The Blending of American Roman Catholicism and Protestantism
by Herb Douglass
While working on another writing assignment, I found several articles that suddenly gave me some focus for this blog. They related to certain paragraphs written years ago that I and others had a difficult time figuring out how they could ever become reality, especially in the United States.
Such paragraphs as: “The wide diversity of belief in the Protestant churches is regarded by many as decisive proof that no effort to secure a forced uniformity can ever be made. But there has been for years, in churches of the Protestant faith, a strong and growing sentiment in favor of a union based upon common points of doctrine. To secure such a union, the discussion of subjects upon which all were not agreed — however important they might be from a Bible standpoint — must necessarily be waived.
“When the leading churches of the United States, uniting upon such points of doctrine as are held by them in common, shall influence the state to enforce their decrees and to sustain their institutions, then Protestant America will have formed an image of the Roman hierarchy, and the infliction of civil penalties upon dissenters will inevitably result.“ The Great Controversy, p 444-445.
- Centuries of history have proved that unity on doctrine is most improbable.
- In recent years a dramatic change is occurring in that Protestant churches can at least agree on “common point of doctrine.”
- To achieve this unity, subjects on which they do not agree will be waived.
- This new vision is shared by both Protestants and Catholics.
- The time will come when Protestants and Catholics, now unified on ‘common points of doctrine,’ will seek governmental support of their wishes, leading to ‘civil penalties’ upon dissenters.
I had recently pulled an article by Greg Hamilton that he wrote in the Pacific Union Gleaner, March 2006. In this article, among other observations, he raised some important questions:
Adventists support the United States Constitution which provides safeguards protecting freedom of religion regardless of majority consensus or sentiment. These safeguards are in danger of being removed 'by Catholic and evangelical zealots' (who are roughly 60 percent of U.S.A. voters) who seek government action in the interest of promoting the commonly shared beliefs in abortion, traditional family and Sunday sacredness, etc.
- Adventists believe that while Christians should be at the forefront in promoting Bible-based moral values, they should speak out against judicial or legislative efforts to mandate or define the human relationship to God and worship as contained in the first four commandments.
- Pope Benedict XVI has publicly stated that Christians in America, and most specifically Catholics, are now in a position to dramatically influence U.S. domestic and foreign policy to reflect the divine commands of God. For the first time, Catholic Supreme Court justices are in the majority.
Bible prophecies have been given to us so we will not be deceived by otherwise sincere men and women who seek through traditional moral, social and political methods to save mankind by establishing what they believe to be Christ’s millennial kingdom on earth. (We call that “dominionism.”) Pretty good for starters, but Scriptures tell us that His followers will spend the Millennium in heaven!
Then I put alongside that article another on the same subject from the Roman Catholic viewpoint of how Roman Catholics and Protestants are now enjoying a new platform of common cause: The End of American Catholicism? by Pierre Hegy in America, May 1, 1993.
The author compared an earlier article also titled, The End of American Catholicism? written in 1972 by William C. McCready and Andrew M. Greeley who had raised the question of the future of American Catholicism by comparing Catholic church attendance and beliefs in 1963 and 1972.
Then, for the period 1972-1990, Hegy made the same survey, with the same order as the 1963 survey. In summary, verifying their numbers, but with much greater spreads: the drop in church attendance but more ominously, the slippage in the young dropping much faster, having levels that are similar to Protestants.
In morality areas, Catholics who condemned premarital sex dropped from 38 percent in 1972 to 18 percent in 1988-90, while approval went from 21 percent to 44 percent — nearly double. (Protestants in 1971, largely condemned premarital sex as always wrong, but this decreased to 34 percent in 1988-90. Abortion produced similar numbers.) All of which reminded the researchers to note the social structure that prevailed for many years, the hierarchical model and the theology of the Council of Trent, are being increasingly rejected by the majority of Catholics.
This led Hegy to ask, “Who is the church?” Then he answered, “In simple terms, it is not primarily the ‘teaching church,’ nor the ‘thinking church,’ nor the ‘evangelical church’ but a mix of all three.
Then he hooked up with Cassius Yuhaus in The Catholic and American Culture, (1990) where two cultural models in USA Catholicism were distinguished:
- The teaching, immigrant model (traditional)
- The evangelical model — the most dynamic and influential…[being] centered on the Scripture and the person of Jesus. According to Yuhaus, as well as survey data, doctrinal formulas and church documents are seen as less significant than Scripture and personal piety. The question is not so much, ‘what does the church teach?’ as ‘what would Jesus do?’
The ‘evangelical model’ offers an alternative to the conservative-liberal dichotomy, to the extent that it emphasizes the empowerment of all through Scripture. In this perspective, church attendance and personal beliefs can only be a matter of choice and maturity, for Catholics as well as for Protestants. Presto! The Protestant-Catholic differential will likely disappear!
Of course, it all depends on what kind of ‘empowerment’ we are talking about. How exactly are the Scriptures being used? In both Protestant and Catholic circles we have seen the rise of what has been called the ‘social gospel,’like feminism, liberation theology, and the fight for ‘social justice,’ all in the interest of working on ‘common points of agreement.’
I have seen it happening before my eyes in the last 50 years! Who would have thought it? Both Protestants and Catholics are using the Scriptures selectively to bless their ‘common points of agreement.’ No wonder we see the picture of a world at last finding its mission of setting up the kingdom of God on earth. It seems so logical and doable.
No more Protestant-Catholic tension! All that is for the trash bin!