Monday, August 10, 2009

What if Non-Catholics are Right?

Catholic apologists spend a lot of time debating apologists from the other 33,000 Christian denominations. Is it really necessary? Yes and no. No, because Catholics really know they are in the right place. Yes, because just as with the crusades, at some point you're going to have to face what's right in your face and won't go away.

But, I think God allows the Catholic Church to face criticism. Occasionally, valid points are raised and errors uncovered which help steer the Catholic Church on a straight course. Certainly, few would argue that the Church has needed to be brought back from error on many occasions. Christ, after all, did intimate that the gates of hell would try to prevail. But he also promised that hell would never actually succeed.

How much of the conspiracy theory is true, I'm not sure, but among other things, we've supposedly been infiltrated by the Freemasons, culminating in Vatican II. We got it wrong with Gallileo (though Robert Sungenis thinks the Vatican had a good case). We went on crazy witch-hunts and murdered a lot of innocent people. We had abominable Popes who fathered illegitimate children and sold indulgences.

That leads us to one of the many who had a pretty good case against the Catholic Church - Martin Luther. We all feel for him in a way. His heart seemed to be in the right place when he nailed his protestations to the door. And more than likely, his protestations had the desired effect as we see none of those sorts of shenanigans in the Catholic Church today (I hope).

The sweet Lord knows the Catholic Church has been at the centre of controversy after controversy. Granted, we've had two thousand years to accumulate all those controversies. Give the protestant churches another 1850 years and they'd probably achieve something similar. We've had to apologise on numerous occasions for atrocities and a multiplicity of other misdemeanours. We've had to eat humble pie on many occasions and I think we're still doing that even today. An example of this would be gradual softening of the Church's attitudes to other religions, promoting tolerance and dialogue and acknowledging the "seeds of truth" that exist in all religions, rather than condemning them automatically to hellfire.

Is any of this surprising though? Not if you cast your mind back to the early Church post-resurrection. Peter and Paul, filled so full of the Holy Spirit that they were fearless, could drive out demons and heal the sick. Yet, they could not agree whether to allow the gentiles to be part of the Church, and if so, whether they should be required to follow Jewish traditions.

Yes, Christ is still leading his beloved Church and I dare say we need to swallow our pride (something we've been used to doing recently anyway) and listen to.....yes, even to....shock horror...Protestants!

But, what of those who correct us, shape us, re-align us, not themselves being within the Catholic Church. What about James White or any other apologist from any of the other 33,000 Christian denominations? What becomes of them? They provide a good service to us. They keep us on our toes. Their arguments are food for thought. They might actually be right and we might actually be wrong on some issues. Don't worry! God can use that, even as he has used so many others over the millenia - saints, mystics, Judas Iscariot, even atheists. For God loves all His children and will give each and every one a time to accept His mercy.

But, Christ's primary desire was that there be one flock and one shepherd. While God can use these people to guide the Church, that is not to say that they are automatically acceptable to Him. After all, Judas provided a great service too. A very great service if we pursue that line of thought long enough. The issue is of "authority" and of "where does the Holy Spirit reside?" Even the most hardened atheist can make the occasional good point about spiritual matters. But following up that good point is likely to be a good number of bad points. Some might argue that I've just described the Catholic Church in a nutshell - bad mixed with good. But, this isn't the point. The old testament gives us a hint as to what I'm talking about.

God loved his people - the Jews. He gave them prophets to lead and guide them. One day, the people decided they wanted a king, like all the other peoples. God said "You don't know what you're asking for...but OK, if you insist". He anointed Saul as the first king. He must have know the sort of guy he would end up as. He warned the people. Then David took over. He was a great King, but even he had his weak points. Solomon too began full of promise, but succumbed to idol worship in the end. Then, we had a succession of really awful kings. How God must have cringed for His people. But we learn a lot about God from these times. We learn that God doesn't just abandon His people because of those that lead them. This is something Luther would have done well to remember.

And so it is with the Catholic Church. Yes, we show the weaknesses of the apostles. Our heart is on our sleeve. We're hated and maligned. We're even downright WRONG sometimes. But, we're still the Church that Christ built. We're still where the Holy Spirit resides. We're still the legitimate authority. And the best that the most scholarly and astute non-Catholic can do is provide assistance to us, but never supercede us and never lead us. They just don't have any integral authority we can rely on. They don't have history on their side. There isn't a point at which we can be sure we are touching base with the Lord Jesus Christ who took great pains to set up a physical church. Among the good points are many errors, just like the Catholic Church I suppose. But, the difference is this: God's response to Catholic errors is to send guidance and correction. For God corrects those He loves.

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