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