Monday, April 18, 2005

Speaking of the Bayly blog

David also brings up a good point here, when he says
Recent Roman Catholic comments on this blog (and on other blogs about this blog) remind me of the Amish attitude toward the English. The Amish love using English cars, power tools, phones, income. But they're not English and they don't want the English thinking they're Amish.

So too Rome benefits from Evangelicalism in countless ways. It's gaining powerful converts from it. It's being aided in the moral battles of our day by it. Its children are being protected by Protestant ministers who were willing to face arrest for the sake of Terri when no Roman Catholic clergyman was willing to do so. But in the end, it seems there's precious little give and a lot of take from Rome on this blog.

I think David may be right about this, and not just on their blog. Catholics, especially converts, are often so ready for a scurrilous attack on our church that we go about prickling for an argument. We need to remember that not all Protestants are Jack Chick, and a lot of them have good reasons for rejecting particular Catholic teachings. Whenever I start to feel too knowledgeable, I go read somebody like the Bayly Brothers or Tim Challies. I can disagree with them, and often I can even defend my reasons, but I can't dismiss these guys as ignorant or bigoted.

The other thing we forget is how much we owe Protestantism in modern times. I can't imagine what the Catholic Church would look like had Luther and Calvin not forced it into accountability, much less what our American culture would be like if we were the only church in it. So I'd like to take this opportunity to express some gratitude to the descendants of the Reformation.

1. I'm grateful to Protestants for the Bible. Yes, I know they got it from us, but how much attention does the average Catholic pay to Bible study? How much would it be if there were no Protestants around to challenge us? Because Protestant theology is so dependent on the Bible, they've raised Bible study to a level beyond that of most Catholic laity. In fact, because we're so often unversed (pardon the pun) in the scriptures, we feed the myth that Catholics are forbidden to read it for themselves.

2. On a more personal note, I'm grateful to the Protestants that taught me the Bible, as well as most of the Christian theology I still believe. My Sunday School teachers had no degrees in catechesis or theology. They were just ordinary Baptists who wanted to teach kids to love and serve the Lord. And they were successful in that. No matter how far I wandered away from God, I knew the way back thanks to them. The ones I'm thinking of are getting on in years now, and they'll probably never see this blog, but Eunice Bickel, Larry Sybouts, Marie Ritter and Darlene Pritchett, on the chance you ever see this, thank you. It took a while, but the lessons stuck. (I'd include my grandmother in that, but she's in heaven now, so she already knows.)

3. I appreciate Protestant enthusiasm. It's too easy for Catholics (unless they're in a charismatic parish) to get into a routine of droning their way through a Mass, showing up when they're told, and generally going through the motions of worship. Protestants don't have as many motions to go through, for one thing, and for another, they don't believe in rote worship. While that can sometimes make for an overemphasis on emotion, more often it just means that they mean what they say, and sing, and pray. I wish we did as well at that.

4. This is one I don't hear much about, but I appreciate the Protestant approach to repentance. In case you're a Protestant reading this, Catholics recognize two kinds of contrition: perfect and imperfect. Imperfect contrition is when you're sorry for your sins because you fear God's punishment, either on earth or (in extreme cases) in Hell. (It's not as cynical as it sounds; sometimes it's all you can manage until God has a chance to work a change in your heart.) Perfect contrition is when you're genuinely sorry for your sins because you love God and don't want to disobey Him.

Protestants - at least the ones who believe in once-saved-always-saved - don't fear Hell. And I don't think they even believe very much in temporal punishment. So all their contrition is what we would call perfect. When they repent, it's because they love God. This, in turn, means that they often have a deeper relationship with the Author of all forgiveness.

5. Finally, here's a reason that doesn't get talked about much. I'm grateful to Protestantism for providing an alternative to Catholicism. There are a great many Catholics who, for an infinite variety of reasons, don't stay in the Church. Some of them have trouble believing without passion (see #3 above). Some have been hurt by somebody inn the Church. Some have been mistreated by clergy, or have ugly memories of Catholic school nuns with rulers. Some of them find Protestant doctrine more reasonable. And some just never find the connection to the Savior that the Catholic Church offers.

Protestant churches are filled with ex-Catholics. Some are angry, some are just closer to the Lord there. While I'd rather see all Christians in unity, I'm pretty sure it ain't a-gonna happen this side of Christ's return. Better people should be Protestant than alienated from Jesus. I'm grateful to Protestantism for being a haven for the people we have lost.

I hope my appreciation of our separated brethren can show through my arrogant, argumentative attitude toward theology. Catholics, particularly converts, tend to take kind of a condescending tone when we talk about Protestants. We treat all Protestants as though the only reason they're not Catholic is that they're ignorant, snake-handling, infinitive-splitting imbeciles, and try to catechize them when we should be conversing with them. We also, as I said, leap too quickly to the defensive; years of having to defend against Protestant calumnies have affected our reflexes. When Protestants acknowledge us as brethren, we need to remember it's not time to argue; it's time to love each other.

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