Also for my Eastern Orthodox friends with some Musings on the Theological Other
A quick story
After my parents divorced, it was necessary for my mother, two brothers, sister and I to search for a church home outside of the baptist church that we were members of for various political and personal reasons. One of the first churches we visited was an all-African American Roman catholic church. It was smaller than the two Baptist (1, National Baptist Convention, USA, the other, Southern Baptist) churches and one Methodist (African Methodist Episcopal Zion) church I was raised in. Up until that one fateful Sunday, I had been told in Sunday school and even within my immediate family that Catholics pray to Mary, they pray long prayers, and they really didn’t believe in Jesus. Not only did my experience at my very first Catholic Mass pretty much deconstruct my embedded theology and bias, I actually enjoyed myself after an initial nervousness. I cannot recall if we partook of the Eucharist or not, but I had learned a valuable less: that prejudice was wrong, and will always be proven wrong in the encounter with the Other, in this case, Roman Catholicism. I must admit, what made Mass all the more enjoyable was that I did not have to sit for two hours and listen to the preacher do horrible eisegesis to the text as has been my experience in the baptist tradition. Yeah, we were there for 45 minutes, Christ was the center of the service, and not the preacher, and that is what matters more than anything else.
The Continued Problems of Protestantism
Earlier tonight, Joel Watts responded to some problematic (and I would add theologically uninformed) statements made by R J Hayton. While RJ is on the conservative branch of the Reformed Christian tradition, anti-Catholicism is not a problem that is purely evangelical either. In fact, last week, in the middle of a conversation on Facebook, a friend of mine from seminary informed me of the anti-Catholic bias of my alma mater, which lends itself to progressive mainline Protestant circles. At first I was taken aback by his statements, but when I sat down, upon reflection, I knew that from courses in Church history to Christian ethics, there had been an implicit exclusion of Catholic thinkers (particularly the Church mothers and fathers of the Early Church, both East and West).
In undergrad, I had the pleasure of taking a course on Vatican II Catholicism and my readings of Joseph Cardinal Bernandin impacted me immensely as I have mentioned my posts on abortion and ethics. Not only was that man an intellectual giant, but he was first a Christian, a bible-believing one at that too. But it takes more than just believing the Bible to be a Christian. For didn’t Christ say that even the daemons believe in God, and didn’t he say that not everyone who says Lord, Lord will enter the commonwealth of God? Perhaps I will take Jesus at his word, rather any one would suggest that because Catholics and Eastern Orthodox do not affirm this or that doctrine (justification by grace through faith alone, for example). Has Christ appointed any of us as judge and jury concerning the salvation of others? For the only way to know if someone is a believer is the affirmation of Christ as Lord, as the Gospel according to Paul illustrate. Anything outside of that is legalism: human trappings feigning as the one true religion. I know that Reformation Protestants get a little itchy when it comes to the letter to James, but it is in the canon, and you can choose to take it out if you want, like the Apocrypha was excluded some, oh over 100 odd years after the first King James Version was printed (in fact, the first KJV I read in the 1980s still had a copy of the Apocrypha, but I digress). Justification cannot be separated from living a just life. One cannot hear the words of Jesus, and even repeat them, without living them out. It is impossible to do both (I’m sure Jesus said that somewhere.
There are “genuine” Christians in every tradition just as there are people who pose as believers in any religion. Honestly, when it comes to Church history, I am not sure I can affirm the so-called American Christians (mostly of the Protestant and Deist variety) who enslaved Africans on this land as part of the Church universal. A little dirty secret Evangelicals and liberal Protestants like to forget is that there were a number of papal bull condemning slavery. Indeed, whose Christianity is practicing justification in this instance? I would say the latter.
Doctrine is important, for I am no relativist, and I am happy as a Protestant. Doctrine should never be separated from praxis, bottom line. Let us not prioritize our traditions over Christ’s.
(OH, and just a little tip, if you are married, and you wear your wedding ring on your left ring finger, that’s a Catholic tradition. Also, where did the Bible come from? Oh……)