A vaccination against Roman Catholicism

 

I’ve noticed several changes in my thinking over the past year, having officially left my Baptist roots and become a moderately high-church Presbyterian. One of the most notable is a growing aversion to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theology, particularly with regards to justification, the atonement, and worship.

When my family moved away my senior year in college, I was forced to come to some more substantial beliefs. My first major flirtation was with Roman Catholicism. I attended worship there and was impressed by the earnestness and reverence with which they worshiped. Earlier in my life I appreciated charismatic theology and their appreciation for the ministry of the Holy Spirit. All of that to say I’ve studied several branches of Christendom, in addition to the different Baptist denominations. But as I moved closer to liturgical worship, I joined what is the most simple form of worship I’d ever been a part of: the Primitive Baptists (PB’s). It was an odd union in some senses, but they were the only Calvinistic Baptists in our county. I began preaching in the church early on, but continued learning from the same authors I had been learning from before (most of whom were Reformed, a few of whom were Baptists).

I came with an appreciation of liturgy (1). I didn’t know how different I was from Primitive Baptists, and I didn’t fully understand the sectarian nature of Primitive Baptists, i.e. closed communion and landmarkism. I thought that since each church was independent, each church could do it’s own thing. To a large extent we did, for a Primitive Baptist church, but I still struggled. I am not intending to complain about the Primitive Baptists. Those I knew best were godly, Bible-saturated, and wholesome people. But they were also true to their beliefs and I differed with those beliefs in the areas of closed-communion, rebaptism for all outsiders, and liturgical structure.

During the time I was the co-pastor of a PB church, I was forced to acknowledge that I was different than most of the congregation in liturgical beliefs. Those differences became too big to ignore when my beliefs on covenant theology and paedobaptism became concrete. There were many other issues in the church that led to my resignation and my difference in belief was not the most important one. However, after my family and I joined Trinity Presbyterian in Birmingham, something else came into focus.

My desire for worship saturated in Scripture, preaching, and the sacraments was met. Before when I longed for more Scriptural depth in worship, any and everything liturgical was enticing. Anglicanism, Lutheranism, even some Roman Catholic worship looked better than what I was participating in. But after receiving the nourishment of well-rounded worship, my vision is clearer. Participating in grounded liturgical worship has provided an vaccination against Roman Catholic liturgy, especially the idolatrous adoration of the elements in the Mass. For this I am thankful.

In the last several years there has been a number of Reformed men who has left Protestantism for what they perceive to be the beauty and authority (2) of Rome. However, Protestants has done much to make the problem worse by cutting themselves off from Scripture-soaked, Spirit-filled (3) worship. When this happens, it quickly becomes inane and laborious. At least PB’s love God’s Word, preach it, and sing biblical hymns. That can’t be said for most churches today.

The problem with authority in Protestant churches is a post for another time and another place. Nevertheless I believe that if churches would return to, at the very least a greater reverence towards God in their worship, and at best more biblically-grounded liturgical worship, many of our brethren would maintain a proper view of Roman Catholicism rather than the rosy, heaven-on-earth view that is overtaking their line of sight.

1. When I say I’m a high-church Presbyterian, I must qualify the phrase, “high-church.” I don’t mean sectarian, “we’re the only church,” type. Neither do I mean chant-only, robed, incense bearing worship. I mean a call to worship, corporate confession, written liturgy, responsive reading from Scripture, Psalm and hymn singing, strong preaching, recitation of creeds and prayers, weekly communion, and a benediction.
2. By this I mean there is little authority exercised in most Protestant churches, even Presbyterian and Lutheran churches who have structures to deal with this problem. This leaves beaten-down pastors looking for a home where they think they will be protected from intra-church squabbles.
3. Not “charismatic” worship but worship characterized by joyful gratitude, faith in God’s promise to meet with us, reverence toward God, and vigorous participation in the congregational elements of worship.

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