Protestants Are Listening

News: Commentary
by Kristine Christlieb  •  •  December 9, 2019   

Catholic scandals provide teachable moments

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Recent controversies involving Catholic teaching have had the unintended (but happy) consequence of creating occasions to talk about a number of important faith-related concepts — and many Protestants, especially evangelicals, are taking notes and making comments.

Joe Biden Denied Holy Communion

Father Robert Morey of St. Anthony Catholic Church in Florence, South Carolina provided a recent opportunity when he refused Holy Communion to presidential candidate Joe Biden. His decision, and the reasons behind it, became national news.

Because Morey's objection centered on Biden's public position on abortion, evangelicals, who are almost universally pro-life (thanks to Catholic leadership in the early days of the abortion war), were quite naturally interested in the story. But once inside the story, they were forced to examine their own views on Holy Communion and what they would do in a similar situation.

I applaud the fact that this priest did what he thought was right at the risk of possible public or political ire.

What the nation learned from the incident was that a priest felt it was his duty to deny Holy Communion to a public figure who claims to be Catholic but who does not support the Church's position on abortion. Prominent evangelicals praised the priest's decision.

On his Facebook page, Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham and founder of the international aid organization Samaritan's Purse, wrote: "I applaud the fact that this priest did what he thought was right at the risk of possible public or political ire."

Dr. Michael Brown, a regular contributor to televangelist James Robison's news site The Stream, almost espouses a Catholic view of Holy Communion. While he doesn't specifically address transubstantiation, the title of his post, "Can Taking Communion Be Detrimental to Your Health?" acknowledges on its face the power of and reverence due the sacrament. Given that most Catholics don't believe in the Real Presence, it is possible that evangelicals understand more about this Catholic principle than most Catholics.

Gay Pride Marches Not Family-Friendly

Catholics have had to confront the homosexual lifestyle and the reality of so-called "gay marriage" more directly than Protestants have, in part because of their clergy's widespread sexual abuse scandals. So while both Catholics and evangelicals have been disappointed in their clergy's vow of silence on the issue, particularly from the pulpit, Catholics have been lauded for providing on-point commentary. When Keith Waters, an evangelical pastor in England, wanted to remind his flock to be cautious of gay pride events, he turned to Bp. Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, and retweeted his guidance almost word-for-word.

"Bishop Tobin had put the message so succinctly, eloquently, relevantly, boldly and lovingly, that all that was required was for me to engage in a little 'holy plagiarism!'" [Waters] said, adding, "I merely changed 'Catholic' to 'Christian' and applied what Bp. Tobin had said to all Christians." Waters was widely persecuted for retweeting a Catholic bishop's concerns about taking children to gay pride event.

Pagan Relics and Symbols Don't Belong in Churches

Pagan dreamcatchers defile Advent wreaths

While modern evangelicals are often known for being bolder than Catholics, the young Austrian Catholic Alexander Tschugguel wins, without question, the Christian Boldness and Leadership Award for 2019. His early-morning raid on the Carmelite church of Santa Maria in Traspontina to cleanse it from the five Amazon idols placed on display there was for conservative Catholics the highlight of the Amazon Synod. Robison's Protestant media site The Stream gave Tschugguel equal praise, featuring five articles on him and/or Pachamama.

At the other end of the leadership spectrum, Fr. Walt Jagela, pastor of St. John's University Parish in Morgantown, West Virginia, wins the 2019 Bad Idea Award for encouraging his flock to add Native American dreamcatchers to their Advent wreaths. He took the liberty of decorating the sanctuary with several dreamcatchers. As one parishioner put it, "This practice desecrates the church and endangers the faithful."

Mary's Role Extends Beyond Advent

Christianity Today, founded by Billy Graham, has been the voice of American evangelicals for more than six decades. The current December issue cover story is "Mary — The First Christian: Mary's Model of Faith Doesn't Begin or End at Christmas." If there is one aspect of Catholicism that most troubles American Protestants, it is the Church's teaching on Mary. So this article represents halting but important baby steps toward a broader view of Mary's role in the Christian faith.

Cover story, Christianity Today, December 2019

The article's authors, Jennifer Powell McNutt and Amy Beverage Peeler, are professors at Wheaton College (Billy Graham's alma mater). McNutt chairs the college's department of Biblical and Theological Studies and Peeler teaches the New Testament. Both serve in official ministry capacities in mainline Protestant denominations. Because they are not typical evangelicals, their writing will be viewed with some skepticism. But Christianity Today's editorial decision to publish their thoughts about Mary for the magazine's conservative, Protestant audience is significant; the authors show that in the sweep of Christian history, Mary always has been held in the highest regard.

The publication noted: "To Luther, the 'first sermon on Earth' was the proclamation that Mary was the mother of the Lord, and this was preached by no less than a woman (Elizabeth)." Again, it quoted Luther, "No one can preach Christ without speaking of his mother." The authors go on to tell their evangelical audience that Protestants "underestimate [Mary's] role throughout the gospels."

As defenders of the Deposit of Faith, conservative Catholics increasingly will be called on to lead the faithful. Many evangelicals are open to hearing what their older brothers and sisters in the faith have to say. Perhaps, like Apollos, Protestants just need to be taken aside and shown the better way:

Now a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by race, a learned man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spake and taught carefully the things concerning Jesus, knowing only the baptism of John and he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more carefully. (Acts 18:24–26)

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