Some Protestant Responses to Catholic Claims

I normally avoid internal disputes within the Christian Church, preferring instead to direct my efforts towards challenges from outside the church. But a friend asked me for some thoughts on a particularly aggressive catholic who was trying to argue against protestantism and persuade them towards catholicsm. Here are some collected thoughts on the subject. I claim no expertise on the matter.

Some caveats

catholics_pope_large_03-27-08
Courtesy of Fox News

1) Catholics are Christians. Protestants are Christians.
–The feuds we may have between us are family feuds, not enemy combat.

2) Evangelicals are Christians, protestant or catholic, who proselytize (try to persuade people to their religion).
–Catholics can seek to share their faith, or may have teachers and ministers encouraging a public witness complete with altar calls and tearful repentance. Protestants haven’t cornered the market there. But, admittedly, there are probably more protestant evangelicals than catholic evangelicals.
–A stricter sense of “evangelical” does exist in some circles, and it refers to a kind of protestant Christian who affirms the sole authority of Scripture (Sola Scriptura), inerrancy doctrine (Scripture has no errors), and they teach and preach a conversion/born again model of justification, that is, “how to be saved.” Yet even then, Catholics can affirm these things–except the protestant part. But some ecumenical efforts have joined catholics and protestants into shared mission efforts where the goal is to “bring people to Jesus” first and secondarily usher them into a different faith traditions, prot./cath

3) Catholics love Jesus and Worship God to.
–It would be a mistake to assume that Catholics forget Jesus or the Father in their added interest in Mary.

Protestant Responses to Roman Catholicism

1) A Summary Point: Perhaps the single best word to summarize the divide between Catholics and Protestants is “authority.” And this disagreement matters a great deal.
–Who or what holds the highest authority? For protestants, the highest authority is Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura), but for Catholics there’s a tie between Scripture and the Holy See, the body of Catholic representative authorities who impart tradition and issue authoritative decrees. According to Catholics, the highest human authority on earth, the Pope, can even speak new revelation giving a new law from the seat of his authority (i.e., “ex cathedra”—from the throne).
This differing view of authority affects their structures of authority. Catholics have a hierarchy of priests crowned by the bishop of Rome, the Pope. Protestants have the doctrine of “priesthood of the believer,” where Christ is the only high priest and all believers are priests themselves. While Catholics address God through priests and sains, whether that is praying through saints to God, or receive grace from God imparted by priests through the sacraments.

–This difference of authority allows for different strengths and weaknesses. Catholics can have institutional coverups and face-saving behavior excusing evil among the priesthood. Protestants have their fair share of perverts and idiots in ministry, but it’s generally harder to cover up since there’s less “institutional level” coordination for covering things up. Protestants however suffer from wild schismatic individualism.Catholics tend to do unity better than protestants.

bishop priests
Courtesy of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix

 2) The Papacy (line of popes back to Peter) is not clearly authoritative on par with Scripture.

–The Papacy is guilty of many errors, intrigue, betrayal, and even plurality in their history—which competing lines of different popes—this compromises their authority claim especially if they intend to have a comparable authority to Scripture. A range of responses can be found from catholics, but unless they are fool proof and exhaustive this point remains valid. A good dose of church history reveals that the line of functional authorities in the church is quite wild and twisted.

2000px-Emblem_of_the_Papacy_SE.svg
Courtesy of Wikipedia

3) The apostolic succession has not clearly continued into the modern era
–Since the distinguishing factors for apostles was their having seen the rising Jesus in the flesh, their ability to perform miracles, and their writing of Scripture, the Popes since then have not qualified. None of the apostles since the 1st century have done this, so it’s not clear that apostolicity in that authoritative sense extended past the 1st century.

4) As such, the Church does not Lord over the Scripture, but serves under it
–Catholics often assert not parity but disparity between the Holy See and the Bible, since, in their view the Church made the Bible thus the church has some decisive and authoritative rule over it. But that view hinges on a strong faith in the succession of apostles through to today. Studied Catholic apologists may counter with an idealistic church teaching which asserts parity between the Holy See and Scripture. But practically Church tradition lords over Scripture if the Church made the Bible, and the Papal interpretations of it are more authoritative than any of the checks and balances from individual interpretations among Berean style believers.

5) The Priestly and Sacramental System defies the unique High Priestly status of Christ.
–the Priestly system in Catholicism has some serious problems reconciling with Scripture. Jesus is the one High Priest (Hebrews 4:14:16), the one mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5), and through His saving work all believers can directly discourse with God  (Hebrews 10:19). Meanwhile, there is no biblical precedent nor biblical permission to direct one’s prayers to anyone but God. Prayer to saints, therefore risks occult spiritism where people are praying to departed spirits instead of to God like they should. And the mediation of a(nother) priestly class is unnecessary.

Eucharist courtesy of University of St. Thomas Library
Eucharist courtesy of University of St. Thomas Library

6) Transubstantiation (where the bread and wine become the spiritual body and blood of Christ) is highly problematic.
–For one thing, transubstantiation resacrifices Christ, as if one time wasn’t enough. Yet Jesus said, once and for all, “It is finished.”
–Transubstantiation confuses the resurrection. Jesus rose from the dead, but if he was never done dying then the resurrection is perpetually preempted.
–Transubstantiation never fully escapes the claims of cannibalism since even a partly literal reading (i.e., the “spiritual” body and blood of Christ) still entails ingesting Jesus, even if it’s not the material body and blood of Jesus.
–John 6, perhaps the most central passage said to support transubstantiation doctrine, doesn’t require transubstantiation doctrine. It explains how “eating and drinking” is embodied within the acts of “coming” to Jesus and “believing” (John 6:35). To eat and drink of Christ, in John 6, is to approach him and believe. Only after the people prove obstinate and shallow, demanding more food miracles, does Jesus make his teaching opaque to drive off the masses with the harder teaching about “eat of my body” and “drink of my blood” (John 6:36ff).

7) There are big problems with the Apocrypha (an extra-canon of Scripture that supplements the more authoritative 66 book collection in the Bible).
The Different books and book fragments of the Apocrypha don’t altogether satisfy the operating criteria for discerning canonicity:  (1) Propheticity –does it come from a prophet of God?, (2) Catholicity/Universality–is it agreed upon among the people of God?, (3) Orthodoxy–does it agree with the known Truth of God?, (4)    Divine Confirmation–is it confirmed by Acts of God?, and (5) The Power of God–does it come with the power of God (to edify and equip believers). This list is a high bar to hurdle and a big reason why the apocrypha were not admitted in into the Canon until the 16th century, and without universal accord among the Christian churches.
— Also, it is not known whether the 1st century LXX even included the Apocrypha. And citation by early church fathers does not necessarily prove their belief in its canonicity (unless context shows otherwise). Even then, church fathers can be wrong sometimes (it is when the testimony of the church fathers is in wide agreement that their voice gains in force, and this is not the case with the Apocrypha–Origen, Jerome, Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem). And none of the great Greek manuscripts contain the whole apocrypha.
–Nor do the early church councils which accepted them provide substantial proof. They were only local church councils. They reached differing conclusions on which books to include. They addressed pre-Christian books long rejected by the Jewish community. They lacked the proper authority to decide whether they should be in the common canon.
–Augustine’s influence–being and advocate of the apocrypha–should be questioned in this regard since he alone considered the testimony on martyrs valid reason for canonicity and since Jerome, his contemporary, was a far better Biblical authority in this respect and he rejected them
–The Greek orthodox church has not always accepted the apocrypha nor is it’s present position univocal
–They were adopted over 1,000 years after the Canon had already been decided. The adoption of the apocrypha as Scripture was at the same time as the Protestant reformation, which often challenged church teaches as “unbiblical” which could only be found in the apocrypha. Thus it’s an obvious polemic against the protestant church. As such protestant Bibles sometimes included them prior to the council of Trent but set them in a separate section implying less authority.
–Even the Jewish scholars at Jamnia, who were identifying what is inspired (OT) canon rejected them as early as 90 AD.

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Other Recommended Sources:
Protestant Responses to Catholicism:
https://carm.org/roman-catholicism
http://www.evangelicalresources.org/rcc.shtml

A pro-catholic defense:
http://www.catholic-defense.com/
http://www.biblicalcatholic.com/apologetics/apolog.htm

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These points are only a brief introduction into Catholic debates. I’m not the best source to press these matters very deeply. If a catholic apologist were to engage me, I’d probably give a brief retort or two and then drop the subject. I understand Catholics and Protestants to be on the same team, and while we can argue and disagree about all sorts of things, I want to always maintain the secure friendship of family members. I may hold a theological disagreement with much catholic doctrine, I pray they have grace with me as I recognize that my own theology forever needs improving. We usually have far bigger battles to fight, where we cannot afford to divide our troops over sibling rivalries as worldview missiles fly over our heads. I trust that catholics worldwide, along with my protestant friends, are all in the same business of keeping people out of hell. That makes us friends and family.

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9 thoughts on “Some Protestant Responses to Catholic Claims

  1. This article has apparently touched a nerve. I sincerely pray that my catholic friends receive this dissenting voice not as a revolutionary cry but as a friendly exchange. I’m sure my own understanding of catholicism can be improved. But, quite possibly, Catholics might profit from reconsidering their own theological and practical commitments in light of this article. Nevertheless, if the Catholics reading this article are not persuaded in the least, please accept my offered friendship. I’d just assume we leave the religious wars in the past.

  2. A good friend of mine, and Catholic, posted the following on a different site linked to this article. I thought it merited reposting and comment.

    [to] John Ferrer, together [with] all the protestants above….

    “While Catholics address God through priests and sains, whether that is praying through saints to God, or receive grace from God imparted by priests through the sacraments.”

    This is incorrect.

    As a Catholic
    1. We do not pray through priests and saints. Any Catholic can pray to God directly without the intercessions of priests and saints. Catholics ask for their prayers is the same reason when protestants pray for each other.

    2. We do not receive God imparted by priests through the sacraments. Sacraments that are blessed by priests are not the way, but an essential way for Grace to overflow. It is certainly not the way. If you look into the debate between nature and grace debate, Catholic theologians understand such issue far better than any protestant theologians.

    “2) The Papacy (line of popes back to Peter) is not clearly authoritative on par with Scripture.”

    This is not correct too. Again, it all comes down how do you or do protestants in general interpret Scripture. The problem is that no protestants can claim the final authority in interpreting Scripture. Scripture in the hands of protestants is like American constitution falling into the hands any political party when there is no central authority, namely, the Supreme court to provide any interpretations.

    secondly, you misunderstand the meaning of papal authority. Check the notion of Pope speaking Ex Cathedral. Not everything that Pope says belong to the exercise of his paper authority. Papal infallibility has only been exercised twice in the last century and it was all affirmation of the old dogmas that was held by the Church for a long time. Pope cannot change anything that was handled down from the Apostles and Apostles from Christ.

    “3) The apostolic succession has not clearly continued into the modern era”

    Then What is your criteria or qualification of apostolic succession ? By what authority and what criteria that you or any protestants can come up with such thing???

    “4) As such, the Church does not Lord over the Scripture, but serves under it”

    Again, you apply individualism into the meaning of faith. What if individuals say that the Trinity is not in the Bible, do you consider such individual opinions should check and balance the teaching of the Church? Again, another misunderstand: the Church does NOT have authority over Scripture, ever. You can check Die Verum, the first document of the Second Vatican Council.

    “5) The Priestly and Sacramental System defies the unique High Priestly status of Christ.”

    Again, this is apparently incorrect. It is not the teaching of the Church at all.

    “6) Transubstantiation (where the bread and wine become the spiritual body and blood of Christ) is highly problematic.”

    Transubstantiation is not dogmas.

    “7) There are big problems with the Apocrypha (an extra-canon of Scripture that supplements the more authoritative 66 book collection in the Bible).”

    What do you get “the operating criteria for discerning canonicity”in the first place???

    John, we are friends and I respect you a lot. But on the issue of the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism, I would say it is always good to speak with a priest, reading books by Catholic theologians, or reading the documents published by the Church.

    IF you want to know more about the Catholic faith, the second Vatican council, these theologians, the Church fathers, and even the Catechism are always good places to start. These are the theologians that you can find helpful: Ratzinger, de Lubac, John Pope II, Karl Rahner, Han urs von Balthasar, Walter Kasper.

    1. Regarding prayer “to” saints
      If one is praying in such a way that addresses (is talking with) anyone but God, then that is literally prayer “to” someone other than God. Since Catholics affirm the practice of praying for the dead and addressing dead people in their prayers, namely, Saints, this combines two problematic practices that lack strong biblical precedent. To my knowledge, the only place in the Canon (as opposed to the Deuterocanon, i.e., apocrypha) where people try to talk with/to the dead is when Saul and the Witch of Endor entreat the deceased prophet Samuel. Of course, they are quickly excoriated for this error, Saul is worse for it, and the precedent stands that it is errant and potentially occult to try to talk to the dead. Now IF it were legitimate to pray for the dead or pray in such a way that includes talking to the dead, and if there were to exist a purgatorial realm, then it would make sense to pray for dead people since they might be able to shorten their term in purgatory with the attributed grace/blessings of others through prayer. Moreover, it would then be possible to treat prayers addressing saints as requests for intermediary prayer. As one friend asks another to pray for him, so the catholic asks a dead friend to pray for him. But again, there is a blanketing biblical ban on spiritism (communication with departed spirits–Deut. 18:10-11) leaving that practice suspect at best. Neither do I pray to a friend to pray for me. I ask a friend, since that practice is suited for the living and not the dead.

      On another note, the proclivity for occultism and spiritism is pretty common across the whole religious realm. Protestants are known to try to “talk” to dead grandma, so long as it’s saying things like “Put in a good word for me with St. Peter.” Some are known to recommend talking to demons and angels, directing one’s prayers away from God. So even as I extend critique to (my understanding of) Catholic teaching, I’m not assuming that protestants are fully safe from the same error.

    2. Regarding whether Transubstantiation is Catholic Dogma
      The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 1376 seems to be saying that transubstantiation is dogma. And for what it’s worth, the Catholic Encyclopedia identifies Transubstantiation as a dogmatic teaching of the church. See http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05573a.htm, paragraph 11. Also, my article did not claim that Transubstantiation is a catholic dogma. It may or may not be, and my point would still stand. The catholic church widely teaches and practices transubstantiation, and so far as transubstantiation is problematic, my argument holds.

  3. Regarding The Priesthood.
    Scripture seems to indicate that the role for earthly priests is obsolete since people can receive grace directly from God. The mediary and God are now the same person in Christ. And whatever entreaty we might have towards the Father specifically, Jesus sufficiently and solely serves in that capacity.

    “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. 14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified,” (Heb. 10:10-14).

    There is no need for a further sacrifice (transubstantiation) for our sins. The priestly role has been fully and finally fulfilled in Christ. I do admit, however, that the role of the catholic priesthood is vast and complex and there are many defenses to be made regarding each operation in which they serve. I do not expect that this, thin, critique can count as a comprehensive rebuttal to the institution of the priesthood. In fact, I expect that catholic apologists are quite used to addressing Hebrews 10 specifically. Nevertheless, a biblical case can be made for relegating the “priesthood” to every believer essentially bumping all believing parties “up” a notch. Christ became the sole high priest and all the laity became priests (i.e., priesthood of the believer–a protestant staple).

  4. John, a few additional points:

    “According to Catholics, the highest human authority on earth, the Pope, can even speak new revelation giving a new law from the seat of his authority (i.e., ’ex cathedra’—from the throne).“ The Catholic Church teaches that revelation ended with the death of the last apostle. The Catholic claim is that when the Pope speaks “ex cathedra” he is not adding to the “deposit of the faith” but is instead articulating more insightfully something that is already contained in the original revelation (I can understand why there might well be an argument about certain “ex cathedra” pronouncements such as the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, but the Catholic Church would insist that even these pronouncements are part of the original deposit of faith, not “new revelation.”)

    “Meanwhile, there is no biblical precedent nor biblical permission to direct one’s prayers to anyone but God.” As mentioned elsewhere, Catholics accept some books in the canon that Protestants reject. One of those is the second book of Machabees which says: “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.”

    “For one thing, transubstantiation resacrifices Christ, as if one time wasn’t enough. Yet Jesus said, once and for all, ‘It is finished.’” You brought up this matter once (albeit briefly) at a Dallas Socratic Society meeting. I responded that the Catholic Church does not consider the Eucharistic sacrifice at Mass to be a resacrifice. It understands the Eucharist as a re-presentation of the once-and-only-once-sacrificed Lamb of God. The Catholic-Anglican joint document “Five Affirmations on the Eucharist as Sacrifice” says: “We affirm that in the eucharist the Church, doing what Christ commanded his apostles to do at the Last Supper, makes present the sacrifice of Calvary.”

    I could say more, and I should mention that I agree with some (but not all) of the earlier criticisms voiced previously, but I wanted to correct these particular points because I think they reflect a misunderstanding of the Catholic position.

    I have often recommended to my non-Catholic friends the book Born Fundamentalist, Born-Again Catholic by Donald Currie as a careful, thorough, and above all charitable discussion of our differences.

  5. I appreciate the insights, John. I was in a Protestant/Catholic discussion group for about a year. Your comments, though not as precise as your friend would like, are on the mark. I would offer the following, having spent hours online with Catholics. (1)The Bible is essentially stripped of its authority. For the most part, they seemed to find it inconvenient. (2) Catholic veneration of Mary goes well beyond honor, even to the point of heresy. This, of course, was strongly denied, but actions speak louder than words. (3) Catholicism salvation is unapologetically merit-based. (4) The more I learned from Catholics themselves the more I doubted that Catholicism was orthodox. I, like you, had always held that Catholics were Christians, based on our shared acceptance of essential doctrines. What I found, however, was that Catholicism is guilty of the same error that marks every cult, namely, the diminishing of Jesus and the exaltation of man.

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