"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Why I Cannot be a Roman Catholic (Part 1): I believe in the catholic faith

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…]


Timothy said...

If not Roman Catholic, why not become Melkite Catholic?


Or Maronite Catholic?

Chaldean Catholic?

God bless...


Andrew said...

Jared, is this because my stupid blog posts and comments are angering you? if so, I'm sorry. I tend to write too triumphalistically at times. However, I am REALLY excited to see you write this series. I will always respect you greatly and I'm sure I will find it challenging and informative.

So fire away at the Roman Church, Calvin would be proud that you're standing your ground.

Jared Nelson said...


Because I am Reformed Catholic.


You have not angered me. In the discussion of ideas I think there must be some degree of separation between the idea and the person so as not to take personal offense. I don't always accomplish that but will try. (I haven't always, I remember I had a spirited disagreement with some students from Master's Seminary on a blog where is retrospect, I was unduly dismissive and disrespectful- but they started it!)

I respect your journey where I have seen it unfolding through intellectual rigiorous engagement. I just wanted to layout a fuller treatment, a sort of "Here I Stand." I've already started on some of the posts and I think it will be a unique approach as it comes from a Historical Theological rather than systematic or biblical approach (primarily). Or it could be stupid and the comments will let me know that! :)

Wesley said...

Being Anglican, this should be interesting. I tend to stand somewhere in the middle anyway.

I like your approach to reformed theology, magisterial and catholic.

Aaron said...

What am I protesting? The meaning of the word was really lost down through the years. If I remember and interpret my history right the name did not come from us "Protesting the Catholic Church" It was protesting the ramifications of several things that were put into motion after and by Worms. Chiefly that the "Lutheran" faith would be contained to certain regions in Germany. The Protest which was called for was that Christ's gospel should be named outside of, for example Saxony. So Jared's question is spot on. What am I protesting? We made it out of Saxony! You educated guys correct my history. I might be remembering it wrong or have a bad source in I remember this from "Here I Stand" by Bainton.


Aaron said...

I guess my point is in part, if you agree, I never say the early "protesters", I say the early "Reformers". I sense this is a underlying tone in Jared's thoughts over the years. Perhaps speaking for myself I am not interested in being a protester, but being a reformer was and is called for until Christ brings us unity here or more likely in eternity?

M. Jay Bennett said...

Paradoxically, my inability to be Catholic depends on my inability to recant the catholic faith.

Great hook Jared! I'm intrigued!

Can't wait to read this series and think along with you on this very important topic.

And BTW, just to encourage you a bit, for what its worth, I've noticed in the last few months or so of posting that your writing style/technique has improved. Not that there was anything terribly wrong with it to begin with, but I think anyone who writes always sees room for improvement. I know my writing needs it.