Thursday, 24 April 2008

Maybe you should become a Roman Catholic...

I have recently been reading Minority Report by Carl Trueman. This is a collection of essays, most of which have appeared on the Reformation 21 blog. Trueman has to be one of my favourite Christian writers. He combines a sharp wit with piercing insight.
There are too many things to highlight from this book, however one theme that recurrs is the relationship between Protestants and Roman Catholics. Trueman is gracious towards Roman Catholicism and acknowledges the many things we have in common (especially when compared with much post-modern evangelicalism) as well as pointing out the differences. However, one point he makes really struck me. It is that Roman Catholicism is the default Western Christian position. What that means is that you have to have good reasons to become a Protestant. In fact, the very nature of Protestantism is that it is a stance you take. You don't 'fall' into a state of protest. No, it is a conscious decision.
I think Trueman is right. There are strong Biblical reasons for rejecting Rome (on justification, on tradition, Mary, Papal infallibility etc. etc.), but if you do not hold these, or even do not think these matter all that much - why are you not a Roman Catholic? This is a question I often wonder when I think of Anglo-Catholics. Whatever you think of Newman, at least he followed both his convictions and the logic of his position.
I grew up in Northern Ireland, where the divisons between Protestants and Catholics were often political rather than theological. Someone once asked the famous Protestant/Unionist leader Ian Paisley what he would have done if he had been born a Roman Catholic. Paisely replied sternly, 'If I had been born a Catholic, I'd have become a Protestant'. Would you?

1 comment:

Dave Clancey said...

Excellent points, Pete. I was struck by the discussion going on over at the Ugley Vicar (John Richardson) where he is wrestling with Gal 2:11-21 and the difference between legalism and covenantal nomism. The discussion essentially has drifted to the issue of assurance, and John has quoted this:

And as a response to the question, “How can I be sure my sins are forgiven?”, “I am baptized,” seems to me more evangelical (ie more ‘good newsy’) than some of the answers currently on offer under that heading.

Someone commented that it sounds very Catholic, to which John replied - "evangelicals are catholic". I know what he is saying, and I would suggest that there are many aspects of 'catholicity' that we shouldn't protest against, but your points are well made.

It's interesting that in much of Trueman's work on Owen and his era, he stresses the continuity between Owen and the early church, and indeed that Owen seeks support from a raft of sources, including Roman Catholic writers! The reformers/puritans (let's paint with a broad brush, shall we!) protested against what they had to, not everything.