The Faith of the Independent Catholic Christian Church
by Timothy W. Cravens
Being an Independent Catholic, or Independent Sacramental Christian, means a number of things.
Our understanding of what it means to be “Catholic” is very similar to the basis for ecumenical dialogue put forth by the Anglican Communion in the Chicago-Lambeth quadrilateral in the nineteenth century. The quadrilateral identifies the Scriptures, the Creeds, the Sacraments, and the apostolic ministry of the historic episcopate as the irreducible elements of Catholic faith and practice which must be maintained at all costs.
First, as Independent Catholics, we accept the historic creeds of the church – the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed – which teach the basic truths of the Christian faith. God exists as One God in Three Persons from eternity to eternity. God created the universe and all that is. God created humanity in God’s image, and when humanity sinned, provided redemption by becoming a human being in the person of Jesus Christ, who was fully God and fully human. Jesus died on the cross and then rose again from the dead, and by that death and resurrection, we are saved and restored to full and right relationship with God. God continues to be with us as the Holy Spirit, and continues the saving work of Christ through the Church, through its proclamation of the Word and celebration of the Sacraments.
We also accept the word of God expressed in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. We read the Bible in community as the Church. We interpret it in the light of the Tradition of the Church. We bring to bear upon our study the best use of Reason. And we use the lens of our Experience to understand the movement of the Spirit among the people of God in the Scriptures and what it has to say to us in our own day. We do not attribute to the Bible infallibility – only God is infallible, and to attribute that to a creature is idolatry. We hear the Spirit speak words of life and truth through Scripture – and any use of the Bible as a weapon to hurt others is a misuse, and not an expression of the word of God.
We rejoice in the sacramental life of grace, in which God uses created things to convey grace to us. There are two great sacraments of the Gospel, Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, in which all Christians share. We are baptized in water, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, through which our sins are forgiven and we are made members of Christ’s Body, the Church. In the Eucharist, we receive the consecrated bread and wine which have become the Body and Blood of Christ, and are strengthened in our relationship with Christ and with one another and are sent out to do the work of Christ in the world. There are also five other sacraments which give us grace in time of need. The sacrament of Reconciliation gives us absolution and forgiveness of sins, reconciling us with God, one another, and ourselves. The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick brings healing of body and soul. The sacrament of Confirmation brings an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives, giving us new strength for the service of God. The sacrament of Marriage brings God’s grace to the lifelong covenant between two people committed to one another as spouses. The sacrament of Ordination gives grace to deacons, priests, and bishops to carry out particular ministries in the Church.
We believe that there are certain ministries that are necessary for the Church to function in its fullness. While all Christians share in these ministries, as well as other ministries, some Christians are called to these ministries in sacramental ways. Some Christians are called to a life of sacramental servanthood, sharing also in the proclamation of the Gospel and assisting in the celebration of the sacraments. They are called to be deacons. Some deacons, in addition to sacramental servanthood, are called to a life of sacramental sacrifice, proclaiming the Gospel and sharing in the sacrificial ministry of Jesus Christ by offering the Eucharist and other sacraments and blessing the people. They are called to be priests. Some priests, in addition to sacramental sacrifice, are called to share in the pastoral oversight and governance of the church, and in ordaining others to be deacons, priests, and bishops. They are called to be bishops. We believe that bishops share in the ministry of the apostles and are brought into that ministry by a laying on of hands that has been passed down from the apostles.
These beliefs are common to a number of churches – Orthodox (both Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian), Roman Catholic, Anglican, Old Catholic, and Independent Catholic. But there are certain things which distinguish us from other churches. First, unlike both Orthodox and Roman Catholic denominations, we do not believe that the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church is to be identified with a single denomination. We believe that all the churches which hold the Creeds, Scripture, Sacraments, and Apostolic Succession of bishops, priests, and deacons are Catholic and are real churches, part of the one Church. Furthermore, just as we reject the notion that the Bible is infallible, so we also reject the idea that the Church, or any part of it, or any individual office within it, is or can be infallible or indefectible. The commitment of Jesus Christ to the Church is infallible – but to assign infallibility to a creature rather than the Creator is idolatrous. We also reject the belief that dogmas outside of the Creeds which some have proclaimed to be “infallible” can be so regarded, or required as beliefs. So, for example, while the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are certainly permissible beliefs, they cannot be required as a doctrinal test for any member of the Church.
We share the belief that the Church is fully present in a number of denominations as well as the rejection of infallibility with our Anglican and Old Catholic (Union of Utrecht) sisters and brothers.
There are three characteristics which distinguish us from them.
First, these churches believe that, ideally, the church should be one organizational entity divided geographically so that there is only one diocese in a given location. While they may be in full communion with other churches that have dioceses in the same locale, they see this as an interim measure until organizational merger and unity can be accomplished. As Independent Catholics, however, we reject the idea that there should be one organization worldwide with only one diocese in an area, because we have seen, historically, how this leads to corruption. We instead hold to the early church model of independent local churches that cooperate with one another. The only universal Church is the invisible fellowship of all the baptized. We also accept that, in this age of greater mobility and electronic communication, local churches may be formed by networks of those who have a particular charism of ministry rather than a particular geographical location.
Second, Independent Catholics, unlike mainstream churches, do not typically own church property, and therefore meet in rented spaces or homes. This usually means that local communities are smaller, and gives them opportunities as well as imposing restrictions which do not exist when a church has its own building. This means that the traditional territorial parish paradigm does not exist for Independent Catholics. Also, it means that we integrate sacred space into our lives in ways not possible in most mainstream churches. We reserve the Blessed Sacrament in our homes, and like the early church, this is not restricted to clergy or religious, but is open to the laity who wish to do so as well. We integrate liturgy, celebrated in our homes, into our daily lives, so that the boundary between prayer and daily life becomes much more permeable.
Finally, Independent Catholics, with very, very few exceptions, rely on volunteer clergy who are not paid for their ministry. This has a number of implications. First, this goes hand in hand with the smaller communities that are typical of Independent Catholic churches, since the clergy only have limited time to devote to pastoral ministry, and the communities can exist without paying a clergy salary. In mainstream churches, often small churches are forced to close if they cannot pay for the maintenance of a building or the salary of clergy – these are not concerns of Independent Catholic churches. Second, while in mainstream churches (in particular the Episcopal Church), there are limits to the number of candidates who can be accepted into the ordination process because the church can only support a finite number of clergy with salary, benefits, and often housing, in Independent Catholic churches, anyone who is able to meet the requirements of the ordination process and who shows signs of a genuine vocation may be ordained.
The Independent Catholic Christian Church, in addition to sharing the above-mentioned characteristics with other Independent Catholic jurisdictions, has a number of characteristics of its own, shared by some but not all other jurisdictions.
We are fully inclusive of women and lgbt folk in all aspects of church life, and in particular in ordination and marriage. While many mainstream churches are moving in this direction, there is controversy about both and issues as to whether and how inclusion can happen in particular local contexts. In the ICCC, full inclusion of women and lgbt Christians is a settled issue – those unwilling to accept it do not find a church home in our jurisdiction.
Another characteristic that we have that distinguishes us from some is that we embrace not only the Roman Catholic heritage, but also the Orthodox and Anglican heritage that we have as a result of drawing apostolic succession from all three streams. One particular way in which this manifests itself is in our worship, as we embrace liturgical diversity, drawing from the Byzantine, Roman, and Anglican liturgical traditions – and from both traditional and modern versions of these traditions. While each local community determines for itself exactly how this will be expressed in its own rites, we give mutual respect and embrace for those who may pray in a different liturgical rite than the one to which we are accustomed.
Thus, Independent Catholics are a group of churches that are rooted in ancient tradition, proclaiming the faith of Christ crucified, risen, and returning, celebrating the sacraments, living together in love – but willing to find new ways to minister to an ever-changing world. We invite you to join us in the Independent Catholic Christian Church, to share with us in proclaiming the Gospel and living its demands.