Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Explaining Catholicism

Being Anglican(-ish) is kind of an interesting situation. At times you're despised by Protestants and Evangelicals* as a crypto-papist but by Roman Catholics as a mere heretic, and at other times you're seen as sufficiently close to whatever the mark is to be a reliable glimpse into the other side. Due to this via media, I think a disproportionate number of Anglicans have looked into Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Wesleyanism, and/or Calvinism at times. I don't know much about Orthodoxy, but I place myself somewhere between Wesleyanism and Catholicism and utterly reject Calvinism. However, my interest in denominations has gained me something of a reputation as a go-to guy for people having questions about other Christian traditions.

One of those instances was tonight, when a friend of mine invited me over to talk to her roommate about what Roman Catholics believe, as the roommate is Evangelical but has her eye on a Catholic guy. Of course, I'm not Roman Catholic, but I have a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, have attended RC masses, and have read up on Catholic beliefs. I've been told that my understanding of Catholicism is pretty much on-target, although I do have some serious disagreements with it.

In any case, she and my friend quizzed me for a long while, asking for clarification and Biblical support for Catholic doctrines. I went and explained how the RCs see the Bible as coming through the Church, how praying to saints is like asking a friend to pray with you, how Catholics don't try to work their way into heaven, and how sacraments are seen as imparting a change on the nature of the recipient. I also pointed out that in terms of the Holy Spirit, Catholic and Pentecostals/Charismatics are much closer to each other than they are to Cessationist Protestants and Evangelicals. They took it in, asked good questions, and said they might have some other questions soon.

For me, I really enjoy that kind of discussion. Catholics and non-Catholics alike tend to have mistaken understandings of each other, and that's not a good thing. I have some serious disagreements with Catholic doctrine; I don't claim that they worship the Pope or believe Mary is greater than Jesus. It'll take a miracle for there to be true reconciliation, but perhaps the drift can be slowed and a process of healing the universal Church can begin. After all, when Christ returns, he's expecting a bride, not a harem.

*Modern Evangelicalism isn't really a protest against Catholicism. In fact, it often has very little to do with Mainline Protestantism, especially if the Evangelicals are also Charismatics. Catholics seem to often use the term "Protestant" to refer to all non-Orthodox non-Catholics, and "Fundamentalist" to refer to Evangelicals. In general, Mainline Protestants (classically, Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Baptists) refer to themselves as Protestants, while Evangelicals (a more nebulous group, but almost always including "Bible Church" groups) generally consider "Fundamentalist" to be pejorative unless they're KJV-only and do things like forbid dancing, card-playing, and movies. Calling an Evangelical a Fundamentalist is like calling a Roman Catholic a Papist (or Mary-Worshipper), and calling an Evangelical a Protestant is like saying that the Greek Orthodox are Catholics.


TS said...

Conversions to Catholicism always seem miraculous to me precisely because the criteria most people use with regard to Christianity is that of asking how much of Catholic doctrine comports to my own view of what the doctrines should be.

Jeff Miller wrote, "As Augustine said, 'I would not believe the Gospels if it were not for the Church.' This was the very Rosetta stone that helped me to believe in the authority of the Church and to accept all that it teaches. Instead of looking at an issue like contraception and wondering if what the Church taught were true, I had the attitude that I accepted this doctrine as true and that I needed to learn why it was true."

That attitude is so counter-cultural in a democracy that it certainly seems like a miracle to me!

HokiePundit said...

Then again, that's where an impasse can be reached. If there's a disagreement over whether the Vatican has sole authority to be "The Church," it's hard to put full faith and trust in what they say, as it could be argued not to always be applicable. You're right, though; at that point it takes something beyond reason to decide one way or the other.