10 Sep 2017

A 500-Year Protest Event

Religious 13 Comments

(Like a 500-year flood event? Work with me people.)

At my church they are starting a Bible study on Luther. The news hook is that 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the posting of the 95 Theses, which started the Protestant Reformation.

Having been raised Catholic but now being a Protestant, let me say that I think a lot of people on both sides are way too smug in their critiques of each other. (This isn’t really a reflection on Christians; I think it’s true of people. I notice the same pattern in politics and economics.)

For this post, let me just reiterate the single biggest difference in my personal experience, going through the two traditions. Every time I say this kind of stuff, people in the comments bite my head off and say I don’t know the first thing about Catholicism. OK fine, but I went to Catholic schools from kindergarten through senior year in high school (and was valedictorian in both schools), and I received the sacraments through Confirmation. And also, in conversations with other devout Catholics (who went to church every week) I heard similar viewpoints.

So here’s the difference: Before I encountered serious Protestants, I hadn’t seen someone use the Bible to argue a theological point. In particular, to argue about the source of your salvation. I thought that was ultimately something that was up to God, and you’d find out when you died if you made the cut.

In contrast, Protestant pastors every week will preach from the Bible–with people in the congregation pulling out a Bible to read along–and build a case for why it is faith in Christ alone that justifies you and washes away your sins. (Here are some standard passages, but FYI I think this guy’s handling of James is not great and I can totally get why a Catholic would think it was weak.) Even when they are going through books from the Old Testament, they will often wrap up by interpreting the events through lens of Jesus’ ministry and end by inviting people in the audience who have not accepted Jesus as their Savior to do so.

Here’s another difference, that is more “cultural” rather than doctrinal. When someone brought me to a Protestant service and introduced me to her acquaintances, this older woman shook my hand and asked, “Do you love the Lord?” I can’t remember what I said, but I remember at the time thinking that I didn’t even really understand what she meant by such a question.

Well, now I totally get it, and yes I love Jesus. (To be 100% clear, of COURSE I am not saying, “Catholics don’t love Jesus.” I really hope that’s not how this post is coming off in tone.) In fact, I think you could do a lot worse in life than if you lived it by often reflecting to yourself and others on how much you love Jesus. Just like, if you fall in love with someone romantically and it makes everything about your life better–not just “What will I do on the holidays?” but also sticking to your diet, dealing with your awful boss, or coping with a sick parent–all the more so, if you are in love with Jesus it transforms your life.

But I would never have discovered this perspective had I not started going to Protestant services.

13 Responses to “A 500-Year Protest Event”

  1. Tom says:

    I grew up Catholic, went to Catholic school through eighth grade, did ccd in highschool and got confirmed. All with similar feelings to your own Catholic experience I think. Fell away in college. After college I moved back home and someone got me to attend a Catholic young adult group. I skeptically went and found people that had deep understandings of their faith and lived that faith. I’ve done Bible studies and discussed our personal relationships with God with these people.

    I readily will still admit protestants know the Bible better and focus on it more (as a general rule). But I think it’s interesting that I feel similar to you, just still within Catholicism.

    I’ll note, I remember thinking a big difference between Catholics and Protestants was the whole faith Vs works debate. But I was corrected by the people I met after college: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_31101999_cath-luth-joint-declaration_en.html

    Another thing I didn’t know despite growing up “Catholic”, while most attending probably don’t realize, the Catholic liturgy is made up largely of Bible verses. You’re probably aware of both of these things. But wanted to mention as they both had an impact on my faith.

  2. John Dougan says:

    I find this to reflect accurately how I thought about the Catholic/Protestant issuewhen I was still religious:

    https://therev3.blogspot.com/2016/09/a-wholly-unsatisfactory-response-to.html

  3. Keshav Srinivasan says:

    Bob, slightly off-topic, but since you’re a Christian (and a former Nashville resident), how do you feel about the Nashville statement signed by a bunch of Evangelical leaders? cbmw.org/nashville-statement/ Have you or are you going to sign it?

    • Keshav Srinivasan says:

      Oh, and I should add that R.C. Sproul, whom you linked to a few weeks ago, was one of the signers.

  4. ThomasL says:

    We aren’t going to settle a 500y old dispute here, but as someone who went the other direction (raised devoutly Protestant, converted to Catholicism) I am pretty familiar with both camps as well.

    So far I have met very few on either side that would pass Caplan’s Ideological Turing Test, ie, most of the cradle Catholics (and I would say even a fair number of converts) have trouble seeing things from the Protestant perspective, even when they may answer correctly this or that critique. If anything, it is worse the other way, as Protestants frequently explain to Catholics what Catholicism really believes, which is about as accurate and ends just about as badly as you’d expect.

    Anyway, on just one thing related to the post and related, imagine that Our Lord founded a Church with teachings and practices that He gave to His apostles, some of which they wrote down and some they did not, but that they practiced.

    Not all Protestants would accept that, but for my point let’s just hold it. Fast forward a millennia and a half or so, and one camp says, “You are putting all your faith in those practices! Don’t you even read the Word he gave us? Or at least want to read it?” and the other camp says, “It is fine enough to read. But how shall I understand without a teacher? And you are so busy reading, you are acting like all of these practices and teahings handed down to us from our fathers are nothing compared to you and your reading!”

    Now, here is my point, taken to the extreme on either end, they both have a good point. It is a temptation in Catholicism to focus on the outward appearances of the act and forget the spiritual realities of it. But it is a temptation in Protestantism to focus on written Scripture and forget the traditions that were given by Our Lord to His Church and have been handed down.

    In reality you need both, of course, one or the other will not do. To steal the old analogy, it is a bird with two wings. Trying to fly on one wing (whichever one you pick) won’t get you very far.

  5. Rory says:

    Tom Woods is Catholic, correct? I would actually be very interested in the two of you discussing Catholicism v. Protestantism.

  6. Jeffrey S. says:

    Bob,

    One of my favorite Catholic radio shows is this guy who calls himself “Father Know-It-All” (obvious tongue-in-cheek.) He has a show called “Father Simon Says.” Anyway, lots of callers will call in with various iterations of “I have a Protestant friends and we were arguing about X, Y, and Z…” Father will tell the caller that the argument is not worth it, you probably won’t convince your friend, so the best thing to do is tell them that you love Jesus, they love Jesus and that is a good basis for ecumenical fellowship!

  7. Khodge says:

    A bit off-topic: not long ago someone kind of challenged his readers to read the 95 theses. 95 statements that either the Pope or his advisors duped him into lying. I couldn’t make it all the way through. I imagine the exciting stuff is in the last two minutes of the the 4th quarter or no one would have followed him. Maybe next time I try I’ll skip to theses 90 to 95.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      I haven’t read them all. I think (like you) I was curious and looked them up a long time ago, but didn’t understand them. However I should try again.

      • ThomasL says:

        One has to be fairly solidly steeped in Catholic theology to get what he is saying, and discern where he is assenting and where he is dissenting.

        For the other side of the argument, written around the same time, I would recommend St Thomas More’s “A Dialogue Concerning Heresies”.

        IIRC, CS Lewis called it the finest dialogue written in the English language. It is available in print, and also freely online.

        • ThomasL says:

          To reply to my own post, it is worth noting that Luther is not an unbiased commentator in the theses on the teachings with which he disagrees.

          But if you aren’t pretty well up on both theology and history, it can be difficult to tell what point he is even addressing sometimes, much less if he characterized his opposition accurately.

  8. Brian says:

    Bob,

    With regard to the source of salvation, this is my perspective as a Catholic. I do not view this perspective as mine really, but rather the perspective that the Church teaches and has always taught.

    1) Salvation is a gift of God alone, freely given through the merits of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
    Commentary: This is in line with your pre-Protestant understanding that salvation is “ultimately something that was up to God, and you’d find out when you died if you made the cut.” This gift is freely given without any merit on our part. Any statement that salvation comes through ” faith alone” is faulty without additional context.

    2) Our individual salvation depends on accepting the freely given gift; such acceptance is made possible by our faith in Jesus.
    Commentary: Faith itself is a response to the gift of God’s grace. Through faith we orient our hearts and minds to His will, thereby becoming open to receiving the gift. That’s why Ephesians says “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

    3) If our faith is real and we have truly accepted the gift of grace, then God’s gift will be fruitful in us and the works we do will overflow.
    Commentary: Works are not the cause of our salvation, as if we’ve earned it, but a sign that God’s grace is active in us. This activity is evidence that our faith is genuine and not just an empty claim. This is why James says “Faith without works is dead” and “man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.” That is, the conditions for salvation are necessarily accompanied by works.

    These three points are the standard Catholic analysis of justification and are based on a literal and straightforward analysis of the relevant Bible passages. I suspect that the Protestant position largely agrees with these points. This is basically what Matt Slick argues about the James passages and I don’t think it can be called “weak,” except to the extent that he insists on considering the “context” of James without doing the same for Paul’s passages. Paul after all is not referring to works in general, but “works of the Law,” by which he means Jewish law.

    All these things considered, it should be clear that salvation by “faith alone” is just a bad formulation. One should rather say that salvation comes by “grace alone” while adding “through faith as shown by works.” Anyhow, the presence of works solves the problem you had of waiting to “find out when you died if you made the cut.”

    So, do Catholics use the Bible to argue points of theology? Absolutely. (See points 1 – 3 above.) And do we love Jesus? Of course. How could you not love someone who bought and paid for your salvation through his sacrifice on the Cross? Isn’t that much more compelling than mere faith? So as a lover of truth, why aren’t you Catholic?

  9. Kevin Regal says:

    Bob, your post is several days old now, but I hope you’re still following comments. I think you are absolutely right that people on both sides tend to be too smug. One difference I have sensed, though, is regarding how God has revealed himself to us. It seems to me that Catholics tend to believe that God has revealed himself to humans chiefly through giving us a church (i.e. the Roman Catholic hierarchy), while Protestants tend to believe that God revealed himself to us chiefly though giving us a book. Catholics do, of course, believe that scripture is God’s word, but, as I understand it, they believe the Bible was given to us by the church, and so the church is the final authority rather than scripture. Protestants also believe that God gave us the church, but they see the church as the product of following scripture; so for Protestants, the book is our ultimate source of truth rather than any group of people.

    Do you think that is accurate?

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