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?
In some circles, today is 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 deeply.
- 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. The classes started in September and ended right before Easter, with baptism and confirmation. My family was not there for that event. After I finished, 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 I felt profoundly awkward being there by myself as a young person.
- T.U.L.I.P. frightened me and provoked my tender conscience almost constantly
- My mother remarried in a Methodist church in the early 1970s. Protestantism’s early cheer-leading for remarriage after divorce contributed to me feeling isolated and lonely for my entire childhood. I really do believe that in many cases, step-parents steal affection and time from their step-children because they divert the childrens’ parents’ time and attention. It may be done inadvertently, even unconsciously, but it still happens. My dad remarried also (twice). This made me vulnerable to the cult’s false promises, which were based on the “Bible alone” doctrine.
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 don’t think that Protestants believe that division in the body of Christ is a sin. Even if they do believe it, they don’t act like 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.
Remember when I told you how I saw the pattern of how things would play out? So much just dropped into place in my mind’s eye. I saw the Church like a tree going back through history. I have struggled to articulate it with any detail. Here’s what I said back in July:
Not long after I left the cult I knew that I had to reject the gnosticism I had been taught there. I wanted to return to my first love of Jesus, son of God, second person of the Trinity, that I had when I was younger. For a couple years I considered returning to some sort of Protestant church but intuited that I would eventually become Catholic anyway. Meandering through Protestantism first, then converting to Catholic later, was a definite possibility, but at some point I realized that it would be inefficient. So I went straight to the Catholic Church. Seeing what I saw about contraception and how it harms the “one flesh” teaching of scripture was the main pivot point, but there were other things as well. For example, I needed a firm historical basis for the church I would join, and I found that in the Catholic understanding of apostolic succession. So again I saw the pattern of how things would play out and made a choice based on that. But articulating that pattern came later, and, in fact, I’m still working on it.
Just today I came across the blog of somebody who articulated much of what I saw. So if you’re curious to understand better why I became Catholic, I recommend this:
I must warn you: it is long. But it is really good. The comments are good too (although I’ve only read a few of them). Just to be clear: it is not that I had every thought expressed there, but the general structure of his thinking reflects what I saw about the Church. In particular, what the author said about ecclesial gnosticism, I intuited but couldn’t articulate.
The arguments and evidence that Jesus established a visible Church that He protected for 2,000 years are far stronger than arguments and evidence for the opposing view. Ecclesial Deism makes this very clear.
I have a hard time when people misrepresent Mary. She is my spiritual mother and it hurts when people denigrate her. For example, I recently came across a post claiming that the Catholic Church teaches that Mary is a Goddess. This is an outrageous claim, ignorant, foolish, defamatory.
The objections presented in the post were the usual objections that you will see. They have been made and answered more times than I would care to count. But I want to highlight a foundational error that this author made, one made by so many others. You will notice that these people do not mention an important detail about the founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther. All of the things they rail against about Mary, Luther accepted: Mary’s perpetual virginity, her immaculate conception, her bodily assumption into heaven, giving her exalted titles, and being the spiritual mother of all Christians. I don’t know why they omit this detail, if it is due to ignorance or just being willing to give him a “pass.” I suspect for many of them, it is the former rather than the latter.
Is Mary’s prophecy (Luke 1:48b) only for Catholics?
…For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed…
I was two decades away from becoming Catholic when Sister Act came out, but when I heard this song for the first time during that film, I fell in love with it. It brought me a lot of joy.
OK so I have this theory about contraception: nobody really wants to use it. It is a concession people make, and is not anybody’s first choice. Condoms don’t feel good and, along with other barrier methods, interfere with spontaneity. Artificial hormones are poisonous to the human body and the environment, and uterine implants (IUDs) are dangerous. Sterilization is too permanent for anybody who thinks they might change their minds later. And none of these are 100% effective.
Plus there is an entire realm we can explore surrounding the psychological and social implications of pathologizing female fertility, and how contraception debases all human life. There is so much wrong with contraception, and nobody really longs to use it as part of their sexual activity. It is a concession. (Prescription hormonal use for other medical reasons is legitimate; it is not primarily contraception.)
By speaking against this concession and promoting marriage as the proper context for sexual activity, the Catholic Church upholds the fullness of the “one flesh” teaching found in verses such as:
In one important respect, by prohibiting contraceptive use the Church is affirming what is already in people’s hearts. We don’t actually want to use it, and that’s OK. We’re not wrong for not wanting to use it. We are not wrong for viewing it as a concession, a compromise, second best. So the Church understands us better than we understand ourselves. Doesn’t this sound like Somebody Else we all know and love? Being the good mother that she is, she has received this teaching from Christ and she passes it along to us. It seems to me that this teaching is part of the ordinary and universal Magisterium, and so is dogmatic and infallible. This means, among other things, that nobody has the right to coerce anybody else into using contraception under any circumstances, that it is wrong to apply pressure to somebody to use it, and nobody should feel guilty for not wanting to use it (remembering, of course, that marriage is the only context for sexual activity).
This is more evidence that God wrote his law into our hearts.
Here’s another thing I love about being Catholic: all the heavy lifting has been done for me. I am not responsible for establishing the faith, I am not responsible for interpreting the Bible for myself or anybody else, and I am not responsible for determining what constitutes the Bible. This is because there is a Deposit of Faith that was “once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). It can be summed up thusly by Jesus himself: “My doctrine is not mine, but him who sent me.” (John 7:16).
1 Cor 15:3 seems to echo John 7:16: “For I delivered unto you first of all, which I also received: how that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures…”
I want to learn about this Faith but I don’t have to figure it out as if to establish it. See the difference? It was already established a long time ago and so we enter into what has already been established. We are children of God, and it is His good pleasure to give us the Kingdom. He gives it. We do not earn it.
The Church has been like a Christian treasure box for me, with so many wonderful things to discover. I don’t have to dig to get to them; I am not responsible for bringing them forth as if I was in labor. They are there for anybody to discover and enjoy.
It makes perfect sense that God would set it up this way.
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.
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.
I made a startling observation while working on the post from July 29. I have observed that there are two systems of worship in use by Christians today. See if you agree. Here is what I see:
- One group of Christians believes the Scriptures give us liberty to choose the elements of Sunday communal worship and the order in which those elements occur. This group does not mandate attendance on Sunday; mandatory attendance on Sundays is not in the Scripture.
- Another group of Christians believes that we must follow the tradition of Sunday worship handed down to us from our spiritual forebearers going back to the Apostles. It is a tradition that must contain certain elements every Sunday in order to fulfill our obligation to worship God. Attendance is mandatory (except for a serious reason).
I was really bothered when I saw this. Let me explain why. I will need to draw from the Old Covenant (OC).
Looking at Exodus 26, imagine if a group of people arose and accused Moses of being wrong about the layout of the tabernacle. Let’s say they decided to build their own tabernacle, believing that God had spoken to them or their leader. Does that seem like something God would have caused? No, and I can think of three reasons why:
1) The set of regulations for worship is intimately tied in with the covenant itself.
2) A new set of regulations requires a new authority structure to maintain and uphold the regulations.
3) A new set of regulations for worship means a new covenant.
In fact, all of these are exactly what happened when the OC was abolished. The old set of worship regulations was abolished, and the new set was established. As we see in Hebrews 10:9:
… He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.
Hebrews 9 reiterates that the OC had one set of regulations for worship (“Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship…”). A careful reading also makes it clear that the New Covenant (NC) is pattered after it. The conclusion is that the NC can only have one set of regulations for worship, not two as we see today.
This realization makes me feel sad. I don’t like it, but that’s what I see.
As I discussed before, the Catholic Church has problematic members. We can think of them as weeds according to Matthew 13. I hope I am not a weed, but given that others probably think I am, I can’t rule out that possibility. After all, none of us is the final judge of who is or who is not a weed. That is for God alone.
Today I want to look at the Church’s problematic members in a different way.
Because of the Church’s claims about who she is, it seems that she is judged more harshly for having problematic members than when problematic members are revealed in other churches or organizations. Wouldn’t you agree that this is true? For example, sexual abuse exists in Protestant churches, but for some reason it just doesn’t get the same media coverage or fanfare as when it happens in the Catholic Church.
If I am right about this, it might be evidence for the Church’s claim about who she is, rather than evidence against that claim. Consider what happens with colors. The same color looks different depending on its background.
I created this image in Word to show what I mean. The smaller squares are the same color. I created the first one, then created the others by copying and pasting them, so you can know with 100% certainty that they are the same exact color. The one on the right looks darker than the one on the left, because it is on a lighter background. You can do this yourself in Word just to verify it.
We can apply the same principle to the Church. She shines more brightly, so her problematic members provide a starker contrast:
Insurance companies, child advocacy groups and religion scholars say there is no evidence that Catholic clergy are more likely to be involved in sexual misconduct than other clergy or professionals. Yet ongoing civil litigation of decades-old cases against a church with deep pockets keeps the Catholic Church in the headlines.
“There is no plausible evidence that Catholic priests are gangs of sexual predators, as they are being portrayed,” said Pennsylvania State University Prof. Philip Jenkins, eminent religion and history scholar, and a non-Catholic who’s studied the church’s abuse problems for 20 years.
It is not that her members are worse sinners, it is that she is more holy.