I received this email from a Methodist pastor. My response is below.
I found your email on your blog and thought I would ask you a question. I am a Methodist pastor leaning heavily conservative and Catholic, much thanks to the Catholic writer Peter Kreeft, but also due to my exposure to the Catholic faith.
I have many questions about your book. It seems to me that it deals with many issues rather quickly, or rather shallow. You often come back to the unity of the Faith of the RCC, and the lack of unity in the Protestant circles…this or another version of the same problem that Protestants don’t, but should, agree on the Bible.
It is true that the many different “takes” on the Faith among Protestants is a big problem. Connected with this is of course the problem of authority. However, are you aware that many Protestant churches, including my own, have a hierarchy that resembles the RCC and that it claims that this hierarchy is trusted and sent by the Holy Spirit to teach and protect the “Deposit of Faith”, or true faith, handed down through the ages?
The only difference is that the RCC claim apostolic succession, but that seems rather vague to me, considering the history of the RCC and the many Popes with many un-Biblical problems. Is the succession a spiritual one or a hands-on one?
However, the biggest problems for me have to do with the extra-Biblical stuff that the current RCC strongly believe in. I have tried to find ancient sources for the whole “Mary” thing and they are scarce. So is the “infallibility” of the Pope, as it was decided in the 1800’s. I don’t think Luther was a great success but I also fault the RCC for not heeding his obvious service to the Church of pointing out the many heretical and problematic practices they “indulged” in. Seriously, how can anyone not have a problem with selling indulgences?
On a more modern note, I recently visited Rome and the Vatican. It was an amazing trip in many ways but also troublesome. For example, what’s up with the former statue of the Roman god Jupiter in St. Peter’s Basilica that has been upgraded with a halo to symbolize Peter that people walk by and touch/kiss on the foot? How far can you stretch a belief in something before it becomes idolatry?
I do appreciate many of the RCC’s teachings and practices but I still have serious questions about some serious issues…although I am also very open to the problems of the Protestant churches. I find it very hard to “convert” to the RCC when it involves so much and so many beliefs that are weird and/or un-Biblical.
God bless you, and thank you for your message. I am encouraged that you are considering Catholicism from Methodism. Your reservations are understandable, and especially for a Methodist pastor, whose livelihood and possibly retirement rely on your remaining a Methodist, I imagine it must be very difficult to consider leaving Methodism.
I definitely deal with issues quickly in my book. I would argue though that it gets right to the critical differences so that people can judge whether Catholicism or Protestantism is more plausible. I have come to the conclusion that in fact simple arguments can be made for Catholicism over Protestantism that are quite succinct and clear Now, whether one ultimately decides to become Catholic requires something more than just recognizing the validity of a rational argument. It requires faith, because even if Protestantism is implausible as God’s plan for the Church, it is still possible that Protestantism is the best thing out there and that God is pleased with it.
I am aware of the various hierarchical Protestant denominations that claim some sort of succession or God-ordained leadership. But as you no doubt see, claiming such authority is a very different thing than demonstrating that one (or one’s church) actually has it.
Apostolic succession is not vague though. It is a direct, spiritual and “hands on” transmission of authority that is traced back to Christ ordaining the Apostles themselves. It is a fairly simple matter to determine whether or not one has valid succession from the Apostles in this way, and most Protestant denominations do not even claim that. Rather they claim that, at some point in the past, God rose up new leaders (whether Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, or others) who restored the gospel and that their church follows the gospel. Sure, they have ordained people but where did they get authority to ordain anyone? That’s the question.
With the Methodists, you have essentially an offshoot from the Anglicans, who themselves broke from the Catholic Church. So you have to go back in history and determine whether those schisms were justified, beginning with the Anglican one. Further, you have to inquire into the bishops who left the Catholic Church and acceded to King Henry VIII’s demands–excepting St. John Fischer–and determine whether the subsequent ordinations they performed were valid or not. This all is of great importance, but few people look much into it.
Regarding “extra-biblical” stuff, coming to such beliefs requires first knowing what books exactly are in the Bible, and how we are to know that with certainty, as well as requiring a belief in sola Scriptura and a rejection of (or big truncation of) sacred Tradition. This is another area where say Methodists claim to accept “Tradition” of some kind but without being connected to Apostolic Succession it is a nebulous and varying thing that is no stronger than human opinion.
Marian and papal dogmas can be found early on the Church, but often then they were in a seed form. It took years for the Church to deeply understand the charisms and gifts God had given to her, to the bishops, to the bishop of Rome, as well as the great gifts that God had bestowed upon the Blessed Virgin.
Luther was a headstrong man, confident in his own opinions and refusing to submit to anyone. It was his way or the highway, a quality shared by Calvin and many other early Protestant leaders. This is why they argued among each other and could never agree. The Church could have done better with him, no doubt, but ultimately he chose his own opinion over the teaching authority of the Church. He rejected the belief that God protected the Church from error in her teachings. Protestants have continued to do the same ever since.
Selling indulgences was a bad idea and was abused. Bad thing, and the Church reformed it. Indulgences still remain today; they are good and always have been good.
The statue you mention is really just St. Peter, not Jupiter. Some have claimed that an old Roman statue of Jupiter was adapted for it, but I don’t think that is a majority opinion. Even so, kissing a statue or kneeling before one is just a sign of honor to the person commemorated. It is against Catholic dogma to worship a statue or the saint depicted by it.
Realize you have likely had a lifetime of Protestant filters ingrained into your mind and heart. That is why Catholicism seems foreign in many ways. It is an obstacle, but not an insurmountable one. I would keep an eye on your Methodist denomination. I would say it has already flip-flopped on many non-negotiable doctrines. It appears poised to flip-flop on more, unless the Africans save the day! Whereas the Catholic Church has changed no dogma and stands firm as ever. That is a motive of credibility to believe that God truly is protecting the Catholic Church from error.