On Converting to Rome

Sean Lucas
Thanks, Rick. It was interesting in reading Fr Steel's "testimony" how prominent the issue of authority was. I found the following the most interesting piece of what he said:

With all that is going on around the Anglican Communion presently, and particularly within the C of E and how she makes decisions on matters of doctrine, I began to ask questions about authority. As a theologian praying for reunion with the Holy See the question I was now asking was, 'on whose terms does this reunion take place?' What I became aware of was that it was almost impossible to say 'the Church teaching is' within the Anglican church because there are so many various opinions on matters of sacraments, liturgy, morality, scripture etc. What I did not want to experience anymore was proclaiming the teaching of the Church only to end up defending myself rather than the Anglican church defending me. This has become an ever-increasing impossibility that is no secret to the entire Anglican world. My preaching would always be seen as a matter of personal opinion rather than having the authority of the Magisterium that backs up what I teach publicly. Of course there is dissent in the Catholic Church but it is always that, dissent towards what Mother Church proclaims as authoritatively true. It is the truth of Mother Church that I embrace as my own deep personal faith.

It strikes me that this is a key wrestling point in this whole situation. In my mind (and this will seem ironic to some in this debate) confessionalism goes hand-in-hand with biblical authority. It is precisely because we esteem Scripture as the supreme authority that we seek to codify what we believe the Bible to teach in confessional documents and we teach these things to faithful men who are able to teach others also (Jude 3-4; 2 Tim 1:13, 2:2). And this cycle of confessionalization ultimately relates to the authority of the church, which declares its doctrine under the authority of Christ the King.

When we forsake confessionalism (and its concomitant, biblical authority), then we are set adrift in a world of competing (and sectarian) truth claims. And that will be the case not only within Presbyterianism, but Baptist life, Anglicanism, Methodism, or any other "Protestant" denomination. We will then search for an authority that can provide a sure word in the midst of confusing, competing truth claims. And the only authority that has proved stable enough is the one provide by the Roman see and its apostolic succession. 

As the nineteenth-century theologian John Williamson Nevin demonstrated, a deep questioning of confessionalism on behalf of a more "catholic" faith inevitable brings about a longing for a strong voice to speak a sure word; Nevin himself nearly "swam the tiber" over similar issues that Fr Steel mentioned. When converting to Rome, the issue that must go is biblical authority and its necessary hand-maiden, confessionalism.