Saturday, October 20, 2007
Society of the Blessed Bifurcation
My Catholic friend Guido writes: "If the claims of the Catholic Church are true at all, they are all true and binding on every man. If they are not true, the whole system becomes the most damnable sort of lie." Likewise, Catholic husband of our old friend Sarah, Dave Hodges writes: "Either the Catholic Church is who She claims to be, or the Catholic Church is the grandest and most fraudulent lie ever conceived in the history of the world."
I understand what these guys are saying, but I believe they've set up what is ultimately a false dilemma. And I hate to say it, but such heightened rhetoric seems to be characteristic of relatively recent converts still in the "cage stage."
As a Protestant who grew up in a largely Baptist region and around Protestant confessions that call the Pope the Antichrist, I always wondered about Catholics and their standing in the Church. Then, sometime in high school or college (I forget), I read an endnote in Peter Leithart's The Kingdom & the Power (P&R, 1993, p. 238), and I never wondered again. Here's the relevant part of the endnote:
The question of Roman Catholicism is particularly pressing for many evangelicals, especially since some prominent Protestant leaders have recently converted to Rome. I have fundamental and serious objections to Roman Catholic theology and practice, but I do not believe that Roman Catholic churches are uniformly false churches. To put it briefly, I would argue that...many congregations of the Roman Catholic Church are, despite grievous errors, true churches of Jesus Christ. They adhere to many of the basic teachings of Scripture; though their interpretation of the sacraments is fallacious, they do administer the sacraments (sometimes more faithfully than Protestants); and they are frequently serious about discipline. Other Roman Catholic congregations differ little from the most radical sectors of mainline Protestantism, and have virtually nothing in common with orthodox Christianity.So, sorry, guys, as much as I'm tempted to bite and say, "Well, then, the Catholic Church is a lie," I don't really believe that. How could I, when so much of the Catholic Church has so much to commend it? But I do look forward to the day when you chill out, drop the exaggerated bifurcation of converts, and start thinking like more mature Catholics.
For a provocative discussion of these issues, see James B. Jordan, The Sociology of the Church: Essays in Reconstruction (Tyler, Tex.: Geneva Ministries, 1986), 5-11, 51-82.
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