Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Becoming Catholic Part 2

[continued from Part 1]

2. Protestants believe that the Bible clearly teaches Protestant doctrines, and that it clearly disproves Catholic doctrines. They believe that only by filtering the scriptures through the distorting lens of Tradition, does one come up with Catholic doctrine. I believe that this is not the case. I do not think the Bible ever teaches a clear contradiction of Catholic belief. Further, I believe the Bible is often far more in line with Catholic teaching than with Protestant belief. This, I believe, shows the truth of Catholic claims that the Church and Sacred Tradition are actually safe-guards to Biblical truth.

3. The writings of the early Church Fathers (many within the first 100-200 years of the Church), such as Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Clement, and others, seem to portray a Church that, while not fully developed, agrees much more with Catholicism (and Eastern Orthodoxy) than with Protestantism.

4. As far as specific doctrines, the Bible does not teach the most basic premise of Protestantism, without which there could be no Reformation: Sola Scriptura (Bible alone). The Bible clearly teaches that the scriptures are useful for instruction in the faith. The Catholic Church agrees. But the Bible never teaches that the entire faith is in writing, nor does it say that oral tradition has no value, nor does it even teach which books are in the Bible. The Bible does in fact teach us to "stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15)." If God wished Christians to believe a doctrine, relying only on the Bible for information, and it was as fundamental as Sola Scriptura, he would have made sure that doctrine was clearly taught within the Bible. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, doesn't even have to rely on scripture alone to make its case, because it isn't teaching Sola Scriptura, yet the Bible still lends more support to the Catholic view (which is that the faith is passed on through Scripture and Sacred Tradition, both being expounded and guarded by the Church).

There is much more to say about this issue: Why did Martin Luther add notes (and change phrases) in the copy of the Bible he published if it speaks clearly for itself? Why did all the reformers disagree on so much, if the Bible is so clear (Luther hated Zwinglians more than he hated Catholics)? Why is it that Bible-minded Protestant denominations today have more major differences in doctrine with other Protestants than they do with the Catholic Church (e.g. if you really want to find a church that teaches "salvation by works," don't look at the Catholic Church, look among the Protestant churches)?

And there are many more doctrinal issues, and I will be happy to discuss them if you e-mail me, but I think that recognizing the possibility of such a key flaw in Protestant thought is what helped me to open my mind to the idea that the Catholic Church could be teaching the truth.

5. Instead of the un-Biblical doctrine of sola scriptura, making Protestant churches organizationally Bible-centered, the Catholic Church is an organizationally Church-centered-Church (though both would ultimately be Christ-centered, since Christ is the center of the scriptures, and Christ established and sustains the Church). The Catholic Church does not view itself as a product of the Bible (though it does view itself as subject to the Bible), because it views itself as producer of the Bible (of course not just on its own, but inspired by God). If the original Church of the Apostles was the infant Catholic Church, and the Apostles wrote the Bible, and then the Church later collected and arranged the Bible, then the Bible was written, compiled, and published by the Church (as guided by God). This is how someone who has the Catholic understanding of history can claim, "the Bible is a Catholic book."

This idea, that Christ left us a Church, and not just a new set of scriptures, is not only more logical, but also more Biblical. The New Testament clearly shows the Apostles building a church, which is meant to pass on their teachings (2 Tim. 2:2), to solve disputes (Matt. 18:17), and be the "church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15)." As a side note, this church must be a visible church if one is to know clearly where to find it, and was clearly a visible church, with visible authorities, in New Testament times.

The logic of this can be seen in the fact that early Christians had not yet assembled the New Testament, so they would have had to rely on the Church (first the Apostles, then their successors) to teach them. Later, the Church would be needed to assemble the scriptures correctly. After that, when Bibles were rare, and most people were illiterate, they would still have to be taught by the Church, and could not just read the Bible for themselves.

This is why the idea of Sola Scriptura was only truly advanced after the invention of the printing press. It is, in fact (though it's hard for us to recognize today) a kind of modern elitist idea that requires things we take for granted now, but would have been unthinkable in past centuries. And even today it isn't so simple. We must trust Bible translators to properly convey the meanings of the Greek and Hebrew texts (and/or we must learn Greek and Hebrew), we must understand the culture of the time when it was written, we must try to disregard our cultural prejudices, etc. in order to read the Bible properly. Even then, if everyone ended up with the same conclusions when they took all these steps, this still wouldn't be reasonable for the average Christian.

[continued in Part 3]

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