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Profs discuss Baptists, Catholics

Katie Peralta | Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Baptist and a Catholic came together Monday night to talk about the differences between their two faiths – and far from a dispute, their meeting resulted in an intellectual discussion that hoped to encourage further conversations between the denominations.

Lawrence Cunningham, a Catholic in the theology department, argued that the theological gap between Catholics and Evangelical Protestants has narrowed since the Second Vatican Council, from 1962-65.

Cunningham’s comments came in a discussion with Mark Noll, a Baptist in the history department, as part of the Catholic-Protestant Exchange.

Noll agreed that the two faiths are not so different – because believers are similarly called to do the work of God.

“[And] all who trust in God are praying for salvation,” Noll said, reminding the audience of the similar goal both Protestants and Catholics have.

Cunningham began the event by discussing the term “Protestant” and current misunderstandings about the denomination.

“Protestant is a very vague term,” he said. “There are 22 different types of Baptists in this country alone.”

Cunningham then said one of the main differences he sees between the two faiths is that Protestantism is highly “congregationalized,” placing a great deal of importance on the local church community. This stands in contrast, he said, to the highly institutionalized Catholic Church, which places the most authority on the papacy in Rome.

Noll expanded on Cunningham’s notion of the Catholic institution.

“In the Roman Catholic Church, the Church makes the Christians. For Protestants, Christians make the Church,” Noll said.

Cunningham described Protestantism as more of “a priesthood of believers,” whereas Catholicism is structured in a more hierarchal way.

But ever since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s – which helped to educate non-Catholics about Catholicism – understandings have changed.

“Protestants were able to learn from Catholics about leadership,” he said.

Nonetheless, Cunningham and Noll said they didn’t think having different Christian denominations is a bad thing.

Cunningham said he wouldn’t recommend having one big “super-church.” Denominationalism, he said, exists because people have individual needs and preferences when it comes to picking out a religion.

“In the Catholic Church, however, expression of faith is in the devotional,” Cunningham said.

The event also explored other tensions between the faiths, including over role of Mary.

Brett Perkins, director of student resources at Campus Ministry, described the event as a follow-up to the Protestant-Catholic prayer service that Campus Ministry held at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Jan. 23.

Senior Everett Chu, president of Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM), began the event with a prayer.

Timothy Matovina, the theology professor who moderated the discussion, closed the event with a prayer advocating understanding and unity between all faiths.

Campus Ministry and BCM co-sponsored the event.