Protestant Doctrines I Have Officially Abandoned
Posted by Cory Tucholski
I seek truth, and everyone who seeks truth must (if they intend to remain intellectually honest) reject beliefs if they find that those beliefs are untrue. Though I have previously defended these three distinctly Protestant doctrines, I can no longer do so. After much reflection, I believe they are false.
The first is perspicuity of Scripture, sometimes called clarity of Scripture by the less fancy among us. This is the ridiculous notion that Average Joe Christian, with no help or guidance, can grab a Bible in his native language, read it, and totally understand everything.
I think we can agree that doesn’t happen. Otherwise, there would be no need for primers on theology, books like Malina’s Handbook of Biblical Social Values, Bible commentaries, study guides, or Bible dictionaries and other reference works.
Now that doesn’t mean that Average Joe Christian can’t understand it, or that he can’t come by the requisite knowledge to understand it. The problem with perspicuity of Scripture is the claims that he will get it unaided.
The Bible was written 2,000-4,000 years ago across vastly different time periods by authors from all walks of life. It contains everything from epic poetry and song lyrics to pithy cliches and historical narrative.
To understand the Bible, you need knowledge of the various cultures it records, the literary style of the book as the culture that produced it utilized that style, familiarity with several dialects of the original languages, and the basics of textual criticism. And that’s only a start!
Fortunately, we have these people called pastors and elders who have studied all of that stuff. It is therefore the job of the church to teach us sound theology. Unless we’re willing to devote a lifetime and an academic career to it, interpreting the Bible shouldn’t be our aim. Understanding God’s truths should be, and that’s what the teaching ministry of the church is there for.
Related to the perspicuity of Scripture, I now reject sola scriptura. The problem with the first plank, perspicuity of Scripture, combined with this plank, that the Bible contains all of God’s truth, is that you get exactly what the Catholics say you get: anarchy.
The problem is the lacking of a central authority of church officials the way the Catholics have. Questions about points in Scripture that are unclear, such as how to perform a baptism ceremony, what a Communion service entails, and the relationship between faith and works have wildly different answers in various Christian denominations.
For example, in my own Grace Brethren denomination, we believe that a person is baptized upon declaration of faith by immersion in water three times. Our sister branch from Germany (we’re actually the same denomination under a different name in the United States) is nicknamed the “German Dunkers” for that reason.
Presbyterians sprinkle infants, not believers. How do we decide who’s right? Well, we can’t. There is no central teaching authority. So we split our fellowship with each other and go our separate ways. That’s what’s wrong with Protestantism, and why I’ve been so fed up with it.
The bottom line is that different believing and sincere brothers in Christ are going to read the same passages differently than each other. Without submission to the church as a teacher, you have no other way to go other than to split into a separate body of believers with no further fellowship when a disagreement arises. And there are 38,000 recognized denominations of Christianity proving my point!
The third doctrine I reject is sola fide, which teaches salvation by faith alone. The Bible itself explains that more is required of us than mere faith. That faith must be refined through trials, produce good works, and endure to the end of the age.
Salvation by faith alone is the subject of much ridicule because it essentially lets a person who lived life as an a**hole make a deathbed confession and go to heaven. However, I don’t think that’s the case at all, as there is more required than simply one day saying, “I believe in Jesus!”
We are saved by the grace of God alone, and faith effects that grace. But more than just a profession of faith is necessary. If the faith produces no good works and the world is no better for your profession of faith, then what has the Kingdom of God gained?
More can be said on all of these topics. But I will save that for another post, as this post is already running longer than I would like.
About Cory TucholskiI'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!
Posted on September 13, 2011, in Apologetics, Religion, Theology and tagged bible commentaries, bible dictionaries, denominations, handbook of biblical social values, interpreting the bible, perspicuity of Scripture, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, sola scriptura, sound theology. Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.
this was very interesting. i agree that in search for truth, one must abandon the things that have been proven false. i’m a pantheist, but i used to be a devout christian. i tried searching for the truth and i eventually found myself going way out of christianity into a totally different system, but all three points you have given have been the points i realized too. i just mostly added science and philosophy too and i got led into pantheism. i believe that the truth will stay the say, no matter how much you try to look into it and try to cross-examine it. i hope my comment made sense. thanks for an interesting post!
The doctrines that you have rejected are just some of the reasons why I left Lutheranism and came home to the Church 14 years ago. Another very crucial reason is found in the ‘hard sayings chapter’, Chapter 6 of St Johns Gospel–the Catholic Church takes our Lords words literally, that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood or we do not have etermal life. I never heard our pastors preach on John 6, and finally learmed why when I went through RCIA.. As for sola scriptura, we have a Bible because of Holy Tradition, not in spite of it; If Luther had had his way, Revelation would have been expunged along with the so-called ‘Apocrypha’. Of course, unity with Peter and the Lords Church was critical, especially when the Aramaic and Greek are explained with clarity–that the rock that the Lord Jesus refers to is Peter and no one else. Patrick Madrid is crystal-clear in his explanations of this and other points.
Jesus didn’t save you to make the world better. He did it out of his infinite mercy.
The Bible is clear that it takes faith to be saved, but perhaps there is a difference in understanding of what saving faith is, or even, the definition of faith in this case. You are believing and trusting in Jesus and agreeing that you need Him to be saved.
Without Him, there is no making the world a better place.
Well done, Cory Tucholski, those changing beliefs, especially about fervently held ideas, speak very highly of your committment to finding the truth.
“Presbyterians sprinkle infants, not believers. How do we decide who’s right? Well, we can’t. ”
How does Catholocism solve this problem?
If a person disagrees with the Presbyterian Church on (e.g.) baptism, How do we decide who’s right? Well, we can’t.
If a person disagrees with the Catholic Church on (e.g.) baptism, How do we decide who’s right? Well, we can’t.
You mentioned a central authority. Why not just align with the central authority of (e.g.) the Church of England or the Southern Baptist Convention, instead of the Catholic Church?
Further still, a disagreement that is solved by one party demanding agreement via a claim of authority, does not actually solve the disagreement at all! It is just a conversation stopper.
I partly agree.
An can be a conversation stopper. However, I really don’t see the difference between this and an atheist pointing to “scientific consensus” as an authority to argue against something that a theist claims.
Perhaps the difference lies in the fact that the scientific authority can still be challenged by future findings and new facts, but when an authority (such as the Church) is challenged, it is met with the challenger being burned at the stake.
If that’s the difference, then it cuts both ways. In your model, there can NEVER be a true appeal to authority, and all authority must welcome a challenge. In other words, you only seem to be comfortable submitting to an authority that you’re not REALLY submitting to, because you can still safely challenge the authority.
Permit me a brief anecdote to illustrate my point. When I first started in management, I welcomed challenges to my authority and tried to run my shift as democratically as possible.
Guess how well that worked out for me.
I’ll save you time: it didn’t. Not even a little bit. Autocracy is the way to go, at least in fast food. I no longer accept challenges to my authority, and those who try are first warned, then sent home without pay; and if they persist, terminated.
There’s a time for reason and discourse, a time for challenges. But I think that the Protestant church has become too inviting for that. There needs to be someone to say, “Nope — this is heresy.” The Joel Osteens and the Paula Whites wouldn’t exist if this authority existed.
The only problem that remains to be solved is to figure out what happens if the authority drifts. Catholicism “solves” that by declaring its authority infallible, by the power and direction of the Holy Spirit. But I don’t think that works, because they can be positively shown to drift from orthodoxy.
If I think of a real solution, then I’ll get back to you. Meanwhile, I’m at an impasse with this line of reasoning.
There are two different types of authority that you have mentioned in your comment.
There is an authoritarian command on what ACTION to take. This is how companies work, and you and I are both comfortable with this.
There is an authoritarian command on what BELIEF to hold. This is a logical fallacy, and I’m surprised that you are advocating this. Are you really advocating this?
Cory Tucholski said: “In your model, there can NEVER be a true appeal to authority. You only submit to an authority that you’re not REALLY submitting to”
Correct! When I say that we should beleive X because the secular* scientific consensus is X, that is a shortcut. It is a shortcut for saying: we should beleive X because of evidence A, evidence B, C, D,E,F,G,H,I,J,K,… This is why you are correct in noting that it is not an argument from authority.
Do you really advocate accepting a belief based on the command of an authority?
*(secular = not prejudiced towards, or against, religion or non-religion, or any sect of any religion.)
In some ways, I am advocating a central authority that can rule on what beliefs are correct or true.
If you don’t have an authority to appeal to, then you have some degree of chaos and you are simply free to wander off and start your own denomination or cult.
The problem, then, is that no one is able to denounce you as incorrect because no one else is the central authority on what a Christian should believe. Welcome to postmodern Christianity, where every denomination is right!
The atheist finds himself in a similar situation with moral judgments. Without an absolute standard of morality, then it is impossible to distinguish meaningfully between one person’s morals and another’s. Therefore, morals become subjective; and the only way to actually “judge” an act immoral is to use some form of utilitarianism.
If there is no one to judge otherwise, then anyone who says he’s a Christian is a Christian, and we know from the Bible that is not the case. Jesus said that many who called his name and did great things in that name will be turned away from heaven at the final judgment.
So there must be an authority capable of deciding which beliefs are correct and therefore which bodies are capable of being called “Christian.” Because right belief is one prong of faith, and so is integral to salvation.
Are you then denying there is any such thing as a “right belief?”
Cory Tucholski, A post like this, where you mention christian ideas that are false, makes your apologetic arguments much more forceful.
Because this post provides evidence that you reach conclusions a posteriori, not a priori.
Most apologists in my experience just defend their inherited religion, where beliefs are reached a priori, and justifications are searched out afterwards.
Your first 2 rejections don’t bother me. Believing in an old earth, I pretty much have to agree with them. However, I must confess to being a little troubled by the third. Perhaps you would explain further…
You appear to be conflating faith and ones profession of faith. I hope you would agree that these are different, and that I simply picking on your choice of words.
Romans 5:1 says we are saved by grace through faith. Romans 6:1 tells us that this does not give us license to sin. Romans 6:16 tells us that if we continue to live as slaves to sin, then it will lead to death (i.e., Hell), but if we live as slaves to obedience then it will lead to righteousness (i.e., we’ll go to Heaven). However, this is not in conflict with Romans 5:1, which clearly says we are saved through grace by faith. Rather, Romans 6:16 clarifies that a person who lives as a slave to sin does not have the faith that saves. (BTW, note that 5:1 does not say that faith effects grace; it affects it, which is wholly different).
I suppose you could be thinking of James, who tells us that faith without works is dead. But, that does not mean faith is insufficient to save. After all, Abram believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness… that faith was immediately enough. The obedience came later, but God knew it would come, because obedience is the manifestation of the righteousness accounted by God, and it is only accounted to us because of our faith. However, if all you mean is that mere belief God is not enough, then I would agree. After all even the demons believe… and shudder. So, it is not a question of whether faith is enough, but rather, what your faith is in… who you are slave to.
Perhaps you are conflating mere belief with saving faith.
Finally, if you are saying, to any degree, that our fruit earns us salvation, then you need to explain why this is not a slippery slope to discarding the need for Jesus as our sacrifice for sin, which scripture clearly tells us is enough. Our works are as filthy rags, yet God produces fruit through the imperfect works of the saved… another indication that the works are not salvific, and mean nothing without the faith and grace behind them.
Ezekial 33:12-20 also provides an interesting perspective on things.
I hope you will clarify your views on this more Cory.
I particularly like your rejection of Sola Fide. I have been wrestling with this area and have rejected it as well. I was raised in a family and church that taught salvation by faith alone. My grandma used to call it “fire insurance”. She believed once you recite the “sinners prayer” that no matter what you did, you were guaranteed heaven. I strongly disagree with her there!
So, I really enjoy reading your blog!
Shortly, I’m going to be posting two follow-ups to the recent blog entries, and one of them is going to specifically address what faith is (or at least, how we ought to think of faith).
Too often, faith is tied solely with “belief.” In other words, it just becomes “fire insurance,” as your grandma said. Or, as skeptics like to put it, “believing what you know ain’t so.” (Thanks, Mark Twain, for that one.) But faith is loyalty, not blind submission.
Loyalty is premised in its object’s ability to deliver the promises made. God, the object of our loyalty (faith), is more than capable of delivering his promises. And has proven so repeatedly (both to me personally and in the Bible).
Therefore, it isn’t about having a mere belief. Faith is defined by what you do with that belief. I’ll cover more in-depth shortly. Thanks for the positive encouragement! Always nicer than the constant stream of negativity that usually fills my comment sections.
Seeing you define faith as loyalty clarifies a lot. If you do a word study on righteousness, which Christ brings into, you will see the first two verses gives us two ingredients: belief and obedience. Loyalty includes both. However, when you read of faith and works in the New Testament, I believe faith equates to belief and works to obedience. It is why I agree mere recitation of the Sinner’s Prayer is not salvific… where there is no belief, there is no obedience, and so no salvation. However, if you pray because you believe God, then the prayer is said in obedience, using the faith you already have.
Abram believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness. His obedience came later, but was only worth something because of his belief, i.e., faith.
I even expound more on that here.
I think the problem is too many Christians think of faith as only belief. I get quite a bit of resistance, especially from the atheist and skeptic crowd, when I try to include any sort of orthopraxy in addition to orthodoxy when speaking of faith. Mainly because their regurgitated talking points center around a blind belief that manifests in no other fashion. The idea of faith as loyalty, encompassing both belief and practice, is not only foreign to their thinking but undermines many arguments against Christianity.
I’m glad Nate brought up this point. It’s a great discussion!
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