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Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Carl Olson

Forgive my arrogance in desiring to find some common ground in the love of Christ, but I think I'd rather be relational than just plain right Carl.

I appreciate your explanation and your concern to communicate your thoughts on this issue. I think that you're creating a false dichotomy by, in essence, pitting being relational against "being right." What you term "being right," I would probably call "being truthful," or "seeking the truth." My post was not about "being right" in the sense of "this is what I believe and it's right no matter what!", but about desiring to articulate and communicate what I believe to be true based on divine revelation, history, logic, sound theology, etc.

The reason that being relational and being truthful cannot be in competition is because a relationship that is not built on truth is not relational, but fractured; it is, in essence, a lie. Truth, which is of God, must be at the heart of relationships if they are to be of any value. As Paul wrote, "For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth" (2 Cor 13:8).

The fact that you felt the need correct his theology, simply suggests to me that you'd rather be right than relational.

Is it better to be right with men, or to be right with God? And, at risk of repetition, can we be truly relational--that is, sharing the truth--if we are not right in how we relate? I can appreciate that Michael was trying to help other Protestants understand Catholicism better, but at the same time I can also point out that his understanding of Catholicism was not entirely right, thus hindering relationships. I would go so far as to argue that true theology seeks to be both right with God and relational with God, because it seeks right relationship. And that can only come through God's grace and a willingness on our part to change our hearts and minds about whatever is lacking, incorrect, or incomplete in our acting, thinking, and living.

How is it that Michael's comments will necessarily "provoke Protestants to think outside their box," but that my comments, which sought to convey truth about essential Catholic beliefs, cannot? Some of the comments on this post show that my remarks did help some Protestants better appreciate Catholic teaching. If that was the goal, how is that a bad thing?

Finally, Michael made mention of his attraction to "constant reformation, listening, digging, discussing and savoring the Bible" and that he has an aversion to Catholic circles where, he stated, "debates and arguments are almost unheard of." Yet, ironically, when I listened to what he had said, dug into it a bit, and discussed it--as well as debated and argued with it--he and many others took it badly. He is incorrect in his assessment of the amount of debate and argument that takes place among Catholics; we argue about nearly everything! And one reason we can do so, I believe, is because we tend to take seriously both relationships and being right, knowing that each needs the other.


Mr Olson,

In my post above I had asked a question (sorry, I guess I tucked it in at the very end) that I was hoping you could answer for me. Hopefully it will come out clearly this time.

I have great respect for much of what the Catholic Church in the US tries to do. But when I see the style of Catholicism practiced in Mexico, it concerns me. You yourself noted that that style is an abuse of the real thing. But since it is still considered to be part of Catholicism proper, how do I know that in joining American Catholicism I am not becoming part of an abuse of true Catholicism? In other words, what if all this stuff that I love in American Catholicism has no place in Catholicism?

(note: I'm trying to get at the style (proper or improper) of practicing Catholicism, not whether they're "true" Catholics or anything)


Brother Bruce:
Thanks for the response. Mexican Catholicism has created a big PR problem for Catholicism in America (I'm not sure what people elsewhere think about it). As you say, Carl's response is certainly a necessary one, since we certainly don't (and shouldn't) expect anyone to be morally pure (well, maybe one person). I still have questions...but it seems like I always have questions.
God bless.

Mark Brumley

The discussion here seems to have calmed down a bit. Good.

One observation that may be unnecessary for some readers here but perhaps not for others: The internet is a public medium. People who post comments for the public to read should not be offended when those who disagree with them publicly express their disagreement. Yes, if I say something and someone misstates what I say, I am justified in objecting. Yes, if I say something and someone disagrees with it, I am justified in disagreeing with his comments. And yes, if I say something and someone responds in a disproportional way to my comments, I am justified in objecting.

All of that said, it is hard to see how it is reasonable that I would opine in public but that I would take offense when someone who disagrees with my opinions publicly expresses disagreement. Or that someone else should take offense that one who disagrees with me would do so publicly. I realize there are other factors that may enter in--say, a close friend goes out of his way to criticize me, etc. But I am not talking about that.

"If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen" is a cliche. But it is no less true for that when it comes to opining on the internet. We can all reasonably expect we should be treated fairly by those who publicly disagree with our public opining. What we can't reasonably expect is for others not publicly to disagree. If public disagreement with one's publicly expressed opinion is offensive to someone, then he should not post his opinions on the internet.

Mark Brumley

Regarding "Mexican" Catholicism, Catholics, I think, can be reasonably skeptical about characterizations of some Catholics' activities as idolatrous or otherwise inappropriate when that charge comes from Christians whose religious commitments incline them to see all or almost all religious devotion to creatures as per se idolatrous or otherwise wrong.

At the same time, surely not all criticisms by Protestants of popular religious practices in Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America are reasonably dismissed. It is an issue that popes and bishops have addressed. Whether they have done so sufficiently and whether the pastors involved have been as committed to addressing the problem as they should be, is another matter. It seems reasonable to me that Protestant Christians should be concerned about it because it seems reasonable that Catholic pastors (and others) should be concerned, with due regard for the differences in how Catholics and Protestants will see things such as devotion to Mary and the other saints, and with due regard for differences in cultural expression.

That pastoral issue, however, should not be confused with the theological issue. Just as I would not argue that we should all, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians, question justification by grace because some Christians practice a Christianity of "cheap grace" and presumption, so I do not think it sensible to argue that Catholic teaching is wrong because some Catholics practice it in an erroneous way. The proper response to an erroneous practice is a proper practice, not the denial of the truth the practice is intended to express. That was, frankly, the same mistake some Catholics made when, perceiving that Protestants were misunderstanding the Bible on some points, the Catholics got it into their heads that Bible reading was a bad thing. Abusus non tollit usum.

Bob Sacamento


After thinking about my comment over on Michael's site, I think I owe you an apology, albeit an awkward one. My opinion of your post hasn't changed, I regret to say. But the point is I had no need to proffer that opinion in the first place. After thinking about it, I can't think of a single good thing that could have come from me saying what I did -- not for you, not for me, not even for Michael -- especialy in the way I said it. I should have kept my mouth shut, or kept my fingers away form the keyboard, or whatever. So, I still think I'm right, as I am sure you think you are, but the point is not to just be right but to be helpful to our brothers and sisters in Christ, one of which I hope you can consider me to be. And in that I failed miserably. I'm sorry.



Perhaps I'm not saying this well.

I wasn't suggesting that the truth of Catholicism was in jeopardy because it was practiced poorly. I was suggesting that if it isn't pointed out officially that those abuses are actually abuses, then I have to wonder if what I'm seeing as proper practice of Catholicism is really proper and not just one more abuse. What I'm saying is, perhaps the Mexican style of Catholicism is the proper way of practicing Catholicism and the American style is an abuse of Catholicism.

If we're willing to say that MC is an abuse even if it's not officially declared as such, then how do we know that AC isn't abuse and is simply not officially declared as such.

Does that make more sense?


On accounts of corrupted faith in Catholic countries from Protestants:

Well, we could be just giving Ipods to get people baptized!

Both of these guys work for a semi-famous church in the Atlanta area. Their supervisor called a meeting of all of his direct reports and gave them their quota/mission for the month. They needed to get 100 baptisms by the end of the month or there would be no financial rewards. In addition, they needed to use the following tactic to make it happen. They were to use Ipods and other gadgets to coax people into being baptism. The goal, as it was conveyed, was to get 100 people baptized by whatever means necessary.

Speck, beam, pot, kettle, etc.

Mark Brumley

Nick: Your refinement makes slightly more sense to me. However, please consider: we don't really need to compare American-style Catholicism and Latin American-style Catholicism to determine what is genuine Catholicism and what is an "abuse". We have all sorts of other, objective measures. Pick up the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for instance. It wasn't promulaged just for Americans or Mexicans or Poles or Spaniards or Germans or Indians or Japanese people. It's a "universal" catechism. If there are practices in Mexico or America or elsewhere at odds with the CCC, then I think it reasonable to suppose those practices are "abuses" of Catholicism.


Cute story. I'll have to watch out for those special deals next time I'm church shopping. ;)

But I'm not really sure how that fits this situation since Carl above compared the abuses in Bruce's post with the sinful stuff happening at Corinth and Galatia. I'm just trying to figure out what the implications are for church abuses to go unnoticed (and implicitly supported) by the Church.

Think of it this way. If abuses are not pointed out, then how do I know that what I see as [American] Catholicism is not simply one more abuse that's not pointed out.

Thanks for the response. I've only just started my way into the Catechism. However, it seems more foundational in nature.

For example, it seems to lay out a foundation for Marian devotion but doesn't seem to set strict limits on how far that devotion goes. For example, 2663 to 2682 describes the tradition of prayer (noting that we should relate all prayer to Jesus). A Protestant would find this section rather alarming (at least I did) because it is split into 4 sections dealing with prayer: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and Mary. Now this certainly would not help declaim the abuses of extreme Marian devotion that often eclipse worship. Notice that I'm not saying that if I step back the basic theology is in error as Mary can be understood as part of the communion of saints. However, this type of cursory reading certainly doesn't set itself against the type of abuses that seem so currently captivating in the Mexican Catholicism that I saw.

This only confirms my confusion since it only lays the foundation for practice and would only be helpful in cases of gross error. For I have to admit, I don't believe that I would even consider joining many of the Catholic churches I saw down in Mexico, whereas I find myself enthralled by the Catholicism here in America.

Carl Olson

Nick: I just spent several minutes penning a response, and then my browser crashed. Augh!

Well, here goes again:

For example, it seems to lay out a foundation for Marian devotion but doesn't seem to set strict limits on how far that devotion goes.

The Catechism states that devotion to Mary should never be confused with worship and adoration, which is mean for God alone:

The Church rightly honors "the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of 'Mother of God,' to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs.... This very special devotion ... differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration." (CCC, par 971)

In speaking about possible abuses in Mexico, we would need to look at specific instances and try to ascertain what is actually happening. Is it a display of devotion that appears excessive to us because we are from a different culture? Is it an act that is superstitious in nature? And so forth. By the way, the Catechism has this to say about superstition:

The first commandment forbids honoring gods other than the one Lord who has revealed himself to his people. It proscribes superstition and irreligion. Superstition in some sense represents a perverse excess of religion; irreligion is the vice contrary by defect to the virtue of religion.

Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.

Superstition is a departure from the worship that we give to the true God. It is manifested in idolatry, as well as in various forms of divination and magic. (pars 2110-11; 2138)

In making judgments about such things, an indepth knowledge of both Church teaching and the particular culture would, it seems to me, be necessary. I'm not at all denying that abuses take place in Mexico. I have spoken to folks in our parish who are from Mexico, and they readily acknowledge that there is much superstition and abuse going on. Even so, as Mark states, such things are not only not Church teaching, they are direct contradictions to Church teaching. And the Church's teachings on such matters hold true for all cultures.

In a certain way, as "advanced" as American culture is, it is also superstitious. It puts its trust in money, health, power, status, and fame. It believes that such things will provide happiness and satisfaction. And many Catholics buy into such falsehood. A specific example can be seen in the actions of some Catholic politicians, who would rather worship political power than submit to the clear moral teachings about the Catholic Church regarding abortion, sexual morality, and so forth. We can rightly wonder at times why more bishops don't address such abuses and scandalous actions more openly, more directly, and more consistently. In other words, every culture has certain proclivities and weaknesses; each culture will present particular challenges to Christians who live within them.

Carl Olson

Bob: Thank you for your gracious apology. I gratefully accept it.


Thanks, Carl.

Like I said, I can't claim any special understanding of Catholic doctrine and am only beginning to explore it, so I appreciate your help. Obviously, I was reading the text in a cursory manner and responding to it in a cursory way. I never pretended to be definitive.

Primarily, I tried to stick to the Mexican example because I do have limited experience in the area and because you seemed to agree that real abuses occurred (comparing those abuses to the abuses in Corinth and Galatia), certainly not because I find American culture anything to be trumpeted. My concern was simply that American Catholicism might not be as Catholic as I had assumed it to be.



A specific instance of doctrinal clarity from the Vatican is the recent excommunication of the Quebec group, the Army of Mary, who actually worship Mary (as I understand it) as a fourth person of God. They teach and promote this idolatry.

As someone pointed out here at the time, it is to be hoped that Protestants will take notice that a group of Catholics were excommunicated for actually doing what we have all been occasionally (falsely) accused of doing, worshiping Mary.

I think that was part of your question about Mexico, that it may confirm what Protestants already believe about Catholics. In the Quebec case I think Church doctrine is quite clearly illustrated.

Mark Brumley

Could I, asks a friend, put as succinctly my reasons, as a Catholic, for Evangelical-Catholic collaboration, as I succinctly explained my reasons I am no longer Protestant?

I think so.

Vatican II developed from the core of the Church's self-understanding the Catholic mandate for seeking unity among followers of Jesus and how, in light of the deeper understanding of Christian disunity, Catholics ought to seek to fulfil that mandate. The Council also recognized the contributions of both sides of the Catholic-Protestant divide and the work of God among non-Catholic Christians. It seems to me that to be faithful to this refined articulation of the Catholic tradition Catholics should 1) affirm that the Catholic Church is the historical subsistence of Christ's Church; (2) that the Spirit of Christ is active among his followers wherever they are, including outside the visible structure of the Catholic Church; (3) that because of the Holy Spirit's presence among non-Catholic Christians, including Evangelicals, there is an imperfect but real communion Catholics and non-Catholic Christians, including Evangelicals, share; (4) that Catholics should work to deepen this communion, especially since the Holy Spirit's gifts to non-Catholic Christians incline them to greater unity with the Catholic Church; (5) that full communion would entail communion in the visible dimensions of the Church's life--profession of the same faith, participation in the same sacraments, communion with the episcopal authority of the Church; but (6) even in the absence of full communion there are things that Catholics and Evangelicals can and should do together to further the mission of Christ in the world; and (7) that both deepened communion and greater collaboration in the mission of Christ require dialogue between Catholics and Evangelicals.

I hope that works.

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