Monday, February 28, 2005

A Plea to Ignorance

*This is an article which I submitted to my dorms weekly periodical. For some this article may appear abrasive and offensive; that is not the intent. It is simply a wake-up call. I am what you would call a Christian hybrid. I am a member of a the Wesleyan Church and the Catholic Church. The university I attend has the tendency to be ultra-Protestant and therefore I composed this article as a critical evaluation of the attitudes of too many of the students. Enjoy, but read with an open-mind. The article is obviously biased in order to emphasize the point I was trying to make. Were the setting reversed so would be the content of the article.

"The modern evangelical Church struggles with the grotesque scar which bears certain arrogance about the authority of its doctrine. Protestantism is often seen as considering itself to be the only true Christian Church. While this can in no way be a blanket statement about individual Protestants, the ignorant believer would do well to dialogue with those outside of the walls of the Protestant world. It is ironic that while Protestants have long attacked the Catholic Church on the basis of its claims of authority, the tables now have been turned and Protestants appear to have been programmed to believe that they have the monopoly on Christian Orthodoxy.

The problem has largely arisen from a myopic understanding of reformation history as well as the tendency among modern Protestants to read Scripture myopically. It seems that for many Protestants the modern Catholic Church is synonymous with the Catholic Church of the reformation era. The corruption that had invaded the Church can in no way be ignored or denied but neither can the fact that a Catholic reformation shortly followed the Protestant split and any comparisons between the modern Catholic Church and the corrupt Church of the 1500’s is selective at best. A few weeks ago in chapel we heard the story of how a Protestant man was burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English. How is it that we never hear the stories of the hundreds of Catholic whom were murdered when Protestants had control of England? The animosity which has existed between Protestants and Catholics is a two sided coin; neither side can be seen as being solely at fault.

Of course there is much more to say but for the sake of time I will turn to the myopic reading of Scripture which the modern Protestant is prone to. It is truly an outrage that Protestants have minimized the value of Church Tradition. The big “T” Tradition, as Dr. Bounds refers to it, is what the Church has always considered to be Orthodox teaching. Tradition is determined by antiquity, what has been believed from the very beginning of the Church, universality, what has been believed everywhere by all Christians, and consensus, what has been agreed upon by the great Fathers of the Church. Yet the majority of lay Protestants read the Bible as if “it is just me and the Holy Spirit, I don’t need none of that tradition stuff.” It is absolutely mind boggling to me that anyone would find their own interpretation of Scripture to be the authoritative interpretation and not once turn to the great saints of the centuries who have gone on before us and have much more theologically and logically sound things to say than John Elderidge, or John Piper, or even A.W. Tozer and C.S. Lewis (whom are certainly valuable contributions to modern Christendom). The obvious fact is that all Christians read the Bible through the eyes of tradition. The question is simply which tradition they use.

Ignorance about specific Catholic and Eastern Orthodox doctrine has contributed to the superiority complex of Protestantism. An obvious area of prejudice that Protestants retain is in regards to the Catholic and Easter Orthodox practice of “praying” to the Saints. Cries of “Idolatry!” and “You only need to go directly to Jesus!” are often heard as complaints against such a practice. However, Protestants feel quite comfortable going to fellow believer and asking them to pray for a certain situation. The practice of “praying” to the Saints is analogous to this idea in that Catholic and Eastern Orthodox believers assume that some Christians go immediately to be with Jesus after they die (an idea which is supported by Paul in Phil. 1:22-26). In the same way that we ask other believers to pray for us, Catholics and members of the Eastern Orthodox Church believe the same thing can be done with those whom have passed on. It is not asking the Saints to heal them or perform miracles for them but rather it is asking the Saints to pray for them. While this may be hard for Protestants to accept, it is within the big “T” Tradition of the Church! This of course does not mean that the practice is in and of itself true, but it is obvious that one does not cease to be a Christian by practicing it.

I cannot comprehend how the same Protestants who accept such ideas as Calvinism and eternal security, which are outside of the big “T” Tradition and have been formally rejected in smaller Church councils in the first eras of Church history, can place the title of “heretic” and “idolater” to the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church. The truth is that such theology as Calvinism is much more heretical than the doctrine of either of these two branches of Christianity! Not only that, but many Wesleyans, although the official statements of the church believe otherwise, see baptism as merely an outward symbol of a profession of faith and grace is not communicated. In the same way, many Wesleyans view communion as simply a remembrance of Jesus Christ and do not take seriously what the early Church did that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). The Church has always believed that grace is communicated at communion as well. Both these dominant views of baptism and communion by Wesleyans are outside of Christian Orthodoxy and are technically heresy. The irony is all too clear. Do not forget, either, that while Protestants often view the hierarchy of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church as destructive, these two branches of Christianity have survived much longer than the Protestant Church, which split incredibly early in its infancy.

So let us stop this nonsense about the Catholic and Easter Orthodox Church being in need of evangelism. Rather perhaps we Protestants should turn our attention to educating our congregations on Church history and Church Tradition. The fact is, when Tradition is thrown away so is Orthodoxy."


Jen said...

This is an incredible article, Ben. I found myself vocally agreeing with your arguments and then had to remember that my roommate was trying to sleep...
This article should be read by every Protestant, even those who have no problem at all with either the Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Church. Lots of things to think about...
As a Protestant myself I am saddened by the "superior" attitude that has been taken on by many Protestants.
I am reminded of a class here at IWU in which one of my classmates made the comment "Russian Orthodox and saved Protestants". It was clear that this person didn't have too high a view of the Orthodox Church, to say the least.
Thank you for your willingness to write such an article. Sure, it may offend some people, but if it does it probably means that they have some thinking to do...

uhmer said...

Yea, nice article. I myself am not too familiar with Catholic tradition and beliefs, but have found myself to sometimes look down on Catholics as well without knowing all the facts.

Well written too, I wish I had such a strong vocabulary haha.

Kurt A. Beard said...

Where then do we have the right to break with tradition? What made it ok for Luther to break from tradition? What makes it ok for the Wesleyan Church to ordain women? How close do we have to stick to Tradition? When is tradition wrong and how do we determine it's error if we must go with consensus? We surely run the risk of duplicating our mistakes like a photocopy of a photocopy.


Ben Robinson said...

First, thanks for posting! I have been meaning to add another post to clarify some of the ambiguity from this post (I think actually that is what I will do rather than respond to your questions on the comment board; another post will allow me more room to write. Feel free to comment on the new post). This article is certainly largely skewed in part to emphasize the point that I was attempting to make; namely that the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church are by no means pagan and are definitely Christians. This is not something you and I disagree on (in fact you are one whom respects both of these branches of Christianity and I appreciate that very much). If this was a Catholic university, I would feel comfortable writing an article critiquing the view that Catholics have towards Protestants. However, I did not see any purpose in pointing out faults of the Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Church in this article because the students here have enough complaints as it is :) Anways, great questions, I intend to address them as soon as I get a moment to sit down and collect my thoughts (thanks for making me do that again would).

mom r said...

Ben--thank you for reminding your readers that it is not Catholic OR Christian, but Catholic AND Protestant, all Christians. It was difficult moving to our mostly Prostestant town 21 years ago; I was not used to being a religious minority nor so misunderstood. Catholics were those people who never read the Bible and were not going to heaven. It feels good now to see some of this change; to have the opportunity to explain our rituals and traditions and beautiful Mass to Protestants. May we join each other in relating the Good News, not to each other, but to those who have never heard it at all.