They say that the RC church is facing some crisis in the priesthood because there are less and less young men wanting to enter the ministry in their church. I remember when I was a younng man, a priest coming to my family home and asked my mother if he would given time to encourage me or to mentor me to become a priest. He attempted to convince me to give my life to the priesthood. I guess after much talk he failed because I remember while I was escorting him out to get a ride, I told him I was not interested or something to that effect.
Today that crisis in the priesthood is being answered by former evangelical ministers converting and becoming RC priests or RC Apologists. I read their stories - I will just name a couple - one is R. Neuhaus from the Lutheran side and S. Hahn from the Presbyterian side. First let me speak my mind about the coversion of Fr. Neuhaus then in the next installment that of Mr. Hahn. Please note that I was a RC up until my mid-twenties. As a boy and young man I practiced the teachings of the RCC, I was baptized ( I got my certificate), catechized, confirmed, studied in an RC school and was a great devotee of St. Jude, faithfully dedicated to his novenas. So I think I can say something on this phenomena of being fascinated with the RCC.
As I read his article in First Things I can sense some semi-sarcastic tone directed at some teachings of the Lutheran church he belonged (the LCMS). For example, he said that the LCMS also has a Vatican - Concordia Seminary. When you start looking at your church in that paradigm, the RCC will win and your church will lose. Let me now enumerate some salient points that I feel I need to respond.
1. Firstly which "idolatry" do you rather have? Fr. Neuhaus said
For the ecclesial Christian, the act of faith in Christ and the act of faith in the Church are not two acts of faith but one. In an important sense, every Christian, even the most individualistic, is an ecclesial Christian, since no one knows the gospel except from the Church.
If Protestants (Lutherans/Reformed etc) idolize the Bible, then Fr. Neuhaus idolizes the RCC. This statement is significant, notice that he says that faith is an action and that faith in Christ is not enough, one must have faith in the Church and by Church he means RCC. No longer is the church the body of believers who confess faith in Christ's work, it is now the organization itself. Also he believes that no one can know the 'gospel' except from the RCC, so what happens to the HS and the Scripture He breathed? The truth is that you can have a believer proclaiming the Gospel and unless HS moves on the proclamation it will not be believed.
2. Then he was influenced by Romanizing Lutheran thinking and admits to be Piepkornian and rejects Tillich's Protestant corrective . But these Romanizing Lutherans were not raised RC and they see the RCC from an anglo-saxon, mild mannered Mr. Clark Kent type of lens (my suspicion). They think they can be evangelical and still be RC. They have not seen RC practice and lived it the way the Latin Americans and Latin Asians do. I have so much to say but the bottom line is this, each time you emphasize the Sacraments more than the ministry of the Word, you will levitate towards what is more. Each time you sharpen the distinction between pulpit and pew and make the pulpit superior than the pew, you will always have less and RCC has more. Each time you tie the validity of the sacraments to the minister you will always have less, and Rome has more. You might as well get the right pedigree, get the right bishop laying hands on you. Rightly according to Fr. Neuhaus, the RCC has more, and for me (unlike him), more here means more than the Gospel and more than Christ! Fr. Neuhaus without me realizing is a classic example of taking Romanization of Lutheran thinking to the final conclusion, become a RC. At least he is honest, he ran out of answers to the question why he is not Roman Catholic so he swam and kissed the Pope's ring and now feels secure he is in the "True Church". I just wondered if he took the Smalcald articles seriously while he was a Lutheran pastor.
3. The RC is big, as an organization it is older than us (but so does the EO and it claims it to be so also). It is big enough to accomodate everything, you can be an atheist and claim to be RC, you can be a liberal and still be RC, and you can be an evangelical and still be RC. Back home priests believe in the rapture do not wear their habits but a suit and tie - they sing pentecostal songs, speak in tongues, shout amen and hallelujah and venerates Mary. You can be evangelical in many ways and be there, until may be you start practicing popular piety of the Latin kind. Back home, there is a Fatima, an ancient statue made of wood, dark and not even resembling a woman in figure, it is small. Historians claim that the statue was an anito, an animistic god worshipped in ancient times. This is found in an RC church, it has been given golden hair and been dressed up nicely with gold plated sash/robe. The worshippers venerate the statue, I wonder if Fr. Neuhaus would join the devotees of this Fatima in touching and worshipping this statue(ok vowing and kneeling down and praying to it - because the RC does not claim these activities as worshipping). The RC church has not banned such adoration, it is still there and people are not disuaded from making vows to that statue. It seems to me that Fr. Neuhaus unlike his other Lutheran friends, does not substitute the word 'christian' for the word 'catholic'. For him it means, the ancient practice of christians though though such practice may not be scriptural in reality.
If the Lutheran believes it has connection with the early church not by association or grouping but by belief and doctrine, what is the need to merge back? If a Protestant truly loves the RC as people needing the Gospel, the best thing a Protestant can do is to remain a Protestant and call out the same - repent and believe the Gospel, the same as it does for other people.
In the end as I am often comfronted in this life, I am often brought to the crisis of asking the question, is my faith in the promise of God or is my faith in the comfort that I belong to a group/people or Church? Where am I standing, am I standing on the Word of Scripture or something else? Is my comfort in my belonging to the one true church or is my comnfort in life and death on Christ alone? Often Jeremiah 17:5 scares me.
But what if I am wrong, well, I am reminded of what Luther said with regards to the Supper in believing that it is his body and blood. Why can I not say the same thing - Lord I took you at your Word? I thought I am saved by what you have done, not by what I believe or the good that I could do.
More later for Mr. Hahn's.