Methodists vs. Catholics? (Part 2)

Question: Methodists vs. Catholics? (Part 2)

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)

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    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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Top Ten 2012 Blog Posts


    As promised, here are my top ten blog posts of 2012.  There are a few interesting points that I will note along the way, but among these is just the growth of this blog.  While it is still pitifully small compared to some of the mainstream “big name” bloggers with tens of thousands of subscribers (I have five), there is a marked difference between 2011 and 2012.  In the last year, the number of readers has grown enough that of all the posts included in last year’s list, only the number one post from 2011 would have made this list and even then at number eight. Hey, while you’re here, why don’t you click on the “Subscribe to Blog Updates” link in the right hand column?
    In any case, the readership of this blog, however small, has doubled in one year, and for that, I am both humble and grateful.  I hope that my musings make you think, regardless of whether we agree or not.  This year’s list is reversed, David Letterman style, with number ten presented first, so that you have to scan the whole list to see the most popular.
10) As was the case in other multi-part blogs I have written, “Part 2, Politicians, Rape and Bad Theology”, was less popular than Part 1 (which comes in at number 7).
9) In, “Is It Time to End Spousal Benefits?” I pondered the injustices of the way that many employee benefits as well as Social Security and other Federal benefits are calculated.  Several comments showed me that that my thinking was not as clear as I would have liked and made me think that I may need to think this through a bit more and revisit the subject sometime down the road.
8) “Why I Stand With the Catholic Church” discusses why I agree that our federal government is overreaching in its demand that church agencies be compelled to pay for contraception and abortion inducing drugs despite in a clear violation of their religious beliefs.
7) Politicians, Rape and Bad Theology (Part 1) is the first, and most popular, of my reaction to some seriously dumb things that were said by politicians.  Honestly, I sometimes think that this happens every day, but when these same politicians begin to justify their dumb stuff by saying that it’s God’s fault, I have to say something.
6) In John Wesley’s Crazy Rules?, I list the rules that the early Methodists had agreed to live by.  Today, most all have been abandoned and most church members would panic if we even suggested bringing them back.  On the other hand, under these rules the church grew and under ours we’re shrinking.  Perhaps something in this list we ought to learn from?
5) Why is Homosexuality an Argument Instead of a Discussion? Isn’t even my blog post, but a link to a post by Dr. John Byron, one of my seminary professors.  Here we wonder why everyone wants to demonstrate and shout from their polarized positions, but not have an honest discussion about the issues.
4) The blog entitled, “Just How Many Homosexuals Are There?” was taken, by some, as a political post even though I made some effort to deliberately distance myself from making any overt political statements.  The unfortunate truth, as we’ve seen in other posts, is that anything regarding abortion, homosexuality and a few other topics automatically become argumentative instead of the opening of a discussion.  Here, I simply found statistics that indicated that nearly everyone has a dramatically wrong idea of what we are talking about whenever we begin such an argument.
3) What’s the Big Deal About Sex? was written after it was discovered that several Secret Service agents and military personnel had been cavorting with prostitutes during a trip in which they were to be guarding President Obama.  While what they did was immoral, I wonder why all the fuss?  These folks aren’t monks?  Clearly there are national security concerns, but otherwise, in a culture that values sex and money above all else, what do you expect?
2) Censorship is never the answer.  The beauty of our freedom of speech here in the United States is that it allows atheists to blaspheme my religion and my God, but it also allows me to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.  In Christians are Wrong; Atheists are Right I argue that when Christians lobby for censorship to protect them, they really undermine the most important protection of all.
1) This is the one that makes me smile.  I first wrote, Ahimaaz – Patron Saint of Cross Country Running? , about a man known to King David who loved to run.  When it was written, almost no one read it.  For months afterward… almost no one read it.  And then something interesting happened.  Because I suggested that Ahimaaz ought to be a patron saint of long distance runners (clearly, being Methodist, I have no inside track on this), this blog started to turn up in Internet searches for patron saint of cross country and track.  As track season came closer it began to get a few, but regular, hits each week.  By the end of the year, just like the story of the tortoise and the hare, slowly but surely, this blog had become the most popular of the year (and continues to grow).

The Church vs. Education?


    I have a few atheist friends who seem fond of bashing religion on their Facebook pages.  While their attacks most often reflect a pitiable ignorance of what religion, specifically Christianity, is about, one meme that is often repeated irritates me more than most of the others.  The theme of these irritating (and wrongheaded) attacks revolves around a perception that religion and education are mutually exclusive or, that somehow, religion is opposed to “real” education.  Not only is this way of thinking just wrong, both historically and in a contemporary setting, but,  I find this accusation particularly offensive as a United Methodist, a church whose core DNA has always included support and encouragement of education.

    Obviously, a blog is not the place for a lengthy treatise on education, but let’s look at a few facts.  Two thousand years ago when education belonged to the rich, it was the Jewish high priest who mandated that schools should be opened (in 64 AD) because the Torah required literacy and study.  These schools were not particularly successful, but the literacy rate was still triple that of neighboring Egypt (3% vs. 1%).[1]   A thousand years after that, it was again the church, this time the Roman Catholic Church, which, in 1179 mandated that free education be provided for the poor.  In fact, until 1600 nearly all universities in Europe were built, taught, and funded by the church and, during the “Dark Ages” it was the monasteries that preserved the wisdom and knowledge of the ancient world.  Had it not been for the church, what we know of Socrates, Plato and many others would have been lost.   In the Islamic world, education was supported and funded by the government, but, Islam being a theocratic system of government, this too was, essentially the church.  Throughout the Reformation, the majority of universities remained church supported organizations.
    In the American Colonies, and then the newly birthed United States, there was little or no opportunity for higher education unless one returned to Europe.  When it became obvious that institutions of higher learning should be built, who do you suppose it was who raised the money and built them?  The church.  What schools did the church build?  You might have heard of some of them: Harvard, William & Mary, Yale, College of New Jersey (which is now Princeton), Columbia, Dartmouth, Georgetown, Oberlin, Fordham, Duke and host of others.  In fact, between 1636 and 1861 nearly 800 colleges were founded, and of these, 182 still survive.  Of the 182 surviving colleges and universities, only 21 were built by states or municipalities, the rest were built by the church through a variety of denominations. [2]
    As for us United Methodists, our founder, John Wesley, started building schools in 1739 in Bristol for the children of coal miners and in the United States we authorized the construction of our first college in 1784, eight years before we even held our first General Conference in 1792.  In 1820 and again in 1824 our General Conference instructed each Annual Conference to establish schools, literary institutions and colleges and they did.  By the time of the American Civil War, the Methodist Church had established over 200 such institutions.  Our Evangelical United Brethren brothers were a smaller church but they still managed to build eight colleges by the middle of the twentieth century.[3]  In 1968 these two churches merged to form The United Methodist Church and together we are now connected to 122 colleges and universities in the Untied States including research universities, seminaries, historically Black colleges and universities (including a medical school), and two-year colleges, as well as 358 post-secondary institutions outside the United States.  If we were to include elementary schools and others, this number would be absolutely astounding.
    I’m sorry friends, if you think that people of faith don’t believe in education you’re ignoring the facts.  But if you think that atheists can do better, I invite you to go ahead and prove it. 
But first, you have a whole lot of catching up to do.


[3]Robert A. Williams, From the Beginning: a School-Related Church, Interpreter Magazine, March/April 2013

Why I Stand With the Catholic Church

   In recent weeks the President of the United States and his Administration announced that all employers would be required to provide health coverage that included coverage for birth control and abortifacients regardless of the employer’s religious affiliation.  What this means is that religious institutions will be required by law to provide the means to do something that the parent religion considers to be a violation of conscience.  The federal government has told the Catholic Church that its hospitals, its adoption services, and its other outreach branches, as well as Methodist Hospitals, Baptist Hospitals and Jewish  and Muslim charity and community centers, that they must all provide this benefit to their employees regardless of whether or not this is a violation of the teachings of their religion.  I want to be clear, I am not a Catholic but this is serious stuff and it is important for all of us regardless of religion.
   I have heard friends say that the complaints against the government are just a power play by entrenched male power interests in the church to oppose necessary health provisions for women but I don’t think so.  It was the Catholic Church (and a few other churches) who built charity hospitals to provide care to the poor when medical care was something only the wealthy could afford (did you ever wonder why so many hospitals have Saint something in their name or end in Methodist, Baptist, or Catholic Hospital?)  It was the Catholic Church who built one of the biggest AIDS clinics in San Francisco when many hospitals were afraid to treat AIDS patients.  The caring and compassion of the church, particularly in the field of medicine, has been repeatedly demonstrated.  
   What’s more, the consistency of the Catholic Church is well established.  As a Protestant, I do not have a problem with birth control but draw the line at abortion and abortifacients because we believe that a child in the womb, a fertilized egg implanted and growing in the uterus, is a life.  Somehow, those of Protestant faith believe that a fertilized egg is not necessarily a life, but once it has ‘taken root’ it becomes a life.   This is a pretty fine line.  The Catholic Church doesn’t try to split hairs and it never has, they believe that a fertilized egg is a human being, period.  The position of the Catholic Church has never changed on this and although I do not agree, I have great respect for the consistency of their argument.  Life is life.
   For the government to say that the Catholic Church (and all other churches) must provide benefits that it believes are morally unconscionable is, to me, a clear violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.  What if the government re-instituted the draft to support the military?  In such a draft, undoubtedly, persons would be drafted that, for religious or moral reasons, choose not to carry a gun or to be placed in a situation where they might be required to kill another human being.  For that reason, our nation has allowed these persons to become conscientious objectors, and we allow them to serve their country in another capacity.  One of my uncles served in the Korean Conflict as a medic for that reason.  If our government is allowed to force people of faith to provide birth control and abortion inducing drugs against their will, is it any stretch at all to imagine that conscientious objectors could be forced to carry a gun into combat?  Can American Indians be prohibited from ceremonies that require the use of peyote?  Could Muslims be prevented from making daily prayers during the workday?  The principle is exactly the same.  If religious objections are overruled for one, they can be overruled for anyone.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances
– U.S. Constitution, 1st Amendment, Article 3.
   If the government is permitted to prevent Catholics and others from exercising their religion, and their conscience, in this way, what other Constitutional rights will it find “inconvenient” tomorrow? 
I am not a Catholic and though I respect the Catholic Church I often do not agree with it.  My position on birth control is different than the one held by the Catholic Church.  Even so, I think they are right and the government is wrong.  I stand in support.  Will you?