Saturday, July 29, 2006

Unity Within the Catholic Church

This week's reading pertain to Church unity and ecumenism. (Of course my posts are never terribly ecumenical... don't get me wrong ecumenism has it's place... just not here). I'm going to write on this topic using the unity within the Catholic Church as a piece of evidence in favor of it being the One, Holy, Catholic & Apostolic Church that we profess in the Nicaean Creed.

When deciding which religion to choose, if one had nothing else to go on, you might simply pick the largest religion to be the true religion. Furthermore, you might just pick the largest sect or faction of that religion to be the true. If you were to do so, you’d find that Christianity is the world’s largest religion and Catholicism (being Christianity in it’s original form)is the largest faction within that religion. Of course, I consider this frail evidence but interesting none the less. After all, it’s easier to deceive a few than to deceive many.

Yet more convincing than this is the level of unity that persists within the Catholic Church. Does every Catholic on the planet agree on every issue? Certainly not. Furthermore, there are plenty of so called “Catholics” out there who reject some of the beliefs of Catholicism. In recent times we are aware of Senator John Kerry who claims to be Catholic yet believes that abortion is ok. There are of course different orders within Catholicism but they don’t necessarily compete. There are minute differences from one area of the globe to another of course, but overall there is an impressive level of unity throughout the church. The entire church participates in the same liturgy each and every day. I have not been a part of the Catholic Church long enough though to fully appreciate it’s unity. I merely speak of what I have seen so far.

I am of course discussing this point in contrast to the disunity of the Protestant church. I mentioned before the shear number of denominations. While there are as many Catholics as all Protestant denominations combined, I’d say it’s significant that it’s level of unity is so far above and beyond the Protestant idea of unity (even within many of the individual sects) that it’s not even worth discussing.


Dave Gudeman said...

You are comparing apples and oranges. There is not a monolithic protestant church with a central authority so you are comparing one church to thousands of churches. Of course you will find more unity in the one church.

Also, I think you would be surprised at how much unity there is in a large segment of these churches, even though there is no central authority. What does it say when thousands of churches all come to the same conclusions even when they have no common authority other than the Bible?

Not compelling, perhaps, but more persuasive than your observations about size.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Hey Dave. First let me tell you in case you dont know that I was a protestant (and fairly anti-catholic) up until about a year and a half ago (and im not saying you're anti catholic) but i understand where you're coming from and I know that your viewpoint is quite reasonable. I know this kind of reasoning wouldnt have been very 'persuasive' to me either so dont think I dont understand what you're saying.

You're right that Im comparing apples and oranges... but the problem is that those oranges used to be apples and they should be apples. Its really more like Im comparing an apple to a piece of that same apple that was cut off from it and then got chopped up into little bits. The small bits still have a lot of similiarity in substance to the original apple because they got everything they have from the apple. Yet they arent how they should be. As the Catholic church teaches, the Protestant Churches are indeed in posession of truth and goodness. And they are still (albeit imperfectly) in communion with the Church.

Because the fact of the matter is that the Protestants split off from the Church, the Church did not divide (as it did during the Great Schism... mind you both large factions of that schism still each remain quite admirably in tact to this day - Catholics & Eastern ORthodox) Now as soon as this took place, almost immediately the Protestants began splitting off from each other. When your own opinions determine authority; that is, when "each man is his own pope" as Martin Luther liked to say, well lets just say you end up with thousands of denominations like we have today.

As for unity within a denomination, that is precicely the point I was trying to make ( though I realize I did a poor job at conveying it). What unity there is within small protestant sects means next to nothing.. How much weight does unity have when as soon as there are any disagreements, the group splits up? Well of course each group is going to have unity. My point is that unity does speak volumes though when it is so strong in such a huge organization that has maintained its level of orthodoxy since the beginning such as the Catholic Church.

Thanks for the comments. Keep bloggin!

Dave Gudeman said...

I didn't mean that there is unity within small protestant sects, I meant that acrost broad different denominations, there is a lot of unity. It is common, for example, for protestants to move from one city to another and to end up in a church of a different denomination. They don't feel that they have changed their religion in any way, their family back in the old church don't feel betrayed, the new church don't feel like they have made converts, and when the people who moved tell their old pastor about their new church, he will just say that he hopes they are happy in their new church home. He isn't going to think that they are apostates.

In other words, what you see as religious divisions, most protestants just see as organizational divisions. Sure, Baptists, may think that Pentacostals are a little weird, and non-denominationalist may think that Church-of-Christers are uptight, but on the principle issues of salvation, they all pretty much agree. What church you go to is dicated by where you feel comfortable, not where they believe the right things.

So your argument seems to devolve into an argument that the Catholic Church is right because it has a central authority, but protestants generally feel that the central authority is a sign of the Catholic Church's failure. God never intended the Church to be a single monolithic organization with a hierarchical control structure with a man at the top. It was supposed to be a vine with many branches and only one Head.

By the way, I leave out the Church of England and its various branches. That denomination isn't genuinely protestant because that church didn't come from the doctrinal disputes of the Reformation but from a political schism.

Dave Gudeman said...

Since you alluded to "anti-Catholic" I guess I should say that I'm anti-Catholic in the sense that I oppose the Catholic church but not in the sense that I hate Catholics or think that all Catholics are going to hell. I do think that Catholics are idolaters and worship the created in addition to the Creator. I'm not trying to offend you here, I'm just being honest about what I believe. But I no longer believe (as I once did) that the failures of the Catholic Church render it incapable of spreading the message of salvation.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

I was a Protestant too for years and ultimately there is no comparing the unity between the Catholic Church and the Protestant Churches (as you aluded to it yourself, its unfair to compare the two).

I am certainly aware that you can church hop all you want and no one thinks anything of it because Protestants view 'church' as a vessel to facilitate your individual preferences of worship. Contrastly, Catholics view the Church as an authoritative body continued to this day through apostolic succession (consequently we can legitimately say that Scriptures have authority as do creeds and Church tradition... Protestants have no such luxury. The scripture cannot have authority unless the Church has authority since The Catholic Church gave us the Bible)

You can disagree with the Catholic Church, but you cant say it's doctrines arent orthodox. Much of what the Catholic Church teaches can be traced back to the 1st century, nearly all (such as the Trinity) can be traced back to the second century, and everything can be traced back to the 3rd.

Protestants? Faith Alone? Not quite 500 years Scripture Alone? Not quite 500 years. Immersion only baptism? Rejection of infant baptism? 450 or so years. Denial of Real Presence? 450..... Dispensationalism, Rapture? Less than 200 years. Allowance of contraception? 85 years give or take, defiling the Lord's supper by replacing wine with grape juice? 80 years See the downward spiral?

None of these core Protestant beliefs have any historical credibility whatsoever.

Catholicism is original Christianity . Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Dan Brown all believe that between the disciples and the next generation of believers, original Christianity was lost. Protestants also believe this. It is known what the early church believed because of the extensive writings available. Dan Brown thinks they're part of a Catholic conspiracy. He needs to believe that because his ideas cant be true at the same time that the early church writings are true. Protestants likewise.

Ok now for my attempt at ecuminism since I guess its my duty as a Catholic... Like you said Im not saying that non-Catholics are going to hell (though the Church teaches they are at a disadvantage not being privy to the Sacraments except Baptism).

As for idolatry, I guess it depends on what you call idolatry. If making of statues is idolatrous then yes Catholics are idolators. Moses also would have been since the ark of the covenant had statues on it as well as statues around the tabernacle and later the temple... But as for worshipping, Catholics only worship God.

Dave Gudeman said...

Unlike you, I don't believe that the mere age of a doctrine is relevant in determining its truth. The Church was already making serious doctrinal mistakes in its earliest days, mistakes that had to be corrected by the apostles. Why would you think that after the apostles had all died, that it wouldn't come up with new false beliefs?

Today, some churches are offering Holy Communion to pets in order to get the pet owners into the pews (I can find you a reference if you want). I hope you are as shocked by this as I am. And I hope you can see why such behavior makes it easy for me to believe that Mariology was invented by pastors of similar morals for similar reasons: to get Greek and Roman women who were accustomed to female dieties into the pews. It's far easier to believe in such sinful churchmen than to believe that the New Testament authors were completely unaware or completely uninterested in the special status of Mary.

When I said "idolotry", I didn't mean the creation of statues; I meant praying to Mary and the saints. This would be idolatry even without the graven images, but the statues do demonstrate what I think is undeniable, that these Catholic practices are simply continuations of Roman and Greek idolatry. Just as modern Christians often accept the world's way of doing things contrary to God's will, so did the first- to third-century Christians. Ancient and institutionalized sins are still sins.

Protestants don't necessarily believe that original Christianity was lost. Most Potestants accept the Council of Nycea (that was as late as the third century, wasn't it?). What we believe is that the early Christians were sinners and were prone to error just like modern Christians, and we reject the authority of the Pope in correcting these errors (for good reason). The way to correct error is to go back to the New Testament and see what the authors of Scripture said.

Finally, as to your list: Faith Alone, immersion baptism, and the Rapture are all taught in the New Testament, which makes these doctrines 2000 years old.

As to the grape juice and contraception, these are clearly influenced by issues of worldliness just like saint worship was (in the case of grap juice, it probably dates back to Prohibition). Protestants aren't any less prone to doctrinal mistakes than Catholics, we just have a mechanism for eventually discarding these errors instead of cementing them for centuries into tradition.

Dave Gudeman said...

Oops. Sorry for the phrase "saint worship". That's how I think of it, but I was trying to avoid any language what would be inflammatory. Please replace with "prayer to saints".

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Well I dont see this conversation really getting anywhere further than we are since we are obviously starting from two very different perspectives. I understand and respect your opinions but you have received misinformation about the Church.

You are right what you say about the age of doctrines and I agree with your point. Catholics just believe that the Holy Spirit kept the Church from doctrinal error. (The Church never has taught that the Pope is innerant or infallible and neither is the Curia. Catholics readily admit that there was widespread corruption all the way up to Rome at the time of the Reformation).

As you said, old sins and old false doctrines are still false. Gnosticism, Marcionism, & Arianism are all ancient heresies dispelled by such great Catholic Saints as St. Irenaeus and St. Justin Martyr. I find it incredibly hard to believe that the apostles, saints & martyrs of the faith got Christianity entirely wrong yet a heretic in the 1500s got it right.

Faith alone is not taught in Scripture. In fact, the only time in Scripture it mentions the phrase "faith alone" is in James 2:24 where James says "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone" (and I will not entertain the argument that I'm taking it out of context). So this heresy is very plainly opposed to Scripture. This is of course why Martin Luther wanted to remove James from the bible since it plainly dispelled his heresy. The irony of the whole matter is that the man who invented the other great heresy "Sola Scriptura" had less reverance for Scriptures and less view of the canon's authority than do Catholics who deny this doctrine.

Of course Paul emphasized faith instead of works, but he never contrasts faith with obedience. All of Scripture unanimously testifies that obedience is required for salvation. Jesus especially emphasized obedience over and over "You are my friends if you do what I command you" again "if your eye causes you to sin pluck it out. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell" (as opposed to "if your eye causes you to sin 'just have faith'" Later the people asked Peter what should we do to be saved? Peter did not say "Just believe" as a Protestant would say, but he said "repent and be baptized". So in fact, he didnt even mention faith.

Paul emphasizes that works do not get you to heaven. The Catholics agree. The disagreement is that Catholics teach that you MUST be obedient to the gospel in order to be saved. Your obedience doesnt earn your salvation. Your obedience earns the right to be called 'a friend' of Christ's by who's blood alone are we saved. Is faith required for salvation? Of course. But true faith entails obedience. You have to obey the commands of God. Much of this debate is largely semantics though... If you follow Church dialogue on its highest level you will notice that Catholics & Lutherans agree on quite a lot regarding this doctrine.

You said immersion is taught in Scripture. 2 points 1. I said "immersion only" (Many Baptists for example teach that baptisms other than immersion are invalid) 2. Immersion isnt even explicitly taught in Scripture. You would have to go to early Church Father writings (Church Tradition) to find that. And of course, one of the earliest extra-biblical documents available, the Didache (thought by many to be a direct result from the Council of Jerusalem described in Acts) teaches Baptism in live water
and if thats not available to pour water over the head three times.

Rapture - with some very clever eisigesis on one tiny passage in the New Testament, sure we can come up with biblical evidence for the Rapture. (We could also make a case for socialism if we used what John the Baptist said "Let him who has 2 cloaks give to him who has none"). The fact is that this doctrine originated in the early 1800s. Now, its possible that it was there for 1800 years and all the saints, martyrs and apostles and great biblical experts of the past missed it.. and its also possible that that the Da Vinci Code by some unprecedented coincidence is somehow true... I just wouldnt count on it.

As for Mariology, this is easily Protestantism's strongest point and Catholicism's weakest. There is no good evidence for Mariology, it's apologetics are almost entirely spiritual in nature. I cannot give a defense for it. But I accept it on the overwhelming strength (in my opinion) of the Catholic Church's other teachings.

And thanks for clarifying the "saint worship". However, there is no prohibition in Scripture to praying to Saints (and actually we ask them to pray for us, we dont ask for their own personal intervention). But I dont do that much myself. It is not required by any means. Yet I have no problem asking my brother on earth to pray for me, why should I have a problem asking a brother gone on before me to pray as well? There is no prohibition against it. I hardly see how this could be considered idolatry (and yet I thought the same thing 2 years ago).

Ultimately, some Catholics misuse this and misunderstand this. There are many who DO pray to Mary. There are many who DO pray to Saints. I am sure that there are even some who worship them. But this is not the teaching of the Church.

I thought this would be a huge stumbling block to me when I started converting. It has taken me a while to get over Mariology, and Im just now coming to terms with it. But I have heard Mary's name mentioned barely at all during Mass. Probably less than in the Protestant Church (minus her mention in the creed). Saints? I may have heard of an act, deed or saying from a saint within a historical context during a homily, but other than that I dont recall ever hearing about them. The point I am making is that to an outsider, it seems that Mary & the Saints are the focal point of Catholicism. This is entirely false. Attending mass regularly for 9 months or so now, I can unhesitantly say this could hardly be farther from the truth. Catholicms is centered around the Trinity.

(And as for my use of the word heretic, I do not call all Protestants heretics and neither does the Church. Protestantism is fundamnetally a heresy to be sure, but Protestants are not heretics except those who have left the Chuch like Luther).