Monday, January 28, 2013

Ecumenism from a Protestant View

There is much one could say about the modern Catholic approach to ecumenism; but it is important to note that, at least as regards to Protestantism, the modern ecumenical movement does not make much sense on their side either. In this post, I'd like to examine modern ecumenism from the Protestant angle and show why it does not make much sense either.

First, recall that we are talking about modern ecumenism; traditional ecumenical dialogue seeks to engage non-Catholic Christians in friendly dialogue for the purpose of winning them back to the Catholic faith through charitable argumentation and prayer (what the modern hierarchy refers to as the "outdated ecclesiology of return"); in traditional ecumenical dialogue, dialogue is a means and the end is the return of the non-Catholic to the Church.

In modern ecumenism, on the other hand, the means of dialogue is exalted to an end in an of itself, and the traditional end of return to the Church is chucked altogether in favor of a purely worldly end of "religious tolerance" and "world peace." Discussion is held for the purpose of having more discussion, in hopes that our discussions will mutually enrich each other as we share experiences. This form of ecumenism really leads nowhere other than creating a situation in which Protestants and Catholics can affirm that we are all okay wherever we are at and that the most important thing is that we can have some sort of fellowship despite out differences.

We all know that this kind of ecumenism tends towards indifferentism and is ultimately untenable from a Catholic view, but lets look at this problem from a Protestant perspective as well.

If one thing is clear about Protestants, it is that they are not Catholics; in other words, they do not accept those Christian teachings which are distinctively Catholic and which, if they did, would make them members of the Catholic Church. There are many teachings that would fall in this "distinctively Catholic" category, but lets take, for example, the infallibility of the Pope, Transubstantiation, and the practice of going to sacramental Confession.

Protestants come in two sorts. Those who thing the Church is the Whore of Babylon and are not interested in any sort of fellowship with Catholics, and those who, for whatever reason want to fellowship with Catholics and believe that Protestants and Catholics can get together on a lot of issues; in short, one sort believes that Catholicism is not a valid branch of Christianity, the other does, and subsequently, believes they can have real fellowship with Catholics.

As much as I dislike the ignorant, fundamentalist critiques of Catholicism, the fundamentalist is being more intellectually honest - he understands that Catholicism is incompatible with his brand of Christianity and attacks it as such. The more ecumenical-minded Protestant, however, is being a little but more disingenuous, however, because if the Catholic doctrines we profess as Catholics are in fact wrong, then we are just as far off and whacked-out as the Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons; in fact, maybe more.

For example:

If that piece of bread we are adoring up there is not Christ Himself, then we are idolaters. There is no question about it. If that isn't God, we are worshiping bread and breaking the first commandment in a major way. We are worse than pagans; pagans at least worshiped statues that looked like gods, or forces of nature - we are worshiping a piece of bread. We might as well worship an apple or a meatloaf.

If the man in Rome is not the successor of Peter with the authority to infallibly bind and loose, then he is a monstrous impostor claiming the powers to bind consciences and to act falsely in the name of God Himself when he in fact has no special power. An institution that would perpetuate this base lie and bind so many souls to the whims of this impostor must be desperately wicked.

Finally, if a priest does not have power to absolve us of our sins in the name of Christ through the sacrament of confession, and if this is not the normative means of forgiveness that God willed for His people, then what sort of twisted system must this be that compels people, on the pain of eternal damnation, to tell all of their secrets and failings to another man who (if he is not who the Church claims him to be) can not but default to a position of power and manipulation over the penitent, leading to all sorts of mischief. What a diabolical system!

These are harsh words, but let us keep in mind that, if Catholicism is false, every accusation above is true. We are idolaters. The earthly head of our Church is a megalomaniacal dictator, if not the anti-Christ. Our priests are slave-masters and we the basest knaves, revealing every secret and sin to them in good faith, thinking they are absolving us but in reality we are only enslaving ourselves more.

It comes down to this: Either Catholicism is absolutely correct, or it is absolutely wrong. Either it is from God in its truth and beauty, or it is from the devil in its error and ugly abuse of power. There is no in between.

Now then, we have already established that Protestants are not Catholics (duh); i.e., they are not the group of people who would say that Catholicism is "absolutely correct." But if they deny that Catholicism is true, particularly the points about the pope's jurisdiction, Transubstantiation and the spiritual powers of the priesthood, how can they even affirm that the Catholic Church is good at all, let alone Christian enough to have fellowship with? If we worship a piece of bread, attribute the powers of God to a man, and are all bent in superstitious spiritual slavery to a power-hungry clerical caste (and if Catholicism is false, that would be the case), how can they stand shoulder to shoulder with us, acclaiming us as "fellow believers" and working together with us as Christians?

Christian fundamentalists at least have had the intellectual honesty to see this as a charade and have attacked attempts of their fellow Protestants to have fellowship with Catholics. They point out (and rightly so) that if the teachings of the Catholic Church are false (which all Protestants assert), then the Catholic Church deserves to be ostracized and worked against, not fellowshipped with. If Catholicism is false, Protestants should treat Catholics the way most Christians, Protestant and Catholic alike, treat Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons and Scientologists.

You see, modern ecumenism makes no sense on the Protestant side, even as it makes no sense on the Catholic side. As I mentioned above, there is room for a traditional ecumenism, an ecumenism that seeks to debate points of disagreement with the purpose of coming to a conclusion one way or another; but an ecumenism that simply seeks to work together to build "understanding" undermines both sides. So long as one party thinks it is right and the other wrong, modern ecumenism is not possible. Either we must revert to a more traditional understanding of ecumenism, or we must cease being a people who claim to have a unique and trustworthy revelation from God.


Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Excellent, Boniface. Thank you. The effete ecumenism you describe is anchored in naturalism and so we Catholics may as well pitch-in with the judaised protestants and build the city on a hill (heaven on earth).

The link to Balamand is fantastic!!!


Anonymous said...


Oh my goodness, you have succinctly and with unerring accuracy captured the very essence of 'orthodox' protestantism and the (futile) ends of postmodern eccumenicalism. Indeed, as a former SDA, then Evangelical Anglican until my conversion to Catholic Christianity in october 2011, I lived, breathed and believed the very grievances pitched against Catholic Christianity re vain idolatry, tyranny and abject slavery to a clerical cast; nay, spiritual abuse pure and simple. Indeed, if Catholic Christianity is wrong, the accusations leveled against it from the Lollards of late 1300's England to Ellen G. White (co-foundress of the Seventh Day Adventist Church) must be correct and naught else.

thank God they were wrong. And thank God also for the likes of Tim Staples (himself a former Assemblies of God pastor from Baptist roots) who speak to we (former, in my case) protestants from the word of God itself, banishing the errors that have been perpetuated for nearly 700 years in one form or another.

What did St. Paul say of Christianity?...if Christ did indeed not suffer, die and rise from the dead, our faith is nothing but delusion and we are to be pitied above all peoples for our wretched state...

Thank God that God DOES exist and that the second person of the godhead became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, lived among us and through his Passion and Paschal mystery, redeemed fallen humanity to our Heavenly Father.

Sparticus, you are also spot on.



Philosoraptor said...

Ordinarily, I think very highly of this blog, and read it often. It is rare that I disagree with the authors about anything substantial, but there it is.

Everything you say about a fundamentalist Protestant thinking about the Church is true - if the Church is not who She says She is, than She is a monstrosity, etc. However, Catholics know this is not the truth, and that the Protestants are mistaken. Here is where the potential benefit of the so-called "modern ecumenism" (which I hold is [or at least ought to be] a prolegomena to disputation regarding matters of faith) show up: working with fundamentalist Protestants on mutually shared matters like caring for the sick, the unborn, etc., and being a constant witness of Christ and His Church will DEMONSTRATE that Catholics are not the Whore, and even more, that their Church is urging to do the very things they are doing in common (i.e. pro-life work, or something like that). Who knows, one might even strike up a friendship with one.

And thus the pump is primed, as it were, for 'classical ecumenism', by which I mean disputation on matters of Faith. This is the end, and this is the most important, but the preparation cannot be ignored, and is instrumentally speaking even more important - a witness to the Faith is far more powerful coming from a friend than from a semi-anonymous interlocutor.