Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Difference Between Catholics and Protestants

I've gained a lot of respect for the Catholic Church over the years. So why is there such a sharp division between Catholics and Protestants? Why is the divide between Protestant and Catholic so much larger than between Protestant denominations?

The answer may be obvious to many of you, but it was not to me. It isn't about Mary, or the Eucharist, or the Pope, or the Church leadership. It isn't about a Latin mass, or faith, or anything like that. These are all issues, but in fact there is more diversity and allowance for diversity than people think in the Catholic Church.

You can be Catholic and believe all sorts of things on various issues.
For instance, you can be Catholic and think that the Pope is evil. In fact, this makes a great segue into what the real issue is. Here is a great case in point:

As a Catholic, you can believe and talk about the Pope being evil.
As a Catholic, you must believe that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth, and that he is most holy.

You might find these two statements contradictory. But for a Catholic they are not.

Think about it this way. If you are having communion, and the preacher serving communion is sleeping around on his wife, does that make the communion less of a communion? The answer is no, because God's grace is God's grace whether the person mediating it is acting within God's will or not. In Catholicism, it is the institution of the Church which is the mediating power of God on Earth. Therefore, it is the office of the Pope that is holy, whether or not the Pope himself is holy.

In Catholic theology, grace is mediated through the Catholic Church. Therefore, questioning the validity of an office is questioning the entire efficacy of the Church's work in the world. If you were to say "God does not work through the Pope" then to a Catholic that would impugn the entire work of the Church. In Protestant thought, God's grace is to an individual. Therefore, there are no offices or validity of offices. In Protestantism, in effect, all offices are artificial, and can be neither valid or invalid. God's work is always efficacious, even without the mediation of a Church office.

Anyway, at least as I see it from what I've read and heard, these are the main divides:

1) What is the Church -- an institution or a gathering of believers?
2) Is God's primary way of interacting through the Church or directly to individuals?

If you are a Catholic reader, I would urge you to respond and let me know if you think I understand the differences between us correctly. I have very few Catholic friends, and therefore most of this comes from reading and not personal interactions.

As a final note, I will leave you with some words of Henry of Kalteisen (I think this is a quote):

"a Pope may be both wicked and holy, as long as he is faithful in his office. Similarly, the Catholic Church is called holy even though it has sinners in it, because of its holy offices and the holiness of the sacraments that are present in it."

4 Comments:

At 11/09/2007 10:32 AM, Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

The question What is the church - institution or gathering of believers, picks up pretty well the debate tha emerged from the reformation, I think.

But I wonder if it isn't a false dichotomy: what if the church isn't an institution or a gathering of believers, but a visible covenant community (like ancient Israel)?

 
At 11/09/2007 10:34 AM, Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

the question of whether the church is an institution or a gathering of believers picks up pretty well, I think, the way that the debate over ecclesiology has usually been framed since the reformation

I wonder if the question its self isn't a false dichotomy that presents only two overly narrow options?
What if the church isn't simply an institution or simply a gathering of believers, but is a visible covenant community (harkening back to ancient Israel)?

 
At 11/09/2007 10:42 AM, Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Well, I'm a Catholic reader, in that I'm a United Methodist and we are part of the One Holy Catholic Church as surely as anyone, so I'll throw in my 2 cents:

You said: "Anyway, at least as I see it from what I've read and heard, these are the main divides:

1) What is the Church -- an institution or a gathering of believers?
2) Is God's primary way of interacting through the Church or directly to individuals?"

I think these questions do get at the ecclesiological debate the way it has been framed since the Reformation. I wonder, however, if the standard ways of asking these questions since the reformation, don't present us with a false dichotomy?

What if the church is neither magisterium-led institution nor gathering of individual believers but rather a visible (not invisible) covenant community, in which the individual's identity is derived from the community's covenant with God and not the other way around. This I think is more consistent with God's dealings with Ancient Israel, and is less dependent upon the Western Individualism that was emerging at the time of the Reformation. And of course changing over to these categories will have all sorts of ecclesiological implications.

 
At 11/09/2007 10:43 AM, Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Well, I'm a Catholic reader, in that I'm a United Methodist and we are part of the One Holy Catholic Church as surely as anyone, so I'll throw in my 2 cents:

You said: "Anyway, at least as I see it from what I've read and heard, these are the main divides:

1) What is the Church -- an institution or a gathering of believers?
2) Is God's primary way of interacting through the Church or directly to individuals?"

I think these questions do get at the ecclesiological debate the way it has been framed since the Reformation. I wonder, however, if the standard ways of asking these questions since the reformation, don't present us with a false dichotomy?

What if the church is neither magisterium-led institution nor gathering of individual believers but rather a visible (not invisible) covenant community, in which the individual's identity is derived from the community's covenant with God and not the other way around. This I think is more consistent with God's dealings with Ancient Israel, and is less dependent upon the Western Individualism that was emerging at the time of the Reformation. And of course changing over to these categories will have all sorts of ecclesiological implications.

 

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