While watching the final hour of PBS' "God in America" series earlier this week (you can catch it all on its website) I chuckled a brief bit when one of the primary guest narrators, Dr. Prothero of Boston Univ. -- (I think it was him, but anyway...) -- said that with the many independent non-denominational megachurches sprouting, new denominations are growing as we are watching this series. I might have the exact wording a little off and feel free to correct me on this. But the message was unambiguous. There's some truth to this even beyond Marcus' oft-stated observation that while he was preaching the Gospel in his way, down the street in several different churches it was preached as differently as there were these other churches. (Save more likely for Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran parishes which often follow the same calendar readings.)
These megachurches, however well intended they are to suit the spiritual needs of those seeking a more reformed or even Pentacostalistic yearnings, also tend to attract and produce more free-wheeling pastors who are actually lacking the help they need in one key area of their ministerial callings (or if you'll pardon some skepticism on my part) careers. I used "careers" because of the very lucrative salaries some of the more energetic and "personality-gifted" are able to earn largely because they can also bring in more people to these church bodies. In many respects it sure doesn't look much different than professional sports or even academia where some of the top universities are able to attract a "big-name winning coach," or a renowned professor or author. (Coaches always get the most $ offers and first phone calls.)
It’s perfectly legitimate within their more fluid methods of church growth and evangelism. As to how “biblical” it is, well I’d rather leave that for them to come up with a suitable explanation. But here’s the weak-link for many of even the most gifted preachers: where are the final brakes on human pride, especially if the top pastor, the seat-filler, that local church’s very human founder and his wife aren’t really “held accountable” and little by little, communication breaks down because his or (his “first lady”… a-hem, a rising trend within megachurches led by powerful preachers and pliant deacons/elders) might just be rubbing people the wrong way, falling prey to nepotism and over-the-top patronage and finding plum jobs or even putting the “first ladies” on the payroll while some of the other women who’ve been putting in longer hours never asked for a dime and haven’t even been offered any compensation, not that they’d probably take it anyway? Or, how do they determine their qualifications for calling somebody a “bishop”? Who consecrates or calls whom?
Our Church has been woefully ill-served by some of our own shepherds, some even cardinals and archbishops in key cities across this nation alone! The woes have been inflicted as a result of allowing a lax interpretation of Tradition and Scripture, such as Abp. Hunthausen’s case in Seattle, moral as in the late-Cardinal Cody’s case in Chicago, and outright dereliction of duty as in Bernard Cardinal Law’s case in Boston. And needless to say, Abp. Weakland’s tenure in Milwaukee brought disgrace to us all, not to mention untold embarrassment for his sordid record. All of them were disciplined, and even though Cardinal Law somehow was entrusted to care for Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, one of the four key basilicas in the Holy City, I suspect Pope John Paul II put him there for a very valid reason; one perhaps reminding him of how lucky he was to get out of Boston when he did, and two, to let him know his “higher paygrades” in the Curia will be watching every bureaucratic slip or improper transfer he makes for as long as he’s entrusted to the care of that Basilica.
That said, I also didn’t return home to the Catholic Church because I believed Catholics were any “better” human beings. Who was I to think that? I came home because in spite of all we went through some five years ago in Boston and elsewhere, even in my own Springfield, MA Diocese (with Bp. Thomas Dupre’ leaving within a day’s time span when evidence surfaced that he long ago abused a child and he checked himself into the hospital outside Washington, DC for priests with these problems.) I knew that besides whatever personal p roblems nd deficiencies of personal character our shepherds and local pastors had, whatever their sins were, the bedrock claims of Catholic teachings would remain just that, bedrock. We survived Alexander VI and the Borgias, we can endure the rest. At the risk of sounding overly enthusiastic or too much in the spirit of a “rah rah” cheerleader to the detriment of anybody of a different faith background, and I don’t wish to ever to do this, it all rests on the identity of Who Founded the first and only Christian Church, which one of His followers, St. Ignatius Polycarp, later called Catholic. That identity is God in the Second Person, the Father’s Only Son, Jesus Christ. For “away from home” or lapsed Catholics, that’s all you need for assurances you’ll be making the right decision to return. My mother used to say if a Catholic has any thoughts of leaving the Church, he or she’d better ask Who Founded it. She was no “conservative” Catholic, but, although she’d grumble from time to time, she was loyal to the end. I only wish I was a tenth as loyal when was younger; and let’s not forget, for the older women in the Church, it wasn’t very easy being all that gung-ho and enthusiastic when the old-boy network ruled it with a firm (and in some dioceses) iron hand. But I do understand where some of the static we get from our fellow Protestant Christians who don’t understand why we’re expected to be more firmly (to borrow their phraseology, “denominationally loyal” so to speak. Sometimes my wife openly would ask, “Why do you Catholics think you’re so special?” … and that’s a perfectly (understandable) All-American question if there was any given our nation’s religious history. It’s okay for spouses to be direct, so long as we decide not to replay the Thirty Years’ War. And it’s best that we simply shrug off our relatives inquiries if they’re rude, and be overjoyed to explain why we remain loyal to our spiritual uniqueness (if that’s not too awkward a phrase.) But only with love. I wasn’t that way and … am I ever ashamed of what my more youthful and less mature way of “handling” that perfectly normal inquiry has cost my family in spiritual terms.
I beg of all of you; learn from my mistakes committed out of arrogance and pride. After all, they weren’t the Pharisees, and it makes no difference if you read about Jesus from a Catholic or Protestant Bible; Our Lord only gave it to the Pharisees as a group. Please, don’t make my mistakes of behaving more like an arrogant Pharisee when I could’ve turned away a wrathful or inarticulately asked question or one I misperceived to be a taunt…with a far more loving and gentle answer.