Someone I know wrote: So, if you were to give one reason why one should be Catholic rather than any other Christian denomination, what would it be? The most compelling argument I've heard so far is that, as nothing is worth fragmenting the unity of God's Church, it is important to belong to the church that is the "original" church. Interesting, and something I can get behind, being big on unity myself, but sticky in that not only the Romans claim the status of "original." I think the baptists are a bit far afield, but certainly the Orthodox have a compelling claim, and I've heard tell some Lutherans and Anglicans claim to be the last bastion of the "original." I've found the argument for "be Catholic because of the infallible Pope" argument to be utterly unsatisfying, for reasons I'll elaborate if anyone wishes. So, any thoughts?

My response: Dear Name,

I'm not sure what you mean by "the infallible Pope" argument, but Christ's promise to safeguard the institutional church from error is crucial to my decision to become Catholic. ("And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," (Matthew 16:18) "He who hears you hears me" (Luke 10:16), and "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" (Matt. 18:18), and "All power in Heaven and on earth has been given to Me. God, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you all days, even unto the Consummation of the world" (Matt. 28:26)).

I was raised as a Lutheran. My maternal grandfather was a Lutheran minister, as was his father before him. I attended church every Sunday with my mother. (My father was absent after they divorced when I was 2.) As a young person, I had a number of problems with what I was taught in Church. Because I didn't know anything about other Christian churches, I assumed that they did not have any alternative explanations for the issues I had raised (!), so I eventually became an agnostic.

To give an example of the sort of objections I had - the Eucharist. I was taught early and often that Communion was just a symbol of the body and blood of Jesus - not the real thing, and also a symbol of our Christian community. To me this teaching had the same flavor as telling a small child that the dragon on the movie screen isn't real, even though it seems scary. I wondered why this elementary fact (clearly, it's bread, not flesh, right?) was the cornerstone of the Church's message. As a teenager, I became very impatient with our weekly church services. We had communion only every other Sunday, and I wondered why we even had it at all. After all, if it's just a symbol, I thought, can't we just acknowledge the symbolism and move on? For example, there's no point in reciting the "times tables" once you've memorized the equations by heart. (7x5=35, 7x6=42, 7x7=49). They're just a teaching tool. In the same way, I thought if communion was a big teaching tool to remind us of something we knew, we could just move on, because we had all already learned this. What frustrated me further was Jesus' command to "do this in memory of me." My takeaway from that statement was that God wants us to engage in an empty ritual over and over again to learn a basic point - that we're a community. Couldn't He come up with something better than that? It made about as much sense as God instructing us to floss weekly.

This objection was related to another objection I had - Why go to church at all? With communion now classed as pointless, the other thing we do at church is - read the Bible, which every Protestant knows one can do on his own. I was taught that we should go to church because Christians are a community, but I never got a great rationale for why this was the case. Sure, we all like to be around people who share our values, but is it essential? Church services seemed to something people had created because they all liked Christ and wanted to plan activities around that commonality, and I didn't care for the activities, but that seemed irrelevant to my Christianity.

But as you can infer, my view of the church was negatively affecting my understanding of Christ. Why would God be associated with something so lame? My atheist friends argued that church was an empty set of rituals designed to reinforce a set of socially accepted values, in part by teaching attendees that they weren't capable of making their own choices, and I was beginning to believe them. I wanted to develop myself into someone interesting, and Christianity did not hold much promise there either. The Lutheran church taught that we are all sinners, saved only by God's grace - not that God makes us holy, but that he "looks the other way," and for some unfathomable reason decides to pretend we're worthy of him even though we really aren't. This view did not give me much incentive to live a more Christian life. The way I saw it, I was trash no matter what I did, and if I would be saved it was because God ignored everything I did. Any "achievement" of mine was illusory, and I should not allow them to blind me to the fact that I was the moral equivalent of Hitler in the eyes of God. So why not do what I wanted to do and chalk sins up to imperfection? Or, alternatively, why not adopt an agnostic view of the world that allotted value to human qualities, and allowed me to stop feeling guilty no matter what I did, and start feeling happy when I achieved something? You can see which path I chose. Further, as an agnostic I felt that I was able to take responsibility for my behavior, whereas as a Christian, my good deeds would be attributable to God, while my bad deeds were due to my sinfulness.

Only when I was in college and began to speak with other people about Christianity did I learn what Catholicism taught on the issues that had led me to become an agnostic. I came to the conclusion for a while that although I was not a Christian, Catholicism was definitely the best kind of Christianity, as it was not plagued with the problems I had previously encountered. Other factors eventually led to my embrace of Jesus Christ and reception into the Church, and for the sake of brevity I will omit most of them here. The problems I have discussed above were definitely the most significant in keeping me out of the Church.

However, you might be interested in why I was attracted to Catholicism over another type of Christianity. My experience in the Lutheran Church has made me believe strongly that disunity in the universal Church leads to confusion of doctrine and unbelief, both for Christians and pagans. One of the essential factors in my return to Christianity was the understanding I noted earlier - that Christ has not only died for us, but promised that his Church on earth would be a reliable source of salvation for those who lived after his Ascension. A Christ who cannot or does not promise that is in my view ridiculous, as his sacrifice for us is only worthwhile if we can forever ally ourselves with him in some way. And since Christ has in fact promised us a recognizable Church that defends his teaching and sacrifice, there must be one. What Church is the recognizable defender of Christ? I believe it is the Catholic Church, for the following reasons - The teachings of the Catholic Church have conformed to this age the least of all the Christian Churches. The Catholic Church has institutional means of defining what it teaches and does not teach which have reliably safeguarded the Christian message over 2,000 years. In terms of your "original" question, the only possible answers to this question are the Catholic or Orthodox Churches, in my view. The Orthodox church has managed to preserve most traditional Christian teaching, however has fallen short on birth control - which is unfortunately a crucial shortcoming. I also believe that the headship of the Pope is consistent with the teachings of Christ and the practice of the early Christians.

That's the short answer. If you'd like to respond, feel free, or not as you prefer.

No comments: