Hello and welcome to our new series, “Ask a Catholic!” This is a spot where you can ask us anything about Catholicism, and we are happy to answer. I’ve been looking forward to this so much, especially since so many of my friends are Protestant/Evangelical. Firstly, as a way to reduce the misunderstandings between us. And second, as a place to invite dialogue in a world that sorely needs it.
And so, to our first question we shall go!
Question #1: “I’m happily Evangelical. I’m not sure I see the relevence of learning about Catholics at this point in my walk of faith.”
This is a great question, and a wonderful place to start.
I was thinking about it this morning, and I found an analogy that might be helpful. In many ways, I think declining to learn about the Catholic Church, or avoiding it, or even just assuming we understand it enough to know it isn’t for us, is sort of like a child refusing to get to know its mother. The idea of that seems so silly. Of course a child will want to know its mother- as much as he or she can know about her, probably! Because, for one, she is where that child came from. And second, who she is will greatly shape and impact that child for the rest of his or her life.
I think the same is true about the story of our Christian faith and how it grew since its beginning.
As someone brought up in various branches of Evangelicism, my idea of a church was often a relatively plain building or sanctuary that also functioned as an auditorium, or a performance hall, or even a basketball court in some occasions. My idea of church was an opening prayer, a series of songs, an offering…all of which led up to a sermon that was the sort-of pinnacle or focus of the service. Then another prayer and possibly another song at the end.
As I came into adulthood I started to wonder what the early Church looked like…what were there services like? Did we hold the same beliefs? Retain any of their traditions? And if we didn’t, when and why did we give them up? Did our American Evangelical Christianity look anything like Christianity looked like for the generations that immediately followed the life of Christ on earth? And if it didn’t, should it? I began to suspect that whatever it looked like, early Church couldn’t possibly have been an auditiorium-style sanctuary with projectors, and stage lights, concert-style emotion-driven music, and a pastor-centered service.
Then I realized that the people in these places-these auditioriums with the performance heavy services were the same people I had been listening to and believing for years, mostly passively, when it came to what Catholics believed and taught. And the thing was, for a group of people so certain that Catholics were wrong on so many issues, none of them could tell me what the early Church looked like once I started to ask.
So, on one hand, I had pastors and fellow church and small group members telling me what Catholics believed and how wrong they were compared to Evangelicals on a number of things:
“Catholics believe you can earn your salvation, Catholics worship Saints, Catholics have an unhealthy devotion to Mary, Catholics believe you can’t just go to God with your sins, Catholics are so devoted to tradition that they go through the motions and don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus, Catholics added books to the Bible, Catholics don’t believe in Bible Alone and obviously Bible Alone is the truth, they don’t believe in Once Saved Always Saved and obviously Once Saved Always Saved is the truth, Catholics think you can earn your salvation by works.” Just to name a few.
Then, on the other hand, I also had this vague understanding that the early Christian Church-from Jesus until the Reformation…was Catholic.
I started to wonder if somehow not all of the things I had been taught or had come to believe about Catholics were true, or even if they were, if they were maybe incomplete in some way.
And it all comes back to this. The child knowing its mother. If we don’t understand Catholicism, then we don’t truly understand the history of our Christian faith.
We don’t understand where we came from.
The Missing Years
Christianity didn’t appear in a vaccum, with hipster pastors and rock music and stage lights, even though that was my experience of Christiany- it was what I had known my whole entire life. Some of the churches I went to were very humble, just a couple of singers adding their voices to a cassette tape through the speakers. Others were much more highly produced, and some even recorded songs and sold CD’s of original music. But I had fallen into the mistake of thinking that because it was all I had known, that that was all it ever was. Pre-Reformation Christianity had been explained to me in vague terms like ‘indulgences’ and ‘Luther’ and ’99 thesis nailed to a door,’ even though our faith had existed for 1500 years prior to that. It was like we had the Bible, and then we skipped right ahead to the Reformation.
What on earth had gone on in between? What did the earliest generations after Jesus do and believe? How did they structure their life and practice of faith?
No one at the Baptist/Calvinist church we were attending at the time could tell me. I wondered if it could even be known? If it could, I felt very strongly that I needed to know it. There had to be something incredibly precious and sacred about those early Christians and the way they lived their faith. I felt like they had something to teach me, and the fact that I had grown up in an modern, Americanized bubble of Christianity no longer served as an excuse.
Our History Matters
There’s a joke among Catholics that to study Church history is to cease to be Protestant. I harbor no illusions that my little posts here and there will send people running to the Catholic Church. But I do hope for this: For anyone with whom I’ve garnered any bit of trust, I hope you’ll read this series. If for nothing else than to better understand a part of our shared Christian faith that was there since the start.
I think we all only have something to gain from a better, clearer understanding.
And that, my friends, is how we begin the “Ask a Catholic” series. Feel free to email us a question for the series, or drop it on our Facebook page or at the bottom of this post. We’ll answer as soon as we can!