People ask us all the time, “Why don’t you become Episcopalians?” In doing so they have only expressed what others frequently think, but do not ask. In addition, there are many who must wonder why we don’t become Roman Catholics. In short, we have to say why, with all the churches around us, we still feel the need to gather one of our own. This is a short essay drafted from Bp. Karl Prüter’s writings of several years ago. I think it best describes why we are “free catholics.”
First, in any church is the place it gives to Christ. I just don’t mean what it teaches, but more importantly, the place He is given in the everyday life of the church. I couldn’t feel comfortable in any church which didn’t celebrate Mass, at least, every Sunday. For here Christ comes in the midst of us, and it is in His presence that we come to bring our problems and to receive strength with which to bear them.
Christ is not only necessary to my life, but He is also sufficient. Since He and He alone is infallible, I cannot feel comfortable in a church which claims any other infallible head. It would seem to me that in such a church, the hierarchy would have a tendency to be a little less flexible and perhaps a little less humble than in a church where the gulf between man and God was regarded as wide and deep.
Secondly, I think it is important what man believes. I cannot accept a protestantism that is indifferent to the historic doctrines of the church, nor a Romanism so rigid that her sons and daughters must frequently leave under the pain of excommunication. And finally, as a priest, I am concerned with the sacramental nature of my calling.
To be selected and called by Christ is an awesome experience. I cannot take it lightly, nor can I feel that He intended to give a calling to me without also giving me the gift of the Holy Spirit. For on my own strength, I am not equal to the task of ministering to Christ’s own people.
But, on the other hand, while I conceive of a priesthood set apart by Christ, I do not believe He has called us out of the world.
It is precisely because He intends that we live in the world and minister to those about us that I must reject the necessity of clerical celibacy and vows of poverty.
Most of the people I am called to minister to have family responsibilities and the bill collector is not unknown to them. As a priest with responsibilities and as a manager of my own paycheck, I am not ignorant of the problems that face the average man and woman who try to live the Christian life.
I don’t ask my congregation to attempt what I have not tried or to shoulder the burdens I have not shouldered. Perhaps I enjoy being a “free catholic” because it is such a perfect blend of both the human and the divine. We believe in an infallible Christ, but we find no man infallible. We believe that God has given to the church a body of doctrine that is eternal and unchangeable, but no man has the authority to impose it on any other man. We believe in the divine calling to the priesthood, but we believe in very human priests.
Perhaps we can best sum it up in a sentence that has become a part of our statement of faith: “We offer the widest possible liberty consistent with good order.” Amen.