Other Worldviews

#STRask: May 1, 2017

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Published on 05/01/2017

In 4 min. or less, Greg answers questions about attending a Catholic funeral, and Hank Hanegraff’s conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy.


  • Should Christians attend Catholic Funeral Masses or “Rosaries”? If it’s a fam member, how do we handle that conversation?
  • I recently heard that Hank Hanegraff converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. Should this concern me as a listener?


Melinda: Hello there folks. This is Melinda the Enforcer. Why does that make you laugh every single time?

Greg K.: I’m just feeling jolly I guess.

Melinda: Okay. I’m Melinda the Enforcer, and I’m here with the laughing Greg Koukl.

Greg K.: To enforce me.

Melinda: Yes. Well, it’s been my job for 20...

Greg K.: Lots of years.

Melinda: Yeah, a lot of years. Before I was gray. Before you were gray too.

Greg K.: Before I was gray.

Melinda: So yeah. And I’m sure every gray hair has your name on it. This is the #STRask Podcast. This is our short podcast. You send us your questions on Twitter, using #STRask. Greg is on a timer. That’s the little ding bell you heard at the end of the opening song, and Greg has to answer in four minutes or less. And he usually almost always does an excellent job of it.

Greg K.: Thank you.

Melinda: So you can-

Greg K.: I’m capable-

Melinda: ...mince your words when you need to.

Greg K.: Yeah.

Melinda: And do a good job of it.

Greg K.: Okay.

Melinda: Just wish you’d do it more often. But, the time we don’t want you to mince your words is on the longer podcast-

Greg K.: That’s right.

Melinda: ...and people can still call on Tuesday afternoons, 4 to 6 P.M. Pacific time, and have a conversation with you.

Greg K.: Right.

Melinda: Pick your mind, disagree.

Greg K.: Mm-hmm. And I like taking the extra time to work through some of these issues that just require more time to develop, basically.

Melinda: Yeah.

Greg K.: To unwrap and develop, and to address.

Melinda: I think that’s what a lot of people over the years have appreciated about the regular podcast, the longer one. Because there is time to think through and discuss, and work through a lot of issues and stuff. And that’s important. Not everything can be bite-size. But in this podcast, it is.

Greg K.: Bite-size.

Melinda: Excuse me. So here we go. First question comes from Fixyoureyes1. “Should Christians attend Catholic funeral masses or rosaries? It’s a family member, and how do I handle that conversation?”

Greg K.: Well, I didn’t know there was conversation necessary or you mean it...

Melinda: How would you...I think assuming-

Greg K.: If there’s a conversation that follows if you say you’re not gonna go.

Melinda: Exactly.

Greg K.: Yeah. I don’t think that there’s problems with going to a funeral of a person with a religious service that is inconsistent with your own. Okay? And whether it’s Roman Catholic, which is a Christian Denomination obviously. Or whether it’s Buddhist or Hindu, or Muslim, whatever. I don’t think that attending a funeral is a participation in the religious element of it. You’re showing your respects to the person who died. You’re being gracious and generous. You’re showing good manners. Now, if you went to a Rosary and what you are expected to do is pray the Rosary, which is by the way, a series of prayers on beads that Roman Catholics pray principally to Mary. And it is done to establish merit on behalf of the person who died to spring them from purgatory earlier.

Well, that I think would be a problem, because if you go to a Rosary, you’re now participating in an explicitly religious enterprise that is tied to a doctrine that I think is a real problem. Not just the Mary part, but also the purgatory part. So it’s the...All the theology is ill advised. The point of a Rosary is to participate and pray the Rosary on behalf of the person who died. So I think a person is fine going to the funeral and even a mass associated with that, just as they would be fine, I think, going to a Roman Catholic wedding. Even if there were a mass associated with that, which as I recall it sometimes is. And that not a participation in any meaningful religious sense in my mind. But a Rosary strikes me as something different.

Melinda: Okay, so a few years ago, one of the neighbors on my block that I grew up with. She was the mom of one of my playmates on my street, passed away. They were Roman Catholic, and so I went to the service. Never been to a Roman Catholic funeral before. Didn’t know what to expect. It actually did turn out to be a Rosary service.

Greg K.: They prayed the whole Rosary while you were there?

Melinda: Throughout the whole thing, yeah. You know. But what I ended up doing was you know...My...Simply, I mean, obviously didn’t participate in the prayers to Mary.

Greg K.: Right.

Melinda: I didn’t kneel when they were kneeling towards Mary.

Greg K.: Right.

Melinda: I would stand up. I mean, so I participated in the parts I could. I joined in the recitations where I could. I stood up when everybody stood up, but I didn’t always do what everybody else was doing. Standing up, I did not kneel-

Greg K.: Right.

Melinda: ...and I did not say the things that I knew would be a problem.

Greg K.: Yeah, there’s some of the prayers, the Our Father is a...The Lord’s prayer is one of them, and the Gloria Patri is another prayer that’s in the Rosary that wouldn’t be offensive at all. Although it is in that case, it is being prayed for a particular purpose. So I guess, a Christian could pray that prayer to themselves for a different purpose, but I know I...For myself, I was raised Catholic, and so-

Melinda: Well, I was gonna say. This is-

Greg K.: ...I think in service like that, I wouldn’t want to participate. Partly because the end to which you’re doing that is for the spiritual benefit of the one deceased, which to me, that issue has been resolved.

Melinda: So that’s the whole purpose of a Rosary service?

Greg K.: Yeah.

Melinda: For people to go there and help them through purgatory?

Greg K.: Yeah, it’s an indulgence as I understand it. Now, some Roman Catholic person might say, “Well, you don’t understand that.” But when a person dies, and there’s a Roman Catholic mass, sometimes the mass is being said for that dead person. That is as an indulgence. What an indulgence is, is a meritorious act that is meant to get a person out of purgatory more quickly.

Melinda: I was raised Lutheran. I know what an indulgence is.

Greg K.: Right. Well, some of the listeners may not. So that’s-

Melinda: No, I know. That’s true.

Greg K.: ...why I’m speaking of it. And the Rosary is also a kind of an indulgence, so participating in the indulgence even if the prayers are legitimate prayers, like The Lord’s prayer for example. Or the Gloria Patri. I think is a mistake, so in that circumstance, I would...What do I want to say?...I would be respectful in my posture and my attitude. But I wouldn’t participate beyond just the respectful posture.

Melinda: And that’s what I tried to do. Yeah, I mean, I’d never been to a Catholic service before. I had no idea what to expect.

Greg K.: Right.

Melinda: You know, so I was a little surprised and so I just did my best. I also didn’t want to draw attention to myself, but I just did my best-

Greg K.: Sure.

Melinda: ...to be respectful, but not to participate-

Greg K.: Right.

Melinda: ...where I couldn’t. So, next question comes from Marissa and Ben on Twitter. “I recently heard that Hank Hanegraaff converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. Should this concern me as a listener?”

Greg K.: Well, I was just thinking about that coming into the office today. And it doesn’t concern me, all right?

Melinda: As a listener?

Greg K.: Well, of course I don’t-

Melinda: I mean, it doesn’t concern you at all?

Greg K.: Well, I guess I don’t...Maybe there’s an ambiguity there in the question. As a listener, should I continue to listen to him if he’s now a Greek Orthodox or whatever Orthodox church he joined? I don’t...I think that if a person found Hank Hanegraaff helpful in his general Christian witness and answers to the questions that were asked. Particularly when the questions are not Sectarian in that sense, I don’t see any reason why a person should quit listening to Hank. There are lots of people...I read C.S. Lewis. C.S. Lewis was an Anglican for goodness’ sake, you know? So that’s a very different high-church kind of background. One-

Melinda: But it doesn’t...Anglicanism doesn’t have some of the theological distinctions that-

Greg K.: No, that’s true. That’s true, but I...What I’m saying is-

Melinda: Sorry.

Greg K.: ...I was just trying to draw a broad kind of comparison that you can gain things from people you disagree with theologically. I’m not that conversant in the issue of say, Orthodox theology or Coptic theology. My understanding is that they...There may be some legalistic elements that are there just like I see in Roman Catholicism and so, those are places-

Melinda: They also-

Greg K.: ...that I would draw the line.

Melinda: ...pray to saints.

Greg K.: Okay.

Melinda: So, okay. So this-

Greg K.: Okay, here. How about this. Peter Craft. I read Peter Craft’s books, I benefit from things that he says, and he’s a Roman Catholic.

Melinda: Right. So it doesn’t concern you as a listener. I can see that. Does it concern you as a Christian, as a brother in the Lord? I mean, do you think a conversion-

Greg K.: Well, the difficulty in answer-

Melinda: ...to even, Orthodoxy is the same as like a conversion maybe someone from Baptist...Well, I wouldn’t even call this conversion. But going from Baptist to Presbyterian?

Greg K.: No, I don’t think so. Because I think the differences between those two denominations is not as severe as those between general Evangelical theology and Orthodox church, or Roman Catholic church. Those particular liturgical churches, I think it’s just it’s...And so, I don’t know the reasons that Hank Hanegraaff made the move. I am aware of a lot of Evangelicals for example, that become Roman Catholic. And that raises eyebrows, especially if that Evangelical has a prominent position in the Christian community. And this is-

Melinda: Well, it’s raised your eyebrows.

Greg K.: Well, yes. I mean, but the question that I’m asking right now is, and this is the key question. What were the reasons the person made the shift? All right? And I’m not gonna speak of any individual here now, but I do know that in many, many cases and those people who have friends that have done that, if they asked that question, a lot of times they don’t get a theological answer. They’re aesthetic reasons they’re making the shift, which stuns me to be honest with you. Because when you make a shift from Evangelicalism to Roman Catholicism, yes there’s a different aesthetics but those things are tied to theology. So there’s a theological element that drives a lot of those aesthetically appealing things.

And gosh, it seems to...What kind of Evangelical where they if what drives them to a Roman Catholic denomination or maybe an Orthodox denomination, was principally aesthetics? And I’m only saying that because the theological divide is significant. And doesn’t that...Those issues matter more than the aesthetics. So the key question here for anyone making...Regarding anyone making that shift, is what are the reasons they made the shift? If they can be known? And sometimes you look, there’s theological reasons given kind of on the surface, they may not sound compelling. A lot of times you dig deeper and there’s some other things that are going on. The things that matter the most, are the theological reasons. And then, if somebody gives those reasons, then an individual has to assess them for themselves, whether they think those reasons are sound.

Melinda: But even if the reasons perhaps, that they made the change are benign or aesthetic or something like that. The change itself is not benign.

Greg K.: No, I...there...It, well depending on what it is-

Melinda: It’s significant.

Greg K.: ...they’re engaging. What denomination they’re moving to.

Melinda: Well-

Greg K.: Yes, this is because the theological divide is significant.

Melinda: Even Orthodoxy or Catholicism.

Greg K.: Right. Right. The...Look at...I can speak more of Roman Catholics in this case, because I was raised one. And I’m more familiar with Catholicism, but there is a significant difference in their authority claim, ecclesiological claims, the nature of the church. And also their claims about justification. So those are huge. Those are huge. And if those aren’t, I think, adequately embraced as issues by anybody who’s making the shift. Wow, then that concerns me. Then it makes me wonder what their original commitment actually was when they were Evangelical Christians.

Melinda: Yeah, I don’t understand how somebody who really, especially understands Protestant theology very generally, and the importance of the distinctions from Catholicism.

Greg K.: Right.

Melinda: I don’t understand how somebody goes to Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy frankly.

Greg K.: Right, yeah.

Melinda: Because these are very fundamental differences.

Greg K.: Right. And just for the record, I’m not...I don’t know why Hank made-

Melinda: No.

Greg K.: ...the...He never told me. And maybe he’s written on this and...But, the mistake I think some people make, that when they hear about these kind of high profile shifts from Evangelicalism to some kind of liturgical tradition other than Lutheranism. And it is that the people think, “Well, what do they know that I don’t know that is theologically? What did they discover that makes them think that Evangelical Protestant Christianity is somehow mistaken at a fundamental level that they would embrace this other thing?”

Well, okay. Well, that’s the question to ask. What is the theological motivation? I have not seen significant examples of theological motivation that has driven the enterprise in many of the people that I’ve heard that have gone in that direction. And I mean, people have to speak for themselves, obviously, but a lot of times it’s other issues that are making the difference. And if it is theological, one has to ask, “Okay, is there theological rationale?” A good one, I had a conversation maybe a year or so ago with a young lady. I was called in to talk with her, a woman. And she was moving from Protestantism to Catholicism. And we talked a lot about John 6, and the Lord’s supper and, “Eat my flesh and drink my blood.”

Now she just could not get away from that chapter. She thought this makes the Roman Catholic church the true church, and she was on her way. And there’s nothing I could do to dissuade her. Though it’s very clear to me that Jesus was not talking about anything about the Lord’s supper in that passage. If he was, no one listening had any idea what he was discussing. Because the Lord’s supper didn’t come for another couple of years later. And so it’s a basic principle of her...She tried to understand the passage in the light of what the author is, or the speaker, is communicating to the people there.

And there’s other parallelisms to make it very clear that he’s talking about belief in Jesus that brings eternal life. And eating his flesh and drinking his blood is just a parallel with that believing taking him. In any event, you have to ask the question, “What are the reasons?” And then you have to assess the reasons on their merits.

Melinda: Yeah, James White, our friend in Arizona. He’s done a-

Greg K.: Right. Alpha and Omega ministries.

Melinda: Right, he did a podcast. I just saw a clip of it. I haven’t had a chance to listen to the videos, I have to watch the whole thing. But he went in-depth on analyzing some of Hank’s reasons for his change. So I would recommend, if people want to understand better.

Greg K.: Okay. Good. I’m...

Melinda: To go find James’-

Greg K.: ...to that myself.

Melinda: Yeah, me too. I need to watch the whole thing. So-

Greg K.: And he’s very good on these kinds of things.

Melinda: Oh, absolutely.

Greg K.: He’s very, very thorough. Let’s put it that way. He’s a little aggressive in some circumstances, but if you look past the aggressiveness, it’s good to have a fighter on our side so to speak. But his rationale is very, very solid. And I’m curious to-

Melinda: Oh yeah. He’s gonna-

Greg K.: Hope he writes an article.

Melinda: ...analyze the theology. Yeah.

Greg K.: Because that would be easier than listening to a three hour podcast, which is what he usually does, when-

Melinda: Yeah, I don’t know how long it was.

Greg K.: Okay.

Melinda: So, well, we’re just gonna do two questions this time-

Greg K.: Oh, okay. Sounds good.

Melinda: ...because we’re already at 15 minutes, and we gotta move along. So that’s it for this episode. Send us your questions on Twitter using #STRask. Two episodes every week of STRask, Monday and Thursdays. And the regular podcasts, Wednesdays and Fridays. And that’s it for this episode, folks. Bye-bye.