Rome sweet home

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.


10 thoughts on “Rome sweet home

  1. some deep thoughts, lots I agree with…the communion thing is something a friend and I have also discussed, how we are never going to “right” before God by ourselves…that is basically why we are partaking of communion is what we decided…she was a Catholic growing up, although didn’t know she was “supposed” to believe certain things that she really didn’t agree with. She found out that she did love the liturgy, but didn’t necessarily agree with all thoughts on doctrine. Luckily her mom was open to her attending various, Bible Schools, church services, church camps and she she has come to a healthy ownership and understanding of what she believes. She does attend a Methodist church now, which she said fulfills her desire for liturgy mostly. Interesting how the authors have seemingly switched so drastically…I would find that hard to do, having grown up in one particular style of worship/doctrine. anyway, thanks for some food for thought…

  2. Jessica,

    That’s the main reason this book was written — the authors’ mission is to help Catholics (and non-Catholics) find their faith, and not just be nominal Christians. It sounds like it was a long and rather tortuous journey for them both, with lost friendships, strained family relations, and more.

    I went from Presbyterian to Presbyterian — but with quite a lot of change in between, and the kind of Presbyterian I am now is rather different from the kind I grew up as. Whether one changes denominations or not, I think the key is like your friend found — that faith would become one’s own, and not something held loosely secondhand.

    What is the Methodist liturgy like?

  3. Hi, Marcy. I am not familiar with the book that you read, but have shared similar struggles which is why I have remained a Lutheran. As you know I am a Lutheran pastor. Over half of my seminary education was at Roman Catholic schools. My wife taught at a Roman Catholic school. All this contact helped to firmly entrench me in the Lutheran form of Christianity.

  4. Hi Ken,

    Did you grow up Lutheran? Or what is your background? We have visited two Lutheran churches in this area — one is Missouri Synod and was a little too conservative on some issues, for us, and the other seemed to be preaching baptismal regeneration, and while I miss liturgy, at the time I wasn’t quite ready for a liturgy with so much chant in it. I’d love to hear more about your spiritual journey!

  5. Marcy, an interesting post indeed. I also have felt the attraction of crossing the Tiber because of all that I see in the Catholic Church that is good, and yet there is so much in it that stops me from taking the plunge. Now I don’t know which Presbyterian denomination you are in currently in but what I would say is that all that you find attractive in the RCC you will find within Protestantism.

    Personally I think Brevard Childs critique of Catholicism is on the mark:

    The Roman Catholic insistence upon the decisive role of tradition in shaping the Christian Bible correctly recognized the role of the church’s actual use of its scripture both in proclamation and liturgy. The church’s practice of worship provided the context in which the biblical message was received, treasured, and transmitted. The church’s rule-of-faith, later expressed in creeds, did not seek to impose an alien ecclesiastical tradition upon the scriptures, but rather sought to preserve the unity of word and tradition as the Spirit continually enlivened the truth of the gospel from which the church lived.

    However, the danger of the Catholic position which emerged in the course of the church’s history lay in the temptation to render the Word captive to more easily adaptable human traditions, often in the name of piety. Any appeal solely to tradition or praxis apart from the critical norm exercised by the content of the biblical witness eventually runs counter to the essence of a Christian theology of canon.

  6. That’s a good quotation, and one that some Reformed folks would do well to consider when they answer big questions with a mere “Well, the Westminster Confession says so.”

    I’ve been in the PCA for about thirteen years, except there is no Reformed congregation of any kind in our area, so for the last two years we’ve been at a local Church of Christ (not UCC, but the one that grew out of the Restoration movement). There’s an OPC about a half hour away, but it’s in another town, and much of the congregation commutes a long distance from other directions, so it would be difficult to build community there. I’ve been blessed in that the PCA congregations I’ve been part of have mostly had the things I mentioned liking about the Catholic church — it’s more the people I occasionally read online that make me less than wholehearted about the Reformed faith.

    Are you a Richard that I know?

  7. As I am pretty sure I don’t know a Marcy personally I doubt I am a Richard you know! I live in the UK…

    I certainly think that the WCF is helpful but you should certainly check out The Drama of Doctrine by Kevin J. Vanhoozer.

    As an Anglican we have a liturgy, weekly communion and yet we don’t have Mariology, prayers to saints, Purgatory, the Pope, nor the Catholic view of justification. The more I read about the RCC the less convinced I become that it is the Church.

  8. Thanks for the book recommendation. Anglicanism is appealing in some ways, too, except I haven’t heard a good enough explanation for why the whole foundation of the denomination isn’t an excuse for divorce. Likely a mis-emphasis from high school history texts.

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