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Faith - What is It?
Catholic, Evangelical, Charismatic...
an Essay on the Reality Contact of Faith
F. Earle Fox
This article began as an essay on "Catholic Faith", but is being expanded to include both evangelical and charismatic, all three of which I believe to be necessary and constituent parts of the Biblical and true Church of God. The article is a part of my life story. I am a convinced Anglican -- because I believe Anglicanism (at its best) to be the fullest expression of Biblical faith and order.
The article is still a work in progress... The evangelical and charismatic aspects are being added. E. F.
No faith of our own - & a problem
Bishop Jack Iker (in Forward in Christ, Nov. Dec. 2010, p. 12) notes that "we have no faith of our own". Indeed, rightly so.
But let us explore that thought further. If we have no faith of our own, how then do we choose our faith? And on what grounds?
We do, of course, in baptism and confirmation make the faith given by God and passed on by the Church "our own" in the sense that we each must make the (hopefully intelligent) choice concerning on what or whom we are willing to risk our lives defending and following.
Our problem is that our faith, catholic, evangelical, and/or charismatic (I believe the true Church includes all three), has been spurned and chased from the public arena. Christians today have almost no living public testimony to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We have no guns to our heads yet, but are almost universally unable to say in public, "Jesus is Lord!" We do not know how to reasonably defend that statement. Worse, we rarely have the courage to try, or the good sense to find out how.
The primary reason, perhaps, for that failure has been our loss of intellectual credibility, leading inevitably to a loss of moral and spiritual credibility. If you do not know how to explain that you have the truth, people stop paying attention to you. So our testimony is limited mostly to in-house, among ourselves, and fights with other Christians. Not a pretty picture.
'Catholic', 'Evangelical', & 'Charismatic"?
The word 'catholic' is usually taken to mean 'universal', i.e., applying to all persons universally. Even if it is not believed by all persons, it is true for all persons, just as 2+2=4 applies to all persons. There is an objectivity about the matter. The catholic tradition can be said, in that sense, to stand for the objectivity of the Christian faith. It emphasizes the traditional, institutional, and sacramental aspects of Christian faith.
'Evangelical' generally refers to those who focus on the authority of Scripture, on the Word of God, on evangelism as a fundamental Christian obligation, and on atonement through faith rather than works.
'Charismatic' is a bit harder to define because historically it does not have the theological integrity and foundation which 'catholic' and 'evangelical' do. It tends to be more action and feeling oriented, focusing on prayer, miracles, and the inner Spirit of God. It is full of life, but tends to have less sense of discipline.
But what I am espousing here about reason and faith is, in my understanding, just as much a fundamental part of evangelical and charismatic Christianity as it is of the catholic side. Each of the three emphasizes a particular aspect of the faith which helps keep the other two in check. Nevertheless, the foundation of all three is the same Biblical worldview and Gospel. Working together, they create a powerful and spiritually effective Body of Christ. When the gifts of any one are missing, the Church falters.
A convinced Christian since 7 years old, raised in the low-church, cautiously evangelical end of Anglicanism, I knew little of the Anglo-Catholic side of things until I went to Trinity College in Hartford, CT, and nothing at all of anything charismatic. Trinity was not an outpost of Anglo-Catholicism -- it had rather, by the 1950's become a secular school -- with a magnificent chapel.
In the 1960's and later, the school disgraced its Episcopal/Christian heritage and, like much of so called higher education, descended into corrupt paganism. I was, in the mid 1950's of my undergrad years, only vaguely aware of the impending collapse of Western Christian culture.
Nevertheless, probably in my junior year, majoring in philosophy, I remember standing on the walk one day and telling God, "I want to be a Christian, but You will have to make sense." The thought occurred to me that I was being a bit cheeky with God, but God gave me two thumbs up. "Yes! Go for it!"
I soon after learned from Edmond Cherbonnier, recently arrived religion professor, that that there are two fundamental ways to look at life, the Biblical way and the secular/pagan way. Right in the midst of our secular atmosphere, here was a Christian saying very contrary things. The Biblical way, he said, was the only logically consistent worldview there is. My philosophy professors were not saying that. It was an almost immediate and quite astonishing answer to prayer, although I was still only beginning to see the implications.
From another professor, Fr. Kenneth Cameron, I learned that our faith, and indeed our entire world, is essentially sacramental. The whole cosmos is an outward and visible sign of God. So far as I remember, these were the only two professors who let on that they really did believe the Christian faith. They were a gift from God -- doing for me what no other persons I have met in my life could have done.
Those two sent me down the road of my life's calling -- Christian apologetics, totally unaware that "catholic" had been added to my evangelical upbringing. It was a specifically Anglican flavor of "catholic" because it contained a strong trust in reason along with revelation. "Charismatic" waited for another decade to make its appearance in my life.
In the intervening half century, the Lord has not failed to "make sense", by a wide margin more than any competitor. With any given issue (intellectual, moral, family life, economics, politics, etc.) the Biblical way works far better than anything else. That is, I believe, a demonstrable fact -- when we bother to get the facts.
It became increasingly apparent to me that the average Christian, including emphatically, the clergy, were not interested in evidence gathering. They were interested mostly in their particular denominational view of things, not in being challenged with reality. Their denominational box, they thought, sufficed. As denomination boxes began to disintegrate in the 1960's and on, the clergy seemed either to give up, or to cling the more tightly to their denominations. They had nearly all given up on the notion that Christian faith had a commanding intellectual foundation -- underneath all the defensiveness and pretence. Secularism, morphing into paganism, won the 1960's.
Science & the Sword
I went to Oxford U. not quite knowing on what to focus. But the Lord put into my path another gift, someone who did for me, again perhaps what no other person in the world could have done, guiding me through the philosophers of science to a clear perception of the place of Biblical faith in the rise of science, and of its later development. Especially important, Fr. Ian Ramsey (later bishop of Durham), introduced me to George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, Ireland, during the mid-1700's, who taught me how to deal with the disaster which Newtonian materialism had brought upon Western culture.
Science as we know it in the West was discovered and formulated by late Middle Ages catholic Christians, not by secular folks. God gave us science (logically, no one else could have) specifically, I think, to show us how to more finely hone the two-edged Sword of the Spirit -- which I take to be reason and revelation welded back to back, an invincible weapon in the service of spiritual warfare.
Science arose on the earlier foundations of the great Medieval universities, founded to carry on a freemarket of ideas, a wholly new idea in human culture.
But we Christians managed to alienate ourselves from science when we began, especially during the 1800's, to believe that reason and revelation were opposed to each other -- afraid that in an honest and reasonable contest of ideas, Christian faith might be disproven. The freemarket of ideas was too scary. "There were giants in the land...." And so Western Christians have wandered in the wilderness for well over 400, not just 40, years.
That irrationalism and cowardice contradicts the message in Scripture where God says in Isaiah 1:18, "Come, let us reason together..."; or Isaiah 43 where God calls the nations of the world to present their case, and then asks His own people to be His witnesses about who is God; and I Kings 18:17 ff. where Elijah (ca. 900 BC) demonstrates both reason (fact and logic) and revelation (obedience to God) on Mount Carmel some four centuries before there were any philosophers in Greece. Scripture is consistently in favor of reason. God over and over rebukes His people for their unreasonableness toward Him and their covenant with Him.
The Hebrews did not (as the Greeks) philosophize about reason, but they knew how to reason -- God taught them. Jesus consistently out-reasoned His opponents, and provided clear empirical evidence for His claims (Matthew 11:2-6). Paul likewise.
What is a catholic Church?
What has all this to do with catholicity? It says that a belief must be true to be catholic, and that its truth is what makes it universal -- true for everyone. Catholicity is about objectivity, real truth.
And that implies that a catholic Church will be fully committed to the scientific process of truth-seeking wherever that is applicable. It implies that we have a primary commitment and obligation before God to be truth-seekers before position-defenders. Only by truth-seeking and openness to the truth can a true position or catholic tradition ever be developed and sustained. Only then can the truth and the Lord of truth speak for themselves and give us the true position on anything at all.
That is the meaning of science -- and a lesson we should have learned at mother's knee (if not over it). "Johnny, did you put your hand in the cookie jar?" Three year old Johnny knows exactly what mother means. Tell the truth.
The magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church is the cement which holds it together, resting on the claimed infallibility of the Pope. The true catholic Church, rather, rests on being truth-seekers, with a clear intellectual commitment to truth as a cross check on the more common intuitive and relational perception of truth. A catholic Church will, at all costs, keep open the level playing field of the freemarket of ideas. The catholic Church will hold its positions, which are what the intellectual quest is meant to clarify and confirm, but always defending the freedom of the opposition to present its case as well.
The catholic Church will be the greatest defender of academic and intellectual freedom, as well as the greatest promoter of academic and intellectual responsibility.
Faith is not only, or even primarily, intellectual, it is always also personal relationship, as with parent and child. But it is never an arbitrarily blind leap in the dark. Truth-seeking makes faith rather a (sometimes scary) leap into the light.
Whether we early on become truth-seekers is crucial to how well we will be able to manage any aspect of the rest of our lives, but most importantly, our spiritual lives. When we put truth first, truth-seeking becomes the royal road to honest positions about God, and to God Himself -- the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Christian denominations have paralyzed the Church by rigid position-defending, which petrifies after time, after the real reasons for holding a position have long been forgotten. Then tradition dies, but is mindlessly passed on to the next generation.
Every individual, every generation, in order to stay fresh and alive, must do its own truth-seeking -- with the steady encouragement and discipline of family and Church. If those in the Church have done their truth-seeking carefully and honestly, they will carry into the future a tradition that is stable and unafraid of being tested.
So, what faith do we have?
That means that, to be truly catholic, the Church must hold open, and fiercely protect, the level playing field, the public arena of truth-testing, defending it at any cost to itself, so that the truth and the Lord of truth can speak to our situations.
When Christians become brave enough to risk, in an honest contest of values and ideas, that we just could be wrong, we will regain our intellectual, moral, and spiritual credibility, and not, I think, before. There is no way to show that we are right if we will not test to see if we might be wrong.
In a sacramental cosmos, one would expect God to reveal Himself in a detectable way , i.e., evidence through history, space, and time. Just supposing, then, that the first step of faith is to become a truth-seeker, to put one's beliefs into the public arena on that basis, like Elijah, and see whose deity will show up to prove His own case. Would not that transform the momentum of public discussion?
What faith, then, do we have? We have a faith which can stand the rough and tumble of public life, of honest challenge and response. We have a faith which can stand even in the deceits and manipulations, even the political and military oppressions, of the fallen world. We then have a faith which is so rooted in reality that we will stand with the Lord of truth at any cost to ourselves.
That is the kind of faith which won the Roman Empire. It can win any human empire, including Western Civilization, because our faith comes from a depth, the Hand of God, and a height, the Voice of God, which no fallen-world oppressor can touch. Deo gratia!
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Date Posted - 01/05/2011 - Date Last Edited - 07/07/2012