Apologetics, Christian Living, Roman Catholicism, Salvation & Justification

If It Looks Like Rome . . . It Might Not Be All That Bad

I was directed to a post over at Daughter of the Reformation that can be found here entitled, “If It Looks Like Rome…,” (of course, implying all things Catholic are icky and antithetical to the true gospel message) outlining what the author believes to be a (disturbing) trend within Presbyterian and Reformed (P&R) churches. Namely, that a growing number of P&R churches are adopting practices that, ahem, trace their origin to the Roman Catholic Church (perish the thought!) or just simply seem to smack of…wait for it…Roman Catholicism. (I wonder if the thought ever occurred that perhaps one reason there might be similarities between Protestant and Catholic is because the former emerged from the latter. But that’s an entirely different story for an entirely different day).

Back to the post. The author notices these common practices, in no particular order:

Eucharistic liturgy
Monastic Retreats
Contemplative prayer
Observance of Ash Wednesday/Lent

For starters, the author takes issue with what she describes as P&R churches proclaiming truths that are also expressed during portions of Catholic worship services. Here is the example she offered:

Minister: Let us proclaim the mystery of faith:
All: Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

So what’s the problem?

Well, it’s not so much that the author has any doctrinal disagreements with this statement, which she does not, because the proclamations seem to be part-and-parcel of basic Christian truths, which they are. Instead, she doesn’t like the fact that Roman Catholics express these same truths in the context of the Eucharist (the part of the Catholic service in which the priest transubstantiates the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ).

Okay, we’ll grant that the practice of the Eucharist, with the division of “accident” and “substance,” has better grounding in Aristotelian concepts than in apostolic teaching and also fails to account properly (in my opinion) for the teaching of Hebrews and the “once-for-all” sacrifice. But, more to the point, what does a misunderstanding of Christ’s words (“This is my body, this is my blood”), which is the foundation of the Eucharist, have to do with the truth that Christ died, is risen, and will come again? To the truths expressed in the liturgy of that ceremony, we should all say, Amen and rejoice in the fact our Catholic brothers and sisters can express it too!

Why we do not celebrate the common truths that could unite us confounds me, and why we insist, as the author does, to separate and disparage over an issue such as this is beyond me, especially when, in actuality, it has little to do with the proclamation of these true statements, the same statements found in the Apostles’ Creed.

What’s more, the author, in arguing this way, has unwittingly employed the use of the “genetic fallacy,” a logical fallacy which, simply put, states that X is wrong because X derived from Y. So, in essence, the author tells us that P&R folks are wrong, at least at this point and on this issue, because they are uttering X (the liturgy) which derived from Y (the Catholic Church). Now, did she offer any proof that Y is wrong? No, of course not. We are merely to assume, presumably from our anti-Catholic presuppositions and biases, that all doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church are wrong (or at least sub-biblical).

Ironically, she admits these words in liturgical form are “absolutely true,” yet she is for some reason offended when Protestants utter them in the liturgical portions of a worship service. (Just imagine how many other truths we P&R folks are forbidden to express, lest a Roman Catholic proclaim the same truths!). But enough on that point.

Next, the author moves on to the practice of “intinction,” or dipping the communion bread into the wine (or juice if you prefer). Quite frankly, I’ve sat in Reformed churches from coast to coast and have yet to witness this practice, though I would have no qualms with it, mind you. I have personally witnessed a myriad of ways in which the Lord’s Supper is commemorated, from prayers and hymns to readings and exhortations—and it always varied from location to location. For someone to make an issue of intinction because it reminds him or her of a Catholic practice (which is not necessarily a standard Catholic practice) is, frankly, without merit. I wonder what makes separating the elements more virtuous or more biblical than intinction. Perhaps someone can point me to a passage in Scripture.

“Another curious trend,” the author sees, is the “fascination with monastic retreats and the related focus on contemplative prayer.” She then proceeds to relate an anecdote about the wife of a PCA missionary who believes God speaks to her when she meditates. Okay, there are definitely some legitimate concerns here (most prominently, the belief in on-going divine revelation), but let’s not throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. Slipping away for a short duration (which is what a “retreat” is, by definition) is hardly akin to the life-long practice of monasticism. Hey, spend any time with a bunch of rambunctious kiddos, and I’m sure anyone would be singing a different tune. If one finds it’s easier to concentrate on the things of the Lord in an environment that more closely resembles Eden than it does Gomorrah, more power to ‘em! Let’s give them them their props for desiring to be closer to God. And who could blame them?

The author’s two final indictments include a lament regarding how some P&R pastor are donning “Catholic style robes and vestment” (who knew?) and the practice of celebrating Ash Wednesday and Lent (where have I been?). But, since I have rambled on long enough for this post, let me just wrap this up with a couple of quick points.

First, there would be no P&R churches if not for the Roman Catholic Church. Let us not forget the reality that Lutheran and Reformed churches both emerged from within the Western church (aka, the Catholic Church), giving each tradition its foundational basis. So of course there will be similarities—many of them, in fact. It would almost be like a butterfly, after emerging from its cocoon, denying it sprang from the silk cocoon weaved by a caterpillar. Or, to put it another way, it would be like a butterfly looking upon a pre-pupal stage caterpillar with antipathy and denying there is any connection between the two. The harsh reality that many on both sides seem to forget is there is great commonality to be shared and celebrated. The core of gospel, the essence of who Jesus is, should unite people on both sides of theological divide. And this leads into my second and final point.

The thief hanging on the cross at Calvary affirmed the Lordship of Christ when he asked Jesus to remember him. In that simple act, the thief, by that statement, acknowledged his own guilt and sinfulness and, even if implicitly, acknowledged he needed a Savior. And then the guilty criminal looked to the Son of God for that salvation. In so doing, he was simply placing his faith and trust in the person of Jesus, nothing more. And, on account of his faith, he was given the promise of residing with Jesus in paradise (Luke 23:43).

It’s the simplicity of faith expressed in the Bible that gives me reason to believe we have a multitude of brothers and sisters in Christ across all denominations and across all flavors that place Jesus at the center of their belief system. Whoever calls upon the name of Jesus will be saved, Scripture promises. So who are we (P&R notwithstanding) to disparage Catholics or any other Christian group for not holding to a more pure message (presumably like we P&R do)? So much for Christian charity and humility, huh?

Perhaps Pope Francis said it best in a recent interview when asked about the vast divisions within Christendom responded this way: “Who is at fault? All of us are. We are all sinners. There is only one who is right, and that is our Lord.” What humility! If only we all truly thought that way, perhaps we could travel together down the road toward reconciliation and toward the unity which Jesus commanded.

Indeed, as Pope Francis said, our Lord—the Jesus of both Catholics and Protestants…so it’s about time we recognize our similarities and celebrate our common union (the entirety of the Apostles’ Creed, for starters) and start behaving in a more congenial attitude, striving toward peace and harmony instead of drawing petty differences that continue to divide.

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