On Sabbath, April 21 (my baby brother’s birthday), I returned to the Seventh-day Adventist faith in which I spent the first 21 years of my life through rebaptism.
I’ve been laying out theological and ecclesial issues over the past two months that were contributing factors to my loss of trust in the authority of Rome and the Catholic Magisterium. And that’s what so much of Catholic life and teaching is built on: “Trust us.” If you do, you can accept everything; if you don’t, then you must fall back on something else–the Word of God.
For those of you who need some context, I refer you to the following types of criticisms he has launched in the past few weeks (the links move back in time):
1. Interpreting recent developments with regards to the doctrine of limbo as an about-face denial of Catholic tradition: 1, 2. . . etc.
2. Viewing the Religious Liberty declaration of Vatican II yet another doctrinal about-face: 1
3. Alleging that Catholicism has an instinct for "rationalization" that obscures "plain Biblical teaching and Christian faith": 1 (written just before his reversion)
4. Reconsideration of traditional claims of papal authority: 1
5. Miscellaneous failures on the part of individual Catholic bishops or institutions: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 . . . etc.
Of course, our first reaction to so momentous a decision of faith should be prayer (whether you agree with his decision or not). Granted that he is not interested in "debate or discussion" on this move, prayer is our only option. Nevertheless, I would not be a good blogger if I did not offer some personal reflection on this sudden turn of events.
Although I had become quite unnerved by the negative tone of Bill's recent posts, I never imagined he would so suddenly leave the Catholic Church, let alone return to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Adventism would be one of the last possible destinations for my beleaguered soul, if I ever conceived of abandoning the Church. I would require several years to reconcile myself to the doctrines I once conscientiously abandoned, including: Adventism's flawed prophetic interpretation (e.g., Dan 2, Rev 13, Rev 11, Rev 17, Dan 7-8), its embrace of ceremonial laws (e.g., clean and unclean meats), its rejection of the intermediate state (in the light of Rev 6), its rejection of the eternal duration of hellfire, its pro-choice stance on abortion, its anti-historicity and anti-Catholicism, etc. My concerns are so diverse and far reaching that, quite frankly, the haste with which Cork appears to have dove into Adventism scares me. The suddenness of his decision suggests that it was not well-considered, though this is not my judgment to make. I can only hope he exhausted the entirety of Adventist theological criticism beforehand.
With regard to his first two classes of criticisms (1 and 2), I struggled with each in the past three years. After entire nights spent in careful thought and reading, I came to complete peace with the Church's recent engagement of the doctrine of limbo (refer to my last two posts on the subject: here and here), and now champion the Vatican's conclusions wholeheartedly. The questions surrounding the religious liberty question were also of great interest to me while I was still an Adventist, and there again, I found the development entirely orthodox after months of research (I briefly summarize my views in this DIES DOMINI essay.) I cannot presume that I have all the answers, and the tradition is ambivalent, but Cork's discussions of both topics give little (if any) time to defenses of the Vatican's recent theological currents. I hope he will remain open to these defenses, and reconsider his latest move.
When we approach Catholic theology, we must remember that it encompasses ideas and currents filtered through twenty centuries of evolution. This fact alone cautions us against any hasty judgments regarding the orthodoxy of its latest developments. The Bible itself is filled with seemingly contradictory ideas and standards, which evolved over a millennia, and require some reconciliation (e.g., Old v. New Testament law). The dismissive charge of "rationalization" (3) has often served as a poor substitute for gritty intellectual engagement.
Cork's own criticisms (4) of the inner workings of his local diocese, or the failings of other church leaders (in such areas as public stances towards abortion and homosexuality), may be grounded in fact; still, these are not uniquely Catholic problems, and will follow him throughout his church life. Nevertheless, he now returns to an Adventist Church that is effectively pro-choice, though he himself has criticized this fact as a pro-lifer less than two months ago. As I read it, a pro-life individual has abandoned a pro-life Church because of the inconsistent attitudes of a handful of local leaders, to join a pro-choice church as a dissenting member. It's a curious trade, and signals something deeper than a mere doctrinal shift. Perhaps (and this is only a hypothesis) he has lost faith in church authority more generally, and is thus willing to return to a church with which he actively disagrees (if only on one point).
As a Catholic, however (my faith perspective), I recognize that he embraced heresy, and is thereby in spiritual peril. Indeed:
"All who... observe... the sabbath and other legal prescriptions [are] strangers to the faith of Christ and unable to share in eternal salvation, unless they recoil at some time from these errors...[they] cannot possibly be observed without loss of eternal salvation." (Council of Florence)And again,
"It is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff" (Unam Sanctam).
Consequently, I find the rapidity with which he returned to Adventism all the more distressing; the decision is too consequential.
I welcome the other bloggers to share their thoughts on this subject as well, especially our Adventist readers and contributors. I enjoy the diversity of our blog, and expect an interesting discussion to follow. However, I would ask that the Catholics on this blog avoid attempts to excuse away his decision, as is so often done when one fails to recognize the intellectual basis for another person's conversion.