So the question remains, what is my problem with the Protestant church? Well, there are several, one of which is illustrated by the problem with the question. There is no such thing as the "Protestant Church." There are Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Seventh Day Adventist, and Pentecostal churches, to name merely a few. All of these are real things. You can walk into their buildings on a Sunday (or Saturday) and discuss their beliefs with a pastor, but you cannot do that with a Protestant. You cannot talk to a Protestant. You can only talk to a Baptist, or a Methodist, etc. Protestantism is an idea that encompasses many different churches, but there is no "Protestant Church" the way there is a Baptist church. The Protestant Church is a non-thing, and I cannot be satisfied with a non-thing.
Which brings us to my second problem: divisiveness. Protestantism is in sorry shape today. When a church disagrees over what color the pews should be they split! Just recently the Southern Baptist church I was attending split when some people didn't like the pastor and he left. A similar thing happened in the Methodist church my parents were saved in. And yet, Paul, in 1 Corithians, commands this:
10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?Did Luther die for me? Was I baptized in the name of the GARBC? Or is there one God and one Holy Catholic (that is, universal) Church?
This is important, so here's some more scripture:
John 17:11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are."One like us, you know, how we bicker and fight all the time and don't talk to each other and stuff."
It was brought up in the comments on this post that this doesn't have to be the case, the specific example being that of three Presbyterian denominations that are "in fellowship" with each other. That's good and laudable and I'm glad those Presbyterians can get a long, but that falls far short of what I think Christ intended. They are, after all, all Presbyterians. Now, if they got some Methodists, some Lutherans, or, dare I say, even some Baptists on board, then we could talk. But cooperation amongst three sects of the same denomination is hardly a model for a unified Protestant church. Much less when the list of Protestant churches reads like a dictionary. There are literally thousands of different Protestant denominations which all hold different doctrines to be true!
How is unity possible under these conditions? I have heard it said that there's really only a handful of doctrines that matter, and that as long as we all agree on the important doctrines we can all practice our faith as we see fit. However, I cannot find this idea in Scripture. If anything Scripture enforces the idea that doctrine matters! Peter says in 1 Peter 3:15 to "...be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15 to "Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
And then there is my favorite Biblical story about the importance of doctrine, that of Jephthah. Judges 11 gives us the story about how Jephthah won a great victory for Israel, and also a warning about the danger of strong faith combined with weak theology. Jephthah, being the son of a prostitute, was driven out of his household when he was old enough to fend for himself. He moved to a faraway land, and while he retained his faith in God, he had no means of instruction in sound doctrine. There was no Christian bookstores with their paper back Bibles. No internet. Cut off from the people of God Jephthah had no way of learning about God. Surrounded by a foreign culture he undoubtedly picked up inaccurate and foreign ideas about God. He had a strong faith, but weak theology.
When Israel pleads with Jephthah to save them from their enemies, he agrees. His first order of business was to attempt to reason with Israel’s enemies in an attempt to avoid conflict, thus showing that he was wise. However wisdom cannot make up for ignorance, and when his negotiations failed and he had to prepare for battle Jephthah made a vow that, had he only known sound doctrine, he would not have made. Jephthah promises God that if God gives him victory then he would sacrifice the first thing to exit his home. Jephthah is victorious, and upon his return home his daughter runs out to greet him. Jephthah then fulfills his vow and offers his daughter as a burnt offering to God.
Jephthah’s ignorance cost him his daughter. Had he only known the Law he would have known that he could have redeemed his daughter’s life for a sum of money (Leviticus 27:1-8). Had he known his God he would have known that God abhorred human sacrifice and strictly forbade it. Jephthah is the ultimate example of the danger inherent in a strong faith and a weak theology.
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis tells about a time when he was giving a lecture on theology, and a member of the audience asked what use he could possibly have for theology. The man said that he had had a deep personal experience of God, and theology could never be more real than that. C.S. Lewis has this to say about the matter:
“Theology is like a map. Merely learning and thinking about the Christian doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of thing my friend [experienced]. Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God--experiences compared with which many thrills of pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further you must use the map.”If you try to follow an inaccurate map you will get lost. You will not make it to your destination, no matter how much you want to and how hard you try. Theology, sound doctrine, these things matter. They cannot be brushed aside as unimportant!
And so this is the crux of my problem with Protestantism. The thousands of denominations make thousands of contradictory truth claims and none of them seem to have any more legitimacy than any other of them. They all claim Scripture as their highest authority, and yet all arrive at different doctrines because they all interpret Scripture differently. What I find in the Protestant churches is strong faith and weak theology.
In contrast I find the Catholic Church’s theology to be very strong. It is intelligent, it is well thought out, and it is internally coherent. Above all it is reverent; it honors God and holds Him in the highest of regard. It’s a little hard to explain, but after I understood what happens at a mass, I was blown away by how reverent it is.
The Catholic Church is also unified through the magisterium. While there are many faith traditions in the Catholic Church (there’s actually 20 some different churches in the Church) they all submit to the authority of the magisterium, which consists of the successors of the apostles. Through this many people, across the entire globe, are unified. Catholic doctrine even deals with other faiths better than Protestant doctrines (at least those I am aware of). For example, if you are a confirmed Catholic, you are considered to be a Christian in full communion with the Church. If you are baptized in the name of the Trinity but not confirmed, then you are considered to be a Christian in partial communion with the Church. This is why Catholics will recognize Protestant baptisms. Even Jews and Muslims are considered to worship the same God, just not in the fullness of truth.
Thankfully, there is an alternative to Protestantism and She is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. The Church Christ established when he renamed Simon as Peter. The Church that has endured for two thousand years just as her founder promised She would. The Church that has benefited from two thousand years of some of Christianity's best minds when it comes to Her theology.
I started out this swim across the Tiber not sure of where it would be taking me. Now that I am firmly on the other shore and looking back, I have zero desire to return. Catholicism isn't perfect, but it's dang close, and offers the only compelling answer the the questions that bothered me. So I will be joining Catholic Church on Easter Sunday, and honestly, I can't wait!