bare-memoirs asked a question:
Hey J.S. I have been seeking more to my faith than what I’ve got now. However others have put me down by saying I’m just seeking to ‘work’ my way into heaven. I have asked for advice from others and also was put down. But I find much comfort in all of the thought that goes into the stances that Catholics and Orthodox holds. They give me much guidance when others haven’t even thought of the issues I have encountered … Is the condemnation that I’m receiving for seeking insight from the more traditional churches really within reason? Am I wrong for wanting more to my faith (and going this route)? …
lmazel asked a question:
Hey, Pastor Park! Hope you’re doing great and hopefully getting some well-deserved rest. I had a quick question- what are your thoughts on charismatics? I just went to a charismatic church for the first time and I certainly had never seen anything like it; I would love any information you have.
Hey my dear friends: I want to commend you right upfront about your constant searching for truth, for good theology, for a vibrant pulsing faith. All of us are still learning and seeking and not fully arrived, and I appreciate your earnest hearts in this.
I’m also sorry for any ridicule you might have faced from your own church community for bringing up such curiosity. No one should ever shame you for having sincere questions about faith, tradition, church, and history.
Please allow me first to quote the inimitable C.S. Lewis about other religions, which is also helpful to understand our view on Christianity itself.
“If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through … If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest one, contain at least some hint of the truth … As in arithmetic – there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong: but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.”
I’m going to extrapolate Lewis’s idea further to mean that even within Christianity, there are slight differences in traditions and cultures and people-groups that will create a distinct flavor for Christian faith in different parts of the world. And while there are definitely false man-made institutions with Catholics or Protestants or Pentecostals, each group has at least a core foundation of truth with a capital T.
So really, Christianity will look different for most people while maintaining core truths about Jesus, because Christian faith has the nuance to respect individuality while sharing a collective universal unity.
I think if we get to the bottom of what we truly believe and ask the very hard questions, we’re each capable of the discernment to separate the good from the not-so-good here, or as Aristotle reportedly said,
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
If we’re being honest here, then we find that there are strengths and weaknesses among the traditions of Protestants and Catholics and Pentecostal/Charismatics, each able to fill out where the others are lacking.
The following will probably be over-simplifying and generalizing, but short of writing a book, here are some important things that every Christian tradition can be aware of. I apologize in advance for my ignorance in some areas and I’m very much open to being corrected. I also hope we have enough humility and self-awareness to see the flaws in each of our subcultures.
Protestants tend to really emphasize the relational love of God; it proposes a faith that tosses out performance-driven anxiety by the go-to verses Ephesians 2:8-9. The Protestant service really showcases the sermon as the axis of worship service because the Word of God is what changes lives. There’s often a raw authenticity in church, a need for community and conversation and relevance.
Yet Protestants tend to be weak about emphasizing the Greatest Commandment, especially “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Almost never do I hear Protestant preachers say, “I love you, God.” We’re too busy saying, “God loves us.” It turns Jesus into an abstract concept of fuzzy warm acceptance. We’re in love with the idea of love, but very rarely do we consider loving God in return.
So while Protestants have a decent track record of generosity, social justice, fellowship, and feel-good faith, they’re pretty bad about purity, hypocrisy, spiritual disciplines, and taking the church seriously. There’s a sort of lite diet fluffiness in most Protestant churches that leads to laziness or lukewarm living. Protestants are so anti-legalism that we make a legalist into a Nazi boogeyman, and we throw out the nourishing depth of the biblical commandments.
Catholics have these wonderful buildings that truly reflect the beautiful aesthetic of God. They take all the sacraments seriously. Their rituals are breathtaking. And though there’s a lot of joking about “Catholic guilt,” I’ve said before that guilt often points to the truth that something is broken in the world, and to dismiss guilt completely is also to deny we’re human. Yes, it’s wrong to shame others. Anyone in Christ is free of condemnation. But Protestants take this to the extreme and yell “Don’t guilt-trip me” all the time. It’s almost impossible to find modern millennial Christians who are guilty over anything, so they don’t much care about what God cares about.
The Catholic tradition takes Ephesians 2:10 very seriously, with our good works being the fruit of our genuine faith. Catholics recognize the cost of grace, particularly by keeping the crucified Jesus front and center in all their iconography. It’s too simplistic to say that Catholics are all about “works save you,” but a thoughtful view of Catholic doctrine shows that good works are absolutely important in the believer’s life. Again, I think Protestants are too quick to yell “Pharisee” and we think “effort is legalism,” but it’s not. Tradition and rules and commands are important. Protestants like myself could really learn from this.
Yet Catholics (and I want to be fair here, because I’m an outsider to this), do tend to be nominal and ritualistic. Sometimes they take the institutions too far, like the time my brother almost got in a fight at a Catholic church. And while Catholics are pretty good about discipline and purity and knowing the richness of church history, they’re not always the best at radical generosity. I see these huge cathedrals and I can’t help but wonder if that money could’ve gone to the sick and starving. Much of it feels self-involved and overly pietistic, but not engaged with culture.
Pentecostals and Charismatics are just awesome. I mean come on: our faith needs joy. Our faith needs the Holy Spirit to do anything. And many of our traditions today, like praise music on Sundays and raising hands during worship and on-fire preaching, ALL come from the Pentecostal tradition. I’m jealous of my Charismatic friends who are so free and boisterous and joyful in Christ.
Yet of course, I’ve seen the danger in Pentecostal churches all over South Korea. You think those Prosperity Preachers are bad in America, you really haven’t seen anything until you visit Asia. The emotionalism and outright bad theology leads to corruption, hierarchies, cults, and all sorts of wild floor-rolling and visions and tongues and bizarre eel feasts. Unfortunately, the extreme end of Pentecostalism results in a frenzy free-for-all, and it can be impossible to rein it in.
You see: God is the light and we are the prism. No one has the absolute say-all singular doctrine on Jesus. No one gets to monopolize him with their tiny little 3 lb. brains. Jesus is the same truth, yet we all reach him quite differently: because we’re all different. And we need each other. If every Christian looked the same as you or me: we wouldn’t have the church, but tyranny.
Some of us are dying to journal or we would rather die than journal. Some us get Jesus from Chris Tomlin and others are more Switchfoot and symphonies. I get more out of Les Miserables than Kirk Cameron. I’m a Reformed Calvinist but I’m not okay with double election and a bunch of other bullet points in the Reformed camp. Consider that Philip went to the Ethiopian eunuch and Jesus went to the Syrophoenician woman and Paul went to the pagan Gentiles. And faith is way more simple than we make it.
In the end, we love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. And those who are not in Christ are still our neighbors, so we love them too. If we truly believe someone is wrong about their theology, then we should be on our knees praying in tears for them instead of feeling superiority. And ultimately, our traditions serve us and we do not serve them. We serve Jesus and each other.
If someone would shun your curiosity for investigating the rich customs of Christian liturgy and history, both the good and the bad: then certainly this person needs a gracious conversation about why our forefathers matter, and how even the greatest thinkers were still wrestling with our questions today, and we’re all still seeking every facet of Jesus as the colorful body of Christ. It is possible to learn from both the ups and downs of our ancestors without diminishing the whole thing.
Jesus has a much bigger imagination than you or me alone. Heaven will not be divided by denomination nor our boxed up thinking. God can bring together our cultural values and individual stories into a wonderful mosaic of glorious truth, a tapestry of Christian heritage that makes us more human, and not less. We can learn together, and from each other.