Have the Protestant Reformation and Democracy Harmed Christianity?


I enjoy reading Coffee with Jesus, one of those minimalist Comics 2.0 strips where the images don’t really matter but the text does.

While I normally nod my head in agreement, a recent strip bothered me:

Coffee with Jesus -

Is it naive to think that all you and I really need is Jesus? That He is the only one we should listen to?

I mean, Paul said to imitate him as he imitated Jesus. And we are a Church, which is meant to function as a Body, which means communication between the parts. And my spiritual gifts are not intended just for me alone.

The other day, I was considering whether two of history’s most respected events/institutions have actually amplified our confusion within the Western Church. Anyone who has a pair of eyes and ears can look and see that the Church is struggling in what seems to be a losing battle against a degenerating culture, while simultaneously drifting along with what that degenerating culture deems important, breaking down into 40,000 sects, schisms, and strains as a result.

The Protestant Reformation attacked the singular authority of the united Roman Catholic Church and deemed that each man and woman has been empowered to be his or her own priest. Reading the Bible for oneself and coming to a personal understanding of what it says was a hallmark of the Reformation. This idea broke the (genuine) stranglehold the RCC had on most of Christianity. It wrested power away from the controlling, organized clergy and put it back into the hands of the people.

Most would consider the Reformation an improvement.

In the New World years later, democracy took hold in the federal republic of the nascent United States of America. The idea that power rests in the will of the people mimics politically those spiritual concepts found in the Protestant Reformation. The two go hand in hand, and it’s hard to imagine America as a democracy without Martin Luther and his “rabble-rousing” kin.

Most would consider democracy an improvement.

But were the Protestant Reformation and democracy an improvement for the Church?

Reading that Coffee with Jesus above, one wonders. In turning every man and woman into his/her own spiritual authority, have we introduced too much confusion into the Christian faith?

If I am my own authority while I listen to the Redeemer, what happens when I encounter someone who thinks he is the authority while he listens to the Redeemer? What happens is that he drifts into a sect of his own leaning while I drift into another.

The comic above nails the problem. But does it only muddy the solution?

One of the most damning verses in the Bible:

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
—Judges 17:6 ESV

While spiritual people will clearly note that this “right” was too often downright wicked, what happens when we in the Church get into a situation where the Good is the enemy of the Best?

Paul says that when a revelation is given, the spiritual will debate its veracity and usefulness so as to arrive at a united understanding. Does this happen, though? Or are we too quick to start another sect because we can’t reach unity because we have made everyone his own authority?

A joke many have heard, but it applies here:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! Which denomination?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”

Northern Conservative†Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

The Coffee with Jesus strip above certainly had this joke in mind. Yet as much as the comic says the answer is to listen to Jesus alone, it seems doing so still resulted in 40,000 sects, schisms, and strains.

Makes you wonder sometimes about the Reformation and a democratic mentality.

Fish on Friday


filetofish.jpgWhen I was growing up in the ’60s, our public elementary school served fish every Friday.

Part of this was in response to the large Roman Catholic community that lives in the Cincinnati area, especially on the west side of town. Where I grew up, nearly the entire neighborhood was Catholic, save for our Lutheran family and the Assemblies of God minister and his family three houses down.

Flash forward…

I can’t remember a Lenten season when I’ve seen so many ads on TV for fast food fish. Considering how little TV I watch, that’s saying something.

I think Vatican II eventually eliminated the fish every Friday thing that I experienced in school, but for some reason, it still persists for part of the year. It now shows up only during Lent, but man, does it have legs! There’s not a Wendy’s or McDonalds around here that isn’t advertising fish on its sign. And like I said, the ads on TV…

After last week’s intense debates, I’m thinking lighter, so I have to wonder—Are there that many Catholics still eating fish on Friday during Lent to justify this huge fish push? Seriously. When you consider how many self-identifying Catholics are pro-abortion, how many are worried that they’ll have to go to confession if they choose a Big Mac over a Filet-o’-Fish (which, ironically, has a Cincinnati origin).

It’s weird. That the fast food restaurants are spending millions on commercials to get you to eat their RCC-friendly fish every Friday during Lent…well, that’s even weirder.

I’m looking for an explanation.

I also want to find Evangelical equivalents. What do you consider to be an Evangelical equal of fish on Friday and why?

Now at the RCC Carnival: Bingo, Beer, and a Hot Tetzel


From the big city paper nearby:

Mary Schatzman knew right away what she would do last week after learning that a church near her Green Township home was offering “indulgences” to interested Catholics.

While some parishioners seemed indifferent or confused by the offer, Schatzman didn’t hesitate.

“I’m going to get one,” she said.

Her eagerness reflects a renewed interest among Catholics in a tradition that had for decades all but vanished from their religious life.

In the past year, Catholics across the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and thousands more around the world have gone to confession, taken communion and said the prayers necessary to receive what is known as a “plenary indulgence.”

For the indulgence, a blessing that helps Catholics avoid punishment in the afterlife, it is a remarkable comeback.

The practice suffered a precipitous fall from grace 500 years ago when the Catholic Church began selling them to rich people looking to buy their way into heaven.

Although the church stopped selling them long ago, the stain on the indulgence’s reputation endured for centuries.

The church never abandoned the indulgence, however, and it now is part of a broader campaign by Pope Benedict XVI to revive some fading church traditions and to draw Catholics back to teachings that younger generations know little about.

The article also add this “explanation”:

The shorthand version of the rules goes like this: Confession removes the “eternal punishment” of sin that can condemn a soul for all eternity, but a “temporal punishment” remains. This punishment is meted out in Purgatory, where Catholics must wait to be purified before moving on to heaven.

That’s where indulgences come into play. They can shorten or eliminate the purification process, clearing the path to heaven.

“We must be purified, either here on Earth or after death in Purgatory,” [Rev. Earl Fernandes, dean of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Cincinnati] said. Bang, bang, Martin's silver hammer comes down on their heads...“What an indulgence seeks to do is remit the temporal punishment.”

Click the link for the rest of the Cincinnati Enquirer article on indulgences.

I’m as open-minded as the next guy, but c’mon. Indulgences?  They’re  simply indefensible theologically, unorthodoxy at its finest, no matter what the Vatican says.

Sure, the local archdiocese isn’t selling them as they were in good ol’ Martin Luther’s day, not even on eBay, but “free” doesn’t make them any less nutty.