Lately, I have done my best not to write much about the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism here as I have both Catholic and Protestant readers. And I've miserably failed friends and family in the past by highlighting those differences. It is not my purpose to offend, just a bad case of overzealousness. Occasionally, however, this blog becomes a release valve for me to blow off steam, because frankly I've got no one with whom I can talk about my Catholic faith and my faith experiences.
So, to be clear, I'm about to blow off some steam. I am upset.
I get tired of the same old lines taught by fundamentalist Evangelicals as facts concerning Catholicism. I understand that this misinformation is not put out there maliciously; I understand that it is genuinely believed by those who speak it. I also understand that it is often propagated and even motivated out of love for us Catholics. Regardless, it is misinformation passed on from soul to soul, generation after generation. Sadly, there are too few who choose to investigate for themselves the claims of the Catholic Church, preferring instead ignorance.
Take this picture as an example. This picture is on the Web site of a young Evangelical woman my wife's family knows who is going to Chile as a missionary. (And I applaud her willingness to serve Christ and others.) Above the picture is the text of Romans 10.14, from the NIV: "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (This is also an excellent example of the milieu out of which I've come, if you're interested - the Grace Brethren Fellowship, among other denominations). The collection box in the picture, clearly a Romish item, has the following Spanish written on it: "Ofrendas para el sostenimiento del culto" and then the poor soul in Latin America does his or her best to translate it for any American or English-speaking visitors and writes, "Offerings for the cult." And that's basically the literal translation of the Spanish. The only problem, and it's a big problem when the picture is bandied about as proof, is that it confirms the misinformation that many Evangelicals already believe about Catholicism, adequately serving their purpose, with little need of further proof. But it says nothing about Catholic belief and only demonstrates how languages work, and how literal translation sometimes does not. The meaning of the phrase is not "Offerings for the cult" (as an Evangelical would understand a cult), but "Offerings for the support of worship" or "Offerings for the support of the worship service." Now in ten minutes I could find a dozen Protestant Web sites with Spanish translations that include the words "del culto" for "worship" or "worship service." I even have a pdf from the foreign missions board of the denomination that is sending out this young woman that contains the following phrase concerning Church planting: "Planificar y llevar a cabo una practica del culto de adoración" or, as my Google Translator gives it, "Planning and carrying out a practice of worship." And yet here is the picture, offering evidence of the error of Catholicism.
Now this young woman is not the object of my annoyance, the misinformation is. It irritates me because the Catholic Church, while her members are certainly imperfect, has openly made known and published what she believes and practices in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, among a multitude of other documents and letters. Open the index of the Catechism, find a topic, and read what the Church teaches about that topic. At least disagree with what we teach, if you must disagree. Anyone with the faintest desire can pick up a copy and find out for oneself whether Catholicism teaches the worship of Mary, for instance. But so many Evangelicals refuse to do so. Why?
When I became Catholic I discovered that nearly everything I had heard about the Catholic Church in my adult life had been a lie. Nearly everything. One layer of misinformation lithified on top of the next. So I hear how desperately Catholics need evangelizing. I see Foxe's Book of Martyrs, anti-Catholic propaganda at its best, held in high regard (the pot calling the kettle a murderer - to mix my idiom). I listen to a sermon series by John MacArthur and there is not maybe 5 percent of the things he says about the Catholic Church that are true. I hear mockery and derision, and I hear all kinds of accusations, such as "unbiblical" and "apostasy" and "cult." It's exhausting. If anyone has the authority to accuse another of heresy, it isn't a denomination that has yet to see its 100th birthday, or even a schism that hasn't reached its 500th. And it's even more wearisome because as soon as I try to correct someone's misinformation, they want the channel changed. They say they don't want to discuss it. They say that I'm not going to change their mind so there's no sense in bothering to discuss it. They say they already know what the Catholic Church believes, and that I'm the one with the misinformation. They say that I'm argumentative and just want to be proven right, to win an argument. They fire off an accusation and then withdraw, guerrilla like, absolutely refusing to talk about the subject. And it upsets me. If they have the temerity to make an accusation, direct or indirect, they'd better have the courage for the conversation. Isn't that only fair?
Some of what I've heard in the past has been in response to my own overzealousness, my excitement upon converting to Catholicism. And I understand that kind of push back. So I'm trying to learn to be quiet. Yet even when I try to be quiet, the accusations are made. And I have never believed, nor do I still, that it is right to allow what is good to be spoken of as evil.
The Catholic Church has its problems. But being unorthodox is not one of them. Teaching the worship of Mary or idols or saints is not one of them. Having priests or bishops who don't believe what they profess may, on the other hand, be an ongoing issue. But then Protestant denominations have their share of the same kinds of leaders. Generally having a poorly catechized laity may be one of the problems facing the Catholic Church. But still the Church stands. Still the Church teaches and passes on the faith faithfully.
There is no room as brothers and sisters to accuse and withdraw, accuse and withdraw. At best, it is uncharitable. And what gain is there in holding so tightly to an assertion or belief that you are even unwilling or unable to look at?
I am not always gentle or fair or charitable - I've recognized and confessed some of those very failings here. I am in need of God's mercy, every moment - that is my position before God. I need him. But I must also say that the differences (and similarities) between Catholicism and Protestantism must be understood fairly and truly by each of us. We can't afford tolerance (i.e. acceptance as being equally true or valid) differing truths as Christians. We are called to be one. One. We are called to assent when we are called to faith, to submission and obedience. And to splinter or to start your own church community or to break off from your brothers and sisters in schism is to sin against charity - we are called to love one another. And to remain in disunity when you are convinced that Christ desires unity is also sin. The popular thinking of "I'm OK, you're OK" doesn't work in our faith. We need one another too badly. Catholics need their Protestant brothers and sisters. Protestants need their Catholic brothers and sisters, and they also need their mother, the Catholic Church. (We also, of course, both of us, need our Orthodox brothers and sisters.)
I mess up. I judge too quickly. I speak too quickly. I am not quiet enough or humble enough. I do not love enough. I do not treat with the proper respect those to whom my respect is owed. And I am under obligation to all of you. All of these things are true of me. This is also true: I love the Catholic Church. I believe that she is the Church established by Christ, and that Christ and the Church are the whole Christ. I believe that the first century Church was Catholic even if only as a seed, and that those first Christians believed in and taught the Real Presence, the Mystery of Christ, in the Eucharist, and believed in the necessity of regeneration through water (Baptism) and spirit (Faith). And I know, am beginning to know, the exceeding riches that the Church offers our world. I only wish you knew them too. I love my friends and family who remain Evangelical. I respect your faith and your journey. I trust God's work in your lives. He pours his grace out on you and rejoices in your friendship as you rejoice in his. But God is not alone. He is in the midst of a great company: Blessed Mary, the Apostles, the saints, and the angels surround him and worship him. They intercede for us and pray for our salvation. God wants his people to be one people. He wants us to share in communion with him and with one another. Come home.