Skip to comments.The Bottom Line
Posted on 10/21/2010 6:56:49 AM PDT by marshmallow
From time to time I receive an email from a Protestant Christian who is trying to pick a fight with me about this, that or the other. Maybe it's papal infallibility or their idea that Catholics believe in salvation by works, or maybe it's lighting candles or 'worship' of Mary, or maybe it's indulgences or the Inquisition or some other old chestnut.
Here's my stock response: "Thank you for your question. I'm afraid I don't engage in debate with non-Catholics because I find it unfruitful. However, if you would genuinely like to learn more about Catholicism and have open and honest questions I'd be delighted to do my best to answer them. However, there is one topic I am willing to discuss, and it is my question to you: 'Why should your version of Christianity be the right one and the other thousands be wrong?'
The bottom line is the authority question. Where do we turn for the answers? The Protestant will say, "To the Bible." But this begs the question. We then have to ask, "But which interpretation of the Bible?" The tens of thousands of Protestant Christian groups and millions of Protestant Christian individuals all say, "To the Bible!" yet they all disagree. So how can that simple and noble answer be correct? Others will cry out, "But if you simply read the Bible and pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit the clear and simple word of the gospel will be made abundantly clear to you!" Alas, that is what all the other tens of thousands of groups and millions of individuals say, and what they really mean by this is, "The Holy Spirit will reveal to you that I and my group are right and the others are wrong."
Others will resort to individualistic sentimentality. "You will know in your heart a great and sudden peace!" or "You will have a great joy when you come to finally understand the truth!" How wonderful to have a positive and glowing religious experience, but alas, such things are easily counterfeited not only by self-deceiving wishful thinking, but also by religious charlatans, well meaning religious preachers who sincerely believe the religious experience they are manipulating people into is genuine, and also various forms of synthetic emotion producing chemicals, and when all is said and done the bottom line question still remains, "And how do you know that the emotion you have experienced is a valid emotion and the peace or the joy or the certainty you know in your heart, while powerful and convincing is not fraudulent in some way?"
Linked with this is a similar response: that is a certain and confident 'inner knowledge'. "I just know that this is right, and I can't explain it!" cries the enthusiastic believer. While such experiential knowledge is admirable the question still remains, "Yes, but how do you know that your feelings of certainty are based on anything other than wishful thinking or a fleeting emotion or the suggestion of that feeling by a teacher or preacher? Indeed this is a favorite tactic of Mormon missionaries. They say, "Just read the Book of Mormon, and before you do pray to the Holy Spirit and ask him to reveal to you the truth of what your read." Then, hey bingo! Lot's of people say, "Its true! I just prayed to the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth of what I read and suddenly my eyes were opened and I understood that it was all true!!" Hogwash.
Finally there is the response which makes appeal to the simple words and concepts of the gospel. "Surely we can leave on one side all these complicated and divisive questions. Isn't the main thing that we all try to love one another and love Jesus the best we can? Isn't that really what the simple gospel of the simple carpenter from Nazareth would have wanted?" These are noble and beautiful sentiments, but again they beg the question and evade the difficulties. Apart from the objection that this reduces Christianity to being nice and good, one needs to insist on the necessity of the ultimate question and say, "Yes, but how do you know that you are actually loving Jesus, and not your own fictional version of what you want Jesus to be? How do you know you are not worshiping a Jesus made in your own image? You must have some sort of belief or dogma as well as your good life or how is your life to be distinguished as Christian, and if you have some belief then how do you know it is the one which will lead to your souls salvation?"
This is the bottom line question between Catholics and Protestants, and it is the question that I have never once had even the beginning of a satisfactory answer from a non Catholic. In fact, most often they cannot even seem to understand that it is a necessary or possible question at all.
Without a coherent ecclesiology and a universally agreed, external and infallible authority structure the question cannot be answered and the non Catholic can only resort to subjective sentimentality.
The Catholic answer of an infallible, divinely appointed authority on earth may be difficult to accept, indeed even the suggestion of it will cause scandal and outrage. It may be inconceivable for the non-Catholic imagination and may seem awkward and awful in application, but at least it offers a positive and intellectually coherent theory on which an ecclesiology and soteriology can be based.
So, true, if we are going to obey the Man...or the Book.
“Authority..........it all comes down to authority.”
Authority is all well and good, but there’s quite a difference between the standard appeal to historical authorities, and claiming an infallible, eternal, and unquestionable authority. To claim that kind of extraordinary authority, I think you need extraordinary evidence to support the claim.
Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses claim a similar extraordinary authority, and Catholics rightly hold them to this extraordinary standard and find them wanting. Protestants likewise find the Catholic claims wanting.
It’s one thing to make the argument that such an authority is necessary, but it’s another matter entirely to establish that the Pope or the Catholic Church has a rightful claim to such authority.
But WHICH authority? What makes the Catholic position the correct one?
No, I prefer to think for myself, hopefully guided by the Holy Spirit. If I’m wrong, I’m sure God will explain it to me Himself one day.
A thoughtful offering... Unfortunately many self proclaimed Christians seem to follow the Archie Bunker theology, as set forth in an old “All in the Family” episode (Archie and Meathead are discussing religion):
Archie: “Okay, ders your Jews, and your Catlics (phonetic form Archie’s mispronunciation), and all; (points finger skyward) den ders HIS church.”
Meathead: “And that’s the one YOU belong to, right?”
Archie: “Well I’d be a damn fool NOT to, wouldn’t I?”
How does a sane, rational person respond to that kind of logic? Sure it’s solipsism, but that doesn’t matter to Archie.
Interesting read, but unfortunately, the author appears to be familiar primarily with the Catholic caricatures of the various protestant theories of authority, not with full and robust expressions of those theories. The existence of Christ is not subjective, and as He Himself has said, He is alone is our master, not the many lesser pretenders to the Crown.
So, to offer an olive branch, I do agree that compared with the question of authority, most other debates are peripheral. Not unimportant, but not primary in sequence. Though there is one problem that seems to be subservient which may in fact be coordinate, and that is the question of natural law. If natural law operates effectively to tell a soul they should not give reverence to an idol, a mere piece of stone or wood, and if one encounters a set of circumstances which, to the “un-nuanced” observer, certainly looks like a misdirection of reverence to mere created things, or anything less than God Himself, how is it wrong for that person to reject what his God-given inner law is telling him is idolatry? Is there not a fusion of the subjective and the objective in the concept of natural law?
Which natural law, I hasten to point out, is supported by both Catholic and Reformed traditions (Yes, contrary to what you may have heard, Calvin was fully on board, owing in no small part to Romans 2:15). It is a quasi-subjective principle that is rooted in the objective pattern of Gods creation, has the sanction of indisputable Apostolic authority, and the indelible mark of good logic, in that no one could be held accountable for sin without it. Works for me. Thoughts?
PS: I apologize if my responses come far and few between, as I am actually working today. Whoo-hoo!
The author grew up as a Protestant in a Protestant home, is an alumnus of Bob Jones University (a violently anti-Catholic Protestant school in South Carolina), and a former Church of England priest. I'm not sure what he would need to do to be more familiar with the "full and robust expressions" of theories of Protestant authority.
By this test we can know political truth, because the results of Marxism/Socialism/Leftism are always bad no matter who is in charge.
The same test can be applied to learn religious truth, but the results are often mixed here.
Then it becomes a question of determining if the bad result was a product of bad theology or, as is usually the case, the result of a bad or misguided person twisting said theology for their own nefarious purposes.
Any religion more than a few years old has ample examples.
And, even though I was raised Protestant and have real problems with certain Catholic theology, I find the extreme fundamentalist view that we will be assigned to heaven or hell entirely based on what we believe and not how we perform to be ludicrous.
For example, I can't see Mother Teresa approaching the pearly gates and being told by St. Peter to check into the other place because the doctrine of transubstantiation is wrong because the sacrament is only symbolic, not literal.
Nor can I see St. Peter admitting some murdering scumbag into heaven because at one time in his life, he signed the acceptance of Jesus Christ statement in the back of a Gideon New Testament and sincerely meant it.
And for holding above belief, some of the fundies have already consigned my soul to hell.
I would agree. Debate between Catholics and Protestants is generally not fruitful. Catholics are no more of a mind to listen to a Protestant than vice versa.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker
Oh, him again.
While Protestants and Catholics do not agree on this issue, I would say that the vast majority of Protestant individuals would not say anyone is going to hell because they believe in transubstantiation. (At least, I wouldn't.) I presume Catholics do not believe Protestants are going to hell because they don't. Is that presumption correct?
I think the key difference from a salvation perspective between Catholics and Protestants is "doing". Catholics believe you must do "stuff" in addition to having faith in Christ as Savior in order to make it to heaven. Protestants believe we get to heaven only because of Christ. We do "stuff" because of our love for Him and what He has done for us as well as because of the changes God has wrought in us since our salvation.
I think Catholics and Protestants agree that none of us would get to heaven if it weren't for Jesus and His atoning sacrifice.
Thoughtful Post! Great view!
Well, I think we’re going off on a bit of a tangent from the original question, but I’ll bite. The test in Matthew 7:16-20 is defined in scope by the preceding verse, Matthew 7:15, which demonstrates it is to be used to guard against false prophets. Now, we could surely apply the test in many areas of life in a beneficial way, but that is the specific Biblical context, and that’s the only context in which it is spiritually authoritative.
Granted, some churches would qualify as false prophets, and so that test can be appropriate. However the specific question at issue is how to, or who can, interpret Scripture. Unless one argues that merely questioning the Catholic church’s claims on the matter is equivalent to false prophecy, then I don’t see how the application of that law is warranted in an authoritative sense.
As for the question of who is going to heaven or hell based on what standard, well that’s a matter for a whole other thread (or a few thousand threads probably). Personally, I don’t like to take a position on what the fate of any individual person will be, since I am not the appointed judge of their fate, so I simply don’t know. So, I think it’s a bit fruitless to speculate on the fate of Mother Theresa, a criminal, or yourself. I will say that I think any “fundie” that has told you with certainty that they know where you’ll end up should probably spend more time worrying about where they will end up instead!
“If natural law operates effectively to tell a soul they should not give reverence to an idol, a mere piece of stone or wood, and if one encounters a set of circumstances which, to the un-nuanced observer, certainly looks like a misdirection of reverence to mere created things, or anything less than God Himself, how is it wrong for that person to reject what his God-given inner law is telling him is idolatry?”
Amen to that.
I would add a few other thoughts... if such things appear idolatrous to so many, even if one can make an argument that they are not, why invite the negative consequences that such appearance will provoke? Why not remove the practice causing controversy, if there is not a compelling benefit to the practice which would outweigh the negative consequences?
Even Catholics admit some of their less faithful members may commit idolatry with icons, even though it’s against Church teachings, so why tempt those members of the flock to sin? Do they leave bottles of Communion wine laying around when they know there are alcoholics in the congregation?
Or in the priesthood?
Indeed, what makes modern liberalism and islamofacism so dangerous is that they seek to transform their false religion into a top-down command and control political system.
And, btw, I agree with you on the Taliban Christians who appoint themselves as God's spokepersons to determine who goes to heaven or hell.
I also don't see a wall of separation between political truths, religious truths or scientific truths.
“The scripture in Matthew 7 is eminently applicable because modern liberalism has all the trappings of a religion right down to their dogmas and false prophets.”
Who’s talking about liberalism though? The point of this thread is discuss the contention of the article, i.e. that authority (specifically the authority claimed by the Catholic church and the Pope) is necessary to divine the truth of Scripture.
Now, if I assert that I can read Scripture and, through the God-given faculty of reason, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, determine for myself what the meaning of that Scripture is, does that make me a false prophet? Unless you are making that argument, then how is Matthew 7 applicable?
I would argue that the Catholic claim of an infallible Pope who is able to judge Scripture and pronounce doctrine through divine guidance or revelation is much more appropriately subject to the test of Matthew 7.
>>You must have some sort of belief or dogma as well as your good life or how is your life to be distinguished as Christian, and if you have some belief then how do you know it is the one which will lead to your souls salvation?”<<
Read that sentence again and ask yourself what the underlying belief of the person asking it is. The attention on ones life as the test for or indication of being Christian is risky at best. If a persons life is what makes one a Christian then an atheist who lives a life that exemplifies Biblical principles would be considered a Christian even though he rejects the existence of God.
A person is saved by one thing and one thing only. believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved-and your house. Any assertion that man is somehow saved or needs to complete the process by what he does is denying the full and completeness of Jesus sacrifice on the Cross.
Any lifestyle changes would simply be indication of ones growing in the Spirit and knowledge as the Bible teaches.
The term Christian has been so polluted that it is today nearly if not totally useless in discussion.
CHRISTIAN. A name first given to the followers of our Lord at Antioch (Acts xi, 26). Since the rise of Protestantism the name has been used in so many different senses as to have become almost meaningless: it may indicate a Catholic or a Unitarian, or even be applied to an infidel who displays some virtue which is associated with Christ. It may reasonably be applied to the members of all the ancient churches whether in communion with the Holy See or not, and to those Protestants who profess, explicitly -or implicitly, the Nicean creed in its traditional Interpretation. The Church puts no definite official meaning on the word, as she does on Catholic. (Catholic Dictionary, Donald Attwater, 1958, TAN Books)
Protestants teach that everyone should read the Bible and interpret it for himself. As a result, they do not even agree within their own ranks as to just what is to be believed.
The truth is there is no such religion as Protestant, as each "Protestant" is just one person making up their own religion as they go along, they're all winging it, to themselves they are more infallible than a pope, they are their own god.
No point in discussing anything about the true Faith with a Protestant. If I were to correct the misunderstanding in ONE person for ONE question of life, there would still be millions of other errors to deal with in that ONE person.
Ones beliefs are unique to him, as Protestantism has no beliefs that require adherence, each Protestant basically invents his own church of one. That is not the case with Catholics. The Catholic Church has doctrines that are unchangeable, and a Catholic MUST believe them, or he is not a Catholic. PERIOD.
A Protestant can call themselves a Christian in a state of grace with a direct line to the Holy Ghost, even if they don't believe Christ is God.
A Catholic is a heretic if he denies one dogma. A Catholic who dies with one mortal sin (heresy is a mortal sin) goes to hell.
Protestantism is like a body care system that teaches that one must eat and exercise to live better. But they leave it up to the person to figure out the rest.
Catholicism is like a body care system that tells you that you must eat good food, what foods to eat, and in what quantities, and what foods MUST NEVER be eaten. It says that you must exercise, how much to exercise, and exactly what exercises to do, and which you MUST never do. And if you don't follow the most important teachings which are vital to your survival, you are no longer a Catholic.
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