What is Neo-Catholicism

A review of the happenings within the Christian church during the past couple of decades would leave most with the impression that the church itself is in a state of flux. I make this observation based upon the tremendous changes within the Protestant arm of the church, these changes being primarily the number of groups that are leaving their traditional denominations so that they may express their religious freedoms by choosing the doctrines they wish to follow as well as worship formats.

For example; some previously traditional protestant congregations have opted to leave their parent denominations so that they may include—in their church—beliefs and practices previously acceptable in the charismatic Pentecostal churches, such as prayer healing, tongues, prophesizing, and other gifts of the spirit as these practices are usually referred too. These splinter groups may otherwise follow an Evangelical practice and might be referred to as Neo-Charismatic Evangelicals or more plainly described as Evangelical Protestants that incorporate certain Charismatic practices into their practice of worship.

In fact, the use of the prefix Neo is being seen more and more frequently in reference to emerging religious groups within Christianity. But what does the prefix mean? My well-worn Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary defines neo as “new and different form and manner.” This definition aptly describes these emerging groups within Christianity that seek to combine aspects of worship and belief that was previously held as incompatible; i.e. denominations that have historic roots in the reformation era considered certain charismatic practices as heresy, their reasoning being that miracles ended with the Apostolic era and modern day miracles such as divine healing simply were not possible, therefore the members of traditional denominations simply would not accept the Charismatic aspects previously part of Pentecostal Christianity. So we see some groups leaving their traditional denominations and becoming a new and different form and manner; Neo-Charismatic. I cite these changes in the Church so as to explain the title of this missive; Neo-Catholicism.

The Rt. Reverend Sam Lloyd III writes:

To put it simply, Americans are in many cases finding in their churches little of the spiritual sustenance they once did. Many have lost confidence in the institution itself, and are too often finding little in church services to win them away from Sunday morning jogging, gardening, and soccer leagues. A nation that once went to church on Sunday turns up far less. A culture that emphasizes personal fulfillment, consumer savvy, high entertainment expectations, and impatience with the demands of organizations, does little to encourage the patience required for life in local congregations. And, crucially, many churches have become so at ease in the American establishment that they have lost their sense of urgency for nurturing strong personal faith in their members. The churches have much to learn in this time of transition, and the good news is that the learning curve is now sharp and many are in the game.

Perhaps Reverend Lloyd’s observations above might be the basis for some of the changes we are seeing in the face of Christianity in North America. He went on in the op-ed piece to say:

Faith is not disappearing in this country, Recent polls report that more than 90 percent of Americans continue to believe in God. This time of flux and transition actually poses a significant opportunity for all the churches. My guess is that regardless of denomination, those congregations that will thrive will embody a generous-spirited, intellectually alive, socially engaged Christian faith. We are seeing in our churches not only the recovery of the experience of God and the centrality of life community, but also the call to live the faith amid the ambiguities of a diverse culture.

A few years ago, the term Evangelical was associated with someone who evangelized or proselytized the Christian Gospel; now the term is used to describe an entire movement within the overall church. However while the term Evangelical is widely known—primarily due to political associations and the media—another movement exists that is far less known, perhaps it is even the best kept secret in North America, of course I am referring to the Independent Sacramental Movement.

John Paul Plummer is generally credited with coining the phrase Independent Sacramental Movement; it’s use first appearing in the dissertation Plummer authored to comply with the requirements necessary to receive his Doctorate of Philosophy degree. In my opinion, The Many Paths of the Independent Sacramental Movement: A National Study of its Liturgy, Doctrine, and Leadership[2] takes a very fair and balanced look at the modern day Neo-Catholicism movement that has evolved from the Old Catholic Bishops of Utrecht Netherlands, Polish National church, and various Orthodox churches all of which are ostensibly Catholic churches but not in communion with nor under the control of the Roman Catholic church.

Names such as, Reformed Catholic, Free Catholic, Independent Catholic, Autocephalous Sacramental movement and others, are commonly used to describe these independent jurisdictions and Episcopi Vagrantes (Latin for wandering Bishops) or Bishops who are independent of any jurisdiction or order.
Plummer writes;

By the independent sacramental movement, I refer to a broad range of communities which share a number of characteristics in common: small communities and/or solitary clergy: experimentation in theology and liturgy: mostly unpaid clergy: ordination available to a large percentage of the membership; a sacramental and eucharistic spirituality, with a mediatory priesthood, in most cases preserving the historic episcopate.

The term Independent Sacramental Movement is a very apt and descriptive term, in most cases, however—in my experience at least—when one tells strangers that he is a member of the Independent Sacramental Movement, you simply get a blank stare, a questioning look that silently asks “What the heck is that?” Of course if you say you are a part of the Autocephalous Sacramental movement you get the same dumbfounded look. However when you say you are a part of Reformed, Free, or Independent Catholicism, you may inadvertently give the impression that you were a part of the Roman Catholic Church and then became reformed, and were given your freedom.

Here at the Archdiocese of Saint Michaels; As the years have gone by, it has become increasingly apparent to this Episcopal See that to identify ourselves as an Orthodox Anglo-Catholic Church might be somewhat misleading.  Although we use the rites of the Anglican Church and hold very valid lines of Apostolic Succession from both the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church we hold very little resemblance to any of those institutions.

Furthermore we have to this point identified as being part of the Independent Sacramental Movement (ISM). These jurisdictions modeled after the Old Catholic Church founded by the schismatic Bishops of Utrecht in the Netherlands; are in fact predominantly Progressive in regards to their views on secular social positions.
The Bishops Priests and members of Saint Michaels tend to have traditional views regarding sexuality and marriage and are traditional conservatives with the exception of the ordination of women.

Ironically many of these progressive jurisdiction within the Independent Sacramental movement have no problem what so ever with same sex marriage or Gay priests and Bishops, but refuse to ordain females.

At Saint Michael’s, While not identifying as Anglican, Roman Catholic, or even a part of the Independent Sacramental Movement, we do identify as a sacramental and liturgical church seeking the same original Christian tradition as practiced by the first-millennium Christian Church.  This synergy that defined traditional Christianity.