November 30, 2020

Five Questions on The iMonk and Catholicism (where I also discuss some of my thoughts on how various kinds of Christians should appreciate and love one another.)

malti-pictou-canoe.jpgUPDATE: Carl Olson fisks this post. Just in case anyone missed it, I’m not trying to talk you people out of your Catholicism or tell you I’m glad I’m not a Catholic. James White’s blog is elsewhere. Comments are closed on this post. Mr. Olson can provide you the space to discuss this one, and I will not publish comments that appear on other IM posts.

I realize I send out some fairly confusing signals on the subject of Roman Catholicism. I hope this post, and one to follow, will provide some clarity and material for further discussion and exchanges.

1. On a scale of 1-10, ten being conversion to the RCC and 1 being fundamentalist opposition to the RCC as the Great Harlot of Babylon, where are you.

Hmmmm. This is interesting. I’ll never convert to the RCC for any reason I can currently anticipate, and I’ll always consider believers in Jesus who are part of the RCC to be my brothers and sisters in Christ. My post-evangelicalism is a recovery of much that I appreciate and affirm in Catholic spirituality and tradition. I read a lot of Catholic Biblical scholars, Thomas Merton is an important life mentor and I go on retreats at Catholic facilities. But……..I have some fairly profound differences on classic Catholic/Protestant issues, especially regarding authority, the sacraments and ecclesiology. Minus infant baptism and episcopacy, I’d probably be a pretty good Anglican. So let’s say “7,” but leaning- permanently- to the Protestant side. (By the way, I’d put my current church at about 8 🙂

2. What’s your issue with church authority?

Basically, I can’t affirm any kind of infallibility other than scripture itself (and even there I don’t use the word “inerrant” in the sense most evangelicals do.) I’m quite comfortable with the statements of the authority of scripture in the Second London Baptist Confession or The New Hampshire Confession of Faith.

What I would add is something along the lines of D.H. William’s view of the catholic tradition and the dangers evangelicals have incurred by seeming to be opposed to the place of tradition. Our RC friends are, in my opinion, generally correct to ask us questions about authority, because most evangelicals have a distorted view of Christian history and a very distorted view of the origin of scripture itself. I think evangelicals would do well to go to those Protestant traditions- such as Lutheranism and Anglicanism- and learn how to talk about tradition again in a positive way.

Where I come down differently than my RC friends is that I believe once scripture is canonized, then scripture becomes the judge of tradition and the primary source of authority. I see Luther being the conservative and the RCC as the innovators going beyond a legitimate use of tradition. Popes can err, councils can err, churches can err, and scripture is the final authority over them all. I understand that scripture must be interpreted, but I don’t see an infallible interpreting person or body as necessary.

I’d describe my view as James Leo Garrett’s “Prima Scriptura” as opposed to “Sola Scriptura” as Catholics understand it. (But I believe that the reformation idea of Sola Scriptura WAS Prima Scriptura.)

I would rather have 20,000 “little popes” with their Bibles, all believing they can err and be corrected by scripture, rather than one pope who cannot err or be corrected by scripture.

I’m not under any illusions about the appeal of the RC view of authority and its simplicity and power to unify. I sense that and I understand why so many Protestants are drawn to a community where debates and arguments are almost unheard of and the answer to every question is in the catechism! On the other hand, I’m quite a fan of the Protestant experience of constant reformation, listening, digging, discussing and savoring the Bible. I appreciate Catholic Bible scholars who help me in that process, but I can feel the constraints on them, even in their best work, when scripture and tradition part ways (such as in the Marian dogmas.)

I think that all Christians, as they have departed from the simple faith of the New Testament, have a lot to answer for and many reasons to pray for constant reformation and unity. But I’m under no illusions: the churches of the Reformation are in disarray, and Rome looks wonderful on many days for many appealing reasons.

3. But aren’t you a major fan of the last two popes?

I have tremendous respect for how JPII and B16 have articulated much of the Gospel, especially regarding the nature of truth and the person of Christ. I obviously disagree with them about the nature of the RCC, the role of tradition and some of the specifics of salvation. But I respect the courage of these men as spokesmen for their faith in a secular age.

That being said, I puzzle greatly over some of the recent teaching of the church regarding Islam and other non-Christian religions, and even some of what is said about those who do not believe at all. I realize that Mark Noll says Vatican II and recent dialogs have made differences between Catholics and Protestants almost negligible, but I don’t feel that way. I’m grateful for the kinship I feel and the ability I have to enjoy much in contemporary Catholicism, but I still feel the Reformation divide quite personally and painfully. I pray for true unity in Jesus Christ, and I try to put that desire for unity into my own ministry as a priority.

4. When someone attempts to persuade you to convert to Roman Catholicism, or tells you that conversion is the answer to some issue you are raising at IM, how do you respond?

I have mixed feelings. I certainly understand that many people sincerely believe that joining a church or denomination was a significant answer for them, and I read lots of testimonies to that effect from evangelicals, emergers and RC converts. When someone hears me complain about some nonsense in evangelicalism or some deficit in evangelical worship and says, “Roman Catholicism is the answer for that concern,” I understand that they want me to enjoy what they are enjoying.

On the other hand, when it comes to the idea that a denomination or institution is, in and of itself, the answer, I’m vehemently opposed to that notion. Jesus didn’t come to start a franchise operation or an institution in the generally understood sense. I realize that puts me at serious odds with my RC friends, and with many of my Baptist and Reformed friends as well. That needs some explanation.

I am not saying that the movement Jesus began has no institutional expression or aspect. I’ve worked for the institutional church my entire adult life, which has contributed considerably to my belief that Jesus isn’t about institutions. I do believe that institutions can nurture and encourage the Kingdom movement. I grew up in a church that proclaimed itself the apostolic successors to Jesus and the only true church. They were wrong, but they were still a church that belongs to Jesus, just like the ones in Revelation 2 and 3. That’s where I let all the claims for “join my church or denomination” rest. Jesus is in the midst of all those who claim to be his, and he’s making all the judgments that count about the “ecclesia” he began and will complete.

I’m a local church advocate and the local church is basic to Christianity, but I do not believe either scripture or tradition can answer the question “What is the one true denominational church?” I actually like what B16 said when he stated that there is one true church and other ecclesial gatherings are deficient. I just disagree that his church is the one true church in that paradigm. I think they’re right there on the bus with the rest of us. The true church exists, in Jesus and through the Holy Spirit, in the midst of all of our defective attempts at being the church.

What I do believe very strongly, however, is that we ought to respect where we all are at the points we meet each other, respect who we all are as Jesus followers, and assume that most of us see the hand of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in the places we’ve chosen and the communions we’ve identified with. Not agree with one another or act as if truth isn’t there or doesn’t matter. No, not at all.

I am where I am as a result of God’s work in and outside of my life. I am not going to despise all that God’s done to bring me where I am to be who I am and do what I do by saying, “I’m convinced that denomination X is the true church. I’ll resign my ministry and go become a Wal-Mart greeter so I can be a member of that church or denomination.” That’s- sorry to use the term- badly mistaken, in my opinion. I work with dozens of different denominations of Christians and I spend ZERO time trying to turn them into Baptists or Reformation Christians. I teach. I preach. We talk. I listen. I minister. We serve and worship and love one another. They stand or fall before God and it’s not my place to tell them to change churches. (I’ll tell them a lot about the characteristics of a church to participate in if they ask, but that’s another matter.)

It bothers me that so much Christian discussion on the blogosphere is about “Come over to my side,” especially among some of the Reformed, some conservative evangelicals and some Catholics. I’d like to hear one another respectfully, compare notes and journey photographs, debate clearly, and then honor God by praying for and loving one another.

5. I’ve heard you talk about your “two experiences” of Catholicism. What do you mean by this?

First, let me say that I could use much the same paradigm for evangelicalism, Baptists, the churches and ministries I’ve served and so on. It’s just the nature of this kind of experience, and the nature of reflective, analytical persons, to have a multi-leveled experience.

Much of what I’ve experienced in Catholicism has been through people like Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, Saint Francis, G. K. Chesterton, and Peter Kreeft (though I’ve had both experiences with Kreeft) as well as through dozens of ordinary Catholics I’ve met and known along the way. If you read The River is Wide, you’ll see that I had a very positive, nurturing, affirming and deepening experience of Catholicism in my own journey. In this experience of Catholicism, I was NEVER challenged to abandon my own faith tradition and adopt another. Not a single word of Merton in those thousands of pages or a single Catholic friend in my Charismatic days ever addressed me as an erring, separated Protestant who ought to convert. (The same certainly couldn’t be said of how my tradition addressed Catholics.)

On the other hand, in the blogosphere, I’ve encountered a more confident, evangelistic, apologetic kind of Catholicism that is unafraid to critique evangelicalism, often in the same terms as I do. Some of these voices resemble what Calvinists sometimes call “cage phase” converts: so zealous they should be put in a cage. These are generally Protestant converts intent on doing battle with as much of Protestantism as they can get on the field. In response to this kind of Catholicism, I will honestly admit, I often feel very negative emotions and much estrangement and resistance. Not because of the confident articulation of faith, but because of the high priority placed on proving Protestants as heretics and in constant need of return to Rome. When aimed at me personally, by name or in a comment, it really irks me, whatever irks means.

I’ve probably sent some very contradictory signals to my RC friends and readers in regard to my own feelings and opinions about Catholicism, and if so, I apologize for anything I’ve said that’s been unfair or unkind. The issue, however, is that my own experience is a bit bifurcated along these lines. (And I realize this comes from some of the many divisions within Catholicism itself.)

More questions later….


  1. Hi Michael. My background growing up and through my first decade of adult life was deeply embedded within the present pluralism of Western culture. I’ve never been the sort of secularist, agnostic, or atheist most Christians seem to have in mind when they discuss those who are not Christians, though I do have people like that in my family. I also grew up experiencing many different strands of Western Christianity as well as Judaism and have family members all over that map as well. (Judaism by marriage and/or conversion.) So I find myself in the odd place of a relative latecomer to Christianity with a much broader experience of the faith than most of my fellow Christian. (I also have exposure to or have actively pursued different Eastern religions and various flavors of neo-paganism, but that’s not germane to my thoughts here. And also, I really do enjoy your podcast and many of your essays.)

    I don’t really have much to contribute to the first question. I’m not at all sure where I would fall. I can’t ever imagine converting to Roman Catholicism, but that’s for reasons that have little to do with doctrine, per se. I certainly don’t disagree with the RC catechism any more than I disagree with the catechism of my own Southern Baptist denomination. (The fact that you don’t put it together in a handy volume and call it a catechism doesn’t make it any less of one.) I have no “beef” with the Roman Catholic Church, but I’m not going to convert to it either.

    It’s in the second question that I sense the impact of the absence of the third tradition of Christianity from your discussion. The Orthodox tradition would agree with many of the objections you have raised about the Roman Catholic tradition and all of them on the issue of authority. They hold deeply to the truth that no human is infallible and we are not free to innovate on the faith that has been passed on to us. In fact, the Orthodox find the Pope’s title as “Vicar of Christ” virtually blasphemous. Jesus is the head of the Church and he hasn’t gone anywhere so he has no need for a vicar.

    Nevertheless, Jesus has chosen to form his Church from flawed and fallible human beings and there is only one teaching or interpretation and practice of scripture which is true. They find the Protestant reality of hundreds of millions of ‘little popes’ just as disturbing. And frankly, I’ve never been able to grasp why my fellow Protestants are not deeply disturbed by the disintegration of Protestantism. We claim to value Scripture, but that is a flat denial of the direct and unequivocal command of scripture that we be one — and I don’t mean as in a “Church of One” for each individual.

    In essence, the Orthodox believe it is their first duty to hold to the faith as it has been given to us and protect it from those who would innovate and add to or subtract from the faith. In practice, that means that Orthodoxy rarely changes and even in the face of a heretical leader of even group of leaders, rarely for more than a generation. That has its positives and its negatives, but I’m not sure it is truly appreciated or understood in the West. While I agree the critique of innovation in the Roman Catholic Church, quite frankly its the Protestant tradition which is the true innovator. The RC Church at least limits innovation to one person. Protestants allow everyone to innovate. We may claim to put scripture first, but when everyone is allowed their own interpretation of scripture, that is largely a meaningless claim.

    I was also confused by your assertion that debates and arguments are almost unheard of within the Roman Catholic Church. This is the Church of the Benedictines *and* the Jesuits *and* the Franciscans (to name just a few), is it not? Debates and arguments are common and have a long history in the RC Church. They just don’t splinter and fragment over them as Protestants do.

    I’m also bemused by your description of the faith of the New Testament as “simple”. I’ve explored and experienced many paths and I find nothing “simple” in the New Testament. Everything is multi-layered and interwoven with the story of a God who is absurd and description of the meaning and person of man which is radically different from what you will find almost anywhere else. There are many words I would use to describe the New Testament, but simple is not one of them.

    Finally, the Protestant adoption of an idea of an invisible or hidden “church” is, of course, necessary to sustain Protestantism itself. We have essentially no visible connection with the first century Church and if we did not spiritualize the “Church” it would be difficult if not impossible to justify our existence as a tradition. With that said, that is not a division that ever was made in the ancient and I’m not convinced it could have even been formulated in the manner in which we use the idea.

    I was largely unaware of the Orthodox Church (despite my experience with non-Christian Eastern religions) as a truly distinct tradition until four or five years ago. I think I had considered them as simply a different form of Roman Catholic. And that’s a common mistake in the West. However, as someone with an interest in history, I’ve found they have the best historical claim to having maintained the tradition and teaching and interpretations of the earliest Church. I wouldn’t say that I’ve made up my mind, but if they have not, then there is no present-day continuation of the ancient church and Jesus’ words that his Church would not fail was simply an eschatalogical hope that will be realized one day in the future, but not the present. And if that’s the case, then the Protestant muddle is as good as any other.

  2. Nicholas Anton says

    I would largely agree with your quote;
    “I would rather have 20,000 “little popes” with their Bibles, all believing they can err and be corrected by scripture, rather than one pope who cannot err or be corrected by scripture.”
    However, that has not been my experience, even in the seemingly most loosely organized churches/assemblies. The concept of appointed/elected people being the final interpreters of the Word of God to me on the basis of their election/appointment, has been the cause of the tangent that I have been on in the last year plus. This journey has affected most every aspect of my Christian faith. Though I have come to understand the RC’s better because of it, both theologically and practically, I understand much better why I never can be one of them. Because of this journey I have not only searched the Bible for what it contains, but for what it does not contain. Here are a few observations;
    1) Nowhere in the New Testament are we instructed to assemble for worship or praise.
    2) Nowhere in the New Testament do I find a Supreme Authority other than Jesus Christ.
    3) Nowhere in the New Testament do I find the promoting of a ruling authority in the church. (Leaders/superintendants/shepherds, yes, rulers, no Matt 20 and 23)

    The church is pictured as a body and a family, but never as a bureaucracy. Essentially, the church family is made up of brothers and sisters, some older and some younger, with one Father, and one Master/Teacher, Jesus Christ Matt 23.

    Contemporary churches, rather than having the “Pauls,” “Timothys” “Titus’” (Younger, unqualified men according to Paul’s qualifications in 1 Tim and Titus) etc. recognizing/ordaining the traditionally defined elders as leaders/bishops/shepherds as Paul instructed Timothy and Titus, they make them (the Pauls, Tomothys and Titus’) into elders.
    Traditional eldership was based on a maturity factor both in age, knowledge and experience, whereas contemporary eldership is largely based on academic learning and public appeal. Traditional elders were leaders because of maturity and experience, whereas contemporary leaders are made by appointment or election.

    Enough for today.

  3. Certainly there are debates within Catholicism, but my friend who is investigating the RCC under the guidance of RCs will never know that, as the official teaching of the church as reflected in the catechism is without debate.

    I don’t mean to imply that theology or the Bible are simplistic. I mean that faith and practice are simple, in my opinion, and not gnostically, ecclesiastically or experientially complex.

    Orthodoxy isn’t an option for a Christian in Clay Co. Kentucky. And as I said, the “true denomination” discussion is a non-starter with me.

  4. Well, here’s one Catholic who’s not after your head. We have our disagreements but they seem to me to be thoughtful, considered disagreements.

    You may or may not be surprised at the number of Catholics (I’d say, including theologians and clerics) who would agree with you, at least to a point, when you talk about “institution” vs. the heart of the “true faith.” Even though Catholics would mostly say that they institutionally have more of a connection to the ancient faith. Many will also agree that that institutional reality is not the deepest reality of our Christian faith. I’m sure books have been written on this, so obviously that can’t be worked out here.

    As we’ve briefly discussed before, I’ve seen/experienced some of the “convert zeal” you mentioned. And as I’ve said to you before as well, my own reversion is not a result of that zeal workin’ it’s magic on me. At times it might have even acted as a block for me, personally, going back into the Catholic Church. When it raised its head on me, I felt pushed away, not drawn in.

    Anyway, that’s it from me. I appreciate your laying this out. Peace to you.

  5. Thanks Alan. Let’s see how I do when I write about spirituality 🙂

  6. As someone from the Protestant tradition with an ongoing “sensitive family situation” regarding conversion to the RCC, I’m grateful for this post and the (so far) fair, thoughtful combox comments.
    Alan, Anne, and a few other Catholic commenters are helping me to see beyond the divisive, sometimes vicious, Catholic apologia blogosphere alluded to above. (The non-charitable parties aren’t always recent converts from Protestant evangelicism, either.)
    I’ve been in RCIA for nearly a year for two reasons. I admit to wanting a real liturgy, complete with the Real Presence- as I understand it-, and to a growing respect for the Apostolic tradition. Like iMonk, I’ve been inspired by the Christology of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
    But why did the recent Lutheran salvation-theology posts stop my heart? Can I profess to believe “all that the Roman Catholic Church teaches to be revealed by God” at my confirmation, or will I scream out iMonk’s rather succint summation of Christs'”all who believe on me… ” words?
    And, by the way, conversion to Orthodox Christianity IS an option in the suburb-of-major-city area where I live. I also attended an OCA parish I totally fell in love with, met with the priest for several family sessions, and have reluctantly ceded to my spouses’s opinion that 1) getting our rowdy kids to stand through 1 3/4 hours of the Divine Liturgy is impossible, and 2) the theology is attractive but we are “Western Christians, for better or worse”, to paraphrase Francis Schaeffer’s recent RCC conversion ‘defense.’
    Just keep it comin’, iMonk, and all the rest of you. You’ll never know how much this blog is helping me to think through some extremely difficult issues.
    The Anonymous 1/4 mainline, 1/4 Orthodox, 1/4 Catholic, 1/4 Lutheran reader.

  7. Michael, I didn’t realize you were writing with a specific friend in mind. The questions seemed more general in nature to me. Sorry I missed that aspect.

    I still don’t see what you mean by simple in faith and practice. On the one hand, it is not a difficult journey to begin. It does not require the sort of “special knowledge” I believe you were refuting from the neo-gnostic arenas. The journey begins with a belief that Jesus actually is Lord — something that expands immediately into the declaration that the crucified and risen Jesus is Lord and refutes the claim of every other would be Lord. And even a cursory reading of the NT reveals a practice of that faith which is anything but simple. Yes, it’s a journey anyone can begin and a path anyone can find. But it’s also a journey whose depths can never be fully plumbed. So I think I’m missing the point you are trying to make there.

    I’m more interested in discovering if the faith entrusted to the Church by the apostles has been anywhere preserved in any visibly and tangibly meaningful fashion. And I would say that if it is not preserved in the Orthodox Church (an open question for me), then it has not been preserved at all. The Roman Catholic Church is permeated with Western medieval influences and continues to innovate (although slowly) today. The Protestant tradition is wholly modern and Western and could never have been conceived, much less experienced in either the ancient or medieval world. And it is a veritable fount of innovation about the faith.

    That wouldn’t make present-day Christians unbelievers, or some nonsense like that. But it would mean we are left to muddle through in a faith with no consistent practice or continuity and no hope of unity. Or so my postmodern perspective informs me.

    Nicholas, I’m not sure how you read the NT and walk away with the idea that we are not to assemble. The concept utterly permeates everything from Acts through Revelation. And it is utterly consistent from the pages of the NT without interruption through the life of the church — even when such assembly increased the likelihood of being imprisoned, tortured, or executed.

    Anonymous, I enjoy the Close to Home podcasts by Molly Sabourin. One of the things she explores is real Orthodox life with four young children and the problem you describe has been discussed more than once. I certainly don’t want to appear to be “pushing” Orthodoxy, especially since I have no particular plans to convert myself. But speaking as a parent and grandparent, our children tend to adapt more easily than we do.

  8. Michael,

    Thanks for this post as well. I appreciate your honesty and willingness to discuss issues that are often avoided.

    What is important is that one search for Truth and settle with nothing less. It seems that is what you’re doing and it would be hard to ask anymore than that of anyone. So whether the True Church will ever exceed our “defected attempts” to reach it as you suggest or is within our grasp; all we can do is allow God’s Grace to lead us beyond our wants and our fears and so deeper into His Truth.

    Thanks again, Michael.

  9. Thanks Scott,

    >I’m more interested in discovering if the faith entrusted to the Church by the apostles has been anywhere preserved in any visibly and tangibly meaningful fashion.

    Very interesting sentence. I believe that the Spirit must make the fullness of Christ available to all believers everywhere, no matter what churches are around or available.

    I find a lot of converts within Christendom are very concerned with what you articulate. It’s not an anxiety for me.

  10. Nicholas Anton says

    Scott M

    You quoted me incorrectly when you stated “…I’m not sure how you read the NT and walk away with the idea that we are not to assemble.” Following is what I actually stated;
    “Nowhere in the New Testament are we instructed to assemble for worship or praise.”
    I would challenge anyone to prove me wrong on this account. Yes, we are admonished time and time again to assemble, “…not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together…”, but the purpose thereof is not directly for Worship and Praise, though both are or at least should be an outflow of the purpose.
    Heb 10:24-25;
    And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
    Note the Biblical reason for Scripture and its use;
    2Ti 3:16-17;
    All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
    2Ti 4:2;
    Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
    Yes, we are to assemble, but that assembling is for the equipping of the saints to know God and to live for Him. Worship and Praise is simply a response to the above.
    If we assemble to worship and praise, we generally tend to build an atmosphere to please ourselves, and very little true worship and praise follows. If we assemble to learn of Christ, and encourage one another in the faith, we will in response lift up Christ in praise and worship.
    The Passions of J. S. Bach are very indicative of these trends. The Gospel message is presented in recitative and narrative, and the choir responds in song. In a sense they are a good model to follow.

  11. Michael, I don’t want to leave an impression of anxiety over the question. I’m perfectly content to allow my understanding to develop over time. At the same time, I’m not sure how any Christian can simply dismiss the question. No religion is without context, of course. But Christianity very specifically appeals to history in quite explicit ways. And every time someone appeals to the scripture the Church has provided us, or interprets it, they are making historical claims — whether they know it or not. If those claims lack any historical context, or worse, actually contradict known history, that speaks directly to the reliability of the interpretation. There is no interpretation absent a context and absent a church to perform the interpretation. That’s true even if it is a de facto church of one. And within Christianity, a faith utterly embedded in a particular historical context and story, the history always matters.

    Or so it seems to me.

  12. I’m sorry, Nicholas. I’ll happily agree that I misunderstood you, but your clarification didn’t help me at all. I guess I’ll just have to confess I don’t have a clue what you’re objecting to, if in fact you are objecting to anything. And in reading your longer response, I’m not sure you are.

    Worship is always part of the work of the Church and it’s something we do together. And it seems that praise of our Lord is always interwoven in that and I’m not sure I see how that’s improper.

    Nor do I grasp your distinction about our assembling. The references to the Church in scripture seem to revolve around assembling. It’s a Church meeting in a synagogue (until it gets kicked out). It’s a Church meeting in this or that home (and I think modern people misunderstand the architecture of the period and what that meant). It’s the Church of this or that city enjoined to avoid schism and division. There is much corrective instruction in scripture to things this or that Church does improperly when it meets.

    And such descriptions of practices as we find fit like a glove a faith flowing in practice out of Judaism.

    Are you perhaps complaining that we don’t find the sort of highly detailed liturgical order of worship in Scripture for the NT Church that we find for Israel in Torah? That is true. But then again, the letters are mostly correcting problems that have grown from an oral teaching. And though we may not know the details, all the corrections seem to assume a Church which gathers together. From what I understand, that’s actually what ‘eclessia’ means — the gathering or assembly.

  13. Longtime Catholic lurker here, de-lurking to thank you for blogging and also to thank you for clarifying in this post. I appreciate your honesty and search for truth.

    May the Lord bless you.

  14. i am a former catholic, now attending an Amia church. part of the reason i left was the “cage phase’ thing you mentioned. as a catholic, i was not developing my relationship with God, rather I was just trying to prove everyone else wrong.

    There is one teaching within the Catholic Church. However, the number of parish priests and regular Catholics who believe in the one teaching is not high amongst Catholics overall. That’s my opinion. Catholics have one Pope, but in practice, it seems that there are also about 20,000 little Catholic popes, in each parish across the world.

    Thanks for your post.

  15. Anonymous, just a suggestion: If Lutheran teaching resonates with you, and you a reverent, Eucharist-centered liturgy is what you’re looking for, I think what you’re looking for is a Lutheran church. In my opinion, the fact that we’ve been doing vernacular liturgies since the 1530’s while the Catholics have only been doing them since the 1960’s really shows. Overall, we tend to chant and sing a whole lot more than the Catholics do. Our liturgy is not quite as modernist as the typical Haugen stuff you find in the RCC under Novus Ordo.

  16. Mr. Orthodox: Not going down that road so your comment isn’t published. If you want to debate, go elsewhere.

    I stated that I accept D.H. William’s view of tradition.

  17. Nicholas Anton says

    Scott M

    I would love to explain where I am coming from in the statements I made, and how and why I have reached the conclusions to which I presently hold, however, that would entail much more time and space than Michael would allow. Today I cannot even give you a brief overview, because my wife, daughter and I are to sing in a neighboring church this morning, as well as, tomorrow is our 30th anniversary, and we will probably be gone for a day or so.
    Suffice it to say, I am an evangelical Christian in the traditional (not contemporary) sense.
    My views are reactionary in that my spiritual journey began as a reaction against contemporary trends in evangelical praise and worship. I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture in its original autographs. I am also a literalist when it comes to interpretation, though I realize allegory and types were occasionally used. I distrust tradition especially after seeing how much it has changed in evangelicalism in the last 60 years.
    As I mentioned previously, I believe it is very important not only to look at what Scripture teaches, but also what it does not teach. History and language are very important in my search. My views are very personal, in that they are not a running commentary of anyone else that I know of. My rethinking has tied in and tied together every aspect of my faith and life, so my view of the church, God, Worship and praise etc. are not disjunct tangents.
    I would love to present what I have learned, and why, but I have no forum for doing so. Therefore I through it at people in bits and pieces.

    must go now.

  18. Guy Barnhart says


    From what I have read of New Testament scholarship (E.P. Sanders, Raymond Brown, John P Meier, Marcus Borg) it would be quite unusual to assume that the New Testament, being a thoroughly Jewish text, would condemn or at least not encourage assmebly. I may be misunderstanding your comment, but from what I have studied on the development of the New Testament texts, assembly was common, as Scott said whether in homes, or synangogues. But I apologize if I have misunderstood your comment.

  19. Nicholas,

    “evangelical praise and worship”

    Are you talking about music? If I’m still completely missing the point, I apologize. And congratulations on your 30th anniversary.

    I only ask because I’ve discovered over time that when people use that phrase, they are often talking about music. So it jumped out at me.

    And if so, then I was utterly and completely missing your point.

  20. Michael, (with a big friendly smile), I reconciled with the Catholic Church, at only a 9. I do love Jesus/God and His Church, especially the Eucharist.

    I respect all those who have theological problems, and I agree that frequently apologetic users tend to want to win battles, not souls. I have seen where they have been so determined to be right, that they forgot about loving a person. I have very big problems with that.

    I have some advice for your friends (and I am glad that you are able to help them in their journey ). No matter what, please make sure that your ministry, where you are right now, is completed. Not by your standards or desires, but God’s. I was bi-denominational for about 1 full year during my initial exploration of Catholicism. Mass on Sat. evening and Tuesday night Bible study; Baptist Church worship and Sunday School on Sundays and Wednesday night choir practice. I was willing to continue this, but places where I was serving, in the Baptist church ended.

    Secondly, please remember that Catholic parishes are Not heaven, (yet and sometimes I wonder, ever). I hope that you do not make the same sad discovery that I have; the ones more sound in liturgy and theology are the least welcoming, and vice versa.

  21. Anna,

    Thanks for the comment. My friend is doing both churches, which I know is painful.

    I’m not on any trajectory to become RC. I’m really a “homeless man” in the church world. I sojourn with Baptists, but mainly because they confess almost nothing.

  22. Nicholas Anton says

    Please, I never said or even inferred that believers were not to assemble! Assembling is key to the functioning of the Christian church. I will repeat myself in different words. THE BIBLE DOES NOT LIST “PRAISE AND WORSHIP” AS THE REASON FOR OUR ASSEMBLING. The early church was modeled after the Jewish synagogue rather than after the temple. It was not a place for formal worship and praise, nor for sacrifice, but rather the place for reading Scripture, explaining it, and for prayer. It was more like a school. Though Pliny the younger did inform Trajan in 112 A.D. that the Christians “… used to meet regularly before daybreak on an appointed day, and to sing a hymn to Christ as to a god…”, this is extra Biblical, and it simply informs us as to what the second century church did rather than what they were to do. I will place no value judgment on what they did.
    I do not object to genuine worship and praise in church (When I was young, the Sunday morning service was simply called a Worship service). My objection is to WHAT IS CALLED WORSHIP AND PRAISE, not to real worship and praise. Yes, my objection is aimed largely at the music, but it includes the aesthetics of the place as well. I would strongly affirm what Don Hustad stated years ago; “We worship, worship, and we praise, praise”.
    This morning, as we entered an evangelical church nine miles east of us (8 miles north of US), the atmosphere was that of a theatre. Canned contemporary music was burping and gurgling in the background. In the center of the platform stood a hunk of wood called a pulpit. One guitarist, on the steps right of and behind the hunk of wood, in a semi-sprawled Don Giovanni pose as if serenading his lovers, plucked along on his guitar. On either side, were two crosses (music stands that is) with mikes on them. On the left was a drum set, and on the right, along with the guitarist, some guitars with all the electric gadgetry and paraphernalia to operate them. Far back, against the wall, in the center of the stage slouched a small wooden cross.

    This, on the request of our daughter plus a few others, after years of only contemporary whatever, was to be Hymn Sunday. Our daughter was to play the piano, and she, together with my wife, were to sing during the offertory. I was to accompany them on the piano.
    The service began when “The Don” got up from the steps and sauntered behind the cross/music stand far on the right. Three women, one dressed in jeans, one in a dress, and the third in slacks (yes, they also wore blouses) made their way behind the three other music stands. After opening remarks and prayer, what were to be hymns were announced. The songs were essentially Gospel songs of the J. W. Peterson variety plus some older choruses, but no real hymns, never mind chorales.
    During the offertory, my wife and daughter sang my arrangement of Isaac Watt’s
    “Lead Me Lord, Lead me in Thy righteousness, Make thy way plain before my face. For it is Thou Lord only Who makes me to dwell in safety”.
    After the song was reverently sung as a prayer without any fanfare, the crowd/audience/congregation clapped.
    The message by the pastor that followed was based on Rom 12:1-3 and some later verses, plus Eph 4; emphasized not living by the flesh but by the Spirit.
    I was very tempted afterwards to asking him that if we were not to live by the flesh, why was the whole aesthetic of the place and what was normally done just the opposite, but I refrained from doing so.

  23. IMonk:

    I just want to say something about blogospheric voices. They are interesting, but I think it is totally unfair to judge a communion on the more energetic voices speaking for it on the internet. People who spend time on the internet are usually of a certain personality type – not a bad one – just a specific one, the vigorous communicators. They’re one portion of a body.

    I am Catholic, with a keen, let us say, academic interest in American religion in general, and evangelicalism more specifically.

    If I were to judge American Protestantism by what I read in the blogosphere my conclusion would be that it was nothing but bitter acrimony, a small portion of which was directed towards RC’s, but most of which was intra-mural.

    You guys hate each other – that’s the impression I get. There is lots of “correcting a brother in love” language, but it’s all superficial, and I don’t think anyone really means it. From the Anglicans to the Pentecostals to everyone in between, it’s just recriminations and vicious heresy hunting that I see.

    Catholicism is like a soft bouncy pillow in comparison.

    Oh, except for Osteen. He loves everyone!


  24. To all: I’m with Alan, especially on the part about Catholics “who would agree with you, at least to a point, when you talk about “institution” vs. the heart of the “true faith.”

    To Anonymous,

    I’ve gone and read over the Lutheran posts. I don’t think there’s much in there to disagree with Catholic dogma, if that reassures you. One thing from them I would like to point out for your sake. In a couple different places, Josh says some (negative) things about the Catholic attitude towards forgiveness. I think he’s right to criticize that attitude, but wrong in as much as it doesn’t represent an attitude fitting to Catholic doctrine (as I understand it). Here’s a sample quote:

    Catholics agree that the Lutheran doctrine of grace is unbecoming of God; he’s too good to just tell you you’re forgiven and expect you to believe it.

    Both baptism and confession are fundamentally about God forgiving us without us in any way earning it or satisfying his justice ourselves. Catholic language can easily sound like salvation-by-works, but it’s really about trying to describe (often clumsily) what it looks like when someone turns, in their innermost being and will, towards God. It is, in the end, about love of God (Mark 12:28-30). The thief on the cross, the paralytic – both turned to Jesus, for help or maybe just to be with him, and they were forgiven. They showed even the tiniest smidgen of love, the faintest desire to be with Jesus, and that was all it took.

    I rather liked how Josh talked about apostasy: “so if I decide I don’t want to be where Christ is because I think church is stupid or I’d rather live a life of flagrant sin, I’m counting myself out by my own unbelief.” Damnation is not wanting to be where Christ is. I think that squares very well with Catholic dogma. And the fifth part, about calling evil evil – beautiful. Gives me new respect for Luther, if that was what he meant by those quotes.

  25. John

    >I think it is totally unfair to judge a communion on the more energetic voices speaking for it on the internet.

    I said I had two experiences and that one of them made me defensive. I didn’t judge a whole communion. But what should I do with the Scott Hahn’s of the world? Thank them for helping me see the truth? Well have one James White book on me 🙂

    And many Protestants do hate other people. They probably aren’t Christians. Some are vicious. But some of your popes and bishops were monstrous.

    Some Catholics are right in lockstep with angry Protestants. I read Catholic forums. Do you really want to compare notes on who’s turned out better? Historically, that would be pretty boring. Plenty of blood on both sides.

  26. Anna,

    Thanks. Now let’s stop discussing something on which we fundamentally disagree and neither one of us will change our minds. I’m sure we are all well aware of what the other side believes. and why we don’t believe it.

  27. What’s wrong with Scott Hahn? I mean, he’s not my style – the fixation on covenant and the fact that every book,every idea is formed around that gets old and is not very helpful to me, but I don’t find him offensive, and no way he is the equivalent of a James White. That is quite unfair, I think.

    What I was talking about was not Pope, bishops, Calvin or Queens of England but the blogosphere. The Protestant presence on the Internet seems to me to be a cacophany of male voices who place great stock in their own personalities and identities, completely uninterested in learning from each other, but more in building themselves and their organizations up, and, with increasing frequency, “excommunicating” others. The only “others” that I see these voices open to learning from are Charles Spurgeon on one side and the latest marketing guru on the other.

    I don’t get it. I don’t get where the authority to do this comes from and certainly don’t get any kind of complete sense of Christianity from any of these guys. It’s all filtered through the need to either be consistent with the Reformation Guy I Like or to be cool and relevant. It’s narrow and bizarrely ego-driven.

    And while I respect you and your intellect a great deal, IMonk, your Catholic posts strike me as being a little thin in understanding. I really think that if you’re serious about commenting on Catholic theology you should give it the same intellectual attention you give the Protestant issues in which you engage. The Catechism is intro stuff. Try reading Ratzinger’s Principles of Catholic Theology, Called to Communion and The Spirit of the Liturgy. And then go from there.

  28. Just to clarify:

    I didn’t mean that last point in a snippy way. I meant it as a compliment. Your understanding of other theological issues seems so deep and informed, the discussions of Catholic matters from your end seem thin and rife with misunderstandings – or at least incomplete understandings – in comparison. It would be a pleasure, I mean to say, to read you reflect on a deeper theological understanding of the Catholic perspective.

    But, of course, that’s not your interest, so why should ya?

  29. Michael,

    >>I sojourn with Baptists, but mainly because they confess almost nothing.

    Have you heard anything about “Baptist catholicity” – and if so, does it perk your interest?

  30. Good place to end it, John. I don’t attempt to represent RC theology in any way. I’m well aware that I am not allowed to do that.

  31. “I’m really a “homeless man” in the church world. I sojourn with Baptists, but mainly because they confess almost nothing.”

    Do you mean this in the denominational sense, or in the individual church sense? If you’ve found a Baptist church that doesn’t have a lot of “even though the Bible only vaguely mentions X in two verses, we all know real Christians don’t do X,” please send me directions. Soon.

    On the other hand, I guess I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a list of things every Baptist church in town would agree with, and that may be what you mean.

  32. In my experience, the only way to accurately represent something is to agree with it.

  33. Memphis Aggie says

    Hi Michael,

    It helps to have you define where you stand. Still even if you’re not open to the concept of personal conversion to Catholicism I think you score very highly on the reasonable discourse scale. I think your reasoned and polite approach to those of us in other Christian Churches is in itself a kind of Christian testament. Unity is what Christ wanted, if we cannot do so in all things liturgical at least we can be unified in our charitable approach and in our respect for each other. You model this very well – and that it why I visit this site – I sense the love of God in you and in your posters.

    “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” St. Francis of Assisi

  34. “I would rather have 20,000 “little popes” with their Bibles, all believing they can err and be corrected by scripture, rather than one pope who cannot err or be corrected by scripture.”

    I’m struggling with how to properly interpret Scripture and who has the authority to provide the lens or framework to do so. My problem with the above statement is this: How can the 20,000 little popes be corrected by scripture when they all interpret scripture differently? Isn’t the correction only as good as the interpretive lens you use to view it with? Scripture, if our Protestant experience is any clue, apparently doesn’t interpret itself very well or we’d all be a lot more on the same page instead of splintered into thousands of denominations.

  35. “I’m not on any trajectory to become RC. I’m really a ‘homeless man’ in the church world. I sojourn with Baptists, but mainly because they confess almost nothing.”

    Wow! You have just described my life. I am a former RC, who went to a CMA denomination, then a Reformed Baptist, then an RCA church, then a Southern Baptist, and now a Vineyard Church

    I have been unable to find a home in any of them. First of all, like you, I find much to value on the RCC teachings and practices. In fact, were it not for Mariology, praying before statues (no matter how you define “worship”), the infallibility of the Pope (which leads to the mandatory extra-biblical teaching of the assumption of Mary), I could probably go back. But I cannot shake that these teachings are all error and outside, if not forbidden, by the Bible.

    At the same time, the Protestant churches appear just as messed up in other areas. I feel they truncate the impact and power of the sacraments, they are too individualistic, they infantize their congregations by stressing conversion over discipleship, have given themselves over to the entertainment values of a debaunched culure, etc..

    So I read the Bible as best I can, learn from who I can (you being a strong guide in that direction), and become a wandering heretic between those two worlds. As my wife says, “It would be so easier if we could just forget all we know and just go along with the church crowd.” I am tempted to agree with her as I worship in yet another congregation and know ultimately I will never belong this side of the Resurrection.

    It is only then that I know my wanderings will lead me to my Elder Brother. Somehow I feel you are on the same journey. How do you cope?

  36. Love your site. Keep up the good work.

    I am de-lurking as well to say thanks for being fair to the RCC and giving Pope JPII credit for leading a Christ centered life.

    One area that I am curious about is your view on the sanctity of life from a Post-Evangelical/Catholic teaching perspective.
    I am sure both agree on abortion and euthanasia. I am just wondering how the Post-Evangelical view would be on abortifacients like the IUD/pill and the Sin of Onan. I have come to understand most evangelicals position as clinic abortions are bad, just. don’t. go. any. deeper.

    If I may, Can I suggest something for you to read?
    By PJPII, Evangelium Vitae – on the Value and Inviolability of Human Life.
    The text is free on-line or it can be picked up at many on-line stores. I’ll ship it to you if you like.

    I went back and read one the the older posts that you wrote that talked about your reading books written by Catholics. Thank you for going to two good source materials. The Catechism, and you already had the Bible 🙂 I have many friends that will gladly give me their favorite author de jour (Jabez mania, Warren, etc) but shun any book if they figure out it is written by a catholic.

    Speaking of books. C.S. Lewis said that for every new book that you read, you should read 3 old books. (or something like that). I’m just hoping he was thinking Chesterton was “old”. 🙂