I’ve mentioned this before, but the phenomenon of “converting” from and to various communions in the body of Christ seems to me to be largely a convenience of western civilization along the lines of having the convenience to choose between a myriad of restaurants, various styles of clothing, and having grocery stores that supply us with food from all over the world at very reasonable prices. Many of those choosing to join the Roman and Eastern communions of course do so because of their distress over the seeming rootlessness of protestantism. They are making the change because they object to this choose-your-own-flavor approach to Christian faith.
But it is still highly troubling that they often do this, either calling upon all their friends and family to forsake their wayward ways or else looking down their noses on all us poor, separated brethren. What we could use is a little old fashion persecution. I’ve been reading through Foxe’s Book of Martyrs recently, and it has struck me repeatedly that these people understood what the Church was all about. People can’t get too wound tight about apostolic succession when their children are being beheaded before their very eyes. They are not wondering whether the sacrament they received was legitimate when boiling tar is being poured over their heads. The woman whose nursing child was ripped from her arms, who was then hung in nets naked for a while before finally being gored by a bull, that woman was surely not fretting about proper church government, icons, or who had ordained her pastor.
The faithful, fearless saints are remembered for encouraging one another and even their persecutors with the words, “If I have Jesus, I have enough.” “Jesus has been faithful to me, I will be faithful to him.” And so on.
Not that questions of church government, succession, ordination, etc. are not important, but they really need to be put in perspective and prioritized. Jesus has some pretty harsh words for people who tithe mint and dill while neglecting justice, mercy, and faithfulness. There are weightier matters of the law that need to be treated as such. That means they are more important than questions of church polity and sacramental efficacy. I want to have these conversations, but I want to have them with people who are busy dying. I want to have these dialogues with people who are busy giving their lives away for orphans and widows, wives and husbands, fathers and mothers, children, neighbors, and enemies. And this is not meant to imply that any of the people I’ve been conversing with are anything less than this, but I want to state this upfront and encourage the folks in the peanut gallery to think this way.
From this angle, there’s a lot of work to be done, and the questions need to start out much simpler, “Do you have Jesus? Do you love him?” And that actually begins to answer some of the more complicated questions. The sectarians of every communion who are busy excommunicating their brothers and sisters who part their hair on the wrong side are simple, straight up hypocrites. That kind of blindness met some of Christ’s fiercest denunciations, and Jesus says that if they had lived back when slaughtering the saints and prophets was in vogue they would have joined in the fun (Mt. 23:29-33). Christians who bite and devour their brothers and sisters, demanding revolutionary change tomorrow, are no better than the Roman tyrants who beat, scourged, pierced, burned, and beheaded countless thousands of faithful saints in the early church.