Friday, June 15, 2007

If you're crossing the street and a car's bearing down on you at 60 miles an hour, wouldn't you want someone screaming to get your attention?

Over at the Catholic Report a couple months ago, a number of Protestants were using this metaphor as a defense for obnoxious street preaching geared towards bringing people out of the Church. These preachers were on the defensive because they showed up during a mass at a Chaldean church (I think they had a procession outside or something), and made enough noise to distract some of the people inside.

Most of them say they're motivated by love, not hate, and I won't claim to know any differently, but some are so obstinately incredulous that I do wonder. A lot of the specifics are pedigreed Jack Chick, so I won't spend any more time on that point.

I just wanted to address people who use the "speeding car" rationale:

It doesn't work.

We get that if you saw someone standing in the street about to get run over, you would be desperate to try to save him, even if it seemed heavy-handed or even embarrassing to him at the time. Unfortunately, you're screaming and waving your arms so much that you're further distracting him; you're making such a spectacle out of yourself that we can't even tell what you're really trying to say, that we are even less likely to notice the oncoming car.

To Catholics, your desperate zeal just sounds like misplaced anger, especially when your impassioned pleas and criticism don't make a lot of sense.

I hope you can forgive our skepticism, since about half the time when a Protestant (and you're a Protestant if your tradition, or ecclesial lineage if you like, surfaced in the aftermath of Luther, no matter how convincingly you can draw a line back to Christ) tells us he's studied Catholicism, it means he's cribbed some notes from Lorraine Boettner or from a sermon given by one of Boettner's intellectual offspring.

That deer-in-the-headlights look you sometimes get from us? It's not shock and awe at the Holy Spirit humbling us through your strident proselytizing; it's bewilderment at your array of claims that hardly have anything to do with what we actually believe, especially in light of your insistence that--despite the clunky application of Protestant jargon to tiny snippets from the Catechism--you've really done your homework and understand the Catholic doctrines in any meaningful way.

We don't blame you entirely--sure, if our doctrines were just as you described, we'd be repulsed as well. These days, we often do get instructed poorly, so we often can't help you understand many of the more rarified teachings when you criticize them, which we also regret.

We just sometimes wonder how well saying "Read the Bible for yourself! Except Maccabees, and Tobit, and Judith, and parts of some other books we accept, and then a few others" really works. We also wonder about sola scriptura when people who rely on it have been finding irreconcilable differences in what Scripture means about once a week since Luther discovered the idea, retaining only two things in common: (1) everything the Catholics believe that must be wrong, like purgatory (2) every doctrine they all have in common is also shared with the Catholics, like the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ and His virgin birth.

Seems like a funny way to decide which doctrines are too tenuously extrapolated from Scripture, especially when so many others--so many no less nuanced--aren't debated at all.


Daniel said...

I don't care for that sort of proselyting at all. My advice is when a loud mouth protestant comes up to me and (lovingly of course) tries to convince me to recite some little salvation limerick with him, I will ask him plainly (but politely), how it is that Christ turned to the thief on the cross, a condemned criminal with no good works to speak of, who scripture tells us was only moments earlier engaged in blaspheming Christ along with the rest of them - a man who (by his own testimony!) was only getting what he deserved in his own crucifixion -- how is it that Christ could turn to this sinner who is no doubt a worse sinner than you or I, and assure this thief that that very same day he would be with Christ in paradise? How did that thief get saved?!

I have yet to hear one of these street preachy guys tell me that the thief was saved through the sacramental purchase of grace!

Usually they say he was saved the same way Abraham was saved - not by his own righteous deeds, for he had none, but rather He was saved by Christ's righteousness which was reckoned to his account by God's grace and for no other reason than the thief’s faith. Not because of any penance or good works that the thief performed, because he couldn't get to mass just then as he was dying on a cross, and the Roman church hadn't been established yet, but rather in the absence of any means of grace except the only means recorded in scripture (that being by faith alone), he was saved.

The smarmy protestant may well go on to mention that this is how God has always saved people, as our beloved Saint Paul argues in showing how father Abraham was saved - for our beloved Saint Paul describes the salvation of Abraham as being not according to some penance or good work, or any practical, religious means of grace or even his own righteousness - that these things could not save him, rather Abraham simply trusted that God, being God, was going to keep his promise to him, and it was this trust in God that allowed God to overlook Abraham's sin, and instead regard him as though he was righteous - that is, account righteousness to him because of that faith.

With sneering faces some of these preachy guys even add that this all took place before the day of Pentecost, that is, before the church was ever inaugurated, trying by this to drive home the point that it wasn't the church that saved the thief, it was Christ who saved him, and not because the thief did good, or joined the right organization - but because he, like Abraham, turned away from his own efforts to please God, and instead put his trust in God and God alone to save him.

If this proselyter is one of the more fiesty ones, he might remind you (as if you didn't know already) that the gospel doesn't change from the old testament to the new - but is an eternal gospel, then point you to the book of Revelation chapter fourteen and verse six. He will try and show you that the thief was saved by same Gospel that Saint Paul told us he preached, pointing us to the book of Acts chapter 20 and verse 21, and citing that men were saved not by the church, but by being reconciled to God (repenting) through placing their trust in Christ alone to save them.

Pheh! That is when I go "Council of Trent" on their sorry backsides. ;-)

I point out that fifteen hundred years after the thief on the cross, that version of gospel - the one that saved the thief on the cross - was anathemized! Often when they hear that they just stare back at me, mouth agape and quivering - apparently in fear. ;-)

I tell them straight out - look, if your gospel couldn't keep that thief in paradise (for surely Christ regards the ecumenical councils as binding, and therefore ejected the thief from paradise the very moment the council anathemized that gospel), then why should I leave Rome?

Then I walk away, leaving them to pick up the shattered remains of their ego.

I honestly don't care for that sort of pushy street stuff. Look, if a person really cares about me, why not try and be my friend before he or she takes it upon himself to throttle my faith? I like to think of myself as a reasonable fellow, if someone truly loves me enough to try and spare me the consequences of what they imagine to be my inadequate religious instruction, I should like to think I would be civil and hear them out. I mean, if they love me that much, shouldn't they take me out to a ball game or at least pay for a lunch while I hear them out. I mean, c'mon, if you say you care about my soul so much, why not buy me a ham on rye and a pepsi and tell me about it. I will listen for a free lunch.

But most of these guys, well, at least the ones I have met, aren't out there because they love me so much - they are out there because that is the way they do things in their church - they have been trained to think that way, and haven't had an original thought since the day they came to their church, cause they were probably born in it, and everyone they know that is "religious" belongs to it. They know enough people that share their opinion, that they feel comfortable in presuming they are right without actually examing very critically what they believe. Having learned to believe whatever pabulum they are fed - and to never question it - they will go out and preach on the streets with zeal, because that is what their religion - their traditions - have taught them to do.

It is difficult to shake a fool out of his folly, but a wise man can be instructed. I believe that, and because I do, and because I sincerely have a heart to see these poor souls "get it" - I advise them to put aside whatever they have been told, and to simply open the bible and read it and see if it lines up with --all-- that their church is teaching.

Those were some excellent points my friend. Street protestants are the worst. ;-)


Ed Pie said...

Hey, thanks for coming.

...citing that men were saved not by the church, but by being reconciled to God (repenting) through placing their trust in Christ alone to save them....

I wonder if perhaps they hew to a soteriology of that sort because it seems more Jewish, more historically authentic, in some ways. Looking at the current Temple-free state of Judaism, I can sort of understand, but the ancient Jews recognized the significance of a blood sacrifice and viewed their relationship with YHWH more corporately than...well, than most modern Americans, anyway. They take verses about God not liking the smell of burning meat as proof that God had the Jews (which the Catholics fell into) doing something fruitless just to show that it's wrong to do it.
Buh? Obedience to God isn't just taught with hard lessons, but is just an example of what God doesn't want? That'd make God as big a jerk as He comes off in some of the gnostic gospels.
No wonder those street preachers aren't big on charity being self-evident when they preach.

They know enough people that share their opinion, that they feel comfortable in presuming they are right ... they will go out and preach on the streets with zeal...

I think I posted on a related phenomenon several months ago. I was in an ecumenical (so to speak) Bible study in college, and now and then someone would offer a non sequitur criticism of Rome; sometimes a disagreement with a real doctrine like the efficacy of baptism, sometimes just disgust over some misunderstanding. Like they were in "safe" company. Hey, there are religions other than mine that I disagree with too, so I can't flatly blame the sentiment, but hello? I and my two Catholic friends are right here, and we can hear you. Or would it be okay to cut you a little because you believe in a pre-Trib rapture instead of post-Trib? Maybe I just don't understand the rules of the game....

That is when I go "Council of Trent"

Heh. I think the last thing they expect is someone who will engage/challenge them. I've never gone toe to toe but the dramatic examples I can remember reading and being told about include people who just got more and more shrill, because they were afraid (either for themselves or for other potential converts just spectating) that the Romanist with his satan-sweet logic and facts would start sounding attractively reasonable. Can't have that, now, can we?

Daniel said...

Ed, thanks for the salutation, ;-)

I wonder if perhaps they hew to a soteriology of that sort because it seems more Jewish, more historically authentic, in some ways.

Given that the Jews at the time weren't impressing men like John the Baptist with their Jewishness (c.f. Luke 3:8 for example), and given that these same Jews who historically were depending, not on their own relationship with God, but rather on their Jewish identity by virtue first of their being born into that nation, and secondly having entered into the old covenant by virtue of their having been circumcised on the eight day as babes - I say, given that they were all partakers of this system and were putting their hope in it - and John the Baptist shot that whole system down in flames when he dismissed it by saying God could raise up children to Abraham out of the stones on the ground - I say, given this, I imagine most protestants would regard faith in the Jewish system to save a person being as misplaced (according to their soteriology) as the idea that we are saved by our religious affiliation.

No, I suspect that most protestants, at least the ones who are brought up protestants, simple believe what they have been told without doing a lot of homework to see if what they have been told lines up with the bible and church history.

In Amos 5, Amos takes up a lamentation for the house of Israel because they refuse to repent (the chapter makes a good, quick read). It is because they refuse to repent that we read that God hates the smell of their sacrifice - not that God hates the smell of all sacrifices, but rather that the ritual itself is utterly pointless without a heart, indeed, without a life that is utterly surrendered to God. The reason the odor was not pleasing to God was not that God did not like the smell of burning meat or not - God is a spirit, as Saint John tells us (c.f. John 4:24), so we although we often describe God anthropomorphically, It would be hard to say that God actually has a nose. (LOL!). Anyway, it wouldn't surprise me if one of these street preachers tried to go there, but if one did, I would take him to Amos, show him that the verse he is talking about has some pretty specific qualifying boundaries around it - being directed not at all of Israel, but rather at those in Israel who refused to repent, and that it wasn't that God hated the smell of sacrifice, but that God hated spiritually vacuous religious activity. I would then challenge the protestant - are you out here following some form of religion, that is, have you been instructed to go out and do this, and now you do it only because doing so puts some notches in your belt by which you gain some clout in the circles that are impressed by such things - that is, is this not for you just a religious activity, one that your heart and soul are not really engaged in, and if so, you ought to consider what the fifth chapter of Amos says about what God really thinks of your efforts.

That is my long winded (I apologize for my lack of brevity) way of saying that the reason I haven't heard any protestant argue that God made the Jews do fruitless things just to show later that it was pointless. Rather, the holy scriptures give us no reason to imagine such pointlessness - as we find in the eighth and tenth chapters of the epistle to the Hebrews - that is, that the sacrificial system had a very specific "place-holder" type of function, and was not fruitless nor superfluous, but succeeded brilliantly in being exactly what it was intended to be - a shadow of the things which were to come, so that when they did come they would be comprehensible.

I and my two Catholic friends are right here, and we can hear you.

I hope you said something to them. I mean, I don't mind if someone doesn't understand what I believe - I am certainly willing to discuss it, because I believe that ignorance is curable if someone is genuinely interested in the truth - but at a gathering like that you would expect there to be at least a polite introductory caveat before saying something in a mixed group that can only be interpreted as either confrontational or prideful - I say, at least prepend it with a polite, "I believe.." - sigh.

I can remember reading and being told about people who just got more and more shrill, because they were afraid (either for themselves or for other potential converts just spectating) that the Romanist with his satan-sweet logic and facts would start sounding attractively reasonable.

I recall being in something of a confrontation with a church of Christ fellow. Now, I should be fair, he wasn't exactly the standard evangelical protestant - their denomination would be rejected by most protestants because they teach that you get saved by being baptized, but none the less we were having lunch together and discussing God (seriously, I will listen to anyone for a cheeseburger and fries ;P), and when we came to the part where we began to discuss the mechanism behind salvation, it became clear that he was utterly sold out to the idea that until you hit the water you weren't saved.

I asked him about the thief on the cross (It -is- one of my favorites), how did he get saved without being baptized - and the fellow said that the thief was saved under the old covenant system.

I remarked that under the old covenant system, a man who was nailed to a tree was cursed, and that even were that not so, he still had no way of offering a sacrifice for his own sins, that in fact, whatever else we could say of this thief there was only one thing we could say with certainty - that this Jew was --not-- saved under the Mosaic system, for that system condemned him. I wasn't rude, but I did gently persist the point - How was he saved then?

Well, he didn't like that, I think his face went two shades whiter, and his voice an octave higher. He just repeated that he was saved under the old covenant, and I could tell by staring into his wide eyes that this was as far as he had thought it out. Which was really a shame because the fellow could read biblical Greek fluently, and was working on his masters of Theology, and already somewhat competent in the Hebrew language as well, he was a respected teacher in his church, and yet for all this the moment something he took for granted was challenged, he had nothing to answer it accept insisting with greater volume and shrillness, what I had just shown to be self evidently impossible was actually so - as if his volume and shrillness could settle the thing.

I changed the subject at that point. I was still working on my fries, and there were other things to talk about. But it was quite instructive, though as I say, he wasn't a "proper" protestant, meaning, he didn't believe in salvation by grace through faith alone, but rather through a combination of faith and works (baptism) - which I might add, he vehemently disagreed with - believing (as he did) that baptism was not properly called a "work" since the physical dunking (they are dunkers in the Church of Christ) wasn't actually "done to you" but someone else dunked you.

I may have pointed out the definition of "work" at that point, at least according to "proper protestants" (a group he apparently wanted to be affiliated with), was anything that was required above and beyond a "repentant faith". Again he was quite put off by that, but I was finished my fries by then and had to go. ;-)

Ed Pie said...

Longwindedness is fine--I just like keeping the signal-to-noise-ratio high. (:

Thanks for the reference to Amos. I haven't read much of that book yet, and had only heard the "bad smell" bit paraphrased as an out of context prooftext against the Eucharist or the priesthood.

Protestantism is interesting. On the one hand, they cut out a lot of stuff for being Catholic, some of which like devotion to the saints isn't really essential for salvation, so they end up [only] being able to focus on the basics (the fundamentals, ahem), which isn't bad by itself--any athlete or musician will tell you that you always have to work on the basics no matter how accomplished you are--but in going sola Scriptura, they end up cutting out a lot of context as well as a few essential things...which would be difficult enough to work with if their scriptural exegesis and tacit traditions didn't also contain apologetics for the Reformation that don't really bring them closer to Christ at all (even when they have legitimate complaints about real abuses). I think sometimes the reason they so freely speak about their dislikes of Catholicism (and sometimes I do speak up, but it's usually been around my friends--I humor myself by pretending that thought I was an actual Christian because I made fruitful contributions to the discussion, even if we do disagree over the nature of sin) so I try to err on the side of providing not-quite-intimidating quantities of reality and of not being as gauche as they) is that despite outward claims to being the truest inheritors of what Christ started, they spend a lot of time Sunday mornings hearing about how they're Not Catholic.

I don't get Catholic radio where I live anymore, so I usually flip between NPR, conservative talk radio, and Family Life radio when I'm in the car (I'm sure there's a decent music station or two, also). There's a guy they keep playing during my morning commute; sometimes his emphasis on the basics is a welcome reminder--I might say my rosary every day, but am I really praying it, or just going through the motions? Trying to make an effort, even if I fail, is better than nothing, but like the guy says, the emphasis should be on Christ and what He's done--what He does--for us.
Other times? Other times I wonder how he can talk for an hour every day about "Get right with God--He's on your side." Yeah, we know. What do I do now that the catharsis of saying the sinner's prayer has worn off? Get lax in my eternal security? Keep chasing the euphoria? Say it again?
How many times?

...believing (as he did) that baptism was not properly called a "work"...

Isn't it fascinating how the world, be it protestant or secular, will reject the Church and her sacraments, and then go fabricate some imitation? "Baptism doesn't 'save' you, but you have to do it for salvation!" "I couldn't confess to a priest, but I'll do it on daytime television!"