Peter Leithart is staying put in a Presbyterian church. He explains why and includes several assertions that warrant analysis, beginning with this bold claim:
Jesus will unite his church. He asked his Father to make his disciples one, and the Father won’t give his Son a stone when he asks for one loaf.
He is of course referring to John 17. But Leithart’s statements imply that the Church is not currently united. All of this later arguments depend upon this assertion.
But the Church is united already. The Church is a unity, because she is Christ’s Mystical Body, and His Body is a unity, not a collection of severed parts. So his first premise is false, and therefore it is not surprising that his later statements are wrong.
He goes on to say:
But the united church won’t look like any of the products presently on the market. God is an entrepreneur who is in the business of creating new markets.
Ah, a consumer metaphor! Very apt for Protestantism and a Protestant understanding of the Church. This line of thinking is similar to that of Alister McGrath, the great Anglican scholar: Christianity is an evolving organism that can mutate to adapt to new circumstances, even if it may then change in substantial ways that render its new manifestations unrecognizably different from older forms that died out.
So all the current Churches and communities are “products on the market.” A new market will be created by God that will somehow be the venue through which the united Church will emerge (or reemerge?).
That brings up an interesting question: has the Church, in Leithart’s opinion, ever been united? He doesn’t say. If the Church has never been united, then one wonders why he thinks it will be pre-Parousia. If the Church was once united, one wonders what event occurred that divided her, and how this change in her essentials doesn’t falsify various promises Christ made in the gospels.
It is easy to claim such things. Anyone can do so all day: the Church is this and is that and God will make a new market and sell new stuff. But what is the basis for thinking that these claims are true? Intuition? It’s certainly not the Scriptures, or sacred Tradition. Leithart is, at the end of the day, just giving us his opinion. An unauthoritative conjecture by a frail human being who “can’t see past the horizon.”
Leithart employs some examples to support his claim that the Church’s new unity won’t be like its old unity (whatever that was; remember he never says):
The Jesus who rose was the same Jesus who was torn on the cross, yet he was so transformed that even his disciples didn’t immediately recognize him.
Yes but even when Jesus was “torn on the cross,” He was still Jesus. He was still a unity. He wasn’t a collection of cut-off body parts. The image he paints here is more aptly applied to the Church, before and after Christ’s return in glory: the Church is wounded by schisms as Christ’s body was wounded on the Cross, but one day the Church, Christ’s Bride, will be transformed in such glory that we will barely recognize her.
The Church has been wounded by schisms and sin, but her essential unity has not been destroyed by them. That is the fundamental difference in understanding between Catholics and Leithart.
Regarding why he is not Catholic or Orthodox, he says:
I continue to have standard, biblically grounded Protestant objections to Purgatory, to Marian doctrines, the Papacy, and icons, as well as lingering puzzlement about ambiguities concerning justification and the role of tradition.
But this begs the question of course. He claims to have “biblically grounded” objections, but really that just means that his own opinion about what the Bible says contradicts Catholic and Orthodox doctrine. In other words, he is a Protestant, which means his ultimate interpretive authority is himself. No surprise there.
Out of the blue comes another wild opinion:
Though both are crucial to the future of Christianity, neither Roman Catholicism nor Orthodoxy is the Church of the future.
Huh? How does he know? Crystal ball? Private revelation? Since his first premise is faulty, this later premise has no legs to stand on. Really it should say, “If Protestantism is true, then neither Roman Catholicism nor Orthodoxy is the Church of the future.” But Protestantism is not true, and so the statement is false.
I find it interesting to even talk about the Church “of the future,” as if she is disconnected from the Church of the past and the present. The Church of the future is the Church of the past and present. She is the Church that Christ founded and remains with. Christ didn’t plan various do-overs for His Church; He doesn’t need mulligans. He got it right the first time.