Friday, October 28, 2005

A Response to my Baptist Friend

My friend Bret that is a Baptist minister posted in his blog a while back his opinion of the priest scandal and some thoughts he has on the teachings of the Church. I have wanted to respond for a while and finally found the time tonight. I am not claiming to be any kind of expert in all the teachings of the Church, but through my own studies, searching and opinions I have responded to his post. The first part of his post follows and his words are in red. My response is italicized.

The ongoing saga of sexual abuse by Catholic priests plummets deeper today as documents are released showing years of abuse and denial by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the nations largest Roman Catholic diocese. Tell men they cannot marry (or allow homosexuals in as priests), teach a system of salvation that says grace must be achieved before it is given and grace must be regularly earned to be maintained and surround yourself with an ecclesiology that hides behind ecclesiastically infallibility, and you have the perfect mixture to bake up the kind of scandal that currently exists in Catholicism. It is a system that is sure to make one feel spiritual but fails to actually change the heart - thus the evidence of which we now read.

There are a lot of arguments in this one paragraph to cover so I’ll take it one thing at a time. 1. Tell men they cannot marry – There is a reason for this in the Church and those that are priests make this decision knowing what the Church requires. They do this in order to devote themselves more fully to God and their parishes. A married man tends to have a divided heart and one that takes the vow of celibacy can truly devote himself to a life of ministry. It’s not to say that priests are perfect… all men are sinners. The scandal in the Church was highlighted because of poor judgments of those men and those in authority above them. There are certainly men of all kinds of religions, sexual orientations, married, and unmarried that have done heinous things to children as well. It cannot be blamed on the teachings of the Church, but the fact that some people seem to have little control over their sinful lives and have made bad choices. It is true that we are sexual beings, but in the Bible we are called to chastity. Marriage was designed for those that are unable to be chaste. Virginity is highly esteemed. In 1 Cor. 7:8-9 It states “now to the unmarried and to widows, I say: It is a good thing for them to remain as they are, as I do, but if they cannot exercise self-control they should marry, for it is better to marry than to be on fire.” Once again, it is a choice. If a priest cannot take this vow, he should know that he has not been called to the priesthood.

2. Or allow homosexuals in as priests – I believe and many Catholics do as well that homosexuality is a disorder that some are born with. I think for some others it is a choice. You cannot conclusively dump the fact that a priest might be gay and thus unable to control his sexual urges. I feel that although a gay person might be more inclined to seek a partner of the same sex and unfortunately make a horrible decision to seduce a child, their orientation isn’t necessarily why they do that. It is because they are human and once again are sinners that do not seek enough of God’s guidance to help them through their temptations. Coming from a very sexual background, it’s a difficult thing to overcome, but not impossible. Look at my son’s father. He was absolutely not gay, but made very bad choices.

3. Teach a system of salvation that says grace must be achieved before it is given – This is not what the Church teaches. We believe as protestants do that Grace is a gift from God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states “Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.” This grace is sanctifying grace that is received in Baptism. The Catechism continues stating “Sanctifying grace is a habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by his love.” Although grace is freely given to us, we believe that our salvation is a process that continues throughout our life rather than a single defining moment of faith. We are indeed justified by faith, but not faith alone. Works are manifestations of our faith. The Bible even states that works are a part of our salvation. James 2:14-17 states “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” So grace is a gift from God, we must accept that gift and have faith, but continually build on that faith and demonstrate it through our works. All of this plays a role in our final justification when we come before Christ. Our salvation depends on the state of our soul at death. Although 1 John 5:13 states “I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God.” Although protestants take this that one can definitely know they are assured of a place in heaven, they must realize that this statement comes after four other chapters outlining what it takes to have that reasonable assurance. One still must live righteous lives and be in favor with God. Certainly if we have followed his commandments, accepted his grace, had faith and shown it through our works, then yes, we might be certain of attaining heaven.

4. surround yourself with an ecclesiology that hides behind ecclesiastically infallibility – I am not sure what you mean by the fact that the Church hides behind their teachings of infallibility. Just to be certain, you must understand that the concept of infallibility does not mean free from sin. It does not mean that the body of the Church, the Bishops or even the Pope is sinless. I don’t see how the Church hides behind their teachings of infallibility in any way. They make it clear to all their believers as well as those who do not agree with her teachings. Infallibility is simply the fact that the doctrine the Church teaches is true. It does not mean that the Church dictates every interpretation of the Bible to it’s members, but when it does clarify something, it is bound by Christ’s statement that “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.” Although there has been a scarred past of Popes that were not even close to perfection and did some very bad things, none of their statements in regard to an official Church teaching has been against what is true within the Bible and tradition.

5. you have the perfect mixture to bake up the kind of scandal that currently exists in Catholicism – you sound as if that this scandal is all that the Church is about. It isn’t pretty, nor is it acceptable, but the Church is more than this incident. You cannot make a blanket statement that it is the teachings of the Church that caused all of this. If so, then you may have to explain the many abuses of those of the Baptist persuasion. ( They may not be grouped together as they have been in the Catholic Church, but they are just as heinous.

6. It is a system that is sure to make one feel spiritual but fails to actually change the heart - I beg to differ from personal experience. I can say that I have never had a desire to love Christ and grow in his word as I have since I began my journey into the Catholic faith. A change in heart comes from God’s grace and the free will of a person. The teachings of a church can guide a person on that journey, but you seem to be assuming that Catholics may be spiritual but are lacking in true faith. I feel that Catholics have a better idea of faith than many protestants as they are constantly working out their salvation through their faith.

Not that similar situations do not happen in protestant churches, especially the kind that care little for spiritual fruit as the indicator of conversion (not as the means to achieve).
Protestants have their own moral black eyes due to their own theological aberrations such as the weekly push for quick profession-of-faith prayers, thus populating congregations with unconverted people, the exaltation of pastors as celebrity personalities, the redefinition of corporate church life in terms of popular opinion, pragmatism and moralism, rather than a careful and humble submission the sole authority of Scripture.

O.k. I indicated above that you are right. Protestants have their own scandalous stories and issues. (Though I won’t necessarily point out in this particular post the problems I have with general protestant beliefs) I do believe that as a regular church-goer at Fellowship Baptist, there seemed to be a great push for those quick profession of faith prayers and attempts to grow the congregation. Those visitations to local houses in order to “win people to Christ” were most uncomfortable. I find that the Catholics I’ve gotten to know don’t push their faith on anyone and are more accepting of other denominations than many Protestants. They demonstrate their faith by the way they live. No, not all are perfect and there are some Catholics living in sin, but if I look at the group as a whole I see more true believers than I did as a Baptist. It is a relief to not be asked if I am saved.

A careful and humble submission to the sole authority of Scripture – Catholics seem to be far more careful with the idea of a careful and humble submission to Scripture. Again, they don’t dictate every interpretation of the Bible to the body of the Church, but they do clarify important doctrines. But no, the Church does not abide with the concept of Sola Scriptura for many reasons. The first of which, if the Bible is all that is necessary for living out a Christian life, then where in the Bible does it say that? There isn’t any place. It does state that the Bible is good and useful, but not the only source necessary. Second, tradition is called for within the Bible itself. 2 Thess 2:16 states “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.” People at the time of the teachings of Christ had no Bible. The Bible wasn’t completed until years after Christ’s final ascension into Heaven. What then were the Christians to use? Then you have to consider the fact that the Bible wasn’t readily available to all of those teaching the message of Christ. Some of those teachers had been followers of Christ directly, but many others were followers of the apostles. Therefore, the Christian doctrine was passed on through oral teachings and it’s traditions. There are numerous other reasons for the rejection of the concept of sola scriptura and I am not adequate to explain them all, but feel free to check them out at

Catholics and many aberrant protestant groups have much in common in their theology that creates a climate for such cases as described in the NY Times. May God be gracious to us to provide a genuine reformation in the hearts of people to adhere to the sole authority of Scripture that produces a singular passion for the glory of Christ, rather than creating our religion from the passions of depraved human hearts.

Once again, I don’t feel that the Catholic teachings in any way create a climate for the scandals that have occurred. On the contrary, the teachings of the Church are very much against such actions. But because there are some priests that failed as sinful humans, they have given the Church a bad name. But you cannot place blame on a few and assume that they made choices because of the Church’s teachings and it’s expectations of a priest. It’s not like a priest doesn’t go through a rigorous examination of conscious when deciding to pursue a life as a church leader as well as study for many years before becoming a servant of Christ. Adhering to the sole authority of Scripture does not mean a person will not sin. Once again, it is a matter of free will. I have far more of a passion for Christ in this Church that teaches that adherence to Scripture is a part of living a Christian life, but also that tradition plays a role as well. Just because the Catholic Church accepts both does not mean that their followers have depraved hearts. I see a total devotion to Christ in a Catholic mass. Since Catholics believe that Christ is actually present in the Eucharist, we honor and venerate His presence by kneeling during the process of transubstantiation. We also demonstrate this when we stand during the reading of the Gospel and by genuflecting when we enter the church.

I know my friend that we will continue to agree to disagree on various matters. I have wanted to respond with my own thoughts to your post for a while, but you know how time seems to get away from us. I feel that despite the fact that you are in a church that has doctrines that I disagree with, you are still a righteous and spiritual man with a true love for Christ. I admire you for that. I hope you don’t take offense at anything I’ve said. You are my friend and I love you as my friend.


Katrina Leigh said...

I think you made a good defense of the Catholic faith and I wish I could sound half as rational! I have enough trouble defending devotion to the Virgin Mary.

As for your comment on my blog, I have that guide to the Mass and I've read it a couple of times. I'll be sure to ask the person taking me a lot of questions along the way.

Annabel said...

Thanks. I have been wanting to post on Mary as well.. but it's another thing that I have not had the time for. But maybe soon.