Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Being Tuned-In...or Not

Pr. Brown at Confessional Gadfly writes about anti-Catholicism in Oklahoma in this post. His parish is about five miles west of mine, and some of my members are relatives, ex's, in-laws and out-laws, former members, future members or childhood friends of his members.

What was strange for me is that I haven't noticed such strident anti-Catholicism at my parish, and I've been here a few more years than he has. I don't doubt his observation; his post described their "epiphany" quite well. But I haven't noticed it much at this place. There may be several reasons for this:

1. I'm oblivious. When I teach Bible study, I have my agenda and I try to foment discussion, but perhaps I just haven't realized the cultural milieu here. To be sure, even from the beginning I haven't sensed much animosity felt for Catholics, but perhaps I ignore it.

2. They are not the "threat." There are two good-sized Catholic parishes in town, but Baptist churches surround us, and the Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ come in a close second. It seems many folks around here are more "for them" than against others.

3. I have an agenda. One of my elders recently described me as "swimming upstream here." He said it with good-natured respect, and I must admit, with an alarming insight of my theological proclivities. I'm not a closet Catholic, to be sure, but as readers here may know, I am more of the Evangelical Catholic bent.

4. While I do contrast Lutheran theology with that of others, from the very beginning of my ministry here I have intentionally attempted to also emphasize what we have in common with others who call on the name of Christ. For example, I believe decision-theology often is an attempt to describe the choice and commitment of believers after they have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit. While the language of decision-theology strikes Lutherans as semi-Pelagian, good Baptists who talk that way are often not meaning what they say, but are sometimes talking about good ol' fashioned sanctification and our cooperation in it. So perhaps the lack of anti-Catholicism I sense is due to my setting this more irenic tone (which is a struggle for me at times, I admit).

5. Pastor Brown's congregation is rural. Most of his members have been there since birth. My congregation has it's fair share of cradle members, but is 50 years younger than his and is located in town. No one would call Enid cosmopolitan, but I have a good share of members who have lived elsewhere and have more contact with others who are "not frum here." We're still a more rural congregation than others, but it's relative, ain't it?

All of these considerations probably factor in to what I have experienced here. It is probably the case that I see what I want to see--I'm hard-headed at times. But I do think I'll start asking around how much anti-Catholic feelings there are.


  1. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    A few things to note.

    1 - A few of my older folks were almost of the impression that Roman Catholics were not even Christian - just a few of them. Also, they were much more perjorative towards Roman Catholic. I'd occassionally hear St. Mary's referred to as "that fish-eater hospital". This was a smaller part.

    2 - The larger part is more that while people were quick to see what was wrong with Roman Catholicism - and see that it was important - the errors of your general protestants were. . . somewhat minimized. Protestants would get to slide on their bad doctrine - but Roman Catholic stuff was bad.

    What I am hoping for is an even keel - where we can address what other denominations do well and where we can defend the faith against what they say poorly. And I think we are moving that way.

    Oh, your blog program is racist. The password is "mamy" and a few other letters. I shouldn't be forced to say mamy just to get posted >=o)

  2. Christine said...

    This post interests me because I even though I am Roman Catholic now I will always have one foot in the Lutheran world because one side of my family is Lutheran.

    Ironically, when I was growing up (Lutheran) a phone call to the local LCMS District to inquire about whether Lutherans were more "catholic" or "protestant" was quickly answered with "catholic".

    Needless to say, I've heard it on both sides. Lutherans who didn't really understand Catholicism and Catholics who really didn't understand Luther.

    For the most part I think those unhappy times are over. Yes, Lutherans and Catholics still have their doctrinal and ecclesiological differences but I think we are both ready to acknowledge each other as baptized brothers and sisters in Christ.

    When I married into a Polish American Catholic family my Catholic in-laws warmly and graciously received their Lutheran daughter-in-law. Nor has the deep affection between my Lutheran sister and me, now Catholic, changed one iota.

    Anti-Catholicism (along with anti-Christianity in general) is coming much more from a hostile secular culture today.

  3. Christopher D. Hall said...

    "Fish-eater Hospital"???? Are you serious???

  4. Christine said...

    Heh, my cradle Catholic husband still refers to Catholics as "mackeral snappers" !

    As I recall, though, my Lutheran grandmother in Europe always served fish on Good Friday.

  5. Mike Baker said...

    Interesting post. I find that I defend Roman Catholics more than most Roman Catholics do. Many of the protestants I know think that they are either not Christians or their salvation is certainly in doubt. Armed with the Creeds, I beg to differ.

    I do want to offer my opinion for some clarity:

    You said, "For example, I believe decision-theology often is an attempt to describe the choice and commitment of believers after they have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit."

    I must have played the music for thousands of alter calls. Coming from that Baptist background, I rarely if ever heard it discussed in these terms. In decision theology, people who make their decision are "born again" the moment that decision is made--not before. The Holy Spirit is not viewed as an enlightening but rather a conviction. After you become convicted of your sin, it is all up to you. The term for the Holy Spirit's action in salvation that I often heard growing up was "prompting".

    Their teaching is clearly communicated in that wonderful alter-call song, "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus."

    To quote the Southern Baptist Convention Statement of Faith: "Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace."

    If you say that the Holy Spirit "prompts", "convicts", "pushes", or "speaks" and then you "respond" or "decide to follow Christ" and are saved, you are not espousing Semi-Pelagian teaching in the strictest sense because man did not make the first move apart from grace.

    That said, they do believe that the Holy Spirit creates salvation by grace, but "the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith."

    And what do they mean by faith?

    SBC: "Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour."

    I have been to some churches in the Southern Baptist Convention that are full Pelagian heretics: they deny original sin and teach that men have the power to live for God.

    Most Baptist churches do teach about sanctification and our cooperation in it, but in practical understanding it is apart from this "decision for Christ" which is a one-time event that saves a person eternally. Keep in mind that, when they say justification and sanctification, they teach that you can never lose your salvation... even if you become an athiest. The original decision is that powerful.

    Privately, many Baptists do not believe the dogma taught by their church. I'll never forget the private conversation I had with an old Baptist who didn't want anyone to know that he actually believed that God dragged unwilling people to salvation.

    Since complete doctrinal agreement is not neccesary for church membership, it is possible for a Baptist to hold a private "Lutheran" or "Calvanist" view of justification without a problem. In my old Southern Baptist church, we had several key members who believed that free will was impossible.

  6. Mike Baker said...

    Another gem from the SBC statement of faith:

    "Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment INCLINED TOWARD* sin. Therefore, AS SOON AS THEY ARE CAPABLE OF MORAL ACTION, THEY BECOME TRANSGRESSORS* and are under condemnation."

    *my emphasis added.

    This is a denial of the doctrine of Origian Sin. It effects the Baptist understanding of salvation in such a critical way that it is not really compatable with historical understandings of justification and baptism.

  7. Christopher D. Hall said...


    Thanks for the great comments and elucidation! I was basing my comments on what I've heard from laypeople and other conversations, so your point about different views coexisting is well taken.

  8. Doorman-Priest said...

    It is my general obsevation here in the U.K. that most Catholics are cradle Catholics and have that identity very clearly. What is less obvious is the significant number who are lapsed in the church's terms but who still identify strongly as Catholic, when what many really mean is Agnostic or even Athiest. This is of course true of many Christians of all denominations, but with Catholicism there is more of an instinctive inwardlooking and suspicion of other churches.

    Much that Protestants, particularly evangelicals, see as essential marks of faith such as a conversion experience is largely meaningless to most Catholics, who are more likely to be instinctive rather than experiential.


  9. Mike Baker said...

    Pastor Hall,

    The key to understanding Baptists is to realize that "Individual Soul Liberty" is really their key doctrine. What this boils down to is that no one can really tell you what to think. They can throw Bible verses at you, but the strongest apologist wins at the end of the day.

    SBC: "Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord."

    This is what people do not realize about some of these ultra-left fundamentalist church bodies: they are an alliance of semi-affiliated churches who do not attempt to maintain a strict unity of belief.

    The only step that a congregation can take to enforce purity of doctrine (either internally or externally) is schism. Trying to nail down the true fundamentalist doctrine is like nailing jello to a wall.

    Back on topic:

    As to the Protestant distaste for Roman Catholics, I have found that alot of it centers on the individual mythologies that each denomination creates for themselves to justify their existence.

    In the view of many Protestants (of which I was one), the pure doctrine of the ancient church was contaminated by the Roman Catholics. Infant Baptism, Real Presence, etc are all Roman Catholic inventions against the true teaching of the Apostles.

    This is contrary to the common Lutheran view that the church of Rome preserved much of the true doctrine, but obscured it with the introduction of new dogma and error.

    This is why "The DaVinci Code" hit many Protestant churches so hard while the Lutherans experienced no real crisis of faith in their churches. In the minds of many Protestants, the idea of the Roman Catholic church corrupting the truth for purely selfish reasons is not foreign to them.

    I do not think that any of this stems from any real historical knowledge of the church or real theological debate with Rome. Most Protestants have a historical knowledge of the church that only dates back to the day when they joined their congregation. They distrust Roman Catholics for purely "tin-foil-hat" reasons. When you talk to some of these guys in depth about Rome and get past the saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary, it isn't about doctrine... it is conspiracy theory.

    The hard feelings cut both ways. I am in a heavily Roman Catholic area. Most Roman Catholic laity that I know are strongly anti-Protestant and VERY strongly anti-Lutheran.

    My family has been uninvited from people's houses when it was discovered that we were Lutherans. I know of a family who cannot get their child baptized in the Roman Catholic church for stupid procedural reasons. The Grandmother would rather have her not baptized at all than in a Lutheran church.

  10. Christine said...

    Doorman priest, it is true that being Catholic involves a very strongly communal identity, so that even those who no longer officially practice the faith still consider themselves Catholic.

    I have to admit that when I was still Protestant I thought of the church more or less as a "voluntary" association of like-minded persons. Being Catholic has exposed me to people from many different backgrounds and cultures.

    Mike, I've found that in some cases those who were either anti-Catholic or Protestant were so for ethnic, not purely religious, reasons although that is by no means always the case.

    Back in the American immigrant era neighborhoods were strongly defined by nationality as well as faith.

    And yes, many Protestants know very little church history prior to the Reformation. The practices of both Catholicism and Orthodoxy have very ancient roots.

  11. Christine said...

    Mike, if you don't mind my asking as a Catholic, is the family who could not get their child baptized a Lutheran/Catholic family?

    That's my own background.

  12. Mike Baker said...


    "And yes, many Protestants know very little church history prior to the Reformation. The practices of both Catholicism and Orthodoxy have very ancient roots."

    ...that are retained, observed, and cherished in confessional Lutheranism. =P

    As to your question, the family is 100% Roman Catholic. The reason why the child has gone years without a baptism is not the result of a refusal to baptize on the part of the church. There are appearantly several procedural requirements that the family will not resolve.

  13. Anonymous said...

    Mike, this is the part I'm finding confusing:

    The Grandmother would rather have her not baptized at all than in a Lutheran church.

    Perhaps I am misunderstanding.

  14. Mike Baker said...

    Join the club.

    I was running out of options to suggest. I offered to sponsor the child's baptism at a Lutheran church. That was angrily rejected.

    Members of the family were more irritated about a "Lutheran" baptism than the current situation of no baptism.

  15. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    Oh, and I was serious about the Fish-eater hospital comment - which is ironic because:

    1 - I like the Roman Catholic Hospital better.

    2 - The Baptist hospital in town is named "Bass"

  16. Christine said...

    I was running out of options to suggest. I offered to sponsor the child's baptism at a Lutheran church. That was angrily rejected.

    Members of the family were more irritated about a "Lutheran" baptism than the current situation of no baptism.

    Ah, now I see. Well, your kind offer should certainly not have been "angrily" rejected. And not having the child baptized is not a good option either.

    If the family is a faithfully practicing Roman Catholic family, however, they should seek to have whatever the impediment is removed and then proceed to have the child baptized. Baptism, actually, for all Christians is into the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Properly speaking there is only "Christian" baptism. But for Catholics, with their high ecclesial structure, Baptism also incorporates one fully into the life of the Catholic Church and in order to receive the other sacraments a Catholic baptismal certificate would be required.