Monday, August 31, 2009

What We Catholics Can Learn From Our Protestant Brethren

I have written a lot about my Catholic faith and why I love it so much. I will continue to write on this subject in the future. But, just for today, and with a little nod to my non-Catholic husband, I just want to jot down a few things that I have to hand it to my Protestant brothers and sisters for. Don't misunderstand me; all of these things actually are a part of the Catholic Faith, a part of our rich heritage, but I must say that I am seeing many of them thriving more (at least in a more overtly apparent way) in contemporary Protestant communities, in general, than I do in many modern Catholic parishes.
  1. Scripture. Protestants, as a whole, don't go in much for sacrament, but they sure do love them some Scripture! Catholics love Scripture, too. In fact, our entire service is chock full of it from beginning to end, not to mention all the Scripture you read, recite, and sing if you practice the Liturgy of the Hours. Where Protestants catch us up is in their knowledge and handling of Scripture. You toss out any theological topic, and nine Protestants out of ten can rattle off a "proof text" on it quicker than you can say "sola Scriptura."

    I'm not advocating sola Scriptura by any means, but I do think we Catholics could learn a thing or two in regards to Scripture study and memorization. St. John tells us in the first chapter of his gospel that in the very beginning, "the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (emphasis my own). By encountering Holy Scripture, we are coming into contact with the Living Lord! As Catholics, we have other ways of encountering God. The Eucharist, in particular, is the most intimate and fantastic communion with Jesus we can have this side of Heaven. But, let's not overlook Scripture because we have the Eucharist. He is there, too, and we should be intimately familiar with our Bibles. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ" (133).
  2. Small Groups. For millenia, there was no need for such things as small groups or bible studies in the Catholic Church. People did these things in the privacy of their own homes, in the community of their own flesh-and-blood relatives who were among the faithful. If you were a convert or came from a family that was lax in their practice of the Faith or had fallen away, you at least had your close-knit parish community to pick up the slack. Decades of lax (at best) and non-existant (at worst) catechesis, the epic rise of the F.A.R.C. (Fallen Away Roman Catholic), and an uprooting of many people from their home parishes has seen an end of this centuries-long era. A great many of us are not born into communities with a strong knowledge and orthodox practice of the Faith. We need to find and nurture these communities all on our own. We need small groups.

    Protestants have a big leg up on this. Small groups and bible studies have become something of a specialty with in many Protestant denominations, and almost any Protestant church, regardless of denomination, will have at least a few to choose from. I'm personally not as huge a fan of the sort of set-up where you dial the church secretary and have her put you in touch with a group of like-minded, like-aged folk who happen to host a small group in the vacinity of your home. And, I loathe most pre-fabricated bible studies with their pedantic rhetoric, over-cerebralization, and leading questions. I much prefer the organic small-group. In this model, you fellowship with others in your parish, and as deeper bonds of fellowship begin to form between several couples, individuals, or families, you might choose to start meeting purposefully together to study a book of the bible or a theological issue, to pray for each other, and especially to give each other encouragement on the joyful but often extremely difficult road that is the Christian life.

    So, I'm not saying every local Catholic parish needs to set up a directory of small groups hosted by parishoners. What I am saying is that we Catholics need to start thinking in terms of small, intimate, faith-centered communities. We need to realize that there are lots of Catholics out there who are desperate to find such a community, and who are floundering--maybe even drowning--without one. We need to start opening our eyes and preparing our hearts to find these brothers and sisters and welcome them into our homes, into our families, into our intimate lives. We need to cultivate generosity and hospitality in this area--someone's very faith may depend on it.
  3. Spontaneity. I am rather something of a traditionalist, so this one may sound strange coming from me. I don't like the modern "ad lib" creativity that's running rampant through the Novus Ordo any more than the next conservative Catholic, but I will say that we could learn a thing or two--at least outside of Mass--about spontaneity.

    When someone's having a rough day and you can tell they could really use prayer, don't clam up because you don't have the perfect rote prayer at hand or can't think of exactly which saint to address for intercession. Pray for the person, for Heaven's sake! Get down on your knees; take their hands, and pray! You're at Adoration, and you feel the splendid urge to lift your hands in the air or bow down on the floor, but you're worried that the old ladies sitting demurely behind you will be offended? Well, Who exactly are you there to Adore, anyway?

    We Catholics are big on the Holy Spirit--bigger than many Protestant sects. But, I think that sometimes with all of our beautifully rich tapestry of prayers and rites, we lose our sensitivity to be swayed by the Spirit in the immediacy of a moment. We need to cultivate that sensitivity and be ready to heed His Voice when we hear it--even if we might feel a little foolish.
  4. Sincerity. I hesitate to even address this one (or at least to phrase it that way), but I'm going to hazard a go. First, let me say that there are vast scores of sincere Catholics out there. Second, let me say that there are plenty of insincere Protestants. All in all, I'd say the ratio of sincere to unsincere in either camp is about equal. But, Protestants, on the whole, seem to have their eyes peeled for insincerity more than we Catholics do. Moreover, since it is easier to find the insincere Protestants out, it seems that fewer of them keep up the show for any length of time; they just bow out and head back to the secular world. Catholics, on the otherhand, can keep up the charade indefinitely--they might even fool themselves.

    For one thing, it's easier to spot insincerity among Protestants. They don't have all the lovely trimmings and trappings to hide behind. Sure, you can still lift up your hands and give a hearty, "Amen!" in a Baptist church with nothing behind it. But, most of the folks throwing themselves whole hog into an evangelical service really do mean--at least in the heat of the moment--what they're doing and saying. And, that's about all they've got to front for them if they don't mean it. Go out into the ordinary day, and it's going to be pretty easy to see if they mean those "Amens" on a Sunday morning.

    Now Catholics during Mass are going to be a lot more sedate. We should be. We're there to celebrate Christ's Passion at Calvary, not to drum up an altar call. Our services are oriented and arranged completely differently than a Protestant service. You wouldn't know if a Catholic was having a "Jesus high" moment during Mass because they're not going to throw their hands in the air and shout, "Alleluia!" They're not going to strain a vocal cord belting out the next worship song. They're going to look and sound pretty much just like the person next to them--joyfully somber--because that's how the Mass works. The wide world over, Catholics from here to Timbuktu are doing and saying the same things, week in week out--day in day out, if you go to daily Mass. That's right and proper, but it's also a handy shield for those who would use it as such. Then, you take us out of Mass and we still have rosaries and breviaries and saint's days and a myriad of other rituals to mask what could be an empty faith.
    But, repetition and ritual do not imply insincerity. Can I say that again? Repetition and ritual do not imply insincerity. What they do is make it easy to fall into insincerity without anyone noticing. Think about the things you do most often: sharing a meal with your family, telling your children you love them, making love to your spouse. Would you say that the more you do these things, the less meaning they hold? Certainly not. But, if you regularly share meals with your family, tell your kids you love them, and are intimate with your husband or wife, you could keep up a good show of sincerity when there is really nothing behind it.
    Because of this, and because of the very nature of the Catholic faith, we Catholics need to keep a careful watch on our own hearts so that we don't fall into empty ritual. Holding to the traditions of our Faith is the greatest way to grow in that Faith. But, traditions can also be easy ruts to fall into if we don't keep "our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2, emphasis added).

So, there you have it. My little "shout out" to my Protestant brothers and sisters. Take it or leave it, as you will. I have said my piece, and now I'm signing off.


  1. I was very blessed by reading this. I have matured in my faith over the past couple of decades from when I believed every word of Jack Chick's tracts about catholicism paving the way for the anti-Christ. One of my closest friends right now is a Catholic woman who tells me she is praying for me and I don't have any doubt that she is. Would I be foolish enough to reject her prayers for me simply on the basis of her being Catholic? Wisdom and maturity has taught me that I need all the prayer I can get! LOL!

    This was beautifully articulated and I hope will be a blessing to those for whom it was intended.

    "A word fitly spoken and in due season is like apples of gold in settings of silver." Proverbs 25:11 AMP


  2. I agree completely with what you've mentioned in this post.

    Under the topic of small groups, I would also point out that in many parishes there is a definite need for activities or groups that specifically seek to include post-college, pre-child, twenty and thirty somethings in parish life. Having recently finished school and moved to a new town, and thus looking to meet people and make real connecntions in my new home, I found myself in a parish that does not seem to have a place for someone at my stage in life to fit into its parish life. There are many wonderful programs for children and those with children, and several ways for those in retirement to be involved (i.e. they were mostly scheduled during the week day). But nothing for me or those my age without children. And, after taking a very informal survey among my Catholic friends and relatives, I am beginning to think that this is a universal problem. If the Church wishes to not lose her youth after high school or college, then something needs to be done to address this.

  3. Hi Bethany. :) I appreciate your candor. Your points are very valid and I am always happy to receive a friendly kick in the pants once in a while. Maybe it's because I'm Catholic myself (probably), but also because I was once a Protestant, I definitely felt it as admonition to live my faith more sincerely and devoutly, beyond "norms" of the faith. Thanks. :)

  4. John Ankerberg has some good points about the catholic faith.

  5. Deanna- Ankerberg certainly has some interesting points about Catholicism. However, I wouldn't call them "good." Frankly, what he says is often incorrect, sometimes subtlely so, but nevertheless wrong. If someone wants their ears tickled about how the Catholic church is ignornant and "unbiblical," by all means, check out the numerous YouTube videos available by Ankerberg, or check out his book Protestants and Catholics. But, if you want to actually learn what the Church has to say, stay far away from Ankerberg.

  6. The experiences I've had in both the Catholic and Protestant churches tend to agree with all your points. My spiritual journey of over 40 yrs has taken me a few different places. I was baptized and confirmed as a Catholic, went to Mass irregularly until my early teens, then became a sort of New Agey Unitarian (though I never stopped believing in Jesus, I just wanted to believe in ALL religions), then I became a Born Again Christian who went to an Evangelical Protestant church. At that church, I met and married a wonderful man who was raised Baptist. Whew! (Keep in mind, these things did unfold over decades, so I don't sound quite as flighty as I sound, LOL.)

    My question is, how does one like me, having twinges of wanting to go back to the Catholic church, balance that with marriage to a Protestant man? I am torn because I wonder how, as a wife, I can honor my husband's role as spiritual leader and respect his Protestant background, while also exploring the topic of my own renewed interest in the Catholic church? (By the way, he is not hostile towards Catholicism, but seems happy where he is.)

    In the above post I get the impression your husband is (or was?) Protestant? (Or did he become Catholic?) And from previous posts, I think I recall that he now attends church with you and you went through the convalidation ceremony, correct? So, if that's the case, I am very curious about how that progression actually occurred, if you don't mind my asking?

    The hardest parts for me to ponder are that the Catholic church would not even consider my marriage as valid, because as a lapsed Catholic, I got married in a Protestant church. Not to mention that if my husband didn't convert, he could never take communion with me (in which case, I would remain Protestant, since it's not worth hurting my husband or marriage).

    Did you encounter these issues? Or, if you blogged about this already, could you point me to the post? (And if it's just too big a topic to tackle at this time, I completely understand. There are other things on the Internet concerning this and I can peruse them.)
    Thank you.

  7. Oh Joslyn, I could write a whole book on this topic. I will have to write a post on this soon, since you're not the first to ask me these questions, and they deserve addressing. For now, let me just say that my husband IS a Protestant (he considers himself non-denominational). At one time, he was very ANTI-Catholic, and we have certainly asked all these questions and moved through them. I will write more later, but let me just say, I understand your situation.

  8. Dear Bethany,
    Are we talking about the same John Ankerberg???
    I'm not sure which John Ankerberg youtube videos you are referring to or have watched.

    Please, which ones are you talking about?

    I'm referring to Dr. John Ankerberg ( or

    I'm talking about Dr. John Ankerberg who has a NATIONALLY-SYNDICATED Christian Television Talk Show, The John Ankerberg Show...
    who's a member of
    *The International Society of Christian Apologist (Matthews, NC),
    *Board of Directors National Religious
    Broadcasters (Manassas, Va),
    *Board of Directors Christian Film and Television Commission (Atlanta,GA),
    *Board of References Institute of Religious Research (Grand Rapids, MI),
    *Board of References Christian Service Brigade (Wheaton,Ill).

    Would you please expound on what you mean about having your ears tickled?


  9. Deanna- We are talking about the same John Ankerberg.

    What I mean about "having your ears tickled" is that Ankerberg writes about Catholics with a very clear bias and he skews much of his information in order to defend his oftentimes incorrect views about Catholicism. For example, his explanations of the Catholic Mass are downright false. He builds up straw man charicatures of Catholics that are easy to knock down if you are thoughtful and discriminating and know anything about true Catholic theology.

    For example, he says in his book "Protestants and Catholics" that Catholics "re-sacrifice" Jesus in the Mass because they don't think His sacrifice on Calvary was sufficient. This is COMPLETELY false and, frankly, directly OPPOSITE to what the Catechism of the Catholic Church states on the matter, as it emphatically states that Christ's sacrifice WAS wholly sufficient and that we are merely participating in that SAME sacrifice at the Mass because a resacrifice would not only be unnecessary, it would be heretical.

    The man is a well-informed Bible scholar, but he is not acting very schoarly in many of his approaches to Catholicism. He picks and chooses and edits and sometimes even distorts what he finds in Catholic writings to suit his own agenda. A true scholarly research of Catholic doctrine would completely wipe out most of his criticisms of the Faith. I'm not saying that he isn't a good scholar is his own right, but he has not acted with academic or intellectual integrity where Catholics are concerned.

    He preaches to the choir and parrots old misperceptions and misunderstandings about the Catholic faith. He "tickles the ears" of those who want to hear how wrong Catholics are. But, he's not making any progress (as he claims is his goal) toward reconciling Catholics and Protestants. If he took an honest look at the Catholic faith and dealt squarely with what he thought, I would be interested in what he has to say. But, as such, I find him to merely be spouting poor scholarship that no thoughtful Catholic would bother to give the time of day to.

    Sorry to be so blunt about it, but I'm trying to keep this as brief as possible. I am, frankly, fed up with authors and bible scholars who build up misconceptions about the Catholic faith with the assumption that they will then convince the world how in error Catholics are. The type that go around saying, "Catholics worship Mary, so Catholics are wrong because we only worship God." Catholics do NOT worship Mary because we are EMPHATIC that worship and adoration belong to God alone. If you have beef with how we really DO view Mary, I'd be interested to hear it, but I'm fed up with people holding up false doctrines and then claiming that that's why Catholicism is wrong, when Catholicism says no such thing.

    John Ankerberg is, unfortunately, famous in Catholic circles for having done just this. I find it saddening (for Catholic-Protestant relationships) and embarassing (for him as a scholar) that he could stoop to such tactics in his works. I don't think he's doing it maliciously, but AS a scholar, he should know better.

    Okay, down off my soapbox now. I didn't want to turn this into a debate about someone whose writings I don't really enjoy, anyway.

  10. Hi Bethany, thanks for the response. Just read your original post over and I see now you did say your husband isn't Catholic, sorry I missed that.

    For now, I am going with the rather silly strategy of making vague hints to my husband and random comments about what I miss from my Catholic background. He did suggest I attend some weekdays masses if I feel something missing from our Protestant service on Sundays. So, he's not threatened by the idea, yet not embracing it as something he himself would try on a Sunday.

    I am not even sure in my own mind and heart where God is leading me. I believe God is in both churches, and gave me a great husband who happens to be Protestant, so if I explore I need to do it slowly and carefully, with my husband's support. But hearing about your journey has been very helpful. I'm looking forward to future posts on this...I'd imagine that's one post that would take a lot of time to write! :)

  11. I appreciate where you were going in this post but honestly, I don't have any interest in learning anything from Protestants. My family has been oppressed by Protestants long enough throughout history that I fail to see any appeal in that.

    I do have a strong desire to learn from faithful Catholics though, and to grow in faith through their example.


  12. Bethany,

    As a protestant knowing very little about Catholicism (even though I attended several masses and Catholic schools when I was younger), I have been so blessed to hear about the struggle that you let God take you through.

    I feel like I've been around so many Protestans who so quickly dismiss Catholicism without knowing enough before speaking against it.

    It is refreshing to read this list in that it is not one side attacking the other, but actually full of words meant to build up both Catholics and Protestants in their faith.

    Whether that was your intention or not, I praise God for His work in the sanctification of His people.


  13. Ann - I can appreciate where you are coming from, and I'm sorry for how your family has been persecuted. I can't say my Catholic relatives have had a similar experience, at least not in history that anyone living remembers. However, I would just offer a gentle challenge in this regard. One of the great intentions of Jesus' Sacred Heart is to have unity restored among all Christians. This is something that I am very passionate about, particularly as I am in a Protestant-Catholic marriage, and many of my family members are Protestant. I have found that dialogue is one of the best ways to heal disunity. I'm not saying that we should try to "Protestant-ize" Catholicism. Hardly. That would just be becoming Protestant (and frankly, Vatican II did enough down that path, anyway). But, I do think that giving credit where credit is due is a good first step. That was the spirit in which this post is intended. Anyway, I can understand if you still feel the same way you did before. I just wanted to offer that as food for thought.

    Peace be with you,

  14. Perhaps Ann is living outside the US?

    I recognise a lot of this post from when I was living in the States, but in my experience it does not seem to be the case outside the US. At least not in the same way. (Which is not to say that the Catholic church is "better" outside, but perhaps Protestants are worse off, at least where I am.)

  15. Rebekka- I had thought of this, too. Thank you for your insights. Yes, for the record, I am speaking about the AMERICAN Catholic Church and AMERICAN Protestants here. Other than a brief trip to England and Ireland and some time in Canada, I have never been outside the US, so everything I write is really from an American viewpoint. Though I love to study other cultures, I simply have not spent the time in them to realize and understand the nuoyances of complex things like religious life. My appologies if this was misunderstood and to those of you who are not American for taking that viewpoint for granted.

  16. Thanks for the sweet post! It's sad that there is so much misunderstanding among Protestants about Roman Catholicism. Although I'm all for individual responsibility in clarifying facts and seeking information, I do wish that churches in general would teach more church history, apologetics, etc.

    When at Oklahoma Baptist University (though I was not and am not Southern Baptist), I did a research paper on the Nicene Creed. I had to go to the Catholic College (St. Gregory's) down the way because none of the books in the OBU library had much information on early church history! :P Christians (Catholic and Protestant) would benefit so much from knowing more about the Church from its beginnings.

    Jesus prayed for unity among us believers. What was important to Him should be important to us. Thanks, again, for bringing that out! :)

  17. As a Reformed Baptist Protestant, I like your characterization of these "Protestant Innovations".

    I have several friends who have moved from Catholicism to Protestant. They all claimed that the Catholic doctrine used very similar terms to Protestant Christianity but had slightly different definitions for them.

    They also seemed to have had very different attitudes toward Christianity when they were Catholic than you, Jennifer Fulwiler, and some of the other Catholic bloggers do. Sometimes, I am surprised to see you handling an issue far better than most of the Christian's around me do. (Keeping the Lord's day holy comes to mind)

    I am interested in hearing more about your doctrine to see how it meshes with my own, especially with regard to salvation and communion. What I have heard sounds similar to Dr. Ankerberg's criticisms, though I am not familiar with him.

  18. I most enjoyed this post, Bethany. :o)

    Christians (Catholic and Protestant) would benefit so much from knowing more about the Church from its beginnings.

    I wholeheartedly agree! I was absolutely amazed at what I learned after delving into even the most basic study of theology and church history. To realize what I had taken for granted and what knowledge I was ignorant of was humbling indeed.

  19. Bryan - That would be a very long post, indeed! I would love to refer you to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (or the Compendium of the CCC) if you want to really look into some of the doctrines. Sadly, many Catholics in the generations that came of age post-Vatican II received very poor religious educations and don't really know what the Church teaches on various topics. This is probably what you're often seeing from your formerly-Catholic friends.

    Just regarding salvation, I'll refer you to an older post of mine on that subject:

    I will have to draw up something on Holy Communion (ie the Mass) soon...when I find the time with these two littles around!

  20. I've read through the link. I'm trying to work my way through the Compendium of the CCC before asking more. Its thick reading though.

    Thank you very much for your help!

  21. After reading your post, my husband and I (both traditional Catholics) came up with our own list of things Catholics can learn from Protestants:

    1) A vernacular tradition of hymns and choral music, such as Evensong, as well as the ability to harmonize. We love Gregorian Chant and the amazing musical traditions of the Catholic Church, but during low mass, as preludes and postludes, and outside of mass, we wish Catholics would learn to sing like Protestants. Sacred Harp and Gospel anyone?

    2) The art of preaching. There was a time when any educated person learned rhetoric as a matter of course and we'd like to see that revived. We don't want it to become the focal point of mass and, indeed, a mass does not even require a homily, it would be nice to see priests dig into preaching when appropriate as Protestants do.

    3) A missionary spirit among the laity. While we do not favor the slick "marketing" campaigns of some Protestants, the desire of lay people to evangelize in other places is an admirable one and one lacking among the lay Catholics. At times it seems that some Catholics spend more time excusing themselves for being Catholic rather than evangelizing others.

    4) A healthy anti-institutionalism. Obviously, we are not in favor of forming one's own church or deciding that one can go against what the Catholic Church teaches, but we are also not in favor of spinning the human hierarchy's mistakes in an effort to make them not seem like mistakes. The hierarchy is necessary but, as it is staffed by humans, those in the hierarchy have and will make mistakes.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post. Prayers for you and your family.

  22. Great list, Michelle! Your point about music made me think of a conversation I had with my book club (all Catholic ladies) last month. I was talking about how my husband (who is Protestant) loves to create harmonies to hymns that we sing in service (we attend a N.O. parish, currently). And they said, "We need him to convert! We need Catholics who can SING!"

  23. This might be a double post so please delete one if that is the case (I hit some button weird)

    Rebekka, Yes, you are correct, my experiences took place outside of the U.S. (Ireland and French Quebec/English Canada to be specific). It wasn't that long ago, as recent as my parents' upbringings there and in some ways it continues today.

    Bethany, thank you for your reply. I apologize if my original comment was a little harsh. It was just a gut reaction. I did find a lot of good points in your post, but I guess I am still at the point where I still have a lot to learn from faithful Catholics, nevermind Protestants!


  24. Ann, I did wonder if you were from Ireland. My deepest sympathies for what I'm sure your family must have endured. I can completely understand your feelings, and I thank you for your graciousness and your open mind and heart.


  25. Good post.

    We have a lot to learn from each other (and I would add from the Jewish faith as well). It's time we put aside the years of persecution on all sides and focused on what we have in common.

  26. Hello Bethany,

    This is a great post. As a previous commentor stated, it would be interesting to hear about your "mixed" marriage between a Protestant and Catholic and how you deal with issues such as spiritual headship.

    I ask because I'm incredibly interested in Catholicism while my husband is a very comfortable Reformed Anglican. I'd rather not live out the Reformation/Counter-Reformation in my marriage, but I also want to follow Jesus where He leads me...

    all that to say, I too would be interested in a post about being in a Catholic/Protestant marriage should you find the time to write one. I often wonder if, when I'm ready, should I convert to the Church without my husband, or if I should wait for God to move in his heart as well.

    Thank you for your writing. I don't comment often but I read your blog frequently.

    -Gina Marie

  27. Green mommy

    Hi Bethany,
    It has been very interesting posting, I am catholic married to marvelous protestant husband. But we think very different like about communion, confession, etc. Have you think about if your kids are going to receive the First communion for example. Will be interested if you post about this.
    God bless you!!

  28. Green mommy- Ooh! Excellent topic. I will have to get to that soon.


Hello! I'm so glad that you have come here to share your heart and thoughts. One quick word from me before you comment:

I ask all visitors to respect this as a place of peace. Disagreements are welcome, but please refrain from posting any ungracious comments. Thank you, and God bless.