Sunday, April 1, 2012

Is the Reformation Over?

I am about a quarter of the way through a book titled "Is the Reformation Over? An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism" by Noll and Nystrom. The book gives a very thorough assessment of the historic divide and how that has changed greatly since the 1960's. Vatican II played a large role in this amongst a host of other factors.

Noll and Nystrom list complaints Protestants have against Catholics as well as a list of complaints Catholics have against Protestants. It was the latter list that made me really think. There are some valid points, particularly in light of my experience in the Protestant church.

1) offered a "salvation" by faith that denied the need for holiness before God;
2)abandoned the Bible to the interpretation of every Tom Dick and Mary (no matter how bizarre those interpretations might be) and, by so doing, effectively stripped the Bible of normative authoritative meaning;
3) denied the ability of the Holy Spirit to work through ongoing teaching officers in the church as the Spirit had earlier worked to bring the church into existence.
4) scandalously neglected God's gracious help provided to humanity in the person of the blessed Virgin Mary and the exemplary saints;
5) rejected the apostolic authority of bishops, councils, and popes and do abetted the rising Western tide of rationalism, secularism, and moral anarchy;
6) foolishly neglected the 7 sacraments that brought God's grace to every crucial point in a persons life; and
7) forsook genuine ecclesiastical leadership of the God given community of faith in favor of a political free for all in which authority was reduced to individualism as a principle and individualistic manipulation as a practice.

Very interesting points. I agree that these are the weaknesses in Protestantism, particularly number 7. I will go through these in more detail in the future because it is very important. I thought I'd share the list for now to help get others thinking about some if these inherent problems.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My first experience at the Catholic Church

Field Trip Report- Western
            The Roman Catholic faith has always been intriguing to me, and this project gave me a great reason to explore it more. Growing up in an Evangelical Christian Protestant faith, I have known the tenants of Christianity. My religious upbringing focused on a simple form of Christianity. Rituals and other forms of religious devotion were virtually non-existent.  Only two sacraments were looked highly upon, Holy Communion and Baptism. The focus of Evangelical Christianity is a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Focus is placed on the individual and the heart and the individual relationship with God. Fundamental Christian protestant faith’s, such as the Evangelical faith, put a high emphasis on teaching the scripture and spreading the message of faith to others across the world. On December 4th 2011, I attended mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in La Habra. This is a large church in the city I live.  Recently I have been questioning my traditional religious beliefs. Through that process of questioning, I had already begun to look into Catholicism, and wondering if maybe the oldest Christian Church is an example of Christianity more in line with what originally was envisioned by Jesus and the Apostles.
            The first thing that really impressed on me in attending mass was the beauty of the church itself.  It is clear that much care is placed in maintaining the simple elegance of the church.  Inside the church are beautiful stained glass windows. The main window was a depiction Jesus on the cross.  Many smaller windows showed different Apostles and Saints.  There were several square wood carvings lining the walls along the sides of the church.  A practitioner next to me told me that they were the stages of the cross, and used by Catholics to help them focus on particular prayers. The mass itself was a memorable experience for me. I really enjoyed the singing and the message by the priest out of the books of Isaiah and Mark.  The order of events was similar to my own church, but there was a lot of kneeling, and recited prayers and creeds that the entire congregation participated in.  I must say that coming from a background that sees church as a very relaxed affair, there was something very nice about the ritual and recitation of the prayers and creeds.  I participated and tried to follow along with everything, and I found myself really in a place of meditation and heartfelt worship. Many people see Catholic rituals on the surface and think that they are excessive, unnecessary, or that they distract from the real message. I however found these rituals helped me to put myself in a place of true worship and reflection. The ritual and acts the Catholic Church performs were quite effective in bringing peace to the soul and allowing me to focus on the message presented and my heart before Christ.  I went home and looked into a few more of their rituals and sacraments.  Communion and Baptism are similar to my own faith, but things like the sign of the cross, prayers to Mary and the Saints, and recitation of creeds and prayers were quite foreign to me.  I learned that these creeds and prayers, particularly the Lord’s Prayer, the Nicene Creed, and the Apostle’s Creed originate in very early Christendom.  It seems like these are used to help with religious devotion while maintaining adherence to traditions in the church, dating back two- thousand years.
            I decided to read a bit more about Catholic’s devotion to Mary. This is something that is absolutely not done in the protestant faith. I had always thought that Catholic’s prayed to Mary and treated her much like God or Jesus Christ. In reality, it appears that Catholics highly revere Mary and that they pray that her and the Saints will pray for them as well.  The statues within the church are not idols to be worshiped, but reminders of religious devotion. Bowing before a statue is used as a sign of reference to the Almighty Trinity, and not the actual statue. 
            I need to do some more research into Catholicism, but the experience was so beneficial to me that I went back the next day for an evening mass.  It was similar to the Sunday mass, but simpler and shorter.  I very much enjoyed my experience and will be participating in more Catholic functions, classes and masses, in the future. I have a lot of questions still, but in all of the religions I have studied in this class, Catholicism seemed to resonate most with me.  The genuineness that can be found in the Catholic religion was something that was somewhat foreign to my protestant experience. This alone makes me feel drawn to Catholicism as a potential religion for me to adhere to.  (Word Count 845)

A Crazy Summer

Interestingly enough, I found myself in a philosophy of religion class in the local community college.  I have a Bachelor's Degree, but in order to get an education bonus at work it had to be an Associate's Degree in my professional field.  I transferred a lot of classes to the Junior College, but in order to graduate I needed to take one additional class to satisfy the residency requirements.  I almost got into a PE class, but found the philosophy of religion class that was entirely online.  So with everything going on in my life, I felt like the online class was the best bet.

The class was very interesting.  We learned about everything from paganism and native religions, to the major religions of today Hindu, Jain, Buddhism, Confucius, Daoist, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
Now, even after getting an A in the class, I by no means am an expert on any of these religions.  I do, however,  feel like I had the privilege of taking a journey and discovered some interesting things about human nature.  Mainly, that everyone who has ever walked this earth has asked themselves a couple of very important questions.  These questions would be the driving force of religions emerging in an effort to find an answer.

Who are we?
Why are we here?
What is our purpose?
What else is out there?

These questions still perplex us today.  Religions of all kinds do their best to answer these questions.  As part of our class, two field trips were required.  The first was to an Eastern Religious Site.  I chose a large Buddhist temple that is in the area.  It was a very good experience walking through a religious site that I was so unfamiliar with.  I took an audio tour which was very enlightening.  The serenity of the Temple was stunning.  I will post my field trip report in a separate blog post so you can view it if you are interested.

The second field trip report was to a Western Religious Site.  The caveat here was that it could not be our own religion (Protestant).  So somewhat reluctantly one day, I headed off to the local Roman Catholic Church for the Sunday Mass.  What I found there was not what I expected.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Word on Fire

Throughout this Blog, I will probably make many references to both Father Robert Barron, as well as his ministry Word on Fire.  Robert Barron is a very skilled theologian and has many commentaries on youtube regarding issues of Christianity and Catholicism.  Check out his website at and also search for him on Youtube.  his Youtube channel is wordonfirevideo. Here is a link to a preview of his documentary series entitled Catholicism.  I encourage anyone searching for answers to check out Father Barron's videos.

Catholicism Documentary Preview

Word on Fire Website:

How did I get here?

About a year ago I started to feel really confused on my religious beliefs.  As a married father of three, and having grown up in a fundamentalist baptist and evangelical church, I thought I knew exactly what I believed about God, Salvation, and the after life.  My wife, however, began becoming very interested in social justice, and a lot of what we read together in the Bible flew in the face of the prosperity gospel that I had grown up in. It also seemed to fly in the face of much of what I would consider the American Dream.  These new questions about Scripture began to lead me down a road of real doubt about the church and the Bible.  I went through phase at the age of 29 that most people probably go through during their college years.  For the first time in my life I felt like I had no idea what Christianity really was.

Growing up I had learned and subscribed to the great Protestant tenants for Salvation.  Sola Fide (Faith Alone) and Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone).  These tenants are core to any Protestant Belief and sparked the Reformation. Martin Luther believed that all it took was Faith Alone in Christ to be saved. He also believed that all people could interpret the Bible, and that the Bible was the only central authority (The Pope was not needed). I believed these tenants strongly until I started really diving into my Bible and trying to figure it out for myself.  I started finding that some of what I read, I did not interpret like I was taught.  I also sought answers from others but in the end it seemed like everyone had a different view of some of the big issues.  This was troubling to me.  Was the Bible really infallible and complete?  This was a question that I asked one pastor and he assured me that the early church councils that assembled the Bible as we know it went through a painstaking process to compile it and they were very prayerful about it.  He was certain that the group at the Synod of Hyppo in 393 compiled the Bible accurately.  It certainly seemed reasonable.  I wondered what church today is closest to that church, or the church that existed in the first century.  The simple answer was the Catholic Church, but that could not be it; could it? It had to be a protestant church, I thought.

My journey continued and my questions grew.  I actually had so many unanswered questions on my list that I briefly began a blog basically calling out the truth.  The blog was really a low point in my faith, where I had so many questions, and so few answers, that I was pretty sure my entire religious upbringing was a farce. Fortunately this was a brief point in time, but it allowed me to really flush out my questions and start rebuilding my faith on the right answers.

The goal of this blog is to help me process through my new emerging faith and religious beliefs.  As I start this blog I am sort of in a world in between protestantism and catholicism.  I am attending a Protestant church and also going to Catholic Mass. I spend a lot of my free time reading about Catholicism and learning about it.   If this blog can help me and others formulate their faith, in a real way, like Christ wants us to live for him, then I believe that is a good thing.  I hope you enjoy taking this journey with me.