Generally speaking I enjoy the topics surrounding Atheism versus Theism and spend most of my time on those. I will say that I am quite happy with the discussions with non-believers and have found many to be quite cordial despite the topics. I consider many to be my friends.
I also enjoy discussing the issues surrounding Catholic versus Protestant versus Orthodox. And this will be the first of what I hope are many posts I will make on this topic. I am a Catholic and a fairly committed one at that. But just as I do not think theism is an intellectual slam dunk I do not think Catholicism is a slam dunk either. In other words, I think there are some good reasons to be atheist, protestant and/or orthodox. My children go to a Lutheran School. One that I love. But sometimes when I see what they are taught I think many protestants must wonder what is he thinking!? Why is he Catholic? Well here I would like to offer some insights. There are few other fairly large reasons but this is a big one. Lets call this the historical argument.
Ok so let us start with a passage that I believe does lead me to be Catholic or Orthodox. Actually, I will freely admit that the reasons I prefer Catholicism over Orthodoxy are fairly minor. I think it’s well past time to end the schism. But anyway today I want to poke at my fellow protestant readers.
“…I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Now before this quote Peter says something to Jesus and Jesus says he is Peter an “on this rock” I will build my church. A lot has already been written on what “this rock” is. I want to focus on the second part. Did he build a church? If so when? What sort of Church did Christ build? And finally, have the gates of hell prevailed against his church?
Ok so I think most Christians would agree Christ did in fact found a church. Moreover, he did it before the New Testament was written. We see references to the Church in Paul’s letters which are believed to be the earliest NT scriptures. So it would seem the Church Christ founded could not have been a “biblical church” i.e., one that claims its only authority comes from the bible. Right?
The Church founded by Christ had to have some other authority beyond “scripture alone.” If the church Christ founded, is now limited to the bible alone when did this change happen? Did this change right after the scriptures were written? Or was it after they were considered to be the bible by …I don’t know, someone, a church, Martin Luther – again I don’t know.
The bible does not say what books are supposed to be in the bible. Would you agree that Christ’s church has the authority to decide this issue? Or is there some other way to determine what books were inspired by the Holy Spirit and should be in the bible? There is a dispute, as many of you likely know, between Protestants Catholics and even Orthodox (each bible growing larger) as to which books belong in the bible. Although this dispute only involves the Old Testament, we do have different bibles.
How can anyone maintain it is “the bible alone” when the bible does not even say what books belong in it and there is a dispute?
Now some maintain that the church is invisible. If the Church was/is entirely hidden then how would this passage make sense?
“If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Matthew 18:17
If we follow this advice what church should we go to? Who can tell us, for example, what books belong in the bible? Do we ask the Jews? Nothing against the Jews but that seems odd as that is really a different religion and not surprisingly they did not include the New Testament. Why would we ask the Jews instead of Christ’s Church? So which of the 33,000 plus churches is Christ’s Church?
Did the Gates of Hell prevail?
The problem I have here is that it seems the protestants took such a hard line against the Catholic Church and sort of forced this issue. If Martin Luther (and just about every other early protestant church reformer) was right and the Bishopric of Rome was indeed the seat of the anti-christ, it is hard to see how we can deny that the Gates of hell prevailed against the Catholic Church. If you don’t think the gates of hell prevailed then what happened to Christs Church before the reformation? Was the bishopric of Rome always the seat of the anti-christ? I have read some protestants claim all the heretics who were persecuted by the Catholic Church were the actual true church. Is that still a viable position among rational Christians today? That seems a bit of stretch, but what would the alternative view be?
Of course, the Orthodox Church has an easy answer here. Although relations have not always been rainbows and lollipops, I don’t think the Orthodox Church ever taught that the Bishopric of Rome was the seat of the Anti-Christ. But if protestants think the Orthodox Church is a contender for being the Church founded by Christ, which the gates of Hell never prevailed against, why reject Orthodoxy? It seems to offer a historically coherent view without requiring commitment to as many different Doctrines as Catholicism.
Hi Joe, interesting post and one I’m happy to interact with. For starters, I am, I guess, Protestant – the vagueness is because I don’t think of myself as belonging to any denominational church, but rather I am a follower of Jesus. And I am certainly not a christian who wants to argue with Catholics or anyone else. But I enjoy comparing notes, so here I go with a few areas where I see things differently to you.
“Did he build a church?”
The Greek word, presumably translated from the Aramaic that Jesus used, is ekklesia, which means a gathering or assembly – a bunch of people who get together for a purpose. It wasn’t, as far as I know, used at that time to mean an organisation. So I believe Jesus DID build a group of followers, but I don’t think he built an organisation.
“have the gates of hell prevailed against his church?”
Things were discussed in the gates of the cities, and strategies were plotted. So I think this means that the plans of evil will not prevail against God’s people. And while God’s people are always under pressure and mess up lots, the plans haven’t defeated God’s people.
“The Church founded by Christ had to have some other authority beyond “scripture alone.””
Yes, I agree. I think that authority isn’t a church organisation, but (1) the Holy Spirit, and (2) the collective consensus view of people following Jesus and led by the Spirit. Sometimes they are church organisation leaders, more often not (in my opinion).
“If we follow this advice what church should we go to?”
I don’t think Jesus meant any identifiable organisation – I think they are human structures that are only sometimes helpful or even necessary – but rather to people, to the people we are in community with. They will sometimes be part of a single organisation, but will generally be part of some closer circle we fellowship with, and hopefully, be quite diverse.
“If Martin Luther (and just about every other early protestant church reformer) was right and the Bishopric of Rome was indeed the seat of the anti-christ, it is hard to see how we can deny that the Gates of hell prevailed against the Catholic Church.”
I think there is no denying that the Catholic church has at times been rather corrupt, or at least many of its prominent leaders have been, and at other times it, or many parts of it, have been very godly. At the time of Luther, the bad probably outweighed the good at the upper levels, but maybe not at the level of the ordinary people. Let’s also remember that the Reformers persecuted and even killed Anabaptists because they baptised adults who had been baptised as children, so they weren’t all that great either! The gates had indeed prevailed over many parts of Christendom, just as today. But the truth still was and is known and believed and acted upon by many ordinary followers of Jesus.
“I have read some protestants claim all the heretics who were persecuted by the Catholic Church were the actual true church. Is that still a viable position among rational Christians today?”
What I said about the Catholic Church could equally be said about Protestant churches then and now – some examples of serious corruption, some examples of good lives. Jesus said we are generally best not to judge, but if we do judge, we can judge by fruit. Both Catholics and heretics can be judged on those criteria, but I’m not going to be the one to do it!
So you can see that I take a less structural, more iconoclastic, more human view of the church and the questions you are asking. So I offer those comments as an alternative to your own views. Thanks.
Thanks for the great response Unkle E.
I am not sure you would be considered a true protestant if you reject sola scriptura. But I don’t make the rules, and anyway it seems you would be ok with that.
There is more than one type of Protestant! The reformers may have been big on sola scriptura, but Anabaptists, charismatics, liberals and so-called progressive christians are generally not so bound by that.