Thursday, October 2, 2014

Methodists vs. Catholics?



Question: Methodists vs. Catholics?

    Today’s question actually grew out of two separate but similar questions, “What is so different about the Catholic Church?” and, “Why is there so much tension between the Methodist and the Catholic Church?”  In order to answer either question we need to go back several hundred years.  Once we understand how we got to where we are, our differences and any tension can be more easily understood.

    Let’s go back to the early 1500’s.  At that time, no one would have referred to the “Catholic” church but just “the church” because there really was only one church.  But that was about to change.  In 1517, a German priest named Martin Luther wrote 95 complaints about the way that the church was doing business.  Among these complaints was the way that funds were being raised to build what is known as St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  It is a fantastic achievement of art and engineering but it was incredibly expensive.  The man who was tasked with raising the money, John Tetzel, was an unscrupulous man who would do anything for a buck.  In order to raise money, he sold “indulgences” which were forgiveness of sins.  For a price, you could buy forgiveness for relatives who were already dead, or even for sins that had not yet been committed.  If you had enough money, you could buy forgiveness for having a mistress (and keep her), or you could, quite literally, get away with murder. 

    Martin Luther probably did not intend to cause the uproar that he did.  His intent was to post his list of complaints and start a dialog that would reform the abuses of the church.  But as fate would have it, the printing press had recently been invented and instead of merely posting his complaints on the church door, they were printed, translated, and distributed all over Europe.  Eventually, the one church began to splinter into the Catholic Church and various groups of protestors, known as Protest-ants.

    Now jump ahead to 1534.  King Henry VIII is married to Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of the former King and Queen of Spain.  But Catherine was not giving Henry a male heir and, since England had recently had a civil war over who would succeed the king, having an heir was a big deal.  Originally, Catherine was married to Henry’s brother who had died young and she then married Henry in order to keep Spain happy.  Marrying your brother’s widow required the Pope’s permission but for Kings and Queens, this sort of thing could be managed.  So when Catherine wasn’t having any male children, Henry thought that his marriage ought to be annulled so he could marry someone else.  An annulment required the permission of the Pope but again, this sort of thing was not entirely uncommon for royalty. 

Except for one thing. 

    Catherine of Aragon’s nephew was Charles V, the King of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor.  Charles commanded an army which was just short distance from Rome.  Charles told the Pope that he would be (hint, hint) very unhappy if Henry received an annulment.  Since the Pope couldn’t keep both Henry and Charles happy, he stalled. 

For several years. 

    Finally, Henry decided to break off from the Catholic Church and create the Church of England, whose head was no longer the Pope, but the King of England.  And so although the Church of England became a Protestant church, it retained many similarities to the Catholic Church.
Skip ahead another two hundred years, and we meet John and Charles Wesley, priests of the Church of England who felt that the church could do better.  In an effort to renew the church, they began a movement that became known as Methodism (because of their ‘method’ of holiness).  The Methodist movement took the church beyond the walls of the church into the countryside and the inner-city.  The Wesleys and the Methodists were concerned that the poor did not have access to the church and the church didn’t care.  That movement grew and spread all over England and into the American colonies. 

But then came the American war for independence in 1776.

    Although the Church of England was the largest in the colonies, nearly all of the priests were British citizens.  When the war broke out, they left their churches and went home.  This left a great many people without access to a priest, or to communion, or to baptism, or a proper burial.  At that time, it was believed that not having access to regular communion, or baptism, was enough to damn you to hell.  Since there were already hundreds of Methodist lay preachers in the colonies, John Wesley begged his bishop to ordain some of them so that the members of the church could have access to communion. 

The bishop refused.

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 Note: I asked our youth to write down any questions that they had about faith, the church, or life in general.  This is a part of that series.


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Other questions and answers in this series can be found here: Ask the Pastor

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