Friday, November 7, 2008

Meet me at the Mission

For the past few weeks, enigmatic little signs have been popping up on lawns all over Staten Island, outnumbering even the ubiquitous Obama/Biden signs. They simply read "Meet me at the Mission" and listed a web site, http://www.siparishmission.org/index.html. At first, I didn't know what to make of it, but I certainly didn't think it had anything to do with the Catholic Church. After all, "mission" is a word we usually associate with foreign lands, e.g. churches send "missionaries" to Africa to start "missions". If we use the word at all in an American context, it's to refer to some sort of evangelical charity located in the dingiest parts of our cities: "You can get a bed and a hot meal at the Salvation Army Mission in the Bowery." And the main reason I didn't suspect this clever advertising campaign had anything to do with the Catholic Church was because the modern Church just doesn't seem to_do_anything. It doesn't evangelize, it doesn't seem too excited about the Faith, and it doesn't seem to organize very many "extracurricular" devotional activities outside of the regularly scheduled Sunday Masses. I was sure this had to be some sort of Pentecostal membership drive. I was wrong.

I was surprised when I started to see these signs in front of Catholic churches. Still, I suspected that it all had to do with a diocesan fund raising appeal. I never got a chance to check the website since I always saw these signs while driving and couldn't remember the web address. However, the full story began to come out with a series of ads in our local paper, the Advance. A revival was coming to Staten Island!

According to these ads, the Redemptorist order was sponsoring a week-long mission to Staten Island in order to bring fallen-away Catholics back to the Church and to re-energize "our Catholic Faith". I was a little bothered that the phrase "our Catholic Faith" was put in quotation marks, as it seemed to imply that our Catholic Faith was an ironic, theoretical or even dubious concept, but I put it down to a bad copywriter. This was exciting!

This event was something of the order of being in Times Square on VJ Day or seeing the towers fall on 9/11. The Church was actually_doing_something- taking the initiative, taking action, being aggressive for the Faith. Never in my lifespan of some 30-odd years had I seen anything of the sort on Staten Island, or anywhere else for that matter. The Redemptorist Order was sending 35 of its priests (along with 1 Augustinian) to our Island parishes to conduct a week of preaching, reconciliation and revival. This seemed just what we needed. Staten Island is a place that has a large nominal Catholic majority, but the living Faith- with the exception of small pockets- seems on life support here. We've had several churches and Catholic grade-schools close because of low attendance. Sunday Mass at many parishes seem to be attended only by a sprinkling of senior citizens. The Catholic high schools seem well attended, but judging by the behavior of the students, it doesn't seem like much is being done there to impart the Faith in any meaningful way. The priests provide no leadership, the sermons we hear are universally abysmal, and outright public heresy is never corrected. With the way things are going, I can't see the Faith surviving for another generation. So I was extremely excited to hear that the Redemptorists were coming to town.

In an unprecedented move for a purely religious news story, the Advance even gave the Mission front page, above-the-fold coverage. You can read the story here. I was a little disturbed at some of the things the priest heading the Mission chose to talk about though. With his great opportunity to reach a hundred thousand people or so, for some reason he chose to criticize the Church for not emphasizing God's forgiveness towards women who've aborted their babies. He spoke at length about those divorced and remarried Catholics who might still be able to receive Communion because their first marriage was before a justice of the peace. Bizarrely, he mentioned how he doesn't think that many people are angry at the priest pedophile scandals. Another Redemptorist interviewed compared the mission to a "pyramid scheme." OK, obviously our priests are clueless about public relations, but someone must have known what they were doing to get free publicity like this, and I was sure the Redemptorists would excel at the actual mission.

I wasn't at all familiar with their order, but after a little Googling, my admiration for them swelled. In the first place, they were founded by one of my favorite saints, St. Alphonsus Liguori, who wrote one of the most spiritually edifying books I've ever read, "How to Converse Continually and Familiarly with God" and who was an all-around giant of the Faith. Appropriately enough, his Redemptorists specialize in missionary activities, preaching and soul-winning. These guys are God's special forces. Of course it was up to God to decide whether their efforts would have any effect, but I was certain that I would at least get to hear some great preaching, for once.

I think I can tally on one hand the number of good sermons I've heard from Catholic priests throughout my entire life. I don't know the reason why our priests are such horrible- and I mean horrible- preachers. They have years of advanced education, so they have no lack of knowledge. They've dedicated their lives to Christ by becoming priests, so there shouldn't be a lack of motivation in their hearts. They have a friendly audience and ample opportunity, yet their preaching is, almost without exception, uninspiring, boring, senseless and really just plain stupid. They couldn't do a worse job if they were deliberately trying to destroy our faith and, unfortunately, I think that's the result of such universally abominable preaching. I think bad Catholic preaching is one of, if not the biggest problem in the Church today. Remember, "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Rom 10:17). It's sad to say, but you will hear better preaching from any random fundamentalist you find flipping through the radio dial or on TV, not to mention the ones you can hear in your own neighborhood. I believe that's one of the main reasons why their pews (or at least rows of metal folding chairs) are filled with so many ex-Catholics. However, I was fairly certain that the Redemptorists would not let me down. After all, soul-stirring preaching is their stock in trade

I couldn't make the Monday night mission, so I attended on Tuesday night. I will leave the name of the church anonymous, so as not to implicate any specific people. The crowd was disappointingly sparse, and even more disappointingly elderly. This was obviously the regular Sunday bunch. Even though there were so few of us in the large church, we had arranged ourselves in the traditional Catholic seating pattern: as far away from all other people as possible. A 64 page booklet was passed out beforehand which included Scripture readings, Catholic prayers, a guide to examining one's conscience, etc. Good so far. Then it began.

The Redemptorist priest came out from the sanctuary with the parish priest and an altar girl. A large bowl of water was placed on a table in front of the altar. We started off with a hymn- a weird, feminine, operatic type of hymn that no normal congregation could ever possibly sing, so we all basically sat silently as the organist carried the load. ("Why Catholics Don't Sing" is an excellent critique of dreadful modern church music, by the way). That was par for the course at this parish, so I didn't think much of it. We then recited some unfamiliar prayers from the booklet we had received. The priest then prepared to read the Gospel text from which he'd preach, by swinging the censer around the pulpit. It was at this point when my antennae went up and the mission went downhill, because before he began to read he told us that we could all sit down if we wanted to. We were already standing, and as Catholics we are used to standing during the Gospel reading. It's our tradition and it shows our reverence for the words of Christ. It was obvious that the people were all very confused and disturbed by his unorthodox permissiveness. Why on earth would he tell us something like that? So he could pose as our liberator from oppressive church rules? So he could play the "cool" authority figure, like the substitute teacher who lets the students sit in a circle rather than in rows? That had to be one of the most asinine things I'd ever heard in church. We all remained standing for about 10 seconds, unsure of what the crowd would do, but as a few people began to sit down, the rest of us lemmings followed. I thought I would remain standing as a sort of protest against such disrespect for the Word of God, but I eventually lost my nerve and sat down too. I noticed one middle aged woman who remained defiantly standing though. I salute that brave woman and wish I had her courage. She showed that she had a steel backbone and the spirit of a Joan of Arc. Even though I believe in traditional gender roles and oppose women priests, that doesn't mean that I don't think women can lead. That woman preached a better sermon by her example than any speaker could have done, and I'll never forget it. It was certainly better than anything I heard that night.

The Gospel reading was the parable of the Prodigal Son, which was appropriate for that night's theme of reconciliation. Unfortunately, the sermon was the same twaddle I hear every Sunday, only longer. At least the priest's delivery was slightly animated, which is in contrast to the whispering monotone in which sermons are usually delivered in my parish. However, the content was the same utter dreck. I certainly understood all the words that were spoken, but they just did not meld together into any one cogent idea. It was disorganized, fatuous and just plain incoherent. I'll save my in-depth analysis on the subject of preaching for another time, but suffice it say that this experience was extremely disappointing and dispiriting. I found myself giving thanks that it didn't seem like there were many fallen-away Catholics or non Catholics present because they would certainly never come back after hearing that.

After the pulpit punishment, we sang some hymns, one of which was, incredibly, even singable. Then the priest made us all go to the center aisle where we had to shake hands or wink at the people from the other side of the church and then change sides with them if we chose. The point of this ridiculous exercise escaped me, but I think he tied it in to Republicans and Democrats "crossing the aisle". As I was sitting down, an old woman told me how nice it was to see a young man in church, since she doesn't see many these days. I thought to myself that it was no wonder young men don't go to church if this is what the church offers: effeminate, unsingable music, sermons that are nothing more than gibberish, spiritual slackness ("you can sit if you want to") and queer, touchy-feely, New Age rituals that focus on man rather than God. Many books have been written about the feminization of Christianity (both Catholic and Protestant), and this was a great example tonight. What healthy-spirited man could tolerate these treacly ceremonies, this overload of estrogen, this dearth of reverence and spiritual awe? What draws a man to religion is black and white ideas (good and evil), a clear, challenging call to action of some sort (e.g. this is how you please God, this is how you get saved), an adherence to tradition and immutable truths, a gravity and seriousness appropriate to the circumstances, a focus on something that is greater than ourselves (honor, principles, the Church, salvation, God), and a religious leader who has the masculine qualities of leadership. Instead, the atmosphere at Mass and Catholic events like this mission all too often feels like an episode of the Oprah Winfrey show. Am I being rude and abrasive by saying these things? Yes, but ask yourself why so many of our churches are made up mostly of old women and die hard loyalists like myself who nevertheless can barely get through Mass, even with a lot of teeth gritting and desperate prayer. Men, and younger Catholics in general, are rejecting the feel-good, happy-clappy church of the 60s generation and want something more substantial, more strenuous. We want our old Faith back.

The less said about the rest of this mission, the better. At one point, the priest held up a huge bowl of water like he was raising the Host and told us we were going to engage in a new ritual of sorts. All I could think of at that point was "Don't drop it!" because that would just make the priest and, by extension, the Faith into a laughingstock. He managed to place the bowl back on the table and explained that we were to come up and- I believe- bless ourselves with the water while publicly proclaiming some resolution, like "I will love you better, Jesus." This new fangled ritual seemed silly and unnecessary to me. We Catholics have such a rich devotional heritage. Why do the Redemptorists feel the need to reinvent the wheel? In keeping with the disorganized and fumbling way in which the mission was conducted, the priest interrupted the beginning of the water ceremony and mentioned that we'd also be having confession, which was good. However, in yet another unnecessary concession to unsought novelty, he explained that we didn't have to use the old-fashioned Act of Contrition we learned growing up but could use the updated version as found on page 22 in our booklets. As the people grudgingly began lining up to anoint themselves, I made my escape.

Needless to say, I didn't attend any other missions. I was curious but just too discouraged to go through that again. As I said, there were 35 priests on the Island, so I can't judge what happened at their individual missions. They all might have been wonderful. I'm simply relating what I witnessed, which was a disaster in my opinion. I can't imagine anyone getting anything out of what I saw that night. I don't report this with the intention of harming the Church, but helping it. I have a feeling that the priests running this mission (and priests in general) receive nothing but praise from the old ladies and therefore think that they're doing a grand job. Things really need to improve if the Church in America is even to survive, and that's not going to happen without some harsh feedback, self-examination, hard work and reform.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

as someone who has spent 35 years in the catholic church, I totally sympathize with your disappointment in the spiritual fervor of the mission and its ability to draw people to christ. The last mass I attended was a palm sunday on which the priest read the gospel about Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and then said" That was such a long reading, you dont need to hear anything from me." and then he sat down. While some might say hallejuah, I left that day never to return to a catholic church, convinced that there had to be something else out there that would truly feed a spiritually hungry soul with the beauty of Jesus and his word. As a result, I have enjoyed the last 17 years as part of the evangelical christian community on si in which people sing, pray, read the bible, listen to half hour meaningful sermons,love each other , linger after church to talk..all the things that a spiritual community should be across the age spectrum. I know you think that this is not an answer for a catholic...but please think about this..there is real christianity going on all around you..bible based and not subject to some priest who blows through to hand out a new booklet and set up new rituals for people who are motivated by obligation rather than freedom and joy in loving the Christ who paid for their sins and lives by his spirit in their hearts to give them a new life. You are watching old wineskins trying to hold new wine...it cannot happen..when the true gospel is preached it changes lives and energizes them...no moe dead church!! I have lived it myself and so have thousands of your SI neighbors. Same Jesus, same Bible..not a new religion...just the real deal. Join us sometime and let God reveal to your heart where you belong "he will reward those who diligently seek Him." (You can find me at Salem Church on clove rd at 11am on sundays!!)

Staten Pilgrim said...

I had a similar experience at a Palm Sunday Mass. Completely abdicating the opportunity to touch the souls of a church packed full of A&P (Ashes and Palms) Catholics, as well as a few non-Catholics who had attended that day, the priest spoke for literally 30 seconds about the Gospel, and for 4 minutes about various church announcements. Needless to say, I was disgusted.

However, it's not all about me and what I'm getting out of my experiences at church. That is an important component but definitely not paramount. If it were, and I saw Christianity as a commodity and the Catholic Church as any other business which sells a product and competes for customers, then yeah- I would have been out the door a long time ago. I'm sure there are scads of churches around here that provide better customer service: substantive preaching, evangelical enthusiasm, a spirituality of sorts, a warm and supportive community of ready-made friends, etc. But as you surmised, I'm not going anywhere. I believe that the Catholic Church is the church Jesus founded and the place where He wants His followers to be. Despite the horrible leadership we now have, I believe God has chosen it to preserve the True Gospel against error. That's where the Sacraments are. I believe Jesus wants us to care for and build up His church, not abandon it to join man-made sects and follow our own individual interpretations of the Bible. Even if I didn't think that Protestantism is inherently contradictory and un-Biblical, which one of the 30,000 different Protestant denominations should I join? What makes your church- in contrast to all those other churches- Biblical?

I'm slightly familiar with the Salem church on Clove Road. I know of a couple of people, both with a Catholic background, who got married there. The bride and possibly the groom had several marriages and divorces behind them. In the Bible, Jesus unequivocally condemns divorce and remarriage in extremely clear terms as adultery, yet this couple was married at the Salem church by, I assume, the pastor. I'm not trying to be provocative or rude, but that doesn't exactly sound like a church that really follows the Bible. No amount of social benefits or good feelings could ever justify being in a church like that.

We may disagree, but I think your post is very important and should be read by all Catholic clergy. It shows how our priests are driving people away. It shows how human needs are more important to the vast majority of church-goers than theological positions. It shows how little things like good preaching and community belonging are so important. I thank you for your testimony, brother, and encourage you to share again.

I would also be remiss if I didn't encourage you to come back to the Catholic Church. It is zeal like yours that should be building up God's church, not Pastor Eddie's church. Think about it. Pray about it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I understand your thoughts completely as I had the same ones myself.
I hope my response will be helpful.
I remember running past the Lutheran church as a child on the way home from school for fear that the heretic Protestants would get me. My mother washed altar cloths and dipped beeswax Pascal candles in our tub for the parish we attended, and I have 12 years of Catholic education in my background. Here's what I never had: a transformed life,the true gospel and a first hand knowledge of the word of God. Not that I knew what I was lacking, except that I knew that the God of the universe had to be out there in a real and personal way or what was the point. I had done all the rites and rituals and all I really had to show for it was a deep sense of obligation and guilt according to an ever changing set of man(pope,priest) made rules. I just had this abiding sense that the eternal God had to have an unchanging character and I wanted to know Him. But I did not know how and no one I grew up with in the church had a life that I could look to as an example.
I did not go willy nilly to an evangelical church. I went out of desperation for a place I could bring my family to worship the Triune God in Spirit and in Truth; where people didnt roll their eyes and curse under their breath and otherwise ignore the fundamentals of the faith, showing up only to fulfill some obligation or be damned. When I was invited to attend such a church I felt I was betraying MY church, the one I had always been taught was the one true church. But my strongest motivation to do so, was my recollection that in all the years and in all the Catholic families I ever knew..I had never seen a life changed by the power of God or obedience to His word..something I desperately wanted for my family..a real God with real wrath for real sin and real forgiveness and real salvation..one that could be known and loved, and not from afar or through third parties, but through the revelation of his literal word. That is what I found in reformation theology. The three "solas" have transformed my life as I have learned and witnessed their power in the last 17 years: Christ alone, Grace alone, Scripture alone. In a true Christian church, salvation is understood from the Scripture,as a gift given by God, through grace by faith in Christ alone, that none should boast and the glory given for it to God alone:the gospel according to Jesus. That's it. NO good works, indulgences, atonements, nothing can share his glory or suffice to pay thr price for our sin..the finished work of the cross accomplished salvation, once for all, to those who believe. Hallejulah!!
I can testify that my life and that of hundreds of people that I personally know, generationally, have been changed by the power of the Holy Spirit unto good works and a heart of worship that they tried, but could not manufacture, in their own strength to achieve. I realize that this response might sound hyperbolic, but I assure you as a fellow believer in Jesus Christ, that my argument is sincere and has nothing to do with consumer dissatisfaction or rebellion against the RC church. It is about being a truth seeker and asking God to show me Himself in a real and personal way, and finding to my great shock and amazement that He is not hidden behind robes and incense, but available to know through His word and his followers.
I regrettably concur with you that churches, of all denominations, have false prophets and sinful members who make Christ look bad. I did not leave the church because priests abuse or somewhere else was more fun. I left when on a sunday morning in april 1991, a minister said, open the Bible to page.., read from it aloud as I read along,preached on it, and it pierced my heart in a way that I knew meant there was new life for me in the study of His word and a reshaping of my mind alond biblical lines. How can any church be a true church or "the" true church as long as it preaches the the Bible is not the infallible word of God and that there is no assurance of salvation for those who believe.(no vatican council has changed that to date, as evidenced by the theology being taught to many I know on elementary, high school and undergrad levels right here on SI) That is the criteria for a bible believing christian church:let the word of God speak! and I KNOW there are those that have strayed far from this in our day and still say they are christian; that is the consequence of living in a fallen world and I make no apology for any christian practicing sin, minister or member. In fact I did leave another church whose leadership has corrupted the gospel and that is how I wound up at Salem. So believe me, I am well aware that if in "any" church,the teaching of men and tradition, add to or take away from, the finished work of the cross, that is not the true gospel of Jesus Christ and it is time to go. So far in my experience, Pastor Eddie understands that he is a fellow sinner saved by grace, ministering to the suffering, sin-prone saints of God and he preaches his heart out every sunday (twice) to reach people with love, comfort, conviction of sin and hope in Christ,through the faithful exposition of the Word.
I hope you can hear my heart in this response. I know your hurt and disappointment and can hear in your detailed analysis, the frustration of wanting to see the power of God at work in a community of faith that uses obedience to his Word alone as the foundation for understanding how we were created to live, in this world and the next. All I can tell you is that you can spend the rest of your life railing against what the RC church does, or you can read for yourself what the Bible says the church is.Would you not consider seeking Him, without a denominational context, through his Word and see what it speaks to your heart about how best to seek and find Him? I know its a big request, but what do you have to lose?

Staten Pilgrim said...

What I seem to be hearing from you is that people have played an inordinate role in your religious decision. You didn't find the Catholics especially impressive, so you came to disdain the Catholic faith. You found the evangelicals more impressive, so you embraced their faith. As I touched on in my previous post, I don't think that the behavior, zeal or sociability of any religious grouping should determine our spiritual allegiance in any way. Otherwise we should all want to become Mormons, who are renowned for their moral probity. I know you threw in a few doctrinal reasons here and there, but it certainly seems like the human dimension was an extremely important, if not the foremost factor in your spiritual choices.

Not that it's entirely relevant, but my experience with my fellow Catholics has been just the opposite. Contrary to your (rather unbelievable assertion) that "all" the Catholic families you have ever known have been rather disobedient to and ignorant of God, I have known many godly Catholic families, including my own. Sure, I've known lots of horrible ones (mainly from the Baby Boom generation), but I have had ample first-hand experience with Catholic individuals and families who loved God with all their hearts and lived the Bible, rather than thumped it. Even if I didn't know such people personally, the history books, the lives of the saints, and the holy work of the Church throughout the world today would be testimony enough to the all-consuming zeal for God that has been a norm in Catholicism through the ages, even if I didn't happen to personally see it in my family or local parish. Mercifully though, I did live in a Spirit soaked environment growing up. Most of my family members were role models of moral rectitude, and possessed a child-like love of God that was the source of said moral uprightness. And who taught them that love of God? The Catholic Church. If the 60s generation of laity and clergy seemed to have strayed and "lost its flavor", the contrasting spiritual example of the preceding generations I personally knew, as well as myriad examples from the Church's 2000 year history, would point rather to the 60s Zeitgeist or Vatican II changes as the source of the problem rather than to any flaw inherent in Catholicism. The point is that I saw with my own eyes how Catholicism led people to God and godly lives. I saw it in my family and community and in myself.

You make some assumptions. You assume that because I am Catholic, I have never read the Bible, that my life isn't shaped by God's Word, etc. I know those are standard evangelical talking points, and in your personal experience they may very well be true, but I can assure you that they are not in my case. As I said, the Catholic Church of my youth was not an obstacle but a vehicle in my journey towards God. If the Church of my adulthood has been a hindrance, I attribute that, for the reasons I mentioned above, to bad leadership, not to Catholicism itself.

You also make one erroneous statement. You say that the Catholic Church teaches that the Bible is not infallible, or to use a more accurate word, is not inerrant. That is simply not true. See: http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p1s1c2a3.htm#II
As for teaching that belief isn't enough for salvation, the Church does teach that, and rightly so, as I believe that Faith Alone is blatantly unbiblical (James 2:14-26 for one). But I don't want to argue the Bible with you. I also thought there were 5 solas, not 3.

As for all the wonderful things that await me if I convert, I know evangelicals are great- well- evangelizers, and talk a great game about the transformed lives and the intimate relationship that they have with God, and the resurrected marriages and cured addictions and all the other great things that will happen to you if you join their church. And such seductive promises would certainly be hard for anyone to resist. At the very least, most people would be justifiably tempted to see if they're true. However, the facts just don't support the hype. A slew of polls have shown that self-proclaimed born-again evangelicals live pretty much as the secular world does, and sometimes worse, in terms of sexual mores, divorce, immoral entertainment, etc. On a personal level, I have family members who have gone through seemingly every evangelical/Pentecostal church on the North Shore. I've met some of the friends and pastors they've known through these churches. I think I even know one guy from Salem. And I really have not seen any justification for the wild claims that these churches make. Its members are a mix of good and bad- I haven't seen anything to suggest that they've experienced something that I haven't.

So what it comes down to is theology. By faith and reason, I believe in the Catholic Church and don't believe in Protestantism. It's as simple as that. By faith, I believe the Catholic Church is God's chosen instrument for the salvation of the world and the promulgation of the True Gospel, even though our leaders seem to be on a mission to thwart Him. By reason, meaning based on my study of history and the Bible, I have concluded that the Catholic Church's claims are valid and Protestantism's are not. I know that your words are sincere and you make your case with great eloquence and intelligence. But it's just not convincing to me. Sorry. But come on back.

Anonymous said...

sorry. I am not in this for the intellectual exercise. You have mistaken my efforts here as wanting to be part of a debate about evangelicals and catholics. I do not; having been both I have nothing to prove to anyone. Since you are utterly beholden to the church and its teachings and your heart and mind are not open to the idea that "moral rectitude" will not get you to God, there is nothing further I can say about to you. In the words of St Augustine, I can only exhort you to "Tolle lege."

Can I Change A Life? said...

I love your passion for the church. You're absolutely right about staying with the Church that has the fullness of truth rather than leaving it because of some disappointment in worship.

That being said, I wish you could meet my priest. I read your comment on InsideCatholic. That's what brought me here. You said this:

Our priests don't train us, encourage us or lead us by example. Even if I could convince a non-Catholic to come to Mass, what would they find in most cases? Lack of reverence by both clergy and laity, horrible and sometimes heretical preaching, lack of belief in the Real Presence, abysmal knowledge of our own Faith, no zeal for God, etc.

Good priests, even great priests, do exist. My priest is evangelical in the best of ways, and both teaches and leads by example. He offers more classes than any one person could take, including one on Catholicism. I've never seen anybody more reverent, more aware of all the Mass has to offer, a man who truly wears his love of God on his sleeve.

On days with multiple Masses, you want to be at his later ones. The more Masses he says in a day, the greater his joy, and it's contagious.

I am, in fact, going to be bringing a protestant friend to Mass with me. She's been impressed with the priest's homilies (as I've told her about them) and with some daily emails he sends.

I know a couple of people who were getting ready to leave the Church but didn't because of his example. One took one of his classes, the other listened to his homilies. Both now attend daily Mass. To the best of my knowledge, he isn't even aware that they were close to leaving. It was his example and his words that convinced them.

I also now attend daily Mass. There are people of all ages there, including college students, at daily Mass. Many of the students remain after for prayer.

But to me, one proof of what I have learned there is this: before going to that particular parish, I attended one where the service was much less inspiring. The acoustics are bad so it's hard to hear the preaching or the readings. Nobody sings much there. I didn't feel I worshipped well there. Now I go back to that church when circumstances require it. Because of the example of my priest, I now recognize the gift we have in Mass, and how it transcends everything else. I now worship well there or wherever I go.

Though my priest is among the very best, letting God work through him in a way I've never seen, I've known several good priests. I don't know why some areas of the country seem to attract better and some seem to attract worse, but we are very fortunate where I live.

I pray things get better for you. I'm pleased that you know that it isn't all about whether or not the priest can inspire, and also pleased with how you dislike those who are heretical and lead people away from the truth. I'm glad you understand and love the Church, understanding that those problems are not THE church.

Anonymous (if you come back) you mentioned "In a real Christian church." The Catholic church IS a real Christian church.

Staten Pilgrim said...

The petulance of "Anonymous" is sad, but not surprising. Insults and condemnation are usually how the Protestants end these discussions, when you don't bow down to their supposedly superior logic and insight. According to "Anonymous", I'm "utterly beholden" to the Church and my "heart and mind are not open" because I won't reject Catholicism. So now my Protestant friend will wash his hands of me, shake the dust from his feet, and leave me to my sorry fate in the bosom of the Great Whore of Babylon, secure in the knowledge that he had done all he could do to rescue me. Fine. I would leave him with a couple of thought-provoking quotes from St. Augustine though, since "Anonymous" seems to admire him:

"“I would not believe the Gospel unless moved thereto by the authority of the Church"

"Rome has spoken; the matter is settled".

"The Catholic Church is the work of Divine Providence, achieved through the prophecies of the prophets, through the Incarnation and the teaching of Christ, through the journeys of the Apostles, through the suffering, the crosses, the blood and the death of the martyrs, through the admirable lives of the saints. When, then, we see so much help on God's part, so much progress and so much fruit, shall we hesitate to bury ourselves in the bosom of that Church? For starting from the Apostolic Chair down through successions of bishops, even unto the open confession of all mankind, it has possessed the crown of teaching authority."

Staten Pilgrim said...

I envy you, "Can I Change a Life". Your priest and parish sound absolutely wonderful. Consider yourself blessed. However, I can't help but see parishes such as yours as mere islands in a sea of weakness, unfaithfulness, and pure evil. I don't despair though. Perhaps parishes such as yours will be the instrument of reform in the American Church. After all, God is on our side. It's up to us to keep the Faith and keep fighting. It's up to Him to decide the time and manner of final victory.

Can I Change A Life? said...

I take note of this that Anonymous said:

Would you not consider seeking Him, without a denominational context, through his Word and see what it speaks to your heart about how best to seek and find Him? I know its a big request, but what do you have to lose?

I would add to that last sentence, or what do you have to gain? I think her request is quite reasonable, but it depends on what she means by "what it speaks to your heart". Mormons use the same idea. They tell you to read the book of Mormon and you'll know the truth when you feel a burning in your heart.

You can't rely just on feelings to find the truth. That's one reason there are so many denominations, all claiming the truth.

I've gone through several years of being plagued by doubt about whether or not God exists. Because of this, I did exactly what Anonymous recommends. I am a cradle Catholic, but the catechism wasn't really taught at all where I was raised, so in searching for answers, I started where I was at, with Catholicism. (In the process, I also learned more about many protestant denominations.)

Imagine my surprise at the richness that I never knew we had. But it's not really that at all that keeps me Catholic, it's that when you start looking at everything, it's clear that we are the Church established by Jesus and that we still have the fullness of truth.

Anonymous talks about people at Mass only motivated by obligation, but cannot read the minds of people there. Certainly there are some who are there for that reason, just as there are some in Protestant church who go because they think they should. But either way, though it's great if you enjoy a service, that's not what it's about.

But I'm preaching to the choir now, so I'll quit.

I just want to add that now that I understand so much more, I'm like a new convert... not the ones who convert because of s spouse or similar reasons, but those who convert because they've found the truth.

And that truth is independent of any poor preaching by anybody. Sadly enough, I am pretty certain that in a few years our priest will be called to serve another area. (I'm trying not to be greedy about it, but I'm going to hate to see him go, while being grateful for what I've learned.) No matter who comes to take his place, or no matter where I may one day end up, I will still be Catholic because the fullness of truth is there.

Can Anonymous say the same? Will she/he stay with Salem if the preacher leaves and somebody less to her liking shows up? What happens then?

Anonymous said...

At the risk of sounding "petulant" to my dear Catholic brother, I wish to add that the differences between Salem (or ant other prot church) and the RC church do not hinge on talent, fervor or enjoyment. They hinge on the understanding of the gospel: what is the good news of Jesus Christ. If you believe there are any "works" involved, sacraments or penance administered by clergy to gain heaven, then you do not subscribe to theology as it is taught in the evangelical church. The finished work of the cross is the essence of the divide.

Can I Change A Life? said...

Glad you're back, Anonymous.

I realize you were a member of the Catholic church for a long time, but often even cradle Catholics don't truly understand Church teachings.

When it comes to understanding Catholic teaching about grace vs works, maybe it would be helpful for you to see the joint statement from the Catholic church and the Lutheran synods.

There's a lengthy statement. I'm only going to quote you 2 paragraphs because I think it addresses your issue:

Justification takes place "by grace alone" (JD 15 and 16), by faith alone, the person is justified "apart from works" (Rom 3:28, cf. JD 25). "Grace creates faith not only when faith begins in a person but as long as faith lasts" (Thomas Aquinas, S. Th II/II 4, 4 ad 3). The working of God's grace does not exclude human action: God effects everything, the willing and the achievement, therefore, we are called to strive (cf. Phil 2:12 ff.). "As soon as the Holy Spirit has initiated his work of regeneration and renewal in us through the Word and the holy sacraments, it is certain that we can and must cooperate by the power of the Holy Spirit..." (The Formula of Concord, FC SD II, 64f; BSLK 897, 37ff).

Grace as fellowship of the justified with God in faith, hope and love is always received from the salvific and creative work of God (cf. JD 27). But it is nevertheless the responsibility of the justified not to waste this grace but to live in it. The exhortation to do good works is the exhortation to practice the faith (cf. BSLK 197,45). The good works of the justified "should be done in order to confirm their call, that is, lest they fall from their call by sinning again" (Apol. XX, 13, BSLK 3 16,18-24; with reference to 2 Pet. 1: 10. Cf. also FC SD IV, 33; BSLK 948, 9-23). In this sense Lutherans and Catholics can understand together what is said about the "preservation of grace" in JD 38 and 39. Certainly, "whatever in the justified precedes or follows the free gift of faith is neither the basis of justification nor merits it" (JD 25).


The issues of sacraments are also Biblically based. If you want me to give you the basis for them, let me know, but let's discuss them one at a time.

Anonymous said...

I know there have been efforts to reach across the divide, but nevertheless, I think the problem is that most Catholics do not understand what the historic teachings of the RC church are and how they differ substantially from reformation theology.
Primarily, the sole authority of scripture as literally true and infallable, the assurance of salvation through grace alone by faith in christ alone, and the substitutionary atonement as FULL payment for sin. As you well know, the RC church has added on to this and taken from it: catholics do not need to believe that the scripture is literally true, they teach that sacraments and other means of grace are necessary to attain heave, they teach no eternal assurance of heaven for those who believe, and they do not recognize the cross as the final, efficatious atonement for sin: hence, the transsubstantiation of the body and blood at each "sacrifice" of the mass, the need for baptism to wash away original sin, etc. Whether or not people believe or follow these teachings they are current.
As long as teachings of the church have an equal or higher place than the word of god, there is really no comparison of the theological systems.

Staten Pilgrim said...

Obviously there are theological differences between the RC Church and Protestantism. But let's be honest about one thing: Most people's theological loyalties are dictated by very human factors. Why else would the evangelical/Pentecostal churches always provide so much_entertainment_and earthly benefits to lure people in and keep them?

I see that your church is now having a live nativity along with "cookies, music and games!" I'm sure all the goodies that are offered will make your church very attractive to the seekers and church shoppers who might come. However, if your faith and theology were your main selling points, why not just have a revival meeting?

I'd be the first to admit that most people are Catholic because that's the environment they were brought up in and what they're comfortable with. However, I would also say that it would be ludicrous to claim that those Catholics who have left the RC Church for a Protestant church did so because of the superior logic of Reformation theology. The ones I've known who left for the liberal churches did so because they disliked Catholic teaching on sexual morality. The ones I've known who went to evangelical/Pentecostal churches did so mainly because of the material/emotional/social gratification they receive from those churches. Unlike the average Catholic church, you automatically become part of a very nice social network when you join your average evangelical/Pentecostal church, and there's always_something_interesting going on. That's a good thing that we should be doing, but don't mistake modern man's desperation for community as some sort of validation of Protestant theology. Sure, they learn the talking points of debate once they're in, but did they really join in the first place because of the 5 Solas or disagreement with the doctrine of transubstantiation?

In addition, Catholics are constantly bombarded with the blandishments of utterly confident and assertive evangelists while our leaders respond with weakness, confusion and zero leadership. The majority of mankind usually follows the strongest and loudest voice. That's our nature. Those Catholic churches that do things right- preach well, remain orthodox, live out the Faih, provide community- are growing exponentially. The ones that are bad- and there are too many of those- are losing people. Simple as that.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing "ludicrous" about it. Many like me have made rational judgments about the comparative theologies and find biblical support for reformation theology. Do you really think a cookie is going to shift someone's spiritual underpinnings and turn them into Bible-believing, God-honoring committed Christians where before they were dead catholics? Please, the argument is not worthy of you. How about addressing yourself to my post and taking it on face value that the dividing issues are the basis for what you lament about the RC church.

Can I Change A Life? said...

Primarily, the sole authority of scripture as literally true and infallable, the assurance of salvation through grace alone by faith in christ alone, and the substitutionary atonement as FULL payment for sin. As you well know, the RC church has added on to this and taken from it: catholics do not need to believe that the scripture is literally true, they teach that sacraments and other means of grace are necessary to attain heave, they teach no eternal assurance of heaven for those who believe, and they do not recognize the cross as the final, efficatious atonement for sin: hence, the transsubstantiation of the body and blood at each "sacrifice" of the mass, the need for baptism to wash away original sin, etc. Whether or not people believe or follow these teachings they are current.
As long as teachings of the church have an equal or higher place than the word of god, there is really no comparison of the theological systems.


This is a lot to address on a blog. I'll do my best.

We do consider scripture to be inerrant in teaching God's truths. We don't necessarily believe every word is literal.

There is good reason for that. Consider, for example, the two creation stories in Genesis.In one, man was made last. In the other, he wasn't. In one, man and woman were made at the same time. In the other, they weren't. So if the Bible is literal in every word, what should we believe?

Catholics would say that both are true because they weren't meant to be stories of scientific truths, but of God's truths. One shows a cosmic creator in all His glory, the other shows a God who gets very personal with us. We would say both are true, and that is the truth that the stories were intended to convey. If it's literal, how do you explain that in the first story the animals were created before man, but in the second one, they were created after man because it wasn't good for man to be alone?

Salvation through faith and grace we seem to agree on in large part. You read the statement. The confusion is that there are many places in the Bible that make clear that works are important, too, and I suspect that many protestants basically agree with that. I know my protestant friends do. However, "faith alone" is contrary to scripture. It's only mentioned in James 2:24, and it's rejected there. After all, even demons believe.

As for assurance of heaven, protestants say they teach that, but don't. When a person loses faith, protestants say that person must never have been truly saved, yet many of them probably thought they were saved. They thought they had assurance of heaven at one time. Even Paul said he was "working out his salvation with fear and trembling". We can agree that we know day by day, but none of us knows that he won't reject God at some later point in time. Catholics believe that God gives us free will. He doesn't force us to continue loving Him and believing in Him just because we once did.

We do, in fact, recognize the cross as atonement for sin. Why do you think we look at the Crucifix as such a wonderful thing?

You clearly misunderstand what Mass is about if you don't understand that. I'm not even sure what to address. Are you saying we think Jesus dies every Mass, or is re-sacrificed, or are you saying that transubstantiation is in itself unBiblical, or both? Let me know which you're questioning.

Most also don't understand what we mean by "Tradition" (which, of course, we don't hold as higher than the Bible.) Sacred Tradition, for Catholics, refers to teachings by the apostles passed on orally through their preachings.

An example of this is the Bible. The Bible wasn't dropped from heaven fully written, nor did it arrive with a table of contents telling us what should be in it. The Bible you read was put together by the Catholic church, except for the seven books that Martin Luther removed.

Sacred tradition does not contradict the Bible; in fact, it is Biblical. I can say more if you need me to give you quotes.

But as for sola scriptura, it isn't found in the Bible. What I have been told is that there are a few key verses that suggest "Bible alone", but when you look at them, they don't.

One of those is 2 Timothy 3:16-17, but what that verse says is that all scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching (etc.) And we would agree. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for the things the Bible says. That nowhere says that Scripture alone is the rule of faith.

Much the same can be said for John 20:31. Also bear in mind that when these words were written, the Bible had not been put together yet. So, for example, in reading John 20:31 (and make sure you read the context it is in, not just the verse) to take it literally implies the Gospel of John is sufficient.

There is also the protestant belief that goes along with sola scriptura, that the Bible is clear enough that it doesn't need an authority to interpret it. This is also not in the Bible, though the Bible does say that some places are difficult to understand and that people need help with those areas. (I think it came from Paul, I'm not sure. I can look it up if you need me to.)

Beyond that, of course, if the Bible is so easy to interpret by each person, if the Holy Spirit makes it clear to each individual, why so many protestant churches? Why don't they all agree?

This is enough for now. It's way too long already. Let me know what I need to add or clarify.

Anonymous said...

You have done a good job of identifying many aspects of the divide.:
Bible not literally true, faith in christ is not enough to save, salvation in christ is never assured, Holy Spirit is insufficient to understand the word of God, Jesus' payment for sin once for all isnt enough, and tradition is the same as the bible. That is why you are experiencing such distress in the pews. The power of the gospel is in the message of the unmerited favor of God (grace)bestowed by faith on those who believe that Jesus is the one whose virgin birth, sinless life, sacrificial death and resurrection, has made it possible for sinful men to see God! That lifts the burden that the RC church places on men to spend their lives "trying" to please God with religious acts but never having the power of the holy spirit to awaken them to new life in christ that seals them for the day of redemption. So the RC church is filled with people resentfully doing their obligations, angrily or flatly going through the motions,because this is how they are told they can get to God. In fact, they do have to try to get to God anymore, because God already came to them, in Christ to give them the gift of eternal life, by grace, through faith in HIM, as the Son of God. That is THE good news, and the Spirit of God that enters once you confess that Christ has done it all, works in you, with fear and trembling to live out this gift of salvation in a way that draws others to the cross to recieve that gift too. That doctrinal divide explains why evangelical, bible believing churches have people and leaders who are on fire for God; not because they are better, but because they admitted they were hopelessly dead in their sins without Christ taking their sin debt and absorbing the wrath of God for them so they could be adopted into the kingdom, as joint heirs with Jesus, by the power of his holy spirit. I profess no special revelation, no church-specific monopoly on the saving grace of Christ; the gospel is the good news to ALL who believe that in Christ alone there is forgiveness and eternal life and that by faith in Him, all can be redeemed.Once you have experienced that in your life, there is no going back, no distress about dying without Christ, no wish to perform rituals to earn His favor: HE HAS DONE IT ALL, all to Him I owe!!

Can I Change A Life? said...

It's hard for me to think you took in anything I said, especially when you still insist that Catholic don't think Jesus' payment for sin was enough.

Rather than go into such detail again, let me ask you a few things: where in the Bible does it say that everything in the Bible is literally true? How do you reconcile everything being literally true with things like the two creation stories in Genesis?

If you are assured salvation, what about those who were Christian and are now atheist? Are they still saved?

The Holy Spirit is never insufficient, but we are. We don't always hear things well. It's not like you hear Him the same way as you hear your family and friends talking to you. You never answered how there can be so many denominations if the Holy Spirit makes teachings so plain to everybody who asks.

And who are you to say that the RC is filled with resentment? I know many, many faith-filled, joyous Catholics who, in fact, attend Mass every day. They may look on the outside as though they are just going through the motions, but I can assure you they are not. I also know protestants who attend resentfully, if at all. No church has a complete congregation of faith-filled people, yet I suspect all have some joyous, faith-filled members.

So do you believe that all it takes is belief? So demons also go to heaven? Do you believe that as long as you believe in God, you can do any manner of vile deeds and you'll go to heaven?

You are misunderstanding RC teachings if you think we teach that acts get us to heaven. I already quoted you our teachings on grace. It's only through God that we enter the Kingdom. We're quite aware of that.

We do believe, though, that the Bible is pretty clear that Jesus is not for wimps. Jesus laid it out pretty clearly that there are things that please God and things that don't.

From the Bible:

"‘Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven’" (Matt. 7:21).

"‘Why do you call me "Lord, Lord," and not do what I tell you?’" (Luke 6:46).

"For he will render every man according to his works . . ." (Rom. 2:6-8).

"For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified" (Rom. 2:13).

"For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgments . . . (Heb. 10:26-27).

If you really love God (as opposed to just believing in Him) why would you ignore those verses?

Rituals aren't about earning His favor. We do, however, try to really look at the things Jesus said and try to live that way. As far as Mass, which I'm suspecting you mean as one of the rituals, try reading about the early Christians, those who were closest to the time of Jesus and who actually spent time with the apostles. You'll find that the worship was liturgical. You'll also find that they exhorted people to do things, such as be honest, be good to others, be faithful to their spouses, all sorts of things that you would call acts but that are pleasing to God. Why would you not want to be pleasing to Him if you love Him?

You didn't really respond to my last post. I tried to explain where you misunderstand, I asked questions you never answered, and I showed in those few areas that the Catholic church is true to the Bible. I offered to show you more. You didn't really respond, just reiterated that we're different in those areas without explaining the basis for your beliefs. You haven't shown me yet where "Bible alone" is in the bible, though I've offered to show you tradition in the Bible. You haven't demonstrated how you can know you are saved, realizing that some people truly feel they believe in Jesus and are Christian, yet later become atheist. If they didn't know, how does anybody know? In fact, I have tons more questions for you but won't take the time right now because you didn't answer my last questions.

The Catholic church is VERY biblical. We get a lot of flack for not being, but we are.

You don't answer questions, but you talk instead about churches being filled with people angrily or flatly going through the motions. Do not judge what you see. You can't read their minds, even if they look to be flatly going through motions. You many know some who angrily left the Church, but I am guessing that, like you, they really didn't understand Church teachings and the biblical basis of those teachings. It's clear that you don't. You haven't even expressed yet why you believe the way you do.

Anonymous said...

I will try to do a better job, although I must tell you I cannot type fast enough to do the Lord justice, so bear with me if I do not cite every verse but put forth a general argument based on shared understanding!
Some of your questions are related.

How can the bible be literally true when people disagree over it and some parts seem contradictory?
Whether or not we can perfectly agree on the exact meaning of what God has divinely inspired, we can agree that God's word is truth. From Genesis to Revelation it forms a coherent whole in which the redemptive plan in history is displayed. If any part of it is plainly false, then the entire document is suspect. Either the word of God is authoritative or it is not. The gospels contain cross referenced differences in their narrratives, but they are not given as evidence by the RC church that Jesus's life and ministry is in doubt. The witness of the Holy Spirit is the means by which the truth of God is made clear in his special revelation; the scripture. Therefore, it is not plain to all, but only those who have recieved the Spirit and are guided by him. Extrabiblical material, such as teachings of church fathers, cannot not carry the weight of God's own divine revelation and the witness of the spirit, and are therefore subject to it. What men have said about the Bible is not to be trusted in the same way that we can trust what God has said about men.


What if someone says they believe but then change their mind and say they dont?
Well, the Bible speaks to this by explaining that not all who call him Lord really belong to him. There are some who have their ears tickled and others who allow the truth they have heard to be drowned out (see the parable of the soils), but again, the confusion of men does not testify to the fickleness of God. Romans 8:30 is one place where God's salvation is shown to be sure and permanent for those who are his.This is a topic of enormous depth, so I know I havent covered it.

How can belief in Christ be enough; what about sin; can you belong to God and not please him?
Demons do not know Christ as THEIR savior. They know he is THE savior, sent by God to men them from the bondage to sin and death and Satan and redeem them for himself unto holiness and life eternal with God. We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. Therefore, it is impossible to please a perfect and holy God in our human efforts; they are the tainted fruit of a sinful nature. So God, ( I am paraphrasing Ephesians 2 here)seeing us dead in our sinful state, sent Jesus, to die for us while we were still sinners. His blood being full payment for man's sin, was shed by grace(unmerited favor) to save us from ourselves and raise us to be with Christ. So..over and over and over through the NT it says, "by faith" you have been saved; not faith in your goodness, or the power of the human will, but faith in JESUS as the one and only perfect offering for sin, once for all, on the cross. That faith, is "reckoned to us as righteousness"(Romans), a righteousness we could never deserve or earn.(a/k/a Justification) So when we believe in Christ as our Savior, we go from being dead in sin to alive in Christ, by the power of his spirit, and we are given a new nature(a/k/a sanctification).No one in this life is perfected in holiness, the process of being conformed to the image of Christ is life long; but it is the consequence of salvation, NOT the prerequisite for it. We still sin and stray, but when we are his, we are forgiven,not judged and condemned like those who do not belong to him. In love, we are disciplined by his word and his spirit so that we can repent, recieve encouragement and resist temptation.Christians sin but our lives cannot be characterized by the bold practice of sin. If that is the case, then the condition of our hearts is revealed to be unchanged and we cannot claim to belong to him.

I hope I have done a better job of explaining what I believe. It is far from comprehensive, but I am trusting God to use my words to communicate the reality of His gift of saving grace. That is the heart of the bible, the good news that Christ came to pay the sin debt we could not pay, and by his amazing grace, and to his singular glory, grant eternal life to all who so believe.

Staten Pilgrim said...

Well, I stand by my assertion. I have personally seen enough of life, and read enough objective accounts, to know that evangelicalism's recent success in pew poaching Catholics should not be attributed mainly to people making rational theological comparisons.

You say you made a rational judgement about your faith. Didn't you also say you left the Church in disgust the day a priest abdicated his Palm Sunday sermon? You yourself said that you left not knowing where you were going, but the spiritual and moral laxity of Catholic priests and laity drove you away to a place where you eventually discovered your current church. But fine- I'll take your word for it that you left the Church by rational deduction from Scripture. Take_my_word for it that my observations about my own family, friends and acquaintances are equally as valid.

One rejected the Church because some poor nuns wouldn't give him money when he was hitchhiking across the country. Another man left the Church because a priest was not sufficiently thankful to the man's father for a service. Another became an evangelical church shopper when a priest didn't have time to immediately give him a counseling session about his marital issues. Another relative left the Church through the influence of fellow drug addicts who had found evangelical religion; the evangelical/Pentecostal churches offered hope through supposed miracle healings and personal attention in addiction counseling. Another guy I know who is desperately single started going to an evangelical church after being invited by some cute single girls. Another guy went evangelical because even though he was divorced, the evangelical pastor agreed to marry him and his new "wife". From scads of other people, both distant and dear, I have heard most of the frivolous reasons people give for changing their religion these days- the church has "a good family atmosphere", "great music", "a fun youth group", "friendly people", “a supportive congregation”, the pastor is a great speaker, some priest or nun offended them in the past, etc. etc.- but I have never heard one person yet say that their decision was based on theological reasoning.

We live in a culture of consumerism, in religion as in everything else. Most people worship where they are made to feel good and get the most benefits. I just read an article in Christianity Today (Billy Graham's magazine) by an evangelical pastor who was concerned that his church was focused too much on providing entertainment. So he got rid of the professional choir and replaced it with amateur church members. He lost half his congregation.

Even last Sunday's Times (12/14/08) had an article ("An Evangelical Article of Faith: Bad Times Draw Bigger Crowds") about how the economic crisis has caused the membership of evangelical churches to explode. The article detailed how evangelical churches_always_grow during economic crisises, partly because of the economic and social support such churches provide their members. Your own Pastor Eddie analyzes the true motivations of his target market with great perspicacity when he writes...

"With the collapse of the nuclear family, with high divorce rate, delayed marriages, the emphasis on individuality, and "alternative lifestyles", the infrastructure of our society is falling apart. Another factor is the high mobility in our society, where few people have real roots. They are no longer surrounded by the extended family of aunts and uncles, grandparents and brothers and sisters that provided a safety net for previous generations.

Today we have a record number of single adults in America. We are becoming a nation of strangers in an epidemic of loneliness. Four in ten Americans admit to frequent feelings of intense loneliness. Because of all that we see, we find more need for the church than ever before, a place where people can connect. Advertisers have discovered that independent-minded baby boomers are suddenly longing to be connected as they enter middle age. This is a timely opportunity to give to the world the infra-structure of the church." (link)

He's practically saying, "Join our church and we'll get you a spouse/surrogate family." Is "a cookie" going to convert someone? No, but when combined with non-existent Catholic faith formation, the whole panoply of social and material enticements from the evangelical church are very attractive to those legions of lonely people Pastor Eddie speaks about.

I’m not saying that evangelicalism's recent success doesn’t have a spiritual component. For those people who do honestly seek spiritual nourishment and moral structure in their lives, the evangelicals are providing what the Catholics are not these days. (As I said, if I didn't believe in the uniqueness of the Catholic Church, I would not stay either). I just see no evidence that the spiritual component is the main motivation for the majority of converts.

In addition, that word "recent" is salient. You claim that Catholicism's loss of members is a result of inherent problems in its theology. If that's so, then why did it take until the late 1960s and 70s for the problem to manifest itself? We had been subject to Protestant proselytization in America for centuries, with hardly an effect. On the contrary, before Vatican II there was a great upsurge in the number of Protestant converts to Catholicism, and not just from lonely people, but from the intellectual classes and the socially prominent. Catholicism spiritually satisfied most ordinary Catholics in previous generations, who would no more think of going Protestant than they would trade a birthright for a mess of pottage. Obviously, Catholics were aware of the existence of alternatives, but they believed in what they had, or at least found the alternatives inferior. So what changed?

"Something", or more accurately, a confluence of somethings happened. We can debate the specifics, but I would say that the radical secularism of the modern age coupled with the revolution and disobedience of the post Vatican II Church cut a swath of spiritual desolation across Catholicism. Evangelicalism then stepped into the vacuum of leadership and picked up a lot of the walking wounded, which is where we are today. Interestingly enough, all recent data shows that evangelicals are bleeding numbers as well. (link) How would you explain that, anonymous?

And please don't equate "Bible-believing, God-honoring committed Christians" with being "evangelical", or as being the opposite of "Catholic." I know that the evangelical mythos is one where non-believers and adherents of "dead" churches fall down in amazement at the empirical superiority of evangelical theology and immediately experience born-again immanence after hearing an evangelical sermon or reading the Bible through an evangelical lens. Marriages are then saved, addictions cured, emotional scars healed, lives completely changed, and a literal, personal, ecstatic relationship with God established. But we both know that's a bit propagandistic. I see it with my own eyes. I read about it in evangelical publications. I've mentioned polls showing that born-again evangelicals live as bad as, or worse than the secular world in a number of moral categories, such as divorce. Another recent poll showed that huge majorities of self-proclaimed evangelical youth have worldviews that are secular humanist rather than Biblically theistic (link). I'm not claiming that Catholics are any better, but I am saying that evangelical triumphalism is rather absurd.

Staten Pilgrim said...

I did want to commend your church for one thing, anonymous. I saved an article from the Advance about your live nativity. In contrast to the inane quotes from the Catholics in the article I had previously commented on, the members of your church said all the right things. Let it be a lesson to us, I say.

When the members of Salem had the opportunity to be interviewed by the media, they didn't make some stupid remarks about how the kids would like the animals, or something like that. They and the pastor spoke about Baby Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas, the gospel of Christ, etc. Bravo.

Anonymous said...

I dont know what else I can say to you that I have not already said.
I know what Christ has done for me by his spirit and his word: called me, convicted me of sin, moved me to admit my lostness and repent of trying to be good enough to please God, saved me, forgave me, renewed my mind, reshaped my worldview, taught me what love is, gave me a passion for worship, redirected my energies and equipped me to lead others to him and make them his disciples. That is my testimony of my changed life. I know what I was, and I know who I am, in Christ. God calls us one by one, not by denomination. When people called by God and redeemed to live a new life in Christ get together to share themselves in love and worship, that is a church. If he has called you to love and serve him with all your heart, mind and soul, do so and follow him where ever it leads.

Can I Change A Life? said...

Anonymous,

How can the bible be literally true when people disagree over it and some parts seem contradictory?

But some parts are, in fact, contradictory. What did God create first, humans or animals? Genesis says both. I can give other examples if you want. Catholics accept that there are all sorts of styles of writing in the Bible. I know many Protestants who agree with that. We agree with you that it is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. You make a good point that “from Genesis to Revelation it forms a coherent whole in which the redemptive plan in history is displayed.” Catholics agree with that. Realizing that the Bible was written in various styles does not take away from that at all.

Therefore, it is not plain to all, but only those who have received the Spirit and are guided by him.

But my point was that when people disagree on interpretation (and by the large number of Protestant churches, we see there is a lot of disagreement) how do you know who is right? Which church has received the Spirit and is guided by Him, and how do you know? If we all heard the Holy Spirit so clearly, there would be no disagreement.

Extrabiblical material, such as teachings of church fathers, cannot carry the weight of God's own divine revelation and the witness of the spirit, and are therefore subject to it.

But we would agree that the Bible has authority over the church fathers. Don’t forget, though, that many of these people were around before the canon of the Bible was determined. How did they know the Truth without the Bible if there is nothing but the Bible to believe in? And it was the Church Fathers who were inspired to put the Bible together.

What if someone says they believe but then change their mind and say they don’t?
Well, the Bible speaks to this by explaining that not all who call him Lord really belong to him.


You missed my point, though. You said that Catholics don’t have assurance of salvation. I’m questioning how Protestants have assurance. How do they know they will never turn away? I’m not talking about God being fickle; I’m talking about Protestants saying they can know with assurance that they are saved when they accept God into their lives. Your own statements showed that some, for example, allow the truth to be drowned. Salvation may be assured for those who are His, but how can Protestants be certain they will remain His and not turn away, not allow the truth to be drowned?

How can belief in Christ be enough; what about sin; can you belong to God and not please him?

As far as that last comment, I didn’t go back to re-read my post so maybe I said it that way in error. What I meant to say was how can you belong to God and not WANT to please him? We are in agreement that we are sinners. We also agree that it is faith and grace that saves us.

Demons do not know Christ as THEIR savior.

My point was from James:

19You believe that God is one You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.

So..over and over and over through the NT it says, "by faith" you have been saved

But it doesn’t say “by faith ALONE”. Faith and acts go hand-in-hand, rather like fruits. That’s where Catholics are often misunderstood.

More from James, including the only place in the Bible that mentions faith alone:

20But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?
21Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?
22You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;
23and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS," and he was called the friend of God.
24You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

So faith and works go hand-in-hand.

In addition, over and over in the NT there are numerous examples of God asking people to do something.

This, from Ephesians 2, is more like what we believe:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

So we are saved by grace, but works are asked of us.
In fact, I suspect we agree a lot more than we disagree on this. Protestants mistakenly believe Catholics think they can “earn” their way to heaven. We don’t believe that, which is why I quoted the joint statement in an earlier post. We do believe, though, that God calls every one of us to do works.

Another way to say it is to back to what you said about demons. What if a demon accepted Christ as his savior? Would he not then belong to God? And would you now be able to see by his acts that he was changed?

Protestants are often heard to say they thought God was asking them to do various tasks. They say “yes” to them, and realize that this doesn’t mean they are trying to “merit” their way to heaven. I addressed in my last post that we aren’t trying to earn heaven but to do God’s will, as I’m sure you would agree that Protestants do.

I hope I have done a better job of explaining what I believe. It is far from comprehensive, but I am trusting God to use my words to communicate the reality of His gift of saving grace. That is the heart of the bible, the good news that Christ came to pay the sin debt we could not pay, and by his amazing grace, and to his singular glory, grant eternal life to all who so believe.

And we agree on your last lines, too.

moved me to admit my lostness and repent of trying to be good enough to please God

I am not at all sure of why a person would repent in trying to please God, unless in your attempts to please Him you didn’t realize that all good comes from Him? When you think He is asking you to do things, don’t you say “yes?” Don’t you do your best to live by the Ten Commandments? (And not to get too much into the issue, but those are all acts.) If not, what do you live by? But when it comes to acts, Catholics do believe that even somebody who has committed his life to Satan can at the last minute of his life repent and still find salvation, and they do believe that all good works we do come from God. Yet we also believe that God gives us free choice in doing them, He doesn’t force us, so it’s important to say “yes”.

Therefore, it is impossible to please a perfect and holy God in our human efforts

It is impossible to be perfect and holy as God is calling us to be, but is it impossible to please Him? Where is that in the Bible? I find it difficult to believe that God could call His work good and still be impossible to please. I have to admit to being surprised by that.

Romans would seem to see it differently.

17For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.

So would Philippians:

18I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.

As would 1 Timothy:

4But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.

I’m out of time. I got involved in this discussion in part to correct your misperceptions of the Catholic church. I hope that you can see that we are, in fact, biblical, and that we aren’t necessarily full of unhappy people. I know a great deal many Catholics who are there by choice and would go no other place, Catholics who are very familiar with the Bible and find Catholicism to be consistent with Biblical teachings.

Anonymous said...

Ill try to respond to you comments in turn, but allow me to start with one basic observation. Even though there is much eccumenism today, there is still a fundamental divide between catholic and protestant doctine...if not there would never have been a reformation led by a catholic clergyman in 1517. I think the essence of what I am trying to communicate is found in your surprise over my statement that it is impossible to please God by human efforts.I am NOT saying that good works, which are the fruit of a spirit-filled life make God unhappy. What I am saying is that the Bible makes it clear that when it comes to salvation...it is faith alone, in Christ alone that by grace alon, confers that eternal assurance. Works, prayer, deeds cannot make sinful man holy enough to see God or be transformed from a "child of wrath" into a "joint heir with Jesus." That divine transaction takes place when a man realizes that he cannot do anything to save himself and acknowledges that Christ has already done all that is necessary to pay the full penalty for sin, and that in the new covenant of his blood, we are washed,forgiven and free. Done , finished...all we do is say yes Lord, its you who has done it all and to you all the glory for my life and salvtion is due. His power works in our lives from that point on to sanctify us and conform us to his image. That id the fundamental divide in theology...bible says we are dead in our sins, RC church says you are never sure of going to heaven but must do many things to clean your sins to try to merit God's favor:works, penance, baptism,etc. That is why at every mass there is a "sacrifice". Prots read Hebrews and see that it says he died once, for all.
The bible also says that those who belong to him cannot be snatched away...there are many other places inwhich redemption is assured to those who believe because God always keeps his covenants..even when we dont(assuming of course that there was an actual conversion of the heart in the first place.)As to the matter of which churches have the spirit, God did not ever send his spirit to an institution, he sends it to individual hearts, and that spirit guides hearts and minds to understand the word; disagreements comes with the rest of our human failings, but as Paul said, now we see through a glass darkly, but one day, face to face. As for demons, they dont have souls; neither do angels. They are spirit beings and they are not subject to the plan of redemption that was crafted for men who have sin natures and are in need of a savior.
God is Truth..he has revealed himself pre-scripture to men using signs, dreams,wonders,manifestations, and other things necessary to reveal himself and his intentions. In the beginning was the word, and the word was God..his words and his truth are inseperable.from his nature.
I hope this has been a helpful response to your questions. I appreciate your desire to see our differences as minor, but as a catholic for 35 years with two sons graduated from catholic universities in the last 3 years, I can tell you quite assuredly, that the reasons for the reformation are alive and well. No church owns the spirit or the label true church. Christ comes into mens hearts by the power of the spirit; it is not an inherited birthright ot church momopoly;so all over the world in all denominations there are spirit filled believers. The thing is some attend churches that tell them to jump through more hoops than God does to get to him because they have added church teaching to scripture. That is why it was impossible to remain a catholic once God opened my eyes to the word and I saw that his free gift of salvation was payed for in full by Christ and is the assurance of all who have been made alive in Christ by his spirit. That is not the RC gospel; but it is THE gospel.

Can I Change A Life? said...

I responded to this, but it isn't showing, so I'll try again and apologize if you see two posts.

You're right, we do have fundamental differences, but they're not what you think they are. I'm Catholic because of the differences.

You continue to show a lack of understanding, and you keep going back to the same things (which are NOT where the differences lie) no matter what I say.

You say this is the fundamental divide:

Works, prayer, deeds cannot make sinful man holy enough to see God or be transformed from a "child of wrath" into a "joint heir with Jesus."

Along with that, you talk about pleasing God as though I've said pleasing God is our way to heaven.

I've explained over and over AND quoted the joint statement on what you consider a fundamental divide. You refuse to believe it.

I never said that pleasing God merits heaven, only that we can be pleasing to God. Why wouldn't you want to please Him if you love Him?

We teach that God is merciful, that we don't know a person's heart in the last minutes (or even seconds) of a person's life, therefore we can't even say that atheists aren't saved. God is merciful, and we believe He gives every last chance to accept His grace, that He wants every one of us with Him. That is not works; that is grace.

And that is Catholic teaching.

You completely misunderstand the Mass, even though you were Catholic for 35 years and sent two sons to Catholic college. It is not a re-sacrifice, it never was.

You also apparently misunderstood what I said about assurance of salvation. We don't preach that we never know if we're saved because we need works; we preach that people are free to turn from God at any time. He does not interfere with free will. I tried to demonstrate what we mean by asking how those who truly, truly, truly believe they belong to Him but one day lose the faith, how could that happen? How do you KNOW you are truly His? There are people who were certain they were and later turned from Him.

And that's why we, like Paul, talk about working out our salvation. Satan is always trying to take people away from Him; to simply have faith may be enough for today, but what about those who truly had faith but lost it? They once felt assured of salvation. They thought they belonged to God.

On another note, we don't "clean" our souls through penance. God's forgiveness does that. Penance is reparation, and you'll find it to be Biblical. Can we be saved without it, though? Of course.

You clearly don't understand the sacraments, either. They're not a way of working out salvation.

I have a close friend who is Protestant. She and I learn from our differences. We enrich each other. I think that's a good think. But you don't learn by continuing in your misconceptions.

Before continuing to tell Catholics or others untruths about Catholicism, you might want to consider reading a good book about what we teach. I'd suggest the Catechism, but I suspect you might misunderstand a lot, so maybe the catechism with a book to help understand some of the nuances.

I realize you left the Church angrily. I wish you wouldn't let that interfere with actually understanding what the Church teaches before telling others things that are incorrect.

I also realize you were a Catholic for 35 years and sent two sons to Catholic colleges, but that doesn't mean you ever took time to actually read the Church teachings and understand them. You have shown over and over you have no understanding.

I don't know how to get you to understand. I've explained over and over, and even quoted the joint statement, and you persist in believing we teach what you want to believe we teach.

That means we can't get into any real meaningful discussion. We do have differences. We could learn from each other, but it has to start with understanding what those differences really are.

I obviously can't convince you what the Church actually teaches. There are sources you can learn from, but I'm pretty sure you'll choose not to, so I'm not sure what my point of being here is, so I don't plan to be back.

I wish you could've understood what I was saying. I made it as clear as I could, but obviously not clear enough.

I don't know why you want to persist in believing untruths about the Church when you could find the answers quickly enough.

I wish you well. No need to respond; I don't see any reason to come back.

Anonymous said...

Why is this blogger so angry? What is really going on inside him that he feels the need to constantly spew vitriol?

His words are so strident, vehement and filled with rage that whatever it's about, it is far and away more about what's going on inside himself than anything on the exterior. Wow!

Staten Pilgrim said...

Vitriol? Strident? Rage? Who on earth are you talking about?