Catholics have long had a deeper and more developed sense of social responsibility than evangelical Protestants. They actually have a tradition and papal encyclicals since the late 19th century have addressed such issues seriously.

When I discussed growing African Christianity with several Catholic brothers at Mundelein Seminary in November I was amazed at their comparisons of how the longer, slower development of Catholicism in Nigeria was producing a much more fruitful Christian interaction with culture there than the work of charismatic and indigenous evangelicals. While evangelicals grow in number the Catholic Church is teaching and preparing priests as deeply formed thinkers and leaders for the future.

The Wall Street Journal reported in “What’s News” (January 17) that southern Nigerian Catholics have to prove that they are registered to vote in April in order to continue taking communion,according to a local paper report. As odd as this may sound to American Christians I am personally not surprised by this report at all. African Catholicism is not only vibrant and growing, but frankly maturing in unusual ways. In the next several decades I fully expect the Catholic Church to engage African culture and to make some profound differences in terms of freedom, education and development. There is a clear and strong convergence between Reformed Protestantism and modern Catholicism that intrigues me as one who is an ardent Kuyperian and Reformed minister.

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  1. Nathan Petty January 19, 2007 at 10:54 am

    As one who is not yet totally free from a knee jerk suspicion of all things RC, this is an interesting post.
    I assume that some part of your lack of surprise that the church would require voter registration in order to participate in what may be the most important sacrament in the RC church stems from your earlier experience with the seminarians. I wonder if the students expressed an opinion beyond noting that the current trend yields a “more fruitful Christian interaction with culture”. I wonder if they would think the practice you described is biblically defensible?
    Do you believe that this aspect of this “unusual” maturation process is right? I understand that the goal of cultural involvement may be served by requiring communicants to register to vote, but is it a biblical perogative for the church to demand civic participation in order to gain the church’s approval?
    In my area the RC diocese sent out a fundraising letter a couple of years ago. I forget what the appeal was for, but the letter essentially consituted an offer of an indulgence for a contribution. Perhaps the need was valid, perhaps the motivation was pure. But an offer of an indulgence in order to meet the need?
    I agree that cultural involvement and the witness and message of the church has been harmed by our willingness to separate and criticize from the sidelines. I also believe we must be careful not to employ methods which may ultimately be found to be inconsistent with the truth of the message.
    The “ends” of Christian cultural involvement and influence will, of course, not justify any and all “means”.
    Thanks again for another post that causes me to think outside my little box.

  2. Dozie January 19, 2007 at 8:00 pm

    Would it not be proper for you to get all your facts straight before making charges, rightly or wrongly?

  3. John H. Armstrong January 19, 2007 at 10:59 pm

    Dozie, who are you asking (me or Nathan) and what do you think is factually wrong here? It would help our discussion if you were more specific in your comment and criticism. I think we are both open to good criticism so feel free to offer it.

  4. Dozie January 21, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    I was referring to Nathan when he said: “In my area the RC diocese sent out a fundraising letter a couple of years ago. I forget what the appeal was for, but the letter essentially consituted an offer of an indulgence for a contribution”.
    It appears that Nathan was not sure of the facts in this case. Thanks.

  5. Nathan Petty January 22, 2007 at 9:47 am

    Dozie, you are correct that I am not sure of all the details. A RC friend of mine received the letter. After reading the letter we both agreed that the letter constituted an offer of an indulgence for a contribution. We’re not theologians but the intent of the letter was pretty clear. We did not keep a copy of the letter.
    Sorry if the comment offended. It was included simply to provide an example that the “ends” of any ministerial objective is not always justified by the “means” employed to achive it. I could provide plent of Baptist (my background) examples as well (emotionally charged “altar” calls manipulating a confession proving a conversion, for example), but the post had to do with RC activity so that is why I included the example.
    You are correct, however, in concluding that we (my RC friend and I) took issue with the content and intent of the letter. We both felt is was an inappropriate means of achieving a ministerial objective, just as I believe an emotionally charged and manipulative altar call is an inappropriate means of motivating people to convert.

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