Second post, second most boring day of my week....I think it fits perfectly. So I think I need to introduce some friends of mine. Mike Tagge is an undergraduate biology pre-med student at Wheaton College in Illinois, and Chris McGarvey (McG) is an undergraduate English major at Hope College in Michigan. All three of us attended the same grade school (Concordia Lutheran baby!) and we've remained in relatively good contact for all these years.
Recently, Tagge wrote a paper describing his thoughts on pride and how it relates to people's attitude towards God and their behavior in daily life. McG responded and I responded since he was asking for our input. As a result, the usual with us happened.....Theology was discussed and I know I became hooked on the conversation. To the uninitiated, theology may appear to be foreign and strange, even to Christians.
Most Christians have only a passing understanding of theology (mine isn't that good either), even strong Christians who read the Bible everyday and meditate on the Word have a relatively poor understanding of it or are very theologially immature. Perhaps this only seems so to me since I grew up in a church with a relatively good appreciation of theology (though Orthodox theologians and church fathers were not presented often if at all), or maybe it was because I went to a public school and was forced to re-evaluate my beliefs many times. All in all I have a few theological ramblings to say which might offend and/or piss off various individuals, and such is not my intention. I would also like to point out that I make generalizations here of protestantism and I understand that GRADIENTS EXIST and there are exceptions. The point of theology is not to prove one view right or wrong, but to compare beliefs to the Word and discuss them among each other so that new ideas can be formulated and tested to Scripture. Ironic isn't it, something that many feel as superstitious and beneath science, has a system of operation similar to science itself! For example, I think about a subject such as salvation, then compare notes (peer review) with a fellow Christian (or Christians) after we have ourselves looked at Scripture and prayed, and then we both take our beliefs to scripture (test, experiment). Once someone has decided on what they believe they may write it all down (and hence it is dogma and is the subject of systematic theology). This can change however, and when/if it does, dogma (unlike what the popular movie or popular terminology of the ignorant shows) changes. The very idea of a catechism is foreign to most protestants who use the idea of sola scriptura, but the idea of the catechism originated in the idea of the church fathers and early saints who, through the guiding of the Holy Spirit decided what texts to use in compiling the New Testament! The creeds (Athanasian, Nicene, and Apostles) are a perfect example of an early catechism as they deliver the basic, core ideas of the Christian faith. Even Martin Luther who many regard as the originator of sola scriptura within protestantism wrote a catechism (I used it and continue to use it myself!). To not write down or record what a specific denomination believes about certain things and issues can open the floodgates to theological anarchy. The "small" differences that divide many denominations pale in comparison to what can occur without this! Imagine a church which did not specifically write down that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God! You could have elders with such diverse beliefs as Bishop Spong and Pat Robertson deciding the direction for the church......SCHISM TIME. By writing down the beliefs you leave no room for such vast differences. By writing them down you also allow new ideas to be compared to the old ones which can lead to possible change or a firm belief becoming more lax (or vice versa).
This is why I believe many of the protestant denominations (or "non-denominations"), while very successful and large, have poor theological backgrounds. Quick tangent: Roman Catholics usually do know their doctrine, but sadly as they get older they lose sight of WHY that is the doctrine of their church and so mindlessly repeat ideas that they may not really agree with. The Catholic church also, while placing Scripture on a high pedestal, also place ecclesiastical authority and tradition on the same level and this has led to some ideas which are not Biblical (Biblical means in Scripture OR not decried by Scripture....in other words what isn't in the Bible is not necessarily wrong unless it specifically says so in the Bible). While both are important they are not on the same level as Scripture....end tangent. Many protestants also have some poor starting points in my opinion.
First of all, while I may have many beliefs similar to fundamentalists, I am not a fundamentalist. I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture (inerrancy does not mean we will have the same interpretation of passages mind you) for example, but while they believe it because it is God's Word and he is the ultimate authority, I think it is inerrant for both reasons of authority and the reason that without it the Gospel is worthless. By using both reasons I have two reasons rather than one and each reason stems from a theological basis (Law = authority, Gospel = Gospel).
Second of all, I do not enjoy going to contemporary service for many reasons, mainly theological. One reason is that I enjoy classical music over a praise band, but that isn't theological. One REAL reason is that the idea of a liturgy doesn't exist even though it was practiced by the church fathers. One second reason is that there are no sacrements and when they are present (though not called sacrements), they have a different and empty meaning. I mean come on, the Eucharist at a protestant service consists of eating bread which isn't supposed to be Christ's body and drinking grape juice or wine (give me wine if you want to stay true to the passages of the Bible) . Sorry, but Christ blessed the wine and said it was his blood, and St. Paul agrees with him (1 Cor. 11 is an excellent passage about sinning against the body and blood of Christ when it is taken in an unworthy manner as well as the centrality of the Lord's Supper to worship). Simply based on the words of Jesus in the Gospels it seems almost to me that the most creative explanation is that in which he doesn't intend to have his presence in the actual bread and wine! Even in most protestant churches where it is still practiced at all the Lord's Supper has the status that St. Paul in 1 Cor. 11 warned against, as an addendum to the service rather than the central portion that unites believers in Christ, and the reason for doing it in these churches goes back to the fundamentalists do so because God said so. They relegate this (and Holy Baptism as well) as a chore they must do because God told them to rather than as the gift Christ intended for both to be! The last reason I will share is that I think most protestant churches focus on the believer, having theologies of the self rather than "theologies of the cross." Even when songs are sung such as "I will praise your name, I will lift you up..." have as the first word of each phrase, "I". While such songs are fine sometimes, they happen enough to turn me off from these services. Even if you walk into Christian bookstores, there exist very few books on theology or GOOD apologetics. Most if not ALL OF THE BOOKS will be Christian versions of self help books or Christian fiction. Once again I'm not saying that these books are inherently bad (though the author occasionally is wrong or the book is awfull!) because I have several myself. I enjoy the "Purpose Driven Life" and reading the Bible for ways to better improve my actions in this life. But what is missing is spritual growth and maturity, as well as the ability to defend the faith well. Most theology books quite frankly are written by rank amateurs who have very little background on the subject or who hardly ever get into discussions with people of different faiths. These same people also don't realize that to defend the faith does not mean to prove the other person wrong, but to provide an explanation as to why you believe as you do.
Finally, the lack of theological understanding makes Christians look bad. If an atheist at least knows who St. Augustine was (let alone what he said), he is already 1-up on most protestants (and a good number of Catholics to sadly). Most Christians also seem to not follow the thought processes that the saints do (if they could even name them). I know all Christians are saints but I'm referring to the saints who are blessed by God and have been recognized as such by that title, by the oldest Christian church in existence. I'm surprised if I even hear Calvin or Luther from their mouths....all they seem to know is one or two relatively contemporary theologians who have the same or roughly the same level of theological maturity theydo. I have three friends who quite recently decided that they would discuss with a Catholic girl what she believed using the Catholic Catechism and comparing it to scripture. While I have nothing wrong with it (though the 3-1 thing kind of bothered me), I do have problems when the interpretation of what the "Catechism of the Catholic Chuch" says reads into it what they want it to. The specific situation was with salvation by works. The information they were using came from Chick Publications. If you read the comic Alberto you begin to the think that the Catholics are almost as bad as the Freemasons (who even while wrong, are demonized beyond belief by Chick). Upon further research however, you begin to get the impression that Alberto never existed in the form of the person in the comic, or that he grossly overexagerated his story. However, back to the point. One of Chick's quotes that the Catholic Church requires works for salvation is :"Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not however persevere in charity is not saved"-pg. 222, #837. Wow, that sounds bad for the Catholics....no, it shows how much of a bigoted man with an axe to grind Jack Chick is. If you read the sentence IMMEDIATELY following what I just quoted it says, "He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but 'in body' not 'in heart'".-pg. 222, #837. This sounds strangely familiar....in body but not heart....hm....OH YEAH! It paraphrases JAMES! "Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren?" James 2:20 NRSV. This simply says that an indication of a person who is not saved and not a member of the church "in heart" but only "in body" because they don't "practice what they preach." It looks from this like Jack has born false witness against his neighbor. This situation is a perfect illustration of the lack of theological understanding and maturity that Christians in today's world need in order to live better and spread the message of Christ better in a pluralistic society. Once more, if an ATHEIST knows who ancient theologians are, why then should Christians not know? To me it seems like most protestants (particularly fundamentalists) seem to defecate all over Christian tradition (which is the opposite extreme of Catholocism). Perhaps I should say that extreme attitudes towards tradition on either side aren't good?
To end my post, I would first like to apologize to those of you who might be agitated but frankly, this is what I think and you can think otherwise. I am not denying sola scriptura. I simply say that the lack of development from an amniotic state of faith can lead to problems both within and outside the church. I also have one area in which to semi-praise the protestants over the modern Catholic church. Protestants do by far, more evangelism (though occassionally contact evangelism isn't the best) than the modern Catholic church seems to (at least in America) and for this protestants deserve much credit.
Wow, this has been a long post and I'm probably going to have several discussions tonight with people. I also just realized this took over around two to write. Oh well, I guess some things you just really have to get off of your chest.
See ya'll later,