Skip to comments.How Not to Become a Catholic
Posted on 02/16/2012 6:39:24 AM PST by NYer
This is the first installment of how a former Protestant leader crossed the Tiber.
A little over a year ago my status changed. Having been a Presbyterian minister for over twenty years, I became a Catholic layman. How that happened is a long story.
In a nutshell, though, reading a Catholic author here, meeting with a priest or two there, befriending groups of faithful Catholics, and attending lectures, meetings, and (occasionally) Mass all added up. At the same time, my questions about the viability of Protestantism in a post-modern environment became more pointed and my answers more frightening. The Protestant mainline, oldline, sideline is in theological, moral, and cultural freefall as it approaches becoming little more than a sideshow. And the evangelicals, I believe, are not all that far behind.
This, of course, didnt occur to me overnight. My journey to the Catholic Church happened over the course of about twelve yearseight asking increasingly uncomfortable questions and four praying very hard and asking more uncomfortable questions.
Again, its a long story. On the other hand, how to keep the same thing from happening to you is a shorter story.
After all, for Protestants and for ministers in particular becoming a Catholic is a hassle. A now-Catholic friend told me that his evangelical missionary in-laws would have been happier had he and his wife become hyper-liberal Episcopalians than faithful, orthodox Catholics. Friends with worried faces either ask difficult questions oreven worseask and say nothing at all.
Had I left my Presbyterian denomination to join the Free Will Baptists or a dispensational Bible church or to an Anglo-Catholic parish (smells and bells, but not Roman smells and bells), things would have been simple. There would have been a sentence or two in the Presbytery minutes to the effect that I had peaceably withdrawn to thus and such church because my theological convictions were no longer in keeping with the Westminster Confession.
No one, however, is permitted to peaceably withdraw to the Catholic Church. Old anti-Catholic habits die hard and so rigmarole, kerfuffle, and consternation were the order of the day. On the other hand, I guess I did demote the denomination from church to ecclesial community, the ministers from fathers and brothers to separated brethren, and Protestantism in general from many expressions of the Body of Christ to a bunch of sects in imperfect communion with the Body of Christ.
Once all was said and done though, my friends are still my friends something for which Im genuinely and profoundly grateful.
Not that Im complaining, mind you. The Catholic Church is all its cracked up to be in those Scott Hahn books, Opus Dei discussion groups, and descriptions by friends who converted before I did. It is, as I told my wife one day, the real deal and I am amazed at Gods kindness to me that I get to be a Catholic.
On the other hand, if youre a Protestant and especially if youre a Protestant minister listing Romeward, there are rules you can follow that may help keep you from following in my soggy footsteps across the Tiber.
Let me make clear that theyre not hard and fast rules. Breaking them all with impunity will not guarantee a switch to Rome. I know many people such as the Protestant half of Evangelicals and Catholics Together who know more about the Church than I do and yet are firmly rooted in the faith of the Reformation.
After studying enough Catholicism to coauthor the book Is the Reformation Over?, historian Mark Noll in a recent issue of First Things calls himself someone whose respect for Catholicism has grown steadily over the last four decades, and yet whose intention to live out his days as a Protestant also has grown stronger over those same decades. Fair enough.
You could break all the rules and have the same experience Dr. Noll has had or you could break the rules to your own peril and could begin to view the Christian faith, your life, time, space, and the whole physical world in a new, but oddly familiar light. Perhaps I can seer you around all this.
For Catholics, let me strongly encourage you to break all the rules early and often. After all, why should the converts have all the fun? Rule #1: Assume that all Catholics are idiots.
When I say assume all Catholics are idiots, I mean you need to assume all Catholics are idiots. You cant begin making exceptions because thats where the trouble starts. Its a slippery slope from All Catholics except John Paul II and Benedict XVI are idiots, to All Catholics except JP2, B16, Richard John Neuhaus, Francis Cardinal George, and G.K. Chesterton are idiots, to There are many Catholics who are not idiots, to The majority of Catholics, who, I must admit, are not idiots, to Bless me, Father for I have sinned. Nip this slippery slope in the bud. All means all.
All has to include all clergy, theologians, and intellectuals. In Blessed John Henry Newmans mid-nineteenth century novel about conversion, Loss and Gain, the main character, Charles Reding, receives a final warning from Carlton, a friend at Oxford University, before he takes the plunge across the Tiber. About Roman Catholics, Carlton cautions, You will find them under-educated men, I suspect. When Charles presses his friend as to how he knows this, Carlton replies, I suspect it. I judge from their letters and speeches which one reads in the papers, that is, in the English, Protestant, and, at the time, thoroughly anti-Catholic papers.
Carlton, a theology scholar, had managed to avoid all contact with actual Roman Catholic theologians and thinkers thereby providing himself with the safety of claiming that all Catholics are under-educated and not worth his attention except perhaps for ridicule.
Today thats what the New York Times seems to think Catholics are prejudiced, under-educated (at least), cultural troglodytes and that should be good enough for you. (Actually the Times believes what most liberal elites believe, that, as Richard John Neuhaus put it, The only good Catholic is a bad Catholic. They heartily approve of Catholics who reject Church teachings particularly teachings to do with sexuality.)
Anyway, more than a century and a half after Newman wrote, Fr. James Schall, Professor of Government at Georgetown University noted at the website, The Catholic Thing :
Few want to know what truth is found in Catholicism. The main reason Catholicism is hated in the modern world, and it is hated, is the suspicion that Catholicism might well be true. To mock or misrepresent Catholicism seems permissible if, as it is supposed, it is composed of dunderheads who cannot argue coherently about anything, not even what they believe and the grounds for it.
On a popular and practical level, this can be done by simply repeating the words, How could anyone believe that? with a pained facial expression whenever confronted with Purgatory, indulgences, the Immaculate Conception, papal authority, transubstantiation, or any number of other Catholic distinctives.
Wondering even for a moment how bright, well-educated, and theologically astute people defend these doctrines will only lead you to investigate. And investigation would put you in dialogue with Catholic thinkers in person or through their writings. And dialogue if it is honest carries with it an openness to change. And an openness to change is the very thing you dont want.
Better simply to assume we are all misguided dolts who desperately need either the New York Times or some Ryrie Study Bibles to set us straight.
Rule #2: Get all information on the Catholic faith second hand.
How the conversation got started is a mystery, but to topic was death and something I said caused my companion, an elderly gentleman, to remark, Of course Im Catholic and the Catholic Church teaches that when you die you become an angel.
Actually, I responded helpfully, the Catholic Church doesnt teach that.
Oh, yes it does, he insisted. The Church teaches that when you die you become an angel.
No, really, I replied, Trust me on this. I know that the Church doesnt teach that when you die you become an angel.
Look, he said become mildly annoyed at the uninformed Protestant minister at his side, Ive been a Catholic all my life and I know the Church teaches that when you die you become an angel.
Soooo how bout them Red Sox?
Bugs Bunny cartoons and New Yorker cartoons teach that when you die you become an angel. Country songwriter Hoyt Axton teaches that you need to be good lest, when you die, you become an angel with, a rusty old halo, skinny white cloud, second-hand wings full of patches. And the 1967 movie Casino Royal with Peter Sellers and David Niven teaches that when you die you become an angelunless youre very, very bad.
But no matter how long youve been a Catholic, the Catholic Church has not, does not, and never will teach that when you die you become an angel.
I often wonder what other exotic doctrines were growing in this gentlemans garden of misinformation. But Im certain that finding someone like him is an ideal way of exploring the Catholic Churchor something vaguely like the Catholic Churchin complete safety. Since poorly catechized Catholics are a dime a dozen, you wont have far to look. Some are still in the Church, some are as far from the Church as they can get, and some are next to you in the pew, having found in evangelicalism what they dont realize has been in Catholicism since the beginning.
If you have a choice, go with the now-evangelical ex-Catholic particularly the variety who will tell you, I used to be a Catholic, but now Im a Christian. Their misunderstandings of Catholic doctrine will probably be mixed with a severe distaste and the desire to prove the Church wrong and their current theological ideas correct.
Odd as it may seem, another good source for second-hand misinformation is older priests. Pick one who still appears to have hung on to his hippy tendencies and who you estimate went to seminary in the 1970s. If you prefer, you can substitute habit-free nuns of the same vintage. Thats the era Catholic scholar George Weigel refers to as the post-Vatican II silly season. Priests and nuns who imbibed the silly sauce never quite recovered.
Father Starchild or Sister Sunbeam will feel very comfortable making light of the Churchs authority to define any doctrine whatsoever. They happily disagree with many, that is, assuming they remember the correct doctrine at all. If youre a conservative evangelical, these two will be your worst nightmare holding, as they do, to all the trendy ideas that liberal Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Methodists love beginning with sexual freedom and do-it-yourself dogma.
When choosing a priest or nun, be careful not to get involved with a young John Paul II priest or a young nun in full habit. Too many of them are scary smart, extremely well educated, meticulously orthodox, and better preachers than youve heard in years. Theyll cause you trouble so stick with Father Starchild or Sister Sunbeam. Their ideas are outdated, their ilk is literally dying out, but theyre safe.
As Father Starchild or Sister Sunbeam will tell you, youll also want to avoid the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Commissioned by Pope John Paul II and written under the watchful eye of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI), the Catechism is the first-hand primary source of information on what Catholics believe. Avoid it.
First of all, its very long, detailed, and replete with Bible references and quotations from the Church Fathers (see Rule #3). Second, if evangelicals Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom in their book Is the Reformation Over are correct, you will find yourself agreeing with at least two-thirds right off the bat. Then whatever you dont agree with, you will find yourself understanding and pondering. Hmm, youll say to yourself, Perhaps I should study and think a bit more about the place of the Virgin Mary in the economy of salvation. And what will come of that?
As Noll and Nystrom write:
Evangelicals or confessional Protestants who pick up the Catechism will find themselves in for a treat. Sentences, paragraphs, whole pages sound as if they could come from evangelical pulpits, including passages on topics such as the nature of Scripture or the meaning of grace and faith. These readers will also notice the depth of scholarship, worn quite lightly, with hundreds of references to Scripture but also citations from early theologians . Readers familiar with standard statements of faith from the Reformation era will quickly notice a different tone in this Catholic writing. While covering much of the same territory , the Catholic Catechism is much more comprehensive. Moreover, it looks beyond the statement of doctrine to the care of souls. The Catholic Catechism is strikingly pastoral in tone. It is in part a book of worshipfocusing again and again on the majesty of God, inviting readers to reflect on Gods character, to respond to his love, to live as he commands, and to devote themselves to his service. Readers may come to the Catechism looking for information. Finding information, they may also find themselves (as we did) stopping to pray. (page 116) Far better and safer to get your information second-hand.
that’s as may be, but still, one priest writing opinion, isnt the official teaching of the catholic church for 2000 years.
that is the benefit of having a magesterium that traces back to st peter, for assuredness in what is officially taught.
Your post didn’t mention Jesus once; you put some so-called “pope” ahead of Him even - therefore it is discounted
It is also a reference to Jesus, the head of the body.
I agree with you there. And if this were a conversion story, you'd have a point. But it's not. This is an article that's poking gentle fun at the stereotypes non-Catholics hold about Catholicism, not a conversion story.
It's a bit as though we were watching a "This Old House" on TV, and this week's episode was about roofing. You got upset because the roofing episode didn't mention the foundation. I'm saying, that's not what's under discussion this week. We haven't gotten to it yet. Of course it's basic to the structure of the house--there's a reason they call it the Foundation, the Rock upon which the entire house is built. But this week they're discussing the roof; next week's episode is the electrical system; the week after that is Plumbing. The foundation is scheduled for Episode 4.
I heard the same criticism a few weeks ago when I posted the first few lines of the Apostles' Creed, and the Protestants said, "You didn't mention XYZ, you heathen! Obviously you don't believe in them!" My response, then as now, is "We didn't get to that yet. I just posted a few lines, not my entire statement of faith." But I was dismissed nonetheless.
I have a bad, sad feeling that no matter what we say or write, you're going to consider that we don't love Jesus enough to comply with your standards. Even though He is more central to my life, more the subject of my love, devotion, and service, more the Lord of my life, and in closer relationship with me now than two years ago when I was an evangelical Protestant. My point is that you cannot judge the interior spiritual life of other people by whether or not they're using precisely the phraseology you'd like when writing a humorous article. Only God can make that determination.
Catholic Freepers provide links to answer your questions or define our beliefs so as to give you a complete, accurate statement and not miss anything. I’ve found out the hard way that if we provide only the shorter version we can type in here, it will be derided because it’s incomplete. We can’t win with you guys.
That was a wonderfully-put answer. Just so! Of course it will be wasted on anyone naive, ignorant and indoctrinated enough who doesn’t comprehend that ALL Christians are all about Christ - but it was beautiful said regardless.
Because it is a given. We do not have to mention it every two insecure seconds. We know we have it.
We confess it more in the proper fashion then any church. I Left the RC church then became more anti- than most. I remembered honor my Mother and Father as a commandment.
So I would take my Mother to Church and hear this from these verses all in the Creed declared every Sunday. Which I never heard formally in indy Churches. Not to say they do not believe it. But formally it is in my Church.
Romans Chapter 10: 9 because if thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved:..Read More[Read More]
10 for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation...
Romans 14: 13 seeing that through the proving of you by this ministration they glorify God for the obedience of your confession unto the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution unto them and unto all;..
1 Timothy Chapter: 12 Fight the good fight of the faith, lay hold on the life eternal, whereunto thou wast called, and didst confess the good confession in the sight of many witnesses...
Hebrews Chapter 3: 1 Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, even Jesus;..
Hebrews Chapter 4: 14 Having then a great high priest, who hath passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession...
Hebrews Chapter 10: 23 let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not; for he is faithful that promised:..
Hebrews Chapter 11: 13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth...
Hebrews Chapter 13: 15 Through him then let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which make confession to his name...
James Chapter 5 16 Confess therefore your sins one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working...
1 John Chapter 1: 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.. 23 Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that confesseth the Son hath the Father also...
1 John Chapter 4: 2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:..
3 and every spirit that confesseth not Jesus is not of God: and this is the spirit of the antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it cometh; and now it is in the world already...
15 Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him, and he in...
2 John Chapter 1: 7 For many deceivers are gone forth into the world, even they that confess not that Jesus Christ cometh in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist...
Revelation Chapter 3: 5 He that overcometh shall thus be arrayed in white garments; and I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels...
SO BY THESE VERSES THIS CREED IS DECLARED BY CONFESSING!
I believe in one God the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through Him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven.
(at the following words, up to and including and became man, all bow)
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate( Became Flesh/human) of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate, He suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will have no end.
If you do not like this confession go back to the enemy of our souls. Because this is Holy Spirit guided and approved. If you do not believe throw out your bible or use it for toilet paper. And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets;
And in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
: I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Now if you do not like it go back to the enemy of our souls where you would belong. Because if this is not true the bible is not worth anything. We might as well throw it out.
1 John 4:
1 John 4 On Denying the Incarnation 1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit[a] of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
Gods Love and Ours
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
There is no gospel of your salvation in that creed. Without that, there is only another Jesus, another Spirit, another gospel. Of deceit in those that perish because they received not the love of God that they might be saved. No matter how many times the name Jesus is invoked, without the gospel, it is in vain.
That is one strange statement!
I know the Holy Spirit!
You are lacking in proper knowledge.
Really? One strange statement? Then please show me where the gospel of your salvation appears in that creed. Thanks.
“We know we have it.”
Not all. Maybe only a few.
“I have a bad, sad feeling that no matter what we say or write, you’re going to consider that we don’t love Jesus enough to comply with your standards. Even though He is more central to my life, more the subject of my love, devotion, and service, more the Lord of my life,....”
I am glad for you.
I have been of FR over 12 years and in that time I have noticed that Catholics rarely, if ever, post anything about Jesus Christ. I’ve seen thousands of articles about Mary - many thousands about the Pope, or some saint, or some bishop, or some practice of the Church, etc.
If I didn’t know better I would think he was a supporting actor.
I say this not out of any sense of animosity, nor out of a desire to win an argument, but because it is what I have seen with my own two eyes.
That’s a very interesting observation, and I don’t dispute it. I wonder if the reason is the same as the reason that I never post about breathing oxygen: it’s a given, it’s so basic to life, it’s assumed, it’s impossible to describe, it just IS. The other issues—the Pope, the Magisterium, the Blessed Virgin, points of doctrine, history, etc.—can be clarified, explained, defended, and advocated, but the Name above all names doesn’t need explanations or arguments. There’s no dispute about Him among Christians. The whole of the Church, of life, death, the Universe made by the Word, everything everything everything is Him. I can’t even think of anything to say about Him because He is all; I just fall on my knees. How do you post about that? The other things can be discussed or argued about, but we can’t argue about Him.
Does your church believe/teach that Christ paid the FULL PENALTY for our sins?
Please tell us what you would consider an adequate declaration of faith in the saving grace of Christ. Are there a few words or sentences you would use? I’m asking because if you can encapsulate your ideas of what a correct statement of faith would be, I’d like to see it, and see if there is anything there with which Catholics would disagree. Could you just post what you believe, briefly?
I’m NOT asking this in order to attack, find fault, or argue. I suspect we may have a lot more in common that you think. So could you write something please to define what you refer to as a “gospel of salvation”?
"Moreover brethren, I declare unto you THE GOSPEL which I PREACHED unto you, which also YE HAVE RECEIVED, and wherein YE STAND; by which also YE ARE SAVED, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS according to the scriptures; and that HE WAS BURIED, and that HE ROSE AGAIN the third day, according to the scriptures." 1 Cor. 15:1-4.
It's not enough to believe that Christ died, was buried and rose again. Lazarus did that. It's the REASON Christ died, was buried and rose again: FOR OUR SINS. THAT'S THE GOSPEL OF YOUR SALVATION.
"For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the GIFT of God; NOT OF WORKS, lest any man should boast." Eph. 2:8,9.
"For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for ALL, then were ALL dead: And THAT HE DIED FOR ALL, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him WHICH DIED FOR THEM, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be IN CHRIST, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who HATH RECONCILED US TO HIMSELF BY JESUS CHRIST, and hath given to us the ministry of RECONCILIATION; TO WIT, that GOD WAS IN CHRIST, RECONCILING the WORLD UNTO HIMSELF, NOT IMPUTING THEIR TRESPASSES unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of RECONCILIATION. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did BESEECH you by us; we PRAY YOU IN CHRIST'S STEAD, be ye reconciled to God. FOR HE HATH MADE HIM TO BE SIN FOR US, WHO KNEW NO SIN; THAT WE MIGHT BE MADE THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD IN HIM." 2 Cor. 5:14-21.
The Gospel of your salvation is believing that Christ died FOR YOUR SINS, was buried, and rose again. The reason God was able to raise Him from the dead is because the penalty for OUR SINS had been PAID IN FULL BY JESUS CHRIST. It is a free gift from God, who has saved us by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ. Not by works of "righteousness" that we perform to gain His approval. He offers us reconciliation based SOLELY on the finished work of Christ and our faith and belief that that work was done on our behalf.
Over,around and through all of it, is Jesus.The transubstantion is about Jesus.The Mass is about Jesus.In fact, He is so present to all Catholic belief that it is assumed that you know that.
It is the FINISHED WORK of Jesus that is missing. Your Church is all about the ongoing sacrifice of Christ, which is what Mass is about. It is the finished work of Christ that saves. His dying for OUR SINS and our faith in His death on our behalf. And KNOWING the penalty for our sins was paid in FULL, otherwise, God could not have raised Him from the dead. Without that, it’s nothing more than a man-made religion of works and rites and rituals for “righteousness”.