I’d like to begin by thanking JohnDave Medina for his courteous response in “Why I am a Catholic” as well as those who commented for participating in a cordial discussion. As I noted in the introductory post we agreed to begin our dialogue by explaining why we have chosen to affiliate with the particular expressions of Christianity that we do. Now we will state our negative reasons for not identifying with the other’s tradition. While we may shift our focus I hope that our posture remains the same. In other words, readers, remember that we are friends and that this chat is to be understood as one based on mutual respect in spite of our differences.
I noticed something in our first posts. I did not present my Evangelicalism by defending what may be considered key markers of Evangelical identity and JohnDave did not present his Catholicism as a defense of the key markers of Catholic identity. In other words, it is not the core aspects of these traditions that attracted us, but something else. It will be interesting to observe how that impacts our discussion. Now I must move to the main point of this post: Why I am not a Catholic.
Honestly, I like the idea of a Pope, sometimes. As an Evangelical I see thousands of Popes proclaiming ex catherdra all the time. There is something assuring about the Pope’s role as a unifying figure. It removes the overwhelming anxiety that sometimes engulfs us Protestants who do not know how to say “this is what the Church teaches” because our tradition demands we begin with “this is what I believe.” Likewise, I like the current Pope. I think Pope Francis is an amazing person. In fact, I had great respect for Pope Benedict XVI and John Paul II as well.
My contention does not have anything to do with Bishops. I have pondered the ecclesiology of the Orthodox and Anglicans. I think there is a lot to be said in favor of the episcopate. What I cannot accept as the Pope as the singular head of the Church. In theory the “first among equals” is an idea that doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is the assertion that the Bishop of Rome may declare something and it must be settled as authoritative doctrine.
If the Pope’s office is to be traced back to the Apostle Peter (and I am skeptical of this direct connection) how does that result in papal infallibility? Peter was not infallible. Peter was part of a council in Jerusalem where it appears that James, the brother of Jesus, had the most authority (Acts 15). Paul told the Galatians that Peter was wrong and he withstood him. Could any modern Bishops–whether from Istanbul or Canterbury, Moscow or Los Angeles–do this? I don’t quite understand how the role of ecumenical councils can be subsumed by the role of the Bishop of Rome.
When I considered whether I could be a Roman Catholic I asked myself whether or not I could affirm that the Pope’s excommunication of Martin Luther which damned Luther (correct me if this is not something taught) and I could not affirm this. Luther wasn’t perfect, but he was right about a lot of things, and I expect to see him in the age to come, no matter what a Pope may suggest.
Similarly, while I am attracted to the Papacy as the defender of Apostolic Doctrine, it doesn’t appear to me that this has been the case. The Papacy has advocated a Mariology which to me seems incompatible with the early Christian confession that Jesus is the Savior of the world, the only one. Doctrines such as purgatory, various forms of penance, and even smaller matters such as the use of contraceptives concerns me. I am interested in hearing people discuss the metaphysical relaties regarding Christ’s presence at the Eucharist, but the very black-and-white Catholic teaching on this matter doesn’t make sense to me. Now, there are aspects of Catholic doctrine that I don’t affirm, but they don’t bother me either, such as paedobaptism and praying to the saints–these traditions can be found amongst Protestants in different forms. What does bother me is that it is asserted that shared understanding on these matters is a necessity for fellowship.
That leads me to one of my greatest discomforts with the Catholic Church: Eucharist is meant to bring us together around our shared need for the broken and bloody Christ. Why is it that it has become a symbol of disunity? What does Eucharist have to do with the Bishop of Rome? It seems to me that the very act that ought to depict catholicity for all does the exact opposite.
Another question I have had to ask myself: if I became Catholic could I look a brother or sister in Christ in the eye then tell them that their lack of affiliation with Rome prevents me from sharing the Lord’s table with them? The answer is “no.” I cannot do that. Likewise, I have pondered the priesthood and the role of women. Currently, I am pastored by a woman. I have been pastored by a couple of amazing married men. Can I say in honestly that Jeff Garner or Rachel Epp-Miller are not called and qualified by the Spirit to lead my community because of marital status or gender? Again, the answer is “no.”
Now, this is not a polemical attack on Catholicism. It is an explanation of why I am not Catholic. I think there is a difference. I embrace JohnDave as a brother in Christ and his choice to be a Catholic doesn’t bother me. A more pressing question is whether being a Catholic allows him to embrace me as a brother in Christ or does my lack of loyalty to Rome prevent it? I think there is one who is the head of the Church, Jesus Christ, the resurrected and ascended Lord. I think he governs through his Spirit. Does that deny that Bishops have had a role or should continue to have a role? No, I don’t think so, though I don’t have a settled position on Bishops. I do not think that allegiance to the Bishop of Rome is a bad thing. I do think that the universal claim of the Papacy and the side effects of that claim are damaging to Christ’s Church.
This may seem like a brief list. It is, but that is because I want to avoid mischaracterization (I hope I did so in this post). I fear that I may create a list of objections that include things I retract later. I welcome clarification from JohnDave and others if it is felt that I have misrepresented the Catholic position. As our conversation moves forward I am sure other differences will arise.
Now, let me reiterate: there have been many times when I have found myself attracted to Catholicism. Therefore, it would be hypocritical for me to act as if I cannot find good in the tradition. There is much good. I want the Church to be one, visibly, not merely invisibly. I hope that as our discussion progresses we will be able to discuss further those things about the other’s tradition that we find to be beautiful and worthwhile.
In the next post JohnDave will explain why he is not an Evangelical. I’m sympathetic to his critique and he hasn’t written it yet!