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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Judging the Roman Catholic Church

This is a brilliant and thought-provoking post at Open Book. Amy brings out two gems from Fr. Al Kimel (the Pontificator):

Adam, it is not just the poor worship. The poor worship has a cause, and the cause is ineffective, poor, or misleading catechesis. And, for me, still, this calls into question the proposition that “this is THE church”. If this is THE church, shouldn’t it do better at making Christians, out of both unchurched adults and little children?

The simple answer to your question is, yes. Yes, the Catholic Church should do better at making Christians, it should do better at evangelizing, it should do better at catechizing, it should do better at preaching the gospel, it should do better at worshipping God, it should do better in serving the poor and the oppressed, it should do better in every aspect of its life and ministry.

However, if the Church was doing better in all of these areas, or even just the one you have mentioned, would you be persuaded that the Catholic Church is the Church of Jesus Christ, as she claims to be? Of course not! Because performance neither proves nor disproves the claims of the Catholic Church. Ironically, your objection to the Catholic Church—viz., her poor, even sinful performance—is grounded in a works-righteousness understanding of the gospel. You are demanding that the Catholic Church justify herself as the Body of Christ by her works! But the Catholic Church is the Body of Christ only by grace and election!

Are you willing to apply the same criterion of performance to individual believers, to yourself? Are you willing to prove your regeneration in the Spirit by your works, by how well you are living the Christian faith, by how effectively you are proclaiming the gospel in word and deed? Jim, are you not in fact judging the Catholic Church by a standard you would never apply to yourself? What would you say to the nonbeliever who declares that Christianity cannot be true because there are so many bad Christians?

But your criterion of performance also fails for other reasons. For one thing, you are judging the Catholic Church on the basis of her performance in one geographical area in one period of time. But she has no doubt performed better (whether it be at catechesis or evangelism or whatever) in other places and in other times. Why not judge the Catholic Church at her best? Why not judge the Catholic Church by her saints?

But would you be persuaded even then?

And this..

Jim, for 2,000 years the Catholic Church has been proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and making disciples. How many saints must the Catholic Church produce to convince you? How many martyrs must lay down their lives? How many nations must she evangelize? How many churches must she build? How many baptisms must she administer? How many penitents must she absolve? How many Masses must she celebrate? How many religious orders must she establish? How many hospitals and schools must she found? How many hungry persons must she feed? How many homeless must she house? How many kings and despots must she confront in the name of Christ? And who stands today, pray tell me, more firmly and courageously against the culture of death, abortion, and sexual immorality than the Catholic Church?

If you insist on judging the Catholic Church by her works, then by all means do so, but do so across all categories of mission and ministry. Do not judge her just by your parish church in the year A.D. 2007 but judge her by her remarkable and glorious history that reaches back to the Apostles of Christ.

Yet are you truly in a position to judge her sanctity and sins, good works and failures? Why do you see only her weaknesses and not her strengths, her defeats and not her victories?

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