Let me reiterate my intention with this entire Holding Up Our Sign series:
We have had trouble finding a place where we feel comfortable. In many churches, there is a terrific theological alignment, but a disagreement over social and lifestyle issues. In other churches, we fit right in to the social norms, but there are doctrinal differences that we just can’t ignore.
I am attempting to present the ideas from a wide variety of denominations that we have encountered, which we found particularly valuable – or particularly troublesome. This will include any number of churches that we know we would never attend, and it not my intention to recommend them to you wholesale.
We’re piecing together the quilt of our Home Church belief system. You get a ringside seat for the process!
As with other denominations under discussion, I have not done an in-depth study of the various issues here. As I am trying to explain my reasoning here, I hope you will bear with me through any minor errors or incongruities.
Since by and large the mainline Protestant denominations (Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, etc.) are splinters that broke away from the Catholic church during the Reformation, each has retained varying degrees of the Catholic “issues” presented here. In most cases, these are significant enough that they are the “Where We Differ With…” reasons that we do not feel comfortable there. A few other unique issues will be addressed in separate posts.
This post has turned into a fascinating study, as I became enmeshed in a dialogue about some of these issues after asking a Catholic friend to proof-read it.
Talking to her made me realize how unfair a rap Catholicism usually gets. People see something, and judge it – even without understanding it, sometimes even when that requires making up an explanation. Some things that may look “odd” from the outside may be perfectly sensible when they are understood.
I am by no means under the impression that I know or understand everything about Catholicism at this point, but I have endeavored to find out enough to make my views at least somewhat less skewed. This has, in fact, shifted my view on several issues. There’s still a bit of “where we differ” left, though.
Infant Baptism vs. Believer’s Baptism
We believe that baptism is a symbolic action that is taken by an “adult” believer, to demonstrate his commitment to following after Christ. Adult here refers only to the “age of accountability,” which we do not wish to argue here; it is used to differentiate from…
Infant baptism is practiced in the Catholic church, as well as many of the mainline Protestant denominations.
Some of the principles behind the infant baptism ceremony, with which we agree, are taken up in a separate, informal ceremony at many Baptist churches (don’t know about anywhere else) called “Baby Dedication” – which would more properly be “Parental Dedication”. The baby is typically presented with a tiny Bible (symbolic, at that age, but cute), and the parents pledge to raise their child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The Pastor will then pray over all the families taking part, asking the congregation to also take up the community burden of prayer and support for them. [Ed note: Wish people took that "community" part more seriously].
This would be a perfect time to also elect Godparents (as the Catholics do), which seems a most worthwhile institution. Why don’t Baptists do that? Maybe we will…
Anyhow, Catholics will then compare the conscious choice element of Believer’s Baptism to their second Sacrament – Confirmation. The trouble is, however correct the intentions may be, I’ve known enough young “Catholics” to know that this is often not an adult and willful choice, but simlply obedience to their parents and adherence to the routine of church ceremonies that one simply does. This should not be interpreted as a slight towards Catholics, as it is a concern across the board.
But it is, thus, one of the main arguments for holding off on the “choice” portion until a later age. Interestingly, the Amish go further still, with teenagers being encouraged to “see what’s out there” during their Rumschpringe before choosing to take the vows of church membership.
Interestingly, the language used to describe this rite in some Catholic literature (“A sacrament in which the Holy Ghost is given to those already baptized in order to make them strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ.”) sounds a lot like the language used by the Pentecostals. Their post is coming.
And still, Scripture over and over uses the language of “believe and repent, and be baptized.”
Then be baptized.
And that’s all.
Intermediary / Intercessor vs. Direct Access; Holiness of Men
We do not agree with the Catholics’ emphasis on praying to various Saints, and of course (especially) to the Virgin Mary.
It is our belief that, while holy and wonderful people, all of them were… well… people. Just men and women. Even Mary.
Although we study and learn about certain “heroes of the faith” – including Mary, and many of the other Catholic Saints, I’m sure – we would never consider praying to any of them.
Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior. Scripture even refers to Him as our Intercessor – our High Priest. We can also pray directly to the Father, as the Lord’s Prayer clearly demonstrates.
So why do I need to pray to some guy, to pray to the Lord for me?
In my experience there is a wide range of Catholic belief and experience in regard to the “personal relationship” aspect. Some Catholics feel, believe, and pray just as your typical Evangelical. But others seem to be caught up in ritual prayers, ritual celebrations, and almost a doctrine of works (although I’m not going to “go there”, since it is not doctrine, this is definitely an issue for many people).
(I adore the scene in We Were Soldiers, when the Catholic Mel Gibson character is saying rote prayers with his children, and the little girl says she wants to “pray to Mommy’s [Protestant] God” so that she can say what she feels.)
The Divinity or Divine Appointment or Divine Connection of the Pope
I’m not sure precisely how most Catholics view the Pope, but this is many degrees removed from anything I could agree with.
Jesus is the head of the Church, and all men are just men. I do not believe – do not see any evidence in Scripture to support the idea – that God reveals His plan to one man and one man only, for dissemination through a Papal Decree.
Although Jesus said he would “build His church upon the Rock (Peter)”, I think you would be hard-pressed to trace the Pope’s current level of power, authority, and ascribed infallibility back to that.
Confession and Penance
I do not find any requirement in Scripture that I confess my sins to another person (not to be confused with the requirement to seek forgiveness from someone you have wronged). Even less does there seem any justification for another man imposing a penalty for my sin (not to be confused with legal penalties).
This is business that is strictly between me and the Lord.
Pomp, Ceremony, and Ritual
This is an area that I think is probably likely to be viewed skewed-ly.
What one person sees as over-the-top, or ritualistic, or self-aggrandizing, another may see as an attempt to honor the Lord through the splendor of worship, and a natural outgrowth of the Lord’s instructions about the temple, the priests, etc. in the Old Testament.
It is my understanding, though, that Christ’s coming abolished the office and traditions of the Levite priesthood. Since we no longer need them to offer sacrifices on our behalf, nor to act as an intermediary between us and Lord, they are no longer necessary.
Thus today’s pastor is a shepherd, and a teacher. An evangelist. But not someone who us approaching the Holy of Holies, and needs to wear glorious garb that sets him apart from the rest of us.
As you may know if you’ve been here long, I do very much agree that the Lord deserves our respect in worship – including dressing up in our best.
So, I do not feel comfortable with the Catholic practice here, if only because it is so easily misconstrued even by the congregation at large.
But I do not find this a horrible offence as it might once have appeared.
My “sola scriptura” conviction is that there is no mention of this in the Scripture, so it is not something in which I believe.
There are possible interpretations ranging from, “absent from the body, present with the Lord,” to the dead in Christ “sleeping” until the appointed hour. But I do not believe that their condition can be improved during this “holding period,” nor that the prayers of the living can effect their condition.
Catholic friends: while I welcome your input, and correction of any fundamental errors I may have made, I do not wish to turn this into a debate. I am unlikely to be converted to Catholicism, and am only trying to explain by comparison the things I believe.