Ecclesial Consumerism

Jul 5th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

In our contemporary culture, church-shopping has become entirely normal and even expected. Not only when moving to a new location, but if a person has some falling out with a pastor or other individual or family in his church, or even if his church-experience starts seeming dull or dry, he visits and tries out other churches, determining which one best suits his preferences. He might consider the kind of community they offer — how welcomed and wanted they make him feel. He might consider the kind of child care and/or Sunday school they offer, the quality of the preaching and music, the driving distance, the ethnicity or degree of ethnic diversity, the average age and culture or tastes of their members, the opportunities available to contribute with his own talents and gifts, whether they have home groups that he could join, and what sort of moral and theological doctrines they hold, etc. He weighs all the various factors and tries to decide which church best matches what he (and his family) are looking for in a church. He might even make lists of all he is looking for in a church, and see which church comes closest to meeting all the criteria.

This phenomenon is called “ecclesial consumerism.” It does not go unnoticed by the churches. Some time ago I jotted down some lines in the church advertisement section in the local newspaper. One church advertised its “Rock ‘n Roll Youth Group.” Another said, “The people are real. The messages are for today. You’ll relate to the music. The dress is casual. We love to laugh. Have kids? So do we.” Another said, “Contemporary music, casual dress.” Another said, “Friendly, casual atmosphere, creative children’s ministries, great music/live band, relevant biblical messages!” Another said, “relevant and engaging teaching, real and inviting community, contemporary and energetic music, fresh and free bagels and coffee, kids ministries through 5th grade, comes as you are – we do.” Another said, “Authentic … Relevant … Casual; free coffee and bagels. Dress is casual. People are friendly. Music is Modern. Bagels are free.” Another said, “Incredible Music / Live Band; Creative Children’s Ministries; Positive, Practical Messages.” Another said that it “seeks to glorify the triune God by embracing the Gospel, building our community, making disciples and transforming societies.” It boasted a “Trio Jazz Worship Service.” Another said, “Worship for both your head & heart; Outstanding & diverse Music Program; Creative Sunday School during Worship; Dress is casual & cookies are included!; Youth, Young Adult & Family Fellowship; An Open and Affirming Congregation.” Another boasts of a “permanent outdoor labyrinth open to the public.” The various churches offered options between “Traditional worship,” “Blended worship,” “Contemporary worship,” “Casual worship,” and “Classic worship.” All of that was in the Religion section from one weekend paper.

Clearly, these religious organizations are trying to fill niches in consumer demand. Through a kind of free-market process, they are reflections of what people [believe they] are looking for in a church. These advertisements reveal not only the various features that people want in their ‘church experience,’ but also that many Christians, whether consciously aware of it or not, now conceive of church in a consumeristic way. ‘Church’ is about fulfilling my needs and desires, about giving me the best religious experience available in my area, with the best music and the most “awesome” worship experience, and the community that makes me feel most accepted and appreciated. This consumerist mentality turns church into a market-driven phenomenon. Just as we can get a personalized, custom-made teddy bear at the local mall, so we can get a religious experience on Sunday morning that is custom-made to fit our particular religious appetites, preferences, interpretations, expectations, beliefs, etc. We can find a community of persons that most closely meets our perceived needs, people with whom we are most comfortable, people just like ourselves who go the extra mile to understand and support us. The phenomenon of “contemporary worship” is an obvious expression of this consumerism, and it sets itself up for this kind of critique:

“Sunday’s Coming” Movie Trailer from North Point Media.

Perhaps we have some vague sense that something is not right here. But what exactly is the root of the problem?

Before answering that question, consider another example. The Health & Wealth form of Christianity largely took shape in the United States in the mid to late twentieth century, in the writings and preaching of E.W. Kenyon, Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland. But now it is being exported from the United States to many other parts of the world, including Africa:

The Prosperity Gospel from The Global Conversation on Vimeo.

The Health & Wealth gospel is a false gospel, as Fr. Barron succinctly explains. But I used to view the Health & Wealth form of Christianity as a radical aberration from Protestantism. Of course in certain ways it is. Yet, over time I have come to believe that the Health & Wealth form of Christianity is simply a more unabashed and fully developed expression of the very same ecclesial consumerism that is intrinsic to Protestantism as such, because in Protestantism the individual retains ultimate interpretive authority, and so is de facto his own ecclesial and spiritual center of gravity. Ultimately there is no principled difference between selecting a worship experience on the basis of what it does for me, and selecting a theology or interpretation of Scripture based on what it [promises to give] to me, or selecting a denomination based on how closely it matches my own interpretation of Scripture. In each case the ultimate criterion remains conformity to my tastes, desires, opinions and interpretations. There is no principled difference between choosing where to worship based on conformity to my own interpretation of Scripture, and choosing where to worship based on its conformity to my own musical preferences, whether the dress is formal or informal, whether there are plenty of people there my age, or whether the preaching ‘feeds me.’ In each case, I remain the consumer, customizing my ecclesial selection at the drive-thru that is the religious scene of contemporary American life. The two videos above might initially seem miles apart, but they are both criticizing different expressions of the very same ecclesial consumerism.

As difficult as it is to believe, if we worship in a community or organization that is custom-made to our own tastes, desires, self-perceived needs, and interpretations, we are nevertheless worshiping a god made in our own image, and in this way ultimately worshiping ourselves, even as we sing praise choruses describing how much we love Jesus. For this reason if we identify or locate ‘the church’ by finding the most moving religious experience, or by finding and associating with the people most like ourselves, who most closely share our interpretation of Scripture, we’re engaging in an ecclesial consumerism that is ultimately a religious form of narcissism.1 All these expressions of ecclesial consumerism are all ultimately about sufficiently conforming to and gratifying the consumer. Paradoxically, however, every form of ecclesial consumerism is finally unsatisfying. The deepest desire of the human heart is union with the God in whose image we are made, not the god who is made in our image. The ‘church’ formed by way of ecclesial consumerism is thus shaped in the form of our self-perceived needs and desires; not in the divine form that alone can meet those needs. And so church-in-our-own-image cannot be ultimately satisfying; we end up demanding from it what it cannot provide to us, leaving behind a trail of bitter, burned out, and disillusioned people.

Ecclesial consumerism carries with it a crucial theological assumption. The church-shopping phenomenon presupposes that none of the churches is the true Church that Christ founded. That’s precisely why the church-shopper believes he can pick whichever presently existing church best suits him. If, however, one of the present churches is the true Church that Christ founded, and the others are to some degree or other mere imitations, then none of those other criteria (e.g. quality of preaching, conformity to one’s own interpretation, musical endowment, child care provision, community, etc.) is relevant in determining where to be on Sunday mornings. Only if none of the existing churches is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Christ founded do the other criteria become relevant. In short, only if Christ never founded a visible universal Church, or it ceased to exist, does ecclesial consumerism become an option.2

In the proper order of inquiry, however, one can engage in ecclesial consumerism only after one has established that either Christ never founded a visible universal Church, or that it ceased to exist. But the invisible-church ecclesiology underlying the contemporary practice of church-shopping is typically taken for granted, never established.3 Invisible-church ecclesiology is part of the theological air we breath in our present religious culture, so familiar and ubiquitous that it remains unnoticed and unconsidered to all those within it.

This is why ecclesial consumerists typically do not know that they are ecclesial consumerists. And this is why they assume that every other Christian thinks about church as they do. When they encounter Catholics, they generally treat Catholics as if Catholics are church-shoppers too, i.e. as if the Catholic is a Catholic only because the Catholic finds the Catholic Church most satisfying to his personal needs and tastes, and not because the Catholic believes that the Catholic Church is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church founded by Christ, and whose bishops assembled in ecumenical council at Nicea in A.D. 325 and again in Constantinople in A.D. 381 to state the Church’s faith concerning herself with those very words, “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” The church-shopper is not trying to be rude or offensive; he simply has no concept of “the true Church founded by Christ.” The concept does not even fit within his theological paradigm.

When the church-shopper discovers in dialogue that the Catholic is a Catholic, the church-shopper typically responds like this: “Oh, that’s great for you. I’m glad you found a place that you like. I went to a Catholic service once, and it just wasn’t my style.” At that point in the conversation the Catholic is thinking, “What I like ultimately has nothing to do with why I am a Catholic. I’m Catholic because I believe the Catholic Church to be the one, true Church that Christ founded, and all other churches to be sects or schisms from her.” The two persons are in entirely different conceptual worlds.

St. Paul predicted the coming of ecclesial consumerism when he wrote:

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

The sound doctrine just seemed too dull and unhelpful to them. In their minds it didn’t feed them or give them peace. They wanted to hear what they wanted to hear, not what the Church had to say. Hence they rejected their lawful shepherds, and chose for themselves ‘teachers’ who said what they wanted to hear, what resonated with their own interpretation of Scripture, and was presented according to their own tastes and styles. St. Paul treats picking teachers on the basis of their saying what we want to hear, as ear-itching. But picking teachers based on their agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture is essential to Protestant practice.4

How can a person determine if he is an ecclesial consumerist? How can a person determine of he is one of those described in 2 Timothy 4:3-4?

One is an ecclesial consumerist if one’s decision regarding which ‘church’ to attend or join is based ultimately on anything other than this question: Which Church is the one founded by the incarnate Christ, and against which the gates of hell shall not prevail?

Catholicism is the exact opposite of ecclesial consumerism, because the agape that comes from Christ is the exact opposite of the narcissism intrinsic to ecclesial consumerism. In the second chapter of his book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis describes hell as a “grey town” that is constantly expanding at its outskirts, leaving empty houses and streets behind, as people unable to get along, perpetually seek to move farther away from each other. They each want to be lord of their own domain; they want everything to be just the way they want it. But because they each want to be lord of their own domain, they cannot get along with each other. And so they must continually separate from each other.

This description of hell stands in contrast to the unity and catholicity of the Church, a Church that is not built on any mere man, or on any mere man’s interpretation or idea or vision. Divine unity comes to us only from the God-man, Jesus Christ, and so the true Church of Christ can only be that Church that Christ founded, not any schism or sect formed or founded by any mere man. True unity in charity can only be had when we die to our self, and give up locating ‘the church’ by pursuing worship leaders who titillate us, and stop seeking teachers who agree with our own interpretation. True unity requires that we stop pursuing conformity to ourselves, seek the Church that Christ founded, and in this way abandon the narcissism that insists on “church, my way.” Only when we die to ourselves can we find the Church that Christ founded, and only in this way can we find the ecclesial unity Christ established in His Church and for which He infallibly prayed in John 17. Only then are we truly home in the house of the Lord.5

One rightly comes to the Church in the same humility in which one comes to Christ and the Apostles: not with lists of requirements and demands that must be met before one will enter and submit. That approach might remind us of some of the ‘ghosts’ in Lewis’ The Great Divorce, making demands about what they would get in heaven, before they would agree to go there. Whatever it is that must conform to our own judgments before we will submit to it or enter it, is something man-made, something beneath and below us. The Church is not only made by God, but more importantly, she is joined to God as His mystical Body. In that respect she is divine, because her Head is Christ, who is God, and because she is the temple of the Holy Spirit. And for that reason we should expect to find that some of the true Church’s teachings and practices do not align with our own opinions regarding what the Church should be like. In encountering the true Church that Christ founded, we should expect to have to conform ourselves to her, not seek to conform her to ourselves and to our own tastes. If we seek to create a ‘church’ in our own image, or join one already made in our own image, we can know that we are forming or entering a man-made entity, not the divine society founded by the God-man Jesus Christ.

Each ecclesial consumerist makes ‘church’ in his own image, and so in this respect excludes himself from Christ’s Church and thus in this respect from Christ. Since Christ made the Church in His own image, if we wish to follow Christ, and not follow ourselves, we must turn away from ecclesial consumerism, and find, enter and conform to the Church Christ founded.

  1. Even the architecture reflects this; see here. []
  2. See my post titled “Why Protestantism has no visible catholic Church.” []
  3. On invisible-church ecclesiology, see “Christ Founded a Visible Church.” []
  4. Nineteenth century American Presbyterian theologian W.G.T Shedd wrote:

    “Of course Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith. But this particular way of appealing to Scripture is specious and fallacious. In the first place, it assumes that Calvinism is not Scriptural, an assumption which the Presbyterian Church has never granted. . . . Secondly, this kind of appeal to Scripture is only an appeal to Scripture as the reviser understands it. Scripture properly means the interpretation of Scripture; that is, the contents of Scripture as reached by human investigation and exegesis. Creeds, like commentaries, are Scripture studied and explained, and not the mere abstract and unexplained book as it lies on the counter of the Bible House. The infallible Word of God is expounded by the fallible mind of man, and hence the variety of expositions embodied in the denominational creeds. But every interpreter claims to have understood the Scriptures correctly, and, consequently, claims that his creed is Scriptural, and if so, that it is the infallible truth of God. The Arminian appeals to the Articles of Wesley as the rule of faith, because he believes them to be the true explanation of the inspired Bible. . . . The Calvinist appeals to the creeds of Heidelberg, Dort, and Westminster as the rule of faith, because he regards them as the accurate exegesis of the revealed Word of God. By the Bible these parties, as well as all others who appeal to the Bible, mean their understanding of the Bible. There is no such thing as that abstract Scripture to which the revisionist of whom we are speaking appeals; that is, Scripture apart from any and all interpretation of it. When, therefore, the advocate of revision demands that the Westminster Confession be conformed to Scripture , he means conformation to Scripture as he and those like him read and explain it. It is impossible to make abstract Scripture the rule of faith for either an individual or a denomination. No Christian body has ever subscribed to the Bible merely as a printed book. A person who should write his name on the blank leaf of the Bible and say that his doctrinal belief was between the covers, would convey no definite information as to his creed.”

    See also here. []

  5. Of course this raises the question: Isn’t seeking the Church that Christ founded also a form of ecclesial consumerism? No, it is the exact opposite. It is the humble willingness to conform entirely to that Church that Christ founded, even if is muddy and unpleasant, as the Jordan water was to Naaman the leper. (See 2 Kings 5.) See also “The Tu Quoque.” []
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116 comments
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  1. Re: The “Sunday’s Coming” trailer.

    Simply put: It’s funny because it’s true.

  2. This is good, Bryan. Very close to my own family experiences growing up Protestant. I’m curious what you would say, however, about parish shopping within the Catholic Church.

    The parish I attend is pretty liberal. During the RCIA process, our priest openly expressed his belief that women should be priests; the RCIA director told me privately that he didn’t like those “fundamentalist Catholics” like Scott Hahn, and that he liked the former, more liberal Bishop much more than the new, more traditional one. I’m sure it’s pretty well par for the course as liberal parishes go, but there have been times when I’ve considered going further afield to find a less self-consciously “progressive” parish. One thing that has stopped me is thinking that doing so would be taking a step backward, seeking a church community more closely aligned with my beliefs instead of accepting the shepherds God has placed in my very neighborhood.

  3. Hey Bryan,

    Very thoughtful article.

    You wrote, “There is no principled difference between choosing where to worship based on conformity to my own interpretation of Scripture, and choosing where to worship based on its conformity to my own musical preferences, whether the dress is formal or informal, whether there are plenty of people there my age, or whether the preaching ‘feeds me.’ In each case, I remain the consumer, customizing my ecclesial selection at the drive-thru that is the religious scene of contemporary American life.”

    I hear what you’re saying, but it also raises questions about the “Catholic drift” I’ve seen in many of my friends at seminary. Though interpreting Scripture apart from authoritative tradition, their own interpretation of Scripture has made them seek communions closer to Catholicism in Church structure and worship. Many, as C2C affirms, have discovered the truth of the Catholic Church through this process. However, I don’t know anybody who found the Catholic Church through following their desire for “musical preferences, whether the dress is formal or informal”. This would tell me that in fact there is a “principled difference” in how one chooses where to worship. I say this because I believe, as a Catholic, that the best way to prove the truth of Catholicism to theologically minded Protestants is to ask them to prove from Scripture where they think the magisterial teaching of the Catholic Church ever contradicts the plain reading of Scripture. I know this raises the obvious question of whether or not Catholic apologists should enter into the sola scriptura paradigm in order to argue for the truth of Catholicism.

    Thanks! Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  4. I don’t think liturgy is different from theology. People can be attracted to the Catholic church by its theology but the decision to be Catholic is different. They say the hardest infallible statement to ascent to is the next one. If you have decided you can accept anything in current Catholic theology and become Catholic on that basis you may not have surrendered you obedience to Christ’s truth. You may still be doing your own quality control to make sure the church is up to snuff.

    The same can happen with liturgy . You can be attracted to the Catholic mass. It might be the most appealing Sunday morning experience in the town you live and you might become Catholic on that basis. But have you really become Catholic? I can see the two as parallel.

  5. Hello Scott, (re: #2)

    Thanks for your comment, and good question. I addressed this question in the first paragraph of this comment in January. In short, there is a principled difference between finding an orthodox parish within the Catholic Church, and forming or joining a sect that is not in full communion with the Catholic Church, in order to hear our own interpretation preached from the pulpit. In the former case, one is neither causing nor participating in a schism, while in the latter case one is doing just that. Schism is an intrinsic evil, and therefore can never be justified (because the ends never justify a means that is intrinsically evil). Regarding the intrinsic evil of schism St. Augustine writes to the Donatists:

    “[T]o come through too great love for our own opinion, or through jealousy of our betters, even to the sacrilege of dividing the communion of the Church, and of founding heresy or schism, is a presumption worthy of the devil. … For if [those bishops] had not only given up the [sacred] books to be burned, but had actually burned them with their own hands, they would have been guilty of a less sin than if they had committed schism; for schism is visited with the heavier, the other with the lighter punishment, not at man’s discretion, but by the judgment of God. … Wherefore, then, have ye severed yourselves [from the Church]? Wherefore, while shunning the lighter offenses, which are inventions of your own, have ye committed the heaviest offense of all, the sacrilege of schism?” (On Baptism II.5,6, 7)

    Elsewhere he writes:

    “There is nothing more grievous than the sacrilege of schism….there can be no just necessity for destroying the unity of the Church” (Contra Epistolam Parmeniani, lib. ii., cap. ii., n. 25).

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  6. Jeremy, (re: #3)

    Thanks for your comment. My claim in the post is that the primacy of the individual in retaining ultimate interpretive authority underlies the ecclesial consumerism we see all around us. That is perfectly compatible with more people coming to the Catholic faith through their study of Scripture than through following their aesthetic preferences in determining where to worship.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  7. I would say that in communities with multiple orthodox Catholic parishes, Catholicism is not immune to this either. But I don’t really see a problem with it. In my town, there are three main Catholic parishes. One is very traditional. Probably as traditional as you can find without having a Tridentine Mass. The priest there is an intellectual and his homilies are quite philosophical. I love him in the times I’ve heard him speak but others feel like much of what he says goes over their head.

    Another is a touch more “laid back”. Not quite contemporary, but much more so than the traditional one. And they have a lot of programs for kids and youth compared to the other two. Most families with young children attend this one. The priest there has good depth to his homilies but is probably more accessible and “practical” for people who aren’t intellectuals.

    Then there’s a rather contemporary one that while orthodox technically, isn’t known for great spiritual depth and discipleship programs. The homilies there are rather light and lack depth but aren’t heretical or anything.

    Even if you eliminate the latter one, that’s still two orthodox parishes with significant “consumeristic” differences. And many people in town who are Catholic don’t live significantly closer to one or the other. What would be wrong with them choosing one over the other based on what fits their family the best, where they feel welcomed, where they feel the least amount of things to overcome so they can focus on worship, etc.?

    I see a similar process going on with the Protestants you mention. It’s not that they are looking for a church that scratches all their consumer itches. They just want a place that makes it easier to connect with and worship God and some of those things include traits you label as consumerist, but really are just things that don’t put up obstacles to worship.

  8. Ragamuffin, (re: #7)

    Good to hear from you. It has been a while since we’ve corresponded. I agree that Catholics are not immune from the temptation to ecclesial consumerism. This is in large part precisely why a number of Catholics leave the Church, because, for example, they have a stimulating and emotional experience at a nearby Pentecostal worship center. Whenever any question other than “Is this the Church that Christ founded?” is the determining criterion by which one decides where to worship, ecclesial consumerism is at work. But as I explained in comment #5, after that question (“Is this the Church that Christ founded?”) has been answered [affirmatively], then other criteria may play a subordinate role in determining where one worships within the Church that Christ founded.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  9. “What would be wrong with them choosing one over the other based on what fits their family the best, where they feel welcomed, where they feel the least amount of things to overcome so they can focus on worship, etc.?”

    When I was a kid in the pre-V2 world, everyone belonged to the nearest parish. The content at all of them was the same, and this stayed true through about 1968. Once Catholics began to church-shop, the parishes became distinctive. I think it began with the music: folk music or traditional.

    My guess is that the idea of each parish having its own character would be greatly diminished if we returned to geographic parishes…not that it will happen in my lifetime.

  10. Thank you, Bryan [ed.]. As a new Catholic who drifted through every aisle in the supermarket, I am thankful to be Home.

    As far as pre Vatican II or post VII…I just know what alot of the good people in my parish tell me. Right now I’m just so thrilled to be in the faith I wouldn’t care if the Magisterium decreed we had to stand on our heads and say the “Nicene Creed” backwards! I’m just thankful that I’m in the Church that Christ promised the gates of hell would not prevail against. He never said they wouldn’t try, but part of faith is to believe Him completely that He will never allow it to destroy His Bride.

    Pax Christi,
    Teri

  11. Scott B,

    In regard to your comment, I can see what you mean, as a former Protestant, in your thinking that it might be a step backward to look around for a more orthodox parish. I am a Catholic– a former Reformed Baptist who just *returned* to the Catholic Church–, and I refuse to go to the parish closest to me, because I have serious doctrinal concerns with the homilies there, as described by a friend of mine who attended previously. Therefore, I go to another parish, which is not really that far away– perhaps five more minutes by car. My point here, though, and it is one that is relevant to your own situation, is that I am not looking for a parish which reflects *my own personal interpretation* of what the Catholic Church teaches.

    In this sense, then, I am not “church-shopping,” as a Reformed Protestant might, to find a church which reflects his own interpretation of Scripture. Rather, I simply want to be in a parish which teaches what the Catholic Church *actually, objectively teaches*, which can be objectively found in the Catechism. Admittedly, I’m thinking of my own spiritual health here, which is a good thing, but I’m thinking even more of the spiritual health of any future children I might father (if I ever marry).
    With the rampant flouting, mocking, and wide misunderstanding, of the Church’s teaching which already exist in the wider society at large, do I want my possible future family to be in a heterodox parish where they are simply getting a “Catholic version” of what they already hear in the world?

    I don’t think, at all, that it would be a step backward for you to seek out an orthodox Catholic parish, as long as your driving concern is that the teaching there accurately reflects the objective teaching of the Church in the catechism. If you genuinely feel led to stay in your current parish, and work for change, to help it be more faithful to Church teaching, that is certainly a legitimate choice– as is the choice to seek an orthodox Catholic parish. The latter would not be a move back to Protestant thinking, because it would not be a move back to private interpretation of Scripture (whether of the kind found in “solo Scriptura” or “sola Scriptura” thinking), but rather, a move *toward* the objective teaching of the Church (as taught in a local parish).

  12. I wonder how many visible preachers in the invisible church would stand still for an invisible offering.

  13. Great blog, Bryan. Thanks so much for sharing. We are all called to follow Christ, and not ourselves.

  14. When, in 1994, my wife and I had concluded that we must become Catholics in order to obey the truth, and it became apparent that our local parish – indeed, diocese – was rather blah, at best – that they wanted us to go through RCIA, even though it was certain (and, in the event, was realised as true) that the content would vary from pretty simplistic to actually wrong, one or two keen friends told us we shouldn’t settle for that. We should go to Diocese X, where the bishop was much more orthodox, and see Father Y, who would, considering that we were pretty well catechised already, receive us privately, I said that I had spent 25 years as a Protestant doing that, and didn’t want to enter the Catholic Church as a Protestant who made the sign of the Cross.

    I have never regretted that. There is quite a lot of Catholic parish-hopping around. Our parish is … well, it’s not much to write home about :-) But I think the whole parish idea is of great importance. I remember one time, a priest at Mass reminding us that the parish was not the Catholics in our area – it was the area itself – and that all the souls in it – Catholics, atheists, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s witnesses, whatever – were our concern, our neighbours, our responsibility.

    jj

    My Journey

  15. Scott B.

    It sounds like we went through the same RCIA program : )

    You weren’t in Dallas were you?

  16. John (comment #12),

    Respectfully, my brother, I don’t see how it is objectively accurate to say that if you had chosen to go to an orthodox Catholic parish, over the more “liberal” (heterodox) one, that you would have been acting as a “Protestant receiving the sign of the Cross.”

    As I wrote to Scott above, what is at issue, in the seeking of an orthodox Catholic parish, is the desire to find a faithful presenting of what the Church *objectively, athoritatively teaches*. What is at issue, by contrast, in Protestant “church-shopping,” is the desire to find a particular Protestant church which matches a particular Protestant Christian’s *personal interpretation* of Scripture.

    The difference between the Catholic and the Protestant, in these respective situations, is real, and it is principled. Your choice was a perfectly legitimate one, but Catholics who seek out orthodox parishes simply are not “Protestant(s) making the sign of the Cross.”

  17. The video is spot on!

  18. Scott B: – no, not in Dallas. I am a little reluctant to name the parish as it’s not exceptionally bad or anything – but I’m in New Zealand. We did sponsor someone through RCIA in another parish and the programme was even worse :-(

    Christopher Lake – I should, perhaps, be clear. Our parish isn’t notably heterodox – well, I mean, it does put up with a certain amount of elderly-nun flakiness, but Father doesn’t teach that women can be ordained or that the Pope can err or something. It’s just – well, Mass is Mass, it is valid, and as I say, the homilies are not grossly heretical. I would not tolerate serious error. I would either complain or go elsewhere. I did just that (went elsewhere) for a couple of years regarding our University Newman Centre’s mid-day Masses when the priest there communed self-identified non-Catholics, for instance, and in other ways was just bad.

    But I really think it would smack of Protestantism to go parish-hopping, short of quite serious error.

    Or maybe I’m just lazy. The nearest parish that I know of that would be a significant improvement is a 50-minute drive.

    jj

    My Journey

  19. John (#15),

    I understand where you are coming from, and again, your choice is perfectly legitimate. The reason that I had the impression of your parish being heterodox is what you described about your RCIA classes. Were they at another parish? For a priest to teach in RCIA that women should be ordained priests is heretical.

    One of the reasons for my seeking out an orthodox Catholic parish (in both the homilies and in RCIA classes) is because of what I myself experienced, as a Catholic convert in RCIA classes, many years ago. The heterodox teaching confused me, about what the Church *truly, objectively teaches,* and partially, it led to me becoming an anti-Catholic Reformed Baptist for years.

    Of course, I know now, with certainty, that I can go to the Catechism and find what the Church objectively teaches, regardless of what the priest or CCD or RCIA teachers may be teaching in my parish.

    However, if I can go to a parish where the *objective Catholic faith* is accurately presented, why would I want to willingly sit under heterodox, non-Catholic (truly “Protestant” in spirit!) teaching in a Catholic parish? Why would I subject my possible future children to such teaching? I don’t see how it would be good for our souls. However, again, I do respect your choice, my brother.

  20. Part of the problem is that there are very few parishes in my experience in New Zealand that can be said to teach the objective Catholic faith accurately and clearly. From the beginning I think I knew that that would be so. Even that parish 50 minutes away isn’t that great. And I have seen a number of people – one convert and one revert – shoot right through the Church and out the other side on this issue. One is now SSPX, the other actually a sedevacantist.

    I knew that I would have to be, to a degree, self-taught. My youngest at the time was 13; my oldest 20. We had been a theological debating society at home the last year before our conversion :-) So at our RCIA class we, in effect, ended up teaching them. And now I help teach at a Wednesday night Rosary that is helping a number of persons to grow.

    jj

    My Journey

  21. John,

    I’m sorry– I got the very little that you described about your RCIA process (in #12) mixed up with what Scott B wrote about his RCIA classes (in #2)! Mea culpa! :-)

  22. Okay, I’ll weigh in here as a cradle Catholic, semi-fallen away nominal – to – revert whose apogee as a dissenter was marked by a moment in an RCIA class when the Priest hand waved past contraception with a “follow your own conscience” dismissal of the need to live and breath with Christ in the Church.

    Responding to all – and not anyone directly in particular but something from each of you probably.

    I am not a member of my geographic parish, however I do attend the Parish where I was formally geographically within the boundaries, but am not inclined to switch. That is partly out of loyalty to my Parish and the particular needs of that inner city commuter community, and also originally out of preference for the smaller size of the community where I feel like I can make a bigger contribution. A few years ago that was the choice to stay with a relatively uninspiring liturgy, and a run-down church and give up the most popular and orthodox and liturgical priest in the deanery. Now I can be grateful I’m not butting heads with the recently assigned early 70s Berkley seminary priest.

    If I am in town it is rare that I attend Sunday mass anywhere but my home parish. However in any given month I usually go to daily mass at 7 or more parishes! And I see people I know at every mass I attend. That is the great thing about being Catholic. I can see the appeal of Church shopping. There are really spectacular liturgies available within an easy drive for me, and my pastor’s homilies are dry and he isn’t “into” grand liturgy. On occasion I go to the Extraordinary Form on a Saturday evening or the Domincan Rite on a the first Saturday of the Month (Latin). A few times I’ve taken the family to the Maronite Rite and would like to Church Shop there!!!! But I am committed to my Parish, and have stayed committed through 5 pastors. And I plan to stay committed through the next pastor as well…

    But there are qualifications to that. If the Faith of my children is in jeopardy I will have to protect them from heresy.

    Currently although several factors encourage moving to another diocese nearer to family, I won’t move because of the lack of a solid parish in the area, and the Bishop – but that is changing so I’ll wait and see. If I have to move to that diocese we will be attending the Byzantine Rite. When I last lived there I was drifting on the fringes of a sedavacantist group that is quite healthy and growing in that area.

    In general I am opposed to Catholics permanently abandoning their home parish because of the music or the pastor or the programs, although I am fine with visiting regularly. I’ve seen bad things happen in communities where everyone flocks to one parish for a while, and then stampedes to another.

  23. GNW Paul: I am fine with visiting regularly

    Oh, well, as to visiting … :-)

    Mondays-Thursdays I attend Mass at the Cathedral as I work in the City.

    Friday I attend Mass at the local Newman Centre at the University where I work – to show solidarity.

    At least one Sunday a month my wife and I visit our son and his family, 100 Km away, and attend Mass at one of two parishes along the way.

    When there is something happening with a friend at another parish, we may go there.

    And 2-3 Sundays a month we are at our home parish, where we live.

    One of the great things about being a Catholic is that there is one Church – and wherever you go, there are Catholics.

    jj

  24. Due to my disability and being unable to drive, I don’t have the opportunity to go to different Masses at different parishes throughout the week. This probably contributed, even more, to my desire to find an orthodox parish, because that is where I will be hearing almost all of the homilies that I hear, experiencing the liturgy, and getting almost all of my (physical, everyday life) Catholic fellowship.

    I will say, though, that if I am still living where I currently am, when the current, orthodox priest leaves this parish, I will not go to another one, unless the new priest openly teaches heresy. I believe, very much, that it is important to settle in one parish and stay there, if possible.

  25. John (#17),

    God bless you, in all that you are doing to teach and help, in your situation. The Church in NZ seems to be in great need of faithful priests. Perhaps some of the younger, orthodox priests that are coming out of the seminaries here in the U.S. (ironically, since many of the seminaries, themselves, aren’t necessarily faithful to Catholic teaching!) will come to NZ.

    However dire things appear to be in the Church from what we can see though, God will still not allow the gates of Hell to prevail over her. If things ever came to such a horrible pass that there were no orthodox parish priests, anywhere in the world (Lord, have mercy!), we can still know that the Pope would never teach heresy in matters of faith and morals. Of that we can be assured. There is an objective, definable, discoverable Catholic faith, and the Pope will authoritatively teach it. Christ founded the Church and the Papacy, and He guards what He founds.

  26. I didn’t know you are disabled but in any case that means it is even more important that you are in a parish that feeds you.

    I should mention another aspect of being in a parish: community. We first started attending Mass there at the beginning of 1994. Since then we have known many, become dear friends of many, seen many die, young children become young adults. There is no substitute for that, as well. Of course being faithful in a non-parish community can give that, too. But anyway, that is part of it for us.

    Christopher, if you want to e-mail me, I’d enjoy discussing one thing and another with you off-list. The address is:

    j
    dot
    jensen

    at

    auckland

    dot

    ac

    do

    nz

    jj

  27. I might add that its important for us to try to effect positive change in our parishes where possible. About a year ago we were close to leaving our parish and going to an uber orthodox parish downtown. Its not that our parish was that bad…it was just this other one was better. However, we decided to stay the course and get more involved. Now I am on the RCIA team and my wife and I are teaching baptism classes.

  28. Sean,

    I completely agree with you about the goodness and rightness of staying and working for change at parishes where possible. That is one sense (of many) in which I am grateful for my specific Reformed Baptist background. I was a member of a “9 Marks of a Healthy Church”-affiliated (Reformed Baptist pastor Mark Dever’s ministry) church, and one of the things that is strongly emphasized there is the importance of staying, loving, working in, and praying for, not-as-healthy churches, *when* it does not cause actual harm to one’s soul.

    As a Catholic, I won’t leave a parish over not-so-great homilies, music, or fellowship. For better or worse, if I did, that would leave out a lot of parishes! I will only leave if I am repeatedly hearing heretical homilies, or if the RCIA classes are heretical, and the parish won’t allow me to help in teaching them, so that the heresy might hopefully be countered.

  29. Or if the parish won’t work to better its RCIA classes, with or without me.

  30. Just a thought about RCIA Classes — most of the Protestants that come to the RCIA in my area (we have one Parish Church and the rest are called “missionary churches”??) have done most if not all of their background homework on the Catholic Church. I don’t just mean what she teaches and believes. I mean literally starting with the time of Christ through the Reformation where their particular denomination or group jumped ship, up to the present age.

    Not to sound arrogant, but we could almost teach the classes. However, thankfully, our Priest and RCIA Director go much deeper to help us understand even more.

    Where we live in this pocket of the south that is between “we hate Catholics-the Whore of Babylon” and “Catholic..we got them here??” ; you don’t even think of entering the Catholic Church door unless you know the truth and are compelled to obey it.

    Peace be with you,

    Teri

  31. Great article Bryan.

    It is easy to see how people fall into church consumerism: By having the carpet (visible church) pulled out from under their feet. If we don’t see that Christ actually founded a tangible church that we sumbit to, then hey, why not shop around for the best music, programs, bagels, etc? I can’t blame them.

    Ironically, now that I am visiting nearby parishes here in the western suburbs of Minneapolis, I am finding that as we are sitting in the pew, my wife and I frequently look over at each other with a raised eybrow. I have now been to 3 masses in my life. One at a cathedral of Saint Paul, two at small town churches. Mostly the music (other than the Cathedral pipes!) is just stuff we are not at all used to. I can’t remember the last time I heard a guitar in church. I found it so distracting to the point of just focusing on it. If it were renaissance style guitar perhaps I would not have been distracted.

    At one parish no one seemed to sing, and we are used to singing loud and proud at our old Presbyterian church. I can also say that I have now heard a 5 minute sermon. I thought people were joking about that, but they are not. My wife’s eyebrows raised real high at the end of that!

    I say all that to come to this point. When I saw the priest consecrate the elements during the Mass, I knew there could be no going back for me. THAT is what I am here for. Christ is what we are in church for. I felt at home with these people. Guitar or not! It made me feel a strange sense of being part of something way bigger than my preferences, or my opinions about music. I began to feel a bit guilty at my judgemental attitude and eyebrow raising. Don’t get me wrong, I will still try to find a parish I am not TOO distracted in, and that my children don’t want to dance during church, but it will be close to home and we will go there because it is Christ’s church, not because it has free bagels and coffee.

    This may not be on topic, but how bad should I feel about “hopping” over a close, orthodox, parish to go to one based on factors like music or sermons? I can get over it if I need to, but if it is not a big deal, then can I go further from home based on aesthetics? I want to get this right now rather than later. Any suggestions folks?

    Peace,

    -David M.

  32. David,

    In reply to your questions here,

    “This may not be on topic, but how bad should I feel about “hopping” over a close, orthodox, parish to go to one based on factors like music or sermons? I can get over it if I need to, but if it is not a big deal, then can I go further from home based on aesthetics? I want to get this right now rather than later. Any suggestions folks?”

    I’ll re-post my own thoughts from earlier in the thread (#25 and #26):

    “As a Catholic, I won’t leave a parish over not-so-great homilies, music, or fellowship. For better or worse, if I did, that would leave out a lot of parishes! I will only leave if I am repeatedly hearing heretical homilies, or if the RCIA classes are heretical, and the parish won’t allow me to help in teaching them, so that the heresy might hopefully be countered. Or if the parish won’t work to better its RCIA classes, with or without me.”

  33. David, one more thought– given that you haven’t yet settled in a parish, my comments above may be of limited relevance, but I would still say that the closer, not-as-great, but-not-heretical parish might be better, ultimately, than the more aesthetically pleasing parish with the knock-out homilies 45 minutes away. If it’s a matter of choosing one of two parishes that are relatively close to each other though, I would say, think hard about which one will be best for your spiritual growth, not just in terms of deep theology, but perhaps even more, in terms of which one will assist growth in love and humility.

  34. David re:”but how bad should I feel about “hopping” over a close, orthodox, parish to go to one based on factors like music or sermons? ”

    Don’t worry about it too much, do what seems right for your family. But 45mins means you aren’t going to be really involved in that parish over the longer term.

    As a family you are new to the Church and getting proper formation and being integrated into the community can rightly take precedence over any responsibility to your territorial Parish. Personally, I’m betting the parish you prefer for music and liturgy is going to have a more solid RCIA program and is likely to have more families like yours to welcome you into the Church.

    As for the music, many parishes have a different style for each Mass. Sat. Evening is typically no music or just a cantor. Early AM (if available) on Sunday is the same. For the two big Sunday Masses, one is often “folk” or “contemporary” while the other more “traditional.” If you were distracted by the guitars at the 9:30 at one parish you could try the 11:00 mass and might find they play the organ for that one.

    I have an online friends who works in Religious Education at a parish in Twin-Cities and I can ask her for info on parishes and Religious Education.

  35. John (re#23),

    I sent an e-mail to the address that you listed above, and it came back to me. Unless one of us left out a letter or two from the address, I’m not sure what caused the failure in delivery. I checked the address more than once to be sure that I had it right, but I still might have made a mistake.

  36. David, Re: church shopping.

    I live in the Twin Cities, know many of the parishes and styles and might be of some assistance to you, maybe help you discern what you’re really looking for.

    Canonically, the parish that you are closest to, or at least whose boundaries you are within, has an obligation to your spiritual care. However, that obligation belongs to the Pastor. You are free to attend any parish, become a member of any parish you’d like.

    If you’d like to contact me, my email is: adorotedevoteblog@gmail.com

    Prayers as you travel this road!

  37. David / Christopher,

    I would like to offer a thought here that may or may not be helpful to either of you. When I was received into the Church in 1999, I, like you, arrived there via a serious intellectual and volitional struggle, exacerbated by stiff resistance from family and friends. I had found the Church – and what a joy! The thought which most occupied my mind was that I had not come to judge the Church but to learn from her. There was so much to learn, who was I to pretend that I was in any position to offer much to folks who had been catholic all their lives? After all, is not this the watershed issue: the renunciation of private interpretation? I was no longer in the Church-making business – the Church was making me! Therefore, I adopted the dictum: “when in Rome do as the Romans do”. The last thing I wanted was to be perceived as a trouble maker come to the local parish to upset the apple cart of the status quo. I adopted this attitude for well nigh on 10 years!

    Looking back, it seems clear to me that this was not the most prudent approach. After my first 3 meetings with the priest who ultimately received my wife and I into the Church, he said essentially: “Ray, you are better acquainted with theology, philosophy and patristics than most priests in this diocese – you will NEVER be an average Catholic”. Please know that I am not saying this to toot my own horn. In fact, I entirely ignored his comment and behaved contrary to the very point which he was trying to convey; which was, don’t be afraid to get involved! The fact is, however, I now know that I WAS better formed in some of these areas than many priests. Guess what – in all likelihood, you are too! I let fear of “rocking the boat” outweigh the need to serve the Church. It took me too long to realize that the question is not: “how will I be perceived?” in some sort of false humility; but rather, “why has God led me here?” From the outset, in a spirit of complete obedience, I should have been asking how I could come along side my brothers and sisters (whether poorly catechized cradle Catholics, liberal minded Catholics, whatever); how I could get behind the priests, deacons and bishop, the monks and nuns, and serve Christ through His Church. I should have jumped in and got my hands dirty right away.

    The Catholic Church IS the Church founded by Christ and the gates of hell will not stand against her. However, let’s go in with eyes wide open. The Church on the ground, especially in the US, is in poor condition. When you descend from the theological heights where one gains a birds-eye view of the beauty of the Church universal, down to the flesh and blood reality on the ground; the experience can, at first, be shocking. But dare I say, if we were to descend from the theological heights of Christological discussion to an encounter with the sweaty, stinky, Carpenter of Nazareth, might we be likewise shocked? The Catholic Church has been described as: “here comes everybody!” Brothers, you have been drawn to the Church at this time for a reason – light it up (with charity of course)! It may be that neither of you suffer from a tendency toward introversion as I did. I say this only because I find a common theme among the philosophically/theologically minded – that is, to live inside one’s head, thereby avoiding potential conflict. The wise priest warned me of this temptation and I ignored it until recent times. Let your priest, DRE, bishop, deacon, etc. know that you love the Church and you are there to support them and help them breathe life into your parish and diocese. You will be surprised at how overjoyed most of them will be to bring you along side them in the effort. The truth is, your zeal may be the very thing needed to reawaken the zeal in a brother priest or sister nun. You ARE the renewal of the Church. As JP II said, “don’t be afraid”. I am now making up for lost time: I would hate to see either of you make the same mistake.

    Pax et Bonum,

    -Ray

  38. Christopher:

    My disguised e-mail was so disguised that it left out a letter and may have confused you. I’ll put it on one line:

    j [dot] jensen [at] auckland [dot] ac [dot] nz

    there, how’s that? :-)

    jj

  39. Bryan:

    Several years ago I coined the term “ecclesiastical promiscuity,” which I defined as “unsafe sects.” I used it several months ago on my blog, which Carl Olson at Ignatius cites: http://insightscoop.typepad.com/2004/2010/03/term-of-the-week-ecclesiastical-promiscuity.html

    Take care,
    Frank

  40. Bryan — you wrote: “At that point in the conversation the Catholic is thinking, “What I like ultimately has nothing to do with why I am a Catholic. I’m Catholic because I believe the Catholic Church to be the one, true Church that Christ founded, and all other churches to be sects or schisms from her.”

    In my long flirtation with Catholicism, what I hear is something more along the lines of …..”I’m Catholic because….my great grandparents came here from _________(Poland, Ireland, Italy, Germany) and really, I’ve just never had to think about it…”

    Indeed, one of my great disappointments when I try to make small talk with Catholics is that very few of them are engergized by their faith. It’s easy to get all excited reading C2C, thinking you’re going to run into other theologically minded Catholics, but I’ve learned that kind of thinking is dangerous.

    The same goes for reading. One is setting himself up for extreme disappointment if you read too many convert stories, hoping that you might run into one of those great thinkers after Mass.

    When I lived in the DC area, I did meet some confident Catholics who enjoyed discussing the faith, but rarely do I find folks in my new home diocese who have much knowledge or enthusiasm at all, and honestly, that’s a real bummer.

  41. Jim,

    You won’t find any argument from me regarding the poor state of catechesis among Catholics. You’re exactly right. If my decision regarding where to be on Sunday mornings was based on what percentage of the worshipers in that ‘denomination’ are “energized by their faith” or are “well-catechized in their faith,” or “enjoy discussing their faith,” I wouldn’t be Catholic. But that’s really the point of this post. Ultimately, the only right answer to the question, “Why are you Catholic?” is “Because the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded.”

    Since the Church’s very beginning there have been Christians who thought themselves too good for the Church. The Novatians were a sect like this, and so were the Montanists. This is how Tertullian was drawn away from the Church, not by being too lax or immoral, but by being ‘too good for the Church.’ It is a kind of pride; and it contributed to his falling into the Montanist heresy, as he saw the Church be (in his mind) too willing to grant forgiveness to Catholics who had committed mortal sins. The Cathars [i.e. lit. 'Puritans'] were like this in the Middle Ages. Basically, it is that same mentality that the Pharisee had when the woman was washing Jesus’ feet with her hair, and when He ate with tax collectors and sinners. It is the same thing, two thousands years later, because His Church imitates Him, and so there are many poorly-educated, poorly-catechized, ordinary, not terribly-pious people in the Catholic Church, coming to receive Him in the Eucharist in their tank-tops and sandles, right there alongside me in my suit and tie and polished shoes. But for all I know their heart is more humble and pure and Christ-loving than is mine. I should be asking them to pray for me, because for all I know some of them could be saints, and I’m even blessed to be in their presence. In that sense the Church is very human. The Church is not a theology club, reserved only for those who take theology seriously. It is for all sinners, including me, and you, people who at least know they are sinners, and know they need the mercy and grace of Christ. Grace is not knowledge; that would be gnosticism. I might have a great deal more knowledge of Catholic theology than the guy in the pew next to me, but he might have a great deal more grace and agape than me. (In fact, I’m sure that’s true more often than not.) I can either complain about the lack of good catechesis among many Catholics, or I can roll up my sleeves, and start helping Catholics to learn their own faith. And, interestingly enough, when I teach RCIA, many Catholics who visit say they learn things they never knew, and that they want to re-discover their faith, and I say, “Praise God; thank you Lord for allowing me to serve your Church in some way.” I think helping to alleviate the catechesis problem is a much better response than allowing it to be a stumbling block to keep one from entering the Church.

    When I was being prepared to be received into the Church, many (non-Catholic) people were bringing up examples to me of scandal and crisis and scoundrels in the Catholic Church. How can you be joining yourself to such an institution, they were asking me. My reply then, is the same reply I would give now: I am not becoming Catholic because of the state of the Church; I am becoming Catholic because of the identity of the Church — this is the Church that Jesus founded. If we love Jesus Christ, we will love His Church. I don’t just mean love the hierarchy. If we wish to follow Christ, then we must lay down our lives, humble ourselves, and love and serve the ignorant and simple in His Church. To do so, is to love Christ Himself. To see the problems in the Church, is to see your own vocation right in front of you, and the right response is “Here I am Lord; send me.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  42. Jim,

    Are these Catholics you know bad Christians or do they simply have personalities that are not as readily inclined to be interested in deep theological conversation as your own? In your third paragraph you seem to equate being “energized by [one's] faith” with being “theologically minded.” If the people you know are loving God with all their heart and their neighbors as themselves but don’t necessarily get their kicks out of theological conversation, there is nothing wrong with that. The Catholic Church is catholic both geographically and inter-personally. All races and all kinds of people gather around the same table, the African, Asian, European and American, the philosopher and the simple farmer. Not everyone has to be the “great thinker” that you want to run into after mass.

    I’m only chiming in here because I know this is an area in which I’ve struggled greatly. I’m an academic through and through, having studied Classics and German as an undergrad and now pursuing an advanced degree in early Church history. As an intellectual I’ve always been drawn to doctrinal questions, and I realized one day as an academic and a Calvinist that I couldn’t communicate with people who didn’t reference Cicero or supralapsarianism in conversation over coffee. Becoming Catholic has helped me come to terms with this, and I’ve begun to see the richness of Christian piety that is focused around the liturgy and the sacraments. I’ve begun to realize that I have a lot to learn from the “simple-minded” Catholics who have a devotion far surpassing my own. As a Protestant I was able to pick and choose, among everything else, a community that looked exactly like I wanted it to and was populated by people who were just like me.

    Now, if by “not energized by their faith” you mean that the Catholics you know are not striving to love God and their neighbor, then you’re right to point out a problem, but I don’t see how it’s a problem relevant to the mission of Called to Communion, since you or I could also point out numerous examples of individuals who do not truly seek to live their Christian callings in any non-Catholic sect (except maybe in those churches like my former congregation, which had about 30 people in a denomination with a world-wide membership of around 5000). Perhaps you should convert and become a catechist or something, so that you can put your concerns into action and try to remedy what you perceive to be a problem. As I said above though, if your problem is really just that you haven’t met enough theology nerds, then I don’t think it’s really a problem.

  43. Sorry about the cross-post.

  44. I found this post so very moving, actually, about this well-known problem of the lack of knowledge or energy amongst Catholics. From the article:

    We joke about it: “Come on in; the water’s freezing!” Yet it’s not a joke at all. Being a Catholic is the worst thing in the world—except not being a Catholic. It’s tough to live in a Church plagued by scandal. It’s easy to become disgusted. But…

    Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” [Jn 6:66- 69]

  45. Dear Jim,

    Generalizing, my grandparents were English, English, Scottish, and Canadian (married to English). Catholicism wasn’t exactly in the familial repetoire. Even though my career sent me and my family to the least-churched state of Washington, we have encountered (in answer to prayer) a parish with a large number of families deeply devoted to their Catholic faith. I learn a great deal from them, and pick up on their enthusiasm and the depth of their faith and piety.

    I know that in many places such families would be hard to come across, but I also know that they are out there, and that the grace of such fellowship is something to take to prayer. I also know that other countries beside America can have a far more vibrant group of Catholics. But if you’re in it to be a part of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” faith, then longsuffering should be the order of the day.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  46. Ray Stamper,

    The question for me, in terms of attending a Catholic parish, is not whether I should be actively involved or not– if they will allow me, I *will* be involved! :-)

    In terms of my thinking, the questions come down more to, should one attend the closest parish to one’s house, as long as heresy is not taught there, so that one can be easily involved (and perhaps grow in humility and unlearn some of the theological perfectionism to which I, personally, can fall prey), or should one go to another parish, further away, because it might be more theologically solid with better homilies, music, and/or fellowship?

    I will not attend a parish that teaches heresy, if I can help it, so that’s off the table for me in this discussion. That is why I have chosen to go to a parish a but further away from my house– I heard very concerning things about the parish closest to my house from a friend who used to attend there. However, when it comes to a choice between two parishes (neither of which teach heresy), in which one is simply stronger and healthier than another in certain ways, but the “weaker” parish is closer and perhaps easier to be actively involved in, over a long period of time– that is where things become a bit harder to discern for me personally.

    If I were married with children, I would go to the healthier parish (for my wife and children’s sake alone, if nothing else) and deal with the distance. Being single though, it’s not as clear-cut for me. I do think it is important for Catholics who know their faith to not simply assume that their default mode should be, “Attend the best parish within 25-50 miles, theologically speaking, and leave the weaker parishes to be… well, weaker.” Again, some of the theologically “weaker” parishes could be great places to get involved (if allowed) and to learn humility. I don’t know– honestly, my thinking is not settled here. I definitely don’t want to be a Catholic form of an “ecclesial consumerist,” which can and does happen.

  47. Jim,

    As a former Reformed Baptist who was a member, respectively, at different points, of two theologically careful, serious, and enthusiastic churches, I can definitely understand your struggle with the lack of such seriousness and enthusiasm in many Catholic parishes. The ultimate question is, though, do you believe the distinctive claims and teachings of the Church? If you don’t, then what I’m about to write doesn’t yet apply to you.

    If you do believe the Church’s claims and teachings though, it would seem that honesty would require you to be reconciled to the Church and actually become a Catholic. After that process, there might well be some lengthy struggle, in your mind and heart, coming to terms with the current state of the Church in America, broadly speaking. However, coming to terms with it doesn’t mean laying down, giving up, accepting it, and shutting off your mind and heart as a Catholic.

    To the contrary, if you become Catholic and are still bothered by the state of catechesis in the Church (and why would you not be, really?), then, as you can, you should become involved in your parish, and perhaps, with Catholics in general in your area, helping to stir them up to stronger faith and good works, as you, yourself, have certainly been positively “stirred up” in your life by other Christians.

    Ultimately, as other people have written, joining the Church, especially at this point in time, means accepting a call to suffer for a greater good– the good of positive change, both in oneself and in the Church as a whole (obviously, not the radical, heterodox kind of “change” wanted by dissenters). I just returned to the Catholic Church a week ago now, after many years away, as a Protestant, and the process of leaving Protestantism and returning to the Church has been both wonderful and very painful at times. Late 2009-spring 2010 was one of the loneliest, most painful periods of my life, and I’ve had some pretty rough times, already, previously in my life. Nor is the pain over yet. I may have lost many (most?) of my Reformed friends, and I have almost no Catholic friends in the physical, non-internet world. I’m also disabled and unemployed, which are other issues, but they made the risks of returning to the Church even more stark and frightening for me, because I know that I could lose the human (Protestant) connections (the friends and job opportunities) that I had, which were helping me to stay afloat, in a limited, human sense. (Obviously, God keeps me afloat, but people greatly help too!) In the end though, I was convinced of the claims of the Church, and so I had to return to her and embrace both the painful losses and the very real, wonderful gains. There will, I’m sure, be more of those gains– but for now, it is enough that I am back in the fold of the Church which Christ Himself founded and which continues today, battered as she is from within and from without.

    With that return, I have the benefits of confession, penance (yes, benefits!), the communion of saints, praying for me, and Jesus Himself in the Eucharist, not to mention 2,000 years of Christian history from which to learn and grow. With all of those benefits, I can deal with the frustrating aspects of the Church (as if my own sinfulness is not one of those aspects!) and do what I can to work to change them for the better.

  48. Bryan,

    You should make a blog post out of your #38 my friend!

    Pax et Bonum

    Ray

  49. Here’s my take on all this: http://mliccione.blogspot.com/2010/07/ecclesial-consumerism.html

  50. Thanks for all your excellent replies.

    David – I should clarify that I’m not just talking about parishioners lacking in theological knowledge or sophistication, but an overall apathy. Yes, some of that is “lack of catachesis”, but even more disturbing in my
    experience is that, even amongst the well catachized, I find few who are “engergized” when it comes to getting their hands dirty, or simply following the pattern of the cross as Jesus commanded his followers to do (John 13:14-15).

    This remains the biggest problem I have with the Orthodox Church. As Orthodox theologian Bradley Nassif puts it, many Orthodox Christians are “sacramentalized, but not evangelized.”

    Now I fully realize that the Catholic Church can make impressive claims about what it’s done for two-thousand years, and point to hundreds of Saints, but what I’m talking about is the average parishioner. I’ve been in and out of Catholic Churches for the past seven years, and I can’t recall one conversation with a person who had a passion for mercy ministry, or evangelization of any kind.

    Compare that to what is happening now in the Tim Keller modeled PCA churches, or the ACTS 29 churches. In many cities, it’s the Calvinists who have surpassed the liberal mainline churches when it comes to helping the poor in significant ways. I’m talking about ordinary members, who are moving into the ghetto and raising their families there. In my city, I know of ten young families who have bought homes in a blighted part of town, and made a huge impact in bettering the lives of the poor in that community.

    It’s also worth noting my personal experience in international adoption. All three of our children are adopted internationally, and I think it’s fair to say that it is American Evangelicals who are going overseas to adopt older, unwanted children specifically.

    So, while it’s easy to laugh at what is admittedly consumeristic, the truth is that those shallow-minded consumer Christians are rolling up their sleeves and doing a pretty good job of doing exactly what Jesus said we must do. From what I’ve seen, they are far surpassing what the average Catholic (not counting Nuns and Monks) is doing.

  51. John (re:#41),

    Those words of Peter’s, which are quoted in that great article, have been what have kept me a Christian, through many struggles over the years. The thought behind those words will now also help to keep me a Catholic Christan.

    (In response to your e-mail, I’ll write you about some of the aforementioned struggles, and other matters, later tonight.)

  52. Jim (#47):

    I’m a Roman Catholic parishioner who’s been involved, intermittently, in various ministries over the decades. I also fully appreciate what Tim Keller and his PCA followers do, as you can see from this review I wrote last March. Keller’s approach to parish ministry puts many Catholic parishes to shame. But other Catholic parishes are quite active in their communities doing many of the same things that Keller-style churches do. I’ve done some of it myself, and would commit myself full-time to ministry if they’d let me. I suggest your experience is too limited, both synchronically and diachronically.

    But all that aside, I suspect it’s fundamentally misleading to measure the evangelical effectiveness of churches in terms of how much they officially “do.” From a Catholic or Orthodox standpoint, the most important function of the Church is the liturgy; everything else either stems from that or leads to it. Any other vision of church tends to sink into a functional Pelagianism. Of course much action in the world should stem from the liturgy. And, in my experience, that’s what happens in the Catholic Church. Programs of action in the world, while essential, are basically secondary.

    The problem, and there are always problems, is that most Catholic adults tend to think that the primacy of being “sacramentalized” means that the rest isn’t all that important. The concept of ongoing adult “faith formation” is foreign to the majority of lay Catholics, despite what the bishops say to the contrary. Because of that, religion for most Catholics tends to be more a marker of cultural identity, and a repository of personal piety, than a basis for energized action. But you can still find plenty of Catholics who know better and act accordingly.

    Best,
    Mike

  53. I disagree with your thesis that this is just Protestantism taken to its logical conclusion. It is in fact the other way around. It’s Roman Catholicism taken to its logical conclusion. If men rather than God are sovereign, then they get to disregard Holy Scripture and follow the god of their own making. The premise of your blog is ridiculous, by the way. The doctrines of grace and the Reformed view is totally at odds with Rome. That’s why it was called the Protestant Reformation.

    The reason Protestantism is confused is that is has left the Confessional basis founded during the Reformation and has gone back in the semi-pelagian and even pelagian direction. That’s Rome’s modus operandi, not Geneva’s.

    Rome is basically a pagan religion masquerading as Christianity. The Charismatic movement is just the logical conclusion of Rome’s thinking only it comes from the grassroots up rather than from the top down. Idolatry is still idolatry no matter how you slice it. (Romans 1:18-32).

    Charlie

  54. Charlie,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree that the Reformed view is at odds with Rome on many points of doctrine. By “Reformation meets Rome” we mean bringing us together in unity on the truth in charity. It is time to bring this five hundred year schism to an end, through reconciliation based on the truth. I agree that idolatry is a mortal sin. Catholics don’t worship creatures; we worship only God. Nor we do disregard Scripture. We affirm all that Scripture teaches. We also affirm the Creed — that’s why your claim that Catholicism is pagan religion is over-the-top, like a Jack Chick claim. How, exactly, are you defining this word ‘pagan’? And which Protestant confession do you think avoids ecclesial consumerism?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  55. Bryan, obviously if there is to be unity Rome will need to reject the Canons of the Council of Trent and other heresies, including the veneration of the saints, transubstantiation and a host of other medievel developments that are not in the Scriptures OR the church fathers.

    Rome gets to claim infallibility for whatever it says is “tradition” and that seems to change with the wind. When will Rome declare homosexuality is not a sin? The Anglo-Catholics have already done that. This is what happens when the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is rejected.

    Charlie

  56. Charlie, (re: #52)

    First, the Catholic Church cannot ever declare homosexual acts non-sinful. It has no power to overturn infallible doctrines, among which is this truth of Catholic moral doctrine, that homosexual acts are gravely evil. (The same power to infallibly preserve doctrine until Christ returns is not had by any Protestant denomination, because every Protestant denomination denies ecclesial infallibility. The PCUSA, for example, just voted to allow practicing homosexual clergy.)

    Second, regarding your conditions for Protestant reunion with the Catholic Church, you say that the Catholic Church will have to rejects its “heresies.” Let’s talk about that. What exactly, in your opinion, makes a doctrine to be heretical? In other words, what is the standard for ‘orthodox’ and ‘heresy’?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  57. What makes a doctrine heretical? That’s simple enough. If it is contrary to the Bible or teaches something in addition to the Bible that is necessary to salvation, or if something is diametrically opposed to the Bible, it is heresy.

    The doctrine of infused righteousness and the doctrine that good works after baptism merit salvation or righteousness or forgiveness is heresy. Justification is a legal declaration and righteousness is imputed on that legal basis. The ONLY good works that justify or make righteous are the good works of Jesus Christ who lived a sinless life of active obedience on our behalf which is then credited to us as our own. We need to do nothing to justify ourselves before God. Faith ALONE.

    Charlie

  58. The Catholic Church has changed doctrine many times over the centuries. Odd that there are even breaks in the chain of apostolic succession, including the Babylonian Captivity and even women popes.

    It’s silly to trace individuals in fictional unbroken chains of succession. This is impossible.

    What we need is here. It is the Scriptures handed down to us through the centuries in thousands and thousands of trustworthy manuscripts. The availability of these documents make it pragmatically impossible to deny the doctrine of inerrancy and infallibility.

    If you say the Bible is unreliable, then my response is your mythological church is even LESS reliable.

    Charlie

  59. Charlie, (re: #54)

    You wrote:

    What makes a doctrine heretical? That’s simple enough. If it is contrary to the Bible or teaches something in addition to the Bible that is necessary to salvation, or if something is diametrically opposed to the Bible, it is heresy.

    You have listed two criteria for heresy: (1) If it is contrary to (or “diametrically opposed to”) the Bible, or (2) If it teaches something in addition to the Bible that is necessary to salvation. (I think your third criterion reduces to the first.)

    The problem with your second criterion is that it is not in the Bible. The Bible nowhere says that any teaching that is purported to be part of the deposit of faith but is not in Scripture, is heretical. So this second criterion is just your opinion. It has no authority. And if we’re going to be determining which doctrines are heretical and which are orthodox, we cannot be using a definition of ‘heresy’ that is just your opinion made up out of thin air. We all agree at least that you’re not the pope.

    According to your first criterion, the Catholic Church does not teach any heresy, because none of her doctrines is contrary to Scripture, properly interpreted.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  60. OKayyyyy…..

    So you do not believe the Bible, Bryan. So how is that supposed to convince me that I should follow the AntiChrist?

    That’s the most BRILLIANT argument against God’s inspired Word I’ve ever seen. So you do not believe God’s Spirit inspired the Bible after all? I should not believe what the Bible teaches regarding your false doctrines like justification by works, worshiping and venerating idols, praying to human beings in the grave, etc.?

    Wow, I’m convinced. Where do I sign up?

    Charlie

  61. I guess I should follow a definition you make up out of thin air instead, Bryan? Are you the pope?

    Charlie

  62. Charlie, (re: #57)

    I don’t know how you reached the conclusion that I “do not believe the Bible.” I believe the whole Bible. What led you to conclude that I do not believe the Bible? I suggest slowing down a little, and being a little more careful. I believe what the Catholic Church teaches about the Bible, namely, that the Bible is divinely inspired (lit.”God-breathed”). And of course I would strongly encourage you not to follow the Antichrist. So, we’re at least agreed on that.

    Let’s just focus on one thing at a time, so we can together determine the truth about it. If we’re going to be talking about which doctrines are heretical, and which are orthodox, first we need to agree about the standard for determining orthodoxy and heresy. You seem (though I could be wrong) to think that the standard for orthodoxy is [your particular interpretation of] Scripture. But, I have no reason to believe that your interpretation of Scripture is the standard by which orthodoxy and heresy are determined. Any heretic, it seems, could make his own interpretation of Scripture the standard for orthodoxy, and thus define himself right out of heresy. So, that kind of standard is not objective; the very possibility of orthodoxy and heresy is lost if the standard for orthodoxy is conformity to one’s own interpretation of Scripture. That’s why, in the Catholic picture, the standard for orthodoxy and heresy was always the determination of the magisterium of the Church, i.e. the Apostles, and then the bishops whom the Apostles ordained to succeed them, and then the bishops whom those bishops ordained to succeed them, down to the present day. That’s why the Council of Nicea, for example, is a standard for determining orthodox (and heretical) Christology. It is not just the opinion of another group of persons. So, it seems to me that this is a very significant difference (between us) regarding what counts as the standard for orthodoxy and heresy.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  63. Bryan, you don’t believe the Bible because you are not appealing to the Bible but to some outside authority. For you the Bible is not God’s word but simply a witness to God’s word. It’s merely an after thought. Otherwise you wouldn’t be silly enough to ask me to justify quoting Scripture as THE Word of God. There is no need to prove that. Either you believe it OR you do not believe it. Obviously, you do not.

  64. Bryan, you don’t believe the Bible because you are not appealing to the Bible but to some outside authority. For you the Bible is not God’s word but simply a witness to God’s word. It’s merely an after thought. Otherwise you wouldn’t be silly enough to ask me to justify quoting Scripture as THE Word of God. There is no need to prove that. Either you believe it OR you do not believe it. Obviously, you do not.

    Charlie, I was Reformed (for twenty years – in the Calvinist, Dutch Reformed tradition. I believe the Bible. I am a Catholic now and I still believe the Bible. I don’t think that appealing to the Bible is proof you believe it, nor that not appealing to it is proof you don’t believe it.

    jj

  65. A comment from Benny on the Jet. That is Pope Benedict at his in flight press conference on the way to the UK.

    In my view a Church which seeks above all to be attractive is already on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for herself, she does not work to increase her numbers and her power. The Church is at the service of Another. She serves not herself, not to become strong; rather, she serves to make the announcement of Jesus Christ more accessible: the great truths, the great powers of love and reconciliation which appeared in Him and which always come from the presence of Jesus Christ.

    This reminded me of this post. Once you have consumerism every church must make being attractive a high priority. It is just the wrong way to run a church.

  66. Roger Olson, professor of theology at the Baptist seminary at Baylor, writes the following:

    But I fear that most churches have fallen into the trap of singing and preaching and teaching what people want to hear.

    I enjoy reading what Roger writes; I often agree with him, and I always appreciate his manner. So, what I have to say in reply is said in a good-natured, ‘ribbing’ sort of way, with affection and good will. Criticizing ecclesial consumerism while being a Protestant is like eating in an Old Country Buffet and complaining that all the other patrons aren’t eating exactly the same combination and proportion of the food items on your own plate. How do you think you got the particular assortment of food on your plate? Did yours fall from heaven, but every other patron picked out their own according to their own taste/interest/interpretation? Why is it a consumeristic “trap” when they do it, but not when you do it? Ecclesial consumerism is precisely why Protestantism came into existence almost five hundred years ago, and why Protestantism continues to exist, so that would-be Catholics can practice Christianity as they wish, according to their own judgments and interpretations and convictions and desires. It is why Baptists are Baptists and not still Catholics, eating what the Magisterium puts on our plate. (See Bossuet’s History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches.) Discovering or highlighting the problem of ecclesial consumerism is extremely dangerous for a Protestant, because of how deep the rabbit-hole goes. The temptation is to take the blue pill.

  67. @ Brian Cross,

    The blue pill comment was brilliant. I’m still laughing.

  68. Bryan,

    How much do you think the “health and wealth gospel” can be attributed to penal substitutionary atonement soteriology fermenting in an affluent culture? While I think a lot of the wealth gospel crew are in it for the dough, I think a lot of them feel that prosperity is essential since poverty is a curse in the deuteronomic covenant and Christ became the curse for us. (“He who was rich became poor so that we who were poor might through his poverty become rich”- 2 Cor 8:9). Within a penal substitutionary atonement model, I think they aren’t being completely irrational.

    I’d be interested in your professional thoughts.

    Happy Feast of St. Joseph!

  69. Brent – I found your speculation really quite intensely interesting, and wrote something in response to it on my blog:

    http://inquietumcor.blogspot.com/2011/03/faith.html

    jj

  70. At my blog comment on this, Bryan commented:

    John,

    Thank you very much for the reflection. As a Cradle Catholic I didn’t understand the point Brent was making over at C2C, and your post helped me make sense of it and contributed to my understand of our Catholic faith.

    Thanks a lot,

    Deacon Bryan

    Bryan, I hope you don’t mind my putting this here. My own background is that I was a non-Christian, became evangelical, and then Reformed, before becoming a Catholic. So this “Jesus paid it all” thing was so familiar to me. It was so deeply moving to me, in becoming a Catholic, to discover what I think is the right way to view this, as I said in the post on my blog:

    To the Protestant, Jesus suffered and died so that we wouldn’t have to.

    To the Catholic, Jesus suffered and died so that we would be able to.

    Brings tears to my eyes, still.

    jj

  71. Brent: I think a lot of them feel that prosperity is essential since poverty is a curse in the deuteronomic covenant and Christ became the curse for us. (“He who was rich became poor so that we who were poor might through his poverty become rich”- 2 Cor 8:9). Within a penal substitutionary atonement model, I think they aren’t being completely irrational.

    It is not that those preaching the prosperity gospel are being irrational, they are rational but also seriously deficient in their understanding of heavenly matters. These blind teachers think that to “become rich” in verse you cited refers to becoming rich in earthly wealth. Satan offered that wealth to Christ to tempt Christ away from his poverty:

    Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! …Matt 4:8-10

    The treasure that we can become rich in through Christ’s poverty is heavenly treasure, not earthly treasure. The deuteronomic covenant is a type that points to the New Covenant, and the wealth of the deuteronomic covenant is a type that points to the heavenly treasures of the New Covenant:

    “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Matt 6:19-21

    And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, `What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, `Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” Luke 12:16-21

    The prosperity “gospel” is a gross perversion of the gospel Christ preached. The prosperity Gospel is focused on accumulating treasures on earth, while the Catholic Church teaches that embracing the Evangelical Counsel of holy poverty is path for laying up heavenly treasure.

    To lust for the wealth of this corrupt world is to fall into a snare of Satan.

    But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 1 Tim 6:9

  72. Mateo,

    I agree with everything you’ve said. As a Catholic convert who has family in the health and wealth crew, I have an inside scoop as to the mentality. I’m trying to charitably understand “how” they could be so wrong. You may be right that it is just a temptation to put cash in the inheritance now (like the prodigal son), though I think it is more nuanced than that for many who see it as a way to uphold the victory of Christ (which is heresy).

    That aside, my question is whether or not the health and wealth gospel as sincerely preached as a way of obtaining to the work of Calvary is a consequence of a heretical soteriology, namely penal substitution (thus it being a heresy of a heresy). While Calvin et al. didn’t subscribe to the H&W gospel, I wonder if it is a possible trajectory of the theology and not merely a get rich quick scheme (which it can be for some)? In other words, can we blame penal substitution (aka: “the swap”) on all this mess?

    God bless

  73. I think I understand where Brent is looking – is H&W possibly one unintended consequence of the work of Christ as being solely substitutionary?

    I would go further and suggest that the atomism implicit in that view of the Atonement is itself a natural consequence of the nominalism that had come to prevail at the time of the Reformation.

    jj

  74. Brent: … That aside, my question is whether or not the health and wealth gospel as sincerely preached as a way of obtaining to the work of Calvary is a consequence of a heretical soteriology, namely penal substitution (thus it being a heresy of a heresy).

    That is a very good question, and I never looked at it from that angle. I think that for the most part the people that I have met that believe in the health-and-wealth, name-it-and-claim-it “gospel” are sincere, but misguided, for any number of reasons.

    John Thayer Jensen : … this “Jesus paid it all” thing was so familiar to me. It was so deeply moving to me, in becoming a Catholic, to discover what I think is the right way to view this, as I said in the post on my blog:

    To the Protestant, Jesus suffered and died so that we wouldn’t have to.

    To the Catholic, Jesus suffered and died so that we would be able to.

    Well said. The idea that Jesus suffered so that we don’t have to suffer makes any suffering that comes into the life of a Christian ultimately meaningless. It also renders it incomprehensible that God would will St. Francis of Assisi to suffer the stigma or give a calling to Saint Lidwina of Schiedam to embrace the life of a victim-soul.

  75. Just to clarify, Protestants don’t think that “Jesus suffered so we won’t have to” (at least, no serious ones do). What we believe is that Jesus’ suffering on the cross saves us from suffering eternally in hell. In other words, earthly suffering in this life is always a reality, and it is not meaningless. Rather, we suffer in order to be more conformed to the image of Christ.

  76. JJS,

    Thanks for the clarification. I think you are right that most protestant Christians hold to what you have submitted (I was one of them). However, I’m interested in how the “unserious ones”, pious and concerned as they may be, get to the conclusion that “Jesus suffered so we won’t have to” or “Jesus suffered so we shouldn’t have to”. What soteriological system does this make sense in? It obviously does’t work in a participatory model of atonement.

    I don’t think the millions of people who do hold to it are simply unserious Christians (my very close family member being one of them). So, let’s pretend that there are read, prayerful, protestants (not scholars, but educated) who hold to the said less-than-protestant position. Let’s look at T.L. Osborn, who holds that suffering is never from God. Can we attribute this modern phenomena to a particular soteriological model that at the least provides a rational framework or justification for it, or–to stay on the thread topic–gives cause to pushing the theological “buy now” button? (pun intended)

    Peace to you on your journey

  77. @JJS:

    What we believe is that Jesus’ suffering on the cross saves us from suffering eternally in hell.

    Yes, of course, that is correct, and is what I would have said when I was a Protestant. My two lines are really intended as epigrammatic expressions of an idea.

    For example, when I was a Protestant, and suffered, though people would tell me “Jesus is suffering with you,” I couldn’t make much more out of that than “Jesus is sympathetic.” As a Catholic I think that my suffering is somehow united with His on the Cross – and forms, in some mysterious way, a part of His Act of redeeming the world. My suffering is His suffering. My suffering is, in fact, redemptive.

    As a Protestant I would have been horrified at such language :-) But as a Protestant I was certainly encouraged by others to believe that if only I had faith, I would not need to suffer.

    And that is what my two “epigrammes” are supposed to mean.

    jj

  78. Brent,

    However, I’m interested in how the “unserious ones”, pious and concerned as they may be, get to the conclusion that “Jesus suffered so we won’t have to” or “Jesus suffered so we shouldn’t have to”. What soteriological system does this make sense in?

    Speaking as a Protestant, the only people who would make the kinds of claims that are being attributed to Protestantism are people who are barely even Christians at all (I mean that in the sense of their belief system having almost zero relation to historic Christianity). It would be like if a hip, urban emergent congregation that decked its warehouse out with stained glass began to speak for Catholicism since it has stained glass and all. Sure, maybe the media or other ignorant people would say things like, “Well, Catholics are now endorsing soul patches,” but the claim would be so uninformed as not to really be worth refuting.

    So again, the historic Prtestant position is that Jesus’ death removed eternal suffering, but no one has ever claimed that his death removes earthly suffering.

  79. JJS,

    Perfect. So I’m gathering there are two protestantisms: (1) Historic (big P) and (2) ahistoric (barely Christians according to Big P–can we call them “little p“?)? I grew up in the former (p) but became the later (P) at least theologically under the tutelage of a fine Calvinist scholar.

    So, do you think the new “hip, urban, emergent” congregations are “little p” or something else (beyond p)? How should I (as a Catholic) or someone else (from another tradition), or just a disinterested by-stander off the street understand them and others like them? Is the Assemblies of God protestant? Is the Church of God in Christ? How about Joel Osteen’s group? Mars Hill? Some of these churches’ beliefs have almost “zero relation to historic Christianity” but they do possess a spiritual patrimony via holiness movement that came out of Methodism which came out of Anglicanism (or some other narrative) so I don’t think we can discredit them outright. My point is that they are working under some type of soteriological framework whether or not they reflect on it or not. You and I may be aware that we believe such and such because of this confession/creed or whatever, but T.L. Osborn, Osteen, TBN Christians, or more reputable groups like the Assemblies of God have a lot of inherited systematics going on in what they think, particularly about salvation. They didn’t started tabula rasa. While the “name it claim it” sounds hair-brain AND IS, their anabaptist altar calls, belief in scripture as the only authority, and lack of spiritual images in their services was inherited from the Big-P tradition even if they only get to be little p. Poor guys.

    Should we go beyond the broad categories of Catholic/Protestant? Also, do we want to say they are “barely Christian”? Are they barely Christian by their assent to the basic premise that Jesus came, died, and rose again and that his work by faith gives us salvation? What would make you a “full blown” Christian?

    (disclaimer: I’ve worked through these questions but I am very interested in your solution to these problems)

    God bless

  80. Brent,

    So I’m gathering there are two protestantisms: (1) Historic (big P) and (2) ahistoric (barely Christians according to Big P–can we call them “little p“?)

    Generally speaking, there are those groups that emerged from the Reformation on the one hand, and there are other groups that were opposed by the Reformers as vehemently as Rome was (the Anabaptists and their children). Groups like the ones you mention—like oneness Pentecostals—are no more Protestant than they are Catholic. The only reason they get lumped in with us is that they aren’t RC or EO. But cut us some slack, those guys trace their movement back to 1905.

    So, do you think the new “hip, urban, emergent” congregations are “little p” or something else (beyond p)? How should I (as a Catholic) or someone else (from another tradition), or just a disinterested by-stander off the street understand them and others like them? Is the Assemblies of God protestant? Is the Church of God in Christ? How about Joel Osteen’s group? Mars Hill?

    That’s a lot of questions you’re asking there. Rather than giving my opinion about each and every denomination out there (many of which I am not familiar with), I’ll just pose a scenario to you by way of illustration. If a group seceded from the Catholic church but still had stained glass windows, would they be Catholic? But what if they had the word “Catholic” in their name? Now if the various wings of Protestantism (Anglican, Lutheran, Calvinist) are actual historical movements with concrete doctrines, and if some group comes along in the twentieth century with doctrines that are utterly foreign to those of the Reformation, should they be called Protestant? No. If anything, most of them are Anabaptist (as Bryan McLaren admits he is), and Calvin opposed the Anabaptists as much as he did the papacy.

    Should we go beyond the broad categories of Catholic/Protestant? Also, do we want to say they are “barely Christian”? Are they barely Christian by their assent to the basic premise that Jesus came, died, and rose again and that his work by faith gives us salvation? What would make you a “full blown” Christian?

    I just think we need to use labels more deliberately. You guys hate it when we claim to be catholic, right? Well, we hate it when you call everyone who isn’t RC or EO “Protestant.”

  81. oneness Pentecostals? I didn’t mention them. I mentioned Assemblies of God who believes in the Trinity. Azusa St. has nothing to do with the oneness crew. Pentecostalism is not tantamount to oneness, not at all. In fact, the oneness group is a very very small minority of the charismatic/pentecostals in the world and are considered heretics by all other Pentecostals. (just wanted to clarify)

    That’s a lot of questions you’re asking there. Rather than giving my opinion about each and every denomination out there (many of which I am not familiar with), I’ll just pose a scenario to you by way of illustration. If a group seceded from the Catholic church but still had stained glass windows, would they be Catholic?

    I can tell you are not familiar with all of those groups, but I feel you. Now to all your other comments (even the ones I didn’t’ blockquote), it’s not too hard for me to remember when I was Protestant (a licensed minister in the oldest Pentecostal denomination), so its just as easy for me to put on the shoes of “you guys”.

    Let me switch shoes for a moment. I’ll grant you that you are “Protestant” and not the others (or myself, or my grandmother, or the Southern Baptists, or the Assembly of God or the….) if that term means “one who holds to the traditions of Calvin/Luther”, but I (wearing a protestant pair of shoes) won’t grant you that. “You guys” (not being protestant now) claim that Catholics have ecclesial snobbery, are elitists, right? Really?? (Putting back on the protestant cap)

    Scholarly (Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought) and unscholarly (ask Albert Mohler if he isn’t Protestant) resources will connect the Radical Reformation to the Magisterial Reformers. Calvin may have been ticked off at the idea of believer’s baptism, but too bad. He didn’t take the project far enough, he was far too “romish’ for his own good. Isn’t being Protestant a term inherited from Catholics who were describing Lutheran “masses”? And the term spread because a spade is a spade and someone who is protesting the Catholic church’s authority is protestant. I was protestant against the best wishes and desires of big P’s, but I was. I knew I wasn’t catholic, so one of the groups has been doing a good job marketing.

    And your analogies to the Catholic Church just don’t work or at the least demonstrate how little you understand about all of the other denominations. A traditional pentecostal church (not oneness), believes in sola gracia, sola scripture, and sola fide (the trinity, baptism, penal atonement, etc). They even have scholars that are respected! All this stuff wasn’t written on the Protestant stain glass left in their buildings. They may be more Arminian than to your liking, but that would be because of the Moravian influence on Wesley (who I guess was Protestant when he was an Anglican but then ceased to be).

    Since this thread is about ecclesial consumerism, I would suggest the real Protestants launch a huge campaign to say, “These guys aren’t Protestant” and then maybe get into an ecumenical dialogue with the pentecostal, charismatic, anabaptist, emergent, et al. to help them establish a new “brand”. You could start it on your blog.

    As a Catholic, our church contains saints to mobsters and everything in between. We have our own issues (and having perused your blog last night its seems to be a theme that you know that too). But, we don’t have a huge problem with a bunch of people calling themselves Catholic or at least when they do the world knows they don’t mean the same thing as us (and they do too).

    Peace to you on your journey.

  82. Having studied at North Central University (Assemblies of God) in the 90’s I can say that the systematic Theology course I took was like listening to an arminian RC Sproul who speaks in tongues. In other words, quite Protestant. We learned the creeds, we learned the solas, we were Protestants. We saw ourselves as Protestants with roots going right down to the magisterial Reformers, and in fact before them, and saw them as having come up with some “extra” stuff like Limited Atonement that wasnt around before the Reformation. My personal take at this point now that I am an observer to the whole thing and having been a Calvinist and an Anabaptist… after reading all the solo/sola threads… the Anabaptist traditions have a better claim to the title of Protestant because they are more likely to take things (the “solo” version of sola scriptura) to their more logical extremes. They seem to “get” the fact that there is no temporal post-reformation church authority, and they don’t pretend that there is.
    My 2 cents.

    -David M.

  83. There is an easier way to identify who is Protestant, without regard to their history or beliefs. It is sola scriptura (or as one of the founders of this site noted, “solo scriptura.”)

    If they claim scripture alone, they are Protestant. Oneness? Trinitarian? Pentecostal? Hard shell? No matter. Sola/solo scriptura is the touchstone. If you check the articles that have flowed through this site you’ll find it and it was excellent.

    Cordially,
    dt

  84. I thought that the general definition of ‘Protestant’ is: one who protests against the Catholic Church.

    I would say that initially – and in keeping with Jason’s point – this group was more united and you could say that they were more narrowly defined and cut from the similar cloth, so to speak. But as time passed, more ‘protesting’ groups were formed that diverged more and more from those original ‘protestors.’

    You could almost think of the PCA as a ‘Protestant’ church whose main ‘protest’ was against the PC USA.

    So, it is misleading, I think to try to lump all the different non-Catholic congregations under one term but we don’t really have a better word than ‘Protestant’ unless you want to claim ‘Christian’ all for yourselves!

    But, we don’t have a huge problem with a bunch of people calling themselves Catholic or at least when they do the world knows they don’t mean the same thing as us (and they do too).

    There are a handful of Reformed bloggers doing this…at least in the blog world. They say ‘we are Catholic and you guys are anti-Catholic Romanists.’ They are just trying to make a point and I seriously doubt they tell their neighbors in ‘real life’ that they are ‘Catholic.’

    I wrote about that a bit here.

  85. Sean:

    There are a handful of Reformed bloggers doing this…at least in the blog world. They say ‘we are Catholic and you guys are anti-Catholic Romanists.’ They are just trying to make a point and I seriously doubt they tell their neighbors in ‘real life’ that they are ‘Catholic.’

    Yes indeed, but the way they make their “point” just bad manners. It’s one thing to disagree about how to identify a contemporary ecclesial body as “the catholic church” referred to in the early creeds, or even about whether any such body can be so identified. But it’s another altogether to refuse to call people what they call themselves. I call the Reformed “Reformed” because that’s what they call themselves, even though I don’t at all believe, as some of them do, that their ecclesial body is “Catholic.” As I see it, that’s just common decency. When they refuse to reciprocate by calling us “Catholics,” such decency is lacking. And so I will rarely attempt dialogue with them.

    They aren’t the only ones. A significant part of the Orthodox world says that only the Orthodox Church is “Catholic” and that the so-called “Catholic Church” is not a real church, but only a “religious organization.” Thus the Pope is not the canonical bishop of Rome, but only a layman stealing what is not his. They call us ‘papists’ and regard our church’s very name as a deception. That’s what I call “Athonite” ecclesiology. Thank God it’s not the only ecclesiology one can find among Orthodox theologians and bishops. Metropolitan Kallistos (Timothy) Ware, e.g., views the ecclesial status of Catholicism very similarly to how the Catholic Church views the ecclesial status of Orthodoxy. It’s guys like that who make dialogue possible.

    Best,
    Mike

  86. If anything, most of them are Anabaptist (as Bryan McLaren admits he is), and Calvin opposed the Anabaptists as much as he did the papacy.

    But Calvin’s opposition to the Anabaptist wouldn’t make them any less reformers now , would it?. Unless you arbitrarily assign Calvin as the standard for ‘reformation’

  87. In the following video, Mark Dever, a Baptist pastor in the DC area, answers the following question, “What should I look for in a local church?”

    What is striking about Dever’s comments is what he does not say. For example, he does not say “Make sure that the local Church you join is part of the Church Christ founded, and not a schism from the Church.” Dever speaks as if schism from the Church is no longer even a possibility, and therefore nothing for new Christians to be sure to avoid.

    All the evidence indicates that the concept of schism from the Church has been almost entirely expunged from the Protestant worldview (see here). What remains is a conception of the Church defined in terms of a variously unspecified set of propositions called “the gospel,” which ultimately reduces to one’s own interpretation of the Bible. And that sets up the ecclesial consumerism described above.

    Dever sets aside the four marks of the Church given in the Nicene Creed by the Second Ecumenical Council, and comes up with his own nine marks. (See Joe Heschmeyer’s explanation.) But an important question lies behind his nine marks: “By whose authority do you redefine the marks of Christ’s Church?” Surely any heresy or schism would seek to redefine the marks of the Church, so as to prevent its being seen as not the Church. So rejecting the already defined marks, and coming up with new ones that suit one’s own sect is at least a warning sign of heresy or schism, if not a sure sign of not being the Church Christ founded but being instead a man-made imitation. At the heart of ecclesial consumerism is the same temptation Eve faced in the garden, and Cain faced shortly thereafter when presenting offerings to God: to “do it my way.” Ecclesial pelagianism is the religious expression of the very essence of sin. If one’s faith is novel, it is not the Faith.

  88. Congregations Gone Wild,” by G. Jeffrey MacDonald. Ultimately, it comes down to this: Will I submit and conform to the doctrine, worship and government of the Church Christ founded, or will I make or form or ‘do’ church in my own image, according to my own interpretation, and my own desires, opinions and judgments? The dichotomy goes back to Cain and Abel, the former ‘doing’ religion his own way, the latter conforming to the pattern established by God. Ultimately, any form of religion selected over the obedience of faith to the ecclesial authority established by God, is by that very fact a form of religion in which the self is placed at the center, and is thus a form of consumerism. That is why even obedience to an ‘authority’ chosen on the basis of its agreement with one’s own interpretation or on the basis of its potential to satisfy one’s own self-perceived spiritual needs, is consumerism. The persons who ‘submit’ to those teachers they have accumulated for themselves to suit their own likings (2 Tim 4:3) are not manifesting the “obedience of faith.”

    Ecclesial consumerism is nothing less than religious narcissism, a form of [at least implicit] self-worship. By placing self at the center, ecclesial consumerism performatively reduces God to a means of self-fulfillment, and exalts the self in sinful pride. Classically, religion is that by which man is humbled and ordered to something higher than himself; religion teaches man that he is not God, that he is not at the center of all things. Ecclesial consumerism, however, keeps the trappings of religion but places self at the center, and this makes it dangerously deceptive. The result is a kind of performative atheism, because ultimately and inevitably it reduces God to a genie on a leash. No man can serve two masters; either he submits to God and therefore to the ecclesial authority God appointed, or he ‘submits’ to himself, and makes God his servant. Ecclesial consumerism is not only the antithesis of the obedience of faith, ultimately it is the only alternative to Catholicism.

    (Source.)

  89. “Cain and Abel, the former ‘doing’ religion his own way, the latter conforming to the pattern established by God.”

    I’ll use this next year in Catechism class.

  90. This is spot on. The trouble is people see that in liberal Christianity very quickly. They don’t see it in more conservative religions with a more strict morality. How can self-sacrifice be “religious narcissism?” It can be. The point is it is your sacrifice in your way under your terms. It might be very strict. It might even be more restrictive than the Catholic church calls for. But you chose it. Maybe something in your psyche can’t accept a God who is any other way. Who knows? That is the point. You don’t know that the image of God that you have is true. It comes to you through means that are error prone.

    The other type of person who would be confused by the “religious narcissism” accusation would be the one who remains in the church he was born into. I was there for a long time. I learned and obeyed the reformed faith because I was born to a reformed pastor. That is not narcissism. Or is it? They are not doctrines and practices I had chosen but they had become comfortable. I didn’t rebel and demand my way. But I didn’t demand God’s way either. I just went with the flow. Not what we normally associate with narcissism but ultimately it suited me. So I in that sense I was in the center.

    I never realized how many questions I had set aside just because I didn’t like to rock the boat. It was a creeping doctrinal sloth that shocked me once the Holy Spirit woke me up.

  91. Randy,

    “It was a creeping doctrinal sloth that shocked me once the Holy Spirit woke me up.”

    That is a profound insight.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  92. Bryan-

    From my perspective, the most interesting comment in all of this was the one made by Jeremy in #3. Your response in #6 well helpful but didn’t seem to fully/directly address Jeremy’s question. (Jeremy- Please do chime in if I am misunderstanding or misrepresenting your comments, as that is not my intent.)

    You argue that “selecting a denomination based on how closely it matches my own interpretation of Scripture” is a form of “Ecclesial Consumerism”. Jeremy then notes that “Many, as C2C affirms, have discovered the truth of the Catholic Church through this process” (i.e. the process of comparing the Catholic Church’s teaching to “their own interpretation of Scripture”).

    I suppose my question would be, how is one’s decision to submit to the Catholic Church’s authority not also a example of “Ecclesial Consumerism”?

    How is it that only Protestants are guilty of this charge, when we both come to conclusions based – at least in part – on our interpretations of Scripture. Do converts to Catholicism not exercise the “primacy of the individual as the ultimate interpretive authority” in their decision to join to the Catholic Church in the first place and to then willfully continue in submission to the Church thereafter (not to mention the process that leads to this decision)? As you said, “I’m Catholic because I believe…”

    You also said that “What I like (i.e. “tastes, desires, opinions”) ultimately has nothing to do with why I am a Catholic.” But I doubt this is true for anyone who has converted to Catholicism (certainly not for the ones I know personally). As you came to believe that the Catholic Church was indeed the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church founded by Christ”, did She not become increasingly beautiful in your eyes? And was that not a factor in your decision-making process (and does it not continue to be)?

    You have written elsewhere that, “If the Church could “get it really, really wrong” when she defines dogma, hands on the faith, etc., then it would follow that we know next to nothing with any certainty about Christ, His gospel, the canon, etc., including transformation of the bread and wine. It makes no sense to me that Christ would humble Himself to become man, subject Himself to all the unimaginable sufferings of His Passion, institute His Church and commission His Apostles to go to the ends of the world with the gospel, and then fail to ensure a means to protect His Church from error in retaining and teaching the deposit of faith. The notion is entirely unbefitting to deity.”

    I don’t want to read too far into this so I will just ask you some honest questions: Did your decision to convert (and your continued submission) stem, in any way, from a personal desire for certainty in matters of Faith? Did it have anything to do with the fact Christ’s incarnation doesn’t make any sense to you unless the earthly Church He leaves behind is united visibly and organizationally? Did it have anything to do with personal notions about what is or isn’t befitting of deity?

    Not that any of these “tastes, desires, opinions and interpretations” are at all bad things (I actually agree with/appreciate pretty much everything you wrote there). And I’m certainly not going to say that because you have these desires you are necessarily “worshiping a god made in your own image” or promoting “religious narcissism” (no more than the rest of us, anyway :). Such assertions would not fail to convince you of anything but they would also undermine the type of open, mutually enlightening dialogue that this website is purports to promote.

    As Jeremy hinted at, this is ultimately an issue of authority. I respectfully disagree with your (the Catholic Church’s) understanding of authority (for now at least). But labeling the non-Catholic “truth-seekers” (as I am, and as you and the rest of the CtC guys for once were) as “Ecclesial Consumers” is not a convincing argument for the authority of the Catholic Church; nor does it promote any kind of Christian Unity in the meantime.

    Peter

  93. Peter G, (re: #92)

    I don’t have time right now to give you a full answer. So here’s a quick reply.

    You wrote:

    I suppose my question would be, how is one’s decision to submit to the Catholic Church’s authority not also a example of “Ecclesial Consumerism”? How is it that only Protestants are guilty of this charge, when we both come to conclusions based – at least in part – on our interpretations of Scripture.

    I have addressed this in “The Tu Quoque,” and in more detail in the comments of that post.

    You wrote:

    You also said that “What I like (i.e. “tastes, desires, opinions”) ultimately has nothing to do with why I am a Catholic.” But I doubt this is true for anyone who has converted to Catholicism (certainly not for the ones I know personally). As you came to believe that the Catholic Church was indeed the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church founded by Christ”, did She not become increasingly beautiful in your eyes? And was that not a factor in your decision-making process (and does it not continue to be)?

    There can be multiple simultaneous reasons for becoming Catholic, but ultimately there is only one reason to become Catholic, namely, because the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded. Other reasons can be present at the same time, but they are not the decisive reason. Yes, the Church is beautiful in many many respects. But all the beauty in the world would not matter if the Catholic Church were not the Church Christ founded. And so on, for every other reason. See my “Becoming Catholic: A Deconstruction of a Deconstruction.”

    You wrote:

    Did your decision to convert (and your continued submission) stem, in any way, from a personal desire for certainty in matters of Faith? Did it have anything to do with the fact Christ’s incarnation doesn’t make any sense to you unless the earthly Church He leaves behind is united visibly and organizationally? Did it have anything to do with personal notions about what is or isn’t befitting of deity?

    No, no, and no. My decision to convert was based on the discovery that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded. Yes, I had (and have) many beliefs and desires, but they are not the reason why I became Catholic.

    You wrote:

    But labeling the non-Catholic “truth-seekers” (as I am, and as you and the rest of the CtC guys for once were) as “Ecclesial Consumers” is not a convincing argument for the authority of the Catholic Church; nor does it promote any kind of Christian Unity in the meantime.

    I didn’t label “non-Catholic truth-seekers” “Ecclesial Consumers.” I didn’t label anyone, so far as I know. Nor did I claim that any label is an argument, let alone a “convincing argument.” I’m talking about a theological ideology, not about any particular person or set of persons. So if you don’t hold the ideology, then my criticism of the ideology doesn’t apply to you.

    I hope that helps.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  94. Bryan,

    If I may, I have written about the reason one should convert (It is the Church Jesus Christ founded) on my own blog here, here, and here.

    If the Catholic Church is not the Church Jesus founded, then one should not become Catholic. If She is the Church Jesus founded, joining Her ranks is the only reasonable response for one who “follows Christ”. To follow Christ and not join His Church is to reject Him, at least implicitly (assuming one understands that the Catholic Church is His Church). It is double-speak to believe anything otherwise.

    The only other option is ecclesial consumerism (i.e., Church Shopping), and I have argued that in fact ecclesial consumerism makes sense on a Protestant view of ecclesial authority. The question is not the phenomenal experience of “submission” in a local church. We agree that one can, in a moment, experience a conflict of wills and submit (as Randy has pointed out). The problem is in the totality of experience as a Protestant, and ultimately, what those experiences cash-out as the principled method a Protestant will ultimately employ in matters ecclesiastical. It would be irrational, on a Protestant view of authority and Scripture, for a Protestant to stay in their church if they thought their church were teaching something contrary to Scripture. Typically, the conflict of wills is resolved by one party convincing the other party in the validity of their argument. An interlude may occur where one simply suspends judgement and stays committed to their faith tradition on the good faith that the conflict can be resolved (the conflict of their intellect and will and their church’s intellect and will).

    Nonetheless, an important distinction is made. I may be attracted to the Catholic Church for reasons that are subsidiary to the reason I became Catholic. This does not put me in the same boat as the Protestant, for I can list at least 100 reasons I did not want to be Catholic that were subsumed underneath the one reason to become Catholic, and it will be at least one of those 100 that cause a Protestant not to join a particular faith community. The heart of the tu quoque objection is in the conflation of knowing a thing in reality and a set of propositions. When I realized that my theology was merely my personal collection of propositions that cohered–mostly (despite my “personal relationship with God”), I was committed to figuring out how to get out of my mind and to “the thing itself”. For in the conflict of wills between the church-goer and the Protestant, the propositional set merely changes when one changes churches or starts a new church. The “thing” that they create or join is not “thing in reality” in the true sense of Church–but a construct of like-minded people, a novel invention of men. That is why, ecclesial consumerism makes sense and evangelicals seem to do it best, because if the “emperor has no clothes” (there is no real “Catholic church” with which to submit) then nothing in reality compels me to stay committed to a non-reality. “Church” functions as a place-holder for “club” or “group”–hence the Catholic term “ecclesial community” which sounds better but which could be just as easily reduced to “people who follow Christ who hang out together because they agree to a group of propositions”.

    Some might object that I’m pushing forward “Roman ecclesiology” where there is none. That objection misses the point all together, because it is not a matter of Roman ecclesiology, but rather a mater of any ecclesiology other than Catholic (here it is in reality). And thus, it is left to the ecclesial consumerists to prove, how, from the data of Scripture and Tradition–on their view–their notion of “church” conforms even the slightest bit to that “church” which St. Paul called the “ground and pillar of truth”.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  95. Peter

    re 92

    I was evangelical when I started the transit. I did so because I saw scripture going one way and my / my denomination’s interpretations going another. These included the nature of the Church (as both the fulfillment of the Jerusalem temple and the nation of Israel), its governance (Peter), the position of Mary (Gebirah), and the sacraments, in particular the Eucharist. Literally scripture was saying one thing, and we were saying something else, usually a 180 away from scripture. Unlike the Lutherans or the Calvinists, I wasn’t so much dealing with a systematic theology or a creed as with scriptural interpretation.

    To the best of my understanding, the underpinnings of Protestant thought was going pretty much in the same direction as my evangelicalism, because no matter the particular position of a Luther or a Calvin, it seemed to me to inevitably lead to evangelicalism. The underpinnings of Protestant thought came from Luther who noted that any man inhabited by the Holy Spirit was capable of apprehending and expounding the scripture. Evangelicalism had plenty of those people, and the independence of the individual even inside of a congregation was a nearly perfect example of that position.

    The positions also betrayed an anti-Catholic bias. The entirety of Catholicism was at best suspect, at worst hellish.

    The best short description of all of this is in John’s gospel, starting at 6:52 and ending at 6:66 with “After this, many of His disciples left Him and stopped going with Him.” While that applies to the Protestant relationship with the Catholic Church, it now also applies to the Protestant relationship with other parts of Protestantism. It describes my prior position because it inevitably leads to the question: Do I believe Him, even when what He says is difficult to comprehend?

    I do. He is right. I was wrong before, and when I stopped agreeing with myself and started agreeing with Him, I became right with His rightness.

    I faced a lot of questions (as undoubtedly an overwhelming number of the people who read and contribute to this site have done) and looked up and said, “Help my unbelief.” A worthy prayer. I am a bible-believing Christian, I am a Roman Catholic, a son of the Church.

    Cordially,

    dt

  96. My nine-year-old son asked me an interesting question the other day. He said, “Dad? Do I have to obey you if I know you’re wrong?” I was pretty impressed with the question on a number of levels. It got me thinking about obedience and locus of authority. I had to admit to myself that as a Protestant, I would not submit to the authority of the elders at my Reformed church if I “knew they were wrong”.
    This fact was reinforced by a recent conversation I had with one of our emeritus elders. He informed me that our church had become “too liberal” and he will likely be leaving the church soon, probably going to a Reformed Baptist church in the area.

    My answer to my son? You have to obey me especially when you “know I am wrong” (unless I ask you do something sinful), because that is the test of true obedience and submission of the will. I’m not sure if this is even possible in a Protestant church. This type of submission seems so central to the very character of our Lord, who submits Himself fully to the will of the Father, that I can’t imagine He would ask anything less of me. This is probably the central reason I have all but rejected Protestant ecclesiology. I’m just not yet fully convinced that the Catholic Church represents the authority to which I must submit.

    Burton

  97. We church-shop, seeking to meet our needs rather than serving the church. This echoes Douthat’s point above. Church-switching is pernicious. Not only does the church “market” breed selfishness, it also makes pastors market-oriented. As you survey church after church, each doing things their own way, ask yourself, which of these church institutions will still be present and viable in 50 years? Or 100 years? Or 1,000? Evangelicals often look askance at Catholics, but which of our churches has even lasted since the Reformation? We cannot build institutions when our focus is on building the self.

    David French, in “Evangelicals’ Collapsing Cultural Influence.”

  98. A recent convert to Catholicism posted this interesting story from the protestant (and I believe largely reformed) group The Gospel Coalition.

    The post is about the rampant theology shifting of evangelicals in Brazil, which is known around here as ecclesial consumerism. The money section:

    According to the latest official census, evangelicals represent almost one-quarter of the total population of Brazil (22.5 percent). It is a phenomenal growth, seeing that just 40 years ago they were only 2.5 percent. In spite of their constant official growth, hailed to the world as a success story of missions and evangelism, evangelicals in Brazil face today several challenges. I’ll mention a few:

    uncertainty about their own future theological direction
    multiplicity of divergent theologies
    lack of a leadership with moral and spiritual authority
    doctrinal and moral downfall of once-respectable leaders
    rise of totalitarian leaders who call themselves not only pastors but also self-proclaimed bishops and apostles
    gradual conquest of the schools of theology by theological liberalism
    lack of moral standards that can function as a starting point for ecclesiastical discipline
    depreciation of doctrine and exaltation of experience alone

    As a cradle Catholic I’m probably not the best person to point this out, but these aren’t just problems in Brazil’s brand of evangelicalism. These are problems all evangelicals seem to deal with, though perhaps in different degrees from culture to culture. These problems appear to many to be inherent in the sola scriptura paradigm.

    He continues:

    As a result, more Brazilians are looking for churches just to feel good, to seek immediate solutions for their material problems without even reflecting on deeper questions about the existence of eternity, and moving from one community to another without any commitment or engagement in real Christian life and testimony.

  99. Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, having previously served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism. He has been researching the answer to the question “Why do people leave church”? In a recent article titled “The Main Reason People Leave Church,” he writes:

    I would therefore suggest that the main reason people leave a church is because they have an entitlement mentality rather than a servant mentality.

    Look at some of the direct quotes from exit interviews of people who left local congregations:

    “The worship leader refused to listen to me about the songs and music I wanted.”
    “The pastor did not feed me.”
    “No one from my church visited me.”
    “I was not about to support the building program they wanted.”
    “I was out two weeks and no one called me.”
    “They moved the times of the worship services and it messed up my schedule.”
    “I told my pastor to go visit my cousin and he never did.”

    … The solution to closing the back door, at least a major part of the solution, is therefore to move members from an entitlement mentality to a servant mentality.

    I agree, of course. But as I have argued in the article above, the source of the “entitlement mentality” is implicit in the notion that Church should be and be “done” according to my own interpretation of Scripture, rather than that my interpretation ought to be conformed to that of the Church.

  100. Pastor Rod Parsley enters his church on a zip line:

    Quite different from beginning with a processional, followed by the sign of the Cross, and the words: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

  101. This is the place where you can figure out where your Christian beliefs match up with. This is the simple, clear, and accurate way to examine your beliefs and figure out which Christian denomination would be most appropriate for you.

    Christian Denomination Selector.

  102. [...] and His Church cannot be separated; to be fully united to Christ entails being fully united to His very Body, the [...]

  103. “If the Church is no more than a spiritual version of the Rotary Club, then it is no more than another avenue for our self-expression and self-interest. ” — James R. Rogers, Lutheran, and associate professor of political science at Texas A&M University, in “Ecclesiastical Exceptionalism.”

  104. To Stave Off Decline, Churches Attract New Members With Beer” – NPR (Nov 3, 2013)

  105. That’s fascinating, Bryan. I guess I shouldn’t have expected it to stop at coffee houses inside of churches.

    But I might add that one of my first experiences with Catholicism was a series of meetings called Theology on Tap, and involved (depending on your city) a priest giving a short talk at a pub and having theological conversation with your fellow young adult Catholics (and me, an evangelical Protestant at the time, always up for good beer and conversation). Some quick research shows that it’s still going on a decade later. Though Chicago chapter (the original, started 1981, I’ve just learned), no longer mentions beer. But you’re in “luck” in St. Louis, they’re still poppin’ kegs for Christ. Maybe we could all meet up for a Called To Communion conference over craft beers at Theology on Tap? ;). To be clear, I know there’s a huge difference in a meeting like this and celebrating Mass at a pub.

  106. Thanks Eva (re: #105)

    Theology on Tap is not an example of ecclesial consumerism because it is evangelism, not liturgy. Nor does it conform liturgy to consumer appetites. The community in the example at the link in #104, by contrast, does just that.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  107. Burton,

    You said:

    I’m just not yet fully convinced that the Catholic Church represents the authority to which I must submit.

    I was asked this question about a year ago when I was close to but had not yet made the decision to return back to the church of my youth after spending 25 years in Protestant churches.

    “What would it take for you to return to the Catholic church”?

    I’m curious to know what is holding you from taking that final step.

    Your brother in Christ,

    Dan

  108. Dan,

    Off the top, there are three answers to your question.

    Doctrinally, I have concerns regarding what I interpret to be a soft universalism espoused by many of the Catholic clergy including the current pope. There seems to be a lot of emphasis on being a “person of good will” and “following your conscience” as the primary means of attaining salvation. This appears to me to be a real shift toward modernist thinking, if not a true change of doctrine within the RCC, which draws into question Rome’s claims of infallibility. I think there may be quite a bit of confusion in the Catholic ranks on this issue. I also disagree with Catholic belief about the role of Mary in salvation, especially as the mediatrix of all graces.

    Practically, I have concerns about taking my family to a local parish where many present don’t really know their faith and where the message they hear is more about social consciousness or being kind or going green than the gospel in all of its fullness. I don’t know for a fact that this would be the case, but I gather that this is a common phenomenon in American Catholicism. At the practical level I’m also uncomfortable diving into a world of Marian devotion, mortifications for souls in purgatory, indulgences, etc. Totally foreign landscape.

    Personally, such a conversion would lead to deep relational difficulties that I’d rather not hash out in this forum, but I think you get my drift.

    This is the best summary I can give with time constraints – probably some other issues but I’d have to think it through more. Still praying for discernment and wisdom and humility and courage.

    Burton

  109. Burton (#108
    I may say that I feel for your situation – and since, some time ago, I first saw you appear in this forum, I started praying pretty regularly for you – I make bold to say that it seems to me you are viewing the question of whether to become Catholic on the basis of the advantages and disadvantages of such a move for you. Please forgive me if I am wrong!

    I faced the same issues in becoming a Catholic – my decision was made 19 years ago – and the things I feared have at times been realised (mushy contentless homilies; ignorance and moral carelessness on the part of laity; a feeling that God wouldn’t condemn anyone – and to me at the beginning, all the statues, particularly of Our Lady, were, like, freaky!!). I should add that I have been astonished by the power of the opposite as well – and within my own parish – and becoming a Catholic has been the most wonderful thing ever to happen to me.

    Nevertheless, I knew that, though I feared these evils might be so, the only question for me was the truth of the issue: did Jesus create a visibly unified Body that He intended us all to belong to; one apart from which (which is not to say ‘formally not united to’) there is no salvation; and is that Body the thing we call, today, the Catholic Church? I believed, and believe, that if that claim were true, I had no choice. However distasteful some of these things might be to me, I must become a Catholic.

    And on the other hand, if the claims were false, then no matter how attractive this or that thing about Catholicism might be – or this or that parish, for the matter of that – any organisation making such an outrageous claim must, in fact, be anti-Christ.

    I suppose I am out of place lecturing you like this :-) But I just hope and pray you will consider the truth question. The crappy homilies – and they not only exist but are woefully common (I live in New Zealand but I do not suppose the US situation is very different); the lay, and sometimes clerical, ignorance, the empty-headed false benevolence, the cultural speed bumps of Catholic devotional life – none of this matters – if the fundamental idea of there being one Church, extra quam non est salus! – if that idea is true; and if that Church is the Church in union with the Bishop of Rome.

    Please pardon my butting in. I pray for you daily.

    jj

  110. John,

    I do thank you for praying for me. Lord knows I’ll take all I can get. I suppose at some level your assessment of advantage/disadvantage hits the mark, but on another level misses. Ultimately, if the RCC is the church Christ founded and the bearer of the fullness of Christ to the world, then my disagreement with this or that Marian doctrine or my distaste for clueless modernist parishioners and a steady barrage of insipid teaching is irrelevant to the larger question. The impact of the above on my family rises somewhat above the level of irrelevant, but is still not the deal-breaker.

    So the REAL issue is the Catholic claim to be the authority established by Christ to which the follower of Christ should submit. Are the motives of credibility sufficient? Are the frequently cited historical flip-flops truly the scratch from which the hemophiliac bleeds to death? Has the modernist/universalist element won out in the modern RCC such that Christ’s clear claims to be the only way to salvation (individually and specifically, not collectively or vaguely) are diluted to the point of being unrecognizable, and hence rarely heard from the Catholic pulpit? My current answer to these questions is a resounding shrug of the shoulders, both from my seeming inability to find a framework through which to answer them with reasonable certainty, and from the apathy that arises from pondering them for 15 years. Add to this the factors of practical distaste, concern for family’s spiritual growth, and deeply negative impact on personal relationships, and I think you have the full picture.

    I suppose this may give you additional fodder for your prayers, and I say in all sincerity, keep ‘em rockin’.

    Burton

  111. Burton (#110)

    So the REAL issue is the Catholic claim to be the authority established by Christ to which the follower of Christ should submit.

    YES! This is fundamentally the only real question. It is not the Papacy per se, the Marian doctrines per se, etc – though naturally these are all some of the things that one must think about in thinking about that basic question. Can the Catholic idea of the Papacy really jibe with the idea of a Christ-ordained ‘true Church?’ That sort of thing.

    Nevertheless, I do think that these questions – about this or that Catholic doctrine or practice – are secondary. FWIW I will put here the three books that, taken together, were decisive for me – many, many others, both on the Protestant and Catholic side, were important, but I read at the beginning of my storm these two:
    John Henry Newman’s Apologia pro Vita Sua
    Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine

    Those two started the ‘storm.’ Ten months later this book:
    Ronald Knox’s The Belief of Catholics
    settled the matter for me. It was, certainly, with fear and trembling, but still, with determination, that I prayed, when I had finished reading Knox’s book: “Lord, I’ll never dot every ‘i’ or cross every ‘t’ – but I know enough now to know that if You told me I was to die tonight, I would want to see a priest now. If You don’t stop me, I’m going to become a Catholic.”

    Not, I hear my Protestant friends say, a very humble prayer – sort of like casting myself off the parapet of the Temple :-) I can only say that I thought that after ten months of agony, and my telling God that I believed He would lead me if I sincerely sought Him, I felt it was the right prayer to pray.

    jj

  112. […] Ecclesial consumerism carries with it a crucial theological assumption. The church-shopping phenomenon presupposes that none of the churches is the true Church that Christ founded. That’s precisely why the church-shopper believes he can pick whichever presently existing church best suits him. If, however, one of the present churches is the true Church that Christ founded, and the others are to some degree or other mere imitations, then none of those other criteria (e.g. quality of preaching, conformity to one’s own interpretation, musical endowment, child care provision, community, etc.) is relevant in determining where to be on Sunday mornings. Only if none of the existing churches is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Christ founded do the other criteria become relevant. In short, only if Christ never founded a visible universal Church, or it ceased to exist, does ecclesial consumerism become an option. […]

  113. Mohler: … You write that the church is in a buyers’ market that makes any attempt to form a disciplined congregational life very difficult. Is this just part and parcel with the modern age or is this a characteristically American moment?

    Hauerwas: I honestly don’t know how to answer that, Al. I think it’s certainly the case that America is the prismatic example of it. But I suspect its true in most places because basically a buyers’ market, that very description, reproduces the presumption that you live in a demand economy that says that the buyer is supreme and they get to buy what they want and therefore… I tell my students for example, if they are to sustain their life in the ministry without self-hatred there are two things they should not do: They should never have the Christian funeral in a funeral home. It is to be in the church. And they should never marry someone off the street. And they say well if we try to do that, they will just go to the church down the street and be buried in a funeral home or to marry people off the street. And I say “yeah, but that’s why they’re a bad church and you’ll be a good one!” We won’t have many members. So that’s the way I think that it works, namely that the consumer gets to consume the kind of faith they want.

    Source: “Transcript: Nearing the End – A Conversation with Theologian Stanley Hauerwas

  114. At Mere Orthodoxy, Jake Meador writes the following in a post titled “On Church Membership and Theological Disagreement:”

    I suspect something like the same point works for church membership. By choosing—that wretched word—to stay Presbyterian even in the teeth of my struggles with problems I perceived in the church, I was making it possible for the church to correct me and to give me a fuller picture of its theological commitments. I was setting my perceived theological disagreement to the side and choosing to participate in the life of the community given to me. As it happened, it was the act of making that choice that made it possible for me to become more settled in my Presbyterianism. But if I had been a good dutiful modern and simply made a rationalistic decision to attend the church I thought agreed with me most, I never would’ve discovered the riches that were set in front of me all along within Presbyterianism. Fidelity to Presbyterianism has helped me to see Presbyterianism more faithfully, in other words. And it is precisely because I committed to it in the midst of my critical questions and theological uncertainty that I was able to receive that knowledge and be corrected by it. Had I instead attempted some sort of neutral, objective theological evaluation of the tradition it is probable that I would have had my suspicions confirmed and that I would no longer be Presbyterian. It was in committing to the faith that I was able to find it—fides quaerens intellectum, as Anselm put it, faith seeking understanding.

    Jake is absolutely right about the importance of being locked into the Church, in order to be formed by the Church. The problem for Jake’s position is that (a) it presupposes that there is no such thing as schism from the Church, such that “the community given to me” (i.e. into which one is born, baptized, raised) is in schism from the Church Christ founded, and from which one should depart in order to return to the Church Christ founded, and (b) it requires one to embrace the contradiction of holding that one must stay in the church community given to oneself even when one disagrees, while at the same time remaining in a church community that is based on the notion that Luther and Calvin were right for doing exactly the opposite, and (c) it faces the following dilemma: either all these alleged ‘branches‘ are still within the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” (as folks like Leithart maintain), in which case there is nothing wrong with switching branches, and Jake’s argument is undermined, or if it wrong to switch ‘branches’ then it was wrong for Luther and Calvin to switch ‘branches.’

  115. Missouri church lures young men to ‘follow Jesus’ with AR-15 assault rifle giveaway.”

  116. Kenneth Howell on choosing continuity as an antidote to ecclesial consumerism:

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