‘Denominational armour’ is not the Armour of God’
Editor: Interim subscriber Brian Austin received a telephone call recently asking if his church would like to subscribe to the newspaper. He said he didn’t think so; but he decided afterwards to pay for a group subscription on behalf of his church.
Mr. Austin, a Protestant, regretted his initial response. He was afraid that a few members of his church would object to having The Interim distributed there, because they are uncomfortable with Catholics, and they see The Interim as a “Catholic paper.”
Of course, The Interim is not officially associated with any church. Our readers include Catholics and Protestants, and our writers, columnists, and board members include Christians from a wide variety of denominations. From time to time, the paper has been perceived by some as a Catholic publication, however, often because of the great number of sponsorship advertisements placed by Catholic parishes (advertisements for which we are profoundly grateful).
What follows is an e-mail message Mr. Austin sent to the person who had called offering subscriptions. In response to Mr. Austin’s invitation, we decided to reprint the message, followed by a personal reflection indicating how he has come to appreciate the presence of God among Catholics.
Following our recent publication of several letters rightly pointing out the failure of some Catholics to welcome other Christians into pro-life activities, we felt Mr. Austin’s submission might emphasize how important it is that each and every one of us should work together for the sake of our common cause, and in obedience to Christ, who prayed “that they may all be one.”
After our phone call less than an hour ago, I did some struggling. I thought you might be interested in what I jotted down. I will be sending a cheque and asking to have copies ofThe Interim delivered to our church each month.
I am a writer, and there is no polish to what I’ve just hammered out. But I don’t think I’m going to sit comfortably until I’ve changed the outcome of our phone conversation.
I don’t know if The Interim will want to use this piece, but if it will help put some cracks in other denominational armor, I’m willing for it to be used.
Such a shallow excuse. I hung up the phone and felt like crying. I had just hidden behind the prejudice of my Church – let me clarify that – the prejudice of a few individuals in my Church. And I had used that as enough reason to say ‘No’ to The Interim.
I understand prejudice. For more than 30 years I had no questions. I knew all the answers – Catholics were wrong! It was that cut and dried. Then I began to rub shoulders with some of them. Some things made me uncomfortable, but they talked about Jesus as if they really knew Him.
For years God has been stripping away my denominational armour. It is different from the Armour of God. It doesn’t defend against Satan. It defends against all those other foolish people who don’t believe exactly like I do. It is pretty effective in stopping God from getting uncomfortably close too. God has been stripping it away, but it seems to grow like bark on a tree.
Today, when I hung up the phone, I was ashamed. I had other tasks to do, but my heart would not let me rest.
My Church needs the message. So many of then still don’t understand. Truth is still truth when couched in Catholic language and symbols. And it’s fair to ask: Why aren’t more Protestants writing for The Interim? How many are bringing their unique perspective to the issues of life? How many are supporting the work and spreading the message?
How do I bring closure? I can’t. You see, God has just stripped another layer of denominational armour away. I’m feeling wounded and raw at the moment. But I’m also feeling His embrace, seeing His smile.
The Adoration Chapel
Editor: Mr. Austin wrote the following reflection a few weeks earlier, after an evening of prayer in a Catholic chapel, where the Holy Eucharist was exposed on the altar.
A lifetime of differences – some significant, most minor, some clearly articulated, most misunderstood – is poor preparation to enter a place of silent worship. I delight in the worship times in our services, but two minutes is a long silence in that context.
Protestants and Catholics have a habit of emphasizing differences. I am one of those people who thrive on theological debate; yet I would dare to stress our oneness.
As I bow in this tiny chapel, I am too aware that I am Protestant. Somehow, I don’t think it matters to God. As I gaze at the wafer, I see a piece of specially prepared bread in an elaborately simple setting – not the actual presence of Christ. Yet there is a holy hush in the room and on my spirit. I want to kneel.
I could argue about the doctrine and language of the Communion Cup and the Shed Blood of Jesus. But far deeper than any verbal gymnastics is the sense of awe when I reflect that the Blood of Jesus has power to cleanse in the here and now!
That is the core truth of both Catholic and Protestant teaching. It is also the reality of a relentless, pursuing love. For a few seconds, my spirit tries to absorb the fullness of that truth. I want to prostrate myself in the presence of Majesty.
The hour has flown by. Silence, so rare in my world, has ministered to some inner part of me. In a tiny, distinctly Catholic room, this upstart Protestant has worshipped the One True God. I have spent time in intercession. I have spent time in the Word. Mostly, I have spent time in His presence.
Adoration. It happens as worship songs rise from a congregation. It happens as the minister leads in prayer. It happens as psalms are read. Yet something special takes place in silent contemplation. As I become still before God, He shows Himself to be greater than labels, greater than Catholic or Protestant, greater than the language of theologians – yet small enough to be moved by a child’s prayer, small enough to hear my heart’s cry, small enough to pour Himself into my shriveled spirit where He gives newness of life.
“Be still and know that I am God.” “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord.”
In the adoration chapel I surrender my striving. I let God be God. I simply worship.