I wanted to engage a little more intentionally with one of the comments to the first post. So that others might track along, I'll reproduce it here:
But the gospel calls us to repentance. That was the "hark!" of Luther's first of his 95 theses, which itself was but a reading of Christ's own call: "Repent." (Matt. 4:17) Certainly, there must be a corporate dimension to this, and our own Presbyterian tradition has given it expression in the phrase semper reformanda. As such, it is quintessentially Presbyterian to "look to forge something other than Presbyterianism" if that is what a searching out of ourselves in the light of Scripture leads us to do. I think the main thrust of what you are saying is that we shouldn't become something else or borrow from others just for the sake of it (and I agree -- at least to the same extent that we shouldn't stay the same just for the sake of it), but you don't seem to give much credit to the possibility that those who call themselves Reformed Catholics are seeking to appropriate things from other traditions because a very Presbyterian sola-scriptura study of such things has led them to conclude that those things are biblical and that we are missing out on something without them in our lives.
The things I have come to envy in other traditions are NOT the things they have "invented," but the ways in which they have preserved -- in their doctrines, laws, and liturgies -- biblical religion. I believe Presbyterianism has done this well, and that the biblical, "catholic" faith finds beautiful expression in Presbyterianism. As a college student, I was blown away by how the Presbyterian faith helped me understand myself in light of Scripture, and I'm not sure that I would be here typing this comment if it weren't for the Presbyterians that ministered Jesus's love to me then.
But "Presbyterianism" didn't fall from the sky in 15- or 16-whatever. It was a reformation of the Western Christian tradition. And it is therefore patently un-Presbyterian to deny the Presbyterian-ness of pre-Presbyterian Christianity. For example, is St. Giles Cathedral not Presbyterian because it was built long before John Knox ascended the pulpit there and is named after a medieval recluse who healed a deer? That doesn't mean that everything that happened before the Reformation should be embraced as good (such a sentiment would very much be un-Presbyterian), but the entire history of pre-Reformation Western Christianity is *our* history, warts and all, and the genius of Presbyterianism is not our ability to pretend like that history didn't happen but our own way of sifting it and appropriating it for today. Anglicans, Lutherans, and Roman Catholics also have appropriated it according to their own principles (albeit, in ways that are sometimes so far from Scripture as to be unrecognizable as biblical). No wonder then that those who are trying to reflect on what being Presbyterian means as a matter of historical moment should find it helpful to consider these "high church" traditions rather than Brother Bob's traveling salvation show or other low-church novelties. Yes, high-church churches have their own novelties, but at least they often serve as a window into the past that we as Presbyterians share with them rather than just a purposeful repudiation of the past for the sake of repudiating it.
My point is that I think your understanding of what Reformed Catholicism is all about fails to give sufficient credit to the good faith of those asking questions about what the heck Presbyterianism *is* (well before we move on to how it should even change) and fails to give sufficient weight to the motivating concerns of the questions they are asking, concerns that I think nevertheless resonate in your own longing for place and identity as expressed in this post. So don't ditch Reformed Catholicism quite so eagerly. I think it's more worthwhile than either of us could imagine -- as is Reformed Catholicity.
This is a great comment. I think the writer raises a number of excellent and thoughtful points, with which I'd love to engage.
1. The writer points out that the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition is one that stresses semper reformanda ("always reforming"); as a result, it is quintessentially Presbyterian to look for something other than Presbyterianism. While I'm sympathetic to this point, I wonder whether it claims too much--for if this is the case, then to be most faithful to Presbyterianism, we would not be Presbyterian; and that strikes me as an illogical claim. Even more, it strikes me the writer is putting something at the center of Presbyterianism and so takes it upon himself to define what Presbyterianism is--Presbyterians stand for "always reforming." Instead of the markers I might suggest (sovereignty of God, sola gratia and sola fide in relation to justification and sanctification, covenant and Kingdom, nature of the church and its sacraments, representative polity under Christ the King), the writer puts this point of perpetual reformation at the center.
And so, the question could rightly be asked, is this the case? Is perpetual reformation the center of what it means to be Presbyterian? Even more, does this perpetual reformation led us back to ritual practices or religious beliefs that were rejected by the Reformers themselves? That is, does perpetual reformation mean that we forake the communion of the saints across time by seeing something as biblical that the Reformers rejected themselves?
These are important questions--I would tend to argue that in fact "always reforming" becomes a rubric under which a whole raft of beliefs and practices can be imported into a religious tradition. Still, it is worthwhile to raise whether this motto is truly at the center and whether we should tailor our religious practices accordingly.
2. The writer also observed that perhaps I wasn't crediting the good faith of those who are simply asking the question about what Presbyterianism is. But here the answer seems a little easier--Presbyterianism is a historical entity whose beliefs, practices, and stories can be investigated and measured. I hoped that I got at that in my On Being Presbyterian. Regardless of what one could say about that book, it seems fair to say that it represents what historically can be recognized as Presbyterianism.
And I would agree with the writer that Presbyterianism didn't simply drop from the sky (in fact, I make that point repeatedly in my church history classes). It does experience continuity with what went before. But it also experienced remarkable discontinuity as well, as historian Margo Todd (for example) makes strikingly clear. I think that perhaps our current "high church" interest overstresses continuity with the medieval church over historical discontuinity.
It seems, rather, that the question asked is what Presbyterianism ought to be for this generation. And that is a different question--and that is the one about which I am most worried. For I cherish Presbyterianism, not only as a historical entity but also as it is incarnate in particular situations today. And I worry that as we "add" things to Presbyterianism, borrowed from other traditions under the guise of "Reformed catholicism," we will end up with something that is different from Presbyterianism. It goes back to my question--how much "reform" can a tradition bear before it becomes a different (new) tradition?
3. The commentator, however, seemed to miss my larger point--namely, if we are going to be truly "catholic," then we better start paying attention to worldwide Pentecostalism. As Phillip Jenkins makes clear, global Christianity is overwhelming Pentecostal; and so, if we wanted to be "always Reforming," then perhaps we need to be reforming in the direction of this "new thing" God is doing.
I would assume that most who lean toward "Reformed Catholicism" would reprobate this claim, suggesting that Pentecostalism has too many errors for "Reformed" types to take seriously. But this, to me, seems like a double-standard on their part. How can we pay attention to the ritual practices of Lutheranism, Anglicanism, and Roman Catholicism and not pay attention to the Pentecostals, if we desire to be truly "catholic"? What would it look like if we were to incorporate "world Christianity" into our worship? Pentecostal practices? Would it produce something different from "Presbyterianism"? I think so--which raises the real questions going the other way--how much divergence can a tradition tolerate?
This is where my own notion of "Reformed Catholicity" works better, I think. By working out of our own our own religious identity (our beliefs, practices, and stories), it moves to engage others in charitable and humble conversation and cooperation when possible to live out the primary reality that we both share--we are both clothed with Jesus Christ by faith alone in him. It may be that we will learn some things about our own tradition through the engagement; it may be that we will contribute something to others. However, catholicity and catholicism represent two different stances; one speaks of engagement, the other of adoption. I think the our Reformed faith, grand as it is, requires the former, but not the latter.