Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Problems with Protestantism

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!

13 comments:

  1. I wish you luck in your new denomination. I hope that, in it, you find greater opportunities for growth in Christ than you felt that you had elsewhere.

    I also find your arguments here kind of puzzling and sort of unfair, so:

    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."

    Er, then how can you have issues with it? Is your objection simply that you want there to be an all-Protestant-encompassing organization?

    Which brings us to my second problem: divisiveness. Protestantism is in sorry shape today.

    Forget "Protestantism." Does the mere existence of several hundred other denominations reflect badly on, say, Methodists? If so, why?

    Why would this not also reflect poorly on Catholics? The RCC has been part of - and often responsible for, via expulsion - as many divisions as anyone else.

    How is unity possible under these conditions?

    We agree that there are hundreds of different perspectives on the finer points of Christian theology. You argue that these finer points matter - that it is important that we hold to the beliefs that we are convinced by Scripture to be true - and to at least some degree I agree.

    Well, all right then! I am convinced that the RCC gets some fairly important doctrines wrong - doctrines that, as a member, I would be expected to support. What do you propose that I do? What better option is there for the unity of the church than for me to gather with others who believe as I do, worship God in the fashion that I understand him to require, and allow those of my brothers who hold to a RCC view to do the same?

    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.

    True - and the RCC is one of those denominations. What sets them apart?

    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.

    Could any part of this not be said by, say, a Presbyterian?

    What is it that gives Catholicism any better claim than anyone else, here? If your argument is simply, "I think they have better theology than the rest," very good! I think the same of the SBC - but in that case, we're looking at a conversation about a particular denomination's doctrines, and the state of "Protestantism" doesn't matter.

    The Catholic Church is also unified through the magisterium.

    Again, what advantage vs. the competition, who have their own leadership structures?

    Catholic doctrine even deals with other faiths better than Protestant doctrines (at least those I am aware of).

    ... Wait, really?

    You claim the RCC as the "One, Holy" church - the only church founded by Christ! The Popes say Protestants are defective and not churches "in the proper sense." Many denominations only exist because the RCC kicked them out!

    On what *possible* grounds can you claim to get along better with other faiths?

    ***

    I've rambled here, but the central issue is this: it seems to me that every last one of your objections weighs (to whatever degree it does) against *all* Christians. Every one of the advantages you claim could be claimed by adherents of any denomination.

    What reason is there, then, to treat the RCC as anything other than one more member of the Body of Christ?

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    1. If this were Facebook, I'd "like" your comment, because it articulated pretty much everything I thought when reading the post. Looking forward to any followup that may occur.

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    2. Thanks! I hope to see some, too. I'd be particularly interested in digging more into support for the doctrinal changes involved here - I'd hoped to engage on that over the course of this series, but that doesn't seem to be the focus.

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    3. It has not been the focus because ohmygoshyouruguysthisishardandimnewandimnotworthyofdefending2000yearolddoctrinethatijustlearnedlastweekandimnotreadingmyhomeworkasmuchasishouldbeandiwakeuplateandgethomelateandplayvideogamesandarrrrrrrggggghhhhhh

      tl;dr: reasons

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  2. While I acknowledge that if we were all more Christlike, the "Protestant Church" would be less fragmented, I think you're being a bit unfair. The "Protestant Church" is, by one definition, all Christians who are not part of the Orthodox or Catholic churches. You may not be able to talk to a "Protestant", but you can talk to a Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican, or Baptist (etc). Internally, these groups, like the Catholic church, are largely homogenous in their beliefs.

    Most significantly, these groups all affirm the core doctrines of Christianity, and their (sincere) members are, as far as we can tell, saved.

    You will additionally find that many of the denominations within these groups will affirm certain creeds (the Apostles Creed, the Nicene creed), as well as the Westminster Confession of Faith, thus giving a certain level of doctrinal unity, particularly on these core points of doctrine.

    * See Aside

    However, due to the fallible nature of human beings, there are differences of opinion on certain non-critical doctrines. While these doctrines are important, and it is worth investing significant energy in determining which doctrine is correct, being wrong on these doctrines should not prevent a person from understanding the gospel and being saved.

    Examples of this sort of thing include: What sort of things are acceptable in a worship service? Should infants be baptized? Should baptism be full-immersion? Can women be pastors? Is homosexuality sinful? Should we observe Christmas?

    Many of these (and other such) issues are important, particularly because they often reflect deeper (mis)understandings of issues which are more important. However, I would not think of questioning your faith simply because you believe that it's wrong to baptize infants, or because you think it's possible to lose your salvation.

    The main reason for the large number of denominations within "Protestantism" (aside from regional divisions, across which there may still be collaboration), are these more minor points of doctrine. In (I would hope) most cases, a group of people decided that their current denomination was wrong on a particular point of doctrine (or set of points). Neither group was able to persuade the other that it was correct, and one or both came to the conclusion that the point of doctrine was too important to simply ignore for the sake of unity. Thus, a split occurred.

    These divisions occur because doctrine is important, but they do not have to represent angry divides between groups convinced that the other are not true believers.

    As far as I am aware, my denomination (and likely most "Protestant" denominations would recognize your baptism in a different "Protestant" denomination, but would (likely) require you to publicly re-affirm your faith to gain full church membership.

    I do not see the "strong faith and weak theology" in my church that you claim to see in Protestant churches. Instead, I see a historical fervor for doctrinal accuracy that caused us to split from the Catholic church at great cost to both sides, and a continuation of that which results in more amicable divides going forward.

    My gut feeling from reading this (and previous) posts of yours is that your move to the Catholic church is more of a reaction against the congregationalism and division you have seen in the Baptist congregations you've been in, which seems to be less of an issue in the parts of the "Protestant" church I have had contact with.

    I might suggest, if you have not, that you read the Westminster Confession, which is (in my opinion) an "intelligent, [...] well thought out, and [...] internally coherent" (if brief) explanation of Presbyterian, if not all "Protestant", doctrine.

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  3. [Aside]

    I think certain practices and teachings of the Catholic church make it easier to misunderstand the simple, fundamental, critical core of the gospel message, which runs the risk of misleading people about the way to be saved. I would comment that I'm not intimately familiar with the Catholic church, so perhaps further investigation would set my mind at ease. I certainly think that a large number of people within the catholic church are really and truly saved, but I think that part of the reason it can be as large as it is is that it also appeals to people who don't want to accept the gospel truth of the bible, so to speak.

    [End Aside]

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  4. Who you worship with and how they think a church should be run is unimportant compared to what you believe. It seems to me that this piece didn't address any of the real issues with such a conversion, such as the legitimacy of mass, transubstantiation, baptism, saints, salvation through works instead of faith, confession, the virgin Mary as a holy figure, and other key beliefs and rituals.

    If you prefer a certain style of service and community, that's fine. But that alone is not enough to go from Protestant to Catholic.

    Two other quick points -- I guarantee there are divisions in the Catholic church as there are in the Protestant church, even if they are not as clearly visible or as frequent.

    Lastly, I would not extol the values of the Catholic church based on anything in their history. It wasn't so long ago that papal infallibility and indulgences were a thing. There is nothing 'holy' about the Catholic church any more so than any other church.

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    1. "If you prefer a certain style of service and community, that's fine. But that alone is not enough to go from Protestant to Catholic."

      Which is why their doctrine is a major contributing factor. I believe they are correct.

      "I guarantee there are divisions in the Catholic church as there are in the Protestant church"

      The difference being the Catholic Church is united through the magisterium. When someone rebels against the teachings of the Church the magisterium has a method of dealing with it. As opposed to Protestant churches where the church just splits and a new denomination is formed.

      "Lastly, I would not extol the values of the Catholic church based on anything in their history. It wasn't so long ago that papal infallibility and indulgences were a thing."

      Which informs me that you are ignorant of both the Church's history and it's doctrine. Both Papal Infallibility and Indulgences are still a thing, though I doubt they mean what you think they mean.

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    2. The difference being the Catholic Church is united through the magisterium. When someone rebels against the teachings of the Church the magisterium has a method of dealing with it. As opposed to Protestant churches where the church just splits and a new denomination is formed.

      Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and the various flavors of Orthodox (at a minimum) would all be cases where the RCC's method of "dealing with it" was "the church splits and a new denomination is formed." I imagine someone more well-versed in the Reformers could pull together a longer list.

      I mean, I'm Southern Baptist. When someone screws up, we have church government at the local, state, and (inter)national levels to deal with that, depending on the severity - but "We have a government!" hasn't been proof against church divisions for *anyone* since, like, ever.

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  5. I second Jack...

    If anything, the reformed branches of "protestantism" like the Presbys actually focus TOO MUCH on solid theology. Solid theology is a very good thing, but not when it means you lose your passion and love for others (which can cause disunity). But yeah, I think you're basing your opinions here on your experience of weak theologies in Baptists churches (who are usually pretty good about loving on people, and sucky on actually caring about studying theology).
    You shouldn't group all those churches together, because they don't all have the same issues.

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    1. Love is useless without truth. I can love you and try to meet your needs, but if I think meeting your needs means patching your wounds with ashes (after all you're a carbon based life form so that's gotta work right? (I love Star Trek logic)) I've not shown you love, I've harmed you. Its the same with theology.

      Interestingly, I think that part of our differences (this is including Jack and Irked) on the importance of theology steam from the "once saved always saved" doctrine that I believe you all subscribe too. If all I need to gain salvation is a one time decision, then yeah, theology doesn't matter quite as much. But if that is false then maybe theology does matter.

      I no longer hold that belief, though the reasons why deserve their own post.

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    2. Interestingly, I think that part of our differences (this is including Jack and Irked) on the importance of theology

      If I have given the impression that I think the finer points of theology are unimportant, please allow me to debate them for pages and pages and pages until I correct that impression.

      "I think they do not lead to salvific differences, generally, and thus are less crucial than the core of our message, i.e., Christ died and resurrected," would be a true statement, but I think we're misunderstanding each other here somehow.

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    3. On the contrary, Scott, even if salvation/justification is a one-time thing, theology is still important because sanctification is ongoing. Once saved, we are called to become like Christ, and that is impossible unless one grows in knowledge of Christ's character and what he desires of us, which theology and doctrine assist in understanding.

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