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Why Protestants Are Quick to Reject Catholicism – And What Can Be Done About It

Lately, I have been engaged in a variety of discussions in which both Roman Catholics and Protestants have been involved and I have noticed something very interesting.  Protestants are very quick to reject what Catholics contribute, even on topics that are not related to Catholicism.  In fact, I have observed a projection on the Catholic regarding their doctrine when their doctrine had nothing to do with the discussion.  It is as if the Protestant is telling the Catholic they have nothing meaningful to contribute simply because of the doctrinal positions that they hold.

It is not lost no me why this happens since at one time, I too would be very quick to dismiss Catholics and Roman Catholicism, wholesale.  The primary reason I believe  is because Protestants have embraced a model of Christianity that leaves no room for practices ascribed by Catholicism.  In fact, I think if you were to ask the average evangelical Protestant about Catholic faith and practice, you might get these kinds of responses

  • they promote a works-based system of merit
  • they have elevated the Pope to same status of Christ and scripture
  • they engage in practices that are contradictory to scripture, such as prayer to others rather than God

These were my responses at one time that demonstrated an ignorance of Catholic doctrine and its historical development.   Taken at face value, it does seem that Catholic doctrine flies in the face of what we Protestants hold dear with respect to Soteriology and Ecclesiology.  This includes

  • Salvation is through grace alone, through faith alone, through Christ alone.
  • Jesus Christ is our advocate and prayer is conducted to God through him; we don’t believe in praying to Mary or to others
  • Jesus Christ and Scripture is the final authority for faith and practice, not the Pope.

However, I have come to realize that what appears to be contradictory practices of Roman Catholicism must be examined in context of the historical development of the Catholic church and how their doctrine is sourced in a rich tradition of early church practice.  It is only through this understanding, that I believe Protestants can be more accepting and understanding of Catholic doctrine and practice.  Absent that understanding, we will always measure the practices of Catholicism against our own and deem them unorthodox at best and heretical, at worst.

It is important to recognize that the first few centuries of the Christian church experienced a universality of doctrine and church practice.  From the doctrinal perspective, there was a unified front on what was deemed authentic Christianity appropriate to the revelation of God and the apostolic witness of Christ.  It is why in the early church writings, the word ‘catholic’, which means universal, was commonly used as a reference to one church.  In protection of the one church, ecumenical councils were formed to combat false or distorted teaching that were attempting to infiltrate and distort the apostolic message.

In the absence of a solidified canon, writings were circulated to provide instruction to the various assemblies that were emerging.    Church practice was an evolution that centered around interpretation of the apostles teaching and the instructive letters.   Overtime, these elements would be transformed into a solidified practice incorporated into doctrine of church and shape liturgical practices that are very much apart of the RCC.

The doctrine of the church is a key element in understanding Catholic theology and why liturgical practices are deemed an important element related to the justification and sanctification of the believer.   Affirmed at the Council of Trent, the church is the conduit through which Christ manifests his presence and authority.  It is not simply the invisible church comprising all believers in Christ, but the visible organization established by Christ and maintained through apostolic succession based on Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 16:18.  The revelation of God, unveiled in Christ is not simply inscribed in writings of the apostolic witness (scripture) but is carried on through tradition established by the church.  This is otherwise known as Sacred Tradition, which is just as valid as scripture, according to Catholic theology and it is the church who serves as the authoritative interpreter of both.  It is not as though the overseers of the church would arbitrarily decide to incorporate elements into the church to bolster man-made practices, but to uphold an historic tradition that is reflected in the inception of church practices transmitted by the apostles themselves.

Francis Beckwith, former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, had this to say in an interview with Christianity Today regarding his conversion to Roman Catholicism

“Looking at tradition would also help evangelicals learn about Christian liturgical traditions, like Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism, that many evangelicals reject because they say liturgy is unbiblical.  When did these practices come to be?  It turns out many of them came to be very early on in church history when people were close historically to the apostles themselves.  There must be something to these practices that the early Christians thought were perfectly consistent with what they had received from the apostles.”

He further goes on to say that it was through his study of the church fathers and the development of liturgical traditions that liberated him with respect to his views on church tradition.  To be honest, the Catholic doctrine of the church has garnered a greater appreciation for me of not only church tradition but the significance of the visible church.  I think we protestants have been historically too dismissive of tradition and tend to undermine the authority and presence of the ecclesiastical body.  Upholding scriptural authority has somehow created a laissez-faire attitude with respect to the unity of body that Christ sought (John 17:20-21)  and that the RCC seeks with respect to doctrine and church practice.  When Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg door, he had no intention of dismantling the church but reforming practices that had been corrupted.   While I do not agree with the authoritative status of the Pope as the succession of the apostolic witness, I do think there is something to be said for the preservation of historic Christianity and ecclesiastical unity that the papal office seeks to uphold.

With respect to the model of justification and sanctification, it might appear to be a meritorious works-based system, which sorely contradicts the Protestant understanding of justification by faith.  However, the liturgical elements are not a set of rituals contrived to produce mechanics of symbolism, but are an active way in which members of Christ’s body participate in the union with Christ.  Grace is dispensed through participation in the sacraments thus fostering this union.  When the Catholic receives the eucharist, it is believed to be the actual presence of Christ.  Therefore, I think it is unfair and not very accurate to label the RCC a system of works-based merit but one in which the model of participation in the union of Christ looks different than that of Protestants.

With the advent of the Vatican II Council, there has been a greater focus on scriptural authority in the RCC.  I have witnessed that first hand in some recent viewings of Catholic masses on EWTN.  I actually was impressed with the amount of scripture being read and taught and found little that I disagreed with in the messages.  Yet, I wonder how many Protestants would even receive messages delivered by a Catholic priest, let alone watch a Catholic channel.   I can’t help but believe that would only perpetuate ignorance and disharmony.

It too amazes me the backlash that I have heard from ex-Catholics who have converted to Protestantism who have joined the chorus of nay-sayers against the RCC vocalizing the same opposition as listed above.  I wonder too if it was because of a failure to fully understand Catholic theology and doctrine that they at one time were actively engaged in.   I do  recognize that just because one actively participates in Roman Catholicism does not necessarily mean they are believers in Christ and it could be that the ex-Catholics who rail against Catholicism do so because they saw it as a detriment to the salvation they now have.  However, there’s no sense in throwing the baby out with the bath water.  Perhaps a greater consensus could be gained by ex-Catholics through an revisitation of the catechism that has now been wholesale rejected.

Because Catholicism does yield some very faithful and devoted believers in Christ.  I have encountered some wonderful Catholics whose belief in and love for Christ matches, if not surpasses, Protestants that I know.  And it is because of belief in Christ, not the practice of Catholicism, that allows for the unity that I believe some Protestants reject simply because the brother or sister in Christ is Catholic.

So I propose to my Protestant brothers and sisters, that rather than rejecting Catholics and Catholicism outright, that we take the time to understand where they are coming from.  That does not mean we will necessarily agree with all the doctrine.  I certainly don’t.  But being quick to reject them or their contributions I believe does a disservice to the body of Christ and undermines the unity that we should seek to foster.

Here is an interesting interview with Mark Noll that I think fosters greater dialogue and cooperation between Protestants and Catholics

200 Responses to “Why Protestants Are Quick to Reject Catholicism – And What Can Be Done About It”

  1. ” I have encountered some wonderful Catholics whose belief in and love for Christ matches, if not surpasses, Protestants that I know.”

    My cousin in Morman and I could say the same of him. However, this is not the heart of the issue. Loving and trusting in Christ is great but the issue is WHO you say Christ is and what you say he actually accomplished in making atonement.

    There are countless doctrines in the RCC that make it incompatible with Protestant faith. Solo Ecclesia, doctrine of the assumption of mary, the mass and its implecations of the insufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ. The list goes on.

    Robert Sungenis, an RCC apologist, has debated these points with various Protestant and it’s clear that there is no misunderstanding where he and other RCC apologists are coming from on these doctrines.

    While other RCC members may veiw the various teaching of Rome in different light the simple fact remains…they don’t speak for Rome. The debate rages not due to ingorance, or a lack of ecumenical motivation, but do to honest, strong convictions in what is truley taught in Scripture.

    Many of your statements in this blog are just not true. The top Catholic apologists do not affirm your views on the eucharist. The fact that Rome holds to “EXTRA ECCLESIAM NULLA SALUS” argues heavily for Romanism being a works based religion.

    To say that they mean church = Christ in the same sense as Protestants mean it would be simply untrue. There would never have been a reformation if these things weren’t issues needing protest.

  2. Excellant posting Lisa. What you say above is all too true. I also think that the opposite is true. Catholics will tend to “lump together” protestants and treat them all as believeing the same way when there is so much more to it.

    Couple of brief comments on the blog.
    1) I note that you reference Mt 16:18, but I think an equal or even firmer proof is in Mt 18:15-18. Especially when we recognize that “sin” against a brother includes false teaching.
    2) I was going to mention that you might find EWTN to be worthwhile, but I see you are already aware of it. ;-))
    3) The late great Archbishop Fulton Sheen commented more than once that there are thousands who hate the Catholic Church for what they Think it teaches but less than a hundred who hate her for what she actually teaches (paraphrased).

    Peace
    James

  3. When you say “RCC” I think you must then qualify what you are discussing. It is like saying “The Southern Baptist Church is dead.” That is a very true statement in Eastern North Carolina, the SBC is as dead as a doornail with very few exceptions in our area. It would be easy for someone in our area to make a hasty generalization in regards to the SBC as a whole, which would be false.

    When you are talking about the RCC in Latin America, I have seen enough evidence to say they have ensnared generations of people, millions of people, into the slavery of works salvation and idol worship. I’ve seen this with my own eyes and it isn’t even arguable, it is what it is.

    The RCC in America is such a diverse group of people. I know some in Michigan that scoff at the Pope and are actually embarrassed of whoever the pope is at the time – it’s not the man, it’s the position. Basically, this sub-group of the RCC read their Bibles and pray just like we do, as evangelicals.

    With these two extreme examples, I imagine there is much truth to your statement, but I would be extremely wary of hitching up too tight with the RCC. I can be friends and I could even meet at the local ministerial association, I guess. But, I would I know too much about the doctrine and what they put up with for me to want to be going to The Catholic University of America for me to get a seminary degree. I actually know a SBC pastor who is going through the CUA to get her P.h.D. I expressed my concern about this to her. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I did.

  4. Amen. Great post. The evangelical church has largely been anti-historical, out of simple ignorance. If people understood the true nature of the early church, I think many would have to reassess a number of attitudes about church, worship and theology.

  5. I do agree that deep historical study is (deeply) needed, as well as an irenic attitude; but this article is historical whitewash, and will not in the long term promote brotherhood.

    Let me hit a couple of critical points.

    It is important to recognize that the first few centuries of the Christian church experienced a universality of doctrine and church practice.

    Why is this important to recognize? It’s not true. The first few centuries did NOT experience any universality of doctrine; there were fringe groups, splinter churches, and even heretics, just as there are now; even while the apostles were around and writing the Scriptures. Any study of patristics that goes deeper than the typical pro/anti-Roman Catholic polemic will show that there are quotes available to be mined for every side of every issue from respected Church Fathers. There are two reasons for this: first, the issues hadn’t yet been argued, so the Fathers weren’t as careful with their language as we have to be; and second, there was a true diversity and sometimes disagreement over the issues and practices.

    I mentioned “typical pro/anti-Roman Catholic polemic” above. People engaging in that often quotemine texts from the ancient authors to show supposed agreement or disagreement with modern Roman Catholic teachings; but true agreement or disagreement is almost never there, because the issues that caused the Roman church to define the doctrines and dogmas had not yet arisen. (I’m attempting to phrase this neutrally).

    Overtime, these elements would be transformed into a solidified practice incorporated into doctrine of church and shape liturgical practices that are very much apart of the RCC.

    I agree with the author’s disappointment at ignorant evangelicals dismissing “liturgy” as being bad; but the above statement is historically illiterate. The ancient church’s ceremony and decorations would be almost unrecognizable to a…

  6. Wilson, I think you make some good points about Latin America. I hope these will also help you to understand where they are coming from.

    When Catholic missionaries (primarily Jesuit priests as I understand it) went to evangelize the new world they began to run into a problem. They found a lot of people were not willing to give up their old religions. Thus, Syncretism. Santeria is the best example I can think of. Where the Catholic church told slaves from Africa that their Gods were actually saints in the Catholic church. I feel that this explains it but does not excuse it. The only thing we can do is pray that they move forward into purer faith.

    I also think that the works in the Catholic church are not always understood. When I was employed by the Catholic church I had a very good friend explain to me the importance of works in relation to faith (not in place of). You start with faith. That’s important. You START with faith. Faith in Christ. But how are we to sustain this faith? How are other people to see this faith? This is where the works comes in. I think of it as actions speaking louder than words. Because we have faith, we wish to improve God’s creation. This can be done through works. Works like charity and labor, but also through sacraments that serve as a reminder of who we are and who God is (nothing like confession to remind you that you’re a sinner). And when we commit ourselves to Christ in the works, it reinforces our faith. Makes our faith stronger. In the end, we get a beautiful cycle. Faith that inspires us to work. Work that strengthens our faith. Look at James 2:14-18.

    But faith must come first. Like two feet walking, one of them has to take the first step.

  7. …The ancient church’s ceremony and decorations would be almost unrecognizable to a modern Catholic, as they would to a modern evangelical; but there is a common core that both would agree with, since it’s been preserved faithfully in the Scriptures.

    Many of the most notable liturgical elements are known innovations that have been tracked by archeologists; for example, the use of tabernacles to “reserve the Host” away from the congregation, together with an approved worship of this Host; those tabernacles were not in any way present until 600 years after Nicea! Yet now they’re a central part of Roman Catholic worship, and veneration to their contents is the same as veneration to Christ Himself.

    Therefore, I think it is unfair and not very accurate to label the RCC a system of works-based merit but one in which the model of participation in the union of Christ looks different than that of Protestants.

    But the Roman Catholic system is precisely one of merit, which is based on works. Merit, in their doctrine, is something that can be generated by good works, and graciously assigned to someone else; your works can even (with God’s help) be surplus beyond what you need for your own salvation, and placed into a treasury of merit, there to be dispensed by the church for the salvation of the faithful.

    This doesn’t merely LOOK different; it IS different. And it’s different in precisely a way that matters: it’s another gospel different from the one Paul already preached. And even if a group with true direct apostolic succession from Paul and Peter preaches that other gospel, let them be accursed!

    -Wm

  8. Mr. Tanksley, I grew up in the Post-Vatican II Catholic church. I still have many family members who practice their faith this way. I don’t know of anyone in my family or former parishes who would even suggest that any work is sufficient to secure salvation. I also have to say the idea that you could create a surplus is something I heard of for the first time in your response to this blog.

    I feel I should also point out that the Catholic church worships the consecrated host because they believe that it is Christ. It’s not a separate thing from God, to them, it IS God and therefore worthy of worship. While you may disagree with this belief, to say they are consciously worshiping an entity separate of God would be incorrect. I hope you will accept this correction.

  9. Lisa,

    I agree with Wm here. I think you’ve come under the spin of ecumenists and RC apologists. Noll is a good example of this. I was also unclear about your point concerning these three propositions:

    * Salvation is through grace alone, through faith alone, through Christ alone.
    * Jesus Christ is our advocate and prayer is conducted to God through him; we don’t believe in praying to Mary or to others
    * Jesus Christ and Scripture is the final authority for faith and practice, not the Pope.

    Are you saying that the RCC does not really teach or presuppose these in its official doctrine? Of course, no RC would say that they don’t believe in gratia (even sola gratia), fidei, and sola Christi; but the point of our disagreement is over sola fidei with faith defined apart from the works it produces.
    I would also include in the last proposition that Jesus Christ and the Scripture is to be interpreted through the interpretive authority of the elders, now in line with the historic Church’s witness (making apostolic succession general rather than specific to the bishop of Rome).

    The Prot view of the RCC is that it did not begin until Trent. Before that the one Church had variations and remnants of Augustinian/Semi-Augustinian/Semi-Pelagian/Pelagian anthropologies running within it. These were all tolerated until the Semi-Augustinian/Semi-Pelagian views had produced a different religious system (one that was really based on works) reared its head. Hence, the Reformation arose to combat this (and so did Trent). The only problem is that Trent held onto the anthropology of the Semi-Augustinian/Semi-Pelagianism that had produced the theological perversion and the magisterial Reformation held onto an anthropology with Augustinian presupps.

    So we must set aside our anthropologies to be one. Yet, what did the early Church say about anthropology? Was it important enough to divide over? According to the unity issue you describe, we would be required to…

  10. divide over the issue. The original groups understood this. You’re right that they weren’t attempting to create a different church. There is no other Church but the one catholic Church. But they were attempting to divide over anthropology as it corrected or distorted the gospel itself. The truth of the matter is that modern evangelicalism has become so Roman Catholic in its anthropology that it either has to distort RCC doctrine in order to divide with it (something often seen in fundamentalist critiques, as the examples you give bear out) or one simply does not see what the big deal is and even though disagreeing, accepts RC’s as having a legitimate form of the gospel. That’s fine, but where’s the historical unity that was made an issue in this article? Why not be in unity with the early Church that condemned wayward anthropologies?

  11. Wilson,

    As to this statement,

    When you are talking about the RCC in Latin America, I have seen enough evidence to say they have ensnared generations of people, millions of people, into the slavery of works salvation and idol worship. I’ve seen this with my own eyes and it isn’t even arguable, it is what it is.

    I think the same could be said of certain Protestant denominations and some independent churches who have embraced very legalistic forms of sanctification.

  12. Hodge and Wm Tankley,

    Let me be clear and say I am not advocating for regress to a universal form of the visible church, only that our dialogue and understanding be improved so that we be careful to understand what exactly it is we are rejecting.

    As to Tankley’s point that there existed splintered groups in the early church, I agree. But none were sufficient to warrant a different recognized body within the universally accepted church. In fact, I clearly stated that various heretical and distorted doctrines arose. As to his other point here

    People engaging in that often quotemine texts from the ancient authors to show supposed agreement or disagreement with modern Roman Catholic teachings; but true agreement or disagreement is almost never there, because the issues that caused the Roman church to define the doctrines and dogmas had not yet arisen.

    My point is not that every doctrinal piece was established but that what is established now is a result of an evolution of practice and doctrine formed under the auspices of the recognized church. Does it matter that the example cited of the veneration of the Host did not occur several hundred years after Nicea? No, because if the church is the official conduit through which faith and practice is regulated then implementation of practices must necessarily be judged as consistent with the early church foundation.

  13. Hodge,

    The Prot view of the RCC is that it did not begin until Trent. Before that the one Church had variations and remnants of Augustinian/Semi-Augustinian/Semi-Pelagian/Pelagian anthropologies running within it. These were all tolerated until the Semi-Augustinian/Semi-Pelagian views had produced a different religious system (one that was really based on works) reared its head. Hence, the Reformation arose to combat this (and so did Trent). The only problem is that Trent held onto the anthropology of the Semi-Augustinian/Semi-Pelagianism that had produced the theological perversion and the magisterial Reformation held onto an anthropology with Augustinian presupps.

    I concede this point but I am just curious as to what exactly you are referring to by ‘works’. Do you mean the practice of indulgences or the whole sacramental system? And is not the anthropology consistent with the RCC view of the visible church?

  14. “The revelation of God, unveiled in Christ is not simply inscribed in writings of the apostolic witness (scripture) but is carried on through tradition established by the church. This is otherwise known as Sacred Tradition, which is just as valid as scripture, according to Catholic theology and it is the church who serves as the authoritative interpreter of both.”

    Eastern Orthodox churches hold to the same position, so I am not sure why you did not mention EO more in your post?

    I do agree that Evangelicals need to a better job learning and appreciating church history and tradition (that may be why many are going to “Rome”, “Constantinople”, or even “Canterbury”), but apart from what EWTN is advocating, the RCC does not hold a monopoly on the historic faith.

  15. “I am just curious as to what exactly you are referring to by ‘works’.”

    Yes, indulgences, as they were being taught in Luther’s day, and everything along those lines that Luther mentions as not real works at all (climbing up stairs on the knees as one pays homage to saints through icons, etc.); but also the medieval religion that had become a “good people go to heaven, bad people go to hell” type religion. Both Prots and RC’s saw these as corruptions and were corrected in their own ways by each group. As I said, however, the correction that came about through Trent did not take the bad tree out by its root.

  16. 95% of Protestantism is essentially Roman Catholicism. If one simply put the Bible and faith in place of Rome and their predisposition for fairy tales and self effort, you’d be in line with Luther.

  17. Hodge,

    “good people go to heaven, bad people go to hell” type religion.”

    Putting this with you’re earlier accusation of Evangelicals being similar to the Roman Catholic Church in the Reformation time period. Is it your assertion that Evangelicals teach this?? I mean sure there is the inclusivistic vs. exclusivistic debate, but outside of this squabble I have never been to a Evangelical Church which would put forth such a teaching.

  18. Rick,

    I have not seen the level of dismissal towards EO Christians as I have towards Catholics, which is why I made this post specifically about Catholics. To be honest, I have been annoyed recently they way I’ve seen Catholics outright rejected when bringing meaningful contributions into a discussion, simply because they are Catholic. So it’s not about the RCC having a monopoly on truth, but about how we perceive the RCC and its members. That’s what I was attempting to address.

  19. You know, I confess I ended my message in a way that was out of line. I expect better from this conversation forum, and I failed all of you. I let “being in a hurry” come before participating properly in the discussion. I apologize for my sloppiness and offensiveness.

    Let me correct myself: Roman Catholics are NOT to be accursed simply because “another gospel” is commonly present among them. After all, “another gospel” is also commonly present in all evangelical churches; the Faithful Church will have tares among it until the Day of Judgement. There are many faithful Christians who are Roman Catholic (I’ve had quite a few friends, one of them a close friend, who were Roman Catholic and unmistakably faithful to the Gospel).

    The problem is that the Roman Catholic Church has long since decided that its position as a successor to the apostles is more important than teaching in a way that supports the teaching of the apostles. This is why I quoted Paul: he placed the teaching of the Gospel above his own apostleship. The RCC teaches that its doctrinal authority is beyond doubt; Paul placed his teachings under the microscope and praised people who questioned him.

    -Wm

  20. Michael,

    I think you misread me. I said the medieval religion that crept up in the Church was such, not that the RCC or Prot Churches were this way.

  21. It is important to recognize that the first few centuries of the Christian church experienced a universality of doctrine and church practice. From the doctrinal perspective, there was a unified front on what was deemed authentic Christianity appropriate to the revelation of God and the apostolic witness of Christ. It is why in the early church writings, the word ‘catholic’, which means universal, was commonly used as a reference to one church. In protection of the one church, ecumenical councils were formed to combat false or distorted teaching that were attempting to infiltrate and distort the apostolic message.

    These statements seem contradictory to me. The fact that the Councils had to combat teaching that was believed to be false or distorted indicates to me that there was NOT a universality of doctrine and practice. Nicea I was in 325 A.D. before the church had ended its 3rd century (assuming Pentecost ~33 A.D.), so it’s NOT true that “the first few centuries” experienced such universality. Also, some of the NT epistles indicate that teachings deemed to be false were already competing with what some of the apostles taught.

    And as much as Roman Catholicism and Protestantism may have in common, and as much as Roman Catholics and Protestants can pray and worship and study the Scriptures together, the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist and the priesthood is what it is: The priest by his ordination has received an indelible mark on his soul, and when he confects the Eucharist and says the Words of Institution, the bread and wine BECOME the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ – as real and as much Christ as if He were to stand in front of the priest and the parishioners. Eucharistic Adoration (not veneration, which is giving honor, but adoration, which is the worship that belongs to God alone) testifies to the belief that the Wafer is Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. It’s Christ Among Us.

  22. “I have been annoyed recently they way I’ve seen Catholics outright rejected when bringing meaningful contributions into a discussion, simply because they are Catholic.”

    Lisa: your point that we should not reject Catholic ideas or contributions simply because they are Catholic is good. If that were the whole of your argument, I would agree with your posting. However, your statements concerning what Catholicism really is contradicts published Church documents.

    “It is only through this understanding, that I believe Protestants can be more accepting and understanding of Catholic doctrine and practice. Absent that understanding, we will always measure the practices of Catholicism against our own and deem them unorthodox at best and heretical, at worst.”

    Yes, we can be more understanding. And yes, I believe there are dedicated Christians inside the Catholic church. However we must measure Catholic practices against the Word of God. If we do, we will have to admit that many are actually “unorthodox” or even “heretical.”

  23. Re: #22:

    I’m not saying that the Catholics are wrong and the Protestants are right. I’m saying that the Catholic Church’s doctrine and practice of the Eucharist and the priesthood, and the centrality and essentiality of them to the faith and practice of that same Catholic Church, make all other areas of disagreement with Protestantism pale by comparison, IMO, and if there can be no agreement on these, then despite agreement in other areas, we’re in many ways talking about TWO DIFFERENT RELIGIONS.

  24. Eric W,

    I agree with what you said. It seems contradictory to claim that no divisions existed in the Early Church when there had to be councils to combat divisions. Even among those who are generally considered to be the Early Church Fathers by history you will find significant disagreements on some points of doctrine. You will also find disagreement among interpreters of the Early Church as to how to understand certain fragments (e.g. Roger Olsen and Hodge would have it out over whether or not some statements by Irenaeus and Justin Martyr contradict Augustine and later Calvin on issues relating to divine determinism or whether these statements only apply to Gnostic “fate” type determinism since we discussed this in an early post).

    Suffice to think I don’t think the Early Church is always as clear as anyone would like it to be. Despite this I would agree with CMP that there is a core of Christian doctrine that can be made out and those doctrines which arose contrary to it were often quickly condemned.

  25. I learn from Atheists, and pagans and non-Christians across the board. So if the goal here is to suggest we not be closed-minded and realize that we can glean truth from many sources outside the Bible or the true body of Christ, I have no problem with it.

    If however it is being said that the RCC is holding to a true Gospel, and we are just not understanding them, then no, I disagree and state plainly that is wrong.

    That isn’t to say that some individuals attending a Catholic church aren’t believers (something that has to be stated to avoid the inevitable red herring of “so you don’ t believe any Catholics are saved?”)

    In terms of contrary practice it is more than the fact that they pray to Saints or even their understanding of the Eucharist. Those things pale in comparison to the out and out grievous offense the institution is guilty of… the absolute butchering of the Gospel.

    Look to the anathema placed on sola fide. That isn’t simply a misunderstanding. Those at Trent were fully aware of what they were doing. And before anyone tries to pull a fast one… V2 doesn’t change anything.

    Sola fide is the very heart of the Gospel. It is one thing to fail to live it out (I am not perfect in my faith, are any of you?). It is an entirely different thing to willfully reject the doctrine and furthermore curse those who hold to it. That is what the RCC did and continue to do.

    So on that point no, there is no room for solidarity with them. And why should there be? Because we come from the same place? We have a common history? Jesus shared a common history with the Pharisees… and?

    Why would we want to identify ourselves with any one person or group of people who so willfully misrepresent the Gospel? What could we possibly gain from it?

  26. Why Protestants Are Quick to Reject Catholicism – And What Can Be Done About It

    Maybe this post should be titled: “Why Protestants Are Quick to Reject Catholics – And What Can Be Done About It”

    I agree that Protestants can learn from Catholics and from what their religious tradition has taught them about Christianity and the Scriptures. After all, Protestants don’t reject opportunities to learn from Jews and Jewish scholars about both the Old and the New Testament – and contrary to Catholicism, Judaism rejects/denies/refudiates (HT to Sarah Palin) Jesus’ divinity and Messiahship and resurrection.

  27. Hi Lisa, thanks for tackling an important issue. -Chris Castaldo

  28. Carrie,

    Although I understand the importance of sola fide for many Protestants, I’m surprised that you say that the Eucharist thing pales in comparison.

    Catholics WORSHIP the Eucharist. Either the Eucharist is Jesus or not. If it is not, then this is idolatry. If it is, then you should become Catholic.

    Perhaps I’m misguided here, but it seems to me that idolatry is condemned in the Bible above all other things. Perhaps that’s just because I don’t see sola fide quite as clearly as you do.

    Honestly, I like the idea of ecumenism, but I don’t understand how the more ecumenical Protestants/Catholics can see this as a side issue.

  29. Lisa Robinson;
    Good post, but please pay close attention to this website.

    I feel that Roman Catholicism survives because the things that it has huge stores of things (the pomp, the “endless genealogies”, and—yes—the works) that are attractive to those for whom the only temptation and sin is to not believe in the “foolishness of the cross”.

    If you think that the Roman Catholic Church is basically good, save for grace and so on, you are right. But a nubile young body without a pulse is in mostly the same shape. There is religious gratification to be found in just any system of worship. Only one actually puts Christ and His finished work at the centre. The Pope is good, Tradition is good, but what you want is salvation by faith. Run to the cross, everyone. Run.

  30. “Catholics WORSHIP the Eucharist. Either the Eucharist is Jesus or not. If it is not, then this is idolatry. If it is, then you should become Catholic.”

    Actually, I believe the Catholic would say they are worshipping Christ.

  31. Oh, I didn’t mean to say otherwise. But Catholics see the Eucharist AS Christ, so they wouldn’t see any distinction between the two. Worshiping the Eucharist, for them, IS worshiping Christ. That’s my point.

    Although, I suppose someone could say that, since they believe they are worshiping Christ, they are not committing idolatry, even if the Eucharist is not Christ. I’m just not sure.

    For what it’s worth, I’m a Catholic, so I’m not trying to bash them. Although I’m a doubting one, so maybe that’s a bias there. But when my faith was more robust, I looked at the Eucharist and bowed to it and worshiped it as my Lord and Savior. Why? Because I believed it was Jesus Himself hidden under the elements of bread and wine.

    If I was wrong to think in such a way, I hope a Catholic will correct me. But that was my understanding. Peter Kreeft has also said that if Catholics are wrong, then they are worshiping bread and wine, so I suspect my understanding is correct.

  32. TDC, then it sounds like you should be Protestant ;)

  33. Michael T

    Suffice to think I don’t think the Early Church is always as clear as anyone would like it to be. Despite this I would agree with CMP that there is a core of Christian doctrine that can be made out and those doctrines which arose contrary to it were often quickly condemned.

    I agree and it is that core doctrine that the church sought to protect. But I think it important to examine Catholic theology against that core doctrine absent of the church practices that are part and parcel of the church. And these practices are related to the doctrine of the church is what I’m trying to get at. Because it is the church that holds the authority and is the interpreter of faith and practice that was handed down. I am not sure that makes Catholicism a separate religion, as Eric W indicated, just one in which authority is derived from more than one source.

  34. Although, I suppose someone could say that, since they believe they are worshiping Christ, they are not committing idolatry, even if the Eucharist is not Christ. I’m just not sure.

    This is, of course, why the worship of the Host is encouraged by Roman doctrine. But even this is deadly dangerous; God did not carve out any exceptions to His rule that we must not make things to worship them.

    -Wm

  35. But I think it important to examine Catholic theology against that core doctrine absent of the church practices that are part and parcel of the church. […] I am not sure that makes Catholicism a separate religion, as Eric W indicated, just one in which authority is derived from more than one source.

    Roman Catholic doctrine cannot be examined without noticing that the doctrine can change based on what the Church declares. Past pronouncements that were true cannot suddenly become declared false; but in practice the Roman Church distinguishes multiple levels of pronouncements, where some are unofficial, some are more official, some are instructional, and some are solid dogma. Anything that’s not defined as dogma can be contradicted later by claiming that the person saying it wasn’t speaking for “the Church”.

    For example, look at the relatively new Marian Dogmas. Although the Church (the whole Church, not just the Roman see) has always deeply respected Mary and has sometimes overelaborated her miracles based on mistaken notions of the sinfulness of the body (for example, the unscriptural doctrine of perpetual virginity led some to speculate that Jesus’ birth was miraculous in that Jesus emerged from her womb by teleport), the Roman Church took this to new extremes in declaring these “doctrines” (not hinted at in Scripture nor in apostolic teaching) to be actually dogma, which means that if anyone denies them they automatically deny salvation.

    -Wm

  36. Hi Lisa,

    I come from a Catholic family, was raised in the RCC (although I also attended a reformed church from time to time), post Vatican II. My family is still RCC, and I’ve had countless arguments with my parents on such subjects.

    I would like to say that Protestantism is not limited to Evangelical Protestantism. Your point on liturgy as a specificity of the RCC is not true, since most traditional protestant churches also have a liturgy. This is the case for example of the Reformed Church (calvinists), and they hold their liturgy as a way to ensure that the service covers all the important points of the doctrine.

    I would heartily agree on your post if it was about Catholics, and I make a strong point in making a big difference between Catholics and Catholicism. Most post-Vatican II Catholics I know (including my family) do not know the history of the Church as much as Protestants do, or even the theological position of the RCC vs Protestantism (at least here in France). Most Catholics I know don’t care about the doctrine of transubstantiation or simply dismiss it as something that doesn’t matter. Most don’t care about priesthood, even when pointed to the words of Paul concerning this subject. While I do know quite a few Catholics who are fervent worshippers of Christ, I would say they are in spite of the RCC, and not thanks to it. It is my belief that the RCC has led many astray, and this belief doesn’t condemn Catholics as individuals.

    Also, I would make a clear distinction between Catholicism and Roman Catholicism. The word “catholic” as you mentioned was used in the first times of Christianity to mean “universal”. The “universal” church became the Roman Catholic Church (in my understanding) when Constantin made it the official religion of the Roman Empire, deciding that Christianity (a religion based on faith) would be the de-facto religion of all citizens of the Roman Empire, allowing lots of pagan traditions to mix with Christianity.

  37. If you think that the Roman Catholic Church is basically good, save for grace and so on, you are right. But a nubile young body without a pulse is in mostly the same shape. There is religious gratification to be found in just any system of worship. Only one actually puts Christ and His finished work at the centre. The Pope is good, Tradition is good, but what you want is salvation by faith. Run to the cross, everyone. Run.

    Are you saying that Roman Catholicism does not teach justification by faith in the finish work on the cross?

  38. @ TDC – you said:

    Catholics WORSHIP the Eucharist. Either the Eucharist is Jesus or not. If it is not, then this is idolatry. If it is, then you should become Catholic.

    I say:

    It is idolatrous and worse still leads to Christological heresy. I suppose I made a mistake in downplaying the signficance of it in my eagerness to stress my point regarding sola fide.

    So TDC great point. Getting the answer wrong on Who and What Christ is, is just as bad as getting the answer wrong on what He accomplished.

    @ Lisa – No one would say that the RCC does not teach justification by faith in the finished work on the cross. They do.

    However they don’t teach that solely. They add an entire sacramental system to the work on the cross. That teach that we contribute to our justification.

    In saying that, how then are they teaching that the work was finished? What exactly did Christ finish on the cross according to offical RCC dogma?

  39. Also Lisa I noticed you said

    “I am not sure that makes Catholicism a separate religion…”

    Their official position on the Gospel.

  40. This is an interesting and ironic post, as I have lately been thinking how Catholic contributions have seemed to be more welcome in typically Protestant venues in recent times. For example, as a fan of the Perspectives and Zondervan Counterpoint Series, I have noticed that some of the books (e.g. the “Spirit Baptism” book of the former series, and the “Lord’s Supper” book of the latter) offer Catholic input.

  41. “It is idolatrous and worse still leads to Christological heresy.”

    What heresy is that?

    Ironically, Ignatius of Antioch made just the opposition claim, namely, that those who denied the reality of Christ in the Eucharist were heretics, and connected their heresy to docetism.

    Here’s Ignatius (AD 110):

    Some ignorantly deny Him, or rather have been denied by Him, being the advocates of death rather than of the truth. … For what does any one profit me, if he commends me, but blasphemes my Lord, not confessing that He was [truly] possessed of a body? But he who does not acknowledge this, has in fact altogether denied Him, being enveloped in death. I have not, however, thought good to write the names of such persons, inasmuch as they are unbelievers. Yea, far be it from me to make any mention of them, until they repent and return to [a true belief in] Christ’s passion,…

    Let no man deceive himself. Both the things which are in heaven, and the glorious angels, and rulers, both visible and invisible, if they believe not in the blood of Christ, shall, in consequence, incur condemnation. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it. Matthew 19:12 Let not [high] place puff any one up: for that which is worth all is faith and love, to which nothing is to be preferred. But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love; no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond, or of the free; of the hungry, or of the thirsty.

    They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again….

    ( http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0109.htm )

  42. Are you saying that Roman Catholicism does not teach justification by faith in the finished work on the cross?

    You have to twist a lot of words to affirm that.

    Obviously their definition of ‘justification’ is different from ours; they define justification to include what we call ‘sanctification’, which means that justification for them is initiated by Christ’s work, but achieved by our meritorious cooperation with His grace (occasionally withdrawing from the Treasury of Merit that I mentioned before). That’s an important difference.

    Much more important is that to the Roman Church, Mass itself is an effectual reenactment of Christ’s sacrifice, an actual re-offering of His body, and the priest is an alter Christus redoing the work that Christ originally did. So the Cross was not finished; it’s redone at every Eucharist, and participation in that is necessary to salvation (or rather, to reject participation is to reject salvation).

    -Wm

  43. Carrie:

    I like you. You seem like a nice person, and you can’t be all bad since you love Bob Dylan (as I do).

    But back off the use of purposely rough language. The word “dogma,” for example, though a perfectly fine word, is only employed by you when you refer to Catholic beliefs. Why is that? Because in our culture today, “dogma” carries with it the connotation of a belief which someone embraces ignorantly and without reason because of some capricious authority. When you refer to your own beliefs as “dogmas,” then I will concede that you are playing fair. (Some Catholic apologists, of course, are just as bad when explaining Protestant beliefs. So, when those snooty Papists make their appearance here, I will correct them as well).

    You seem to not understand what Catholics mean by “sacraments.” They don’t think of it as a “system,” as if it were parts of a grand machine pumping out grace pellets. They are means by which we participate in the divine life. We don’t do anything except submit to Christ. And, mysteriously, the submission itself is a consequence of God’s grace. But grace for the Catholic is real stuff (a divine quality, which is the technical term) that changes nature. So, for example, when we engage in acts of charity, it is God’s grace working through us so that we can become more like Christ. We are not “working our way to heaven,” but rather, heaven is working its way through us, or as the Apostle Paul puts it: “God is at work in you.”

    Carrie, do yourself and favor and read the Catechism on this issue: http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p3s1c3a2.htm And from there you can read other sources, including the work of my friend, Alan Schreck, Catholic and Christian (Servant Books).

  44. “Much more important is that to the Roman Church, Mass itself is an effectual reenactment of Christ’s sacrifice, an actual re-offering of His body, and the priest is an alter Christus redoing the work that Christ originally did. So the Cross was not finished; it’s redone at every Eucharist, and participation in that is necessary to salvation (or rather, to reject participation is to reject salvation).”

    Wrong. Read the Catechism: “In the epiclesis, the Church asks the Father to send his Holy Spirit (or the power of his blessing) on the bread and wine, so that by his power they may become the body and blood of Jesus Christ and so that those who take part in the Eucharist may be one body and one spirit (some liturgical traditions put the epiclesis after the anamnesis).

    In the institution narrative, the power of the words and the action of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, make sacramentally present under the species of bread and wine Christ’s body and blood, his sacrifice offered on the cross once for all.”

    ( http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p2s2c1a3.htm )

    I am planning to include a list of these sorts of urban legend beliefs about Catholicism in my contribution to the forthcoming book Journeys of Faith (Zondervan, 2011).

  45. Many misconceptions, I think.
    The Mass is not a re-offering of Christ, it is to participate in the one sacrifice and the entering in the one ongoing heavenly liturgy. And it is not the priests redoing it, it is all Gods doing.
    Sakraments overcome the dimensions of time and space. They all point back to Christ -His death and resurrection- they make Him present -here and now- and they point beyond time to the to perfection and transformation of the world, humanity and the individual believer.
    At every single Mass we are at the foot of the cross, at the empty tomb and we are in heaven with the risen Lord.
    I think, Jeremy Driscoll wrote one of the best books about Mass, it’s called ‘What happends at Mass’ and is easy to read, even if someone is not Catholic.

  46. Dr. Beckwith, it’s an honor to hear from you.

    I’m glad to see that you’re providing enough context; it’s easy to cherrypick a quote and hide the context, and I’m glad you don’t do that.

    But that context gives the purpose of the quote away. Contrary to your claim, Ignatius is not speaking against people who deny that the wine and bread are transformed into the Body and Blood (an idea he’d probably never heard of, and never wrote about); he’s speaking specifically against the people who deny that Christ had a physical body, the docetists. He doesn’t merely mention the docetists to illustrate the evil of denying that the bread and wine is connected to Christ’s body and blood; he actually is talking about the heresy of docetism. The physicality of the wine and bread revolted them because they recognized that the Church knew it to be a claim that Christ had a truly physical body. The physicality of widows and orphans revolted them, and they did not give to them. None of these problems are features of people who simply deny transubstantiation.

    Note a problem with reading this text your way, when he modifies either the bread or the Flesh by adding “which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.” If his purpose was to talk about the bread, he’s claiming that the bread suffered and was raised up again (which isn’t true); but he’s talking about Christ, and the bread simply is what the docetists reject because they reject what it represents.

    -Wm

  47. An example of how easy it is to misread this controversy into the Fathers’ writings is this quote from Tertullian:

    Then, having taken the bread and given it to His disciples, He made it His own body, by saying, “This is my body,”

    …but the sentence doesn’t end there, because Tertulian wasn’t trying to argue that Christ transformed bread and wine into His body and blood. The sentence continues:

    that is, the figure of my body. A figure, however, there could not have been, unless there were first a veritable body. An empty thing, or phantom, is incapable of a figure.

    So Tertullian uses the same phrasing as Ireneus did, both of which are more specific than Christ’s words, but he clarifies immediately that he’s talking about the bread being a figure, not about the bread being the veritable body.

    This similarity in rebuttals is doubtless caused by a similarity in heresy: the docetists must have almost uniformly rejected the Eucharist because they saw it as a confession of Christ enfleshed.

    -Wm

  48. Lisa

    Good post. As an ex-RC I’ve experienced this rejection personally as well and see a lot of the same arguments pop up here in the thread.

    Rafael (#37), I grew up RCC in Belgium, not too different from France. For what it’s worth, there is a considerable difference in practice between Europe and the US. I’ve come to notice that over the years.

    It too amazes me the backlash that I have heard from ex-Catholics who have converted to Protestantism who have joined the chorus of nay-sayers against the RCC vocalizing the same opposition as listed above

    Couldn’t agree more. And it unfortunately comes from those who have a limited understanding of actual RCC doctrine. Are there doctrinal differences ? Absolutely. But do we as Protestants tend to throw away the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Yes.

    Just my two pennies

    Mick

  49. Wm:

    I appreciate your kind comments.

    As for the Ignatius quote, you write: “Note a problem with reading this text your way, when he modifies either the bread or the Flesh by adding `which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.’ If his purpose was to talk about the bread, he’s claiming that the bread suffered and was raised up again (which isn’t true); but he’s talking about Christ, and the bread simply is what the docetists reject because they reject what it represents.”

    Let’s look at the portion of the passage you are assessing:

    “They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again”

    Maybe I’m just dense, but when I read this passage I see the following. The doceticists don’t take the Eucharist because they do not believe it be Christ’s flesh, and that flesh is what suffered for our sins. Seems simple to me. But even if your interpretation were legitimate (and I don’t think it is), is the Catholic interpretation obviously wrong? If it isn’t, you at least should concede that the belief in Eucharistic realism is rational to believe, especially since Ignatius was not the only one who held it. By the time you reach the 4th century, it is so uncontroversial that it’s never a point of contention by any Church Council. The Council of Nicea assumes its truth when discussing the administering of the viaticum (canon13) to a dying Christian. Ambrose, Augustine and others write of the Mass, the Eucharist, the priesthood, etc. without a hint of doubt. There are discussions about whether heretical bishops have the charism to perform the Mass, but it’s reality is not in dispute.

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