Why I’m not a Roman Catholic.

Cranmer martyr
***UPDATE: A blog series on discovering Catholic theology will begin shortly as a product of discussion from this post. Please stay tuned!***

I guess this is a second post linked to my post yesterday about the inaugurations of Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis. I stand by what I said yesterday, I’m so pleased for both the Catholic and Anglican church at these two appointments. I definitely believe that God is in it and both Churches are going to grow, and that many people will be reassured by the Church as a whole. I’m praying daily for both Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin – they need our prayers

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I have many Christian friends. Many of them are Anglicans like me, many are Catholic, and many are of different churches. Unlike in Medieval times, most of us Christians agree that there are “proper” Christians in each denomination, and that differences in our theology are mainly around a certain style of worship, ecclesiology or a particular emphasis on a certain theology. However, to get to the bottom of life’s most important question, many of us believe that we are all Christians, whatever denomination and we will all be in heaven together.

But after one has been a Christian for a while (in whatever denomination), I think that for a lot of people their choice of church is important. I can’t speak for all Christians, and I believe that as we progress, denominational theology is getting less and less important. But we mustn’t just say “denominations are old hat – we’re all off to heaven!”, because, alas, denominations are important, else they wouldn’t have been created in the first place. And indeed, denominations still hold tightly to their identity. And independent churches also hold tightly to their identity. Quite often, you find that one is a Methodist and not a Baptist for a reason, just as one is an Anglican rather than a Catholic for a reason. I think I probably find this a more frequent conversation in my life having worked for a church for just over two and a half years now and having read theology at university for three years.

As much as I love my Catholic brothers and sisters, and I’m very confident that they know Jesus and are going to heaven, I do disagree on some of the theologies and doctrines that the Catholic Church teaches. I say that with all respect for them and in humility – as the word of Dean Aaron Roberts is definitely not infallible! Being an Anglican, in one way I’m quite opposed to some of their doctrines, if I hold very tightly to the 39 Articles of Religion (but I’m not going to tell you whether I do or not!). During the enthronement of Archbishop Justin last week, there was a point in the service where he pledged to do his best to maintain and nurture unity within the Church. He said that he would, “strive for the full and visible unity of Christ’s Church in truth and love.”

A big thing to strive for, and definitely in need of God’s aid even if we are to get within a million miles of that being visible; at least, visible on this earth. The thing is that full unity of the Church just isn’t possible. The one key thing we should be uniting on as Christians is Jesus, his humanity, his godliness and the core gospel message. That is Christianity – “Jesus is Lord” as the first creed recorded said. And of course, we do unite on that. All Christians do. But at the moment, we don’t unite on everything.

And that’s because the Church isn’t perfect, and it won’t be until Jesus returns. Until that time, we have to go by our understanding of Scripture, our consciences and the influence of the Holy Spirit. This is very hard to do, especially when you get so many conclusions to the same sorts of questions; Church leadership, the role of women, spiritual gifts, ecclesiology, mission, worship… the list goes on.

Church denominations agree on a lot but also disagree on a lot too. Whilst Archbishop Justin’s intension is perfectly biblical and applaudable, it cannot be achieved in this life. What made this realisation so true for me that during the same service, we remembered Thomas Cranmer (picture above), a past Archbishop who was killed under a Catholic Monarch for being a heretic. I should point out here that many a Catholic has been killed for being a “heretic” too.

For me, that promise to strive for unity mixed with the remembrance of Thomas Cranmer was very bittersweet. It’s a lovely ideal, but not possible at the moment.

OK, that’s a bit about where I’m coming from, here’s some specific details. I just want to say here that I could have easily made a post on “Why I’m not a …. Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Independent Evangelical, Pentecostal, X” but I thought that this was more topical in light of recent events!

Here’s a couple of reasons why I’m not a Catholic:

  1. Communion – For me, Christ’s body and blood are not physically present in the bread and wine at communion. From my study and understanding of Scripture, Christ’s physical body sits at the right hand of the Father in glory. It is logical, then, to assume that his body cannot be transubstantiated here on earth. Of course, I know Catholics who agree with me, but I think that the official teaching of the Catholic Church is that the bread and wine become Jesus’ body and blood literally during the consecration at mass. Of course, I could be wrong, and I’m open to being wrong about what the Catholic Church teaches on this. In any case, whether the Catholic Church teaches that or not, I don’t believe in that!
  2. Mary – I love Mary. And I definitely agree with the statement that she’s “blessed”. I mean, whether we like it or not, she was the mother of God! She’s most blessed among women, but not above women. She was an extraordinary ordinary woman, if you see what I mean. God chose her, just like he chose David, Moses, Abraham and others. There was nothing spectacular about them, they just found favour with God. And that is how I see Mary. I’m always in awe of her when I think about what she did, and how she did it. Such faith! But I wouldn’t pray to her, or make too much of her. Jesus is the one I make a big thing of. All glory is reserved for him. Which brings me on to…
  3. Prayer – Jesus is the only mediator between God and man. We can have direct access to God through Jesus’ death and resurrection. We need not pray to Mary or any other Saint. We don’t need them to plead for us, to ask forgiveness of our sins on our behalf. We can talk to God personally. However, I do believe we can pray with the Saints, both past and present. From my understanding of scripture, that is biblical. Again, I’m open to being wrong on this one!
  4. Purgatory – I don’t believe in it. I believe there is Hell, Heaven and Earth. There is no limbo. That’s what my conscience says, that’s what my understanding of Scripture says. Why do I need to pay for my sin in a physical way when Jesus paid it for me on the cross once and for all? Of course, no one is going to be banned from heave for believing in purgatory – this is just what I believe.
  5. Marriage – Not marriage as a whole, but more specifically the marriage of Priests. In the Catholic Church, it’s not allowed. Now, I’m throwing in this point just to make it 5 in a way, but also because I’m exploring ordained ministry and I’m recently married. If I ever did become a Catholic, my ministry wouldn’t be of the same value if I were ordained as an Anglican and married. That, for me is quite sad 🙁 Though I do honour and respect those who have make a commitment to celibacy. I could never do it!

So there we have it, a few reasons as to why I’m not a Catholic. As I close, I must say that there’s plenty that I disagree on in my own denomination. The Church, like I said, isn’t perfect. I think for me, we can live with some imperfections a lot easier than we can with others. Some of the disagreements that I have raised in this post are important to me. They may be much less important to you, and I understand that. But the reason I have Catholic friends aside from our similarities in terms of our interests is because we have a genuine faith together in Jesus. I don’t like to slam other denominations, but I do like to dialogue. And dialoguing is just as much about disagreeing as it is about agreeing, though agreeing on our core belief should be the foundation of any interdenominational dialogue.

I love my Catholic brothers and sisters – I really do. And I think they love me, even though we disagree over some things. And to be honest, I would probably agree with them in some of their disagreements on decisions that have been made in the Anglican church on occasion – but that’s a different story!

We’re called to love the Church because Christ loves it. And the Church is a lot bigger than we see it sometimes, and God’s grace is even bigger still. John’s proclamation of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is bigger than denominational boundaries – it’s of universally good news with the potential of mass salvation. All denominations get their part in this, because we are one body, but many parts. As someone said to me the other day, if we were all ears, Christ’s body wouldn’t be much fun, would it? And truth be told, it wouldn’t look good either!

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Dean Roberts

Dean is a Minister in the Anglican Church. Currently he is Curate in the parishes of Bedwas, Machen, Michaelston-y-Fedw and Rudry in South Wales. He was born and bred in Wales, is married to Megan, and has two dogs called Taliesin and Melyn, and two cats named Sinsir and Hâf. He graduated from Cardiff University with a BA Hons. in Theology & Religious Studies, and has studied for an MA in Theology, Ministry & Mission at Trinity College Bristol. He also holds a Cert.RSCM from the Royal School of Church Music. He loves playing music, walking, reading, blogging and horse riding as well as going to the cinema and theatre. Read More @ http://deanroberts.net/about

  • Hey Dean,
    I thought I’d quickly comment on a few things; firstly that points 1-3 of your disagreements with the Roman Catholic doctrine appear to stem from a misunderstanding of said doctrine. In particular point 3 – praying to the saints: in my understanding, Catholics ask saints to pray for them, rather than praying to the saints, in the same way that you may ask a friend to pray for you. I’m going to direct some Catholic friends to your blog, they’ll be more able to say what is accurate and not 🙂 (point 1 hinges on what substance means, really…)
    But from the point of view of ecumenism itself, I very distinctly remember an instalment liturgy, where a Catohlic priest swore to “only do apart what could not be done together”. Good approach, wouldn’t you say?

    • Dear Pierre,

      Thank you ever so much for your comment. I’m deeply grateful for your response and also for the fact that you are directing some Catholic brothers and sisters here to dialogue.

      I’d be the first to admit that I don’t know all the workings of Catholic Doctrine and Theology and so that is partly why I wrote this post and welcomed comments.

      With the whole issue around Saints, I see where you’re coming from but to me the whole idea of prayer is communication between us and God, and not another created thing. I believe that those who have gone before may be able to intercede, as Luke 16:19–31 kinda suggests, and also that we can pray with the saints for the things common to us – Jesus’ return etc. But I just don’t think praying to saints for them to intercede for us is possible! It still involves us praying to them! Even if we don’t call it prayer, we’re asking someone who is long gone from this world and in heaven to intercede for us. And I don’t know where in Scripture a justification for that can be found and used as a basis for this particular belief and doctrine… But I’d love if some Catholics could help me work this one out!

  • Rebecca

    Hi Dean, guess who 😛
    I was really looking forward to reading this article, to see your reasoning. It is, however, really disappointing that you haven’t done your research!
    Firstly, if you read about transubstantiation, you will realise we are not claiming that the bread and wine PHYSICALLY become the body and blood of Jesus. The word ‘substance’ could be interpreted in that way, but to any Catholics I know, it actually means substance in the sense of ‘essence’. Jesus is not just some far away figure who sits up in heaven, he came down to be with us. The Catechism says ‘…the historic sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is made present during the words of consecration in a hidden, unbloody manner…when we eat the broken bread, we unite ourselves with the love of Jesus….when we drink from the chalice, we unite ourselves with him who even poured out his blood out of love for us.’ It is NOT to do with the physical realm, but with Jesus’ presence. Also, it is not something to look at ‘logically’…if that were the case you could say logically prayer can’t work or something! We see it as a glorious mystery, and one way, along with prayer and other things, in which we can feel Jesus’ love in a close and real way.
    Secondly, Mary. You seem to be claiming that Catholics put her above women, and pray TO her?! Do you not know the Hail Mary? It specifically uses the words ‘Blessed art thou AMONG women’ and ‘pray FOR US’…where did you get ‘above’ from? 😛 We don’t treat her as ‘above’, we remember her for how she said ‘Yes’ to God, because if we say yes as she did, God can do amazing things in our lives. From what you have said, your beliefs seem to sit in line with the Catholic view of Mary.
    This also goes for your bit on prayer, in that we are only asking Mary and the saints to pray with us. If we only asked them to pray for us, then fair enough, but the Catholic Mass and beliefs are in no way centred around this idea, the main emphasis is exactly the same as in your church – praying to God. I’m not quite sure what you are trying to say here…
    Purgatory – this is a more difficult one. I can’t think of a time it has actually come up in any Catholic church I have been to, so I find it difficult to comment. In the Catechism it says that purgatory is a condition, which ‘probably awaits most of us at the moment of our death: the Lord looks at us full of love, and we experience burning shame and painful remorse over our wicked or “merely” unloving behaviour. Only after this purifying pain will we be capable of meeting his loving gaze in untroubled heavenly joy.’ This is supposed to be linked Scripture – when Peter had betrayed Jesus, the Lord turned around and looked at Peter: “And Peter went out and wept bitterly” – a feeling of purgatory. It isn’t a topic I have thought deeply about, but I thought you may be interested to know the definition.
    And lastly, priests. The main reason they do not marry is to show their undivided attention and devotion for God. They wear black as a sign that they have died to themselves and that they live fully as a servant of God. This isn’t something for which I think ‘Yes, this is the way it must be’, but, like you, I do have a great deal of respect for those who make that commitment to the Church.
    I don’t expect you to agree with all of this, it is just important to understand definitions and the reasoning behind them before writing something like this! I want the Church to be more united as much as the next person, and I believe the only way of doing this is through understanding, instead of ignorance.

    • Hey Becca, thanks for commenting. I don’t have time to reply a great deal now but will make a bigger reply soon… But a few things:

      – Firstly, no offence was meant at the post… The post is designed to open up conversation so that there isn’t ignorance! I could have easily searched on the Internet and come up wi the same statements that I made in the points. In stead I wrote this knowing full well that I may be misguided and so wanted the opinions and apologetics (in a theological sense) from Catholics. Fortunately, you took the bait and I’m glad that you commented!
      – With regards to communion- I must be honest in saying that yes, I was exaggerating a bit. I understand that Catholics do believe that Jesus is spiritually present in the bread and wine as it is literally bread and wine in one sense! So for me to say that the bread and wine is physically Jesus body and blood is silly. Though I still haven’t found an explanation good enough to explain exactly what Catholics believe about communion…
      – Praying to/for saints… Please see my comment above to Pierre! Quite often in any church there is a temptation in some form to draw us away from the worship of God. Catholics are widely known for their veneration of Mary, which, granted is NOT worship of her, but there is a Catholic doctrine floating around somewhere about us getting “to Christ through Mary”, I believe, and that is contrary to what scripture teaches in my opinion.
      – purgatory… Yes, a very confusing thing. Still haven’t got my head around it!
      – Celibacy- I get that and honour and understand it but don’t think it should be compulsory as Christ did not command that and the scriptures actually support ministers marrying!

      I hope you didn’t take offence!! The issue is that I’ve never been a catholic and so don’t know all their theology! Which is why I wrote this post, in the hope that some of us can discuss it!

    • Ps- wasn’t clear about the “above” women… I didn’t mean to say that that’s what the Hail Mary says, but that, in essence is what the veneration of Mary does- it puts her not just above women but above creation. This opinion may not be true, but on first glance that’s what it looks like to me, and I don’t feel comfortable with that, but that’s a personal thing!

  • Joshua

    Dear Dean,
    first and foremost I`d like to agree with you on the main issue, whether a united church is possible or not, for it ain`t and one reason is, that, although your arguments are lacking a little- Rebecca cleared up most, so no need to push it further;)- one thing that need to be kept in mind, that, although you might like it or not, the catholic church claims to life in the tradition of their ancestors. There is supposed to be a continuous succession to the very first 11/12 disciples of the lord. Here lies a reason for the upholding of various traditions, that might be seen as rather archaic. However all those traditions had their very own meaning in the time they where set up- and none of them was created lightly but has undergone a long control, discussion and improvement before it was accepted by the church.
    Some quick words to your 5 points:
    1-all said by Rebecca;)
    2/3- The catholic church is a “global player”- especially when it comes to cultures… The Islam for example shaped the cultures in which it is present. Christianity spread throughout cultures and sometimes lost its center- that might be seen as a reason for Marianistic tendencies in e.g. Southeast Asian catholicism. In Europe it was due to the popularity of Mary with the people. Whilst the church, as representatives of God (Jesus included- Trinity;)), where part of the system of oppression in the last Millenium, the saints and Mary wheren`t. They where the little mans way to god.
    Here we are actually following another tradition of the old church before Constantine where the martyrs where regarded as heros of the members of the old church that also had the function of both idols and advocates in front of God.
    4. What happened to those christian idols that never converted to christianity? What about Abraham and Moses? What about unbaptised children? Purgatory and Limbo where created with regard to those that never had a chance to become Christians- something direly necessary for the people, for they used to believe that there is only one way to heaven that exclusively lead through the catholic church- some thoughts that also troubled Henry VIII who, as well as Luther- never intended to create a new church!
    5. When the Church intermingled with the “World” Church positions and wealth where connected and split through the last wills of fathers who happened to be churchmen. The Idea of the celibacy is, to keep the men of the church focused on the work for god(actually this reminds me of the reasoning of “Zeus” in the Percy Jackson Movie…). I don`t like this concept and it actually is the main reason why I didn`t enter the service myself. However- here as well we can see that the main reason for those things is the tendency of the church to uphold their traditions and remain a beacon of consistency.
    Nowadays the “mission” can rather be seen as an upholding of values and ideas and knowledge about the own religious believe and its tradition. For about 20 years this is what Rome tells us. They have acknowledged the other Religions and now it is all about setting yourself up in the modern world that continuously seems to loose those ideals and values and lacks the socialization, formerly present in family, church and school.
    IF the church would start to change too much at too fast a pace, it might crumble and of course this is nothing that the people in charge want. I believe that the church, guided by the holy spirit, will suceed, but (Koh 3,1) all in due time.
    Woah- can`t read this all now and hope it`s fine- please excuse any linguistic mistakes- I`m a foreigner;)…