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Catholic vs. Presbyterian
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church ^

Posted on 01/03/2010 10:30:30 PM PST by Gamecock

Catholic vs. Presbyterian


Could you tell me the difference between the Presbyterian church and the Catholic Church.


Short question, potentially very long answer.

I'll try to focus briefly on some basics, beginning with the foundational matter of authority.

The Roman Catholic Church understands the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, as do we, but alongside the Bible, stands the authority of the tradition of the church, the decrees of its councils, and the ex cathedra pronouncements of its popes. Tradition, councils, and popes tell the faithful what the Scriptures teach and can add dogma to what the Scriptures teach (for example, the immaculate conception of Mary). We regard this as man exercising authority over the Word of God rather than sitting in humble submission before it.

In contrast, this is what we confess to the world in our Confession of Faith (a statement which we believe faithfully summarizes what the Bible teaches, but which is wholly derived from the Bible, subordinate to it, and may be corrected by it):

4. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God....

6. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture, unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men....

7. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other that not only the learned but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them....

9. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.

10. The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

(Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, "Of the Holy Scripture")

With particular reference to the Church, we hold that Christ alone is the Head of His Church, and that there are no princely rulers in the church, but elders and preachers gifted by the Spirit and called to rule and teach in local churches in subordination to the Word of God. Again, our Confession:

6. There is no other head of the church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof." (WCF, Chapter 25, "Of the Church"; see Colossians 1:18, Ephesians 1:22, 1 Peter 5:2-4)

Christ is the King and only Lord of the church. He rules us by His Word, the Holy Spirit who first inspired it continuing to work now by enabling us to understand, believe, and obey the Scriptures. Elders and preachers are gifts He gives to the church to guide and help us understand and obey the Word, but they are not infallible.

Our Confession again,

1. The Lord Jesus, as King and Head of His church, hath therein appointed a government, in the hand of church officers, distinct from the civil magistrate. (WCF, Chapter 30, "Of Church Censures"; see Acts 14:23, 20:17,28, Heb.13:7,17, Eph.4:11,12, 1 Timothy 3:1-13, 5:17-21, etc.)

2. To these officers the keys of the kingdom of heaven are committed, by virtue whereof, they have power, respectively, to retain and remit sins, to shut the kingdom against the impenitent, both by the Word and censures, and to open it unto penitent sinners, by the ministry of the gospel; and by absolution from censures as occasion shall require. (WCF, 30.2)

1. For the better government, and further edification of the church, there ought to be such assemblies as a commonly called synods or councils, and it belongeth to the overseers and other rulers of the particular churches, by virtue of their office and the power which Christ hath given them for edification and not for destruction, to appoint such assemblies and to convene together in them, as often as they shall judge it expedient for the good of the church. (WCF, Chapter 31, "Of Synods and Councils")

2. It belongeth to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith and cases of conscience, to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God and government of his church, to receive complaints in cases of maladministratiion, and authoritatively to determine the same; which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission. (WCF, 31.2)

3. All synods or councils, since the Apostles' times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both. (WCF, 31.3)

4. Synods and councils are to handle or conclude nothing but that which is ecclesiastical, and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs ... [exceptions stated]" (WCF, 31.4)

A key point here is our understanding that church authorities are to act "ministerially" and based always on the Word of God. They cannot make laws in addition to God's revealed Word, but must labor to understand that Word properly and then declare it to the church and base their governing and disciplining actions upon it. We do not claim for any merely human governors of the church a magisterial authority.

From this fundamental difference in regard to authority and to the relative roles of the Bible, tradition, decrees of councils, and edicts of popes, flow the other differences. Why do Presbyterians not pray to Mary and the saints? Because the Bible nowhere tells us to do so; it is an invention by gradual accretion in the tradition of the church. And because, on the other hand, the Bible tells us that "there is one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus," who is our Great High Priest, through whom we have boldness to come to God's throne of grace (1 Tim.2:5, Hebrews 4:14-16). Christ is all the intercessor we need (Heb.7:23-28).

There are fundamentally different approaches to worship, which might be summed up this way:

Roman Catholic:

Whatever the tradition and councils have given us is what we do in public worship.


We give to God in worship only what is revealed in His Word as pleasing to Him (see Lev.10:1-3, Exodus 20:4-6, Mark 7:1-8).

While we are looking at worship, we observe that Presbyterians differ fundamentally with Roman Catholics in regard to the Lord's Supper. We both agree that Christ Himself ordained the observance of communion by His church and that this involves bread and wine. From that point on we agree on almost nothing. But let me try to summarize:

Roman Catholics:

By the grace received in his ordination the priest has power to utter the words of consecration by which mere bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ for sacrifice on the altar, and by receiving this mystical body (and blood) of Christ the faithful receive Christ Himself bodily and His grace to wash them clean of all their sins.


(a). The minister is not a priest; Christ alone is our priest in the sense of interceding for us before God by sacrifice. The minister is a servant, who declares the Word so that the faithful may understand what is taking place.

(b). The power of the minister is to declare what the Scriptures teach, not to say words that change bread into Christ's body.

(c). The bread and wine symbolically represent the body and blood of Christ. When Jesus at the Last Supper said to His disciples (of the bread), "This is My body which is broken for you", He was standing before them in His body, whole and intact. He meant this bread symbolizes My body. (When He said, "I am the door to the sheepfold," He was similarly speaking symbolically, or "I am the light of the world").

(d). There is no sacrifice of Christ on any altar, for He offered Himself once for all (Hebrews 7:27, 9:12, 9:26-28, 10:10). So perfect and acceptable was the sacrifice of the God-Man of Himself for sinners that no other sacrifice is required. When on the cross He said, "It is finished," He meant not only his suffering of death, but also His making atonement by His suffering. By that "one sacrifice for sins for all time," that "one offering." "He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified" (Heb.10:12,14). We hold it to be a great dishonor to Christ's once-for-all atoning work on Calvary to claim that His body and blood continue to be offered as sacrifice for sin. This is why we speak of the communion "table", not altar.

(e). The faithful receive Christ by faith, not physically. The elements are signs. They point to Christ and what He has done to atone for our sins. They point to Him also as our risen and living Savior and Lord who is present in His Church by the Holy Spirit, continuously offering Himself to believers. The bread and wine call us to draw near to Christ by faith, to receive forgiving and sanctifying grace from Him, to grow in our union with Him. But it is all spiritual and by faith.

I could go on listing differences, but two very important ones remain. I will deal with the most important last.

Presbyterians believe that God's Word is a sufficient revelation of His will for our lives (see above, Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 1, especilly Sections 6 and 7, and read 2 Timothy 3:15-17).

We think it is an arrogant usurpation of Christ's authority for church rulers to presume to have authority to add to His word rules and commands. Where does the Bible require ministers in Christ's church to be celibate? It doesn't, but rather teaches the opposite (1 Tim.3:2-5,12, see 1 Cor.9:5). But Catholic authority requires Catholic priests to take vows of celibacy, which are contrary to human nature and create terrible stumbling blocks leading to sin (which is now being plastered shamefully all over the public media). For centuries the Catholic Church told its people they must refrain from eating meat on Fridays; to do otherwise was sin. Now it's okay. It was a sin. Now it's not. The church says so. But the Bible does not say one word, except Colossians 2:20-23 (and 1 Timothy 4:1-5).

Appeal may be made to Matthew 16:19 (and 18:18), which read this way: "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" (and vice versa). There! The church officers make a binding decision on earth, and heaven will ratify it. But the passage actually says exactly the opposite. The second verbs in each case ("shall be bound" / "loosed"), are future perfect tenses, properly translated: "shall have been bound / loosed". So that the correct reading is: "Whatever you bind / loose on earth shall have been bound / loosed in heaven". That is, officers of the church on earth must base their decisions on what heaven has already determined. And what would that be? That would be what "Heaven," that is, God, has revealed by the Spirit in His Word, the Scriptures.

But the most important issue concerns salvation. We believe the Bible teaches that the all-sufficient atoning sacrifice of Christ and the perfect obedience of Christ, offered to His Father in our behalf and given to us as God's gift in the declaration of justification is all the basis for salvation that a sinner needs. See Romans 3:19-30, Philippians 3:2-9, Galatians 3:10-13, Romans 8:1-3. We believe that we receive this gift only by faith, Ephesians 2:8,9. Good works enter in as the fruit of saving faith, as its outworking in our lives. But the moment I throw myself on the mercy of God trusting in Christ's saving work for me, I am then and there and once and for all justified in God's sight and nothing I do after that in the way of good works can add to what Christ has done or to God's justification.

This has gone on quite long. As I noted at the beginning, your question is very short. Maybe you were looking for something other than what I have given you. But I do want to close with a few clarifications.

"Presbyterian": This is from the Greek word in the NT, presbyter, meaning elder. Presbyterian churches are churches which believe that Christ governs his church through the work of elders, a plurality of elders in each local church, and councils of the elders of the churches in a region or a nation.

Historically the "Presbyterian" churches were churches of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland and England that shared with other Protestant churches on the Continent a common understanding of Bible doctrine that is often referred to as "Reformed" (and historically associated with John Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland). In the 1640s the pastors and teachers of the Church of England met to officially reform the English church in the light of Scripture. Among other things they spent several years writing the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. These have since been the defining documents of Presbyterian churches.

Unfortunately, in the last 100 years or so, many Presbyterian churches have wandered away from their Confession because, at bottom, they were accepting man-made philosophies and ideas as being more true than the Bible. So not all "Presbyterians" believe what I have given you above. But those who believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God and who still believe - as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church does, by God's grace - the summary of its doctrines in the Westminster Confession, would agree with what I have told you.

I hope this is helpful to you. I have not meant in any way to offend, though sometimes stating things starkly can have that effect. I have tried to be clear about the differences, which is what you asked, and I cannot pretend that I do not think truth is on one side and not on the other. You, of course, may speak with equal frankness and I welcome a reply or further questions.

The Lord guide you in His paths of truth and righteousness. (DK)

About Q&A

TOPICS: Apologetics; Catholic; General Discusssion
KEYWORDS: catholic; presbyterian
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1 posted on 01/03/2010 10:30:30 PM PST by Gamecock
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To: drstevej; OrthodoxPresbyterian; CCWoody; Wrigley; Gamecock; Jean Chauvin; jboot; AZhardliner; ...

2 posted on 01/03/2010 10:41:38 PM PST by Gamecock (We always have reasons for doing what we do.)
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To: Gamecock

Thank you for this well written document!

3 posted on 01/03/2010 10:47:58 PM PST by BellStar (Be strong ........Joshua 1:6)
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To: Gamecock

Uh-Oh. Now you’ve gone and done it beep!

4 posted on 01/03/2010 10:52:34 PM PST by YHAOS
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To: Gamecock

5 posted on 01/03/2010 10:54:51 PM PST by Titanites
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To: Gamecock
Since each Protestant has his own beliefs, each Protestant is his own church of one, there really is no Protestant Church, or Presbyterian Church or any doctrine that is adhered to. QUESTION: What kind of a religion, after almost 500 years can't even decide if Jesus Christ is God?

ANSWER: That religion is Protestantism, where every individual is his own final authority, his own pope, dogmatic council, and church of one, and ABSOLUTELY NOTHING is decided or ever will be.

Today's Protestant may not realize it or admit it, but he is his own authority of one, there are no denominations, just individuals picking what they want to accept, and reading into the bible what he wants.

EVERYTHING and ANYTHING that so-called Protestants believe, is not even believed by the others WITHIN THEIR OWN DENOMINATION AND WITHIN THEIR OWN CHURCH BUILDING. NOTHING is decided among Protestants, NOT EVEN THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST!

There is no such conflict among Catholics. For a Catholic, religion is a matter of dogmatic certitude. A Catholic either believes the dogmas of the Faith or he is not a Catholic, but a heretic, and outside of the Church. That is the bottom line difference between any and all Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church!

6 posted on 01/03/2010 10:57:52 PM PST by verdadjusticia
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To: Gamecock

The authority of the Church is not “along side of the Bible” but is based on it. This claim of the Church, which you may not accept, is longstanding. You may argue otherwise, but given that there is no neutral party to decide the matter, mere discussion must be conclusive, with everyone free to choose one side or the other, or neither.

7 posted on 01/03/2010 11:18:32 PM PST by RobbyS (Pray with the suffering souls.)
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To: verdadjusticia

As how it should be, or should protestants incorporate pagan rituals as well?

8 posted on 01/03/2010 11:22:28 PM PST by randomhero97 ("First you want to kill me, now you want to kiss me. Blow!" - Ash)
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To: Titanites

Which one of these does not adopt the Westminster Confession?

The Roman Catholics just have all their ‘denominations’ under one title. They still exist.

9 posted on 01/03/2010 11:23:09 PM PST by esquirette (If we do not know our own worldview, we will accept theirs.)
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To: RobbyS

“The authority of the Church is not “along side of the Bible” but is based on it. This claim of the Church, which you may not accept, is longstanding. You may argue otherwise, but given that there is no neutral party to decide the matter, mere discussion must be conclusive, with everyone free to choose one side or the other, or neither.”

The Church will not be there at the Judgment to advocate or give an account for any individual.

10 posted on 01/03/2010 11:36:22 PM PST by esquirette (If we do not know our own worldview, we will accept theirs.)
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To: Titanites

Of course the tracking the multitude of Roman Catholic denominations is even more convuluted

11 posted on 01/03/2010 11:40:36 PM PST by Gamecock (We always have reasons for doing what we do.)
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Comment #12 Removed by Moderator

To: verdadjusticia

“.. each Protestant has his own beliefs, each Protestant is his own church of one ...” ~ verdadjusticia

Each Catholic has his own beliefs, each Catholic is his own church of one:

Monday, November 10, 2008
Biden’s bishop

On Nov. 4, one of Bishop William Francis Malooly’s parishioners, Joe Biden, was elected the nation’s first Catholic vice president. With Biden’s support for some legalization of abortion, U.S. Catholics are sure to watch how Malooly, installed in September as Bishop of Wilmington, Del., handles this tricky pastoral task,

I grabbed Malooly, who is here in Baltimore for a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to ask his thoughts on the matter.

Have you met with Vice-president elect Biden since the election?

I have not. We spoke the night before my installation and said we’d like to get together, but between the two of us, he’s got the tougher schedule.

You’ve criticized some Biden’s statements on church teaching, what will be your policy with him going forward, specifically with regard to him receiving Communion in your diocese?

Everyone knew where I was coming from when I was installed. In my homily, and in my pastoral experience, I have always said that I expect Catholics in the electorate, in my diocese, to consider life issues primary in their voting and listen to what the Catholic Church teaches. With regard to the theology of the church, I have to teach. Any public official, whether he’s a ballplayer or a politician, has to form his own conscience and heart in accordance with that teaching.

Is there a bright line for you, that if Biden crosses —such as throwing his weight behind embryonic stem cell research­that would cause you to deny him Communion in your diocese?

I haven’t thought that far ahead. This is somewhat of a new role for me, but I am conscious of the teaching role of this position.

What would you say to those Catholics who argue that it’s incumbent on you to protect church teaching by denying Biden Communion?

I respect what they have to say about being concerned for the sacrament but I have to follow my own conscience. I have be sure … not to alienate one of the Catholics for whom I am responsible.

Posted by Daniel Burke at 2:33 pm

13 posted on 01/04/2010 12:04:28 AM PST by Matchett-PI ("The Role of Government is to Secure Our Liberty, Not to Seize It" ~ Rush 6/26/09)
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To: verdadjusticia

I think you covered it very succintly.

That is why there is one Catholic Church, while there are a bizillion protestant “churches”, and growing.

As to who’s right - we’ll all know in 100 years... give or take.

14 posted on 01/04/2010 12:33:58 AM PST by aquila48
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Comment #15 Removed by Moderator

To: bronxville

Report: Protestant Church Insurers Handle 260 Sex Abuse Cases a Year
By Rose French
June 18, 2007

Protestant numbers have been harder to come by and are sketchier because the denominations are less centralized than the Catholic church; indeed, many congregations are independent, which makes reporting even more difficult.

Some of the only numbers come from three insurance companies Church Mutual Insurance Co., GuideOne Insurance Co. and Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Co.

Together, they insure 165,495 churches and worship centers for liability against child sex abuse and other sexual misconduct, mostly Protestant congregations but a few other faiths as well. They also insure more than 5,500 religious schools, camps and other organizations.

The companies represent a large chunk of all U.S. Protestant churches. There are about 224,000 in the U.S., according to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, although that number excludes most historically black denominations and some other groups, which account for several thousand congregations.

Church Mutual, GuideOne and Brotherhood Mutual each provided statistics on sex abuse claims to The Associated Press, although they did not produce supporting documentation or a way to determine whether the reports were credible.

The largest company, Church Mutual, reported an average of about 100 sex abuse cases a year involving minors over the past decade. GuideOne, which has about half the clients of Church Mutual, said it has received an average of 160 reports of sex abuse against minors every year for the past two decades.

Brotherhood Mutual said it has received an average of 73 reports of child sex abuse and other sexual misconduct every year for the past 15 years. However, Brotherhood does not specify which victims are younger than 18 so it is impossible to accurately add that to the total cases.

Abuse reports do not always mean the accused was guilty, and they do not necessarily result in financial awards or settlements, the companies said. The reports include accusations against clergy, church staff and volunteers.

Even with hundreds of cases a year “that’s a very small number. That probably doesn’t even constitute half,’’ said Gary Schoener, director of the Walk-In Counseling Center in Minneapolis, a consultant on hundreds of Protestant and Catholic clergy misconduct cases. “Sex abuse in any domain, including the church, is reported seldom. We know a small amount actually come forward.’’

Tom Farr, general counsel and senior vice president of claims for GuideOne, based in West Des Moines, Iowa, said most abuse cases are resolved privately in court-ordered mediation. Awards can range from millions of dollars down to paying for counseling for victims, he said.

One of the largest settlements to date in Protestant churches involved the case of former Lutheran minister Gerald Patrick Thomas Jr. in Texas, where a jury several years ago awarded the minister’s victims nearly $37 million (euro28 million). Separate earlier settlements involving Thomas cost an additional $32 million.

When insurance companies first started getting reports of abuse from churches nearly two decades ago, the cases usually involved abuse that happened many years earlier. But over the past several years, the alleged abuse is more recent, which could reflect a greater awareness about reporting abuse, insurance companies said.

Insurance officials said the number of sex abuse cases has remained steady over the past two decades, but they also said churches are working harder to prevent child sex abuse by conducting background checks, installing windows in nurseries and play areas and requiring at least two adults in a room with a child.

A victims’ advocacy group has said the Southern Baptists, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, could do more to prevent abuse by creating a list of accused clergy the public and churches could access.

“These are things people are entitled to know,’’ said Christa Brown, a member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, who says she was sexually abused as a child by a Southern Baptist minister. “The only way to prevent this crime is to break the code of silence and to have absolute transparency when allegations are raised.’’

At the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in San Antonio this week, the Rev. Wade Burleson proposed a feasibility study into developing a national database of Southern Baptist ministers who have been “credibly accused of, personally confessed to, or legally been convicted of sexual harassment or abuse.’’

A convention committee referred Burleson’s motion to the SBC executive committee, which will report back with findings and a recommendation at next year’s meeting in Indianapolis.

Southern Baptist President Frank Page said leaders are considering several options to help churches protect children against abuse.

“We believe that the Scripture teaches that the church should be an autonomous, independent organization,’’ Page said. “We encourage churches to hold accountable at the local level those who may have misused the trust of precious children and youth.’’

Several years ago, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which represents moderates who have increasingly distanced themselves from the conservative-led Southern Baptists, started a list of accused clergy for churches, but not the public. Under pressure from victim advocates, the Texas group just released the names of some convicted sex offenders who may have been ministers in local congregations.

Joe Trull, editor of Christian Ethics Today and retired ethics professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, helped the Texas convention create its registry and says there are now about 11 cases involving clergy abuse with minors.

But he believes these are just the “tip of the iceberg’’ because churches don’t have to report abuse cases to the registry and aren’t likely to.

“The problem we’re having is that churches just weren’t sending the names,’’ Trull said. “In the normal scenario, they just try to keep it secret. We’re going to have to be more proactive and let them know if they don’t come forward, they’re helping to perpetuate this problem.’’

Were they all celebrate? None of them married?

16 posted on 01/04/2010 1:47:59 AM PST by bronxville
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To: Gamecock

Gee, lets set up a battleground between religions.

Why in the world would anyone post a ‘my religion is better than your religion’ post on a conservative website? There are many conservative Catholics but they are reticent bc of people like this.

17 posted on 01/04/2010 1:53:32 AM PST by knowshon (How Dare They)
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To: Gamecock

Bait for the person who is supposed to be outing FR as anti-Catholic or openner to a legit debate about differences between Catholic and Protestant Christianity?

This line is troubling: “But Catholic authority requires Catholic priests to take vows of celibacy, which are contrary to human nature and create terrible stumbling blocks leading to sin (which is now being plastered shamefully all over the public media).”

That’s SRM leftist garbage. Incidence of child abuse are no higher for celibate priests than for ministers in Protestant churches (or any other large group for that matter). Then again, most don’t know that because the media has done such a good job equating “priest” with “child molester” and vice versa.

Or is this a reply to an earlier thread about Catholic vs Lutheran from the Catholic viewpoint? If so, I find it interesting - and telling - that the Catholic viewpoint included much praise of the strength of Lutheran faith. In contrast, this entire piece reads like an SRM hit piece on Palin complete with media-based distortions (see above).

18 posted on 01/04/2010 3:07:28 AM PST by piytar (Ammo is hard to find! Bought some lately? Please share where at
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To: piytar

About two miles down the road from where I live is the Presbyterian church that my family has attended in one way or another for four generations. When my grandfather first joined, he did so as a Texan who had moved east for his career. That was almost 100 years ago. Over the past 20 years the church changed so much that it is teetering on the brink of extinction. The manse across the street where the minister always lived, is now rented out for income. The last four ministers have been rentals who come in only for a service. The last two ministers were a homosexual and a lesbian respectively. The minister prior to that was thrown out for adultery with a parishioner. This year the Christmas Eve service was noticeably lacking in attendence.

Why has all this happened? Liberalism and moral relativism. Although I was married and both my children were baptized in this church, I almost never go there anymore.

19 posted on 01/04/2010 3:42:20 AM PST by AdaGray (uw)
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To: Titanites

I find it odd and hard to read your chart/break down of the Presbyterian Church as most break downs I’ve seen read from left to right and not right to left.

20 posted on 01/04/2010 3:43:24 AM PST by ReformedBeckite
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