January 16, 2021

Honest Thoughts On The Catholic Discussion: Is This The Best We Can Do?

denominationNOTE: Commenters should read the commenting rules in FAQ 10, especially those who plan to write me a long appeal to become a Catholic.

COMMENTS CLOSED

No one reading, writing or commenting on the posts in this interview has ever been as angry as yours truly over the claims of the Roman Catholic Church. In ’07 and ’08, I was torn apart by this question.

Being unable to commune with my wife or Catholic friends, knowing my ordination to the Gospel ministry is considered invalid and having my community denied even the dignity of being “church” instead of the tedious nomenclature of “ecclesial community” galls me as much today as it has any time in the past two years.

I can’t speak for others, but few Protestants have invested the time in seeking to understand Catholicism and seeing its version of Christianity from a sympathetic position as I have as I worked through my wife’s move to the RCC.

I have taken the case for Catholicism’s claims as honestly and openly as possible, whether from Thomas Howard, Louis Bouyer, Scott Hahn, Lawrence Feingold or dozens of real life and online friends. I’ve been greatly enriched by my Catholic reading and where it has taken me.

I appreciate the worship, reverence, holiness, sacrifice, devotion and prayerfulness I see in Catholic Christians. In the category of Jesus shaped spirituality, there is much to affirm about the Catholic way of being Christian.

On many days, I have probably wanted the case for Catholicism to be persuasive more than most any Protestant you know. My life and home would be much different were I able to say “this is true.”

But ultimately, I am unconvinced. Ultimately, I am no closer than ever and less impressed with the answers on issues like the development of doctrine or the perpetual virginity of Mary. As much as I sense the sincerity and respectful openness in Bryan’s explanation of his passion for unity in the Catholic Church, it is not the goal of my journey to come into union with the RCC as I understand it.

The reasons may seem entirely pedestrian; not significantly different than most other evangelicals, though hopefully stated with less ignorance, animus and arrogance than some.

What continues to haunt me, however, is not the resolution of my own differences with Catholicism. I’m quite satisfied that, minus some devastating alteration in my own view of faith, God and the church, I’ll be a Protestant on the bus with the “Happy Enough” Protestants till the end of my ride.

Liturgy? Yes, and more of it. Catholicism without the dogmatic claims of Rome? I applaud. The Great Tradition and the common story we share up till 1517, and to a large extent, beyond? Yes, enthusiastically.

My problem remains that when I have once again worked through the claims and chosen my Protestant and evangelical “ecclesial community,” invalid ordination, paltry sacraments and all, I am still in a growing evangelical wilderness.

We’ve passed Reformation day, and what have we done? Come 500 years and we need a Reformation as much as Rome ever did.

We are a movement of strutting preachers. When Bryan Cross says he grew tired of “man-talk” and “men-talking,” my stomach goes nauseous with familiarity. A friend asked me today what was “with you and this liturgy.” My answer: men talking, on and on and on. Truly. If nothing else describes us, it is that: a movement of talking, talking, talking; preachers talking about whatever they have decided I need to hear. Some better, most worse, some painful, some edifying, but in the main, unimpressive and tediously mundane.

We traded the errors of Rome for what we have now. I can be glad we do not believe in the assumption of Mary or in indulgences, but from there, I’m left sad that I can go weeks without hearing the Gospel, but never a day without moralism, culture war idolatry and consumer church.

Rejoicing that we have abandoned the errors of infallibility seems embarrassing when evangelicals have infallible popes by the dozen.

Gospel-centrism is harnessed to gender, worship style, theories of the atonement, arguments over personalities, definitions and even Bible translations. I recommended Liberty University to one of my most conservative students. A relative told her it was “corrupt.” This is evangelicalism. You cannot be so orthodox that some other evangelical won’t find you worthless and apostate.

Can we do any better with this reformation heritage of ours? Is this the best we can do? The endless cacophony of division? The constant tyranny of celebrity spirituality? The Jesus-less culture war that is meant to show us a kingdom without a cross presided over by the disciples of a savior deeply concerned about elections and referendums.

Is this the best we can do? Contemporary evangelicalism’s hour of praise music? Extreme youth ministries? Addiction to the Prosperity cancer? Or the new fad of criticizing the critics. Let’s all say the church is fine, doing fine, just fine, oh fine, she’s fine…….

Where has all this being right in comparisons Catholics gotten us? In my own “most evangelistic” of denominations the chances of hearing the Gospel on a Sunday morning in half of our churches is a crap shoot.

While I watch Catholics have serious worship and serious spiritual formation in scripture and the virtues of deep spirituality, I’ll keep asking: is this the best we can do?

Right answers only go so far. With us, it seems that after 500 years, we don’t know where we are going. The ship feels listless, but the ever-talking crew assures us that all is well.

Comments

  1. Rejoicing that we have abandoned the errors of infallibility seems embarrassing when evangelicals have infallible popes by the dozen.

    The truth and irony of this was made evident to me more than 15 years ago. In my first exposure to fundamentalism, the senior pastor regularly railed against Roman Catholics. At the same time, people in the church blindly followed the pastors’ (and there were many, many “pastors” at this church) pronouncements regarding movies, books, and all manner of things. If I had gotten a dime for every time I head “Pastor said…”, I’d be a rich man.

  2. Hey iMonk, I know the “ecclesiastical community” thing grates on your nerves – but given the Catholic understanding as a Church needing to apostolic succession to be a valid church don’t let it get under your skin too much. It was no small thing to accept Protestants as brethren (estranged as we may be) in Vatican II, asking to go farther would mean completely redefining the foundation of their communion – the apostolic succession of bishops from the Apostles.

    I don’t ask or expect you to buy that, heck I WANT to buy it and I’m not sure about it – but given what we’ve done apart from Apostolic succession can you blame the Roman Catholic communion fro not wanting to given in to the Protestant demands at that point?

  3. Maybe I am a self-abasing protestant, but I have never had such a strong reaction against the RCC’s position on Protestants being the ‘2nd class Christians.’ I think it is because I was raised in the RCC, understand it very well, and voluntarily have chosen not to be part of it, though I appreciate and understand many things about it.

    I also think it is a question of theological paradigms. Given an RCC paradigm, protestants are the 2nd class for a number of reasons. But given a protestant paradigm, none of those reasons really apply. I know that there are religious paradigms that exclude me as perfect believer in Christianity, but because I don’t believe those paradigms are true, it doesn’t bother me much. It is kind of like if a Mormon said “if you don’t join Mormonism, you’ll never get the very best level of heaven.” Such a thing hardly compels those of us who do not believe that Mormonism is true.

    I will admit that when someone CLOSE to you joins a religious community that says you’re part of the 2nd class, that can be a bit hurtful. Case in point, while I studied Theology at Evangelical Christian College, my best friend joined Eastern Orthodoxy. It did put a strain on our friendship for a while.

  4. I wanted to add that even then, I disagreed with the rampant, wronghearted and -headed anti-Catholicism that so pervades fundamentalist and evangelical circles.

    One of my best friends is Catholic, and I have nothing but admiration and respect for the role of faith in his life. He’s been a great encouragment to me, both in dialogue and in how he lives his life.

  5. Michael,

    I agree with you about your journey and exploration of Roman Catholicism. I went on a simular journey in 2003-2005. Though I was doing it for other reasons and had other motivations, I, in a very real sense, tried to talk myself into being Roman Catholic. My issues were not with Marian dogmas per se, but with the whole idea of infallibility and the necessity of an institution. I was glad I did what I did. I am more Protestant today than when I was then, but I gained some valuable insight into the lives of many Catholics who are now my dear friends—many of them truly love Christ. This was something that I did not, before, think was possible, much less common.

    However, I don’t share the degree of shame that you seem to have for Evangelicalism. I think you know that. While I have been involved in the circus churches, mega Churches, and even been a guest on TBN’s “Praise the Lord,” I have and continue to see more good than bad in Evangelicalism. While we traded Catholic problems for our own, I would much rather have our problems. Duh…I am a Protestant.

    Anyway, good post. Thanks for sharing your heart as always. Just keep in mind that there are those of us out their who don’t see the Evangelical ship sinking beyond hope, but we can always expect to be using our buckets to get out the water.

  6. Perhaps someone could answer these questions:

    *What scripture supports the Catholic doctrine of Mary being co-redemtrix with Christ?
    *What scripture supports the Catholic doctrine of pergatory?
    *What scripture supports the Catholic doctrine of praying to Mary?

    Since….er, I mean if, there is no biblical support for these doctrines or if they are contradicted by the Bible why would anyone join the Catholic Church if it was teaching false doctrine.

    • Joe,

      Co-redemptrix is not accepted Catholic dogma.

      Re the other two, check out the final part of the interviews with Bryan.

      Also, one does not properly *pray* to Mary but, rather, seeks her intercession with her Son as you or I would seek the intercession of a friend.

      Furthermore, when we considering the abyss much Protestantism seems to be sometimes sinking into, many turn their eyes to Rome hoping that perhaps there is sufficient support for doctrines such as these (and very often finding there is little proper support in either the Tradition OR the Scriptures).

      • Also, one does not properly *pray* to Mary but, rather, seeks her intercession with her Son as you or I would seek the intercession of a friend.

        ok, so when you call something by another name that makes it something other than what it is?

        Checked out the interview. There was no scriptural support for Purgatory or praying (or “seeking her intercession”) to Mary.

  7. Poignant and well-spoken, Michael. I am with you all the way. I have had this conversation with friends, and they say, “Well, why don’t you start your own church?” little grasping that their words represent the core of the problem!

    The main issue I struggle with is that of authority. Though I don’t think Rome has the answer right, at least they recognize the seriousness of the question. What I long for is an apostolate, an authoritative leadership over the church that is compatible with Scripture. The Protestant answer is that the Bible is that sole authoritative voice, but as long as it demands interpretation, how can that lead to anything but endless schism?

    And so we are left a 1st Corinthians style church, with no Paul to address us on behalf of the Lord.

    This has hit me hard lately.

    • “And so we are left a 1st Corinthians style church, with no Paul to address us on behalf of the Lord.”

      Wow. Yes. Yes. YES. What a mess.

      I have personally been struggling w/ authority in evangelicalism as well. (In our local body, this issue has truly been at the heart of deep struggle. We’re in the midst of a split right now. The dividing line is right between two conflicting authorities.)

      I have also been so hopeless lately. Reading and identifying with your comment, I continue to question, “Where’s the hope?”

      Could the reason I seem to feel like this whole Church-thing, as it exists right now, is a no-win situation be because I’m placing my hope and faith in men? Isn’t that what we Protestants fault the Catholic church for?

      Is it too naive to expect that if we actually *lived* as Jesus called us to live, and *strove* to be obedient out of love and thankfulness to a God who redeemed us from our natural fate in those areas we all agree on, that the areas of disagreement would become less and less important (not that they aren’t important, but the focus would change) and unity in Christ would be the norm?

      My hope for the health of the C/church has to be in the One who instituted it.

      Maybe an Evangelical Collapse is what’s needed to refocus His Body on the Head?

      • Been through two church splits myself. Praying that GOD keeps your fire lit, and bright, during this dark time. HE can, and HE will.

  8. “While I watch Catholics have serious worship and serious spiritual formation in scripture and the virtues of deep spirituality, I’ll keep asking: is this the best we can do?”

    I would only say that individuals have serous worship and spiritual formation, not blanket groups of people. I’ve known Catholics who are extremely devoted and serious about their faith and Catholics who are Catholic-in-name-only……not very different from any Protestant church you could attend.

    I remember visiting an LCMS church many years ago. It was the most liturgical church I had ever been to. I thought it was beautiful and very meaningful, because it was so different from everything I was familiar with. On the other hand, I knew people who had been Lutherans their whole lives who had found no sense of worship at all in that type of service, seeing it as endless and empty repetition.

    My thought was that we get out of a “worship service” what we put into it.

    The only comfort in the cacophony of voices in Protestantism is the comfort of knowing that we need grace to survive it.

    It’s cold comfort….but it’s comfort.

    • Amen.

      My search for something other that Evagelicalism has only lead to the realization that different = exciting. Whether you start at traditional liturgy or stand for an hour rock band, when people go the other direction they find it “refreshing” and “meaningful”. It seems that forms of worship are just that, forms. True worship is in the spirit of the heart.

      • Todd Erickson says

        I would argue that while worship is a state of the heart, congregational worship is entirely a matter of style.

        If the worship leader and their band are all extroverts, but the majority of their audience are introverts, blasting them with hard rock praise music may not actually be the best way to reach them. Being mindful of your audience and the way that they engage both with learning and with God is the best way to a productive, engaging service, as opposed to one where people show up, do their thing privately, and leave.

      • I’ve thought the exact same thing about “different = exciting”. And I’ve had the argument with myself about what is personal preference in worship and what isn’t. My own conclusion is that style does matter – to a degree. If the praise band is blasting so loud that you can’t hear yourself or your neighbor’s voice then that style is not conducive to worshiping in community – or to your individual spiritual formation.

        The other variable is content. So while I as an individual may prepared to “put into” worship what I need to, if the words I’m singing are more me-centered than Christ-centered than I am getting no help to worship – its all just me.

        Knowing where the line is and how much to give either way, that’s the tough part. At least for me.

  9. Beautiful reflection and I have felt the exact same thing on many, many points. I’ve decided to remain in the “Happy Enough” section of the bus, but of course, I can’t predict the future, so who knows where I’ll be in a few years.

    Of course…there’s always Eastern Orthodoxy 😉

  10. wow great post!

  11. About half my family is Catholic, and I’ve recently dated a Catholic or two. I’ve got nothing but warm fuzzy nostalgia about my childhood in the Catholic Church which is reaffirmed every time I go to Mass with family and friends. In other words, I’ve really tried to talk myself into Catholicism as well. It boils down to doctrinal disagreement, of course. But I also wonder whether what we have is so much better. I know my last church wasn’t. And while my current church doesn’t have many of the typical Evangelical circus, it’s very much a reinventing-the-wheel kind of thing. That lack of connection to historic expressions of Christianity leaves me rather empty at times, despite how good the community is.

    I wish Ecumenism could really mean striving toward full communion with each other through mutual compromise. I.e. we all agree on the majors and work out the minors. But for too many of us, everything is major. I know I have troubles telling the difference more often than not.

  12. While I share much of your frustration, I have to wonder if there was ever a time where everything was better? Certainly we didn’t have the same errors as today, but would I be happy growing up as my Grandma did in a Norwegian speaking Lutheran church in Minnesota with prejudice against all other Protestants? Or in a frontier Methodist church with stringent holiness requirements? I’m sure there were bright spots at all times, but there was also a lot of garbage our there too, and even less choice because before the car, you went to whatever was within walking distance.

    Right now we are in what James Jordan calls the Ziklag Bivouac with the misfits, but hopefully the Church re-emerges into a glorious future in God’s good time.

  13. Richard Hershberger says

    “We traded the errors of Rome for what we have now. I can be glad we do not believe in the assumption of Mary or in indulgences, but from there, I’m left sad that I can go weeks without hearing the Gospel, but never a day without moralism, culture war idolatry and consumer church.

    “Rejoicing that we have abandoned the errors of infallibility seems embarrassing when evangelicals have infallible popes by the dozen.”

    True so far as it goes, but it isn’t as if Roman Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism are the only possibilities. Christian tradition is far richer.

  14. “Some better, most worse, some painful, some edifying, but in the main, unimpressive and tediously mundane”

    i’d add “repetitive” to the list.

  15. M –

    We all can provide anecdotal evidence based on our own experiences – mine is that the RC is as conflicted and screwed up as the Protestants.

    For example, I listened to an interview with “Catholics for Choice” on the way to work this am. When there is mandatory religious training for teachers at the RC school my wife teaches, she (the Baptist) is the only teacher who shows up with a bible and demonstrates any experience with it. Sure, for years the SBC had Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich as poster children, but hey, the RC now has half of that cross.

    I live in both worlds these days – the grass is not greener on the other side – it’s just as brown there as it is here.

    • The Catholic Church has more sinners in it than any other church because it’s bigger. “Catholics for Choice” has been condemned by the USCCB and that at least one bishop has put anyone in his diocese who chooses to join it under an interdict. As far as Biblical knowledge goes, everyone needs to start reading the Bible more. It seems that we all have our favorite passages and we tend to read them to the exclusion of everything else.

      • ‘ You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. ‘

        John 5:39-40

        What the Church needs is more Jesus! Less Bible Culture, less exclusivity, less Apologetics, less Christian magazines, music, movies, catchphrases, seminars, trend etc, and more dinners with sinners – literally! For too long the Church has combed the book of Acts and the Epistles to find the “right” model for Church (perhaps none more so than the Evangelical North American Civil Religion of National Morality – this, truly, is what the Evangelical/Protestant Church in North America has become – a religion that espouses the warmongering, consumerist ethics and morality of the Nation as opposed to the clearly non-violent, self-sacrificial, merciful and compassionate ethics of Jesus!) not realizing that the Church did not begin with the Acts of the Apostles, but with the earthly ministry of Jesus!! To begin with the Apostles for how to do Church is to start too late! They did not start the Church, Jesus did!! They were following his example!!

  16. Wow, Michael, you said it all and you said it well. More than well. It’s like that’s precisely what I’ve wanted to articulate for years. Thank you and God bless you.

  17. “While I watch Catholics have serious worship and serious spiritual formation in scripture and the virtues of deep spirituality, I’ll keep asking: is this the best we can do?”

    Oh, don’t be depressed by that comparison, Michael. A lot of us over here in the wide, wonderful world of Catholicism equally have vacuous ceremonies, bad preaching, little or no catechesis, and a lot of ‘Catholic in name only’.

    In a way, it’s actually worse for us: we have so much, for so long, and we skate by on the “Minimum Adult Daily Requirement” as Mark Shea puts it; what is the least amount of rule-keeping that we actually *have* to do to fulfil the requirements, rather than developing a deep and rich spiritual life and love of God.

    And I’m as bad as anyone about that :- (

    • the difference, in my mind, is that Catholics-in-name only are simply not partaking of the wealth of the spiritual treasury the Church offers; i used to be that Catholic until i started going to Adoration…which lead (Jesus always leads us into the deep!) to the daily rosary…and to novenas…and to feasting/fasting and celebrating the liturgical year…and to erecting a home altar our family uses for ‘domestic church’ purposes…and the daily chapelet of Divine Mercy…and on and on. (works to be sure, but lex orandi lex credendi lex vivendi.) and i found that there is a whole community of Catholics doing exactly that: living their faith as the Church has always encouraged us to. i feel sorry for the tapped out Separated Brothers who feel like historical anachronisms when they want to dive deep into their spiritual taproot to escape the “tyranny of celebrity spirituality”: what is the orthopraxis–which feeds orthodoxy, and vice-versa–the Methodist community would encourage in its members that is tried-and-true by saints of the ages?

  18. I grew up in hearing a lot of anti-Catholic rhetoric. Oddly enough the source was a heterodox Christian sect. As I’ve grown in my spirituality, and towards a deep trinity, I’ve often catch myself longing to be Catholic yet I reject RC for many familiar reasons – reasons I share with a swath of evangelicals.

    But as I feel this discontent with protestantism I long for something more. I long to take of the Eucharist daily, I long for uniformity, and I long for holiness. “…but she’s my mother..” echoes in my heart. I’ve not faced the same struggle as you have Michael, but to your sentiments here I am giving a resounding AMEN!

  19. @Ryan My thoughts exactly. As I read this, I kept thinking of my similar frustrations, and how that led me to a 6 year compromise into Anglo-Catholicism. Still, Anglo-Catholicism is a unique beast, and at one point I determined I had two options: Become a Lutheran or become Orthodox. This fence sitting wasn’t working.

    Well, here I am. I’ve been in the Orthodox Church a year now (though I only officially joined at Pascha of this year). I still have niggling issues here and there, but my heart is home and my burdens relieved.

  20. What do we expect when evangelical Christianity is as American as apple pie?

    Abandoning My Individual Gospel would mean not being able to do what we want, when we want.

    I suggest that the strong undercurrent of Government is Bad in this country is not about politics; it’s about a growing dislike of working for the common good, and it’s very much present in Christianity.

  21. Laura Short says

    Dear iMonk,

    Thank you. This, too, has hit very close to home for me as I struggle mightily (and have done for the last 33 years) with the issues you so beautifully articulated in this essay.

    Rome or Geneva? If only the Lord would speak to me! Or, perhaps, He has…

    I weep over this because, for me, it means going Home to Rome on my own, leaving Family behind (and bewildered). My prayers pour forth to any and all that find themselves it that “Happy Enough” place; after a while, it just isn’t quite enough.

    May God Bless you and yours…

    Laura.

  22. Michael, You sound about as frustrated as I am with all that is going on in the Evangelical church and churches in general. I went on a rant in my last blog on my blogsite the other day trying to shout as loud as I could that I think we are simply dishonest in our theology. I told the whole bunch of them to Go to Hell. I admit the title was meant to be an attention getter but I’m frustrated too. I get really tired of the experts telling me where the ancient fathers of the church screwed up. Most of what I hear are regurgitated views of Lorraine Boettner and his rants against the Catholic Church. I don’t think we know enough one way or the other how the early church conducted church.
    My beef with the Catholics is more in their insufferable Canon Laws. Probably too, since I’m divorced and remarried, the chances of my second marriage being valid in the Catholic church are slim and none. In their eyes, I’m still married to my first wife. I’m sure she’d be thrilled to hear that. When I told my present wife about the annulment policies she rolled her eyes and fumed.
    Don’t get me wrong, Catholic liturgy, especially the Liturgy of the Hours, their great devotional The Magnificat magazine brought vitality to my faith when I was about to chuck Christianity out of my life. God has brought me close to him and his love more through Catholic prayers and readings than any other source, bar none.
    But, like you, I don’t know how I can get by the “rules, rules, rules.” It’s so burdening to people.
    So many innocent get hurt and cast away sometimes by the rules of the Catholic church.
    So…in short…I loved the series. I still love the Catholic church. I love the adoration and can even accept some of the doctrines. But, there just too much I can’t get over.
    Thank you for this great series.

    • A good friend of mine swam the Tiber a few years ago. He was on his third marriage and the Priests and Bishop would not allow him to partake in the Eucharist. He applied to have his first two marriages annulled. He was an evangelical Christian at the time of his first two marriages and had two daughters from his first marriage. ( I first met him and his first wife and children in church.)

      The canon lawyers got to work, (for a large fee, of course) put together a case, and petitioned Rome. His first two marriages were annulled because:

      A. He and his first two wives were not Catholics.

      B. They were not married in a Catholic Church

      Therefore the Roman Church declared that they were never really Christian marriages.

      He related the whole story to me himself, and his third wife (a Catholic) was ecstatic.

      Sophistry, word games, and the setting aside of the Word of God for the traditions of men are just a few of the reasons I will never be a Roman Catholic.

      Rome and Evangelicalism aren’t the only Churches in town, and even if they were, I’ll take the simple poverty of people taking Christ at His Word and trying to do the best they can over the alternative.

      • “The answer is of course rather self evident, yet at once rather profound. They didn’t really intend to get married. No one doubts that this intent, (or lack thereof), automatically invalidates virtually all weddings performed on stage or screen, yet what of those every day weddings taking place in all sorts of places, in all sorts of forms, all over the world? What if one or both participants is just reciting the lines that they are ‘supposed to’ without willing, or intending, what those words imply.”

        http://aussieapologist.blogspot.com/2009/01/marriage-annulments-and-what-god-hath.html

        That’s the theory, at any rate, but I agree that annulments are much abused these days. But, the argument can be made that those who did not receive a sufficient Catholic formation (like, well, Protestants) would not have the framework to understand what the Church means by a marriage, which can qualify for an annulment. And the fact that your friend had two divorces suggests that this is possibly his case, that he was at least able to convince his pastor about it to get the annulment ball rolling.

        • Sam,
          It is absolutely ridiculous to believe that all those who are married outside the Catholic Church are not actually married but fornicating. Christ himself recognized that the Samaritan woman had been married five times previously John4:18. Paul recognizes marriages of those who had been married before converting to Christianity, marriages to unbelieving spouses as valid throughout 1 Corinthians.
          It is also stupid to play with “What were the intentions of the person when they got married?” They made vows, they are bound to them. They even signed legal paperwork. They were married. They consumated the marriage. unless of course they were one of those catholic couples that thinks sex is dirty and sinful outright, certainly nothing holy people do, other wise Marry would have had actual kids, and so go about living celibate life in the same home, and repressing their God given desires for each other in some sort of tortuous game to see who is the first to develop the most quirks as a result of the neurological disorders that naturally develop when actively disobeying God’s first injunction to mankind.
          God created woman as a help meet for man, because it was not good for man to be alone. He told them to be fruitful and multiply. He expects them to do so. I’m not going to elevate sex to some sort of sacrament, or holy act. But it is a damn good work when husband and wife come together, it is acting out their vocation.
          Quite frankly the catholic views on marriage and sexuality, especially the ones you propose, are some of the most offensive, and anti biblical I have ever seen. But I will be sympathetic and just say this. Sam, get married, or stop talking about marriage.

          • An annulment does not say they were fornicating, and any children born in the marriage are considered legitimate.

            The Catholic idea of what a marriage even is are very different, as Martha goes some way to explaining below. Legal documents in a court of law are irrelevant, as the state has no rights in regards to marriage.

          • “Legal documents in a court of law are irrelevant, as the state has no rights in regards to marriage.”
            You don’t see yourself talking out both sides of your mouth? The question here Sam, is am I, or am I not married? I was married by the state. You say the state has not rights in regard to marriage, so the only conclusion I can come to is that by the Catholic Church’s definition I am not married, I’m fornicating.
            You see i think it is the church that doesn’t have any rights in regard to marriage. They can bless it if they like but that is it. It is still a marriage whether blessed or not, just like my house is a house whether blessed or not.

          • The ministers of marriage are the married couple themselves, not a priest, so yes, you are married. If you were to go on and get a divorce, and then remarry, and get another divorce, you’d have a canonical case that you really never intended to be married in the first place, thus annulling the Sacrament. I, however, give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you did and do intend to be married..

      • Okay, annulment versus divorce.

        Annulment declares that a valid marriage never existed in the first place. It does not declare the children of any such invalid marriage to be illegitimate, nor does it declare the couple to have been living in sin (forgive the old-fashioned expression).

        Divorce says that a valid marriage did exist but has now been truncated.

        To say that the first two marriages were not marriages is not the whole story; they were not sacramental marriages – and I’d ask you what you think the difference is between a civil registration of a marriage according to national laws and the ceremony carried out in a church? If you genuinely don’t or can’t see a difference there, or if the church ceremony is only the ‘icing on the cake’ and the *real* marriage (as far as legality goes) is the one done under the aegis of the state, then that is part of the difference in understanding of marriage.

        You say your friend was on his third marriage; that indicates that he had already gone through two civil divorces (unless he was a widower?)

        This means that, from a Catholic theological view on the sacramental marriage he wished to contract, he was either (1) validly married to his first wife, and therefore entering into an adulterous relationship with his second, so the second marriage was not valid or (2) incapable of contracting a sacramental marriage because of having neither the intention nor the knowledge of what that entailed. Going into a marriage with the expectation (however unconscious) that if it fails, divorce is possible – and I’ll veer off here to say that civil divorce is permissible under canon law for good reasons, but it does not mean freedom to re-marry in church, as distinct from civil, terms – is not committing to the understanding of the indissolubility of marriage and is evidence of lack of intention.

        It doesn’t matter if culturally divorce is no longer stigmatised, shameful, or ‘everyone’s gone trhough at least one’. And yes, we’re mean enough to say “No, we don’t care about your second chance at happiness with someone you really love (this time round).”

        Please note: we’re talking the difference between civil and church understandings of marriage, and different theologies of marriage.

        Or is it any better to say “Yes, you were indeed married in the eyes of God, but by breaking your bond twice, you ignored the prohibition on divorce in Mark 10:2 Matthew 5:31, Matthew 19:6, Luke 16:18 if you put away your wife for any cause other than adultery, but don’t mind that?” It is acceptable to have three living spouses?

        Sorry to be in anyone’s face, but this is one of those times when we get hammered for sticking literally to the word of the Scripture (as distinct to those times when we get hammered for being extra-Biblical or adding traditions or inventing stuff). Ironic, when that’s exactly what you’re accusing us of doing; “setting aside of the Word of God for the traditions of men” in this case.

        I would like to see a serious layout of how the Protestant (from whatever tradition, all comers welcome) conception of marriage and divorce and re-marriage evolved.

        Even the Church of England did not accept the re-marriage in church of divorced people with a living spouse until 2002, and that is supposed to only be in “exceptional circumstances”. Are we going to see some comments about Anglican cynicism and word games!

        “The Church of England teaches that marriage is for life. It also recognizes that some marriages sadly do fail and, if this should happen, it seeks to be available for all involved. The Church accepts that, in exceptional circumstances, a divorced person may marry again in church during the lifetime of a former spouse.
        General Synod, 2002”

        • Okay, I’ve stopped frothing at the mouth.

          I do understand that at the Reformation, the number of sacraments was reduced to two – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper – with Dominical validation, and that marriage was no longer considered a sacrament but rather an ordinance that had fallen, with other human institutions, under the effects of the Fall.

          Being a human institution, it was therefore no more (or no less) binding on any of the parties than any other contract. Contracts in civil law being voidable, marriage contracts could equally be voided by the mutal agreement of the contracting parties.

          Catholic theology never developed like that. We stuck to marriage being a sacrament and partaking of the nature of other sacraments that effect an ontological change in the participants.

          By the bye, as a side-note of interest, we consider the ministers of the sacrament of marriage to be the couple themselves; the priest acts as a witness and as representing the Church as the Body of Christ incorporating this new relationship into its life, but the priest does not, technically, ‘marry’ the couple.

          “The husband and wife must validly execute the marriage contract. In the Roman Catholic tradition, it is the spouses who are understood to confer marriage on each other. The spouses, as ministers of grace, naturally confer upon each other the sacrament of matrimony, expressing their consent before the church. This does not eliminate the need for church involvement in the marriage; under normal circumstances, canon law requires the attendance of a priest or deacon and at least two witnesses for validity (see canons 1108-1116).”

          Anyone familiar with the many folksongs and ballads where the deserted woman reproaches her lover with having promised to marry her before they lay together and he replies it was only in jest or to test her or it was her own fault for giving in? That’s because of this tradition: the “God is my witness that we married” when people contracted private marriages without public witnesses or church involvement, which is why all the rules were made.

          And any Tolkien geeks out there familiar with Laws and Customs of the Eldar? The rules for contracting valid Elvish marriage are practically the Catholic rules, if you’re a Catholic familiar with the theology 🙂

          • The Tolkien quote, for the interested:

            “But these ceremonies were not rites necessary to marriage; they were only a gracious mode by which the love of the parents was manifested, and the union was recognized which would join not only the betrothed but their two houses together. It was the act of bodily union that achieved marriage, and after which the indissoluble bond was complete. In happy days and times of peace it was held ungracious and contemptuous of kin to forego the ceremonies, but it was at all times lawful for any of the Eldar, both being unwed, to marry thus free of consent one to another without ceremony or witness (save blessings exchanged and the naming of the Name); and the union so joined was alike indissoluble. In days of old, in times of trouble, in flight and exile and wandering, such marriages were often made.”

            That’s the basic Catholic theology right there: (B)oth being unwed, to marry thus free of consent one to another without ceremony or witness, save blessings exchanged and the naming of the Name (of God as witness to the vow sworn); and the union so joined was alike indissoluble (after consummation).

        • Interesting that it’s always the sacramental passages the Catholic take literally, but that Protestants want to make symbolic or spiritual in nature.

      • And to think that the Roman Catholics had a problem with the annulment of the marriage of a 16th Century English king! The irony of it all 😉

        • This guy wrote his senior thesis on that, actually. Henry VIII, unlike Mr. Kyle’s friend mentioned above, didn’t have a case:

          http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=drmq7h3_152zsxq9zcr&hl=en

          • “What God has joined together let no man tear asunder” – Jesus

            God joins together and creates the one flesh union through the act of sex. Even without the consent of the church.(That is why Paul warns against sex with prostitutes.) The Church can neither add to or subtract from this union, they can only recognize it for blessing or condemning(in the case of infidelity.)

            My friend mentioned above had children by his first wife. Canon Law cannot nullify or invalidate that one flesh union. Typically, they think nothing of invalidating anyone elses blessing or recognition of their marriage and annulling it on the grounds that it wasn’t really a marriage.

            From every point of view(including the Scriptures) except the RCC there was absolutely NO case for an “annullment” I even take exception with the term ‘annullment’ as though the pronouncement of some church can undo the Work of God in uniting two people into one flesh.

          • Canon law recognizes those children as legitimate. But marriage was flawed in it’s sacramental nature, as is evidenced by his serial monogamy.

            “1626 The Church holds the exchange of consent between the spouses to be the indispensable element that “makes the marriage.”125 If consent is lacking there is no marriage.

            1627 The consent consists in a “human act by which the partners mutually give themselves to each other”: “I take you to be my wife” – “I take you to be my husband.”126 This consent that binds the spouses to each other finds its fulfillment in the two “becoming one flesh.”127

            1628 The consent must be an act of the will of each of the contracting parties, free of coercion or grave external fear.128 No human power can substitute for this consent.129 If this freedom is lacking the marriage is invalid.

            1629 For this reason (or for other reasons that render the marriage null and void) the Church, after an examination of the situation by the competent ecclesiastical tribunal, can declare the nullity of a marriage, i.e., that the marriage never existed.130 In this case the contracting parties are free to marry, provided the natural obligations of a previous union are discharged.131”

            It’s not that the words make the marriage happen magically; if there is a defect in the will of the intention, it can be nullified. Not even knowing all the specifics, it’s clear that your friend at least started out with a fundamentally flawed idea of marriage, or he wouldn’t have married, divorced, remarried, divorced in the first place. This is why Canon law considers it to have been a Sacramentally invalid marriage, regardless of legal situations.

        • Problem with the annulment was that (1) Henry was arguing his marriage was incestuous (married his brother’s widow, hence making Catherine his sister – that ‘one flesh’ thing) and (2) he had already obtained a dispensation to marry Catherine in the first place, on the grounds of non-consummation. In effect, he wanted the Pope togive him a dispensation on the grounds that the previous Pope had not had the authority to give him the first dispensation, which was rather absurd: “I want you to rule on this matter that you (or your predecessors in office) can’t rule on this matter!”

          Catherine swore and maintained all her life that she had been a virgin when she married Henry (and she seems to have genuinely loved him, which I can’t understand, to be frank) particularly in her testimony at the 1529 court hearing before the Papal Legate.

          One or other of them was lying, and though most Protestant historians seem to think it was Catherine, I don’t know why she should be considered more likely to commit perjury just because she was Spanish, or a Catholic, or a Spanish Catholic 🙂

          From the Vatican Secret Archives, the letter sent by the peers of England petitioning for the King’s annulment:

          http://asv.vatican.va/en/doc/1530.htm

          Queen Catherine’s testimony:

          “When Queen Catherine was called upon in court she rose from her chair and came to the king, and, kneel­ing down at his feet, said:

          “Sir, in what have I offended you? Or what occasion of displeasure have I given you, intending thus to put me from you? I take God to be my, judge, I have been to you a true and humble wife, ever conformable to your will and pleasure ; never contradicting or gainsaying you in any-thing; being always contented with all things wherein you had any delight or took any pleasure, without grudge, or countenance of discontent or displeasure. I loved, for your sake, all them whom you loved, whether I had cause or no; whether they were my friends or my enemies.

          “I have been your wife these twenty years or more, and you have had by me divers children; and when you had me first, I take God to be my judge, that I was a maid. Whether it be true or no, I put it to your own conscience. If there be any just cause that you can allege against me, either of dishonesty, or matter lawful to put me from you, I am content to depart, to my shame and confusion ; and if there be none, then I pray you to let me have- justice at your hands.

          “The king, your father, was, in his time, of such an excellent wit, that he was accounted amongst all men for wisdom to be a second Solomon ; and the king of Spain, my father, Ferdinand, was accounted one of the wisest princes that had reigned in Spain for many years. It is not, therefore, to be doubted, but that they had gathered as wise counselors unto them, of every realm, as in their wisdom they thought meet. And I conceive that there were in those days as wise and well-learned men, in both the realms, as be now at this day, who thought the marriage between you and me good and lawful. Therefore it is a wonder to me what new inven­tions are now invented against me. And now to put me to stand to the order and judgment of this court seems very unreasonable. . . . I humbly pray you to spare me until I may know what counsel my friends in Spain will advise me to take; and if you will not, then your pleasure be fulfilled.”

  23. I think the minute you talk about church unity peoples’ IQ’s drop by about 80 points. The “passion” is built under such a magnificently false premise that completely ignores both the majesty and sovereignty of God and his beautiful Son and Spirit. Fact is, God is greater then any building.

  24. Dolan McKnight says

    I don’t know about Kentucky, but I know that you can find liturgical Baptist churches in Dallas among all the overblown megas. Wilshire Baptist and Royal Lane Baptist both have great preachers, good music, and liturgy – the price is that they had to find in within the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship rather than the SBC.

    I was a cradle roll Southern Baptist for over fifty years and until 1979 I was perfectly happy, but I finally got disgusted with all the turf fighting over trivial issues and the subsequent mudslinging and character assasinations in the Convention. I went to a highly liturgical Methodist church and found a lot to like. For one thing, the Methodists really believe in priesthood of the believer. If you are committed to immersion and/or credo-baptism, fine. They recognize both as valid. If you want to believe in inerrancy or not, fine. Wesley expected all Methodists to believe in the Apostle’s Creed, but theology beyond that was a personal matter.

    While I think the Methodist’s holding onto apostolic succession in the light of their history of disassociation with the Anglican church to be odd, there is something to be said for the bishop appointing and rotating pastors, so that the pastor does not get entrenched as a mini-me pope in his church.

    In short, there is life after evangelicalism. It might be hard to see the light of the Christ candle under the glare of the evangelical light show or hear the whisper of an Agnus Dei over the electric guitars and drums of a praise band, but they can be found.

  25. I second Michael Patton’s comment regarding his trying to talk himself into Rome. I am a former Catholic and have done the same since leaving 30 years ago. Bryan Cross did a great job, but I remain as unconvinced as ever for a variety of reasons. And yes, I too find myself today wandering in the evangelical wilderness. Are we swirling down the proverbial toilet? Maybe not, but we may be closer than we think. IMO we need another Reformation: a jolt, a shock, something that will shake out all of the idolatrous nonsense and trappings that we have made for ourselves. A movement of humbling ourselves before God such that his glory is restored in our midst. I am rambling a bit, but rest assured that many of us out in the blogosphere hear you. I think the Lord does too:-)

    • there is another reformation brewing among you, and one that will sweep away the last vestiges of the Ancient Faith as was left after the 16th c., and will be even more liberalizing. revolutions tend to eat their children.

      • This is sounding rather dark and foreboding. Are you thinking revolution AND reformation, a movement toward and away from the gopel/Christ ? Or just the bad one ??

        • you can’t get another reformation: you can only reform humpty-dumpty if he’s in one piece. besides, the reformation was less reform than it was revolution, and revolutions of that sort don’t end well. it isn’t a stretch to lay the responsibility for the West’s religious relativism (isn’t that what we have here, in spades, regarding ecclesiology?) at the feet of the self-styled reformers–if they sowed the wind; what will we, in our day, reap? as one historian has succinctly put it (paraphrased): the 16th century Reformation rejected the claims of one Church; the 17th century Enlightenment and 18th century Deism rejected the claims of one Christ; 19th century Spiritualism rejected the claims of one God; and the 20th century, well, it rejected the idea of God altogether. and it could hardly have ended otherwise.

          the most grievous thing about all of this is to hear that some imagine that Christ must have either willed it so and we must accept the status quo until His return OR…and what other conclusion could one come to?…failed in His promise that the Paraclete would “lead in all truth”. the reformation was a de facto vote of no confidence in the power of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity to keep things together. hardly surprising, then, that many here have absolutely no confidence that unity could ever be regained.

          which leads to further musing–if many here feel the Roman Church apostatized before the 16th century, they must also conclude that unity was apparently possible under apostasy but not under orthodoxy, which is a curious contradiction to strap oneself to.

  26. As a Catholic I regret hearing that when we talk it can sound like we’re saying other Christians are second rate. Several of the most saintly people I know are Evangelicals and I have the deepest respect for them and their very true and active faith, and their very true and active works of love.

  27. Michael, thanks for this candid, honest post. As I read this, I couldn’t help thinking about C. S. Lewis’s preface to “Mere Christianity”:

    “Hostility has come more from borderline people whether within the Church of England or without it: men not exactly obedient to any communion. This I find curiously consoling. It is at her centre, where her truest children dwell, that each communion is really closest to every other in spirit, if not in doctrine. And this suggests that at the centre of each there is a something, or a Someone, who against all divergencies of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same voice.”

    I agree that the present state of church (dis-)unity is extremely disheartening. If Lewis is right — that at the center, Jesus’ church is “one” even though it’s hard to see it — then hopefully that’s a bit of comfort.

  28. Rick said, “Several of the most saintly people I know are Evangelicals and I have the deepest respect for them and their very true and active faith, and their very true and active works of love.”

    I agree, Rick. I was brought up Catholic in a very loving way. But when I was a teen, I began questionning things and doing things that were not conducive to living a wholesome life. It was some wonderfully gentle Evangelical folks who spoke with me and prayed with me and helped me find again the direct connection that Jesus has with us. I owe them so much. And I gained an increased love for the scriptures. Eventually, I made my way back to my own Catholic tradition, but I will NEVER call or think of non-Catholic Christians as second-class in any way whatsoever. They are my brothers and sisters.

  29. About the “ecclesial communities” thing: Partly I think it’s a bad translation of the original Latin the documents were written in. The relevant passage in the original is “Ecclesiam Christi in Ecclesiis et communitatibus ecclesialibus nondum plenam communionem cum Ecclesia catholica habentibus”, which is translated as “the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church”. I would render “communitatibus ecclesialibus” more colloquially as “Churchly Communities”. I think that sounds better, as it gets across that the Catholic Church recognizes the legitimacy that is within non-Apostolic Christian traditions without compromising the truth of Holy Orders, which is what the document is talking about.

    It’s not that your own ordination is invalid; how could it be? You are not claiming to be an “Alter Christus” who has the power to forgive sins and confect the Eucharist. For what you claim by your Baptist ordination, a call from God to preach and counsel others, you don’t need the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The Catholic and Protestant (this is far thornier when Anglicans and Episcopal Lutherans get in the picture, but let’s pass that for the moment) ideas of ordination are so far apart, that it’s not even comparable. For your orders to be canonically “invalid” or “illicit”, you would need to be making certain claims about their character, which you quite adamantly are not. It’s not even on the radar. Your Baptism is valid, the reality of the teaching ministry you’ve been involved with for so many years is “valid” (equivocal use of the term, but i hope you get what I mean).

  30. iMonk,
    Right on the money:

    We traded the errors of Rome for what we have now. I can be glad we do not believe in the assumption of Mary or in indulgences, but from there, I’m left sad that I can go weeks without hearing the Gospel, but never a day without moralism, culture war idolatry and consumer church.

    Amen brother.

  31. Scott Miller says

    Michael, thank you for the posting from Bryan Cross. It infuriates me for many of the same reasons that you stated, not least of which is “having my community denied even the dignity of being “church””. I think that his remarks make me even more sure of the need for the Reformation.

    That said, it also makes me wonder if, in our continuing embracing of tradition, we are playing by our rules in a game when the rules are clearly stacked against us. Can we embrace Luther and even Catholic writers without fully participating in the tradition (i.e. “you have to become one of us to be legit’). Lutheranism not as much so as Catholicism, but there is still a conversion process, and closed communion. I struggle with this. By embracing some of the traditions are we no different than the New Agers or Emergents who have incorporated parts of the gospels without fully embracing any of the Gospel?

    On another note, if it is not too personal, I would like to hear why your wife decided to move toward RCC, in her own words. Perhaps let her write an essay on it. I would suggest, with the strong comments this week, that commenst be closed for her posting though.

    • The Catholic understanding of “Church” is tied into the Sacramental life. Under that conception, how can an incomplete experience of the Sacraments be considered fully Church? It is for this reason that “Church” is reserved for the Apostolic Communions, whereas other Christians are “Churchly” because they do partake in the Sacraments (Baptism & Marriage). It is no more an insult than if one were to consider a barbeque a cookout involving meat, to then say that a vegan barbecue is not fully a barbecue, but more a communal cooking experience, because there is no meat.

      • Well said!

        • L. Winthrop says

          To complete the analogy, we would have to imagine that the “steak” being barbequed tasted exactly like tofu–its essence being meat, but its accidents vegan–and that those around the first pit insisted on the difference in terminology all the same.

          • Well, all analogys break down at some point. The point is, when my Protestant friends ask me what they would gain by becoming Catholic, it’s the same feeling as when a vegetarian talks about how they can get all their nutrients from lentils and tofu, so why should they eat meat?

  32. I am sorry this comment is a little disjointed, it is trying to get at liturgy, the Gospel (pure! :)), and Bryan Cross’ post that I-monk linked to and Luther.

    I grew up in Bavaria with three streams of influence on my faith. Baptized and confirmed in a ev.luth. state church where you’d get a pastor who believed the Bible and then one who didn’t and then one who did…, where no one bothered to teach you the catechism, also in the pietistic fellowship, and attending Catholic convent girl grammar school by day learning my Latin under the sisters.

    This left me with a decent knowledge of the scripture (mostly from the pietistic fellowship), but feeling guilty and worried most of the time and with confusion about the gospel and my relationship to it, whether it really covered me or not. Even now, in LCC, Lutheran Church Canada, where I belong, I don’t think it is articulated clearly enough in many places. ( On the internet, however, you can read wonderful Gospel sermons by excellent preachers).

    For me, I had to read Luther himself, til I got it, or I knew that it was for me, too, because I just could not point to my continuing improvement to assure myself of being a Christian. (Maybe yes, maybe no, different on different days. When you look to yourself, you are doomed.) This is where the RC concept of Agape added to Faith, (as Bryan Cross articulated on the other site, but did not answer my question regarding his level of Agape), falls down also. No one can say that he has Agape, or enough Agape. (Even Bryan would not answer the question after being asked three times. Check it out.) And when you can’t be sure there, you also don’t have the assurance of faith,– which changes Everything.

    The liturgy has always worked for me. But I like the songs we sang in fellowship, too. Many of them were fine songs (but not the repetitive stuff of today’s “contemporary” singing). I loved the liturgy, even when I was young and I had pastors who did not believe the Bible in the state church. I love it, that we share so much of it across denominational lines. I love it that I-monk promotes it. Sometimes it gets tedious, and we look at the supposedly greener grass and more fun of evangelical services. I like attending them sometimes, but I don’t feel like I’ve really sung or worshiped or attained what I like to call a level of concentration that must surely be a different brain wave, maybe alpha, beta, gamma. I am joking. But there is this change and it can’t be done superficially.

    Against the Catholics I know have have nothing. They are dear committed people. However, one often meets highly disgruntled ex-Catholics who never want to hear anything about the faith again. They would still call themselves Catholics, though they don’t go and don’t believe. The Catholic school I attended was great and I thrived there.

    However, this series leaves me, too, with a bad taste in my mouth along the lines that Michael outlines. I pray his comments do some good. We do want to agree.

    • Brigette,

      You wrote, “No one can say that he has Agape, or enough Agape.” Perhaps you are speaking from a Protestant perspective, but from a Catholic point of view, that statement is not true. For a Catholic, this is precisely what we are to determine when we do a daily examination of conscience: Do I have agape?

      In the peace of Christ,

      – Bryan

      • Yes, let us examine ourselves daily, let’s confess our sins, and let’s pray for love, more love, stronger love… Indeed, let us love.

        But when you examine yourself, I’ve asked you, can you look to yourself and say it is enough agape to be saved? When you examine yourself do you have this agape you are looking for?

    • Brigitte,

      Good to see another LCC member here!

      • Thanks for introducing yourself! I don’t think I’ve come across another LCC member, here, knowingly.

        However, I notice Bryan Cross has still not answered my question for the fourth time. I wish him all the best. He has been on my mind all day.

  33. I don’t want to be harsh, but in essence I want to say “get over it.” You want to know how to fix it? Just fix it in your own life. No, the fundamentalists won’t get fixed, but they aren’t reading your blog either. The Catholics never did get fixed, which is why we never went back to them. We stayed apart. Baptists will never get fixed…we’ll just keep building bigger churches and universities (I’m a Liberty seminary student myself). No…it will never be ok. Get over it and live the life God told you to live. Pray for those who aren’t there, and don’t get prideful about it. That’s why I like your blog…you seem to have a lot fixed in your life. Keep it up!

    • I’m glad you like the blog. Makes me wonder why? When you’ve lived my life in evangelicalism, Dan, you can tell me to get over it. I’ve “gotten” over my wife’s conversion to the RCC and I cheerfully deal with the clown car that is evangelicalism in my wilderness. But no one who can walk to any of 35 churches in evangelicalism and find a shelter from the storm can really tell me to stop lamenting. Lamenting this situation is what I do for the body of Christ. Instead of “get over it,” maybe “keep finding a way to deal with it” might be considered. I assume that people’s lamentation is their own property, not mine.

      • Get over it? That is such a typical American evangelical “answer.” Buck up. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Take charge of yourself and the situation. There’s no problem so great that good ol’ American ingenuity can’t solve it.

        Dan, open your eyes. The state of the church today is in serious crisis. Your Joel Osteen impression won’t do anything but keep people in the dark.

        • I’m sorry, but I didn’t read Dan’s comments the same way i-Monk and Chaplain Mike did. I guess we all read into someone’s comments based on our experience.

          My experience tells me I have absolutely no control over anyone but myself (and often too little in that case as well). Yes, I can exhort, I can encourage them and attempt to keep them accountable, I can pray for them, I can do any number of things to offer guidance toward a more Christ-like existence, but I can do that ’til I’m blue in the face and it may or may not change a thing.

          I guess that’s all I “heard” in Dan’s comment. I have to admit, being an abrasive type myself, I had to do a double take and go look at it again once I read i-Monk’s response to it because I didn’t see what he was put off by. I get it now and can see where i-Monk is striving to find “a way to deal w/ it” instead of getting over it, which he seems to equate with giving up. But I can’t seem to get anything from your response other than a mean-spirited retort. Am I missing something?

          We all get that the church is in crisis. Striving to be Christ-like on a personal level, and exhorting those you have contact with to strive along with you (as i-Monk does w/ this blog), while in constant communion w/ the Father interceding about this crisis, seems to truly be the best and only option.

          (I’m gonna have to go listen to Mr Osteen, he gets so much ink on this blog, he must be Prosperity Gospel in all caps…)

          • Debbie, while I agree with and appreciate your point that we must each take responsibility for our walk with Christ, what I am talking about is the need for a thorough Reformation of the evangelical church. See my reply below, where I give MHO that this requires a whole different level and kind of LEADERSHIP, and not simply the faithfulness of individual Christians, as essential as that may be.

        • My thoughts exactly. If you’re counseling a depressed person, and you tell them to “get over it,” you might as well hand them a pistol while you’re at it. That phrase, well-meaning as it may be, has killed a lot of people.

  34. Wonderful, honest post, Michael. As frustrated as I am with the evangelical circus (or should that be circuses?), I’ll put up with it and trudge on. It’s the people and institutions who trend towards thinking they have it all figured out that worry me the most because I think they’re in for some of the biggest surprises, and not always pleasant ones. I sure don’t have it all wrapped up and figured out, and I’m not sure I ever will, or even should.

  35. imonk, thanks for mentioning the emotional dimensions of wrestling with these issues. Some of the most gut-wrenching problems for me have been discovering the true extent of plurality in Christianity. On a personal level, this has been a double-edged sword. It forced me to shed the cocksure epistemology of Protestant fundamentalism relatively early in my life (but with great tears, fear, and trembling). That opened up a decade-long study of church history and appreciation for the various people who have sought Christ in various times and places. This has posed questions and opened my heart in various ways. However, it has also tossed me out into a sort of intellectual and spiritual wilderness — I still am at a loss to describe how it feels. Many of my dear friends are in traditions with a very strong and exclusive authority that makes them feel they are “home”. It also protects from too much identification with “those other Christians, so-called.” They seem happy, and I remember being happy and confident in that way. I kind of miss it. But I can’t go back, nor can I really say I embrace one or the other side without reservations and questions. I’ve slowly realized, after shutting myself up in academe for years and waiting to discover “the truth,” that I may have been asking the wrong questions (all intellectual ones, incidentally) and am working on Christian practice and trust in God and God’s mercy rather than systematized answers scribbled on sheets of paper. In fact I forced myself this week to join a church, without “answering” any of the questions with finality . . .

    But I digress. My point is that for many years now I have had friends on the Protestant and Catholic sides of the fence and am myself torn-in-two, unable to be one and whole or wholly at home anywhere. Always I feel I am asked to choose between things I cannot possibly (at this point) choose between, to have convictions I can never quite muster. And the people dearest to me are in different places, and we cannot come to the same communion table.

    Still, I am not explaining the feeling. But thanks for mentioning the struggle and the difficulty, on a personal level, of navigating these waters. It is good to know others have traveled similar roads, in their various ways.

    • Danielle,
      You have expressed many of the same thoughts I have had for a very long time. Thanks for sharing those thoughts, especially where you wrote, “I may have been asking the wrong questions (all intellectual ones, incidentally) .” I hope you find peace in the decision you made this week.

  36. iMonk, one reason I love your blog so much is that your journey reflects so much of my own, only in reverse. I was raised Catholic and for a time about ten years ago I considered jumping ship…only to find that there were doctrinal obstacles I just couldn’t hurdle (I found so much ‘interpretive diversity’ in the Protestant churches I attended, it made me revisit the question of authority).

    But today I have great love and affection for Protestant brothers and sisters.

    What’s more, like you, I’m involved in ministry with young people (teach religion at a Catholic high school), and I am widely dissatisfied with much of what I see in my own communion. And again, like you, not dissatisfied enough to leave, but enough so that I struggle daily with spiritual angst. We have plenty of problems of our own!

    • mdm writes about we Catholics, “We have plenty of problems of our own!”

      This is true. I believe the things written in the Apostles Creed and in the Nicene Creed. I think that people being what they are, we need some kind of organization like we have with bishops, cardinals and the Pope. The Pope doesn’t just decide things willy-nilly. He has the advice of his bishops and cardinals, scripture, writings of the Church Fathers, tradition. I like the emphasis the Catholic Church has on helping the poor and disadvantaged. I like that there are so many religious orders and different ways of “being Catholic” depending on your culture, country, etc. I like our emphasis on prayer, the Eucharist and mostly I like our emphasis on Jesus and the Gospel news about God’s great love for us.

      BUT…I bet if you asked all the Catholic married people, at least half of them would disagree with the Church’s teachings about birth control. Many Catholics think priests should be allowed to marry. Some Catholics think women should be allowed to be priests. I know that within the Episcopalian church, allowing woman to become priests has driven some people OUT of the Episcopalian church. I realize they are basing what they think women should be allowed to do on what they think scripture says about this. But we don’t all interpret scripture the same way and many of us think we should allow for change as humanity learns more about itself. As an example, most of us no longer think that slavery should be tolerated in any way. Some Catholics think that closed communion is divisive (and I DO know why we have closed communion).

      And how many Catholics even know that the Catechism says this in Article 3: “499 The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” (The bold part was my emphasis of those words. Think about what that is saying.)

      We need to know how to raise up our children to want to remain active in Church. We need to learn better how to apply the correct balance of discipline, freedom and love.

      And Brian, I love the quotation from C. S. Lewis that you posted today at 6 pm. Isn’t he wonderful?!

      • But we don’t all interpret scripture the same way and many of us think we should allow for change as humanity learns more about itself.

        but humanity is in the process of unlearning about itself–which is why contraception, abortion, homosexuality, divorce, et al are reaching levels not seen since pagan Rome. the slavery issue was settled in Christendom long before the re-introduction of it into the New World without women priests–we’re getting worse, not better, and shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back because we slaughter the unborn but freed African Americans.

        I bet if you asked all the Catholic married people, at least half of them would disagree with the Church’s teachings about birth control. Many Catholics think priests should be allowed to marry. Some Catholics think women should be allowed to be priests.

        so? they’d still be wrong, right?

        • Yes, jon, they are Catholics who would still be wrong according to Catholic teachings. They would not be wrong according to the teachings of some of the non-Catholic groups. Only God REALLY knows who is right. We can trust that the Pope is correct, but we cannot know the way God knows. So I think we need to have a little humility in these areas. But then, I am not a very good Catholic. But my local Catholic friends accept me and love me anyway. And the priest that was here when I started attending church again gave me “dispensation” even though I am married to a divorced man. So, what I am saying is that things are not as “cut and dry” as some people think the Catholic Church is.

          • We can trust that the Pope is correct, but we cannot know…

            then how can i possibly trust? if the Church is pillar and bulwark, then i can trust, because i can know–know Truth Himself.

            Only God REALLY knows who is right.

            that’s the tyranny of relativism this pope has spoken quite adamantly about.

            I think we need to have a little humility in these areas.

            the humility of Pontius Pilate, what-is-truth and all that? that’s the least humble position of all: the i-don’t-know-and-neither-can-you. it takes humility–which is merely acknowledging things for what they are–to say, i submit to Mother Church: she knows better than i.

            things are not as “cut and dry” as some people think the Catholic Church is.

            in the aforementioned matters–contraception, women priests, etc–the Catholic Church has been as “cut and dry” as she can be, and the wishes and desires of a thousand-billion souls won’t make one iota of the law pass away.

            But my local Catholic friends accept me and love me anyway.

            i love you too, insomuch as i am able to, seeing as you are pixels on a computer screen to me. but God sees you, and may He bless and keep you, JoanieD.

  37. Nice post. Totally agree on almost every point. I left the RCC because I found their historical argument weak but I get bummed out by so much of modern evangelicalism. Reform is always needed.

  38. Well said IM. I’m sorry I’m only coming in at the end of the last two threads, but I as well wish very much that all those claims you’ve struggled through could be true. I also mourn the seeming wilderness in modern evangelicalism. As I’ve said elsewhere, I turn to EWTN (the Catholic network) when I want something spiritual and avoid TBN or Daystar as much as possible. Even though I switch off EWTN when they get to the rosary or other too overtly Marian segments, I feel much more able even then to appreciate the worshipful attitudes expressed there.

    • Its odd for me to find that people think of the Rosary as a Merian prayer. The reason I say that is because I always thought growing up that the Rosary was the most Christ centered prayer there is. I mean its focus is on the Gospel it self and the prayers are about Jesus.

  39. “We’ve passed Reformation day, and what have we done? Come 500 years and we need a Reformation as much as Rome ever did.”

    Amen and AMEN.

    Our own Jeremiah, you are. (You mentioned lamenting above, and the natural parallels turned to neon for me right then.)

    I do think the poster above, though abrasive (unintentionally I think), did have a point. Reformation begins with individuals. Thank you for continuing to exhort us to live a Jesus-shaped life.

    • Debbie, I’m not sure I completely agree that reformation begins with individuals. Reformation begins with individuals LIKE Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, Calvin, and the other great Reformation leaders.

      My question is, “Where is the leadership?” Who is speaking and acting authoritatively and credibly to address the mess that is evangelical Christianity today? Where is the great Protestant magisterium? The Church Council of our day? The apostolic voice? Who is calling the church together to address the crisis that is upon us?

      • Ah, you were writing this as I was writing to you above.

        “Reformation begins with individuals LIKE Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, Calvin, and the other great Reformation leaders.”

        I agree, but the leadership of these men was bestowed upon them through Christ and the power they received through their unity with Him.

        “My question is, “Where is the leadership?” Who is speaking and acting authoritatively and credibly to address the mess that is evangelical Christianity today? Where is the great Protestant magisterium? The Church Council of our day? The apostolic voice? Who is calling the church together to address the crisis that is upon us?”

        I’m right there with you. Where are they? They sure-as-shootin’ aren’t here. Is that because there are no godly men? No…we have them all around.

        I think you (we) are asking the wrong questions. Maybe we should be asking Why isn’t God raising up these men, offering the type of power recognized by all in the fold as speaking the voice of the Shepherd?

        It leaves me wondering if we aren’t moving to a place where God is going to humble us in a very big way. IOW, could this be His modern day turning over the tables of the money changers?

        • “My question is, “Where is the leadership?” Who is speaking and acting authoritatively and credibly to address the mess that is evangelical Christianity today? Where is the great Protestant magisterium? The Church Council of our day? The apostolic voice? Who is calling the church together to address the crisis that is upon us?”

          Often I wish there was real authority in the evangelical chuch, likesay, someone who could bar Benny Hinn from ever preaching in the US ever again for example. It would be so aweseome to shut down all the charlatans.

          But on the other hand, if such power existed, it would get abused and we’d be even worse off.

          500 years ago, religious leaders had real power, like Calvin. If Fred Phelps were alive 500 years ago, maybe we’d be worshiping today in Phelpsian Churches.

  40. From what I have been able to figure out, many Protestant people go to a Church that is ‘welcoming’ and they find a ‘Church home’ there. They join, and attend fairly regularly, and are confident enough to raise their children in that Church. The Church is a social network for activities that are age-appropriate, and also respond to religious educational needs of the age-levels in the family. Not a bad thing at all.

    For the Catholic Church, it happens differently. It’s not so much the ‘social’ need that draws people there. Perhaps someone gets invited into a Catholic Church, and ‘senses’ something different there. They can’t define it, but they are conscious of something ‘else’. It speaks to a part of them that is in need. And that’s the beginning for some. Others may only come in and rest for a while in the quiet of the Church, and then, refreshed, move on . . .

    We are all trying to find what it is that we have need of. I like to think of the words of St. Augustine: ‘Our hearts are restless, until they rest in Thee’. We know that Our Lord said, ‘My Peace I leave with you, my Peace I give to you ”

    We go to pray where our hearts can be at peace for a while. Wherever that may be.

  41. The evangelical church needs a reformation every bit as much as the RCC did hundreds of years ago. The issues are eerily the same. I don’t mean for this to sound harsh, but the issues of salvation (or at least blessing) for sale, all-powerful personalities at the heads of their own Christian empires, claims of authority because “God told me” this or that, etc—-all really amount to much the same problems that led to the reformation. An opinion, of course.

  42. Dear Internet Monk,

    Is it true that your ordination is considered invalid by the Catholics? I suppose if you believe yourself to have a Catholic ordination, one that makes you fit to celebrate their sacraments, and one that sacramentally places you in succession from the apostles, then it would be invalid. But what do you believe your ordination to be that the Catholic Church would have to pronounce invalid? The evangelical pastor is set apart by the community to proclaim the gospel — I think that within your own community, the believers that surrounded you, you were set apart (from them) to (specially and specifically) proclaim the gospel. Sure, it wasn’t a sacramental ordination; from this perspective, perhaps you and the Catholic Church agree.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom

  43. Ahhh you just about summed up where my heart has been lead of the last few years. This is certainly not the best we can do.

    In one sense, I am glad for the presence of our Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters in that they can keep us aware of the ways that we have strayed from the path, even as we point out the same in their traditions.

    I know I cannot sit idly by, watching the evangelical church fester. I cannot abandon it for all the good that I see in the RCC and EO traditions (and other protestants and so on). Instead I seek to take up the combined wisdom as much as I am able, and abandoning all the dross no matter which tradition it originates from.

    It feels like a very lonely place sometimes, with so few of us from any traditions seem to come forth with the humility of not knowing for sure what is true, which things are products of our culture (that of today and that of the past), those that are outright false. Instead so many of hide behind our doctrines and statements of faith and teachings, while the rest of us weep over how fragmented the body of Christ has become, no less broken than on the cross.

    Oh come Lord Jesus come… save us all from ourselves.

  44. Second-class Christian? Is that like being less than a true Christian if you weren’t baptized in Holy Spirit and speak in tongues? Maybe being “stupid”, like how Kenneth Copeland derides those those don’t buy into his teaching? Every time a new fad hits evangelicalism, those who don’t jump on board are treated like second-class Christians. I remember when John Paul the Great pasted away, some notable evangelical leaders called him a great leader who championed moral causes but stopped short of calling him a fellow Christian.

    The problem isn’t that Catholics, protestants, and Orthodox call each other second-class; the problem is that it bothers us. Jesus was called far worse than second-class. But He came to be a servant, not to have first-class seating. But we’re in line with James and John for the places of honor.

    Perhaps we could find more common ground if we could set aside the glories of our pet dogmas and see ourselves as fellow broken, sinful, forgiven people under the cross of Christ. OK, I’ll wake up now.

  45. textjunkie says

    Are you serious, that you can go to church on Sunday for weeks in a row and not hear the Gospel read or preached?? I’ve been to liturgical and non-liturgical Protestant churches all my life and I’ve never been to one that didn’t have a gospel reading as part of the service (barring the Unitarians and the Quakers).

  46. Michael is right to lament the state of our churches. Which is really to say our lack of individual and corporate devotion to the Lordship of Christ in all of life. We are a suburban culture. The church’s burbs seem to be located somewhere between Ephesus and Laodocea. We can recognize it, lament it, describe it, blame it on whoever, get all worked up about it and then go back home, flip on the tube and crunch and munch in front of the tube. We need prophetic voices. We need every man and woman of God to be set on fire by the Spirit to gift and empower us to be kingdom people. But I confess I hidetoo much behind the “we” at best and the “they” at my worst. It is up to me to receive the grace freely given to deny myself, take up my cross and follow Jesus. Not as a martyr or a spiritual elitist. But with humility and courage and love for God and all that he loves. Lord help us to begin. May we not wait for the “leaders” or for a better map. Just let us begin – and never stop beginning until we’ve finished the race.

  47. iMonk, my hat’s off. i sincerely hope you find better shelter for the coming storm.

  48. IM I feel your experience. As I think all can relate at some time or another in their journey’s. The answer I’m convinced does not lie in a “church”, or dogma, or a whatever. It lies in that daily sacrifice of service to our God. It is not by knowing and then doing, but rather by doing till we understand. I’m not talking correct order of service or following their rules. It is a heart thing of total surrender to God. Let my will be in accordance to Your will. No church will save you, no dogma, no law. Only Christ will do that.

    This may require giving up the familiar and actually joining with others who believe the same, it may require starting all over in a home, a true gathering of believers. And that is a true church, not stylized with the latest gimmickry but with a true spirit fueled fire to tell the world of the Good News, searching the scriptures daily, and studying to show oneself approved. Wherever two or three are gathered, with or without the band, the liturgy, or even an offering.

  49. What is so weird to me when I read or listen to catholics is that I understand the words, but I can’t seem to get the meaning. It feels like we use lots of words in common, but with subtly different meanings.

    • Yes. Roman Catholics and Protestants speak different theological languages. Although we have many terms in common, we don’t always use them in the same way. There are of course genuine substantive differences in theology between RCs and Protestants (i.e. the differences are not just linguistic) but the fact that we speak different theological languages means that we often fail to understand what the other side is saying in the first place.