Why won’t bishops discipline Joe Biden? 

Vice President Joe Biden performed a gay wedding earlier this month, getting special certification from the District of Columbia to allow him to do so.  He also supports the right to an abortion.  Both put him squarely against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, and yet he remains an active member in good standing.

Westminster Seminary theologian Carl Trueman asks, why doesn’t the appropriate bishop discipline him?  Is there anything a Catholic politician could do that would get him in trouble with the church?

Trueman is Reformed, not Catholic, so he sees church discipline as one of the marks of the church.  Since, as we have seen, Catholics can go to Hell, perhaps church discipline is not so important in that tradition, though one would think such a possibility would be a matter for pastoral care.  How would other church bodies, such as Lutherans, come down on this? [Read more…]

ELCA makes new accord with Catholics

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (the theologically liberal Lutheran denomination) has arrived at a new accord with the Roman Catholic Church, focusing on church, ministry, and eucharist. Read the document here.

After giving all of the agreements that were found, the document gives the issues of disagreement that remain:  the papacy and women’s ordination (which ELCA practices).

That would sound like Missouri Synod Lutherans, who agree that only men may be ordained into the holy ministry, are even closer to Rome than the ELCA, disagreeing only on the authority of the pope!

To be sure, there would be quite a bit of agreement even with the LCMS on church, ministry, and eucharist–though also quite a lot of disagreements that have been papered over.  (Find them.)

If the ELCA wants to heal the breach with Rome, I would encourage them now to discuss abortion, gay marriage, and sexual morality.  The differences would be much greater, though perhaps in the name of ecumenism the ELCA would change its permissive teachings. [Read more…]

“There’s no such thing as an ex-Catholic”

J. D. Flynn explains that a person who has been baptized into the Roman Catholic Church is always a Catholic and can never leave it.  Those who later reject the church’s teachings, lose their faith, join another ecclesiastical body, become atheists, or rebel against the church–such as pro-abortion politicians–are still Catholics.  But they will have to face their judgment.  The Church, he says, includes those who will be damned.

Does any of this way of thinking apply to other theologies? Can we say that there is no such thing as an ex-Lutheran? Lutherans distinguish between the visible church–which does include sinners, hypocrites, and others who are lost–and the invisible church of those who have faith in Christ.  We are baptized into the latter.  Roman Catholicism rejects that dichotomy.  But presumably someone might no longer belong to a Lutheran church but still belong to the invisible church.  And someone might not belong to the invisible church, but still be a Lutheran.  Right?  Someone help me out here.  And how does the Lutheran doctrine of baptism fit into all of this?

Also, how would this apply to once-saved-always-saved Baptists and elect Presbyterians? [Read more…]

Evangelical Catholics

Donald Trump’s running mate Mike Pence describes himself as an “evangelical Catholic.”  By which he means that he is a Catholic who attends an evangelical megachurch.  There are quite a few of those, including another presidential candidate, Marco Rubio.  (Megachurches don’t make such a big deal about “membership,” unlike other Protestant churches, so it would be easier to maintain both identities with the megachurch model.)

Catholic apologist George Weigel has called for an “evangelical Catholicism,” by which he means Catholics evangelizing non-Christians.

Political pundits are using the term to group together conservative Catholics who agree with evangelicals on moral and social issues.

But, historically, the term refers to LUTHERANS.  Read the two articles excerpted and linked to after the jump. [Read more…]

The separation of doctrine from practice

After much study and debate among the bishops, Pope Francis has issued a letter on the family entitled Amoris Laetitia (the joy of love).  In wrestling with how to minister to gays, the problems of modern families in a time of sexual revolution, and  whether or not to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion, the Pope is characteristically unclear.

He upholds traditional morality, pro-life ethics, and historical Catholic teaching on the family, and yet he speaks much about “individual conscience” (which is usually problematic in Catholic theology) and pastoral discretion.  As usual, his pronouncement is controversial and is being taken differently by all sides.  (See this and this.)

The best thing I’ve read on the document is from Ross Douthat, who says that Catholics have been upholding doctrine (pleasing the conservatives) while allowing great flexibility in actual practice (pleasing the liberals).  He says that what is new in Amoris Laetitia is that the Pope is giving official sanction to that separation of doctrine and practice.

I would add that this is not just a Catholic phenomenon.  We certainly see this in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod when it comes to official insistence on, for example, closed communion, even as many congregations ignore that teaching in practice without any official consequences.  (Can you think of other examples in non-Catholic churches?)

Is this a necessary accommodation in a fallen, complicated world?  Or is it evidence that churches don’t really believe their own teachings? [Read more…]

Why are Catholics going for Trump?

Evangelicals, despite what has been said, are not particularly going for Trump.  But Catholics are.  Specifically, working-class Catholics, whose attitudes about political and social issues are dramatically out of synch with the official position of their church.  For example, working-class Catholics tend to oppose government aid to the poor.  And yet they support gay marriage and abortion!

This Catholic factor, of being politically conservative while socially liberal, may explain other puzzling contradictions the pollsters have been finding.  So far, all of the religious attention has been on evangelicals, ignoring Catholic attitudes.

Strangely, Catholics in liberal states such as California tend to be both more liberal politically than the rest of the nation and more pro-life.  This may reflect Hispanic Catholics.

But again we see that what the Pope teaches–not just on birth control but on caring for the poor, and with his statements critical of Trump–does not necessarily matter for Catholic laypeople. [Read more…]