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.
Other questions and answers in this series can be found here: Ask the Pastor
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