Skip to comments.My Church Loyalties
Posted on 07/28/2014 3:10:13 PM PDT by The Grammarian
My church loyalties
Why I am not yet a Catholic Jul 28, 2014 by D. Stephen Long
In 2005, after Benedict XVI was elected pope, I wrote an essay for the Century titled In need of a pope? That essay cost me a job at a Protestant evangelical institution. A Catholic friend told me at the time that I should think of that result as a gracious preemptive strike.
Since then I have repeatedly been asked, Why are you not Catholic?
The main reason I am not (yet) Catholic and remain a Methodist and an ordained Methodist elder is that I do not know how to become Catholic without betraying the people who taught me to love God, pray, worship, desire the Eucharist, take delight in scripture, and so on. How can I leave the people I love?
I remember my pastor, Lloyd Willert, who tended to me when I had major surgery at the age of 19 and was in a body cast for three months. He visited me and prayed with me. When I went to seminary, his wife gave me books from his library. I still cherish them.
Then there was Cleveland Tennyson, a self-educated African-Caribbean Methodist preacher whom I worked with in Honduras for a year. His sermons brought me into the presence of God in such a way that I felt you had to take off your shoes when he preached because you were standing on holy ground.
Geraldine Ingram was the first Methodist preacher I worked with in an official capacity. Her celebration of the Eucharist was beautiful and inspiring. It made me see the incarnation in a new light.
Then there are numerous friends and family members who have asked me not to convert. How could I walk away from those who gather with me on Wednesday nights to be accountable in our discipleship, attend to Sundays lectionary Gospel lesson, and celebrate the Lords Supper together? Should I abandon them? It is not what I am against that keeps me Methodist; it is what I am for.
On two occasions over the past decade I decided to become Catholic and initiated the process, largely out of frustration with Protestant sentimentality. On both occasions I had to wait because I had also been asked to lead a retreat, preach or preside at a Methodist church, teach a Sunday school class, lecture to a Methodist audience, or otherwise work in a congregation. In Graham Greenes novel The Power and the Glory, a less than admirable whiskey-loving priest becomes holy, and possibly a saint, simply because he had too much going on to leave Mexico after a revolution ousted the Catholic Church, even though he had begun to question most of the churchs teachings. I sometimes think Im like a whiskey-loving Methodist preacher. I just never get around to leaving; I always have something to do for the Methodists, and I cannot figure out how to leave without betraying people I love.
Two things prompted that 2005 essay. First, I was moved that so many Protestant leaders felt compelled to attend John Paul IIs funeral. The papacy no longer seemed to be a decisive point of contention if so many Protestants wanted to be present at the funeral mass. Second, I was moved by Benedict XVIs smile when he was presented to the world as pope. It hit me that Protestant efforts to create authority through texts, laws, and regulations lacked this humanity. So I thought out loud, without thinking of all the ramifications, about how Protestants might come to find a way to affirm the bishop of Rome and other aspects of Catholicism that once were thought to be nonnegotiable dividing lines.
How might Protestants reform Protestantism? I do not think Protestants can do so if their identity is bound up with protest. If all that holds them together as Protestants is what they are against, then they actually depend on what they supposedly oppose for their identity rather than on what they are for. The end result of that protest will be solipsism or nihilism.
Of course, many Protestant conversions to Catholicism are themselves protestant conversions. On one occasion when I was tempted to convert to Catholicism, I did so because I was angry at the silliness of activities like puppet-and-clown Eucharists. A friend and pastor asked me to wait one year to make sure that I was not converting because of what I was protesting against. Wouldnt such a conversion be one more act of protest? It was good Ignatian counsel. I waited the year and then went through spiritual direction with a Jesuit to discern whether I should convert. He did not think I was ready.
How thorough is a Protestant conversion to Catholicism if the convert harbors an animus toward Protestantism that violates Roman Catholic teaching? In my 2005 essay I quoted the Catholic catechism to remind Protestants that the Roman Catholic Church does not consider Protestants to be heretics, apostates, or non-Christians: I would not deny that Protestants already share to an extent in the Catholic unity. In fact, this is the official teaching of the Catholic Church itself. Its catechism states that one cannot charge with the sin of separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers. Those of us who came to love God through these separated communions are correct to declare our faith in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. So even on Catholic grounds, I am not considered as a Protestant to be protesting against the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
I am willing to concede, as Roman Catholicism states, that the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church subsists in it. That may be too much for many Protestants, but it is not for me. I am even willing to agree that whatever is found of faith in the separated communions has as its causein some mysterious sensein the unity Catholicism has maintained. But I cannot conclude that by remaining Methodist I am protesting against the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. In fact, it is my love for and faith in that church that keeps me Methodist.
The counter identities that began in the 16th century have damaged Christian witness and brought Gods judgment of secularity against us. But God has not seen fit simply to do away with Protestants or take the fruit and gifts of the Spirit from us, so it will not suffice simply for Protestants to cease to exist, which I fear seems to be some Catholic converts (perhaps Protestant?) solution. I am not a Methodist because I am in protest. I want to find a way forward without having to replay the countermeasures of the 16th century.
I do think the church stands in need of constant reform. This is not a Protestant-versus-Catholic position. In fact, Catholics have often been better at reform than Protestants, as Karl Barth acknowledged after Vatican II. So let me directly state what I do find troubling in Catholicism. None of this is so troubling that it would keep me from embracing Catholicism, because I know none of it identifies the whole or breadth of the Catholic faith; nor do I think that similar, if not deeper, problems cannot be found in Protestantism.
Nevertheless, I find the absence of women in leadership deeply problematic. I sometimes wish Catholic bishops would at least run some of their statements past their mothers or sisters before releasing them to the public. This would help to avoid public relations gaffes that make it look like the Catholic Church has a war on women (in fact, I dont think Catholicism has any such intention).
I support womens ordination. I dont have any grand theory about it; I have simply seen it. I grew up with women preachers whose sermons bore the fruit of the Holy Spirit. They bring a unique perspective to the church that I think the church lacks if it denies them the exercise of their gifts. I think it matters that women were the first proclaimers of the resurrection and that the first person to make God present in his materiality was Jesus mother.
Second, I am concerned about abuses of authority and power that occur and have occurred in Roman Catholicism. Who could possibly deny this? Here, of course, I would find an ally in the Orthodox Church, which would question any easy Catholic answer as to where the true catholic church resides. I dont think this problem has to do with the papacy per se or the primacy of the bishop of Rome. But I am concerned about habits of power that prompt Roman Catholic leadership toward secrecy or to use the instruments of government to impose a way of life that Catholic laypeople themselves refuse to adopt.
Let me give an example of the latter. I largely support, with some qualifications, the Affordable Care Act. Providing health care for everyone seems to me to be fulfilling a command Jesus gave to us to love our neighbor. I do not recognize abortion or contraception as having to do with health care. I want Catholic institutions to be allowed to opt out of any mandatory requirements. However, that Catholic (and Protestant) leaders have made this a question of persecution is dishonest. Many Catholic institutions were already providing contraceptive options for their employees prior to the Affordable Care Acta fact that is widely known.
Rather than taking on the federal government, Catholic leadership (bishops, theologians, laity) would have been more truthful if they said to the Catholic people: Artificial contraception is a question of mortal sin. We refuse to admit to the Eucharist or receive money from any Catholic who violates this teaching. We will take the name Catholic away from every institution already involved in this practice.
Its not that I think Catholic leaders should do this; it would be imprudent. I like the fact that Catholicism has an earthy paganism to it that can incorporate all kinds of messiness into its life. But if Catholic leaders are going to howl about persecution because they are asked to do something by the federal government that Catholic people are already doing, then their witness rings hollow. I worry about a Catholic defensiveness that finds persecution when its moral teachings are not honored or implemented by governmental power but looks the other way when Catholic laypeople do not abide by them.
Third, I struggle to affirm Catholic teaching on contraception. I served as a pastor in Honduras in a village with many Catholics and Methodists. A Catholic priest from Miami would fly in every other month, drive to the Catholic church in his Mercedes, unlock the church, hold mass, lock the building, and drive off. He was one of those priests who declared the cafeteria was closed when it came to matters of church teaching. I remember a poor Catholic women in her early thirties who gave birth to her tenth child on a dirt path on her way to the clinic my wife operated. She was faithful to the church, but there was no one there to attend to her, to help her with her poverty, or teach her natural family planning.
I also recall a conversation I once had with a young priest over dinner. He was going on and on about how everything in Western society declined once contraception was permitted. (I was thinking to myself: So contraception is the defining sinnot slavery, genocide, Jim Crow laws, total warfare, racism, patriarchy?) I finally confessed to him that I had been married for two decades, that I did not follow Catholic teaching, and that I didnt think my marriage embodied any of the consequences he thought inevitable from failing to do so. He turned to me and said, Your marriage lacks the fullness it could otherwise have. I admit I was offended and wondered how he could make such a snap judgment without knowing me, my wife, or our biological realities.
I agree with Protestant ethicist Paul Ramsey that a marriage must be open to children or it is not a fulfillment of the Christian vocation to marriage. I teach this view when I do marital counseling. However, I do not think every act of sexual intercourse has to be open to the propagation of children. On this point I dont think I differ that far from Catholic teaching. Natural family planning is itself a natural contraceptive practice that requires certain artificial instruments for its employment (thermometers, calendars, etc.). It is unclear to me that it bears a different intentionality from certain other forms of artificial contraception. So if this teaching is necessary for someone to be Catholic, I am not Catholic.
I would express one more concern I have about Catholic teaching. I address ethical issues from a christological perspective more than a natural one. Many Catholic colleagues tell me this is a Protestant position. I used to argue with them, but now I have come to accept their criticism. I often worry that Catholic theologians can say nature much more easily than they can say Jesus, and I think this is tied up with my three concerns noted above. Those concerns are not unique to Catholicism. Bad practice by Catholic priests does not invalidate all Catholicism any more than bad practice by Protestant ministers invalidates all of Protestantism.
Every good Protestant Christian must be willing to return to Rome for the sake of the unity of the church once the Reformation is over. The Reformation should always be understood as a temporary measure. Perhaps the time for reunion will come in my lifetime. In the meantime, those individuals who return to Rome prior to that day must not deepen the divide and therefore bear witness against that future reunion.
How Catholics receive Protestant converts (and vice versa) will have an effect on this effort. If converts are seen as booty in a cultural war, then they are not being faithfully received. One of my close friends, my sons godmother, recently left the Methodists and became Catholic. I was surprised because she had feminist commitmentsbut she found a place in Catholicism where those commitments were honored. I am pleased she found a home and rejoice with her. A Catholic friend wrote to her and said, Welcome home. Sorry we left the house in such a mess.
On the day we are reconciled, I hope the Catholic Church will welcome us with this kind of humility.
FGS, take an RCIA class and convert already! The author is just making excuses.
“The main reason I am not (yet) Catholic and remain a Methodist and an ordained Methodist elder is that I do not know how to become Catholic without betraying the people who taught me to love God, pray, worship, desire the Eucharist, take delight in scripture, and so on. How can I leave the people I love?”
You don’t even have the Eucharist. You don’t even have a complete Bible. Don’t leave the people you love. Bring them along.
I stopped reading there, clearly this guy isn't ready yet.
“In fact, Catholics have often been better at reform than Protestants, as Karl Barth acknowledged after Vatican II.”
“Gee, if only there was a Vatican XXV...”
“Can’t we all just get along?”
That essay cost me a job at a Protestant evangelical institution.
Hmph. I was planning on welcoming the Catholics.
As Lutherans state (and I think this applies to Protestants more generally), we don't abolish the Mass so much as maintain it in a more pure form: "we do not abolish the Mass, but religiously keep and defend it" (Augsburg Confession).
More of the social gospel. No where do we have in the NT the example/exhortation for us to have guvment "love" our neighbor.
Maybe every "good" catholic should come out of the Roman Catholic Church and become a Christian.
As a former Methodist who converted to Orthodoxy, I can tell him to wait until the reasons for converting are more compelling than those for not converting. And, once converted, to accept what the church teaches, even if he doesn’t quite understand it. Don’t go in intending to reform or change the church. That is, don’t be what Frank Schaeffer is (or was) to Orthodoxy. For me, it all became very simple. I walked into an Orthodox church one Sunday morning and I knew I was home. He needs that conviction.
I disagree with him about the ACA's merits, but politics aren't theology. One can be a "good" Christian without being a political conservative in the sense the term is meant in U.S. politics.
I'm not sure how you can support the liberal agenda and be a "good" Christian. The two are incompatible.
“Nevertheless, I find the absence of women in leadership deeply problematic...I struggle to affirm Catholic teaching on contraception.”
Try to find one person of any faith who accepts women clergy/pastors but hasn’t accepted bc within marriage. I’ve never come across one, anyhow.
I personally don’t see a need for reconciliation on earth aside from all of us shaking hands at the occasional Christmas ecumenical service and saying, “See you in Heaven!”
Meaning we’ll be reconciled in Jesus so why worry about it here?
If we make it about thinking the right way on items that are not essential doctrine (the Trinity or substitutionary atonement, for example), then we make it about what we think and that comes awfully close to works-righteousness: what we do and think.
I think it will be people coming to the Catholic Church, Megan.
We are Christians.
Right there is a problem.
No one can serve two masters.
Our loyalty should be to Jesus first and foremost.
Church affiliation and loyalty should be way down on the list of priorities.
Just like a Lutheran lady who started on one end of town and went to all the churches. When she stepped into the Catholic Church, she knew she was HOME!
I do agree salvation is through faith alone. But will a Christian produce this kind of fruit??
If Protestants are Christian at all, then their denominations are part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. You should be loyal to your church for that reason alone; but also, most churches' membership vows include being loyal to the church and supporting it "by your presence, prayers, gifts and witness" (from the United Methodist Church membership vows, for example). Surely, your word means something. If you are unwilling to be loyal to that church, then look at that quotation again.
Or, as Kevin deYoung points out in Why We Love the Church, the Church is the Bride of Christ. You cannot say, "I love Jesus, but I hate his Church"--it makes no more sense than saying you love your friend, but hate his wife.
We are the church.
Denominations are not the church.
The church, the Body of Christ, is an organism, not an organization.
Loyalty should be to the Head, which is Christ, not to denominations. Denominations can’t save. Christ does.
As I said before....it's very rare to hear a catholic identify as a Christian.
You must have a very narrow range of encounters.
I was received graciously, far better than I think I deserved.
Ask Mary to help you. If she doesn’t answer, you’re supposed to be a Protestant.
There is a difference between political liberalism that is outright in favor of gross immorality, and political liberalism that believes that gross immorality should be tolerated because God alone is Judge. I don't think the former could call themselves 'good' Christians, but surely the latter's politics is not so immoral as to negate any true faith its proponents may hold.
Os Guinness has a good essay about this in his book The Call: in essence, he says that it is as much a sin to make absolute what God has left relative as it is to make relative what God has made absolute. The Bible doesn't espouse a particular political system, so we shouldn't make it an article of faith that one must adhere to a particular political philosophy in order to be saved.
There is no "Christ and"--no "Christ and conservative," nor "Christ and liberal."
Denominations (or Communions, so as to include the non-Protestant groups) are the Church. One particular Communion may not be able to say that it, and it alone, is the Church--but no particular Communion is without some claim to being part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
The Grammarian: What are denominations, but groups of Christians? Denominations (or Communions, so as to include the non-Protestant groups) are the Church.
For someone with your name, better reading comprehension is expected than what you are displaying. If you want to disagree with the metmom assertion of "organism, not an organization," then you should have said so.
But to turn your back on that root point and then make a lot of noise about merely different levels of the very corporatization metmom discriminated from is, I think disingenuous.
In short, you are addressing org charts, while metmom is addressing the divine family of souls who have received Christ in their hearts and minds and lives.
Some people see those two things as separate subjects.
He's a person I'd like to pray with. He's a person I'd like to meet.
Nope...Anyone can call themselves Christians...
But you also say, "denominations are not the church." What are denominations, but groups of Christians?
Denominations are groups of people who call themselves Christians but are in fact made up of Christians and non Christians...It is only the Christians in a denomination who are the church, the Body of Christ...
Denominations (or Communions, so as to include the non-Protestant groups) are the Church.
There is no Church...There are churches...
One particular Communion may not be able to say that it, and it alone, is the Church--but no particular Communion is without some claim to being part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
There is no catholic, apostolic church...
You must have a very narrow range of encounters.
This is posted every day as the "Catholic" word of the day.
There are at least 17 returns of FR thread using a keyword search of catholic.
the following are phrases from various posters on just this thread up through post 160.
because I look too Catholic....
I used to be Catholic...
First thing they do is attack the Pope and Catholics....
The free will idea that man is capable of choosing to be saved is a most Roman Catholic idea.
between Protestant and Catholic Christians....
the one, holy, Catholic Church and that,
They are mostly Catholic-haters. Anything, then, that looks remotely Catholic is something they will attack.....
but one things for sure, we Catholics
isnon-Catholics. Without the Catholic Church their own
...what the Catholic Church....
pro-life and Catholic List: ....
that is what this Catholic has been told
No, its not. Its as common as Protestants claiming the contrary.
Actually, I said 'called Christian'--as in, indirect object. I deliberately left who called people "Christian" open, so as to include all possible answers (including the ones that God calls 'Christian,' i.e., Christ-like).
Denominations are groups of people who call themselves Christians but are in fact made up of Christians and non Christians...It is only the Christians in a denomination who are the church, the Body of Christ...
The Parable of the Tares definitely militates against that particular viewpoint.
There is no Church...There are churches..There is no catholic, apostolic church....
You must not believe the Apostles' Creed, then. "I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints...."
the continued use of protestant is a whole separate issue.
So it is here. I am not addressing 'org charts' while metmom speaks of spiritual states; I reject the presented dichotomy as a false dichotomy born out of a hyper-individualistic soteriology that supposes that we can be Christ-followers in isolation from one another.
I'm with you.
Why is it called the Apostles' Creed...They never mentioned a Catholic Church...Or communion of the Saints...
Jesus said where two or three are gathered together, He is there in the midst.
Nobody needs a denomination, a building, an organization, whatever, to be a church.
Believers are the church and where believers are gathered together, there is the church.
They never mentioned Protestantism, certainly.
So WHICH one of the 30,000+ different Protestant denominations have the "true form of it" (Christian unity)?
It can't be ALL of them as they are so very different from each other. Some? A few? 14 of them? How many?
There MUST be some Protestant denominations that consider those three horrors as Satan's very own evil as Catholics do?
Now there's a ten dollar word...But no, that's not true...Perhaps you make the same error the Catholics make with that parable...They use that verse to claim there are tares in the Church...All one has do is read the scriptures...It tells you right there that the context is the world, NOT the church...
The wheat and tares are in the world...The wheat only is the church...
Only Catholics are so good at making assumptions about what other people mean with no basis whatsoever.
And you know what? People can be Christ followers in isolation. Indeed, many people are forced into it due to circumstances beyond their control.
A person does NOT need a church, a denomination, an organization, to follow Christ.
A follower of Christ just needs the leading of the Holy Spirit who is the indwelling presence in the believer.
A Christian is one who's one inwardly, not one outwardly based on being a card carrying member of XYZ church.
As a Christian I oppose all of those....along with praying/worshiping to Mary and other false idols.
Catholics don’t worship Mary. Why, do you?
” Nobody needs a denomination,a building,an organization,whatever,to be a church.”
Your right like a lot of protestants on forum threads who sit at home on the Lord’s Day and ‘church themselves’....they dont need no stinkin churches.
So are you saying that you don’t obey the Ten Commandments? Especially about keeping the Lord’s Day holy by attending church?
We talk to her asking for things. Don't you ever "talk" to your deceased loved ones? Praying is talking.
We worship God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We pray/talk to many people in heaven.
However, I do know many Protestants who think the way you do...that we worship someone other than God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It always make me wonder where they got so much disinformation.
Steve Ray and Scott Hahn, two former Protestants converts to Catholicism, did give insight on the hatred some Protestants are taught from a VERY early age.
They thought that it was a sad state of affairs to grow up with such religious bigotry, based on the hatred of a faith.
I will pray for the dissolving of your driving hatred for ... Catholicism and us folks who practice it. I was brought up in it. I didn't learn to hate those who were NOT brought up in Catholicism.
WHO taught you such hatred and SUCH disinformation? S/he/they did you a disservice.