One of my colleagues, and facebook friend, John Reid Perkins-Buzo posted this article as a link on his facebook page. I found this article to be quite interesting for a couple of reasons. First, despite the fact that I have grown up my whole life in protestant churches, and have intentionally maintained this in my own church choices, I don’t recall “Reformation Day” ever being an important event. This has little to do with Halloween, as far as I know. My family never celebrated Halloween growing up. We would go out to eat and spend family time together every year on the designated trick-or-treat night in our town. We did not decorate or participate in festivities. If the school had a costume parade, we were permitted to participate in that, but never anything more (unless I’m forgetting something).
The article is interesting in that it points out that celebrating Reformation Day is sort of like celebrating a divorce. The reformation, against what I believe Luther hoped for, was a major time of schism in the Church. While it was not the first (the East and West branches of the Church had split long before), it was the one that would most affect the Western world. Unfortunately, the protestant branch has shown an amazing propensity for schism. There are so many denominations, and of course many who claim to be non-denominational. This goes against the prayer of unity that Christ offered before His Sacrifice for us.
It is interesting, as well that Reformation Day falls on the day before the Catholic holy day of All Saints Day (hence the name Halloween, from All Hallows Eve). I’m sure this timing was not lost on Luther, though I confess my “Christendom, Reformation, and Enlightenment” gen ed course at Messiah is too long ago for me to recall whether it was explicit.
These interesting facts leads me to the interesting challenge in the article, quoted from Carl Trueman, a protestant professor:
Every year I tell my Reformation history class that Roman Catholicism is, at least in the West, the default position. Rome has a better claim to historical continuity and institutional unity than any Protestant denomination, let alone the strange hybrid that is evangelicalism; in the light of these facts, therefore, we need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic; not being a Catholic should, in others words, be a positive act of will and commitment, something we need to get out of bed determined to do each and every day. It would seem, however, that … many who call themselves evangelical really lack any good reason for such an act of will; and the obvious conclusion, therefore, should be that they do the decent thing and rejoin the Roman Catholic Church.
The author of the article cited this as part of the reason that he rejoined the Catholic church. For me, I haven’t thought of it this way, but I can provide a couple of reasons why I am not a Catholic.
Before doing that, let me make clear that it is not my intention to “bash” the Catholic church, or the people who call this church their home. As opposed to groups like the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, true Catholics are unquestionably Christian. Like any denomination among protestants, the Catholic church is not perfect. There are certainly those who call themselves Catholic but are not Christian, just as there are those who call themselves Methodists, Lutherans, and Mennonites who are not really Christian. My disagreement with some tenets of Catholic doctrine does not mean that I think the Catholic church is evil. I have a deep respect for the Catholic church, and thoroughly enjoyed worshiping with one of my Catholic friends while attending mass with him this summer. I know that I will worship with Catholic brothers and sisters, and all who accept the Messiah, in heaven some day.
It is also not my point to make this list long and exhaustive. I will simply point out a couple of main points where I disagree as a way of defending my thoughtful choice to worship outside the Catholic church. With those provisos, here goes …
- The idea of purgatory. I simply don’t find this reference in Scripture, and so I find it hard to believe. I believe that the death of Christ is accepted, and covers all sin if accepted. This make purgatory unnecessary for the saved. If the substitutionary death of Christ is not accepted, then no amount of punishment or purgatory is enough to get us into heaven.
- Child baptism. I was baptized as a child, but I do not think that this was in some way equal to my being baptized by my own choice as an adult believer. I have come to believe that this is a relatively important distinction, so while I do not think that failure to be baptized as an adult will keep someone out of heaven, I want to worship in a church that values adult baptism. (note that this also rules out several protestant denominations)
- Confession/Penance. The Bible is clear that we need to confess our sins, and turn from habitual errors. I do not find the Bible to state that only certain people are capable of receiving this confession of sin, or holding us accountable for them. First, this is primarily an issue between me and my Creator. I must begin this process by confessing my sins to God, and asking His forgiveness and restoration. Certainly, if I have sinned against someone else, I must confess to them and attempt to make appropriate restitution for this. One idea I do find helpful is the accountability to another person, though I disagree about the need for this partner to be clergy. We have certainly seen enough sad evidence that the clergy is human too (and I don’t think that this is limited to Catholicism, just most public there). For me, the biggest accountability that helps me is to get together with my best friend. He is married and has kids like I do. He understands my circumstances, but doesn’t let me use that as an excuse. I don’t think it is wrong to confess to the priest anonymously, but to require that as a condition of forgiveness and restoration of relation with God goes to far, in my opinion.
- Infallibility. I do not believe that any church is perfectly perfected from error. While the Holy Spirit can certainly inspire and preserve us in our quest to follow the Truth of God, it is my opinion that any institution made up of human beings is susceptible to error and being led astray. It is the goal of the leadership of any church to avoid this as much as possible, while correcting any previous mistakes. To consider the church infallible, in my view, makes it harder to correct errors when they occur. If we humbly admit that we could have made mistakes, we can sense the Spirit pointing these out to us and correcting us in these. If I consider myself to be incapable of error, I would find little reason to look at my past and see if there is error to correct. While it is almost certain that the Pope spends much more time diligently listening for the guidance of the Spirit than I do, I cannot believe that he would never make an error, unless his own personal free will is removed. Given this, I cannot buy into the doctrine of infallibility.
- Canonization of Saint. Perhaps appropriate given it is All Saints Day. I find it consistent in the New Testament that when writers make reference to the saints, they are referring to those in the Church, not certain select individuals who have died after living lives that met certain criteria. I do believe that looking at people like Mother Theresa or Martin Luther King, Jr. helps to motivate and inspire me, but to neglect my own call to be set apart and sanctified (same root as saint), is a false humility. I must humbly realize that I am called to be different, and live accordingly. Perhaps this is semantics, but it bothers me, and is a point of difference that is not insignificant to me.
There are many other points of disagreement, most of them very minor, but this summarizes a few of the major theological issues that I have with the Catholic church. There are also a myriad of things that I think we protestants could learn from them … but that will have to wait for another time. This post is already longer than I had hoped. I’d love to hear some response from others as to their defense for not being Catholic, as well as reaction from my Catholic friends who may be able to point out my misconceptions of their faith, if appropriate.