Reposting this from last year. A brief synopsis of my personal experiences within Protestantism.
I recently had an online disagreement with somebody, a Protestant. I asked her to cite Bible verses to support her position. So she did. I replied I disagreed with her interpretation of those verses. Then I asked her if I had an obligation to accept her interpretation. I also said that if her answer was yes, that I DID have an obligation to accept her interpretation, then to tell me where or from whom she received her authority to impose her interpretation upon me (and presumably upon every other Christian). Then I asked her what we should do if I disagreed with her claim about the source of her authority. Her response was that I was using an ad hominem. I responded by saying that I was not criticising her, but I was criticising her presupposition. So it wasn’t an ad hominem.
Here is the syllogism:
- Since God is one, He does not change, and He only teaches one truth, there can only be one objectively correct interpretation of Scripture.
- There is disagreement of what Scripture means between two or more Christians of good will. They all can see this.
- No parties to the dispute have authority to enforce the correct interpretation, but one or more do not realize this. One or more believes that making better arguments or citing more or better Scripture verses is the way to resolve the dispute. Yet the dispute is never resolved.
- No agreement is made. Visible fractures develop between Christians, since the parties to the dispute all believe themselves to understand the correct interpretation of Scripture (which is a tacit reinforcement of the first point above).
By what authority may somebody enforce the one and only correct interpretation of Sacred Scripture when there is a disagreement between Christians of good will?
… he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
I was reading Hebrews 9, and this verse jumped out at me. I remember learning as a Protestant that Christ’s resurrected body had no blood in it. Here is an example of what I mean. This is from a popular Protestant website called CARM.org:
The Bible says that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50). If this is so, then how could physical body have been raised? The answer is simple. After His resurrection Jesus said, “Touch me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:39). You must note that Jesus did not say, “flesh and blood.” He said, “flesh and bones.” This is because Jesus’ blood was shed on the cross. The life is in the blood and it is the blood that cleanses from sin: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul,” (Lev. 17:11). See also, Gen. 9:4; Deut. 12:23; and John 6:53-54. Jesus was pointing out that He was different. He had a body, but not a body of flesh and blood. It was flesh and bones. I am of the opinion that Jesus’ body had no functional blood in it. Remember, after the resurrection He still retained the wounds in His hands, feet, and side. But, His blood was the thing that cleanses us of our sins: “but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin,” (1 John 1:7). His body was raised, but it had no blood flowing through its veins. It was a glorified, physical body.
This isn’t what the Church teaches. The Catholic Church teaches that Christ’s resurrected body does have blood in it. But that is not the point I want to make here.
Instead, I want to ask a question. If the Protestants are correct, where does Christ get his blood in order to fulfill Heb. 9:12 where it says, “taking…his own blood”?
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
I read this today and something occured to me. Isn’t this what Jesus does for us at mass? He presents his body to us, a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to the Father.
Looked at another way: does he ask us to do something here and now that he himself does not do here and now?
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.
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.
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.
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.
5/19/2017: Catholics say “divine law,” and Protestants say, “Biblical principles.” Not a perfect overlap but they are similar ideas.
9/1/2017: Catholics have an Act of Spiritual Communion, Protestants pray to receive Jesus into their hearts. See here for details.
The Parable of the Unjust Steward appears in Luke 16. It is also referred to as the Parable of the Shrewd Manager. It is part of the mass readings for yesterday. This parable always confused me, but recently I think I might have made some sense of it in light of Catholic teaching. I have not seen this explanation elsewhere. Let me give a shot and see what you think.
Summary: the master hears a bad report about the steward squandering the master’s property. So he demands an accounting and fires the steward. But the steward needs a place to go after he’s fired. So he contacts some of the debtors and reduces their debt. The master commends him for this. Presumably, the debtors then welcome the steward into their homes.
Here’s what I think:
- The master is God.
- The steward is the pope.
- The debtors are souls in Purgatory.
- The steward reducing the debt represents indulgences that are possible due to the pope’s possession of the keys to the kingdom and the treasury of merit (reward).
When I say, “the pope,” I am referring to the office of the Pope and not any one particular pope.
Catholics believe in two kinds of punishment for sin because there are two kinds of sin. There is mortal sin which leads to eternal punishment if it remains unrepented, and there is venial sin which leads to temporal punishment. Eternal punishment is hell. Temporal punishment happens here on Earth and also in Purgatory.
Because of the keys of the kingdom given to the pope by Jesus, and also the treasury of merit (reward), the pope through the Church can reduce (or even eliminate) the temporal punishment of sin. He can do this even though he himself might be doing bad things or have bad character.
Then, the holy souls in Purgatory will be grateful for receiving a reduction in the amount of temporal punishment they receive that came from the pope’s possession of the keys to the kingdom and the treasury of merit (reward). God is obviously happy with the debt being reduced, since he wants people with him. Once they are out of purgatory, they will pray for the pope, since he will be in Purgatory for being an unjust steward. Once he is out of Purgatory, they will receive him into their dwellings (John 14:3).
Having said that, I’m struggling what appears immediately following the parable. For example, immediately after the parable Jesus says:
..for the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light. And I say to you: Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity; that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings.
I’m not sure how that part fits into what I’ve said.
Here is a similar explanation, but it places Jesus himself as the unjust steward. I think it makes more sense to put the Pope as the steward. What do you think?
Here is a video of two Catholic apologists addressing the question of the bad popes. Both are very well known in Catholic circles, and I’ve met them both. The man on the left in the red shirt is Patrick Coffin, and the man on the right is Tim Staples. They don’t address Luke 16; I linked the video as a way of showing that, possibly, bad popes = unjust stewards.
Today is All Soul’s Day, so it is a great time to tell the story of my dreams about the Blessed Virgin Mary. I had two dreams, about four decades apart. The second dream interpreted the first, and they both were about purgatory although I did not know that until after the second dream.
The first dream
After my parents split up, my mother and I moved to a condo in the town where I was born. I think we lived there by ourselves at first but am not 100% sure. The man who would later become my step dad might have moved in with us right away but it’s a bit foggy. I was about four years old, I think.
One night I had a dream. My mother and I were in a very small room, like a box really. She was lying on her back, holding me up. The entire room was on fire, the floor, ceiling, walls. She was holding me up out of the flames. It was really scary. When the morning came, I think I told her about the dream but I don’t remember what she said.
I often wondered what the dream meant. After I became a Christian, I wondered if the fire represented hell, and this scared me a lot. But even that didn’t really make sense, since I wasn’t getting burned in the dream. It seemed that the dream had some meaning but I could not figure it out. As the years turned to decades, I just filed the dream away in the back of mind.
The second dream
In the late summer of 2011, after attending mass regularly for 8-9 months, I enrolled in RCIA. I had just learned the Hail Mary prayer:
Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
I was a little bit reluctant to learn this prayer, because, being a former Protestant I had plenty of reservations about Mary. I even remember the cult leader denigrating her from time to time. So I learned the prayer. I figured that since I was going to become Catholic, I should know it.
Right around that time, I had a dream. I was walking along a road that was paved with black asphalt. As I walked along, there was a very large hole in the road, with flames coming out. With trepidation I approached the hole and could hear people screaming and crying inside it. I wondered to myself if it was hell, and felt very afraid that if I fell in, I wouldn’t be able to get out. That’s the nature of hell, after all. Once you’re there, that’s it. Game over.
Well, somehow I fell in. And I was utterly terrified because I thought I had fallen into hell, the place where there is no escape. People were screaming and crying and there were flames of fire everywhere. I wasn’t in pain, but for a reason I still cannot explain, reflexively I began to say the Hail Mary prayer that I had only memorized the prior week or so:
Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee…
I had not finished it, and was lifted up out of the flaming pit into the air above it. Lifted, sort of like flying while staying upright but not on my own effort. And I’m not sure if this was part of the dream, or if I had this thought after waking up, but I saw Mary (or a statue of her) above me in the sky.
So I woke up and was completely bewildered. The dream was scary and didn’t make sense to me. But as I thought about it the next day, two amazing things occurred to me:
- The pit was not hell, it was purgatory.
- That dream interpreted the dream I had as a child. They both gave the same message.
It was purgatory, since people do get out of purgatory and the only way out is up. And the woman in the first dream was actually Mary. She was interceding for me. This knowledge came to me suddenly and I knew it was true.
What is really interesting is that I had not learned all that much about purgatory up to that point, and had definitely not learned anything about Mary’s intercession for those there. It was only much later that I learned about it. Here are some links for more info:
For more than four decades, the first dream made no sense to me, although I have since learned that there are a few Protestants who believe in purgatory. See here and here for examples. So God, in his good time, gave me the interpretation. It enabled me to let go of my ALL of reservations about Mary. Seriously. Overnight every reservation vanished and I joyfully embraced what the Church taught about her. God orchestrated both dreams, giving me the second dream when I needed it to help me enter into the Church.
Believe me, as a former Protestant (and Gnostic) I know how strange all this sounds. I really, really do. I can very easy put myself in those shoes and see how off-the-wall it seems. But that’s the beauty and the liberty of having a Bible interpreter, the beauty and liberty of not needing to be my own Bible interpreter. As I have stated many times, I am not responsible for figuring out the faith in order to establish it; I only need to enter into that which has already been established (per Jude 3). I can help defend that which has already been established, and perhaps develop it, but I can’t establish it as if the Holy Spirit were using me for something entirely new. There is so much peace and freedom there, far more than I ever experienced before.
Thanks to SR, who inspired me to write this post after I read her post about Mary:
The 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.
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: