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Why I’m not Catholic

I’ve been wrestling with this Catholic vs Anglican thing for a while now. I’m happily part of a thriving Anglican parish now and my wife and I are growing deeper in our relationships with Christ and each other.

But in the background I’ve continued to consider the claims of the Catholic church and wrestle with the problems of biblical authority, interpretation and so on. I’ve also paid some attention to the views of the Eastern Orthodox on the matter of the primacy of Rome.

After all of the arguments back and forth, pro and con, I think I’ve come to realize something. I can get on board with a lot of things. I could handle praying to the saints. Properly understood I know that it is simply asking saints in heaven to intercede in prayer for us just like we have people down here on earth pray for us. I see no reason why I couldn’t ask Peter or Mary or Augustine to remember me in prayer before the Lord. I don’t think it’s a requirement, but not a problem for me either. Obviously being in the Anglican church I don’t have a problem with liturgical worship. I can even handle things like transubstantiation. And though it would be a leap of faith I think I’d be able to come around to the Catholic view on contraception and related issues such as IVF.

The stumbling block that I cannot seem to get over is the Catholic position on divorce and remarriage. What makes it even more difficult is how I’ve seen annulments handled with certain prominent Catholics in politics for instance, where the bishop seems to hand out annulments like a PEZ dispenser. Meanwhile folks who don’t have that kind of influence or who don’t have a neat and tidy excuse to have their marriage annulled suffer. I know too many Godly people who love Christ and strive to follow him with all that they have who nonetheless through no fault of their own have been divorced. Either their spouse left them for a younger model, or was physically and emotionally abusive, or was a serial adulterer who’d been forgiven and taken back many times before, or sexually abused their children or the couple simply married when they were young and immature and were unprepared for what marriage requires but now one of them has gotten serious about their walk of faith…the list of reasons goes on and on. Under Catholic doctrine, unless they can show some arcane reason as to why their marriage wasn’t a “true” marriage to begin with…maybe the spouse was gay and never told them for instance…they are stuck. They can’t date and remarry and find love again unless the spouse who was at fault and left comes to their senses.

I simply can’t come to grips with that. I know what the interpretations of the passage from Matthew are according to Catholic doctrine. When Jesus said that except for sexual immorality, divorcing and remarrying is committing adultery, Protestants and Catholics see it differently. Catholics say that the Greek word “porneia” that is translated as sexual immorality doesn’t simply mean “fornication” or “adultery”, it means something more specific such as the aforementioned “secretly gay spouse” or perhaps a partner that entered the marriage already cheating on the other and having no intention of being faithful sexually in the marriage. Or it could be something more perverted. But it’s not simply having an affair.

What gives me reason to doubt the Catholic take on this is that Paul also addresses divorce in 1st Corinthians. Paul says that if an unbelieving spouse abandons a believing spouse, the believer who was abandoned is not “under bondage” in that situation any longer. What “bondage” would there be in that situation except continuing to be tied to a spouse that has left you with no intention of ever returning? Or perhaps even having remarried themselves? It would seem to me that Paul would not mention abandonment as a reason for divorce if Jesus was really restricting it just to very specific instances where a valid marriage never took place to begin with. You can’t choose what Jesus said but disregard Paul’s words because after all, Paul was speaking as the Holy Spirit directed him to speak. The letter to the Corinthians is just as binding as the Gospel of St. Matthew.

Don’t take me the wrong way, I hate divorce. I know God hates it. The best and most ideal outcome in these situations is to work to repair the relationship, bring the offending party to repentance and have a healthy marriage come out the other side. But it takes two to tango as the saying goes. I do not believe it was Christ’s intention to create a doctrinal situation where an adulterer essentially gets to put their spouse in a state of indefinite limbo while they whore around and go remarry one of their lovers.

For this reason, and the many people I’ve met over my life who are divorced for reasons the Catholic church would not deem worthy of an annulment, and who are repentant and hate that their previous marriage failed but have remarried and are committed and fully faithful to that marriage, I cannot be Catholic. I understand that to be Catholic means you sign up for everything they teach. I cannot assent to such a view.

A book recommendation

So, it’s been quite a while since I posted. We’re still happily involved in our local Anglican parish. Nothing new to report there.

But I did want to post a book recommendation. I’ve always had a bit of difficulty praying in front of or with other people. I’m not otherwise shy, but for some reason prayer for me has always been a private thing and group prayer meetings were a struggle. Truth be known, regular prayer and devotional time with my wife wasn’t any easier. I find myself stammering or repeating myself too much, using a lot of “Christianese” and such because I’m too self conscious. I could muddle through in a pinch, but was never comfortable in my own skin doing it. This could be one reason that I enjoy the liturgy at church so much. The prayers in the Book of Common Prayer are beautifully written and “losing myself” in the liturgy and then inserting my own personal petitions during the times of silent prayer give me much needed structure and focus for the overall prayer time. But the BCP isn’t the easiest thing to incorporate into personal or family prayer times to me.

But I got Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals as a gift this past Christmas and my wife and I started using it in the mornings before the kids wake up. It’s really been wonderful. It works much like a morning or evening prayer you might find in a local Anglican or Catholic parish with call and response prayers, responsive readings from the Psalms, a “lectionary” of Old Testament and New Testament passages to read and short devotional passages that usually foces on a notable Christian or event in church history. The format is definitely best for groups or a couple, but I have used it alone a couple of evenings as well.

One caveat that some might be bothered by, though I wasn’t: a few of the devotional passages will touch on a political issue that corresponds to that day in history. Most probably wouldn’t register as an issue for people, but a couple like a positive reference to the Kyoto Protocol or a reflection on Gandhi might raise an eyebrow for more conservative readers. I didn’t have a problem with either in context but just letting you know they are there. The vast, vast majority are about various notable Christians.

Also, so far I’ve only run into one day where I felt like the prayers were a bit too hip for their own good. Most are classic and beautifully written, but there was one talking about peace where instead of the classic line “beating their swords into plows”, we got “turning their guns into tractors” or some such. A minor ding on the book in the grand scheme of things.

At any rate, there’s my recommendation. My wife and I finally have a morning prayer time together and it has deeply enriched our lives. I’m not sure if it would have occurred without the help of a book like this to give us a framework of sorts to work within. I highly recommend the book for people used to liturgy or those who might like to dip their toe in the water of liturgical prayer.

Confirmed

My wife and I were confirmed in the Anglican church this morning. What an amazing journey this has been. Had you asked the me of my late teens or college years if I thought I’d ever be going to a church like this, I’d have thought you were crazy. I was knee deep in Pentecostalism and looked askance at anything that smacked of “tradition” or “ritual.” If a place wasn’t buzzing with people speaking in tongues or throwing down some funky worship music, it was dead and wasn’t ‘free in the Spirit.’

Amazing how things change. Now I crave the quietness and time to reflect and pray. Not even my favorite worship song (and I do still enjoy some modern worship music) comes anywhere close to the worship I experience when I receive the Body and Blood of Christ each week. My children are learning more about God than ever before and we get to worship together and they get to see Mommy and Daddy worship instead of being shuttled off until the service is over.

I’m happy. And a year or so ago, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to say that anytime soon. Thanks be to God. Alleluia, alleluia!

Settling In

Well, I figure it’s time for an update.

I couldn’t have asked for things to go any better. My wife (hereafter referred to as “C.”) confessed the other night that she has really come to love going to the Anglican church, even though she’s still not totally “natural” at the liturgy. She really enjoys the teaching and communion every week and has come to appreciate the more reverent style of worship.

The kicker for her (and me) is the effect it’s having on our kids. They seem to be learning so much more in Sunday School than they were at our previous church. We’d ask them after church what they talked about and they never could tell us. Now they excitedly tell us all kinds of things from Bible stories to things about the church year to asking questions about the Eucharist and how the bread is Jesus’ body and the wine is His blood. It’s really remarkable.

Another effect related to the kids is that while they do leave during the processional hymn to go to children’s church, they come back right after the sermon to be with us for the liturgy of Holy Communion. This is I think the most meaningful thing to me and I’m not sure I really knew how much it would mean to me. While they do spend some of the time drawing on paper, when we say the prayers, sing The Lord’s Prayer (I love singing it. The liturgical music is beautiful), sing the Sanctus and kneel for confession and the Eucharistic prayers, we involve them. My older one is starting to learn the singing parts and listens during the other parts. It blesses me so much to not only worship in front of my kids as an example to but begin worshiping with them. And while they aren’t old enough to receive Communion, they do come up with us and kneel and receive a blessing from the priest while me and C. receive the Sacrament. It’s really a wonderful time for us.

On top of all this, we’ve been attending a Sunday School class and have been invited into a community group that meets in homes every other week. And true to form, everyone has been extremely warm and welcoming. I feel like we’re really starting to fit in and get to know some people. These rich, beautiful people have blown away every preconceived notion me and C. had about such folks. It’s really extraordinary.

C. remarked to me the other night that she just wishes she’d have known 2 years ago what she knows now. She wishes we would have not waited to start attending. So, we are in the process of joining the church officially. Being from more informal churches, the process is a little more structured that what we’re used to (basically a handshake and coming down front after the service)…a 6-week adult catechism class and then being officially received by the Bishop when he visits later this year.

Thank you so much for your prayers and continue to pray for us as we dive in more and more. Also, though I know he doesn’t read this blog, thank you to Mark Galli for writing the book Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy. It’s such an easy to read book and has done wonders to help C. understand the significance and symbolism involved in the various aspects of the liturgy and feel more comfortable. I read it a year or so ago and loved it myself but I think it’s been a Godsend for her.

I’m not done blogging, so this isn’t a goodbye post. The journey is really only beginning.

Michael Spencer, The Internet Monk, has passed away

I’m not sure what to do or say.  I’m sad.  I’m ticked off.  I’m tired of good people and needed voices being taken from us while evil men prosper.  I know the rain falls on the unjust and just alike, but I’ll admit, I hate that it works that way.  I’d rather see people like Michael thrive and live well into old age while those who do nothing but tear us down and make the world worse would get cancer.  I understand that’s not the right attitude to take, but I’m just being honest. Maybe some time and perspective will help me see it in a better light, but right now, I’m just so down and so sad.

Lord, please make Your presence be felt and known by Denise and the kids.   Give them peace and comfort.  Embrace them both through your Holy Spirit and the company of good friends.  We are all really going to miss Michael and wish you’d given us more time with him down here.  Just be sure to introduce us in heaven one day since I only got to talk to him via email.  I want him to know what an impact his writings had on me, if for no other reason than it made me realize I wasn’t crazy to feel the way I was feeling.

NOTE:  As a gesture of support, perhaps we could all go ahead and pre-order Michael’s book that’s due out in September. Here’s the link at Amazon:

Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer

Internet Monk update

Lord hear our prayer for Michael. We need a miracle.

http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/imonk-update—32310

Devastating news

An update on Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, and his struggle with cancer:

http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/michael-spencer-update-392010

I’m sad beyond words and fervently pray for a better outcome than what’s being expected.  Lord, hear our prayer.

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