Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"I honestly don't know what they'll believe in another 20-30 years"

I LOVE the blog "Conversion Diary" by Jennifer. It's written by a woman who was raised as an atheist and remained one until her early married years, when she and her husband began investigating faith. Like C.S. Lewis, she sort of reasoned her way into faith and only connected with it emotionally AFTER determining that she believed it was true. Her story is fascinating, and she writes with such thought and gentleness.

It also intrigues me because she converted into the Catholic church and is one of the many windows I currently have into the renewed spirituality of the American Catholic church. It's cool to see and I have so much respect for thinking, serious Catholics like Jennifer and several other people I know.

In any case, Jennifer interviewed a family on her blog this week, and a section of it caught my attention. The interview is really regarding the families' seriously disabled child, and how her birth moved from from being passionately pro-choice to being passionately pro-life, and at the same time moving from the Lutheran church into the Catholic church.

Regarding that move, the father says:

"My wife and I both ended up converting to Catholicism. We could no longer
stay in the Lutheran church, because they did not stand out against abortion.
When you make the decision to leave the mainline Protestant churches behind, you
are left with the two major, pro-life groups: Roman Catholic and Protestant
Evangelical. I had been part of an Evangelical church (Assembly of God) in my
youth, with the laying of hands, speaking of tongues, gifts of the Spirit, etc.
It has become clear to us that the "born again" churches can offer no guarantee
that they will not drift in the same direction as the mainline Protestants. I honestly don't know what they will believe in another 20-30 years.
There is no authority or hierarchy that is empowered to conserve the
truth.Another thing that attracted me to the Catholic Church was the rigor of
its thinking.

Writers like
G.K. Chesterton
and Fr. John
really helped me along the road. Catholics aren't simply submitting
themselves to an all powerful, out of touch Pope with a list of antiquated
rules. There are not only highly developed reasons for everything they believe,
but they fit together into this seamless garment. I'll have to admit that my
view of Catholics wasn't very high to begin with."

This fascinates me, because it really digs into some of the problems I have on all sides of the equation. I too was raised with a general distrust of the Catholic church - it was a dead church that had lost sight of the real message of grace and the true gospel. God had been lost in tradition.

I no longer believe that at all and I have come to agree with the comments of the man above about the scholarship and intellectual spirituality of the Catholic church (past and present). I LOVE that, but I do still have things about the Catholic church that keep me from joining it myself. I do still question the authority given to the Pope and his ability to speak ex cathedra. It's not the individual Popes that I struggle with, it is the authority given to them that I question. I question the way the doctrine of justification is taught, or perhaps not taught well enough. Mostly those are just small quibbles, but since the Catholic church views itself as THE church, my quibbles are enough that they would say that if I can't agree and submit, then I am not a part of THE church... and so I remain outside, respectfully.

On the other hand, I have been fascinated in the past few years to come to a greater understanding of how the Catholic church views the Protestant church. I found this man's comments about evangelicalism to reflect the biggest objection that I hear from Catholics towards Protestants. They look at us and they see division and disunity, and the constantly marching away from orthodoxy towards heresy. It's interesting that this guy's childhood experience was with a Charismatic church, and he equates all evangelical churches with these tendencies. I would disagree with that lumping.

He (and they) are right in some ways. Like I wrote in the last post, I do think that the natural tendency of the Church is to slip away from orthodoxy over time. However, I would say that that is true of the Church broadly, including the Catholic Church. Only by the grace of God are we brought back and reminded of the truth through various movements of revitalization, reformation, and revival (and good solid teaching!). The structure of the Catholic church does slow the process of change. If you compare them to political governments, they are more like a monarchy, with the authority beginning at the top and trickling down. Major changes must be approved at the top in order to spread throughout the church. So ... things happen slowly. This is good in that they avoid the tendency of congregational (democratic) churches to be blown by whatever fad is coming, whether it is the guidance of the Spirit or just a cultural trend.

On the other hand, it takes the Catholic church a long time to change for the better. The extreme excesses of the Middle Ages were pretty much left unaddressed until they were forced to be addressed by the challenge that was the Protestant Reformation. The benefit of this for the Protestants is that they can correct the wrongs and move forward much faster. In the Catholic Church you have the benefits and the drawbacks of being so strongly tied to tradition (I am hearing Tevye from Fiddler on Roof bellow out "traditionnnn!" in my mind right now). In the Protestant church you have the benefits of innovation and and flexibility, but the loss of tradition in some ways.

When I studied the models of church government I was most drawn to the Presbyterian model, which sort of compares to a Republic (like the U.S. - contrary to popular opinion, we are not a Democracy). In this setting there is a hierarchy that is able to help steer the church and hold in the excesses. Each church sends a representative to the local conference, and each local conference sends a representative to the regional conference, and so on and so on. The representatives are sometimes elected and sometimes selected, but there's a mixture of authority. In this way, a single pastor who goes the wrong direction is able to be countered the the broader authority, but at the same time (as in my grandparent's denomination right now) if you have an issue come up like the ordination of homosexuals, neither one top authority nor an individual church can decide a policy for everyone. There has to be discussion and debate and voting.

In the end though, whether you're in a mainline denomination, a congregational church, or the Catholic church, flawed human beings still have power and make errors, and so the church will always have errors, no matter how your church government works. That's why it does come back around to the grace of God course correcting and renewing at points when we really don't deserve it.

1 comment:

Sturgmom said...

It's so difficult for me to condense my own thoughts into a response that's both brief and encompassing...

My husband and I are both historically Baptist, although I would say our theology is more closely aligned with the Presbyterian (PCA) beliefs.

It's so true that, in protestant churches, there seems to be a huge pendulum swing every 10-20 years where beliefs change from one extreme to the other.

Honestly? I think there are too many poor teachers and pastors out there who are swayed by culture and politics and seem to move away from preaching the BIBLE. I'm not a "if the KJV was good enough for Paul, it's good enough for me," kind of person (J. and I always joke about that. And, yes, we did have a man tell us that once) but I do think the level of moral relativism that has infiltrated churches is concerning at best. Blasphemous, at worst.

Church government is an entire can of worms unto itself. Baptist churches are historically committee-run and, Lord willing may we never be a part of that again! But you're right, humans are sinful and imperfect and will make mistakes, whether you're the Pope or the president of the SBC. Thank you, Jesus, for your grace!