What To Do When You Disagree with Church Teaching

The Challenge of Belief

In today's world, with the rise of ideas like post-modernism, individualism, secularization, and positivism, it can be extremely difficult to believe in everything that the Church teaches. Whether it's contraception, priestly chastity, or the Real Presence of the Eucharist, it's safe to say that most Catholics disagree with something taught by the Church.

This presents a challenge to our Faith, because faith is based on our relationship with God, that he is a person who loves us and want's the best for us. Thus, if God is all knowing and all loving, he cannot tell us anything that is untrue. This is a challenge to our temptation of unbelief.

However, this is complicated when someone brings into doubt the two-thousand year history of Tradition the Church has and the development of doctrine? What if a current teaching of the Church isn't really what Jesus wanted? THIS mentality is the greatest challenge to Catholics inside the Church, and I believe is the cause of most disagreement within the Church.

So what does someone do when they disagree with Church teaching? Start by asking yourself these questions.

1) Do You NEED to Believe?

When you disagree with something that the "Church" teaches ask yourself, is this something that is required of me to believe? What level of importance or infallibility does this teaching carry? Is it Dogma like the divinity of Christ or the Immaculate Conception? Is it a moral issue like contraception, abortion, or lying? Is it a practice like the celibacy of the priesthood?

Despite common assumption, there are some things that you are allowed to disagree with in the Catholic Church. Dogmas, Doctrines, and Morals are "required" for an authentic Catholic Faith, but things such as priestly celibacy, the kind of music used at Mass, etc. are able to be contested as long as they are done in love, with the proper motivation, and not to the detriment of the Church.

Is it ok to disagree with Church Teaching?

  • Yes, always.
  • No, never.
  • It depends on what the issue is.
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2) What is the Effect of Your Unbelief?

How does your disagreement with Church teaching affect the rest of your faith? Does it make you have feelings of resentment, guilt, anger, or condescension? Chances are that holding the position is actually detrimental to your life in Christ and may come from pride.

Healthy disagreement should include an openness to be found wrong, the ability to engage in respectful dialogue, a level of emotional detachment from the issue, and a peacefulness that your particular practice or belief enriches your personal faith, and is at the least not-detrimental to the universal faith.

Sometimes hard questions and discussions need to take place. The Church needs to continue to examine the non-celibate priesthood, the relationship of the Tridentine Rite to the Novus Ordo, and the how the faithful should receive communion. These debates, when done correctly, enrich the Church, are avenues for evangelization, and uphold the diversity of the Church while still striving to maintain unity. But these discussions must be appropriate in the content and method!

3) Look at your Motivations

It is important to genuinely ask yourself why you disagree with Church Teaching. If its an issue of practice, ask yourself if your opinion is a matter of personal preference (your choice in music for example), a desire to stick it to the "other side" (conservatives vs. liberals), or if you just haven't experienced enough variety to make a true decision.

If It's a matter of doctrine or morals it's even more important to look critically at your own motivations. Is it a matter of what feels right? If this is the case, it's not an adequate enough reason for a Catholic to willfully disobey the Church. Do you disagree with the reasoning the Church gives? If so, continue on down this list. Are you subconsciously harboring some resentment or hate towards the Church? Maybe deep down you feel the Church is out of date, bigoted, or just plain errant in their custodial duties of the teachings of Christ. If so.... the next two items on the list are for you.

If you really want to live a life of holiness, obedience, and faithfulness, you need to be prepared to critically look at your own motivations and sacrifice them if they are in error. This really goes for anything, not just adherence to Church teaching.

What is your favorite source of information about our faith?

  • The Bible
  • The Catechism
  • The Church Fathers
  • Others
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Examine the Reasons

If you haven't looked at why the Church believes what they do, that should probably be your first step. The Church is steeped in literally over two millennia of philosophy and is the custodian of the faith handed down by Christ himself. They are also guided by the Holy Spirit, which is kind of a big deal. They are also extremely consistent in their beliefs, never contradicting themselves and rarely "changing" anything, although they do "develop".

If you want to know why you should believe something try these following sources:

A) The Bible-- The Bible is the revelation of God and the telling of his relationship with us. Our entire faith is based off of it, and the teachings and life of Christ should be our prime example in our faith. Therefore, to found out what to believe, the Bible is likely the first place to go. However, the risk of using only the Bible as the source of justification for our beliefs is that we can rationalize almost any interpretation of it hat we want. Therefore, when seeking answers from the Bible, make sure you know what Jesus actually said and would do, not just what you want him to have said. Is the answer to your question not in the Bible (ie. is contraception o.k.)? It's likely it wasn't an issue for the people of that time. You'll have to look elsewhere to figure out how to responsibly apply Biblical principles to current day problems.

B) The Church Fathers--The Church Fathers present some of the earliest teachings of the Church, and were excellent at Biblical exegesis. Being hardly removed from the teaching of the Apostles, their teachings bear both a heavy authority and continuity. They speak on a wide variety of topics from Mary, to liturgical practices, to social justice issues. There are some things they don't address, but their body of works as a whole present a solid framework for building upon the teachings of the Bible.

C) The Popes--The Popes, especially through their encyclical writings, offer a substantial amount of authoritative teaching on almost any subject of faith. Whether its moral issues (Humanae Vitae), Social Justice issues (Rerum Novarum), the role of women in the Church (Dignitatis Mulierbus), or doctrinal issues (Ubi Primum), there is a Papal Encyclical for just about any topic. And they bear a high level of authority within the Church. Written by the brightest men of the Church, they tend to be informative, if not persuasive. Counciliar documents, such as Dei Verbum and Lumen Gentium are also good sources of research.

D) The Catechism--I hesitated to include this in the list, but felt I must do it in order to be a good Catholic. The Catechism is handy because it present a holistic teaching of the Church in one book. It has references and cross reference which make it easy to connect multiple subjects together. It's also generally a pretty "easy" read. The only "problem" with the Catechism is that much of its content is taken from older sources, and in that sense it mostly a "secondary" text. However, it is still a useful source for those seeking truth.

E) Other Theologians--There are a wealth of great theologians out there who can help with learning the crux of a problem. C. S. Lewis, Cardinal Newman, Henri Nouwen, and many others are wonderful theologians that offer poignant critiques of Christian Doctrine and morality. Be careful though, there are many bad theologians, or at least many errant ones, so make sure you're not picking one just to confirm your own beliefs.

Even if you've done research before on an issue you disagree with. Read something else about it and revisit it. Maybe you'll see it in a new way now that you're older.

4) Pray

If you've done all these previous steps and still disagree with a major Church teaching, you have yet to do this final, most important step.

Pray for the gift of faith, and the grace to believe. Pray for humility and charity. Most importantly, pray for the gift of obedience. Even if you don't agree with something the Church teaches, especially in moral issues, the greatest act of love and faith you can show is to obey anyway.

© 2015 rdlang05

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