Book review: Catholics and Protestants–What Can We Learn from Each Other?

I’m reading Peter Kreeft’s book, “Catholics and Protestants: What Can We Learn from Each Other?” So many gems and great discussion starters here. I think it will be a great help to both sides. Kreeft is a convert to the Catholic Church, from Presbyterianism. It might be tempting for Protestants to think he is going to be very partisan, and to make a case against Protestantism, but he doesn’t do that. Among other things, he describes what is excellent in Protestantism, and how (some, perhaps many) Catholics need it. He is rather critical of the Catholic Church for not doing a good enough job emphasizing the need for a personal relationship with Christ, but he does not downplay what the Catholic Church brings to the table.

Probably the most important point he makes is to say that the issue of justification has been solved. In other words, Catholics and Protestants don’t believe differently about justification, even though we thought we did going all the way back to beginning of the Reformation. It was, in fact, the impetus for the Reformation. So the central issue that sparked the Reformation has been solved.

People of good will on both sides of the Catholic/Protestant divide will benefit from this book. At the very least, it can provide many talking points for people to use as spring boards for open and honest discussion.

 

I had a dream about Jesus

Back in February while I was staying with my mom in Vegas for a few days, I had a dream about Jesus. He was standing in front of me, and I thought, “It is the Lord.” For some reason I didn’t associate his name with his face until I work up. But it was him. Nothing else happened that I can remember.

The Eucharist is literal: John 6:22-71

The following video has some great Biblical exegesis as to why the Eucharist is literal, not figurative. Among other things, it compares the “bread of life discourse” in John 6, to other Bible passages where Jesus was speaking figuratively, people thought he was speaking literally or they did not understand him, and he corrected them (“We brought no bread,” “I am the door,” “Destroy this temple and I will raise it in three days.”). No correction happened in John 6 when the people indicated that he was speaking literally, but correction happend at those other times.

Plus, in every other passage regarding the Eucharist (ie, Last Supper, Paul’s admonition at 1 Cor 11), there is no indication that that the Eucharist was figurative. 1 Cor 11 is especially interesting to me. Since St. Paul was correcting the Corinthians anyway for the way they were treating the Lord’s Supper, it would have been a good time to explain or at least indicate somehow that it was not literal. But he didn’t do that.

I don’t know who this guy his, but I’ve watched a number of his videos. The name of his YouTube channel is “How To Be Christian.” He argues each topic thoroughly, and completely from the Bible. Check him out and see if you agree.

Catholic/Protestant Dictionary

There were many steps involved in becoming Catholic. I found that theology was only one of those steps. As I’ve mentioned before, Catholic culture was an unexpected and rather large hurdle.

Our_Mother_of_Perpetual_Help
Catholic art and culture intimidated me at first.

Maybe I already told this story. I’m not sure, but if so, please indulge me for a moment. Catholic culture is a very real thing, and I first discovered this when I attended a Catholic conference several years ago, before I converted. Many vendors were selling all sorts of Catholic artwork that was very ornate and elaborate. Many of them had images of Mary and other saints. All of these things were difficult to get past in my mind. The closest Protestant equivalent is a Christian bookstore that sells gifts and artwork, and even then it’s just different.

I finally realized that this was just the cultural part of Catholicism–it was not dogmatic. In other words, there was no requirement for me to display Catholic art in my home as a step to becoming Catholic. It was a big relief for me to realize that. I wish somebody had explained it to me though. Unfortunately, I had to figure it out on my own. I am not sure why that is.

Even so, there is a cultural transition. Part of it has to do with Catholic words, phrases and ideas. Many Catholic terms sounded very foreign to my ears… but only at first. At some point I realized that the terms only sounded foreign—the ideas behind them were not foreign at all. Here is a chart I made that is sort of like a Catholic to Protestant Dictionary. It is amazing how many Catholic ideas reside in Protestantism. But of course all that makes sense to me now, since Protestantism has its theological and historical origins in Catholicism.

catholic-protestant-dictionary

I take credit for some of these, since I genuinely figured them out on my own. But I got a few of them from Mark Shea, and a number of others from the Coming Home Network forum. So I’m not alone in making these kinds of observations. Other converts have as well. And just to be clear: I am not saying that there is 100% equivalence between the every item on this list. In some cases there is, but in other cases there is not. Even when there is not, they are close enough to convey the meaning.

I hope this chart helps Catholics and Protestants understand each other better.

*For elaboration on the confirmation/baptism equivalence, see here. For elaboration on the merit/reward equivalence, see here.

5/19/2017: I thought of another one. Catholics say “divine law,” and Protestants say, “Biblical principles.” Again, not a perfect overlap but they are similar ideas.

For Reformation Day: Protestantism hurt and confused me

calvinism-some-lives-matterThe day before Christmas Day is called Christmas Eve. The day before All Saint’s Day is called All Saint’s Eve. All Saint’s Eve is also known as All Hallow’s Eve. Remember in the Lord’s Prayer, when Jesus says, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name…”? Hallow means holy or it can also mean saintly. So Halloween is short for All Hallow’s Eve or All Saint’s Eve.

In some circles, today is also known as Reformation Day. It is the anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation (which is a misnomer but that’s another post that I may or may not write). On this day 499 years ago, a Catholic priest named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saint’s Church in Wittenburg, Germany. The year was 1517.

In memory of what Luther started, I thought it would be a good day for me to describe what it was like for me to be raised under Protestantism’s structural faults. Please do not take this an at attack on any individual Protestant except perhaps Luther himself. I mean this sincerely. For one thing, I know that Protestants are sincere in their beliefs and they have Biblical reasons for believing what they believe. While I disagree with their Biblical interpretations, I also know that it is scary to even contemplate becoming Catholic. At least, it was for me when I first started on my journey to the Church and I’ve heard the same from other converts. So what I am about to say is my experience and is, in some respects, unique to me.

I have thought about this for quite a while, and this is what I see:

  • Protestantism created a lack of unity among my family members, more than 50% of whom are devout Protestants of various denominations who disagree with each other and will not go to the same church, even on Christian holy days such as Christmas or Easter. The fact that nobody perceives this to be a symptom of a larger issue troubles me.
  • The “Bible alone” doctrine made it possible for the cult to be formed and sustained
  • The “Bible alone” doctrine was used to justify child abuse and female denigration in the cult
  • I strongly suspect that the restorationist Protestantism practiced by my paternal grandmother alienated my dad from Jesus through its fundamentalism
  • A nearby Presbyterian church had catechism classes for middle schoolers, and when I was in middle school I decided I wanted to attend them. So I did. After I finished and was baptized and confirmed, I wanted to continue going to church there, but my mother and her husband didn’t want to do that. I walked to church alone on Sunday maybe 2-3 times, then stopped going because it was awkward being there by myself as a young person.
  • T.U.L.I.P. frightened me and provoked my tender conscience almost constantly
  • Protestantism’s early and enthusiastic endorsement of remarriage after divorce contributed to me feeling isolated and lonely for my entire childhood. My mother remarried in a Methodist church in the early 1970s. This made me vulnerable to the false promises of the cult

There really does need to be just one Christian authority. Multiple “authorities” have led to confusion. Adults might not perceve this confusion, being ensconsed in their particular silos, but as a child with parents who were only nominally Christian, I was chronically impacted by it. It was only after I became Catholic, and using Catholic concepts and ideas, could I understand my childhood. Prior to that, it was just chaos and confusion and I had no framework through which to view it.

I wish all of my family members had been as devoutly Catholic as they are devoutly Protestant. If that had been the case, I can’t see how these issues would have arisen. If they all had been Catholic, then the “cracks” in my family and family structure simply would not have been there. Of course, other very positive things would probably not have happened, such as the blessing of my three truly wonderful, amazing, and beautiful children. I’m not exaggerating about them–everybody who meets them says the same thing, and always has since they were very young. Thankfully, God writes straight with crooked lines. He turns plan B into plan A.

In case I wasn’t clear earlier: my experiences are unique and I fell through “cracks” that most people don’t fall through. Even so, this is one reason why I cannot get excited about Reformation Day. But I hope everybody has a safe and fun Halloween… a safe and fun All Hallow’s Eve.

What is the difference between baptism and confirmation? Depends on who you ask

The Catholic Church teaches that baptism actually does something to the soul in an objective sense: it removes the punishment for sins committed up to that point in life; it removes the punishment for original sin; it makes the person a new creature; it imparts sanctifying grace.

But I know that a lot of Protestants don’t hold that view. They believe baptism is a symbolic action but not that it does anything objective to the soul.

I’ve thought about this difference a lot, and I’ve come to the conclusion that baptism really isn’t just a symbol to most Protestants. It is that they believe that baptism is a public demonstration that the person has entered into the Christian life. They have freely chosen to follow Christ and baptism is the public act that demonstrates this. So it looks to me like, generally speaking, Protestants baptize while attributing to it what Catholics call confirmation. This difference explains why Protestants will very often rebaptize somebody. They want the person to make a public statement regarding entering into the Christian life. This explains why some Protestants argue that baptism is not necessary for salvation (which is my mother’s position). If it is only a public act regarding the free choice to live as a Christian, then I would have to agree with that argument.

Catholics want everybody to be baptized because it does something objective to the soul. On the other hand, we acknowledge that there are times when somebody could still be saved without being baptized. Catholics recognize Protestant baptisms, but only as baptisms, not as confirmations. This is because when the Protestant was baptized, the objective actions that I mentioned above actually did take place (assuming a few details that I won’t go into here but are usually used). Any baptized Protestant who converts to Catholic is not rebaptized since it is not necessary, but they must make a public act of faith and be confirmed. They do this as part of the sacrament of confirmation.

Here is a table I made to help distinguish the Catholic view from the Protestant view. It doesn’t necessarily apply to all Protestants–they aren’t a monolithic group and it can be difficult to generalize about them, but I think it works pretty well for many of them.

Name of act Catholic view Protestant view (generally)
Baptism Does something objective to the soul (see above); a sacrament that imparts grace; obedience to the scriptures Public confirmation that the person accepts Christ and freely chooses to live as a Christian; obedience to the scriptures
Confirmation Public confirmation that the person accepts Christ and freely chooses to live as a Christian; a sacrament that imparts grace; obedience to the scriptures Not applicable; not acknowledged as a distinct and separate act

Here are a few scripture verses that distinguish baptism from confirmation:

 

Jesus did not ask for a New Testament

Jesus did not commission 26 of the New Testament books. At least, there is no record of him doing so. This gives us an opportunity to understand the role of tradition. Let’s do a thought experiment:

What if Jesus didn’t want 26 of the books in the New Testament? Where would that leave us? What would we need to rely upon in order to be saved?

For those who believe in “Bible alone,” they can’t just say, “Well, he must have wanted all of the New Testament.” They have to prove that from the Bible. For example, Luke 1:1-4 says:

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.

There is no mention of being commanded by Jesus to do this.

There is one exception: the book of Revelation. For example, in Revelation 1:10-19 John claims that Jesus commanded him to write what he had seen:

I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”

Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this…”

There are a few other places in Revelation where John is specifically commanded to write, and one where he is commanded to not write. This strikes me as evidence that proves the rule. Based on Revelation, we know that Jesus could have explicitly commissioned the other 26 books, yet there is no evidence for it. Here are two searches, one for the word write and the other for the word writing.

New Testament search for the word write

New Testament search for the word writing

Remember, the reason for this post is not to challenge the legitimacy of the New Testament. I only want people to think about it in a new way. We know about Revelation, but what about the other 26 books? What is the method we use to know that Jesus wanted those books? How were those books chosen to be part of the infallible canon, and who did the infallible choosing? If those books did not exist, what would we need to rely upon to be saved?

Don’t learn about the Catholic faith from former Catholics

I have noticed that former Catholics are generally misinformed about what the Church teaches. It is well known in Catholic circles that there is a “crisis in catechesis,” and it has been going on for a long time. This means that many Catholics are not being taught about the faith. It is a tragedy, but it means that you can’t learn about what the Church actually teaches from former Catholics. I say this because it is only a matter of time before you encounter some.

If you want to learn what the Church teaches, a great way to do it is with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Here is a PDF version. This version makes it easy to search for any word, such as salvation, justification, baptism, worship, Jesus, Mary, marriage, or anything else that interests you. This is what I did when I responded to the Catholic who was seriously considering leaving the Church for erroneous reasons surrounding marriage and virginity:

Marriage and virginity in Catholic teaching

Reading the Bible is great too, but I think there is a temptation to view the Bible as if it just magically came to us intact. But Bibles don’t grow on trees–they did not just arise, intact and ready to use. None of us wrote it, translated it, or codified it. In one sense it is not ours. It belongs to somebody else on loan to us. There is an important history about how the Bible came into being, and that history means that we do not have the right to interpret it for ourselves.

“Sola scriptura” is incoherent to me

Here are the big questions to consider: who are you going to trust, and in what do you place your trust? For example, you will encounter people who claim to trust in the Bible alone as their sole authority. This teaching has a fancy Latin name: sola scriptura. People who believe this, without realizing it, rely on an outside authority who compiled the list of Biblical books infallibly. “Bible alone” theology would not exist except for this outside authority.

the-new-testament-canon
Which authority props up this list? Not the Bible, not me, not you.

Think of this as a table of contents. It appears prior to and outside of Genesis 1:1 – Revelation 22:21. How was it compiled? What about the other letters mentioned in the New Testament (Col. 4:16, 1 Cor. 5:9-11, 2 Cor. 2:4)? How do we know that it’s OK that they aren’t included in that list above? Shouldn’t we find them and examine them to determine for ourselves? Why these 27 letters and not more or fewer? 

Other problems I have with “Bible alone” theology:

  • Jesus did not write a book, nor is it recorded that he commanded anybody to write anything down.
  • There is no record of Jesus approving of the New Testament canon.
  • When you look inside the Bible itself, it is not at all clear that it claims to be the final authority.
  • Paul makes references to traditions in a positive manner, which means that there are legitimate Christian traditions (1 Cor. 11:2, 2 Thess. 2:15, 2 Thess. 3:6). What are they? How do we know what they are?
  • “Bible alone” leaves the early Christians in the dark, since they didn’t have the New Testament canon.

Here’s how it looks: Jesus did not explicitly commission a collection of letters made by a variety of authors, nor did he physically contribute anything written. This collection was compiled infallibly, but other authority claims made by the people who compiled it can be safely ignored. We cannot challenge the collection itself. For example, Martin Luther was wrong to want to “throw Jimmy in the stove.” Even so, we are free to disagree with others regarding the teaching contained in the letters. If the disagreement is strong enough, we are free to start our own church. Jesus expects us to understand the teachings contained therein well enough on our own in order to be saved. If we receive help from people in understanding it, that’s just an added bonus but they might be wrong. We have to discern on our own whether or not this help is accurate. Jesus taught that all traditions are bad in Mark 7:8, so implicit teachings and practices in the pages of the canon are just somehow accurate apart from reliance on tradition (the Trinity, the divinity of the Holy Spirit, the Incarnation, requirement to worship on Sunday, the elements and order of Sunday worship services, Sunday school, grape juice instead of wine, asking Jesus into our hearts, celebrating Jesus’ birthday, celebrating it on Dec. 25, the date setting process for Easter each year, etc.).

You see the problem? Ultimately “Bible alone” means these things:

  • Jesus did not commission a New Testament… but we know he wanted one
  • we are not our own authority when it comes to which books are in the New Testament
  • the people who codified the New Testament were not cooperating with grace
  • we are our own authority when it comes to understanding the New Testament
  • Jesus condemned traditions in Mark 7:8, so this means we can ignore other parts of the Bible (1 Cor. 11:2, 2 Thess. 2:15, 2 Thess. 3:6)
  • implicit dogmas, teachings and practices are Biblical without being traditional.

Two things former Catholics will say

All of the former Catholics I have encountered online have left the Catholic Church for erroneous reasons. For example, many of them were poorly catechized, meaning, they don’t understand what the Church teaches. So they leave believing that they will obtain something that was already rightfully theirs as a Catholic. For example, you will encounter former Catholics who say things like this:

“I left the Catholic Church and gave my life to Jesus Christ.”

Without a doubt, this kind of person falls into the category I just described. A relationship with Jesus Christ is and was rightfully theirs as a Catholic, but for whatever reason they didn’t realize it. For more details on what I mean, see these posts of mine:

I recently came across the blog of somebody who is a former Catholic of that stripe, who is trying to convert Catholics away from the Catholic Church.

One recent blog post was arguing that the idea of having a pope was neither Biblical nor historical. (This, in and of itself, is a common objection that has been dealt with many times, in many ways, over many many years, by many different Catholics.)

In this particular instance, this blogger quoted from a few church fathers to make the argument. I noticed that the quotes discussed the office of bishop. Bishops are male leaders in the Catholic Church who can trace their ordinations all the way back to the Apostles. It was clear from the quotes that the office of bishop was legitimate and necessary. I read this person’s “About” page and a few other posts. I am not 100% certain what sort of Protestant he is, but regardless of that, he is either under and invalid bishop, or not under any bishop at all. From the Catholic perspective, a bishop is valid if his ordination is part of an unbroken chain of ordinations going back to the Apostles. This is called Apostolic Succession. Certainly most Evangelical Christians would agree that they are not under any bishop at all. From reading this persons other blog posts, I have the impression that he is part of a non-denominational church, which means he’s not under any bishop.

This blogger was relying on the historical legitimacy and existence of bishops, yet did not appear to be under a bishop himself. If he is not under any bishop at all, this seems like a big oversight. He was not arguing that the office of bishop was invalid, just the office of pope. The office of bishop was being invoked, yet the person doesn’t seem to be applying it to himself as a Christian. I wanted to respond but couldn’t think of a way to do it. The best I could come up with was to ask, “Are you under a bishop?” or, “Is the office of bishop a valid office?” but even that seemed provocative. I wrote this post instead so you could understand two kinds of arguments former Catholics make.

Related: here is the list of popes (aka Bishops of Rome), going all the way back to St. Peter:

The List of Popes