My exercise buddy, a relatively recent convert to Catholicism, loaned me this book, written by a guy (and his wife) who went from rabid anti-Catholic Presbyterian to more-Catholic-than-the-Catholics.
Mark and I both have some (limited) interest in Catholicism.
We have come to appreciate liturgy, for one thing — having more to a worship service than a bunch of songs, a talk, and sometimes Communion. I especially miss a confession of sin and assurance of pardon. And it does seem like Communion should hold a more central place in worship — not just one of several discrete bits strung together, but an important part of an integrated service. You don’t have to be Catholic, though, to have and appreciate liturgy.
Catholicism seems to — sometimes — have a healthier attitude to many things in life — appreciating art and beauty and pleasure; not focusing entirely on the mind; not so prone to spiritual fads and relevance-seeking. At the same time, there doesn’t seem to be much anti-intellectualism in Catholicism. It’s been a while since I’ve read a Christian magazine, but on a coffee table I bet I’d pick up First Things (a Catholic magazine) before Christianity Today, or Charisma, or Discipleship Journal, or whatever.
There’s also some appeal in the idea that Catholicism may indeed be the continuation of the original one church — it would be appealing to end schisms.
Mariology, prayers to saints, Purgatory, the Pope, the Catholic view of justification — these are much less interesting to me. Certainly less appealing. It would take a very persuasive argument to convince me to adopt those ideas.
Anyway, the book is interesting reading so far, but, again, so far, unconvincing. It’s written to a Catholic audience, so all the spin is Protestant=bad and Catholic=good and almost like the authors are rolling their eyes that they were ever so foolish as to think anything about Protestantism was good and anything about Catholicism bad.
The bit about contraception was challenging, because I’ve already questioned birth control — but I’m still not convinced that using contraception really is a complete and thorough attack on marriage or on trust in God.
The bit about justification? Requires much more reading and thought. Sometimes it seems that differences about justification are a little more about semantics than a seriously significant disagreement. Good works are good — they can’t earn salvation, but they demonstrate it.
The bit about Scripture as the sole authority (vs. the church and tradition) was quite unconvincing to me. Yes, there are bits in the Bible that point to tradition, but who says that Catholicism is THE tradition? At the time of writing, wasn’t Scripture itself — Paul’s letters, the Gospels — the referred-to tradition?
At one point one of the authors was talking about falling in love with God in the Eucharist, and how receiving it was feeding on Christ in a new and full way, quite different from Communion in Protestantism. Just because I believe that the elements of Communion — the bread and the cup — are symbols of Jesus’ sacrifice, doesn’t mean I believe they are therefore empty symbols. I don’t think I have to believe in transubstantiation to believe that receiving Communion is, in a real way, being nourished by Christ, a means of grace, something physical and psychological, different from hearing Scripture read or hearing a sermon or even from singing and praying.
We were talking about Communion this morning during exercise (it’s challenging to talk during exercise, especially with the kids underfoot), and particularly about whether Christians should ever NOT participate. I’m of the opinion that we should examine ourselves AND partake — knowing that we are never completely right in ourselves, and knowing that we are always completely blameless and holy in Christ — the examining ourselves should be first an opportunity for repentance, and also an opportunity to understand, again and always, our need for Jesus. Not partaking, to me, seems like saying that Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t sufficient for whatever sin makes us feel undeserving — even the sin of not being repentant (yet).
I worry a little about people like the main author, Scott — and I see some of myself in him, too, so this worry is also for me — people who are really good at arguing and making connections and making sense, people who are passionate and perfectionistic, seeking truth almost at all costs — we can just about argue ourselves into or out of anything, seeing all sides of an issue if we want to, or only the side we want to see, or even only the side we fear and dread.
As I mentioned to my buddy this morning, sometimes we are tempted to choose what we DON’T like, precisely because we’re afraid that if we don’t like it, it must be true; and in order to overcome our natural aversion, we try so hard to see what we don’t like in a positive way, give it the benefit of the doubt, and we can too harshly critique and tear apart what we do like for fear that if we like it, it must be false.