Frank Viola is an Evangelical writer with whom I am “dia-blogging”. I ask a question one month. He replies and asks me a question back. Frank’s experience is that Catholics are more involved in ministry to the poor than Evangelicals, and he wonders how an Evangelical might make friends with socially involved Catholics and get involved. Here ‘s his question and my reply.
I wanted to push the envelope a little with Frank. Referring to G.K.Chesterton’s quip that “Every argument is a theological argument” I wondered, if Frank’s observation is true, why that is.
I think, as a general rule, Frank is right, but why should this be? Evangelicals have Matthew 25 in their Bible too. You know–the sheep and the goats–”Inasmuch as you did it to one of these you did it to me…inasmuch as you didn’t visit the prisoner, feed the hungry, clothe the naked etc…you didn’t do it for me”?
Growing up as an conservative Evangelical I remember the preachers warning against “the social gospel”.They were opposed to the liberals limiting the gospel to feeding the poor and working for peace and justice. Consequently they threw the baby out with the bathwater and were only concerned with evangelizing, and were actually suspicious of what Catholics call “the corporal works of mercy.”
But I wonder if there isn’t a deeper problem, and it is this: Evangelical religion is very largely an intellectual religion. What I mean by this is that it is Bible based, and word driven. It is suspicious of the physical in other ways too. Evangelicals are often suspicious of the sacraments. They’re often not real good on the arts. They’re suspicious of beautiful architecture, vestments, candles, incense, stained glass and all that physical stuff. Does their suspicion about all these physical aspects of worship connect with their rejection of the sacraments? Does a refusal to see Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist blind their eyes to Jesus Christ present in the person of the poor?
I don’t wish to throw stones at our Evangelical brothers and sisters, but I don’t think it is a co-incidence that they are distrustful of the physical in worship and they also are not as involved in feeding the hungry and clothing the poor as they might be. I think it was Mark Twain who said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it echoes.”
Notice what Ignatius of Antioch writes about the heterodox believers around the year 90 AD:
“Consider how contrary to the mind of God are the heterodox in regard to the grace of God which has come to us. They have no regard for charity, none for the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, none for the man in prison, the hungry or the thirsty. They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead.”
He recognizes that those who deny the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist also neglect the corporal works of mercy.
PS: I’m not blaming Evangelicals, by the way, and I’m not saying all of them do not care for the hungry…nor am I saying all Catholics are busy helping the poor…just leapfrogging form Frank’s generalized observation.