Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Three Days in St. Paul

I recently returned from a conference in St. Paul, Minnesota where everyone I met was Catholic. Some extremely so. It was great to meet them.

I grew up with the definite impression that Catholics were bad. Maybe not even Christian. This was never taught from the pulpit or in my home as far as I recall, but I picked it up somewhere. I have some serious doctrinal reservations (as they would with me) when it comes to Catholicism, but find much good and Christian within it and its people. I would like to be counted as one of them.

So I'm sitting at lunch with these folks, and when the conversation gets around to me being in seminary I can see their quizzical expressions: How is it possible I could then be married with kids? Their perplexity goes away with two words: "I'm evangelical". I think they are as surprised to meet me at this conference as I am to meet them.

One fellow, who calls himself a "papist", is very forward about what he prefers about Catholicism and what mystifies him about Protestantism. We had a good talk.

Far as I can tell he thinks evangelical denominationalism is an inexplicable break from the unity of the body of Christ. He asks me who the head of our church is, expecting no answer. When I said "Jesus Christ" it seemed to catch him off guard. He went on to talk about our lack of unity though, and I had to admit he had a point. I wish we could have a pope.

The conversation went back and forth and we were both making pretty good points. I saw some things I hadn't seen before, and hopefully so did he. In the end I felt like I had spoken with a brother in Christ, and when we shook hands and parted ways I hoped he felt the same way.

It was funny to me when I was with all these Catholics because I was imagining what some of my evangelical friends would be thinking if they were with me. Some would have been shocked at the liberalism: Free homemade beer and wine flowed all week (but they were charging for bottled water). Some would have been shocked at the conservatism: I haven't heard the word "contraception" so much in all my life. It was an interesting bunch to be with.

They sure know how to do their architecture. Stained glass and brick everywhere you looked. It had all the feel of fine workmanship and beauty and yet somehow avoided the sense of luxurious overspending. The whole place just felt reverent and connected to the past. I like that. I think it a little ridiculous that my papist friend wanted all Mass to be in Latin, but I do like that immediate connection with Tradition that one feels as soon as one participates in anything Catholic.

I was actually intending to go to Mass and I was even hoping to sneak communion. But when they announced that it was open only to "believing Catholics" I knew I couldn't pull it off because my cover had already been blown. I had known already that this was common practice, but to my surprise it actually hurt when they said I couldn't take communion with them. Even though I know there are good reasons for it, it felt like I was on the outside looking in on them and their Jesus. I did not like that feeling at all. So I didn't go. It would have been too painful.

It was great to lunch with these people at the same table. Personally, however, I long for the day when we can eat at the same Table. They are certainly welcome at mine.


Philip B said...

Interesting. I am curious though. What good reasons are there for Catholics being exclusive with communion?

Colin Toffelmire said...

i don't know the precise reasons they would have been exclusive at the service jon was at, but generally conservative catholics don't offer communion to people who are not members of the church. you might say, "but I am a member of the universal church." the only response you'd be likely to get would be that you are not, because you have not been baptized in a catholic church. as much as we and most catholics play nicely and talk in essentially the same language (particularly concerning social policy) an awful lot of them (probably including the pope) still think you and I are going to hell...or purgatory at least.

philip b said...

I understand their reasons; I'm not sure what is "good" about them.

Jon, Angie, Elijah & Brady said...

perhaps they aren't good reasons so much as understandable, given their presuppositions.

for instance: all churches seek to preserve the integrity of their communion in some way. They must decide how to do this. I imagine there are evangelical denominations who also require that one be a member in order to partake. Most will require that one be baptized. Baptists will require that this be an adult (or believer's) baptism. Generally in my tradition we say that it is open to anyone who has accepted the Lord Jesus as their Saviour. Sometimes we'll add that a person should be baptized, and we'll also say that one should have sins confessed and relationships reconciled first too. Whatever the case, we're seeking that the communion be taken seriously and maintain its height of impact and meaning.

So let's compare the Catholic criteria to my evangelical one. At mine we say you have to have accepted Jesus as Saviour and continue to confess Him as Lord. We have no way of knowing who has or has not done that. We would question someone whose life doesn't line up with that claim, and would probably eventually approach someone for partaking if they really seemed to have no affiliation with the church or baptism or anything ...

The Catholics would require that a person is of God's people, and the only way, for them, that this is known is if they've joined God's church, confessed Jesus Christ as Lord by joining his church. It isn't up to the individual to claim or know salvation. Salvation is invested in the church of Jesus and is assured by said church. So to not be in the church is to not take communion.

I disagree with them that the Church is only their church, but I can't fault them for limiting communion according to only those to whom it seems appropriate to take it.

And I have some sympathy for their view that salvation belongs to the church and not to each individual to say or not say they have.

Having said that I am deeply hurt and offended by their refusal to give me communion, but I have to understand the history of it, and their reasoning, and at least I can continue to work toward unity instead of merely being resentful.

That said, I think some Catholics see me as a brother and might be open to this in the future, but others, like my Papist friend who wants the RC church to revert to pre-Vatican II ways, probably does think I'm going to hell until I join his Church.

This is so assanine I can't even put it into words. But since he didn't say so much and since I only just met him, we have to take our dialogue slowly.

Hope that clears up my meaning a bit. Maybe it just opens new cans of worms.

I appreciate both of your points of clarification. I'm trying to think these things through these days.

Frankly, I think their refusal to give me communion is paralleled by evangelicals refusal to recognize infant baptism. Will anyone budge? I might.

philip b said...

Wow "infant baptism". That opens a can of worms, eh?

philip b said...

I have a hard time getting over how Catholics feel that we aren't part of the universal Church. I bet your papist friend will be surprised to see you sitting next to him in the hereafter.

But as i think about it; how different is it than the nonbeliever's problem with how we see their eventual home? ie: H E double hockey sticks!