Matthew 23 seems to be a popular stone to throw at Catholics (or Anglicans for that matter). Here’s the salient part (a very big part) of it:

1: Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples,
2: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat;
3: so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.
4: They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.
5: They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long,
6: and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues,
7: and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men.
8: But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren.
9: And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.
10: Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ.

11: He who is greatest among you shall be your servant;
12: whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
13: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in.
15: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
16: “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, `If any one swears by the temple, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’
17: You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred?
18: And you say, `If any one swears by the altar, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’
19: You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?
20: So he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it;
21: and he who swears by the temple, swears by it and by him who dwells in it;
22: and he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
23: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.
24: You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
25: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity.
26: You blind Pharisee! first cleanse the inside of the cup and of the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
27: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.
28: So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
29: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous,
30: saying, `If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’

Have I told this story already?

Not to many of you, think.

When I was in high school, in Jim Plante’s church group, to be specific, I prayed for experience as an unsaved soul. Since I had been raised from birth as a Christian, accepted Christ myself in a personal (but entirely inevitable) decision after the age of accountability, as befits a good Brethren boy, and never had any experience outside of a church, I didn’t know how I could possibly convince someone of the life-changing power of Christianity. I hadn’t seen any lives changed.

Of course, I could have just gotten my hands dirty, met people who hadn’t shared my easy life, and so on, but that wouldn’t have been properly dramatic and appropriate for a teenager.

As ironic as it seems, I’ve never received a more direct response to a prayer.

Over the next few years, I felt like God kicked me out of the church. There were circumstances (my pastor-friend left and cut off ties to his former life, including our friendship (albeit for logical reasons); another pastor-friend convinced me that predestination was the only biblically-tenable position, and as a serious Protestant, the Bible was the one and only Word, but as a thinking person, predestination was unacceptable) and there were … “stirrings”. I couldn’t have had any clearer indications without a burning bush or temporary blindness whilst in route to Lebanon.

That was ten years ago. I’ve been out of the church – any church, really – since then, and I don’t think I’m going back. Somewhere in the back of my mind there’s always been the nagging voice that if God kicked me out of the Church, he’d probably bring me back in. But maybe not. Maybe the place for everyone is not in a Church.

For reasons I can’t put together, most of the friends, acquaintances, etc. with whom I discuss theology have been Catholic, or Anglican, or some reasonably orthodox variation. And they’re very persuasive. They should be – they have thousands of years of apologists who have chewed over most every serious problem already. I am not a Christian in a sense the me of 10 years have go would have respected. I think of myself as a follower of Christ, but not the church. I’m a Christian like the early Christians, I like to imagine. Well, with a little bit of Buddhism, Humanism, Urantianism, and God knows what else thrown in. But if I were a Christian, I might be a Catholic. Or, a pre-backslidden Catholic, as I was telling my friend Craig.

See, the Bible is very unreliable as a sole source of direction. It is confusing, even contradictory. It was certainly not divinely inspired for clarity. What is more, a study of biblical history shows indisputably that no significant part of the New Testament was written within 20 years of Jesus’ death. Much of it was written more than a generation later. A significant part was not even written as part of the original text, but was incorporated later. The point is that the gospels, the epistles – the entire New Testament, rely upon the tradition of the apostles (what I thought was Apostolic Succession, but apparently this is something different). So by relying on the Bible, you are relying even more fundamentally on the tradition of the apostles and the first batch of Christians. If we accept tradition, at what point do we abandon it? Just like Timothy, the Catholic tradition makes an internal claim to its own validity. Why accept one claim but not another?

So if I were a Christian, I would be a Catholic. But while I concur with the Catholic claim to authority, I simply can’t accept on that authority that sex between any consenting adults is sinful. Unlawful or unwise, perhaps. But not sinful. I won’t accept the roles of women as currently defined. Most importantly, I won’t accept the absolute spiritual authority of another man.

Scroll all the way back up to the top, read, and come back here. I’ll wait.

This “Call no man father” passage has often been thrown as a very casual and shallow “bomb” (e.g. “You call your priests ‘Father’, so you’re sinning”) – while I have been mulling this post in my mind for some time, it was prompted tonight by a comment on this post at Ales Rarus, in which the verse was tossed – but I think it has a more crucial significance. As any beginning Catholic apologist should respond, people are called “father” throughout the bible, and Jesus didn’t mean you shouldn’t call your own dad “father”. Clearly we’re not supposed to take it literally, any more than we are to literally pluck out our own eyes.

But in the context of the passage, and in the context of the rest of Jesus’ ministry, we are called to be sons of God, not sons of Paul (despite “Paul’s” later claim to the contrary!), not sons of Augustine, not sons of the Pope. God is our father, and there is no intercessor between us save the Christ. I don’t see any clearer reading than this.

I’ve attempted to avail myself of the gobs of Catholic apology on the subject. I’d originally planned this post to be a discussion of the following links (link link link). But it can be distilled to this: I have not seen any Catholic interpretation of this passage which does not boil all meaning away. I’m still hopeful someone will be able to provide a better alternative – I’m not closed to the idea.

Though I know that within the Catholic tradition to knowingly err is mortal sin, were I a Christian, and thus a Catholic, I would immediately be in opposition to the Pope and papal tradition. I would need wake each day and pray to God, “Forgive me Father, for today I will sin – my contrition is sincere, though I will repeat the sin today and tomorrow.”

So perhaps it is best I’m not a Christian. At least not by the old me’s definition.