Sunday, July 20, 2008

Be Doers of the Word

Fr. Jay Scott Newman, a Catholic priest in the Diocese of Charleston and pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville, South Carolina, has an interesting post on what he terms "Evangelical Catholicism."  While here and there an Orthodox Christian community might want to change a word or phrase, it seems to me that Fr Newman's description might be a good foundation on which to build, say, a parish mission statement.  I have included the whole of Father's post below and would invite constructive and appreciative comments about how what he says might serve to help clarify the mission of an Orthodox parish.  My emphasis is in bold, my comments in red.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Elsewhere on this website, on the page called Catholics in the Bible Belt, I have offered a brief description of the term I use to unify everything we do at St. Mary’s. A fuller account of this concept is found in the Eight Principles of Evangelical Catholicism which I have drafted to help the priests and people of St. Mary’s think about the shape of our parochial life and guide pastoral practice. This list is not exhaustive, and I offer these eight simply as a catechetical tool in the service of living in its depth the dignity of our Baptism.

Evangelical Catholicism is not meant to be a movement within the Church, still less a sect or sub-set of Catholicism; it simply a way of understanding the vocation of every Christian and of thinking about the organizing center of the Church’s life. Evangelical Catholicism is a powerful remedy to the various counterfeit catholicisms (casual, cultural, cafeteria, etc) which afflict the Church in our time, and I offer these principles in the service of helping the people of St. Mary’s to follow the Lord Jesus ever more faithfully in the Way of the Cross through radical conversion, deep fidelity, joyful discipleship, and courageous evangelism.

The Principles of Evangelical Catholicism

1. The Lord Jesus Christ is the crucified and risen Savior of all mankind, and no human person can fully understand his life or find his dignity and destiny apart from a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. It is not enough to know who Jesus is; we must know Jesus.

2. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is divine revelation, not human wisdom, and the Gospel is given to us in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition which together constitute a single divine deposit of faith transmitted authentically and authoritatively by the Bishops in full communion with the Bishop of Rome. We must surrender our private judgments in all matters of faith and morals to the sacred teaching authority of the Church’s Magisterium if we are to receive the whole Gospel. (It is worth noting that while the Orthodox Church does not use the term "Magisterium" nor would we identify a single bishop as such as the locus of unity for the universal Church, nevertheless we would agree that there must be a willingness to surrender our private judgements in matters of faith and morals to Holy Tradition.  If our approach is somewhat more fluid--and it is not as fluid as many outside and inside the Church might think, we also teach that there is a communal standard to which all Orthodox Christians must hold.)

3. The seven Sacraments of the New Covenant are divinely instituted instruments of grace given to the Church as the ordinary means of sanctification for believers. Receiving the Sacraments regularly and worthily is essential to the life of grace, and for this reason, faithful attendance at Sunday Mass every week (serious illness and necessary work aside) and regular Confession of sins are absolutely required for a life of authentic discipleship. (Yup, what Father said.)

4. Through Word and Sacrament we are drawn by grace into a transforming union with the Lord Jesus, and having been justified by faith we are called to sanctification and equipped by the Holy Spirit for the good works of the new creation. We must, therefore, learn to live as faithful disciples and to reject whatever is contrary to the Gospel, which is the Good News of the Father’s mercy and love revealed in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

5. The sacred liturgy, through which the seven Sacraments are celebrated and the Hours of praise are prayed, makes present to us the saving mysteries of the Lord Jesus. The liturgy must therefore be celebrated in such a way that the truth of the Gospel, the beauty of sacred music, the dignity of ritual form, the solemnity of divine worship, and the fellowship of the baptized assembled to pray are kept together in organic unity.

6. Receiving the Sacraments without receiving the Gospel leads to superstition rather than living faith, and the Church must therefore take great care to ensure that those who receive the Sacraments also receive the Gospel in its integrity and entirety. Consequently, before Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion, and Marriage are administered, there must be in those who request these Sacraments clear evidence of knowledge of the Gospel and a serious intention to live the Christian life. (In all honesty, I would have to say I think typical Orthodox pastoral praxis is at least as far from this as is typical Catholic practice.  Even among converts, in both tradition, there is often a magical quality in people's thinking and participation in the sacraments.)

7. Being a follower of Christ requires moving from being a Church member by convention to a Christian disciple by conviction. This transformation demands that we consciously accept the Gospel as the measure of our entire lives, rather than attempting to measure the Gospel by our experience. Personal knowledge of and devotion to Sacred Scripture is necessary for this transformation to occur through the obedience of faith, and there is no substitute for personal knowledge of the Bible. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.

8. All the baptized are sent in the Great Commission to be witnesses of Christ to others and must be equipped by the Church to teach the Gospel in word and deed. An essential dimension of true discipleship is the willingness to invite others to follow the Lord Jesus and the readiness to explain His Gospel. (Where I think many Orthodox, and Catholics for that matter, get anxious here is that they assume that witnessing to Christ and explaing the Gospel means some variation of "knocking on doors" or asking intrustive questions.  It isn't.  Our ability to fulfill the Great Commission comes first of all from a faithful heart.  Out of that fidelity comes the words and deeds--not in imiation of others, but in a manner which is unique and personal.  That is, a witness that is truly and wholly my own and not my attempt to be like someone else.)