Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The church Versus the Church, Part III: Why All These Churches?

I have discovered that many church people today, especially those commonly called "evangelicals" don't undersantd much, if anything about denominations formed and about church history. So for those who do, you can skip this. For those who don't, the following is from the website of "The Christian Reformed Church" and is a good summary, though (as expected) leaning a bit toward their direction and point of view. Some of us would say we existed prior to the Reformation (Anabaptists and some of those stemming from that tradition) and others came after (Methodists, Pentecostals, and many others). But this is a reasonably good summary. No offense intended to Roman Catholics reading here. I think the last paragraph is particularly well-put and significant.

Why the Church Needed Reforming

Two thousand years ago, on Pentecost, God poured out the Holy Spirit. By the power of the Spirit, Jesus’ followers began to spread the good news about him worldwide. Where their preaching was heard, churches sprang up. These churches lived the gospel and, in turn, spread it to others as well. As these churches matured, they joined together into an organizational structure that helped them support each other, held them accountable, and kept them on the right track in their teaching. For a thousand years churches were more or less organized under one overarching structure.During that time the organizational structure of the church hardened and its leaders became corrupt. By the dawn of the second millennium power struggles and doctrinal differences between church leaders split the church into two parts: the Eastern Orthodox Church, headed by the patriarch of the Church of Constantinople, and the Latin Western Church, led by the pope, the bishop of Rome. This church came to be known as the Roman Catholic Church.By the time the sixteenth century rolled around, many Reformers had tried to correct the teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, calling it back to obedience to God’s Word. But the powerful church leadership had managed to suppress these attempts, often by torturing and killing the Reformers.So what needed reforming? Here’s just a partial list:

Corruption was widespread among the clergy, especially at the top. The church tortured people suspected of holding non-orthodox beliefs until they confessed or died.

The church encouraged believers to pray to Mary and the saints. (This of course, is still true and remains one of the differences between Catholics and non Catholics.)

Salesmen for the church went around selling “indulgences”—letters written by the pope supposedly forgiving people their sins. One of these, Tetzel, was heard to proclaim loudly, “The minute your money drops in the box, the soul of your relative jumps out of purgatory into heaven.”

During the sixteenth century, though, reform could no longer be stemmed. Many people began to follow and support the Reformers. The Roman Catholic Church could no longer silence or turf out these “Protestants.” A number of events came together to place the Bible into the hands of the people in the pew. By having personal access to the Bible, they were able to judge for themselves whether what the church leaders were teaching them was actually true. As a result, many believers followed the Reformers out of the Roman Catholic Church in order to return to the teachings of Scripture.

A number of strands of Protestant churches began as a result of the Reformation: Lutheran and Anabaptist churches in Germany, Anglican (Episcopalian) churches in England, Reformed churches in Switzerland and France, and Presbyterian churches in Scotland—among others.

The good thing about all these churches springing up is that they could all re-form themselves into fellowships that could live out their beliefs free from the oppression and coercion of the Church of Rome. In fact, that was also good for the Roman Church, because in response to the Reformation it did a great deal to clean up its own act.

What’s sad, though, is the way in which this fragmentation—necessary as it may have been at the time—split up the visible body of Christ on earth. All these churches have continued to divide again and again, often over fairly minor differences. This has resulted in a vast array of churches, making well-meaning seekers and new Christians scratch their heads in bewilderment. Which is the real church? Which one should I join? Which one really teaches and lives what the Bible says? In fact, most of them do. But each church brings its own unique emphasis.


Timothy said...

Greetings! Saw your post in Google Blogsearch and have some comments.

Overall, the summary is a good attempt to distill 2,000 years into one page, but much mythology has been blended with truth. I'd be remiss in my Christian duty not to correct error when it appears regarding Christ's Church.

>"But the powerful church leadership had managed to suppress these attempts, often by torturing and killing the Reformers"

Nope. Myth. The Catholic Church never tortured or killed any Reformers. If this is a reference to the earlier 3rd ("Spanish") Inquisition, it is fully 100% myth as the Church did not torture or murder anyone during the 3rd Inquisition. You'll find a more factual account here:


>"Corruption was widespread among the clergy, especially at the top"

Yes, from time to time the Church has had to persevere under some very bad men. Christ never promised the Church that we would not have corrupt leaders. Fortunately, during those periods, the Church was protected from teaching error. None of those corrupt leaders changed an iota of doctrine.

Corruption was especially bad during the period before the Reformation due to the Black Death, which not only killed a substantial amount of the general population, but also much of the clergy. Many un- and ill-prepared men were ordained as ministers immediately following the plague.

If a modern influenza pandemic killed about a third to a half of the American clergy, what effect do you think that would have on the next generations of clergy and the Church? (Future blog post?)

>"The church tortured people suspected of holding non-orthodox beliefs until they confessed or died."

Again, the myth is restated. The fact is that the secular government tortured people. The Church made every attempt to prevent torture and death.

>"The church encouraged believers to pray to Mary and the saints. (This of course, is still true"

Yes, Catholics "pray" to Mary and the saints. The word pray is Old English and means "to ask" and not "to worship". Catholics do ask Mary and the communion of saints to pray and intercede for us per Paul's advice in Ephesians 6:18, that Christians are to pray for one another. Catholics don't exclude Christians living in heaven from our prayer circles. You're welcome to not include them in your prayer circles, but as James 5:16 says: "the prayers of a righteous man availeth much." No one I know locally is as righteous as someone already in heaven. Forget the arguements that Mary is dead or that its necromancy as Jesus answered those charges long ago in Matthew 22:29,32.

>"Salesmen for the church went around selling “indulgences” — letters written by the pope supposedly forgiving people their sins. One of these, Tetzel,..."

Yep, but we already discussed corrupt folks in the Church. Also, if you check your Church history, you'll find Tetzel recognized his error/sins and repented, voluntarily left his religous order and died disgraced.

>"A number of events came together to place the Bible into the hands of the people in the pew."

I'll say. After Catholic monks hand copied the Bible to preserve the Bible for future generations, a Catholic named Gutenburg invented the printing press and began printing Bibles to help spread the Gospel. The Catholic Church also approved translations into many of the local languages, including English, French and German. In fact, when Luther translated his version of the Bible, there were already three Church approved translations in German already!

BTW, Catholics love the Bible. The Catholic Mass is almost complete non-stop scripture from start to finish. Most non-Catholics can't flip through a Bible fast enough to keep up since Catholics have memorized most of the scripture used in the Catholic liturgy. More scripture is read aloud and proclaimed at a typical Catholic Mass than at a typical non-Catholic worship service.

>"By having personal access to the Bible, they were able to judge for themselves whether what the church leaders were teaching them was actually true."

Nope. Another myth. The common person could not afford and did not have personal acess to the Bible. Bibles were for the educated wealthy, who were already capable of reading the earlier Vulgate. Even if the common person had Bible, they were illiterate and couldn't read. That's why Catholic Churches of old have stained glass pictures, paintings, mosaics, and statuary depicting Bible stories. Illiteracy. Ask any missionary whose been to Latin America in the last few years and dropped a Bible into the hands of the indigenous population.

>"Which is the real church? Which one should I join? Which one really teaches and lives what the Bible says?"

The Catholic Church is the only Western Church that has never taught heresy. Not once. Catholic doctrine is found 100% in the Bible and does not contradict the Bible. Catholic doctrine does,however, often contradict an individual's personal interpretation of the Bible, but that is a different thing.

What is "the pillar and foundation of the truth?" What does the Bible say is the pillar and foundation of the truth?" (1 Timothy 3:15)

God bless...

- Timothy

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

Thanks, timothy. Perhaps some wording such as this, "often by torturing and killing the Reformers" is too broad. It is, as you note, an attempt to distill a long period of time and some very complex issues into a page--probably impossible to do.

This page has a (again, brief) summary of the Inquisition. More properly we should say Inquisitions, since they were not all the same, and since some were independent, at least partially, of the Roman Church--i.e. the Spanish Inquisition of Isabella and Ferdinand.
I was not familiar with the article in The National Review. Thanks for the link.

Others with more knowledge on this may certainly comment, but just remember that I only intended a brief explanation of why there are so many kinds of Christian churches in the world.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

P.S. I understand your point about corrupt clergy. The fact that there were some very understandable reasons this occured frequently does not negate the fact that it did occur, and that it did lead to the reformatio.

Also, point taken about the common man and reading the Bible, and the use of stained glass and other methods to help illiterate folk remember important events. It puts me in mind of the "call and response" kind of preacher-congregation interaction that many African Americans still experience every Sunday but which has its origen in another time.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

One more thing...I am not posting about whether "praying to" Mary or saints is correct, just saying (or more accurately the Christian Reformed Church was saying :-) ) that it was and is, a difference. I did gain greater understanding of the Catholic view of this when speaking to a Catholic teenager who was a buddy of my daughters some years ago. I asked about this, and she said (rather simply but elegantly) "It is no different to me than when I ask you to pray for me. The saints are my friends, and I ask them in the same way." I got it. I'm not saying I adopted the practice but that I certainly grasped the idea more clearly. Blessings to you too, timothy. I understand that in your view the true Church is the Roman Catholic one. I disagree, of course, but I hope we can agree that disciples of Christ can be found in both Catholic and Protestant bodies.

Now....on to further pondering about the church versus the Church.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

I am surprised at your statement that the Catholic Church never tortured or killed any reformers. Perhaps it depends on one's definition of "reformer" or perhaps the condition of the church of the time and the civil authorities being emmeshed, but you can read the account of just one death, that of Jan Hus, by the Council of Constance at the Catholic Encyclopedia.


Okay, as I said, I don't intend this to be a treatment of the differences between Catholics and Protestants. Sadly, both "sides" do tend to misrepresent the other. Perhaps I'll share more about that later, but not now. And not as part of this little "series."

Good night and God bless!

LoieJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LoieJ said...

I'd be interested in your take on this blog posting about the strengths of various traditions and what they could bring to each other.

Liturgy & Evangelism

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

Wow, PS! Thank you for sharing that post with me.

I think he is mostly right on! As for liturgy being effective evangelism, I should not comment, not being from that tradition, but I tend to think he is right and that the liturgy is for the believers.

For some, like the woman whose testimony is shared in that post, a liturgical service or a "high" Mass is a profoundly moving experience--and she found herself leaving her free church tradition and landing on the other side of the aisle.

I've learned a lot from reading Rev Gal Rachel's blog, "The Big Dunk" about how some people can be profoundly stirred and changed in such a setting.

On the other hand, we have many former Catholics in my church who relate that for them the liturgical worship service was repetitive, boring, and they could "zone out" while making all the right responses.

Someone recetnly told me that she sought for a closer walk with God for years, but never found it till she left the Catholic church for an Evangelical Free Church congregation. Later she came here and has been here for years. It is almost as if her testimony would be the opposite of the one posted at the site you mention.

As for me, I like it all. And I totally resonate with the poster's last paragraph:

In the best of all possible world, the Assemblies of God would learn how to bend their distinctive worship in the direction of the Catholic pattern... plus find a way to plug in to the historic episcopate...Episcopalians and other liturgical Christians would learn to talk about Jesus compellingly to someone who's never met him without making them come to terms with the fullness of the Church's liturgical and sacramental life before they're ready to do so. In the meantime, perhaps our opportunistic God is making lemonade out of the lemons we serve Him, and using each of these Christian communities in the area of their giftedness.

Anonymous said...

hello. I've been reading your series on the church vs. the Church and have found it thoughtful and fair-minded. naturally I agree with some points and disagree with others; but that's what makes for good reading. :-)

as an RCC member, I appreciate your effort to bend over backwards in being fair-minded when contrasting the Roman Catholic Church with other Protestant denominations.

one caution that I would make, however, is that the Catholic Encyclopedia that you referred to as an on-line source is from 1917 and SINCE THAT TIME WE HAVE HAD VATICAN COUNCIL II (1962-1965) where major changes were made, so not all "facts" in that out-dated encyclopedia will hold. see the Preface to that 1917 version: New Advent Encyclopedia 1917

the second comment that I would add is that the RCC has 2000 years of history and tradition in sorting out religious doctrine in a collegiate fashion (vs. private interpretation or revelation). it is no small task to decipher the spiritual truth of who Jesus is and what he has to tell us about our beloved Father and our salvation, so the combined effort down through the ages of all these intelligent and prayerful theologians and church fathers & mothers is a true gift to the C/church and available to all who search for the truth of our (shared) faith.

a most reliable source for Catholic doctrines and teachings can be found at the USCCB's on-line Catechism of the Catholic Church at this site

it is nothing short of overwhelming to study the 2000 years of religious thought collected by the Roman Catholic Church in its catechism. and anyone who wishes to study or compare their faith in light of Catholicism certainly has their work cut out for them.

nonetheless, if you take a moment to scan the pages of the catechism you will find the wealth of biblical references that our teachings and doctrines are founded on.

hope these two points help in deciphering your position relative to Catholic doctrine/teachings.

best regards,

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

Hi Maggie! Thank you for the gracious words and for the link to the chatecism. But I wasn't necessarily using the other site for current teaching, more to cite that the RCC was involved, at least to some degree, in conviction and execution of some of the "reformers." I'll go to the link and surf around when I get a chance. I don't claim in any way to be an authority on things Catholic, so I appreciate the input.