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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A pro-catholic defense:
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.