Back in June, I confessed in a conversation on Facebook that much of Protestantism annoyed me. Longtime readers will know that I believe in consistency — hermeneutics should be consistent, interpretations of passages should incorporate what has gone before, and your bar of acceptable proof should be even across all areas of your life.
Protestantism just isn’t consistent. Protestants throw out whole swaths of Christian tradition and invent new things. They claim they follow the Bible closer than Catholics, but do they?
No, as it turns out. Most Protestants tell you that faith alone saves you. Yet the Bible, held to be the word of God, forcefully argues that this isn’t the case. The sentence “You see that a person is saved by works and not by faith alone” actually appears in the Bible (Jms 2:24)!
Another example is that most Protestants reject Catholic Tradition on the grounds that it developed later than apostolic times. Interesting. So, Marian dogmas originated in the mid to late second century, while the papacy developed over a few hundred years to solidify in the sixth century, and clerical vestments were developed in the tenth century. All of those are rejected for the alleged late development.
Now, if Protestants were consistent, then there a few of our own cherished doctrines that should go. Some came over 800 years later than the latest dogma of the Church rejected as a “late development.” The 6,000 year old earth concept was developed in the sixteenth century. The Rapture wasn’t mentioned until around 1850 in any literature that I’ve ever seen. Altar calls are from the late 1800s, too.
The early Reformers came up with the idea of the seven Catholic Sacraments as symbolic of Christ rather than literal dispensers of grace over and against Tradition. The Eucharist was no longer a true sacrifice in the sense of being the literal body and blood of Christ and one with the first sacrifice on Calvary, but now becomes a symbol of the death of Christ (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, p1365-1367; cf. the Westminster Confession XXIX.2). Again, this is over and against not only Tradition, but the Bible (see 1 Cor 11:23-32).
The universal church was founded by Jesus Christ, not by Martin Luther or John Calvin. So it is wholly inconsistent to throw out vast quantities of Sacred Tradition just because you feel like it, or because you lack the historical understanding of the evolution of the Christian faith. The teaching functions of the Church have been eliminated or minimized in Protestantism–to its detriment, I believe. What we end up with a range of possibilities, from no central teaching arm to a carbon copy (but less effective) of the Catholic hierarchy.
My own Grace Brethren denomination has no higher authority other than the individual pastors of individual churches. Presbyterian have a constitution that can change through a majority vote from the individual presbyteries; but members must abide by the Westminster Confession of Faith, which cannot change. The Anglican/Episcopal church has monarchical bishops, but no central Pope figure (though the Archbishop of Canterbury has certain “primacy” over the larger church, but not nearly what the Pope has over the Catholic Church).
The lack of a centralized teaching authority in Protestantism sorely tempted me to rejoin the Catholic Church. In the next post, I want to discuss high church. It is both biblical and necessary for the body of believers to remain in union with one another. But that alone cannot bring me to be Catholic, as it turns out, and we will see why in part 3.