Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Unity of the Oh-Pavic: Fantasy or Farce?

In the comments under the previous thread it occurred to me that the unity of the Catholic Church is, in some respects, somewhat analogous to evangelical unity.

“Evangelical unity?” you ask, “Isn’t that an oxymoron like ‘a deafening silence’ or ‘an unbiased opinion’?” Well, it kind of depends. To be sure, “evangelicalism” is not a church, it is a movement consisting of various believers and churches who hold certain beliefs in common, most notably the inspiration of Scripture and the need for personal conversion. When defined in this way, the umbrella of evangelicalism is large enough to provide shelter for millions and millions of Americans.

But of course, the whole thing’s a sham.

In his Deconstructing Evangelicalism: Conservative Protestantism in the Age of Billy Graham, D.G. Hart ably demonstrates that “evangelicalism” is a mirage, a fa├žade with little of substance behind it. When you gather together a bunch of widely disparate communions under the very slimmest of criteria, voila! you’ve got a voting bloc. But beyond the flexing of its muscles for the purpose of cultural warfare, there is little significance to any movement that boasts as among its leaders both Joel Osteen and R.C. Sproul.

But imagine, if you will, that the evangelical movement decided to become a church. It then adopts a leader (we’ll go with Hart since the very idea would make him throw up a little in his mouth), subscribes a confession (say, the Westminster), applies for a P.O Box and 501-C3 status, and even comes up with a catchy name like “The Oh-Pavic” (which is obviously short for “The One Holy Protestant and Visible Church”). Can you see it? “Hey, so where do you go to church?” “Ummm… the Oh-Pavic? Where else? (Rolls eyes.)”

Suppose further, if you will, that although the pastors of the Oh-Pavic agree to stick to the Westminster Confession, none of her members are required to actually change their views. So you’ve got a bunch of Baptists, Pentecostals, Lutherans, United Methodists, and Presbyterians all engaged in a group hug while singing “It’s a Small World After All,” despite the fact that the members of the Oh-Pavic have little in common with one another, and even less with their leaders.

My point? The Catholic Church’s institutional unity—which I admit is a better witness than what we Protestants display—still stops short of the ideal doctrinal, spiritual, and moral unity that I can’t help but believe Jesus had in mind in his high-priestly prayer in John 17. And further, the Catholic Church’s unity is little more than what could be achieved by Protestantism with the mere drive to the post office and the filling out of a few forms.