Friday, August 15, 2008
Holy Spiritual Smuggery, Batman!
or...Just. Shut. Up. (Part II) A popular contemporary Christian song refers to Christians slinking through life shy about sharing their faith, as if they’re “spreading some kind of disease.” It urges Christians to be bold, not to be ashamed of the name of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, I identify with that song for more reasons than one. And you know what’s coming, don’t you? I don’t think anyone who knows me would have a problem with how I relate to non-Catholic Christians. I try to be nice. Accommodating. Laissez-faire. Live-and-let-live. Trouble is, as a rule…the other side doesn’t. Those of you who don’t exhibit this attitude, scroll on to another blog entry if you like—this rant doesn’t apply to you. You know who you are. (Although you might want to scoll down to the end of this for the mini-quiz…just for fun.) So what brought this subject to the fore again? I had a telephone conversation a few days ago with a man who called to raise some problems he had with one of our pamphlets. It’s one called Are You Saved?, dealing with the issue of Catholics being confronted by evangelicals convinced we’re all going to hell—or at least that we’re misguided about our own salvation—and how we answer them. It’s Scriptural, it’s Catholic, and it’s darned good, if I do so myself, because it’s written by one heck of an author. Dr. Paul Thigpen is that author, and this man witnesses joyfully to two conversions in his life: from atheism to Christianity, and then from Protestant Christianity to the Catholic Church. He knows his Lord and he knows his Bible, and he engages in the preaching and teaching of the Word with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face. In other words, he’s about the farthest thing from a fanatical Papist slaving for the “whore of Babylon” that you could possibly find. But our phone caller didn’t care to hear about any of that. He called to tell me all about how we were “lying” about what Protestants believed. How no “genuine Christian” believed some of the things we’d stated in the pamphlet, and how we ought to be ashamed of ourselves for spreading such things…etc. Problem was, the caller was dead wrong. Dr. Thigpen comes from a staunch Baptist background in which many of the things he wrote in the pamphlet had been preached, and continue to be preached. I know this because I, too, sat in the pews of various Christian churches, from Baptist to Lutheran and a few in between—not to mention the fundamental Bible churches and nondenominational churches—where I also heard those same things preached. Every point Paul brings up in the pamphlet is something one can encounter, in one form or another, on the evangelical side of the fence. It’s not like anyone’s hiding these things under bushel baskets. Our caller, however, refused to even listen to the possibility. He quite flatly told me that “no genuine Christian” would believe those things, and if we’d heard them, we weren’t in Christian churches to begin with. (Would have surprised those ordained men up at the pulpits, it would.) But when he went to the place where he point-blank said that our author “obviously wasn’t a Christian” either, because he was in the Catholic Church, which “wasn’t a Christian church,” I stepped out of “customer is always right” mode and told him, gently but firmly, that he had made a quantum leap that no one, and I mean no one, has a right to make. I wish I could say this man was an extreme case, or an isolated instance. Unfortunately, he’s not. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to who say, “Oh, yeah, I used to be a Catholic, but then I became a Christian.” Invariably, it’s said with a smirk… …which leads me to wonder whether, in their minds, being “born again” also entitles one to be rude as hell. (I don’t want to believe this, but I’m beginning to wonder if I’m wrong, since it happens too consistently to be coincidental.) But what happens next is, if anything, even ruder. As surely as night follows day, these people then assume an earnest expression—which almost, but not quite, disguises the rubbing-hands-together-and-salivating—and proceed to launch into a smug series of assertions designed to poke holes in the “hypocrisy” and “apostasy” of the Catholic Church. Of course, all the information they use to point that out to me is, more often than not, itself inaccurate or at best incomplete; at the very least, it’s not based on any actual Catholic sources. But, ironically, that appears to be considered its strength. As one memorable critic said when a Catholic blogger challenged him, “Oh, I don’t debate with Catholic apologists.” Which makes you wonder, then, who in the world he—or any of these people—think they ought to be debating Catholicism with. In any other academic, intellectual, or yes, even spiritual discipline, this kind of ignorance would be seen as the prideful noise it is. You don’t even attempt to instruct someone else about a subject until you’ve read its authentic source material. I don’t attempt to explain Mozart by reading only Salieri’s account of him (unless I want to write a hit movie :-)
). I don’t explain Bach by studying Pachelbel. I don’t explain godliness by reading Dawkins, and I don’t explain the genius of modern invention without at least looking into the studies and notes of Edison, Ford, and—if I want to go back far enough—Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo.
But somehow, apparently no such discipline or education is thought needful when it comes to “instructing” Catholics in how wrong we are. No one who tries this seems to operate from the basis of having read the Church Fathers—or Scott Hahn, or Mark Shea, or Patrick Madrid, or John Salza, or Fr. Benedict Groeschel, or any one of a thousand good, solid Catholic sources that are both Scriptural and faithful to Catholicism—in order to think them over, dissect their arguments, and prevent convincing evidence of any fallacies.
On the contrary, I’ve usually been “witnessed to” with either “Biblical authority” (forgetting who gave us that Bible in the first place) or one of the many flavors of anti-Catholic bigotry spoon-fed by either secular media (an interesting source for preaching, I should say) or a pastor (who also knows nothing personally about the Catholic Church, because he wouldn’t be caught dead stepping through the doors of one) to convince me to leave my “apostate” Church and find the “truth” of being a Christian.
In other words, these smug souls consider that being Catholic is spreading some kind of disease, and it’s their duty to cure me of it.
Do any of them have any idea how sinful that whole mindset is?
Once again, apparently not.
We have a very large, very popular and very committed version of “Christianity” that further feels it has the right to tell me that when I gather (or “fellowship,” if you want to use an unbiblical word) with other Christians, I’d just better watch myself. I have “no right” to assert too much Catholic belief, to claim to belong to the true Church, or anything else that might ruffle a Protestant’s feathers. Even in the best of circumstances—when I can see some of these people needing a chiropractor soon, because they’re doing so much “charitable” bending-over-backwards to be “tolerant” of me—I hear one ignorant, insulting question over and over.
“If you know Jesus Christ,” they ask, “then why are you still Catholic?”
(Hint: if you don’t know why that question is ignorant and insulting, then you don’t know a lick about Catholicism, and you’re part of the problem.)
Swallowing the insult, I’ve answered that question in various ways over the years…always from a position of attempting to be humble, to answer Bible references with other Bible references, or otherwise “bridge” the gap between us. But after you’re asked the same dumb things over and over, by people who are supposed to know their Bible and their Christianity—after you have to explain for the 4,302nd time that it’s neither accurate nor intelligent to assume a Catholic is “unsaved”—you get tired of it all. You get discouraged.
And then it dawns on you, as it’s dawned on me…that the wrong people are asking the wrong question. And it’s time that the shoe goes on the other foot.
You see, evangelicals have no business asking me why I’m “still Catholic” unless they’re willing to answer why, in the face of 2,000 years of Spirit-led scholarship and history…they’re not.
So let me propose a modest challenge. A few questions of my own, as it were. But be forewarned: if you’re not prepared to answer these questions convincingly, don’t open your mouth around a good, devout Catholic and start spouting off about their “nonscriptural” Church or their “apostasy.” Otherwise, you’ll just bear out the Mark Twain adage, “Better to keep silent and have people wonder if you’re a fool, than open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
Take these on, if you will.
If you belong to the Biblical Church, and I don’t, then tell me…
…why you don’t believe in transubstantiation, when Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you,” and “my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”
…why you don’t participate in an ordained priesthood of men who offer sacrifice. Jesus didn’t spend the night before He died preaching to the apostles; He offered a sacrifice and told them to do likewise.
…why you don’t reverence Mary, when Luke writes, “…all generations shall call me blessed.”
...why you believe ‘once saved, always saved,’ when Paul refers to “working out our salvation with fear and trembling,” and James says “faith without works is dead”…
…and a few hundred more things I could bring up. (Need more Scripture stuff from my Church? Just ask. I can give you a line-by-line breakdown of the Mass that’ll blow your socks off.)
It’s time Catholics stopped apologizing for being Catholics and quit putting up with the browbeating and the condescension. We’ve got it, folks. Let’s quit hanging our heads and shuffling our feet and buttoning our lips about a Church that draws her beliefs from the words of Jesus Himself, draws her apostolic succession from Jesus’s commission to Peter, and draws her life from the very Real Presence of the Body and Blood of the Lord on every Catholic altar and in every Catholic sanctuary.
That should never make us smug…
…but it does make us really, really fortunate, and really blessed. And it’d be really nice if, for once, the rest of the Christian world would see, accept, and respect that.
Maybe this will be a start.