I have engaged many Roman Catholics when discussing religion, either online or in person. I enjoy engaging Catholics on common beliefs, and even on controversial issues. When I state my belief that tradition is important (even authoritative), that the church has authority in matters of discipline and that the canon of the New Testament is based (at least partially) on the testimony of the church - Roman Catholics usually want a sinner’s prayer conversion to Catholicism right there.
I feel I should first state that several pre-Trentine Catholics have been instrumental in my theological and spiritual development (such as Thomas Aquinas and Anselm of Canterbury). I have even appreciated some post-Trentine Catholics like Francis Thompson, Peter Kreeft, Richard John Neuhaus, Henri Nouwen, G.K. Chesterton, and James V. Schall.
But I am not Roman Catholic. I cannot be. Paradoxically, my inability to be Catholic depends on my inability to recant the catholic faith. I thought I would take a few posts over the next few days and explain what this means in a few important areas. I believe I have sufficiently posted on my own beliefs to warrant a critique of another tradition, without the charge that the project or my entire intention in blogging is merely negative.
But the task seems negative. In fact, to a degree it is and must be. In being a Protestant, it is a question one must ask: What am I protesting? By living in western civilization, one must at one time or another ask “Why am I not ‘Catholic’?” After all, Christianity is not a cafeteria where you get to choose those teachings which are to be authoritative and which are not. The catholic faith deserves submission.
This series also does not mean to imply that all Catholics are hell-bound. It does, however, imply and explicitly state (at least here) that the Roman Catholic church is not the external manifestation of the true Church. There are doctrines in the Roman Catholic church which I will not attack, for they are either correct or at a minimum not contrary to the Bible such as the honor of the saints, exercise of church discipline, paedobaptism, confession to a priest, doing penance, or exclusivity of salvation in the church, for though I may have critiques on their exercise and exclusivity in the Latin Church, they are not apostate beliefs.
Being Protestant means I protest certain things in the teachings of the church claiming catholicity. The Roman claim to catholicity is just as offensive to Protestants as my criticism of Rome’s demerits are to Catholics. So be it.
[Please note my use of ‘Catholic’ refers to Roman Catholics and ‘catholic’ refers to universal. As a Protestant, I hold that the two are NOT interchangeable. That is why Reformation Christians refer to Catholics sometimes as Papists or Romish, because they are not catholic in the truest sense of the word. But all that in due time…]