Newman Membership in UiC

BY LUE-YEE TSANG

At the end of the last academic term, there was a vote in Unity in Christ (UiC), Cal’s interfellowship group, on whether to admit Newman Hall, the Roman Catholic community on campus, to membership. After some discussion, a two-thirds vote came out in favour of Newman joining UiC. While I approve of recognizing Rome as part of the Body of Christ, which the Apostles’ Creed calls the Holy Catholic Church – especially as I see the opposite as born largely of sectarian bigotry – I would like to express my reservations about what I consider to have been undue procedural haste. My interest in discussing this matter now, months after the vote, is to clarify the role of this journal in promoting careful, frank dialogue within the Church as Christians seek greater visible unity.

My position on Rome in the Holy Catholic Church

Before proceeding with an account of the UiC deliberations, I wish to give my position as I stated it on my blog before the vote:

To deny [Newman] membership without clear and rigorous principle, I think, would be both sectarian and bigoted. It’s my hope that, with the progress of dialogue and theological growth in the Holy Spirit, Rome will be reformed of its errors and impieties – including its claims of supremacy in [God’s] Church – and its bishop [i.e. the Pope] take his [proper place among the bishops].

Many Protestants and Eastern Orthodox Christians, I think, could agree with these sentiments, both the hope for genuine unity and the demand for theological and practical reform in the Church of Rome. As faithful believers in an idolatrous Israel were called to pray for God’s mercy and Israel’s repentance rather than ceasing to identify with Israel at all, so I believe it necessary for those of us who are not in the Church of Rome to reason with our brethren rather than practically disclaim connexion to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.For more detailed discussion, I direct the reader to Bishop Joseph Hall’s No Peace with Rome (1611). In this book Hall wrote that the catholic Church, of which the Church of England formed a part, had fallen into corruptions, of which the Church of England had now purged herself, and that the Church of England should denounce the errors of the Church of Rome without denying her catholicity.

The hitches in principle

Without clear principle, nothing can reasonably bar any part of the Church, however different, from fellowship with any other part. The principle potentially barring Newman from membership at the time of the vote was related to UiC’s mission and Statement of Faith, to which all member groups formally subscribe.Though I would prefer the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the so-called Athanasian Creed and additional material from the Augsburg Confession, UiC has its own Statement of Faith drawn from scratch. The purpose statement at the head of the UiC Constitution begins as follows:

We, the Christian communities and fellowships of UC Berkeley, united invisibly by Christ in His body, establish this group, Unity in Christ (UiC), to provide a visible structure for our mutual fellowship and sharing of gifts. The purpose of UiC is:

(1) To promote unity and fellowship of Christians around Christ;
(2) To assist and support one another in prayer, service, and evangelism;
(3) To facilitate and provide support for new students seeking churches and Christian fellowship.

The first item listed is unobjectionable but often bland in practice; the second and third vary in difficulty according to theological difference: a Calvinist, for instance, may easily object to some of the ways in which an Arminian teaches the faith in evangelism, and a Charismatic may find it very hard to endorse a fellowship whose leaders are Cessationists. Nevertheless, the constitutionally stated purpose of UiC is the context in which to understand the UiC Statement of Faith as well. To the purpose articulated, the Statement of Faith includes the following article for members to subscribe to:

God’s mercy is only because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to humankind, and this justification is received by faith alone.

Newman’s leaders and designated contacts have always claimed to be able to subscribe to this article in good conscience. Though not doubting their sincerity, I continue to have concerns, concerns that have not been eased by the answer given to a question posed as to what Newman took to be the requirements for salvation. The answer had three distinct ideas, which I shall treat in turn:

(1) Disclaimer: Within Newman there may be different personal views.

This first statement, while a necessary corrective how many Protestants view Roman Catholics, is irrelevant to the question. Diversity of views is normal in any church: what matters is whether the group’s official position allows its leaders to subscribe to the UiC Statement of Faith. As far as I know, this position must include the doctrines defined by the Council of Trent in the 16th century, with any dogmatic adjustments made by subsequent councils of the Church of Rome (e.g. Vatican II).

(2) The one definitive factor is (profession of) faith in Jesus as Lord and God.

This second statement is unclear. It certainly accords with statements made by Protestants,Indeed, this statement from the Newman contact person attaches even more weight to the self-conscious profession of faith than I would as a firm Protestant. but the question at hand applies more specifically to the UiC Statement of Faith, and whether Newman’s leaders can subscribe to all its articles, including the article on justification. Part of the fault lies with the question, since it asked more broadly about the doctrine of salvation, not particularly about the doctrine of justification, but the answer did fail to address the issue of the meritorious grounds for a believer’s justification.

(3) Acts and works of kindness will come from true faith: with God’s compassion and Jesus’ gift to humanity, how would you not want to express God’s love to others?

This third statement, while true and affirmed by all, is irrelevant. The question is not whether works follow from faith but whether the Christian believer is reckoned righteous on the sole grounds of Christ’s righteousness outside the believer, a righteousness received through the believer’s faith. In essence, can a believer be reckoned righteous for Christ’s merits alone, without reference to any merit, internal to him, for which God owes him something by right?

Newman’s subscription to the UiC Statement of Faith requires first understanding of the ideas it contains and then assent to those contents.Whatever the statements set forth by the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, this requirement holds in the particular case of Newman. While I question the idea of Christ’s righteousness being reckoned to all mankind (except in a general sense, by the Incarnation as completed in the Crucifixion), preferring to state (1) the reckoning of Adam’s sin to Christ and (2) Christ’s obedience as the sole meritorious grounds for God’s declaring the Christian righteous,Double imputation, the notion that god the Father regards Christ’s good works as having been done by the believer, has been and still is a matter of disagreement among Protestants, but the sole source of merit according to Protestant doctrine is the perfection of Christ: ‘Forgiveness of sins being previously given, the good works which follow have a value different from their merit, because whatever is imperfect in them is covered by the perfection of Christ, and all their blemishes and pollutions are wiped away by his purity, so as never to come under the cognizance of the divine tribunal. The guilt of all transgressions, by which men are prevented from offering God an acceptable service, being thus effaced, and the imperfection which is wont to sully even good works being buried, the good works which are done by believers are deemed righteous, or; which is the same thing, are imputed for righteousness.’ still I can subscribe to the Statement in good faith. It is not clear, however, that the Newman contact, for his part, understood the required article well enough to speak officially for his group’s subscription to the Statement.

The results

The vote on Newman’s prospective UiC membership took place without another meeting with Newman contacts, a week after the visit I have examined above. At the time of the vote, at least some who had taken part in the deliberations were not satisfied with the information upon which they were asked to make a decision, and it seemed that the answers, whether by design or not, evaded the matters at hand.

While Newman has been formally admitted, I find in the process a lack of clarity that has not served the interest of true concord. Where clarity could have been had, I believe that last semester’s schedule put a premature stop to measured deliberation, and so I had rather that the process had been either started earlier in the fall semester or continued into the spring semester.Whether the awkward timing was part of any party’s intention I do not know, nor do I find it useful to speculate; but if the timing was a political manœuvre on anyone’s part, whether in favour of admitting Newman or against, I call upon those at fault to repent publicly. Some in attendance must have had concerns about the little time given for deliberation, if not about the inadequacy of the answers given by the Newman contact. It is quite possible that these problems have led to unresolved resentment at a vote whose momentum trumped the desire of some for greater caution.

Church unity is hard work. It cannot be achieved by mere momentum, and like marriage will not allow problems to be swept under a rug.

Knowing I am not alone in my dissatisfaction with the answers given by Newman regarding the article on justification in the UiC Statement of Faith, I call for clearer discussion of the matter, even if further discussion reveals facts that we would rather not see. Discussion may even lead to conclusion that Newman was not well admitted at the time of the vote or that the Constitution must be changed because, like it or not, Newman is part of the (reformed and unreformed) Church in Berkeley. What the future holds, I cannot say. Nevertheless I feel compelled to break the silence, because the feeling of Church unity, even enshrined in official documents, cannot stand in for genuine unity. Such discussion as I urge will demand both commitment to apostolic doctrine and willingness to talk honestly without giving unnecessary offence. In the absence of either, the Church here will suffer either an erosion of doctrinal bounds or an unspoken sectarian hypervigilance. And either an overpermissive or a schismatic spirit would lead away from biblical faith and practice and, like all sinful habits, impair our ability to serve God in the way he calls us to serve.

We need to keep talking.

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6 thoughts on “Newman Membership in UiC

  1. Obviously, I wholeheartedly endorse Newman’s membership in UiC. As I have argued on this blog, their invitation to UiC is long overdue.

    I’d argue that the place of UiC is not to ensure doctrinal purity but rather to bring Christians together and prevent close-mindedness while reaching out together to the rest of campus. Surely Newman’s membership will facilitate those efforts.

    Nevertheless, I agree with you that certain pillars of Catholic thought, including the Church’s rigid hierarchical leadership structure, need to be rethought. But, as you say, it is “necessary for those of us who are not in the Church of Rome to reason with our brethren rather than practically disclaim connexion to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.”

  2. John,

    What you name as the second limitation of Bears Breaking Bread seemed to apply, though to a lesser degree, to the Newman talks as well:

    A second limitation of the event was the intentional avoidance of any truly divisive subjects, and the needless repetition of platitudes reminding us that ‘each person’s beliefs are truth for [him/her].’ The problem with such a creed, aside from the fact that it is self-defeating, is that it prevents the very conversations that might lead to true understanding. If we are not able to wrestle with each other in loving argument, seeking to see what the other sees without being overly wary that we will offend, we will never understand each other.

    My sense was that Newman and the existing UiC members before the vote were not understanding each other enough to make informed choices. Thanks to the lack of clarity about the article on justification, I would have erred on the side of caution at the time of this vote and voted down the membership proposal in the hope that talk could continue more constructively, the more so because UiC representatives in the past had expressed concerns, perhaps from the Jesuit reputation for specious casuistry (see Pascal’s Provincial Letters, 1656–7), that Newman could subscribe to the UiC Statement of Faith only by being sloppy or disingenuous, concerns that will always remain without clear dialogue. Perhaps Newman should also have sent more theologically sophisticated delegates to explain their subscription in light of their prior doctrinal commitments. As a Protestant and not an Anabaptist, I would be very happy to know that Newman was able in fact to articulate robust and valid reasons for being able to subscribe.

  3. Dude, if it’s the Council of Trent they’re referring to, then maybe UiC should modify its statement to accommodate Newman – should be easier! Changing these sorts of statements and dogmas, though I don’t know how formal it gets at the Newman Center level, takes a looooot of time and grassroots campaigns from parishioners, and it would be a shame if more roadblocks were put in the way of Newman’s admission. I don’t meant a change that affirms certain Catholic doctrines and dogmas that are antithetical to Protestant beliefs, but rather a change that reflects a more flexible view of what unity in Christ means.

    But agreed, there should have been more checking. Great catch!

  4. I definitely favour an earlier proposal for Newman to have permanent guest status. To me, that level of cooperation, while not permanent (just as the existence of Protestant and Romanist identity should never be regarded as permanent), would’ve been at least something and also allowed for continued and sustained dialogue without the undue haste that marked the process last term.

    Practically speaking, I think most fellowships will not be willing to change the Statement of Faith, though I myself have no problem with the possibility itself. The three options I saw were (1) to be schismatic, (2) to override the due process of the law, and (3) to change the law. (1) is probably the easiest for fundamentalists, and (2) probably the easiest for liberals; depending on UiC’s exact purpose and the exact nature of the doctrinal speed bump, (3) may or may not be possible.

    Regarding (3), I think I really want to read all of Joseph Hall’s Roma irreconciliabilis and decide first whether I agree on the level of principles and second whether conditions have changed enough that the principles lead to a different course of action. But since the UiC Statement of Faith lacks an article denying transubstantiation, an article not at all uncommon in Protestant confessions of faith, I suspect that the article on justification really is a justified cause for separation. If so, perhaps Bp Hall’s proof still holds for the conclusion ‘that, as terms now stand, there can be no reconciliation of the Reformed Religion with the Romish’.

    I do see clericalism as accursed idolatry, and I do see the saint cults as accursed idolatry, and I do see Purgatory as accursed idolatry, and I do see Transubstantiation as accursed idolatry, but these should not be the essential sticking points that keep Protestants from uniting fully with Rome. The barriers to full union (which must happen!) are justification, the supremacy of Scripture and the proper authority of the Bishop of Rome.

  5. After hearing about this article, I feel compelled to join the discussion, as I am the Newman representative in UiC. I first want to clarify that Newman membership in UiC was by no means a hasty process. It began four years ago, when UiC reinvestigated their statement of faith and created a revised constitution. In the spring of 2008, the previous priest at Newman along with a few students expressed a desire to join. This led to a few meetings between UiC leaders and Newman discussing theological beliefs. UiC agreed to move forward and put Newman’s membership up to a vote. Three-fourths of UiC members were needed to vote in favor of Newman for membership into UiC, but Newman was one vote short of membership. That priest was reassigned to another parish as most priests have two to three year rotations, and many of the students involved graduated. As a result, Newman involvement was not seriously discussed again until the spring of 2010, when the current priest and I both expressed interest in joining UiC to better unify the Body of Christ on Berkeley’s campus. We set up a meeting with current UiC leaders as well as past leaders to discuss the possibility of Newman joining again. In this meeting, we learned about the history of UiC and explored its constitution. Most importantly, we went through the ten tenants of UiC’s Statement of Faith, in which the priest and I agreed with each one. UiC then decided to allow me to attend a UiC meeting as a guest where I was asked various questions to which Lue-Yee refers to in his blog post. After that meeting, each UiC member reflected on whether or not to allow Newman in UiC before voting took place at the next UiC meeting. During this time, I was available for any clarifications or additional questions. At the next meeting, Newman was accepted into UiC. In light of these proceedings, “procedural haste” was not a part of this situation.

    Second, I believe the question about salvation was appropriately addressed in the context of the meeting. Although Lue-Yee feels that I did not address the question “whether the Christian believer is reckoned righteous on the sole grounds of Christ’s righteousness outside the believer, a righteousness received through the believer’s faith,” this was in fact not specifically asked at the meeting. In regard to this question, though, I do personally believe this statement of salvation is correct. As I stated in the meeting, acts of charity and kindness will necessarily result from having faith in Jesus, such that both concepts are intertwined with one another. James 2 highlights this connection, stating, “Faith without deeds is dead” and “a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone” [1]. As a result of this expressed connection between faith and acts, I believe that each aspect cannot be independently labeled as “requirements” for salvation.

    Finally, this is my view and may not reflect the view of others at Newman, let alone the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church encompasses a diversity of people within the Body of Christ, such that each may have a nuanced view on the subject. While specific Catholic dogma exists stating formal beliefs of the church, not everyone in the church adheres to those beliefs. For example, some Catholics advocate for female or married priests, even though this is not in accordance with the formal Catechism of the church. Whereas the church continually changes and evolves, the actual dogma of the church changes only at discrete points in history. That said, the official catholic church’s stance is that “By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works2” Thus, “through Christ alone are we justified” and good works are its “fruits” [2]. While I feel this clears up any misconceptions regarding the Catholic stance on Salvation, I would be happy to meet up with you in person to further discuss the issue.

    Peace,
    Riley Reese

    [1] James 2:14-26 (New International Version, ©2011)
    [2] Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. .

  6. Riley:

    First, thanks for your engagement. Second, apologies for a delayed reply.

    By no means do I intend to imply that the process of Newman’s admission into UiC was limited to a few weeks: it certainly was underway well before the 2010 vote. Even after the first vote on admitting Newman into UiC, the representatives considered a proposal the following year to give Newman a (non-voting) permanent guest status, a proposal that failed to pass. My contention is that, even with this apparent length of consideration, the discussion in 2010 was inadequate to the needs. I do not consider one week, the time between your meeting with the UiC representatives and the vote on Newman’s membership, sufficient for any UiC member to have weighed the theological difficulties with any due care, much less to have reached a practically definitive conclusion. While acknowledging that some or even many of the UiC members failed to make use of your availability during that week, I press the point nevertheless that one week was not a reasonable span of time for UiC member groups to have properly discerned the complex matters at hand.

    The crux of the matter was whether Newman, without conflicting with the authority of Rome’s discipline, could officially subscribe to the UiC Statement of Faith, especially the article on justification. Even though both you and Newman’s priest were able in good conscience to voice their agreement with this article, I remain unconvinced that such agreement could constitute public subscription on Newman’s behalf. Personal beliefs are not at issue here, any more than a president may act on his private beliefs against the law of the land. As you rightly say, people come and go, whether priests or students. To leave such a matter as UiC membership at the mercy of anyone’s personal views, therefore, is irregular at best, if not an outright breach of protocol. It is not my concern whether many or even most Christians under Rome’s discipline affirm or seek to reverse the official Roman teaching: in such a setting as UiC, regardless of anyone’s private views, what we must deal with are official positions. The question, then, remains whether the article on justification in the UiC Statement of Faith is compatible with the catechism and the canons of the Roman church, including those put forth by the Council of Trent, which have not been rescinded.

    While the questions posed in the meeting were less rigorous than the UiC constitution’s carefully worded article on justification, the very fact that these questions were not rigorous supports my previous point that UiC’s member groups, some of them very concerned with doctrine, had too little time to prepare for and respond to their representatives’ meeting with you as the Newman delegate. This was the reason that I wrote on this blog about the doctrinal issues, hoping to elicit clarity that the meeting, whatever the reason, did not.

    This is the issue, then: ‘God’s mercy is only because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to humankind, and this justification is received by faith alone.’ It is upon the definition of imputation that I identified the question: ‘whether the Christian believer is reckoned righteous on the sole grounds of Christ’s righteousness outside the believer, a righteousness received through the believer’s faith’. My question is simply whether Newman can lawfully uphold the doctrine of imputed righteousness without repudiating Rome’s official positions.

    It is to God’s glory that the Roman Curia has been able to confess, in spite of Trent, ‘By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.’ Nevertheless, one of two things must happen for Newman to have been well-admitted: (1) Newman must lawfully affirm imputation without contradicting any of Rome’s official teachings, or (2) UiC must revise its article on justification.

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