Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Pope is Catholic!

By now anyone reading this will know that the new pope is from Argentina and has taken the name Francis.  Presumably the point is that he values poverty and humility. I hope this bodes well for reform of the Vatican bank.

As you all know, this is a shift to the southern hemisphere and perhaps a move toward decentralization.  This move seems good given that the local grip in Italy might be part of the catholic problem that led Benedict to resign. He is 76, which doesn't suggest the kind of strength for battle Benedict may have preferred. He is a moderate, but no one expected big changes in theology.

I do want to use this as an excuse to talk about how compatible catholicism is with Wesleyanism.  For example, could a Roman Catholic of a particular kind teach at a Wesleyan college?  I'm pretty sure it has already happened.  In non-theology areas, it seems as plausible to me as having a Baptist, Pentecostal, or Lutheran teach at a Wesleyan school.

Several of us worked through the RC catechism last year and you can see our notes here.  I think our main take away was that you had to believe a lot more things as a catholic rather than that there were a lot of areas where Wesleyans flatly disagreed.  Here's why I think a particular kind of Roman Catholic could potentially teach at a Wesleyan college:

1. The most important value/qualification for a Wesleyan is a personal, active relationship with Jesus Christ as your Lord.  We are a revivalist tradition more than a creedal tradition like the Reformed. A Roman Catholic can be entirely sanctified just as well as a Christian from any other tradition.  A Christian of any denomination who has completely surrendered him/herself to God and has received the fullness of the Spirit might easily trump many card-carrying Wesleyans in this category.

2. The second most important value/qualification should be a life lived with the fruit of righteousness and the Spirit.  Does a Christian of any denomination demonstrate the Christian virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? A Roman Catholic with a vibrant faith of a certain sort should trump a Wesleyan who never goes to church, never prays, and treats others like dirt.

3. But are there any Roman Catholic beliefs that are so in conflict with Wesleyan theology that it would preclude a RC, as at Wheaton? Certainly I don't think you would want a RC teaching theology or probably even church history full time at a Wesleyan college. But most of the "red flag" issues people raise usually involve a misunderstanding of some sort.
  • Most Roman Catholics today don't pit the Bible against the Church.  They simply see their tradition as the best interpreters of Scripture--which is what Wesleyans, Baptists, Lutherans, and pretty much everyone else does.  Would we hire a Missouri Synod Lutheran minister to teach at IWU? They are supposed to listen to what their church says the Bible means just as much as a RC is supposed to. A RC can believe the Bible is inerrant just as much as a Wesleyan.
  • Most of the differences in RC belief are "added" rather than contradictory. For example, nothing would keep a Wesleyan from believing in transubstantiation.  The overwhelming majority don't, but this is an example of where RCs do more while not really contradicting.
  • RCs don't worship Mary or the saints.  They "venerate" them.  If a RC did worship them, they would be in violation of RC theology.
  • RCs don't always agree with everything the RCC teaches any more than the Wesleyans in our megachurches that drink moderately.
4. Here are some instances where we are closer to the RCs than to other Protestants:
  • We believe that how you live has a potential impact on your final salvation (we're thus closer to the catholics here than to Baptists, Lutherans, the Reformed, or Presbyterians).
  • Wesleyans have practically the same view as RCs on human freedom (as opposed to the Reformed on predestination).
  • Wesleyans have a similar view of abortion and homosexual practice.
I am not at all saying that all Roman Catholics could teach at a Wesleyan college.  I only suspect that there are some RCs out there who would be a better mission fit than some Wesleyans and certainly more than many a fundamentalist.

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