Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Lutheran's "Charity"

The Rev. Paul McCain, a minister in the LCMS, has a new post on his blog, Cyberbrethren. In it he criticizes Catholics on account of a mailing he received from the Marianists, a Catholic religious order. I'm certainly not about to pretend that Catholics - including especially myself - are above criticism. But if we are to be criticized, one would like to think that the complaints would be valid. Do Mr. McCain's critiques pass this test?

About the mailing, he says:
It is a stark reminder that for all the fine-sounding words we hear coming from certain corners in Romanism, when it comes down to it, it is, literally, "business" as usual--the business of selling masses, merits and works.
I know nothing about this particular mailing. But is it fair to say that "business as usual" in the Catholic Church is literally that: business? Hogwash. Mr. McCain sounds as if this particular gripe is right out of the 16th century, when - regrettably - there were abuses regarding indulgences (abuses which were corrected by the Council of Trent). Whatever abuses there were 500 years ago, they certainly aren't tolerated now. So this is fundamentally irrelevant today.

But surely Mr. McCain knows all that. So perhaps he objects to fundraising? But that is no less silly. A quick Google search for '"suggested donation" +Lutheran' gets 38,000 hits. Of course, we all know what a "suggested donation" often is, right? That's n0n-profit-ese for "We're selling this book or other item, but we're not allowed to call it 'selling' if we want to keep our tax-exempt status. So instead we give you a 'suggested donation' that is functionally indistinguishable from a price." One quick glance here shows us an LCMS congregation which asks for a "suggested donation" for "materials" related to a required membership class. Goodness! Doesn't that sound just like "selling the gospel"?!!? I mean, really. By way of contrast, our parish gives away books worth at least $50, to say nothing of dozens and dozens of weekly handouts, to anyone who attends our membership classes. No obligation. No questions asked. So who is selling spiritual goods, and who isn't?

But seriously, folks. I don't really believe that Christ Lutheran Church is selling the gospel. But to believe that would be no more absurd than it is for Mr. McCain to make the outrageous charge that the Marianists are "selling" masses. Poppycock. But even if the Marianists are guilty of what he says, the Catholic Church at worst would be guilty having not (yet) put a stop to it...and the same could be said about his own denomination, for not putting a stop to the "abuses" at Christ Lutheran. A little more charity would seem to be in order.

Mr. McCain continues:
If that [i.e., the so-called "selling" of spiritual things] were not troubling enough, it is shocking that nowhere in the card is there any word of Christ and the Gospel. There is a picture of Jesus standing in clouds, but the card nowhere mentions a word about the Resurrection of Christ.
Well. That certainly sounds serious. But let's stop and consider for a moment. I just checked Mr. McCain's entire post, and there is no mention of the Trinity. Does that mean he is a Unitarian? And there is no mention of the Ten Commandments. Does that mean he is a libertine? And there is no mention of the term "sola fide"! Does that mean that Mr. McCain isn't really Lutheran?!?

Of course, I'm being absurd again, and the answer to all of those questions is No, and No, and Heck No. But should I expect Mr. McCain to mention them in this blog post? No. Why? Because a blog post is not a confession of faith. And in the same way, a mailing from the Marianists is not a confession of faith. Like the blog post, it has a specific purpose. And just as it would be foolish to charge Mr. McCain with being pro-abortion because this blog post doesn't say anything pro-life, in the same way it is silly to criticize the Marianists for leaving things out of this mailing.

(It ought to be pointed out, though, that Mr. McCain seems to have missed the fact that in discussing the Mass, the Marianists have discussed the Gospel in capsule. And in discussing the Mass, they have discussed Christ, the Eucharistic Victim).

Lastly, McCain falsely accuses the Church of being "legalistic". The only thing that needs to be said here is that it is sheer nonsense born out of ignorance, and that the charge comes from one who assumes - not only falsely, but baselessly - that to deny the false, Protestant notion of "sola fide" is to affirm salvation by works. Nothing could be further from the truth.

But that's a topic for another post.


Paul T. McCain said...

Rome has always had a great fund raising machine. When you can offer grieving people the promise of priests saying masses for your loved ones, wow...that has great funding potential to be sure.

Trafficking the Mass for the sake of fund raising is turning the house of God into a den of thieves.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Mr. McCain,

The theme of this post is the misrepresentations of the Catholic Church found in your blog post (which I have linked). If you care to address what I have written, you are very welcome to comment here, and I invite you to do so. On the other hand, if you are here to start a flame war, please take it back to your own blog, because I'm not interested. Further comments from you like this one - containing unsubstantiated nonsense - will be deleted.

On the other hand, serious comments from you that treat others with courtesy even when you strongly disagree with them are welcome. Thank you.

Paul T. McCain said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Reginald de Piperno said...

Mr. McCain,

Your comment has been deleted because (once again) you have resorted to flaming, not discussion.

As I said before: Serious comments from you that treat others with courtesy even when you strongly disagree with them are welcome (and I would happily grant your demand on such an occasion).

Peace be with you.