Matt Maher Is Catholic, And No One Cares (But Everyone Should)

There’s no better way to start off the new year than with a controversial post, so here goes:

In July of 2007, just a couple of months after I had accepted the position as full time Worship Director at Christ Community Church, I attended the first annual National Worship Leader Conference in Austin, Texas.  A number of big name Christian musicians led worship that week, but there were also a few young, mostly unknown songwriters and worship leaders who taught various workshops and seminars.

tlib-coverOne of these was a guy named Matt Maher.  I had never heard of Maher before, but at the conference I found out he was the person who wrote the song, “Your Grace is Enough” which Chris Tomlin had recorded the previous year (yes many worship leaders record songs written by other people).  Maher intrigued me and I was anxious to hear more from him with the release of his new album the following year.  Needless to say I was not disappointed, and over the next few years (and albums) Maher quickly became one of my favorite worship songwriters.

Then I would stumble upon the Youtube video that would rock my worship world:

I don’t entirely remember how I found it, but I stumbled upon a video of Matt Maher with two puppets named Drag and Gary.  It is absolutely hilarious (especially if you grew up in the 90s and know what a TrapperKeeper is).

When I went to find more information about these crazy puppets and how they knew Mr. Maher, I discovered that they were a part of a Catholic Youth Ministry website.  My interest was peaked, and after doing some more research I discovered my suspicions were correct:

Matt Maher is Catholic!

And not just in name only, but a faithful, devout, practicing Roman Catholic who doesn’t shy away from talking about his faith.  I, like many other people, had no idea.  This was especially shocking for a conservative Evangelical who left the Catholic church at a young age.  It’s not a secret that Evangelicals and Roman Catholics haven’t gotten along very well in the past, and to be quite honest, much Evangelical practice was established to be specifically non-Catholic (this is why we celebrate Communion once a month or less, instead of weekly).  So after finding all this out about one of my favorite worship songwriters, I had only one response:

This Is Awesome!

Now, if you come from a conservative Evangelical tradition like me, this response probably confuses you.  Why would I be excited about Matt Maher being Catholic? Aren’t they the ones who believe strange things about Mary, and that the Pope is more important than the Bible, and that you have to do good works in order to be saved?  This is the perspective (or perhaps caricature) that most Evangelicals have of Catholics and their theology.

But I was excited (and still am) because I believe this represents a huge step when it comes to the unity of the Church.  In John 17, Jesus specifically prays that the church would be unified, one in him.  And yet 2000 years after that prayer was prayed we are more divided than ever.  This is a complete travesty for the Church.  But here you have a young Catholic writing songs that are being sung by Evangelical Protestants around the world in praise to the one God that we both worship.  If there was ever a reason to hope for a greater unity within the Church, this is it.

Evangelicals Need Catholics

Yet, even more importantly, I strongly believe that Matt Maher’s Catholic theology is incredibly helpful for Evangelicals.  Now please don’t misunderstand me, I am an Evangelical Protestant and disagree with many things in Catholic theology. Were Maher and I ever to have the chance to sit down over coffee I’m sure we could have some lively debates about the purpose of the sacraments, the role of Church authority, and the means of salvation, among other things.

But while we may disagree on some issues, there is far more that we agree on, and even areas where I can learn from his tradition to make me a better Christian.  I don’t think it’s an accident that so many of Maher’s songs focus on elements of Christianity that Evangelicals have deemphasized, like the necessity of the resurrection, the centrality of communion, and the need for confession.  These are parts of our common tradition that we Evangelicals have too easily downplayed, which has left our doctrine and worship hollow.  Matt Maher’s Catholic faith pours through his songwriting, extending to the congregations that sing his songs.  I’ve even seen a shift by other songwriters to try and recapture some of the lost traditions and doctrines of conservative Protestants.  I’m not saying this is all because of Matt Maher, but I do think he has played a significant role in this shift.

Disagreeing With The Disagreers

Now I realize that there are those who will find out about Matt Maher’s faith through this post, and they will then choose not to use his songs anymore.  It’s not uncommon to find people who believe we should not use music from Christians with whom we have doctrinal differences.  Frankly, that would be a terrible shame.  This is a tremendous opportunity for Catholics and Protestants alike to find common ground in worship.  And I believe that worship is the beginning point of the Christian life.  The simple fact is we need each other, and worshiping together might be the only way we truly come to understand that.  In the end the songs Maher writes are good, faithful, true, and challenging.  They are the types of songs that are essential for the life of the Church, regardless of our particular Christian tradition.

So celebrate with me that we have so much in common with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters that we can sing the same songs to give praise to the Father who created all things, the Son who redeemed us by his death and resurrection, and the Spirit that leads us into the new creation life!  There is plenty of time to work out the doctrinal differences later, but for now it is time to sing!

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About Stephen Wilburn

I am a worship director at a suburban Philadelphia church and currently a doctoral student at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA
This entry was posted in Worship Controversies and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Matt Maher Is Catholic, And No One Cares (But Everyone Should)

  1. Mari Hopkins DeMenna says:

    Thank you Steve. Beautifully written.

    Like

  2. Antonio says:

    I’m italian. I know the believe of the catholic “church”. Catholic people worship and pray to mary and the saints. But the bible tells us to pray and worship God only. This is only one great difference between catholic people and christian people. The first are religious people, chistians are born again people that have relationship with Jesus by his Word and his Spirit. “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”. Catholics are baptized as infants, but the word of God tells us that we must choose to be baptized after having repented and believing in Christ. One is born again when he repents, believes in the Lord and decides to follow him. Do not be fooled. If you say: I’ m catholic, it means that you have not known the truth, and you can’t truly worship God. Catholicism is a religion. Even Protestantism is a religion. The true Christianity is a relationship with Jesus through his Word and his Spirit. True worship is through his Word and his Spirit. The Word and the Spirit teach us how to worship God, not religious people. Everyone can repeat what the Bible says , even through songs, but it does not mean he is Christian, it does not mean he is worshiping God, regardless of whether it is a Catholic or protestant. True worship is in Spirit and in truth. There are singers very famous that are not christians, yet they write songs that speak about God and Jesus, but they are not worshiping God, but they themselves. They can’t teach me nothing, if not deception.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Antonio, thanks so much for reading and interacting with my post. It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that I disagree with most of what you said, but I understand your concerns, as I’ve heard them many times before. Without going into too much detail let me just say that many Catholics do not fully understand what their church teaches on these issues. But of course many Protestants and Evangelicals don’t understand what their traditions teach either. In fact Christianity Today recently reported on a survey that revealed that the majority of Evangelicals hold positions that are historically heretical.

      You’re absolutely right that Christianity is a relationship with Jesus in Spirit and Truth. But I’m convinced this is the relationship that Matt Maher has, even if we disagree over specific points of doctrine.

      Thanks again for stopping by and I hope you’ll be back!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Kristine says:

      Really? You should brush up on what you know about the Catholic faith and compare it with what you think you know. Catholics do not worship Mary. Nor do they pray “to” her – they ask for her intersession to the Lord because she can help us with our prayers. Oy. It’s like Catholic myth busters 101. There’s a saying – people don’t dislike the Catholic church – they dislike what they THINK the Catholic church is.

      Like

  3. Carlin Wong says:

    Hello Stephen,

    I stumbled onto your blog searching for information on Matt Maher’s theology and am glad I found it. Great to see you interacting with a topic I am wrestling with as a worship leader at my church.

    I appreciate the spirit in which you write your article. It is gentle & winsome and holds nothing back in your position. However, I am concerned about two parts you mentioned and if you have time (I know I’m a year late to the party as this article was published in January 2015), it’d be helpful to hear your perspective.

    You write (I’ve shortened it for brevity’s sake):
    “Were Maher and I ever to have the chance to sit down over coffee I’m sure we could have some lively debates about…the means of salvation…”

    Isn’t the means of salvation (or the doctrine of salvation) the defining factor as to who is a Christian and who is not? Although we may agree on important issues such as the nature of the Trinity, this issue seems to me irreconcilable to me between Evangelicals and Roman Catholic Church.

    When you mention, “It’s not uncommon to find people who believe we should not use music from Christians with whom we have doctrinal differences” you seem to lump the doctrine of salvation into the same category as disagreement over the millennium in Revelation or infant baptism which I believe is an error. If Maher subscribes to salvation by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8), which to my understanding of Roman Catholic (RC) theology does not, then Maher should not be part of the RC church. But if Maher does subscribe to RC theology, then the doctrinal divide is too great a chasm to overcome. The result is that Maher is not a Christian. But your above statement suggests that RC is another denomination when it is another religion altogether based on a different means of salvation.

    I would love to hear your thoughts if you had time. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wonderful blog post! I am a former Protestant, now Catholic, and I much appreciated this. I especially appreciated how you noted that what many people believe about the Catholic Church is in fact merely a “caricature” of the real thing. As bishop Fulton Sheen put it “There are not one hundred people who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions who hate what they mistakenly believe to be the Catholic Church.”

    For Christian Unity, I like to look to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien; two men who are much appreciated by both Protestants and Catholics. What many don’t know is that C.S. Lewis (a Protestant) and J.R.R. Tolkien (A Catholic) were very good friends. Tolkien’s Catholicism carried a great deal into The Lord of the Rings “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work…” -J.R.R. Tolkien. He also said that The Lady Galadriel evokes Our Lady Mary. In Minas Tirith, the city with seven hills with a prow like a great ship and ruled by a steward in anticipation of the King, we see a vision of the Catholic Church. It also appears that in Rohan, which was once a part of Gondor, we see a picture of the Protestant church.

    Like

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