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Reformed Catholicism

     ​"The reformed Catholic church of the future will teach the whole Bible. Leviticus, Proverbs, and the Epistle of James will loom as large as the Epistles of Paul. School children will learn the sacrificial system and the varieties of impurity, knowing that these things will instruct them in the way of holiness without which no one will see the Lord. No one will shy away from the death penalties of the Torah or be embarrassed by Joshua’s extermination of the Canaanites. Christians will believe everything the Bible claims, strive to obey every command, trust in every promise, tremble at every threat, sing every hymn. Members will be awed by the beauty, wonder, and breadth of the Scriptures. 

     In the reformed Catholicism of the future, “Faith without works is dead” will be heard as frequently as “justification by faith.” Seminary professors and theologians will follow Scripture wherever it leads. Theologians trained in what used to be the Reformed tradition will acknowledge the stress the Bible places on human choice and will not try to sidestep the many passages of the New Testament that speak about apostasy. Theologians who have cut their teeth on Arminius will acknowledge that the Bible teaches predestination and that Paul did write, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy” (Romans 9:15) and “He hardens whom He desires” (v. 18). Pacifists will not try to explain away Israel’s herem warfare, and just warriors and crusaders will acknowledge that nations, like individuals, must be willing to turn the other cheek rather than seek revenge. Formerly Lutheran pastors will teach obedience (as Luther did!), Formerly Anglican churches will exercise discipline. Former Presbyterians will develop a reputation for levity, former Pentecostals will be attuned to the Christian tradition, and former Baptists will acknowledge hierarchy. The best theologians will be willing to admit that they do not know how to resolve apparent tensions and contradictions in Scripture or Christian dogmatics, and they will study prayerfully and patiently, waiting for further light. Bad theologians, impatient and prayerless, will strive to make a name for themselves. In the best cases, the church will limit the damage by exercising doctrinal discipline. There will be failures, and heresies will break out and gain a following, perhaps a significant one. 

     Pastors, theologians, and members of the church of the future will not hold to absolutely uniform beliefs. No church ever has been a place of absolutely uniform beliefs. Even in the most rigidly dogmatic church, there is much that is not defined, where there is freedom for debate and refinement and speculation. There will be more freedom for speculation in the church of the future, because the difference between dogmatic decision and speculation will be clearer. No one in the reformed Catholic church will claim to have mastered and comprehended everything in Scripture. Church members will disagree on a range of significant theological questions, and the differences of opinion will not always be handled charitably or wisely. Fights will break out. There will be more theological battles in the reunited church than there are today, because in the reunited church believers will be reluctant to relieve pressure by breaking from the church and because Christians of different views will have to learn to live together, dwelling in each other as the Son dwell sin the Father. 

     Guided by Scripture above all and by the Christian tradition, the church will issue binding judgments about which deviations are tolerable and which are intolerable. Some opinions and teachers will be judged a threat to the gospel itself, and impenitent teachers will be expelled from the church. It will get ugly. Tempers will flare; insults will be cast. In the united church of the patristic era, fistfights and beatings sometimes occurred at church councils. A reunited church will restore those good old days. But the reunited church will have an advantage over the churches of today: expulsion from the reunited church will be plausibly seen as expulsion from the church. It will not be expulsion from one denomination that leaves the expelled with the option of going down the road to start his or her own denomination. It will be clear – at least, it will be much clearer – that starting a new church is an act of schism.

     Churches will be Bible-saturated. Preachers will teach the Bible from their pulpits and lecterns. Churches will provide a variety of venues for deeper Bible study. Scripture will become the pop culture of the church, as instinctive to young people as movie and pop music quotations are today. As the Bible becomes the pop culture of the church, it will fire the imagination of poets, screenwriters, an novelists. The beautiful symmetries of the Bible and its multilayered imagery will inspire painters and visual artists, filmmakers and composers. Politicians will look to Torah and the political dramas of Samuel and Kings and the scathing polemics of the prophets when forming their platforms and policy agendas. Because the reformed Catholic church will be Bible-centered, it will be culturally formational and transformational.” 

     - Peter Leithart, The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church, pp. 27-30



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