Gold Coast Bereans

Out of Ghana, West Africa; Christian hearts and critical minds seeking, speaking and writing the truth with love. This is a conversation of a group of friends, now living in the USA and the UK, who have known each other for more than 20 years.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Charismatics, Catholics, Protestants and the End of “Empire”

In this second post, I briefly reflect on the influence of the Charismatic movement in bridging the Protestant-Catholic ecumenical gap.

As a young, Scripture Union-trained, Evangelical, Protestant preacher and medical student, I occasionally popped in at the local Catholic Church at Mamprobi, Accra which was walking distance from the Medical Students' accomodations. (please do not repeat this confession from the roof tops!) I also sometimes visited the premier Charismatic Churches of our youth, Action Faith Ministry and Central Gospel Church, as well as the older and established Pentecostal Churches in Ghana.

I think many of us who have Scripture Union roots tend to be "catholic", in the sense that “catholic” means "universal", One Church. It is sometimes uplifting to join other churches in fellowship and enjoy the diversity within the faith. The smell of incense, hearing bells and seeing the statue of the crucified Christ at a Good Friday service can feel rather authentic, at least to some believers.

As a young Christian, one Bible passage which was "used" to explain these things and helped me in appreciating the differences and diversity among the different denominations was Joshua 22:10-32. When a section of the tribes of Israel decided to build an altar of witness, an icon, the rest of the people assumed it to be idol worship and decided to go to war against them. This lack of understanding and appreciation of the way other believers understand the faith is therefore not new.

Having said that, I do think it is the Roman Catholic Church which is changing and going back to true Christianity. It has a knack for re-inventing and re-interpreting itself which I am afraid is sometimes lacking or slow in many of the Protestant Churches. So for example the doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope has now been so re-interpreted to mean that what the "body of church teachers - the "Magesterium" teaches as the doctrinal interpretation of God's Word is infallible. That attitude toward the Bible is clearly better than depending on one powerful Charismatic or Evangelical lone ranger preacher, or couple of like-minded rangers, as the authority in interpreting the Word of God. It is certainly far safer, if I may say so, than depending only on your personal understanding of the Scripture. We may rely on the Holy Spirit or claim to have received revelation from Him, but we all know how we can get it wrong sometimes.

I therefore think the Roman Catholic Church or sections of it are re-learning what was learnt by the early Church which is to stick to the Bible. It is also fortunate to have had two evangelical leaning Popes over the last several decades. It makes a big difference to be led by people of true faith. The Church suffers when it’s most gifted people hide their lights under a bushel and allow the quacks to lead it.

I recently read this theological paper titled From Wheaton to Rome: Why Evangelicals become Roman Catholic by one Dr.Scott McKnight which is a very interesting analysis of what is going on. In my personal opinion, one factor in the mix, which this very well researched paper does not mention, is the role of the Charismatic phenomenon in the bridging of the gap between the Churches. One key to Charismatic teaching, I think, is the emphasis on Mystery or Power. Paul at one point referred to the "Mystery of godliness"(1 Tim 3:16). What he meant was that though the set of doctrines he taught may be reduced to a number of propositions and statements; they are powerful or mysterious in themselves.

That sense of mystery must always accompany Christian worship because it creates and holds the community of faith together. It displaces human beings from the podium, it feeds faith and strengthens people. It throws away self confidence but replaces it with an inner certainty and confidence in God called FAITH. Charismatism, by its nature, stresses this sense of the "mystery”. I should mention as a matter of course that, in some of its dubious circles, this mystery is manufactured by fleshly means.

This is what is accounting for the phenomenal growth of Charismatics in Africa, India , Asia etc. That sense of mystery in worship is very much lacking in some old style protestant churches such Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists. Postmodernism and New Age beliefs are popular for the same reason. It is therefore no surprise to see see some American Tele-evangelists setting up icons etc at their studios. The increased interest in allegorical interpretation and things to do with the tabernacle and OT worship are also symptoms of this trend.

It always comes in full circle to the real thing, which is the Gospel; Jesus Christ, crucified for our sins, rose from the dead and who will come again to judge the living and the dead. That the world may know that we are one Body, in Christ alone.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

PROTESTANT to CATHOLIC defections, a personal reflection

I have also been thinking about the Pope's recent declaration affirming what he believes is the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church and I have a few thoughts which I am writing in two posts.

I have noticed is that while "popular" Christianity, represented by some of the blogosphere stuff, keeps bashing other branches of Christianity that are different from what they believe to be right, several aspects of the theological outlooks between Catholics and Protestants, on the contrary, actually seem to be narrowing. Catholic theology is de-emphasizing some of its "strange doctrines" to the point that on the occasions that I read the Catholic Biblical Quarterly (CBQ; an academic Theological journal), it is quite similar to reading the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS; a US Evangelical academic journal). And several articles in the CBQ are written by evangelicals.

On the other hand, the changes in the theological outlooks of the some of the mainstream Protestant churches into liberal theology has driven several Evangelicals to side more with Catholic theology; at least parts of modern Catholicism, in my view, contains more obvious evangelical teaching you can find in some Anglican churches here in the UK.

I see two main effects of these changes on the Catholic Church. Firstly, there is continuing defection of some Evangelicals to Catholicism. On the Catholic Television channel, EWTN here in the UK, and there is a Sunday evening programme titled The Journey Home in which they parade ministers of Protestant churches who have defected to or returned to Roman Catholicism. The primary reason for their defection is always the same - the Catholic Church today, appears more evangelical than the liberal Protestant churches from which they are defecting.

Secondly, it is producing profound confidence in the Vatican about itself. And this is certainly reflected in what the Pope has done by penning his signature to this document. Certainly in Europe, the Catholic Church is feeling confident enough to make clear moral stand on several social and political issues where Protestant denominations continue to prevaricate and “umm” and “ahh”.

In the end, when we distil the faith of the true churches of Christ - it is truly all Evangelical - it is the same. One body with many parts, as Paul puts it - Unity in diversity. That unity only comes from recognizing and accepting the GOSPEL as it is. When any denomination gives up that Evangelical doctrine of the Gospel, it can call itself what it likes, but sooner or later it will whittle away. I think it is because many parts of the Catholic Church are going back to the Protestant Evangelical faith that they are attracting many people back.

This is a worldwide phenomenon and I think the Charismatic movement is playing a central role in this; because certain aspects of Charismatism by nature need to always emphasize the power of the gospel. Methodism was like that when John Wesley came on the scene, and one can say that it was the Charismatic movement of its day. I will comment further on this in my next post. In Ghana today, many of the established or "Orthodox" churches have learnt this lesson and some are going back to old time religion, so to speak.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

The Empire Strikes Back

LORENZAGO DI CADORE, Italy- Pope Benedict XVI reasserted the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, approving a document released Tuesday that says other Christian communities are either defective or not true churches and Catholicism provides the only true path to salvation.

The statement brought swift criticism from Protestant leaders. "It makes us question whether we are indeed praying together for Christian unity," said the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, a fellowship of 75 million Protestants in more than 100 countries.

"It makes us question the seriousness with which the Roman Catholic Church takes its dialogues with the reformed family and other families of the church," the group said in a letter charging that the document took ecumenical dialogue back to the era before the Second Vatican Council.- AP NEWS


DISCLAIMER: What follows is my light-hearted take on what is actually a serious issue. For a far more reasoned as well as gracious and edifying discussion on the Pope’s recent statement, please follow this link .

Well, well, well! What can I say? I don't think the Pope reads the Christian blogs but I have to say that, as a former Roman Catholic with lingering nostalgia for the faith of my mother and grandmother, reading the above news item made me smile quite a bit. What I mean is that, the Christian blogosphere is overloaded, overstocked and overwhelmed by Reformed Protestant internet theoloGians (RPGs) who never loose an opportunity to launch cyber grenades at the Roman Catholic Church and then sit back and watch their faithful commenters pile on.

The words "Apostate" "Whore of Babylon" "Heretics" etc are frequently thrown around when it comes to discussing the Catholic Church. Two weeks ago I read one popular Protestant Christian blogger (who I read often and respect greatly) write that "the Roman Catholic Church may be Satan's greatest masterpiece of deception". Remember that this is the denomination of my departed mother and grandmother before her who raised me to read the Bible, but I let him off because I knew he was really upset by news that another prominent Evangelical had decided to join the Catholic Church.

Now, I suspect that word has leaked out to the Pope, the former Cardinal Ratzinger, about the kind of stuff being written and commented on in cyberspace about the denomination he heads and I guess this is his response. I can't think of any other reason for a zinging statement like this from the Pope, especially in this age of ecumenical dialogue between denominations.

He is really going to upset a lot of already upset Protestants. For those of you who lack the kind of classical education I have and do not understand Latin, which is the original language in which the document the Pope has just signed is written in, here is the a simple translation in modern English. Cardinal Ratzinger is saying

"Analyze this! I say to you, yes to you champion bloggers; your Christian communities are defective and you do not belong to true Churches. Now go analyze that on your blogs!"

Talking about defective, I think I can say from 18 months of experience that blogging is a good but defective medium of communication. But more importantly, do follow this link to read the real Original Document on the True Church, the Bride of Christ– Robbo

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