Are three reasons why people reject the Catholic Church today. I’ve been thinking about this for some time, ruminating about the common objections I hear against Catholicism. They can be summarized in three distinct yet overlapping categories: ontological, moral and epistemic.
On the first, many deny that the Catholic Church is who She says She is. This is the ontological objection. They deny the “who” and therefore dismiss Her as a fraud or mere denomination. The second, the moral, is the complaint that the Catholic Church is full of sinners. Luther had this problem — although he admitted his solution did not fix it per se, just covered it up with snow (insert laugh) — and so too today, especially in lieu of the abuse scandal, is the Church riddled with accusations — true as it is — of being a house of sinners. We are teeming with them. Lastly, the epistemic complaint is that the Catholic Church claims to always be right, to speak with infallible veracity — or so it goes. I know better, says the reply, the Bible tells me so, looky here, or something like it is leveled against what appears on the outside an egomaniacal power-play. Who does the Catholic Church think she is?
Of course, all of these complaints could be leveled against Christ. In that way, the Catholic Church can claim She is eerily similar to Her head. [Hold your objections for a moment and keep reading] On one point the analogy seems to go afoul as Christ is not full of sin, but I will explain the parallel in a moment. Let’s consider these three objections, not so much with the Catholic Church in mind, but rather with Christ himself as our referent. I will then return to the Church and ask you to consider how the logic of the objections (notice I did not say legitimacy) against Christ have equal force upon the Church.
Again, I am emphasizing the logic of the objections as distinct from the factual legitimacy of the objections. I make this distinction because generally we accept or reject a statement based on the former. We almost never have the facts before us nor have we properly investigated them. Therefore, we consider the logic of a statement, and upon those merits, accept it or reject it. What is at stake then is the first push-back many non-Catholics have regarding Catholicism, which is at the level of logic not evidence. What I will show is that the Christian objector to Catholicism does not fairly apply this logic and has likely not considered the evidence, something I am not claiming will necessarily require them to become Catholic but will hopefully make their objections to Her less canard-like.
1. Who Jesus was
|Can He Be God?|
He was either–as C.S. Lewis put–a lunatic, liar or Lord. Anyone who claims they are God can only be one of the three: Lord if True, liar if sane or purely mad. It did not matter whether or not you thought Christ’s teaching was true or false. Not to say that in his teaching men were not compelled to believe. However, men are compelled to believe all kinds of things by preaching. Our Lord knew that about us, it is
why he described us as little chicks in need of a mother hen or as dumb sheep.
At the heart of it, we must believe that Christ is God. This belief is the foundation for every other belief. This is an act of faith, warranted by both the supernatural work of grace in our heart by the Holy Spirit and the evidence of this claim as corroborated by: (1) the prophecies Christ fulfilled, (2) His supernatural life and most importantly (3) His death, burial and RESURRECTION. Yes, truly in the resurrection — his power to conquer death — can we know He is who he says he is.
2. Who He picked as His disciples
Jesus did not pick the brightest bunch. Even if you just gloss over the New Testament, it is pretty evident that his team is regularly missing the point. Upon receiving the Holy Spirit in Acts, things got better. However, the one who denied Christ thrice is back at it again, pretending he would not eat with Gentiles. Sheesh! This was the guy Jesus adamantly asked to “Feed my sheep”, prayed that His faith would not fail Him, and changed his name like the patriarch of the First Covenant (Abraham).
Oh, and I forgot to mention that Judas fellow. Not so good. Sold his soul to the devil. So imagine yourself a first century Jew. This Jesus is claiming He is God and His crew is a bunch of rag-tag, epic fail sorts, who are petulant at times (“who’s going to be first?”) and one of whom is a devil. Would not the Jews have good reason to say something like this:
“Jesus, we really like you, but clearly you are not the One you say you are. We know God exists, but I just can’t follow your team. They are way too dysfunctional. I just want to go back to a simple life of private prayer. You know, me, myself and God.”
3. His Authority
It would have been nice had Jesus said. “You have heard that “X”, and you are right!!!” Instead we get things like “Woe (curse) unto you, if….” and “You have heard that “X”, but I say!“
“Jesus is like way too judgmental” (chomping on gum)
Jesus did not mince words. He also did not leave things up for debate or discussion. He taught definitively and explained to His disciples in such a way that they could understand. The Gospels are a proverbial chest full of short, easy sayings to understand but hard to swallow. Not sure what God thinks about the poor? What is our obligation to those in prison? What about divorce? Jesus lays the wood on all of these counts. He is no university professor. He is the Word of God and His intended audience is you and I. He makes no qualms about His credentials and promises that the Holy Spirit would come to assist His Church to both “teach all things” and “remind them of what He had said” (John 14:26).
Interestingly enough, many scholars have shown that Jesus took some pretty big liberties in interpreting the Old Testament. We grant Him those liberties because…well…He’s God! However, the point I am implying is that it is precisely because of His ontology (God) that we accept His interpretive decisions. We do not accept them because they are the only reasonable interpretations of the passages. In other words, reasonable men can disagree with Christ. Faithful men cannot. Christ’s interpretive decisions are not unreasonable but they are also not rationally unassailable. God did not give the self-pious man that easy of a way out. No. By submitting to Christ and through submission alone, we see the inestimable wisdom of Jesus’s words; not merely through some process of self-reflection.
The Church: The Great Scandal of Christ
|One of Her Doctors|
Christ’s Church today is rejected for the same reasons He was. First, many just do not believe She is who She says She is. The miraculous history of the Church, human albeit but miraculous nonetheless, is a sign of contradiction in the world. Her prophetic witness just by Her existence seems to evidence that Christ has Risen and has imbued His Church with that same power. Despite schism, internal conflict, bad-bad leaders (at times) and treacherous followers, the Catholic Church is still here. Yep, still here. Every generation has written Her off. The second-generation Reformation project assumed that She would just go away.
|This Blow Did Not Finish Her Off|
Here She is. Out of the tomb and alive and kicking.
Do you believe that Christ’s Church is the one he founded? If not, why do you practice your faith in a church founded by someone other than Christ? Have you considered the preponderance of the mere existence of the Catholic Church and the improbability of her existence through mere natural powers?
Second, many reject Christ’s Church because of her followers and leaders. Just like the first century Jews, they have strong grounds to walk away simply because the Church’s members are not that impressive. For example, if the same percentage of Catholic Bishops were devils like say Judas, that would be 425 turn-coat Bishops. Ave Maria! The United States only has 390 Bishops!
Do you reject the Catholic Church because of the sexual abuse by some priests and the protection of those priests by some Bishops? (See: Abuse in Context–ALL COMMENTS WILL BE DELETED THAT DO NOT TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION THIS LINK) Is the Catholic Church not credible to you because her members are so sinful? Because a high percentage of Catholics in the US practice contraception which is explicitly condemned by the Church? Do the sins of the few cloud any possible vision of the beauty and holiness of the many? Moreover, does the human fragility of this Church, that She acts as a hospital for sinners, somehow get out of focus Her divine origin and supernatural guidance and protection?
Lastly, the Catholic Church is the only Church in the world that teaches like Christ. I will grant you that it could be just a big charade. However, it should be noted that the Scriptures witness both our Lord’s admonition to listen to the Pharisees when they are on the seat of Moses (Matthew 23:2) and the idea that “he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:29). Since we know that the word “scribes” is co-extensive with Pharisees (from Mark’s treatment), what gives? The point is that Jesus is the new Temple and new Seat of Moses. He is Truth. When He passed off His keys to His steward St. Peter, He knew that he (St. Peter) too would have to sit on His seat–the Chair of St. Peter. This seat is temporary but necessary until the Return of the King.Jesus’s ministry started in the old temple, opening the scroll, and infallibly declaring “this is that” which Isaiah prophesied. The Church’s ministry, ingrafted into the new Temple (Christ) began the same way, only this time St. Peter was sitting in the new Chair, infallibly declaring “this is that” which Joel prophesied. I think it is more than coincidence that the New Testament witnesses the continual hypocrisy of St. Peter even after the coming of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord made sure to instruct those who were listening to pay attention to those who sat on the Seat of Moses. In their ears, his admonition resonated but not at the new covenant level it should have. Our Lord was preparing them for the attention they needed to give to the new seat, and it is laid bare in Scripture the obvious parallel between our Lord’s actions and St. Peter’s.
Lastly, the trajectory of Catholic dogma has been such as to run parallel but opposite to the current of society. While society has been steadily tracking to hold to a subjectivist, relativist view of reality, the Catholic Church solidified her understanding of the infallible nature of the teaching authority of the Magisterium.Scandalous. What a great shock to the modern ears! Infallible? Hasn’t psychology, history, natural science and philosophy proven this impossible?
What a gross over-statement.
The point of all of this is a simple observation: The Catholic Church is rejected for many of the same reasons one would reject Christ.
- They reject the Church’s teachings because they fail to appreciate “who” She is
- They reject the Church because sinners are in Her fold
- They reject the Church’s teachings because they are too dogmatic
Lord Jesus, grant us faith to believe. Amen.