Monday, November 5, 2012

An Example of Unity within the Autocephalous Catholic Movement

On Saturday, November 3, 2012, in a simple and prayerful moment, the Evangelical Catholic Church and the United States Old Catholic Church signed a Concordat of Recognition entitled “Call to Shared Journey,” in Chicago.  Archbishop James Long and Bishop Douglas Prenya represented the United States Old Catholic Church and I represented the Evangelical Catholic Church as its Presiding Bishop.

Many remain unaware of the presence of the Autocephalous Catholic Movement. It is, simply put, Catholics who are members of smaller, yet validly consecrated “independent” jurisdictions throughout the world who seldom have any real sense of connection with one another. Here in the United States and also in Western Europe many such jurisdictions exist, though many struggle to document their claims of linkage within historic apostolic succession – a necessity to validly ordain to Orders and celebrate the catholic sacraments.

In the cases of the Evangelical Catholic Church and the United States Old Catholic Church, the validity of their roots in historic apostolic succession is a fact which makes them unique within Autocephalous Catholicism because since the 1980’s many Catholics laypersons who have found themselves pastorally orphaned have looked to the autocephalous catholic world to continue their journeys in faith. The autocephalous catholic world has also become a option for inactive priests who have married or for women called to the priestly vocation for consideration. Sadly, for many years those who have considered the autocephalous catholic option have found their choices anemic and underwhelming.

An educated eye will find, upon simply examination and research, many of those claiming to be bishops, priests and deacon have little, if any, academic or spiritual formation experience that one would expect of those holding these offices. Sadly many have little, if any, ministerial goals or agendas of service for the People of God. The potentiality of what the autocephalous could be has long been overshadowed and kept in bondage by the silliness of so many “dress-up” wannabes.

Since the 1990’s there has been a slow, but steady flow of seriously minded Catholics making investments into jurisdictions staffed by professionally trained bishops, priests and deacon who use contemporary protocols for screening their candidates and providing them with the best possible academic and spiritual formation. The People of God who are “crossing the Rubicon” to join these jurisdictions have already left behind their experiences with dysfunctionality and have no desire to take on a whole new boatload with a new jurisdiction.

I believe that for many years, those considering a move to the autocephalous catholic movement have also been turned off by the cattiness, ignorance and superegos of many of the “leaders” representing the movement.

Some within the autocephalous world have come to realize that one of the signs of apostasy in the early Christian Church was the bickering and disunity among Christians. Jesus said that the world would know that we were His disciples by the love that we have for one another (John 13:35). In Col. 3:14, it says that love is the perfect bond of unity. The New Testament speaks about us being unified in Christ (Eph. 4:5). In response to Christians who follow after individuals rather than Jesus, Paul says that Christ is not divided (1 Cor. 1:12-13). Though Christ is not divided, His body of believers where.

What is it that unites us?

Primarily, it is the saving work of Christ that unites us. Secondarily, it is the essential doctrines that define orthodoxy. We have, as a common heritage, the blood of Christ that has been shed for the forgiveness of our sins. True Christians serve the true and living God and we know Jesus in a personal and intimate way (1 Cor. 1:9). We have been redeemed by God himself. Furthermore, we have the body of Scriptures which tell us the essentials of the faith and deviating from these essentials means to be outside the camp of Christ. It is the essential doctrines that we must know and unite ourselves within.

To best understand these facts, candidates for the priesthood need to be grounded with a sound academic formation. Several years ago, the United States Old Catholic Church established the Saint John the Evangelist Seminary. The academic goals and standards of this seminary are consistent with the academic formation goals of any Roman Catholic seminary. In 2011 the Evangelical Catholic Church committed itself to sending their candidates to Saint John’s for their academic formation.

The apostle Paul also recognized the value of unity. From his own sufferings in Philippi he knew the infant Church faced determined opposition. Paul warned his friends of opponents, suffering and conflict soon to come. Paul’s central concern to the Church at Corinth was also a concern of division. Paul expressed his concern with these words, “I appeal to you brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” The Corinthians had formed cliques based upon the supposed superiority of various leaders. These divisions had shattered the unity of the local congregation and created dissension. Paul’s focus here is that the division in the Corinthian Church was wrong. Paul’s goal in his writing is found in the first sentence where he urges them to resolve their differences and restore unity in their Church fellowship.

Our two jurisdictions have come together at this moment in time to witness the embracing of Paul’s goals. This unprecedented instrument witnesses a desire between these two jurisdictions to embrace unity and respect rather than continue to perpetuate the examples of disunity and counter productivity Paul attempted to heal with the Church at Corinth.

For many years, our two communities of faith have been walking nearly identical sacramental, ecclesial and liturgical paths until the Holy Spirit chose the opportune time for them to discover each other.

The Concordat of Recognition focuses on these important matters of faith:

Agreement in the Doctrine of the Faith
Agreement in Ministry
Commitment to Share Episcopal Succession
Interchangeability of Clergy

This Concordat of Recognition is also the realization and acknowledgement of our mutual call to a shared journey in faith, life and vocation to serve the People of God. It has also become our combined obligation to also help reform take place within the autocephalous catholic movement. Despite the self-inflicted damage it has done to itself over the years, renovation and restoration is light at the end of the tunnel which is clearly visible to those wishing to role up their sleeves and does the work.

The Concordat states that “Recognizing each other as churches in which the gospel is truly preached and the holy sacraments duly administered, we receive with thanksgiving the gift of unity which is already given in Christ.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers -- all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:15-20).

Repeatedly Christians have echoed the scriptural confession that the unity of the church is both Christ's own work and his call to us. It is therefore our task as well as his gift. We must "make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). We pray that we may rely upon, and willingly receive from one another, the gifts Christ gives through his Spirit "for building up the body of Christ" in love (Ephesians 4:16).”

We pray that this commitment will witness the grace of unity hoped for by St. Paul when he wrote, "Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose" (Phil. 2:2).

Many thanks to Rick Garcia who oversaw the signing ceremony and Professor Mark Wojcik of the John Marshall School of Law for being the office witness to the documents.

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