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?
I wrote this post as a response to an interaction I had earlier today on my blog.
1 Corinthians 1:12 says: “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.” (KJV)
St. Paul is discussing divisions among the Christians. I just thought of something though. None of the examples St. Paul gives are saying, “I am of the Scriptures.” If the “Bible alone” doctrine is true, then this situation would have been a good opportunity for the Holy Spirit to teach it, it seems to me. After all, they certainly had Scriptures at that time, what we now call the Old Testament. And the Scriptures are important. They are the Word of God. Many people say that are the highest or final authority. If that were true, then certainly some of the people St. Paul mentioned would have said, “I am of the Scriptures.” Why would they be saying they were of one person or another if the Scriptures alone were the highest authority?
Today, Christians will often say, “I don’t follow any person. I use the Bible alone as my authority.” This sounds just like saying, “I am of the Scriptures.” Yet there is no Biblical example of somebody identifying with the Scriptures in that way.
The Scriptures are like a Holy Reference Book, to be sure, but it is a two-edged sword and we must be careful when using it.
Now, I can think of a counter argument. I’ll tell it here but I don’t think it is effective and I will explain why: the Jews of the Jewish Synagog in Acts 17 who were “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” The leaders among them had that right by virtue of their authority, which they acquired by birth. By what authority do people today use the Bible?
Also I would like to mention here John 5:39, where Jesus says, “You search the scriptures because in them you think you have eternal life, and it is they that bear witness to Me.” It is probably fair to say that the Jews in Acts 17 were not searching the scriptures to receive eternal life. They weren’t using the Scriptures as their final authority. That actually doesn’t even make sense given the context. If those Scriptures were the final authority, then they would not have needed St. Paul to preach to them. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes by hearing,” not “Faith comes by reading.” In order for one person to hear, somebody else has to speak. The transmission of the faith is from person to person, not from book to person. There is no Biblical evidence of individualistic reliance on the Scriptures. As we see with the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 (emphasis added):
But an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south[a] to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert road. 27 And he rose and went. And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a minister of the Canda′ce the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of all her treasure, had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture which he was reading was this:
“As a sheep led to the slaughter
or a lamb before its shearer is dumb,
so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken up from the earth.”
34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, pray, does the prophet say this, about himself or about some one else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture he told him the good news of Jesus.
While talking to a friend on the phone tonight, I thought of another entry for the Catholic/Protestant Dictionary post.
Protestants encourage people to pray a simple prayer called the Sinner’s Prayer, and to ask Jesus into their hearts. I first did this when I was six or maybe seven years old. I wrote about that experience in my post called The OSAS pattern is present in Catholic practice.
What I didn’t mention in that post is how when I first became Catholic, I spent a short period of time with a sense of mocking or derision for that prayer. It was clear to me that it’s not in the Bible, and so it seemed like a blatent oversight that “Bible alone” Christians would encourage people to pray it. I didn’t spend much time in that mindset though. This is because at some point I realized that the Sinner’s Prayer can be thought of in Catholic terms: it is a simple Act of Contrition. And so I included this in the Catholic/Protestant Dictionary post. But I did not realize that the prayer to ask Jesus into my heart has it’s own Catholic equivelant, until talking to my friend this evening.
Catholics have a prayer called the Act of Spiritual Communion. There are several versions and they are all pretty similar from what I’ve seen. Here is one I just found on the EWTN website:
I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You.
Just as the Sinner’s Prayer is a simple Act of Contrition, it seems that that the Protestant prayer to ask Jesus into our hearts is a simplified form of the Act of Spiritual Communion! At least, I think it was for me when I first prayed it as a little girl.
That makes me feel really good. 🙂
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.
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.