Reformational Catholicism, A Wish List

In a 2014 piece published in First Things, I offered a “wish list” for Protestant churches, a checklist for a future catholic Protestantism. The wish list doesn’t cover everything. It doesn’t mention those things that Protestants, especially Evangelicals, already do, often exceedingly well, things like missions and evangelism and mercy ministries. It gives some concreteness to my claim that the “future of Protestantism is a catholic one.”

What kind of churches do we at Theopolis dream of? Churches like these:

*Churches where “faith without works is dead” is heard as frequently as “justification by faith.”

*Preachers who teach the whole Bible in all its depth and beauty and who draw on the whole tradition of commentary as they prepare sermons. The word of God is active, a two-edged sword.

*Pastors who form friendships with, pray with, learn from, and study the Bible with local Catholic and Orthodox priests, as well as other Protestant pastors. Pastors who take the time to cross the street to befriend a pastor from another denomination. For we are one body.

*Seminaries where theologians are encouraged to follow Scripture wherever it leads, even if we have to admit that our opponents were right all along. Seminaries that pass on the tradition of the whole Church, rather than flatter tribal instincts. Professors who teach other traditions accurately.

*Churches willing to give up some treasured tribal slogans and symbols for the sake of unity.

*Churches whose worship centers on the Eucharist, celebrated at least weekly, where all the baptized are welcome. Evangelical Protestants who do not consider it “Catholic” to have a regular Eucharist, a sung liturgy, set prayers and responses, dialogic worship.

*Churches whose members know Psalms as well as any medieval monk, whose hymns and prayers and praise are infused with the cadences of the Psalter. Be filled with the Spirit. Churches with enemies enough to make imprecatory Psalms meaningful. Break the teeth of the lions.

*Churches that pray for the specific needs of churches from other denominations in public worship and know the specific needs of other churches.

*Churches whose musical culture is shaped by the tradition of church music.

*Churches where infants are baptized and young children participate in the Eucharistic assembly. Do not forbid them.

*Churches whose pastors have the courage to use the tools of discipline with all love, gentleness, kindness, and patience—but use them, rather than using love and gentleness as excuses for cowardice and lethargy.

*Churches that honor the discipline of other churches, rather than receiving rebels from neighbor churches. For we are one body.

*Lutheran pastors who teach obedience (as Luther did!), Anglicans who exercise discipline, jolly Presbyterians with a reputation for levity, Pentecostals attuned to the Christian tradition, Baptists who acknowledge hierarchy, liturgical Bible churches.

*Cities where all the churches pray and worship and labor together, where the pastors serve the interests of the city, speaking with one voice to civic leaders. Pastoral associations that include representatives of every church—Evangelical, mainline, charismatic, Catholic, Orthodox. Local pastoral associations that discuss theological differences, and do so honestly, vigorously, charitably, striving toward a common confession of the faith.

*Churches that take the pedophilia scandal, or the upheavals of the Anglican Communion, or the persecution of Orthodox believers as crises among our people—not problems for someone else over there. If one suffers, all the members suffer.

*Protestants who recognize that they are already members of a Church where some venerate icons, some believe in transubstantiation, some slaughter peaceful Muslim neighbors, some believe in papal infallibility and Mary’s immaculate conception. For we are one body.

Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis. This excerpt is used by permission of First Things magazine.