Every few years it seems I hear about a friend or acquaintance in a Reformed church deciding to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism. I have written on this topic previously a number of times with gusto and don’t need to skin this cat again to make one simple point once more.
Reformed Protestants converting to Rome or Constantinople are dividing the body of Christ. In order to convert, you must confess that Rome or Orthodoxy is the fullness of the Body of Christ and submit to its doctrines which include (among other objectionables) the requirement that you not partake of communion with the fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters with whom you have been in fellowship with.
The Orthodox Church in America’s website says this:
“Orthodox Christianity does not permit its faithful to receive Holy Communion in non-Orthodox communities, whether they be Roman Catholic, Protestant, or whatever…
For Orthodox Christians, the Eucharist is a visible sign of unity; to receive the Eucharist in a community to which one does not belong is improper. If one does not accept all that the Church believes and teaches and worships, one cannot make a visible sign of unity with it. The Eucharist is the result of unity, not the means by which unity is achieved. While many non-Orthodox see this as a sign that the Orthodox Church excludes non-Orthodox from the Eucharist, in reality the opposite is true. Because a non-Orthodox individual has chosen not to embrace all that Orthodox Christianity holds, the non-Orthodox individual makes it impossible for an Orthodox priest to offer him or her communion. It is not so much a matter of Orthodoxy excluding non-Orthodox as it is the non-Orthodox making it impossible for the Orthodox to offer the Eucharist.”
My point here isn’t to debate the merits of open or closed communion practices in general, but rather my point is that someone who converts from the Reformed tradition is actually becoming less catholic and more sectarian. A convert must leave the unity of the church that he/she is currently enjoying. The convert must cut ties and refuse to enact the central sacrament of unity with those Christians any more. A convert must sometimes be re-baptized, often confirmed/chrismated, but at the very least make a profession of faith that the new communion is the fullness of the Body of Christ and implicitly (if not explicitly) denounce the previous church as something less than a true church where the Lord is present in all His glory.
As the elders of Trinity wrote in our statement on Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy a number of years ago:
“Individuals who join communions that effectively excommunicate their Protestant brothers and sisters contradict their search for catholicity, and ironically, the goal of unity comes at the expense of further divisions in the body of Christ.”
Frequently, the people who get caught in the gears of this sectarian spirit are fellow Christian family members and dear friends: pastors and teachers, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, grandparents. You can’t convert and act like you aren’t making a drastic statement about them. How is going from sharing the body and blood of Christ with them to being forbidden to becoming more catholic? You are going from loving Christ in the brothers and sisters right in front of you to getting cozy with strangers. This is why Paul withstood Peter to his face in Antioch. He was eating with some brothers and then when the Judaizers showed up, he withdrew. This is against the truth of the gospel. This is high handed hypocrisy and pharisaism. You are the Levite and the Priest on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. You have made an idol of ceremonies and traditions, and you are training to become a professional camel gulper and gnat strangler. Your neighbor is the brother right in front of you, the grandma right in front of you, the niece right in front you. You are under the authority of and in communion with Jesus now through the pastors and elders who baptized you, catechized you, and serve you the Supper.
Jesus said the Samaritan was the hero of that parable and lo, two thousand years later, people are still trying to figure out how to get into the Levite Club.