This is Part 2 of a two part series answering two separate but similar questions, “What is so different about the Catholic Church?” and, “Why is there so much tension between the Methodist and the Catholic Church?”
Part one can be found here: Methodist vs. Catholics? (Part 1)
Since there were already hundreds of Methodist lay preachers in the colonies, John Wesley begged his bishop to ordain some of them so that the members of the church could have access to communion.
The bishop refused.
Eventually, John Wesley took it upon himself to ordain Thomas Coke as a bishop (even though he technically did not have that authority), who then travelled to the colonies and ordained Francis Asbury. In this way, the Methodist Church was born. No one intended for the Methodist movement to become a church, but it did. As a result, the Methodist Church structure, belief and doctrine are similar to the Church of England (which today is known as the Episcopal Church in the United States). We are not a congregational organization, but an ecclesiastical one, which means we have a hierarchy where pastors answer to a bishop.
Because of the way that our church has separated from the Catholic Church, our structures and beliefs, although quite different, are also sometimes strikingly similar. Even so, there was a lot of bad blood between the reformers (like Martin Luther) and the Popes. Remember that in that era, the Pope controlled the Holy Roman Emperor who, in turn, controlled the Army.
In those days, there was no separation of church and state. For generations, anyone who even hinted at problems within the church could be arrested, their property seized, they could be tortured or even put to death for believing anything different than what they were told. Nations who chose (actually their kings chose) to become Protestant, were attacked by the Empire’s Army. For hundreds of years, wears were fought between Catholics and Protestants. In the 30 Years War (1618-1648), part of Germany fought against other parts of Germany with support thrown in from the kings of France and Spain, as well as from the Empire. During that time, 25-40% of the entire German population was killed.
There was also much bloodshed in England. Although Catholics and Protestants often got along with one another, their rulers were not so kind. As England’s Kings and Queens changed from Catholic to Protestant and back again, everyone, including the priests, were forced to convert. Those who did not, were forced from their homes or worse. There was much bloodshed on all sides.
In any case, by the time of John Wesley, there were bad feelings between the Church of England and the Catholic Church. This is evident in John Wesley’s writings as well as Catholic writings of the time. But today, 200 years later, those bad feelings have faded and Catholics and Protestants get along quite well (particularly here in the United States). Technically, according to some Catholic doctrine, anyone who is not a part of the “official” church of Saint Peter is going to hell. For our part, we deny several key Catholic doctrines and emphasize that salvation if through grace alone where the Catholic Church believes that both grace and works are required.
Despite our differences, we there are a great many similarities. We have a similar structure (although we do not have any “rank” higher than bishop and we do not have a Pope). We have bishops who are in charge of particular geographical areas, and we have one set of rules that govern all of our churches.
Today the “bad blood’ that once existed isn’t what it used to be. Most of us have both Catholics and Protestants mixed among our families and our friends and many Catholics and Protestants are married to one another. I had a professor in seminary that did his doctoral studies in a Catholic University. There have even been times that modern theologians, now having the benefit of being a few hundred years distant, suggest that Protestants might reconsider some of the Catholic teachings that were thrown out during the Reformation. Recently, the Pope has invited evangelical leaders to be his guests in Rome to discuss how we might work together.
During my last pastorate, I became friends with Monsignor Mark Froelich who was the local parish priest. He and I were the only people in town who were members of both the Kiwanis and the Rotary clubs and so we had lunch together twice each week (and it didn’t hurt that he was a Cleveland Indians fan). I think we are finding that our differences may now be less than they were when our churches split during the Reformation.
In the end when we consider what the differences are between the Methodist Church and the Catholic Church, the answer is both, “A lot” and, “Not much.”
Part One of this series can be found here: Methodist vs. Catholics? (Part 1)
Note: I asked our youth to write down any questions that they had about faith, the church, or life in general. This is a part of that series.
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Other questions and answers in this series can be found here: Ask the Pastor
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One thought on “Methodists vs. Catholics? (Part 2)”
[…] Question: Methodists vs. Catholics? Today’s question actually grew out of two separate but similar questions, “What is so different about the Catholic Church?” and, “Why is there so much tension between the Methodist and the Catholic Church?” In order to answer either question we need to go back several hundred years. Once we understand how we got to where we are, our differences and any tension can be more easily understood. Let’s go back to the early 1500’s. At that time, no one would have referred to the “Catholic” church but just “the church” because there really was only one church. But that was about to change. In 1517, a German priest named Martin Luther wrote 95 complaints about the way that the church was doing business. Among these complaints was the way that funds were being raised to build what is known as St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It is a fantastic achievement of art and engineering but it was incredibly expensive. The man who was tasked with raising the money, John Tetzel, was an unscrupulous man who would do anything for a buck. In order to raise money, he sold “indulgences” which were forgiveness of sins. For a price, you could buy forgiveness for relatives who were already dead, or even for sins that had not yet been committed. If you had enough money, you could buy forgiveness for having a mistress (and keep her), or you could, quite literally, get away with murder. Martin Luther probably did not intend to cause the uproar that he did. His intent was to post his list of complaints and start a dialog that would reform the abuses of the church. But as fate would have it, the printing press had recently been invented and instead of merely posting his complaints on the church door, they were printed, translated, and distributed all over Europe. Eventually, the one church began to splinter into the Catholic Church and various groups of protestors, known as Protest-ants. Now jump ahead to 1534. King Henry VIII is married to Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of the former King and Queen of Spain. But Catherine was not giving Henry a male heir and, since England had recently had a civil war over who would succeed the king, having an heir was a big deal. Originally, Catherine was married to Henry’s brother who had died young and she then married Henry in order to keep Spain happy. Marrying your brother’s widow required the Pope’s permission but for Kings and Queens, this sort of thing could be managed. So when Catherine wasn’t having any male children, Henry thought that his marriage ought to be annulled so he could marry someone else. An annulment required the permission of the Pope but again, this sort of thing was not entirely uncommon for royalty. Except for one thing. Catherine of Aragon’s nephew was Charles V, the King of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor. Charles commanded an army which was just short distance from Rome. Charles told the Pope that he would be (hint, hint) very unhappy if Henry received an annulment. Since the Pope couldn’t keep both Henry and Charles happy, he stalled. For several years. Finally, Henry decided to break off from the Catholic Church and create the Church of England, whose head was no longer the Pope, but the King of England. And so although the Church of England became a Protestant church, it retained many similarities to the Catholic Church. Skip ahead another two hundred years, and we meet John and Charles Wesley, priests of the Church of England who felt that the church could do better. In an effort to renew the church, they began a movement that became known as Methodism (because of their ‘method’ of holiness). The Methodist movement took the church beyond the walls of the church into the countryside and the inner-city. The Wesleys and the Methodists were concerned that the poor did not have access to the church and the church didn’t care. That movement grew and spread all over England and into the American colonies. But then came the American war for independence in 1776. Although the Church of England was the largest in the colonies, nearly all of the priests were British citizens. When the war broke out, they left their churches and went home. This left a great many people without access to a priest, or to communion, or to baptism, or a proper burial. At that time, it was believed that not having access to regular communion, or baptism, was enough to damn you to hell. Since there were already hundreds of Methodist lay preachers in the colonies, John Wesley begged his bishop to ordain some of them so that the members of the church could have access to communion. The bishop refused. — (Continued in Methodists vs. Catholics – Part 2) […]