume it is a pendulum swing away from Catholic's group-liturgy.

    Though, I do think emphasis should be placed on the difference between personal and private.
    For example, Jesus said to pray in a closet, and when doing good, not let your left hand know what your right is up to.

    In community-driven spheres, there is a danger to thinking that the group time is the summation of "my" spirituality. That, too, is an extremist position.

    Community is essential, but Balance is key.

  2. Yes, faith really isn't "private" when it's working out. Faith must be "personal" in some other sense, though. After all, it doesn't mean anything for a rock to be "faithful" to a boulder, or to speak of a tree as acting "in good faith," nor even of asking a dog to "have faith in" our promises....but our "faith," as those things we have received as bearing God's promises, which we honestly affirm, which we strive to adhere to, is both interpersonal and intersubjective.

    Two caveats:

    1) it is entirely possible to affirm the Body life without jumping to the here/now global, total unification of the body--a unification which could only be a political economy founded upon and tending toward pacification, not peace. For example, I strongly affirm that there is now in the communion of every body, which assembled as ekklesia is the Body here/now, a spiritual union with the Body as it will one day be assembled--recalled, remembered, and realized--at the End. This will move us to recognize that whatever is contrary to that final union is sin ("whatever is not of faith is sin"), but will also recognize that any attempt to immanentize the eschaton will corrupt, not clarify, our Gospel.

    2) the Father, Son, and Spirit, as a self-sufficient community of one God, have a personal fidelity, integrity, and trust which greatly exceeds ours and which finds our inclusion delightful (indeed, "to die for" -- say rather "a consummation devoutly to be wished!") but not necessary. Thus the intersubjectivity into which we find ourselves written as members of the interpretive community "church" who are striving to read not only creation but Word and Sacrament so as to find Christ wholly sufficient and trustworthy is not one in which the human community serves as a proper origin of meaning: God's involvement in the interpretive community always dwarfs ours to the point where "no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation," which means also that no interpretive community can determine the meaning--only God determines the meaning of Scripture. We seek it. Which necessarily means that the Life of the Body includes each member's understanding, acknowledging, and evaluating the differences which arrive as we practice reading faithfully together.

  3. Chase and Peter -

    Yes, the distinction between personal and private is one that was clear to me, but a line I forgot to draw in the original post. Thank you for pointing it out. I do believe that my faith is personal, meaning that a fellow believer's salvation does not account for my own. But if I choose to keep that personal faith private, it is then that I step outside the bounds of the community I am attempting to highlight here. And as I said, my response is incomplete, so I welcome the comments!

    Peter, one your second point, this is a clear part of Christ's community that I frequently leave out when I discuss it (not entirely on purpose). I suppose with my theologically educated and community infused brain, I can forget that most important part of community because, to me, it's implicit. We, of course, cannot have complete community or a brotherhood of man that reflects the Trinity without the Trinity itself. That simply does not work, and that, I believe, is why "love your neighbor" follows "love the Lord your God" in Jesus' response (cited above). Naturally, any Christian community needs to 1. Recognize the Trinity as both their head and model and 2. Allow the Trinity to take precedence over our human fallibility and 3. Remember that we are, indeed, fallible and therefore will fail.

    The (I guess "ideal") Christian community that I discuss not only reflects the love that flows between the members of the Trinity, but also is guided by the Trinity and never stops looking "heavenward," so to speak. If we fail in that, all we have is a brotherhood of man in which the progress of man is the end goal, and therefore, as you point out, peace becomes pacification.

    Am I along the right track? I think I understood you correctly, but I want to be sure.


The owner of this blog tolerates no form of hate speech, including racial slurs, citing stereotypes as fact, or anything else deemed intolerant or hateful by the blog author. While you may have a right to say it, it does nothing to advance productive discussion, and therefore any comment containing such speech will be deleted accordingly.