CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Culture Wars, Theology, and Working Together

Aug 28, 2016

I have written frequently about issues like co-belligerency. I have written often about the fact that I am a Protestant evangelical, with very real theological differences with my Catholic friends. And I have written often about how I prefer my website not to become yet another place where Catholics can spend all day bashing Protestants, and where Protestants can bash Catholics.

Plenty of times I have wanted to write more articles on some of these issues but have been deterred from doing so. Let me tell you why I dread writing such articles. It is because after years of experience, I know exactly how some Christians will respond.

I will politely ask that this or that issue not be debated at a certain time or a certain place, or that certain battles be fought elsewhere, yet some will completely ignore me, disrespect my requests, and launch into the very things I pleaded not to happen here.

Some believers refuse to show me the slightest bit of grace and Christlikeness when I ask for certain things, and so I despair of even broaching some topics because of their predictable and unwelcome responses. They are ever ready to pick a fight and go on the attack, even when I ask that it be done elsewhere.

I certainly do not make such requests because I am afraid of conflict. For heaven’s sake, anyone reading this site knows what a ridiculous charge that is. But I also know how complex and detailed some discussions can be, so I know the folly of trying to even introduce them in a short 1500-word article.

let me explainEntire libraries have been written on the theological differences found between Catholicism and Protestantism, and thousands of sites already exist where all those matters can be thrashed out. So it is not my intention to reinvent the wheel here, and turn my site into yet another such battleground.

Moreover, I have many Catholic friends whose personal relationship with God through Christ is not in doubt, even though we differ greatly on various important theological and biblical matters. And of course there would be plenty of Protestants who may have lots of right doctrine but have no personal relationship with God through Christ.

As to Catholic teaching, there is plenty we agree on of course. They affirm the basics as found in the early Christian creeds, such as the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. These creeds laid out the basics of orthodox Christian teaching, so unlike the cults, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, most of the main Christian doctrines such as the Trinity and the deity of Christ are not denied by Catholics.

But we know there are numerous key issues that can still divide, such as the source of final authority, the place of Mary, the role of the papacy, sacred tradition and the Magisterium, the exact nature of salvation, and so on. Once again, I do not minimise any of these areas of disagreement.

They are no small matters and they do divide believers. But as I say, to do even just one of them proper justice, I would need to pen at least 10,000 words just to lay out the broad outlines of how the theological divide plays out. And as mentioned, there already exist hundreds of books, thousands of websites, and tens of thousands of articles which seek to do this already.

I cannot do everything in the world, so this is one area where I advise those so concerned to check out those other resources. It has nothing to do with me running for cover or avoiding controversy, but it has everything to do with me following the call of God upon my life.

If that makes certain people unhappy, whether Catholic or Protestant, they can go elsewhere thanks. No one is forcing them to come here. I will do what God has called me to do. And the reason for writing this piece now is a comment just in by yet another Protestant quite concerned about what I have recently written. The piece in question was this one: billmuehlenberg.com/2016/08/26/end-comfortable-christianity/

He offered many of the usual criticisms, and wondered why I dared to quote a Catholic on some vital social and cultural issues of the day. He asked me, “shouldn’t Biblical Christians be careful when standing side-by-side with Catholics against social evils?”

My short answer is this: I will generally stand with anyone who wants to work for certain social issues impacting the common good. This is not hard to get a grip on. If a drug dealer has a crack house two houses down from where I live, I will most certainly work with anyone who is concerned about this.

I will be happy to go house to house seeking names for a petition, and guess what? I will not give a rip if the person signing it is a Catholic, a Protestant, an agnostic or an atheist. Something like this impacts all of us, and a theological litmus test is not first required before I work together with others to stop such social evils.

In the same way I will work with all sorts of people to stop things like abortion or the war on marriage and family. And I have done this for decades now with great effect. To reject every single person who does not think exactly like I do theologically would mean none of the past victories we achieved could have happened.

But all this is called co-belligerency, and I have discussed this many times now. For much more detail see these articles for starters:

www.billmuehlenberg.com/2010/09/02/on-co-belligerency/
www.billmuehlenberg.com/2009/11/27/on-biblical-cooperation-and-separation/
www.billmuehlenberg.com/2012/06/30/8405/
billmuehlenberg.com/2015/12/12/co-belligerency-again/

There is a legitimate place for working on limited objectives and campaigns with those we may not fully agree with in other areas. But have a read of these four articles for more on why co-belligerency is often a fully acceptable Christian activity to engage in.

My recent critic also questioned me on why I would share something coming from a Catholic. He asked, “If we are seen to be agreeing with RCism then aren’t we betraying those whose greatest need is to hear the true gospel?” This too I have often spoken about before, so I again have to repeat myself here, since my point of view is evidently not getting across very well!

When someone shares terrific truth about a certain issue, I will usually run with it any day of the week. It is ludicrous in the extreme to suggest that unless someone is 100 per cent on the same page theologically, he or she has no truth, or if they do have truth, it cannot be shared.

All truth is God’s truth. When a Catholic offers a terrific article on say, the culture wars or the case for life or the importance of family, I have no hesitancy whatsoever in sharing that and agreeing with it. It should be pretty clear that just because I agree with them on those points does not mean I agree with them on everything else.

I disagree with fellow Protestants all the time. Does that mean I should never share anything they ever say, because we are not in full agreement? I even disagree with myself at times! Sorry, but if Hitler says 2+2=4, he is speaking truth, and just because he says a lot of other rubbish does not mean I cannot affirm what he has just said about basic math.

Because of God’s common grace (a fully acceptable Protestant concept I might add), all people have some access to truth. While the Fall has affected us all, it does not mean that we are all devoid of even a shred of truth. When an atheist speaks truth in an important area, I am quite happy to run with it.

Thus if non-believers like Andrew Bolt or Brendan O’Neill (who happens to be visiting Australia right now) speak about the importance of freedom of speech, or warn about creeping sharia, or stand up for social goods that even plenty of Christians are too cowardly to stand up for, then I will happily support them and quote them.

Once again it does not mean I agree with everything else they may say or believe. But this too I have discussed elsewhere. See here for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2015/09/10/all-truth-is-gods-truth-living-in-a-fallen-world/

And as many would know, perhaps one of my all-time favourite authors is G.K. Chesterton. He of course converted to Catholicism and was a fierce defender of all things Catholic. But he wrote about so many things and in such a great fashion, that I fully enjoy what he wrote, while at times choosing to disagree with him on certain points.

Sorry, but I am not about to consign to the flames my entire library of 50 or so books by and about Chesterton just because some Protestants consider him to be anathema because he is not a Protestant. I have learned more and been helped to grow more in the faith because of writers like this than by many Protestant writers. Again, that does not entail total agreement.

That is pretty much how life is actually. We love our spouse, but may have major disagreements with him or her in some areas. In a fallen world no one has perfect theology, and no one’s biblical hermeneutics are fool-proof. Having said that, I am not ashamed to say that I believe the Protestant take on things is over all truer to Scripture than some non-Protestant views.

But we all have shortcomings, mistakes, myopia, and error. There are some Protestant theologians and teachers who I vigorously disagree with, as might be expected. And Catholics have plenty of theological and other disagreements amongst themselves.

Since God has called me to be involved in the culture wars, I am happy to work with others who are also called into battle. Things like the slaughter of the unborn and the assault on marriage are far too important for me to live in a little isolated holy huddle, refusing to work with anyone else who does not agree with me entirely.

Let me close by saying that although I am not a prophet, I can pretty much guarantee there will be some folks coming here insisting on having the very theological battles I asked we not have. So let me warn you right away: if you cannot abide by my simple request and take your desire to unload on Catholics or Protestants elsewhere, then your comment certainly will not see the light of day on my page.

And let me point out that I have been reading, studying, writing about, and lecturing in theology for 45 years now, so I do know a bit about both Protestant and Catholic theology. I may well have read more Catholic theology than many of its critics, so there is no need for folks to write in and ask me if I know that Catholics teach this or that. Um yes, I do know what they teach thanks.

Sorry, but it is my website, so I will run things as I best see fit thanks. I hope this explains a bit more why I do things the way I do. I realise this is not to everyone’s liking. And as mentioned, no one is being forced to come here. Also, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me fully on these matters. But when I do make a simple request that this not be the place just now for another Catholic-Protestant battle, I expect my request to be honoured thanks.

Finally, my apologies for having to write such a rather defensive piece here. But such is the nature of the beast. I have been involved in this work for quite some time now, so every once in a while I must reiterate why I do what I do. I don’t expect you all to agree with it, but at least try to understand where I am coming from thanks. Blessings.

[1994 words]

13 Responses to Culture Wars, Theology, and Working Together

  • Good arguments. We should carefully examine our thoughts and our words before we speak.
    We don’t become Christians by joining a church be it Protestant or Catholic, we become a Christian when we release how sinful we are and that we do not have the power to save ourselves and then we find in our Lord Jesus Christ salvation through his perfect life, death, burial and resurrection. Trusting him for our salvation and living and walking in the word of God. Christ alone is my salvation.

    He that believeth on the son hath everlasting life.

  • I agree with you completely, Bill. I have found some Catholic sites, bloggers and politicians to be excellent and courageous even though I’m a Protestant so I work with them.

    The part where you write that you can run your site the way you want to made me nod and smile because right now I am facing regular bouts of nasty criticism because a local community group I run completely alone and voluntarily on Facebook with over 800 members has a few members who have tried to post pro and against Safe Schools posts.

    Each time I have deleted them and explained why-it is a local community group for local issues only and that SS will cause enormous stress and dissension in a group which has been running pace fully for a year.

    Guess what, the anti Safe Schools poster thanked me and understood but the various Pro Safe Schools posters either blocked me, abused me both on the page and via private messages and one or two ultimately unliked the page.

    Each time I didn’t react to the derogatory things I was called and just calmly told them my page was not the right forum for the discussion but I was accused of bigotry and bias ( those were the nicer tags) while ironically they ranted on other pages against the Christian extremist right wing intolerant bigots….

    Just this morning I read that the devil is the author of lies and murder and the enemy of the truth John 8:44. In these days we need to muster anyone that is on the side of the truth and work together.

  • Did our LORD not say those that are not against me are for me?

  • Hi Bill, I’m so sorry that it was necesary for you to pen this article. Very naively, I was under the impression that the acrimonious divide between Protestants and Catholics had been consigned to the dust bin of history. I myself am a Pentecostalist, and a fundamentalist at heart. However that doesn’t stop me from building friendships with folk from all sorts of religeous persuasions. In studying the Gospels, I don’t see any record of Jesus refusing help or friendship to anyone who came to him. It is quite possible that the Roman Centurion who sort healing for a favoured servant was a follower of one of the Roman pagan gods. However he recognised the authority that Jesus operated under, and Jesus responded in kind. However imperfect it is, I would like to be able to display the love of God to whoever I meet. There are folk from all sorts of religeous persuasions doing great work within our community, and I applaud all of them. Bill, over the last few weeks, you have very bravely penned some articles on issues that threaten the very fabric of the Australian society that we all live in. These issues have direct consequences for Protestants and Catholics alike. “These are the issues” that all of us need to focus on, not the theological differences between folk who worship and love the same God. Bill, I’m again so sorry you had to pen an article like this, and I sincerely hope that it will not have to be raised again. Again, keep up the good fight on the issues that matter to us all. Kind regards, Kelvin.

  • Yes

  • Nice!!!

  • Gday Bill,

    My wife and I were in Ireland recently, and visited the village of Knock. There, in a Vatican verified and approved Apparition, some villagers saw the virgin Mary, Joseph, John the evangelist, and a lamb on an altar, surrounded by angels. Knock is a major pilgrimage site, with hundreds of people there that day. As convinced protestants, we found it very interesting, but really it wasn’t our scene. Well, in the huge modern basilica, my wife began to sing, quietly, about the lamb on the throne. But an elderly lady interrupted, ‘are you a believer?’ My wife perhaps she was thinking about Mary, and she replied, ‘oh yes, I love Jesus for dying for me, He’s my Lord and Saviour.’ The lady, who turned out to be a Roman Catholic nun, got excited, ‘me too, she said, I love Jesus too ! Years ago I had a vision of angels who told me to tell everyone about Jesus. His love and sacrifice for sinners. I come here every day to tell people it’s all about Jesus!’ Well, we enjoyed an unforgettable, precious God Moment together, leaving with a prayer.

    You are right Bill. In the battles to come, we’ll need every person who loves Jesus. I have no fear of joining hands with Roman Catholics who love Jesus like that dear saint.

    Andrew Campbell
    Stanborough

  • These matters have been on my heart too. The Catholic Church has done a huge number of excellent things over a very long and difficult battle with evil and continues to do so in many ways. It also gives people the opportunity to confess and repent of their sins in a secure environment and to be corrected by, what should be, a capable priest. In most Protestant churches there is no such capability and the inevitable result is that people continue in their sins and don’t repent and this inevitably leads to what we see happening in many protestant churches today. The Catholic Church has a reasonably robust method of thrashing out doctrine unlike many protestant churches and has a very good basis for its foundational beliefs even if many within the church do not adhere to these or in many cases understand them. I personally find praying to Mary at very least a silliness because she simply cannot be omnipresent nor does she have the capabilities to do much of what is asked of her but regarding matters of judgement as to whether people are saved, this is not my decision to make. Mary is a person who did her job excellently and is deserving of respect.

    What I do is warn and do my best to inform and try to avoid what the accuser of our brethren would have us do but the one that would cause divisions among those who stand for basic morality works on both sides of this. The Catholic Church has suffered many attacks and on occasions had the wrong people take power and currently is suffering because the shortage of priests and sin within some monasteries has introduced an opportunity for some very wrong teaching and very sinful practices but I know there is a huge amount of faith within the Catholic Church and my understanding is that God is more tolerant of wrong understanding than He is of wrong behavior and many within the church are working hard to close these doors to evil.

    When I see the belligerent and bigoted attacks on moral people by the likes of the ABC I will stand up for the moral person every time and this goes for their current attacks on the Catholic Church or the bigoted attacks the ABC made on Lindy Chamberlain, trying their best to make out that decent people are evil and that a dingo, who was used to scrounging food from a camp site, would not have taken a baby. The ABC continues to do these immoral things because it is foundationally evil and corrupt and its so called governing authorities are equally as bad and have absolutely no intention of making the ABC or SBS accountable for their actions. They continue their double standards of attacking moral people and trying to make out that immoral people are OK by presenting very false impressions. These are the sorts of evils all Christians from all denominations should be fighting in unity against. We all need to fight evil and immorality wherever it occurs, understanding that people everywhere are ultimately responsible for obtaining their own salvation through the opportunity Jesus has presented us with. The real battle is only just beginning and the devil has already taken control of many of the means of promulgating untruths.

  • Thanks Bill for putting pen to paper (so to speak) about such important issues. I have long been one willing to run with co-belligerents on important issues. Reading comments from your many respondents has softened my stance even further. It’s as clear as day that there are bonafide born-again Christians on both sides of the divide, besides, I’ll stand with anyone committed to the abolition of abortion, or any of the great moral ailments currently ravaging our community. I am a protestant believer, but one of my “must read” sites every day is www.lifesitenews.com

    Again, many thanks Bill.

  • May God Bless you belligerent Bill!

  • Thanks guys for your comments.

  • Agreed, Bill. Appreciate your soberness in practicality. Obviously working together with others on issues of shared values (as you indicate) would have the boundary that one would not worship together with them, should they worship any other god than the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • However we must never sacrifice truth for unity. Not even Paul shrank back from laying about him with Peter and Mark. As for Jesus himself, he came out with the harshest words for those nearest and dearest to Him, who would deflect Him from his purpose. Clearly the good Samaritan was not a fully paid up member of the Judaic religion, but he was commended for his love of humanity. As the days shorten to the second coming of Christ, He did warn us of divisions, of fathers and sons becoming enemies and the sheep being divided from the goats. I would just make the plea that where Protestants are clearly becoming heretical and the Catholics are reverting to paganism, that both sides exercise grace in accepting just criticism. There are going to be major issues connected with the institutional churches, no matter how much we love our traditions, which are going to have to be interrogated. So here goes. The Pope is not infallible and the Archbishop of Canterbury is a double minded liberal. As for the Baptists and all the other non-conformist denominations – well they sold out a long time ago. As for myself, I would not know where to begin. But one thing we know and that is Jesus Christ is the only Way, the Truth and the Life and none comes to the Father except by Him.

    David Skinner UK

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