As anyone who reads my blog can tell, I’m staunchly Catholic. At times, it is very frustrating to me when I must either defend my faith or explain it. It is so eminently sensible to me that I don’t always have a ready reason for some of the practices and theology to which some people, either Protestant Christians or non-Christians, object. I have made an effort over the past several years to correct this. I have studied apologetics in order to both know my faith better and be able to provide answers to some of the more common objections.
In my studies and subsequent discussions of theology, I have become increasingly frustrated by the sheer number of people who do not know their faith. Most of these people are devout, well-intentioned Christians who love God with all of their heart and soul. Despite that devotion, they cannot complete a frank discussion on any finer points of theology. Their theological education focuses only on the basics of Christ’s life (Incarnation, 3-year ministry, Crucifixion, Resurrection), and how to apply Christ’s teaching to our lives today. There is no thought or provision made for the history of Christianity, the writings of the early Church Fathers or the early saints, contextual understanding of Scripture, or the need to clearly state and understand what exactly they believe – including details.
I have discussed this with Methodists, Baptists, members of the Assembly of God, and Non-denominational Christians. Very few of them are aware that most denominations have their own set of published beliefs to which its members are supposed to adhere. Of the ones that are aware, the idea that they can take or leave the particular beliefs of whatever denomination they claim is pervasive.
As an example, during a theological discussion, I mentioned the Real Presence of the Eucharist as an example of differing theology between the Catholic Church and most Protestant denominations. The person with whom I was speaking attends a church which belongs to the Southern Baptist Convention. This webpage lists the beliefs of the Southern Baptist Convention. Article VII clearly states that the Convention counts “The Lord’s Supper” as purely symbolic. Theoretically, any church or pastor associated with the Convention agrees. However, in response to my example, this person stated that while it is a symbol, her pastor states that you must go beyond the symbol and then you can feel Christ in the Lord’s Supper.
My first objection to that statement is that it doesn’t make sense to me. A symbol represents something, but you cannot “go beyond” the symbol and fully know the thing which it represents. Even if you do “feel” it, human feelings are notoriously unstable and no amount of feeling will make it real, just as no lack of feeling on the part of the recipient makes a validly-consecrated Eucharist fake.
My second objection is that while she belongs to a church which belongs to the Southern Baptist Convention, and her pastor is authorized to teach on behalf of that Convention, neither she nor the pastor agrees that “The Lord’s Supper” is purely symbolic. They attach a deeper meaning to it, based on feeling, than their governing body does. To my mind then, she ought to either seek out and attend a church which does hold her belief, or, if she accepts the teaching authority of the Southern Baptist Convention, to research the reasoning behind this statement and, through reason, reconcile herself to the same belief.
If everyone would choose one of those two courses, I think theological discussions across the board would become more effective and less tedious. To my mind, the ideal way to go about that is to start with the early Church and find out what, exactly, the spiritual descendants of the apostles believed and practiced. The next step is to research your own denomination and find out what it professes. If you do not adhere to a particular denomination, then speak with your pastor. Finally, pray about it. Ask God for guidance and wisdom. Take the facts that you have gathered to Him, and allow Him to show you His Truth. Know your faith, and you will be unshakeable.
Here are some resources which may help you get started:
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/epub/index.cfm
- Southern Baptist Convention “Faith and Message”: http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp
- United Methodist Church “Foundational Documents”: http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.2299855/k.E8F0/Foundational_Documents_of_The_United_Methodist_Church.htm
- Assembly of God “Fundamental Truths”: http://ag.org/top/Beliefs/Statement_of_Fundamental_Truths/sft_short.cfm
- Anglican “Articles of Religion”: http://anglicansonline.org/basics/thirty-nine_articles.html
- Episcopal Church “Core Beliefs and Doctrines”: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/episcopal-church-core-beliefs-and-doctrines
- Lutheranism: http://www.lutheran-resources.org/lutheran_beliefs.htm
- Presbyterianism: http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/today/what-do-presbyterians-believe/#believe
- Writings of the Church Fathers: http://www.churchfathers.org/
These are just some basic resources that I found with quick Google searches. I have not read them thoroughly, nor do I know for certain that these are accurate or complete regarding the beliefs of the denominations they claim (with the exception of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is certainly accurate and complete). The last link, Writings of the Church Fathers, contains a very thorough compilation of the writings of those men who were direct spiritual descendants of the disciples we all know from the Gospels, and their views should be given great respect.
I know it will take time to delve into the history of Christianity and your denomination, and to figure out what you believe and whose authority you will accept. I know there are seasons in everyone’s life when you feel too busy to do anything but do the bare minimum. With kids, school, your job(s), spouse, friends, and other obligations, you may think you don’t have enough time to do this research. If you’re satisfied with your current church or pastor, you may not feel you even need to try to carve out time for this. Please consider Ecclesiastes, 7:12
For the protection of wisdom is as the protection of money; and knowledge is profitable because wisdom gives life to those who possess it.
What is more important than life? What is more important than protecting your life? Protect your life with knowledge of your faith. You will not regret the time you spend doing so.