*This is a response to Tony’s post which he just put up. I was going to just put this in the comment box but I soon realized it was too long. So read his post first, comment if you feel like it, and then if you want you can read this.*
I’ll try and mention a few things that have helped me and that I think might help you; but in the end there’s no way I would presume to “solve” all your worries.
I am not sure if you are attending any specific church but I would highly recommend trying out churches in the liturgical tradition. (by “try out” I don’t mean to reduce it to “what liturgy you like,” or “church shopping;” I assume that you would be searching out their doctrine and all, talking to priests/pastors) There are many reasons why I would suggest this but I would point out one first, which is to me the most important; namely the Eucharist as focus and climax of worship. The famous and late Orthodox historical theologian Jaroslav Pelikan said it like this –
“That as long as there have been Christians they have gathered around bread and wine; theories about it have changed, details on performance have changed, but that central practice has never changed.”
That at least, Tony, is some incredible continuity. Certainly preachers all have their own interpretations, but the celebration of the Eucharist, and all that it entails, is contiguous with the whole of Christian history. It has been a great help for me to slowly understand the Eucharist as more than symbolic – as the place where we offer ourselves up and are taken up by grace into the living presence of our Lord. And, you are sort of right with Catholics, but also sort of wrong. As our friend “quickbeamoffangorn” will tell you, since the de-latinization of the liturgy there has been a proliferation of different takes on the liturgy and there are even now some Catholics who have to “church shop” if they don’t want to be in a “spirit-of-Vatican II” kind of parish. For instance in downtown Minneapolis, if you are a liberal Catholic you go down to the Basilica, and if you are not you go to St. Olaf. Nonetheless, there is certainly more continuity within Roman Catholicism between parishes. Though different “orders” emphasize different parts of Catholicism.
This is why both “Word” (ie-preaching, but not restricted only to this) AND “Sacrament” (ie-Communion, Eucharist, Lord’s Supper etc…) are the two central aspects of a worship service. Now we were raised with a very low view of the Sacraments in the AG (but oddly, a high view of the worship service and an understanding that God met us in worship). To us they were merely symbolic, and indeed, the symbolism is a necessary part of what is going on; but I would say that there is much more to the Eucharist than symbolism. Be it “transubstantial,” “consubstantial,” or “real presence,” the great catholic traditions all assert that it is Jesus Christ himself coming to meet us in the celebration of Communion. I also want to comment on the problem of “multiple interpretations.” Because I think that we are heirs to worst kind of low protestantism which believes that reading the Bible is an individual affair. Just me and my bible, yep. That reason alone, I think, has been the the cause of so many divisions within the protestant tradition: This idea that ones interpretation is the be-all-end-all interpretation, which can only result in confusion (as you and I have experienced it) and division. “I’m gonna leave and read the Bible MY way” I see this for instance in the fall away groups within Anglicanism in the US. There are 40 some odd “Continuing Anglican” churches and I expect there will be 40 more one day.
Let me humbly suggest that bible reading is a Communal affair, and even a graced one at that. When you and I read the Scripture we should be reading it with Jerome and Chrysostom as much as we read it with Borg and Wright. That is not to say that I believe in the Roman Magisterium, or in controlling Bishops, or that the older the interpretation the better – many allegorical readings by some church fathers are way out of the park – or whatever; but that there is a sort of hubris of Time in thinking that where we are right now is the full truth. Certainly “historical” reads of Scripture have changed in huge ways over the last 300 years of “historical investigation” of Scripture and certainly in 100 years our readings will be different. Continuity in this regard is not so much about monolithic readings of Scripture (as if it’s just one big book anyway!) as it is the mutual submission and self-giving in interpretation. Wright calls this a “hermeneutic of love,” I call it “reading with the church.”
To sort of synthesize what I am trying to say I would say that it seems that you are still in a “bible-centered” Christianity; I have found a “Gospel-centered” Christianity to be that which puts the focus where it needs to be. That is one of the reasons that I am becoming Anglican as opposed to Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. As Anglicans, we try to put the great Creeds and the core of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection at the center of our Ecclesiology. You can be an anglo-catholic, Calvinist, Weslyan, liberal and it doesn’t mean that “your out.” That is also why I can say that I am a “whatever-I-am-now.” It’s not a lazy cop out of conviction, rather it is knowing that what I believe now at this very moment is not the whole of the Church. I can struggle in faith and even doubt certain doctrines (though I don’t want to just give up in doubt) because my belief is centered in prayer, worship and Eucharist; I’ve been baptized and filled up with the Holy Spirit.
I was just watching Star Wars and Princess Leia at one point says to her enemy “The tighter you grip the more star systems are going to slip through your fingers” That is sort of how I look at “truth” and “continuity.”
If I try and grip the truth, then fragments sort of pour out and I lose that certainty that I was looking for. But “knowing” is more like being held by truth than holding truth.
St. Paul said it outright – that we only see and know “in part,” but one day we will know fully even as we are fully known. So perhaps we are not reading the same book, but we serve the same Lord.