It is an interesting divide at times since I became a Catholic. There are some in my professional field of social work/counseling that would see me as a cultural throwback and obstinate to change. My brothers and sisters in Christ in the Protestant communities would say that I have gone way back to Mosaic law and yet that I would attempt to not be in a black and white Christianity.
One such well meaning brother I will call Bob would like to see me come back into the light and see things clear. The catalyst for this letter is that he wanted me to respond on the verse “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6). I did not want to respond to this on my iPhone. I also thought about how we do not communicate with each other as well as I wish. That is me with him but many of his other friends that are in the loop. One of many things I hope to point to is the sense of mystery that God has in the Christian faith and particularly in the Catholic Church. I also address below a sense of the need for the right authority on doctrinal matters. Ultimately, I would say that if there is no standing authority to sort out what the Bible “clearly says” then I would have to question the Lord part in Jesus Christ. After all, he said “upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
Last, before my Protestant brethren read my retort below, please know that I appreciate what I got out of the Protestant communities over the years I was in them. I learned to appreciate the Bible, I learned first about the power of community, prayer and the many roles of the Holy Spirit. Most importantly I was first formed in my walk with Jesus there. I do not wish to offend anyone. But please know that if you still will not “cross the Tiber” into the Catholic Church that you will consider that we could be brothers in Christ right now.
So now that I have time on my hands and the kids are quiet (by the way, I hope you and “Janet” had a Happy Easter), I can write out better on my response with my Mac rather than my iPhone.
A few things are coming to mind where it seems we are talking past each other. The first is the role of Sacred Tradition (which lends itself to apostolic succession). I immediately recoiled at the Catholic Church when I remembered that I would be heading into “the traditions of men” and that I “did not want to be religious”.
This worry dissipated after considering several things.
!: Protestants have about as many traditions as Catholics. It’s just that Catholics are better at writing them down.
1: There are Traditions and there traditions. I know a married priest in the Byzantine rite who does not personally do the rosary. He is not against it. It is just not his thing. And they have rosaries in his rite. The canon of the New Testament is an example of Tradition. I assume you agree with that one.
2: Christianity has survived for 2,000 years. It survived until 402 when Pope Donasus ratified the canon. But it did not do it alone. Jesus set up a Magisterium with a line of succession and that line of succession including the popes discerned under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the Bible.
3: You can deny that last premise. But like RC Sprout said in that matter “We have a fallible list of infallible books”. This is difficult. Hebrews almost did not make it in. The Epistle of Barnabas, 1 Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas almost did. Maybe the apostasy had started already and those books are meant to be in. I am a big fan of two of those non-canonical books but I trust the sovereignty of Jesus working through the Church that he has preserved from dogmatic error including the pope when he speaks ex cathedra.
4: Just as I said about traditions are on both sides, there are magisteriums as well. Below are leaders in these respective denominations who stated their cases of where the Bible is very clear. Remember, I am not quoting people on the social fringe like David Koresh or the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas. Their titles and statements speak for themselves and show that sola scriptura is found wanting.
“The Bible clearly teaches, starting in the tenth chapter of Genesis and going all the way through, that God has put differences among people on the earth to keep the earth divided.” – Bob Jones III, defending Bob Jones University’s policy banning interracial dating/marriage. The policy was changed in 2000.
“The right of holding slaves is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.” – Rev. Richard Furman, first president of the South Carolina State Baptist Convention.
“People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon. This fool…wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.” – Martin Luther in “Table Talk” on a heliocentric solar system.
He added the word “alone” to Romans 3:28, to make it read “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith ALONE without the deeds of the law. This was to buttress his new philosophy that we are “saved by faith alone.” He also kicked out 7 books of the Old Testament that he didn’t like – Sirach, Wisdom, Baruch, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Judith, and Tobit. These books were all included in the very first printed bible, the Gutenberg Bible, in the century before Luther was born. He also changed the nuanced meaning of other verses to make them more “German,” and more in line with Luther’s thinking of what God should have said. Imagine if some Pope did this! The Protestants would be up in arms, and rightly so. But because Luther did it, and stuck it to the Catholic Church in the process, he gets a pass.
“If your Papist annoys you with the word (‘alone’ – Rom. 3:28), tell him straightway, Dr. Martin Luther will have it so: Papist and ass are one and the same thing. Whoever will not have my translation, let him give it the go-by: the devil’s thanks to him who censures it without my will and knowledge. Luther will have it so, and he is a doctor above all the doctors in Popedom.”, from J. Dollinger, La Reforme et les resultants quelle a produits. (Trans. E. Perrot, Paris, Gaume, 1848-49), Vol III, pg. 138.
“Sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents…We have sufficient light from the Word of God for our proceedings.” – Captain John Underhill, defending the Puritan decimation of the Pequot tribe.
“The evidence that there were both slaves and masters of slaves in churches founded and directed by the apostles, cannot be got rid of without resorting to methods of interpretation that will get rid of everything.” – Rev. Leonard Bacon, in defense of American slavery. (Christian ministers wrote nearly half of all defenses of slavery, often citing Scripture to make their case.)
“The Bible is the revealed will of God, and it declares the God-given sphere of woman. The Bible is, then, our authority for saying woman must content herself with this sphere…Who demand the ballot for woman? They are not the lovers of God, nor are they believers in Christ, as a class. There may be exceptions, but the majority prefer an infidel’s cheer to the favor of God and the love of the Christian community.” – Rev. Justin Dewey Fulton in his treatise against women’s suffrage.
“Wherever we have the races mixed up in large numbers, we have trouble….These religious liberals are the worst infidels in many ways in the country; and some of them are filling pulpits down South. They do not believe the Bible any longer; so it does not do any good to quote it to them. They have gone over to modernism, and they are leading the white people astray at the same time; and they are leading colored Christians astray. But every good, substantial, Bible-believing, intelligent orthodox Christian can read what the Word of God and know that what is happening in the South now is not of God.” – Bob Jones Sr., in his treatise against integration entitled, ‘Is Segregation Scriptural?’
Someone needs to be a body of interpretation. Like the Protestant JND Kelly said about Moses, “Moses taught without error”.
Now this gets practical in what is called a theological normative. This term applies to a doctrine or practice that is the norm but allows for God to work in a mysterious way.
“If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe that God has raised him from the dead you will be saved”. Great! Hallelujah! But what if you were born without a tongue? Hell for you. The thief on the cross did not know about the resurrection. No belief? Hell.
“It is appointed once to die…after that, the judgment”. Amen! Except what about Lazarus, the son of the widow of Nain, Jairus’ daughter and Dorcas? It’s a miracle! They have to be alive today! We should find them. Hope they speak English.
Now as to John 14:6. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” But how can an unborn baby or severely mentally disabled comes to God? What if there is a mystical encounter with Christ that comes in the twinkle of an eye between life and death? Then through that encounter with Jesus that we in our flesh can’t witness Jesus brings them to the Father with all their faculties intact. This is why I have confidence that the three children I have lost are in heaven. As a Catholic I have hope. I see not under a God of law or the courthouse. I have a God who is gracious yet holy. If the day came that I embraced again your theology I would have to accept that my innocent children are in the lake of fire for all eternity. I would then lose 7 books of the Bible, sacraments that were founded by Jesus in the scripture (I can give you verses if you wish) and by default embrace a Christianity that died after Carthage but was revived by an anti-Semite named Martin Luther. I would also have to question if Jesus is Lord because then there is no evidence of this “True Church” between Carthage and Luther though Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail.
As a member of the Body of Christ, my eyes are fixed on Jesus. But my ears are not he successors to the apostles. After a while in my discernment I was down to Catholics, Orthodox and maybe Coptics. Now I enjoyed all of Jesus’ grace and am more free to love God and love my neighbor standing on Jesus and “the church, the pillar and foundation of truth”.