Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Works-based Salvation

Faith and Works

          In order to grow our understanding that Catholics and Protestants have more in common than many might realize, we’ll continue our discussion with Faith and Works.

          In many publications, certain Protestants state that Catholic teaching on salvation is “works based.”  “Works based salvation” in this context seems to mean “earning your way to heaven”; a person only needs to do certain practices to be “saved” or go to heaven.  The accusation is that no belief in God is necessary.

          In an online chat conversation with the web master of a local Protestant radio station, I was told by my interlocker, who identified as “ex-Catholic”, the Catholic Church did not teach it was necessary to believe in Jesus Christ to go to heaven, you only needed to say certain prayers, go to church and do certain things to go to heaven, according to this person’s understanding of Catholicism.  They even claimed to have a Catholic Catechism implying the Catholic Church taught works based salvation.  When I asked for a specific quote from the Catholic Catechism, they were unable to give me one.

          I know most Protestants are not as ardent as this particular one was, but the knowledge is in the water in most Protestant circles, as it were, that Catholicism teaches that faith is not necessary, only works (works being defined as trying to be good enough without God).

          This is entirely false. 

First, the belief that one can be saved, without Grace, by just doing good works is called ‘Pelagianism.’[1]  The Catholic Church condemned Pelagianism in the 5th Century.  The Catholic Church even condemned ‘semi-Pelagianism’ the belief that God does His part in salvation and man, separate from God, does his part.

          On the contrary the Catechism of the Catholic Church states unequivocally, “’Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation.’ Since ‘without faith it is impossible to please [God]’ and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life ‘But he who endures to the end.’”[2] (Emphasis added). In addition, the Catholic Church teaches that Justification is by Grace alone, through faith.[3]

          So what is this about works?  I mean, everyone knows Catholics think they must do good works to go to heaven, right?  Yes, BUT… these are not works separate from God’s Grace.  In a nutshell, Catholicism teaches that God’s Grace is SO POWERFUL it not only makes our faith salvific, but our works as well. 

“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Phil 2:12-13;

“For by Grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Eph 2:8-10

“You see that faith was active along with his [Abraham’s] works, and faith was completed by his works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness”; and he was called friend of God.” Jam 2:22-23.

          According to official Catholic teaching, all these passages show God acts first – Grace is present first.  Grace then empowers belief and good works.[4] 

‘Merit’ is the word the Catholic Church uses for good works that are a result of God’s Grace working in us.  This is often misunderstood by Protestants who believe merit means we can force God, through our actions, to give us heaven.  Quite the contrary, the Catholic Church states that strictly speaking man has no right to merit anything apart from God and any merit is first and last entirely due to God’s Grace.[5]

Far from condoning a “works based salvation,” the Catholic Church teaches that without faith – which is only possible as an unearned gift from God (i.e. Grace) – no one is ever justified, nor will anyone get to heaven.

          To end, here’s a little story that shows Catholic teaching on Salvation, Grace, Faith and Works:  There was a man who died and found himself at the Pearly Gates.  In front of the gates was a kiosk with St. Peter sitting inside.  St. Peter called the man up and said, “I need you to tell me all the good things you’ve done in your life.  I will put them into my computer and they’ll be scored.  When you reach a score of 1000, you can enter heaven.”

          A big smile crossed the man’s face.  He immediately said, “I went to church every Sunday, Holy Day and most other days as well.”

          St. Peter typed on his computer and a few seconds later said, “Very good.  That’s 1 point.”

          “One point?!?” gasped the man.  “Ok, my wife and I ran a soup kitchen for 30 years where we served dozens of people, three meals a day, seven days a week.”

          St. Peter looked at his computer.  “Very good.  That’s another point!”

          The man blanched and a cold sweat came upon his brow.  “Um, I was married to my wife for 50 years.  I was a virgin when we married and I never so much as thought about another woman!”

          “Great!  Another point!”

          The man began to get desperate, his knees began to shake.  “I said a Rosary every day for my entire life!”

          “Wow!  That’s a half a point!”

          At this the man collapsed onto his knees.  The realization of his unworthiness hit him like a ton of bricks.  He began to sob.  “The only way I’m going to get in is by the Grace of God!”

          “Congratulations, that’s 1000 points.  Welcome to heaven!”

This is Catholic teaching.

[1] Named after Pelagius, a 5th Century heretical theologian who taught Original Sin did not exist and essentially that man could save himself without God’s help.
[2] CCC 161
[3] cf CCC 1983, 1996-2005
[4] Note that the Ephesians passages denotes a difference between ‘works’ – believed to be a reference to ‘Works of the Law’ or the Jewish ritualistic cleanliness laws – and ‘good works’ which are not only not condemned, but shown to be the reason for our existence!
[5] Cf CCC 2006-2011

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Let us indulge...


          In the days leading up to, and on, Oct. 31st indulgences were center stage in many Protestant articles.  The major problem was, not one I read got indulgences right.  To be fair, most Catholics couldn’t tell you what an indulgence is and admittedly, at the time of the Reformation, Catholics were not well educated about their faith, including Martin Luther, especially about indulgences.  So, what are they?

          It might be helpful to start with what they are not.  One Protestant video stated that indulgences were where the Catholic Church “bought and sold salvation.”[1]  Another video implied indulgences were giving money to a priest who then “promised a better heaven.”[2]  Most commonly, even among poorly catechized Catholics, I have heard that indulgences were purchased as a “get out of sinning free” card.  These are all false.

          To begin to understand indulgences we must first explore the consequences of sin.  All Christians would agree there is an eternal consequence to sin (Well, ok, all Christians who believe in sin and hell, which is a decreasing number these days).  The Catholic Church teaches unequivocally, drawing from Scripture, only God can forgive the eternal consequences due to sin.[3]  Protestants and Catholics might disagree on the method or medium He has chosen to use, but that is a topic for another day.

          Recognizing what Scripture and reason show us, there are more than just the eternal consequences due to sin: there are also temporal consequences.  Many Protestants might be tempted to balk at this, but it might be helpful to know that even anti-Catholic groups agree.[4] 

          We all understand what the Catholic Church means by an eternal consequence: hurting or killing our relationship with God.  But what about “temporal consequence?”  Another way to say this is “temporal punishment” or punishment resulting from our sin that we experience in this life.  So is the Catholic Church saying that even though we are forgiven of the eternal consequences due to our sin we might still be punished?  Yup and I think we all agree with this when we take time to think about it.

How does this work?  Let’s say I steal $1,000.00 from you.  Later I have a change of heart and I ask God for forgiveness.  For the sake of argument let us say I am completely sincere.  Then I come and ask you for forgiveness.  I presume, being a Christian, you would forgive me.  Is that it?  Is everything all done?  No, of course not.  I must give back the money and even if I do there are also legal consequences to face regardless of the forgiveness I received from you and God.

Another example – one that shows the error in that previously cited anti-Catholic website’s thinking – would our parents still punish us by making us clean up a broken window even after forgiving us for breaking it?  As a father I say, oh heck yeah!  Why?  Because parents understand there is benefit for the child in it.

Wait what?  Did you just say there’s value in punishment and suffering??

The Catholic Church recognizes there is great value to suffering, as there was for Christ.  Christ’s suffering is what lead to our redemption and salvation being offered to all.  We have Christ living in us, so His power can make our suffering redemptive, in a much smaller but very real sense.  I don’t want to get lost in a fuller explanation of redemptive suffering so I’m going to skip a lot.  Sometimes God still lets us experience the punishment due to our sin to help us, among other things, realize the seriousness of our sins, to teach us not to do it again, to make reparations for our actions and thereby continue us down the path of sanctification.

          So how about Scripture?  Where is any of this in Scripture?  There are numerous examples of sin having both eternal and temporal consequences.  A good start is in the beginning of the Bible: Genesis 3:16-24.  This is after Adam and Eve disobeyed God.  We can see both consequences at play.  Listed first is all the temporal punishments that both Adam and Eve will experience because of their sin.  At the end of the passage is the eternal consequence: they’re kicked out of Eden, or their perfect relationship with God.

          Another example is King David.  King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then murdered her husband, Uri’ah (1 Sam 11:2-22).  After Nathan confronts David – including one temporal consequence: “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me…” (1 Sam 11:10) – we see the eternal consequence dealt with and another temporal consequence: “David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.” (1 Sam 11:13-14).  We see that God forgives David’s sin but he still must suffer punishment.

          So… what is an indulgence?  “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven…”[5]

          I want to point out something: “…whose guilt has already been forgiven…”  An indulgence cannot be “buying forgiveness” because one must be forgiven before one can obtain an indulgence.

          How does someone get an indulgence?  First it is helpful to say that an indulgence is granted only through Christ’s power of binding and loosing given to the Church and specifically Peter.[6]  Someone obtains an indulgence through holy practices, prayers and disposition.  Two types of indulgences can be obtained: partial and plenary.  Plenary means all temporal punishment yet due to our sin has been removed.  Partial is exactly as it sounds: only a part of the temporal punishment is removed; how much is known by God alone.

          Why wouldn’t everyone just get a plenary indulgence?  Because it may not be possible for them: one of the conditions is to be free from the desire and attachment to all sin.  If someone attempts to obtain a plenary indulgence but does not meet all the conditions a partial may still be obtained.

          So, what is all this about selling indulgences?  I hope you can see that the sale of indulgences isn’t possible.  As a matter of fact abusing the granting of indulgences is, and always has been, considered sinful by the Catholic Church.  It is well known that these abuses have happened throughout Catholic Church history by individuals – the Church’s teaching on them has never changed, only become more detailed.  In some cases, Catholic clergy were saying if you donated money to the Church you could obtain an indulgence.  Giving alms (donating money) was one of the practices one could do to obtain an indulgence.  What the abuse seemed to be was ignoring the rest of the conditions (confession, prayers and freedom from all attachment to sin) in favor of just giving money.  This was misunderstood by some, like Martin Luther, to be “buying” an indulgence.  Bad catechesis existed back then too, and Martin Luther seems to have believed that indulgences were about forgiving eternal consequences, hence “buying salvation.”  If this was the intent of some of the Catholic clergy at the time – which I do not doubt – those “indulgences” were not real, did not do anything and were a sin on the part of those clergy.

          There is more that could be said but I feel we’ve gone over enough information to see there is a whole bunch of misinformation out there about Catholic indulgences and most of what you’ve heard is probably wrong.

          Now what questions do you have that we can discuss?


[1] YouTube video “Why TODAY is a Big Deal (Oct 31, 2017)” Warrior Poets Rally Point
[2] Intro video.  There is much more incorrect information in this video.  Some of which I will address in future items of discussion.
[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 1441
[4] “Temporal Punishment”, “We readily affirm that sin has temporal and eternal consequences…”
[5] CCC 1471
[6] CCC 1478 cf Mt 16:16-18, 18:15-18.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Let's Begin a Dialogue part 2

Definitions and Source Material

     I failed to mention in my intro piece: I use the term “Protestant” colloquially.  I know many Christians do not consider themselves “Protestant” per se but we need a term that denotes the religious or spiritual decedents of the Reformation. 

    Special considerations: I do note that our Orthodox brothers and sisters, often unjustly overlooked, are not ‘Protestants’.  I do not include them in this term.  I also do not include Mormons (Latter Day Saints) or Jehovah’s Witnesses in the term; by definition they are not Christian.  I do, however, include Baptists.[1]    

     None of this is to belittle or besmirch anyone’s religion. We merely need to have a simple term when discussing the group of Christians that are not Catholic, not Orthodox, descendants doctrinally from Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli and / or the other Reformers.

     I also will not use the term “Roman” Catholic.  This term is very misleading.  There are 24 rites within Catholicism.  The Latin rite (nicknamed “Roman”) is just one of them.  To refer only to “Roman Catholicism” is to leave out a large portion of Catholics some of which have different practices (like celibacy).  The term “Catholic” means “Universal;” It always has and still does today. 

Source Material

      Let’s say we want to know George Washington’s thoughts on a particular topic.  We could try asking a friend who’s read a book about George Washington.  This person might be able to tell us what George’s thoughts were, but we have to recognize that the information is being filtered through several hands: 1st George’s, 2nd the book’s author and 3rd the friend’s.  The reliability of that information is more suspect because of all the steps from the source to us.  The best way to find out what George's thoughts on a particular topic is to read George Washington’s diary, in full, to get not only his thoughts but the context as well. 

     Sometimes we don’t have the time for that so we rely on authorities, such as a PhD in History with Revolutionary War and George Washington emphases.  But we must acknowledge that any step away from George’s own words is an opening for error, interpretation and biases.  We must also recognize the possibility of our own interpretation and biases even if we read George’s words directly.

     The same holds true for religious teaching of any kind.  Many, many times I shake my head when false claims about a religion (Catholic, Protestant or other) are made using secondary sources as their support.   Now a days, a simple internet search for official teaching / practices of a given religion could have set things strait, lead to a greater understanding of the religion or at least saved a misconception from being perpetuated.

     Two examples: In com boxes I have seen Protestants accused of “book worship.”  A simple search of Luther’s Short Catechism or the Westminster Confessional or other Protestant denominational teaching documents would show that the only worshiping Protestants do is of God alone.  To state otherwise is a sin against the Commandment “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor.”

     In turn, I commonly hear Catholics accused of worshiping Mary, Saints, statues or bread.  Again, a simple search of the Catechism of the Catholic Church would show that Catholics do not worship anyone or thing but God alone.[2]

    When trying to discuss what another religion believes it is imperative that we represent that teaching correctly.  Primary source material is best, however, an expert in that field is second best.  We, again, must also recognize that our own biases and interpretations may taint what the reality is about that religion’s teachings.

A word about denominations, personal experience and member examples

     I do recognize a difficulty in presenting an authentic Protestant teaching: there are many different Protestant denominations that believe different things.  When presenting a Protestant teaching, it is helpful to state which denomination the teaching comes from and what source one is using to present the teaching.  For example, I would not say, “Protestants believe in the Perseverance of the Saints (aka Once Saved Always Saved)” because many Protestant denominations believe you can lose your salvation.  But I could say “5 Point Calvinist denominations believe in the Perseverance of the Saints.”

   This point is less problematic about Catholicism.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the teaching document for all Catholics.  Please note that the paragraphs there in are more like thesis paragraphs and not all encompassing.  Also note that a given topic is sometimes covered several times in different ways and places in the Catechism.

Personal Experience as Evidence

     Some reading this may have been Catholic and became Protestant.  Some may have been raised Protestant and became Catholic.  Some here may have been raised Protestant, became Catholic, then returned to Protestantism.  Some here, like me, may have been raised Catholic, became Protestant and then returned to Catholicism.  Whatever the case, we may have people that have personal experience on both ‘sides’, if you will. 

     Personal experience, in my opinion, has some merit, provided it is an example of authentic teaching.  For example, someone might say that Protestants teach that the Holy Spirit is like the Force in Star Wars because someone once taught them that in a church bible study or even from the pulpit.  This is not reflected in any Protestant teaching document I know of and therefore, in my humble opinion, would not be a good example of personal experience.

      However, if someone says, “I remember being taught….” and it can be shown in teaching documents that it is an authentic belief, then that is a good example of personal experience.

     Finally, member examples, like personal examples, can have merit.  If a person acted in accordance to their religious beliefs that can be a good use of member example.  However, if a person is acting against their religious beliefs, that is a bad use of member examples.

    These ground rules will help us to get past the smoke of misconception, misrepresentation and flat out canards and on to rational discussion on substantive issues.

    Ok, I promise next essay will be an actual issue: Indulgences!

[1] There is a claim that Baptists are descendants of St. John the Baptist (See ‘Trail of Blood’) but this claim has been refuted by Baptists themselves: It is historically verifiable that the Baptist denomination was started by Thomas Helwys in 1612 as an off-shoot of Calvinism. 
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part 3, Section 2, Chapter 1, Article 1 “The First Commandment”, paragraphs 2084-2141

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Let's begin a dialogue...

         With the celebration of the 500 year anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the doors of the Wittenberg Cathedral now past, I would like to begin a dialogue.  I maintained a respectful silence while brothers and sisters in Christ celebrated what they believe is ultimately the beginning of the way they get closer to Christ.  Getting closer to Christ is something I support and rejoice in as well.  Obviously I would disagree on the method.

          I am going to be presenting a series of essays regarding some of the things I heard leading up to and on Oct 31st.

          I am not going to be posting these as an enemy of Protestantism, as an agitator and certainly not to proselytize.  The purpose I see is twofold: 

1)    To bring Catholics and Protestants closer together in understanding one another.  The world no longer cares what “denomination” we are.  The world will try to imprison us all just the same.  If I must be in prison I would rather know that the Catholic / Protestant cellmate of mine is an ally and Brother / Sister in Christ rather than believing them to be an enemy.

2)    To present authentic Catholicism and bring a little ruach to the smoke of deception / misunderstanding the swirls around Catholicism…. And there is a LOT of misconceptions believed by both Catholics and Protestants about Catholicism.

I welcome all respectful comments both on the blog here and on the Facebook page.  If we do not talk respectfully we cannot hope to understand that we share far more in common than we disagree on.  While the disagreements are important, it is as important that we understand what each side means before we point out differences.  Many of the rancor, accusations and finger-pointing has come from misunderstanding the other side’s meaning.  If we maintain this misrepresentation and misinformation we risk sinning against the Commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor.” 

If we do not gain understanding we cannot hope to show the world that Jesus Christ is Lord! (cf Jn 17:20-23).

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Catholic Conversation: Sola Scriptura

Actual conversations with people of other beliefs

In this series I will present actual conversations I have had with people of differing faith traditions.  Some are email conversations, some are recollections of verbal conversations.

The following is a Facebook conversation I had with someone I used to go to church with about Sola Scriptura.  I have attempted to remove all identifying information regarding the person I was speaking with but other than that and spelling / grammar errors it is exactly what I posted.

The conversation references a quote from the well known Protestant theologian, R.C. Sprouls.  I might actually have it quoted and referenced in the post, but for the sake of new readers the quote from Mr. Sprouls is that "at best" what we can know about the books that make up Scripture is "a fallible list of infallible books."

And now, with out further delay: A Catholic Conversation on Sola Scriptura

Hey ________,

Thank you so much for the charitable tone.  In several other discussions I’ve had, I have rarely found the level of charity you have presented here.  Thank You.

If, again, you would permit me to respond: I love having these conversations.  I hope you find it equally charitable.   Proverbs says, “Iron sharpens iron” (27:17); I believe that understanding each other’s beliefs will better help us when we stand shoulder to shoulder as Christ’s co-laborers, battling the world, the flesh and the devil while spreading the Good News to every living thing.

That being said, due to family, work and school (both mine and the kids) I probably will not be able to respond more.  Since you were kind enough to leave me an additional resource, I will do the same.  I invite you to utilize it to help answer questions and difficulties you might have regarding my beliefs.

Please know that in no way does my critique of Sola Scriptura mean a critique on you or the millions of other faithful, holy Christians that practice it.  You, and many, many other non-Catholic Christians, have helped show me what it means to allow Jesus to live in your hearts.  Thank you.

I completely and whole-heartedly agree that Scripture is a binding authority, and that it is the inspired written Word of God.  I believe, with the Catholic Church, that not only is Scripture a binding authority on the faithful, it is God-breathed and profitable for a host of things in order that the man of God may be equipped for every good work.  If you would like a deeper understanding of how high the Catholic Church places Scripture, please read ‘Dei Verbum.’  (Google it, it’s free on the Vatican website).

My only critique is of the word “alone”.  Against this, I will present only three arguments here, but these are by no means the only ones.  I have them numbered for clarity.

1) I absolutely agree with Sproul and the article that just because the Catholic Church determined the cannon of Scripture that it does not directly follow that the Catholic Church is infallible.  The Biblical case for Church and Papal infallibility I must leave for another day.

But recognizing that the Church determined the cannon of Scripture, that fact alone is devastating to the Sola Scriptura claim, if it is to hold to even the definition presented in this article.

If Sola Scriptura is the sole and final authority, then to stay true to its own principle it must determine the content of Scripture: I must be able to find, in Scripture Alone, why 3rd John – which doesn’t even mention Christ – is in Scripture, but Clement’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians is out.  (Clement may be the one mentioned in Paul’s letter to Philippians , was baptized by Peter and learned under Paul and John.  For Catholics, he is also the 4th pope.)   

However that is a logical impossibility: every non-Catholic Christian I have ever had this discussion with agrees that Scripture cannot and did not determine itself.  Therefore, by that logical argument alone, Sola Scriptura cannot be true.

In addition, whatever determined the content of Scripture must have had authority equal that of Scripture.  (You cannot have more in the effect than is present in the cause, which is the Law of Cause and Effect).  If it did not have authority – or if that authority is not recognized, at least implicitly – then there is no argument against Joseph Smith adding the Book of Mormon, or for Ellen White for adding her writings, or for anyone to alter Scripture eliminating things they don’t agree with or adding things they believe.

If that authority was not equal that of Scripture, we have the problem of a greater effect than in the cause – a logical impossibility – or of appealing the legitimacy of the lessor authority (the cause) to the greater authority (the effect) which is also a logical impossibility.

So my first argument is the fact that Scripture Alone could not and did not determine itself and whatever did determine the content of Scripture must have authority equal that of Scripture.  This shows that “Sola” Scriptura cannot be true.

2)  For my second argument let me present an experiment here:  Read this phrase out loud:

“I never said you stole money.”

Do you understand that phrase?  I hope so.  Do you know what I meant?  Sure.  Could you accurately teach someone else what I was saying?  Well let’s see.

Now I want you to repeat the phrase, this time emphasizing the word separate by the dots.

“…I… never said you stole money.”  What does that mean now?  That someone said it, just not me.

“I never …said… you stole money.” How about now?  It means I thought it or wrote it but did not say it.

“I never said …you… stole money.” Now it means I said someone else stole it.

“I never said you …stole… money.”  Now it means I said you borrowed it, or found it but not stole.

“I never said you stole …money…” Now it means I said you stole something just not money.

Do you see how the meaning changes dramatically?  Which one did I mean originally?  

My second argument is that using “Only” Scripture, we cannot know with certainty the meaning of words and phrases in Scripture, which can only be accurately communicated by the spoken word, unless we apply an outside source.

This is also true if applied to translations:  Sola Scriptura cannot tell us whether or not a translation is good or even accurate.  A good example is the Greek word “Epiousios” found in the two Lord’s Prayer narratives (Mt 6:11 and Lk 11:3).  Besides those two usages, there is no other usage of the word found in all of history.  Scripture alone cannot tell us what it means.  Yet everyone translates it “daily” except St. Jerome, the first to translate the entire Scriptures into Latin – he was hundreds of years closer to the sources and knew Greek.

Another good example is translating ancient Hebrew.  I’m sure I’m telling you nothing new by saying that ancient Hebrew does not have vowels.  The consonant only words can have multiple meanings if the “vowels” are applied differently.  For an example in English:  “RP” could mean “rope”, “rap”, “reap”, or “rape”.  Scripture Alone cannot help us with that, we must appeal to an outside source that has authority, or all of the authority of the Old Testament is suspect.

The article and most other Protestants I discuss this with agree that there is “some place” for tradition and “proper” exegesis (sources outside of Scripture).  But if Sola Scriptura is true and faithfully applied, we find ourselves using circular logic, which is illogical:  I appeal to Scripture as my final or sole authority, but I need some outside source to help me understand that Scripture, but that outside source must be subject to Scripture, which is my final and sole authority, but I need some outside source to help me understand the Scripture that shows me whether or not the outside source is valid to help me know what the first Scripture says in the first place!  Whew!

So that outside source must, again, have authority, or be backed by authority, equal to that of Scripture so we can have certainty about the meaning of what we are reading and not get caught in yet another logical impossibility.

3) My third argument has to do with how Sola Scriptura is actually applied: the application of Sola Scriptura shows that it cannot work.

Most non-Catholic Christians would agree that if someone wants to learn how to live as a Christian, all they need to do is pick up a Bible, start reading and the Holy Spirit will guide them to know the truth.  Every essential thing we need to know to get to heaven is clearly stated in Scripture, as I’ve been told.

But what happens when two Christians, both claiming Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s guidance, come up with two opposite ideas on salvation.  Let’s use, for example, baptism:  If one person claims that Scripture says baptism is only an ordinance and has no actual role in salvation, but another person claims that Scripture says that baptism is necessary for salvation, what decides between them?   Both claim that the Holy Spirit inspired them to find this truth.  They both cannot be right.  Does the Holy Spirit create division?  No.  Well, then who is wrong not only about their reading of Scripture, but about being led by the Holy Spirit?

I’ve had numerous non-Catholic Christians say that due to sin people sometimes misinterpret things.  That is absolutely true, but that doesn’t solve the problem because I cannot look into the hearts of these two people to see who is more sinful; and even that would not eliminate the possibility that the “more sinful” person is actually right.  This is dealing with salvation: heaven and hell are on the line.

What actually happens is they will start two different churches, both claiming the truth, both claiming to be Sola Scriptura, both claiming inspiration of the Holy Spirit… but at least one of them is leading people astray.  Is this what Christ meant when he said the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth?  Is this what Christ prayed for when he prayed that all of us should be one?  Is this what St. Paul commands of us when he says that we should not disagree on ANY point of the faith?

To try to rectify the discrepancy between what Scripture plainly says against division and what was happening, two lists were created - Essentials and Non-essentials - and the quote from St. Augustine: “In Essentials, unity; in non-Essentials, liberty; in all things, Charity” was applied.  But there are two problems with this: 1) Different denominations disagree on what is essential and non-essential, all claiming the Bible and the Holy Spirit; 2) If Sola Scriptura is true then we should find this idea of “essentials and non-essentials” in the Bible and a clear list of each so that anyone can pick up the Bible and know what is essential and what is not.

As you well know, there are people who claim the Bible and the Holy Spirit to wrongly justify homosexuality, abortion, divorce / remarriage, contraception, slavery, racism, genocide (religious and racial), and a host of other evils. 

But of no less eternal importance are also the contradictory Bible Alone based claims of:  

1)      Predestination or Free Will

2)      Salvific, efficacious Baptism or mere ordinance and symbol

3)      Infant Baptism: valid or heresy

4)      The Lord’s Supper: Real Presence and required (High Lutheran, Anglican and Orthodox) or “Spiritual Reality” and necessary (Calvinistic – as I’m sure you know Calvin believed that a proper understanding of the Lord’s Supper was essential for salvation), “Spiritual Reality” but not required (some Reformed) or “Symbol only” and not necessary (Zwingli and followers)

5)      The role of works in salvation:  The only thing you need (Pelegianism), Christ did His part now we do ours in addition to His (Semi-Pelegianism); Faith and Works both necessary but both empowered by the free gift of Grace; or Works not necessary just Faith (as mental assent) only; or if you do try good works you’re going to Hell.

6)      The role of intercession of Saints in heaven: good and helpful practice but not necessary or you’re going to hell if you do it.

7)      Even the nature of the Holy Spirit Himself is debated: a thing, not divine, subservient to the Father and Son and should not be worshiped (Oneness Pentecostals, some other Pentecostals, Assemblies of God) or God and our worship of Him is required.

Why does this happen?  Because Sola Scriptura really means: my sole rule / final authority for faith is [my interpretation of] the Bible.  If a belief agrees with [my interpretation of] Scripture, then I accept it; If a belief doesn’t agree with [my interpretation of] Scripture, I reject it. 

I recall talking with people about why we chose the denomination we did when starting __________ church.  The response was something similar to: they agree with us more than the others.  The question arose in my brain: aren’t we supposed to look for the one that is True by God’s standards, regardless of what I believe, how I read or interpret Scripture?

When private interpretation of that sole, final rule of authority enters the picture, anything goes.  If someone is justified in interpreting, “This is My Body” as “This is not My Body” or “So you see it is by works we are justified and not by faith alone” as “so you see it is by faith alone that we are justified and not by works” and still claim the Holy Spirit led them, how are we to deny someone from saying “No one comes to the Father except through me” actually means there are other ways to the Father (Universalists) Jesus is just one of them; or Jesus never claimed to be Divine and therefor isn’t (Jehovah’s Witness’); or even that the translation is wrong and John 1:1 really says “…the Word was with God and the Word was a god” (Mormons).

I sympathize with you, when you say you’d be lost without Sola Scriptura.  I wasn’t sure what to do when I started realizing this at ________ church. either.  I tried to bring up some of what I was finding in Scripture, but I was told I was not right.  But wait, Scripture and the Holy Spirit were guiding me.  How can anyone else say that is wrong?  Under what authority do they say that? (Boy is that a dangerous question!)

Do you remember the first question Tricia and I asked at the Membership Class?  We asked: “Where did the Bible come from and why should we believe it?”  No one answered.  If we cannot answer those questions with certainty, then we can never hope to rely on Scripture Alone with certainty.  Sproul answers those questions by saying: we can’t know the content of Scripture with certainty.  That’s a similar answer I’ve received from numerous other non-Catholic Christians.

But God did not leave us orphans.  God did not intend for these questions to remain unanswered, or answered with a ‘shrug’.  Christ is Truth (Jn 14:6) He wants us to know Him with certainty (1 Tim 2:4).  So what system did God set up to help us solve these issues?  Where are we supposed to appeal when we get into the above types of discussions?  To what did Paul and Barnabas appeal when they couldn’t solve the problem of circumcision? 

Well that’s a topic for another day.  (Doh!  I HATE cliff hangers!! J )

God Bless you on your Journey of Faith and thank you for being a part of re-introducing my wife and I to the Life Transforming Jesus.

Fidei Defensor Green Bay

P.S.  Here is that resource I told you about:

Sola, Sola, Toil-a and Trouble-a

A brief overview of the Protestant and Catholic view of Sola Scriptura.

            As the Reformation of the 1600’s came into full force, the proponents of the reformers rallied around five “Sola” phrases: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus and Soli Dei Gloria (‘Sola’, ‘Solus’ or ‘Soli’ all being Latin for ‘Alone’).  Translated these phrases are By Scripture Alone, By Faith Alone, By Grace Alone, By Christ Alone and for the Glory of God Alone.  These pillars of the Reformation were presented as the true way of Christian life and practice, ultimately resulting in a follower’s soul going to heaven after death.  Because the Catholic Church agrees with 3 of these (Sola Gratia, Solus Christus and Soli Dei Gloria) the remaining two became the rallying cry of the reformers and their followers: Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide.  (As an aside, some Protestants – then and now - see ‘Solus Christus’ as another major difference between Catholicism and Non-Catholic Christians because of their misunderstanding of intercessory prayer and the Communion of Saints; a misunderstanding that persists today).  These points of contention - ‘Sola Scriptura’ and ‘Sola Fide’ - still quickly become apparent whenever Catholics and non-Catholic Christians begin to speak about theology or different religious practices and beliefs, though they may not necessarily use those exact phrases.

The Catholic response to the Solae of the Reformation was, and is, more complex and in depth then can be stated in a short phrase or five.  However, in general, the Catholic response is that from a Biblical, historical and logical point of view, Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide, while presented with good intention, have lead to a greater fracturing of Christian believers and greater confusion of Christian beliefs than any other set of beliefs introduced or developed prior to it or since. 

In this article we will look at Sola Scripture, the Bible Alone, belief system an attempt to present an accurate understanding of the belief system and then the Catholic position.

Sola Scriptura – the Protestant Position

          Sola Scriptura is the belief that “Scripture Alone” is the authority for the Christian in deciding matters of faith and morals.  As Wikipedia’s entry on the five Solae states, “Sola scriptura is the teaching that the Bible is the only inspired, authoritative word of God, is the only source for Christian doctrine, and is accessible to all—that is, it is perspicuous [easy to understand] and self-interpreting.” 

This doctrine is shown in churches being labeled as “Bible”, “Bible Based” or “Bible Alone” churches.  A ‘Fundamentalist’ church will automatically include the “Bible Alone” belief as well.  Practitioners of Sola Scriptura, in conversations about faith and morals, will often make statements like “There is no authority outside the Bible”, “Where is that in the Bible?”, “If the Bible says it, it’s true”, “There is no truth outside the Bible”, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it”" or similar phrases.  All practitioners of Sola Scriptura state that their entire system of beliefs, necessary for salvation, in one way or another came from the Bible only.  Most Protestants espousing this view also reject any kind of tradition to aid in the interpretation or implementation of the words found in the Bible stating it is a “man-made tradition” or a “tradition of men”.

            To support the Sola Scriptura claim Protestants appeal to certain passages in the Bible:

2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work…” (NIV).

Acts 17:11 “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (NIV)

1 Corinthians 4:6 “….’Do not go beyond what is written’…” (NIV)

Mark 7:8  You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” (NIV)

            There are other verses used to support this view, but for the sake of greater brevity, I leave it to the reader to explore them.

            Sola Scriptura is a necessity to give a sense of unity among a group of believers that has dismissed an authoritative, interpreting system that renders binding decisions upon its membership.  Once Martin Luther threw off the Catholic Church, the Magisterium and the Pope as authority, it was necessary to unify under something or the movement would have fallen apart.  The only authoritative thing that was left was the Bible alone.  Sola Scriptura is as much about being anti-Catholic authority and anti-religious authority as it about being pro-Bible and uniting.  Although many Protestants have not been instructed, explicitly, about the anti-Catholic / authority part of the belief, it has resulted in an overall mistrust of any “non-Biblical” religious practice (as defined by the individual interpreting the Bible).

In practice, it is difficult to find out what one particular denomination (or person) means by Sola Scriptura.  Despite the definitions given above, in reality, there is no one definition of Sola Scriptura. 

There are denominations (some Anglican, Lutheran and Episcopalian) that espouse a “sacred tradition” that can effect certain beliefs on faith and morals, but still claim to be a Sola Scriptura belief system.  This was also Martin Luther's belief.  He accepted things like the definition of the Trinity determined by ecumenical councils and the Marian Doctrines / Dogmas even though much of both are not explicitly stated in Scripture.

Others say that the Essentials of belief (the core beliefs one must espouse to be a Christian) must be explicit in the ‘plain text’ of the Bible with absolutely no interpretation or tradition effecting them – which is actually not humanly possible -  but the non-Essentials (the beliefs that can be disputed between Christians while still remaining Christian - again as defined by the individual or group) can be implicit. 

Still others state that both the Essentials and the non-Essentials must be explicitly stated.  This is John Calvin's position where no creeds, no councils, no person - interestingly enough - can interpret Scripture, only the Bible.  John Calvin then made himself the sole authority on what is or is not stated in the Bible and imprisoned people who disagreed with him.

Still others believe that both the Essentials and the non-Essentials can be implicit but must be based on Biblical texts.  All these belief systems would say they believe in “Sola Scriptura”.  The bottom line is the different denominations do not agree on how to apply Sola Scriptura so it is difficult to pin down at times.

             Sola Scriptura relies on two sub-pillars: the Bible is perspicuous [easy to understand] and that Scripture is completely self-interpreting [if someone doesn’t know what a passage in Scripture means, there is always another passage that will explain it].  As was stated to me “Anyone can pick up a Bible and know what is needed for salvation.”  This is what is meant by “perspicuous”; the Bible is easy to read and easy to understand the basic theological points.

            There is also an understood unlimited right to private interpretation.  This means the individual, presumably by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has the total right to interpret Scripture as they see fit, and no other authority can bind an interpretation on them.

            With Sola Scriptura also comes the idea that no one can be “infallible” except the Bible; we, as fallen humans, cannot be infallible.

            To sum up Sola Scriptura, in general, means one appeals all faith and moral decisions to the Bible only and rejects any system, or person, that claims to interpret the Bible or speak authoritatively about faith and morals.  One merely needs to pick up a Bible, pray to the Holy Spirit and start reading.

Sola Scriptura - The Catholic response

            The Catholic position is three fold: that Sola Scriptura is not logical, historical or even Scriptural.  The Catholic position continues that logic, history and Scripture points to a God-given Tradition and a visible, authoritative (as well as invisible and spiritual) Church established and empowered by Christ, able to make binding decisions that, along with Scripture, are the authorities for the Christian in matters of faith and morals.

            The Catholic position that Sola Scriptura is not logical starts with the realization that Scripture is not perspicuous, nor is it completely self-interpreting, nor does one have an unlimited right to self-interpretation.

            The Scriptures are not perspicuous, the Catholic position continues, by the initial realization that all the original languages of Scripture are no longer spoken: Koine Greek, Ancient Hebrew and Latin.  No living person, without training, can pick up the original Scriptures (if we still had them) and know anything, let alone what is needed for salvation. 

            Another point made is that many Scriptures seem to contradict: the two seemingly different genealogies in Mathew and Luke.  Most Christians have been instructed that one genealogy is Christ's natural genealogy and the other is Christ's royal genealogy, however that explanation is found nowhere in Scripture and must be 'taught' to new Christians first coming across this difficulty.  There are numerous other 'contradictions' that cannot be rectified from Scripture alone.

            Additionally, says the Catholic, adding in for a moment self-interpretation, if one is allowed to interpret phrases in Scripture like "This is My Body" as "This is NOT My Body" how can one be sure of any phrase in Scripture ("I am the Way the Truth and the Life" could, by the same reasoning, be interpreted "I am NOT the Way...)

            The Catholic position continues that Scripture being perspicuous is not supported by Scripture:  2 Pet 3:16 "...There are some things in them [St. Paul's letters] hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures."  When Scripture itself says that it is 'hard to understand' how do Protestants interpret that as Scripture being perspicuous (easy to understand)?

            The last point against Scriptures being perspicuous we will address is the number of arguments resulting in new Christian groups.  If Scripture was truly perspicuous there would be one obvious way of understanding verses.  However, instead there are 30,000+ (and growing daily) groups of Christians that cannot agree on issues as minor as robes for ministers and instruments during service to major issues such as Baptism (what it does and who it's for ), women ministers and even how one gets to heaven.  All of those groups claim that the Bible is easy to understand and most state that their belief system is 'clearly' stated in Scripture.

            The Catholic position also shows that Scripture being completely self-interpreting is false and leads to a huge problem.  Take a situation where a Christian reads a passage and does not know what it means.  Sola Scriptura states there are other passages which completely explain what the first passage means.  But how does that Christian find them, using Sola Scriptura?  How does the Christian know he has the correct passage?  How does the Christian know he has understood the second passage correctly?  While some Sola Scriptura practitioners will say the Holy Spirit will guide the Christian, this fails to account for the multiple interpretations of identical passages by different Christians all claiming the Holy Spirit led them; most Sola Scriptura practitioners will say you can use extra-biblical sources to help guide you (provided you don’t take that as authoritative). 

But this leads to another problem: how does the Christian know the external source – whether it be a book or pastor – is right?  “That’s easy,” says the Sola Scriptura practitioner, “take it to Scripture!  If you use an external source you only need to make sure it doesn’t contradict Scripture.  If it does [contradict] then you know it’s a false source.  If it doesn’t then you can use it as a guide, just not an authoritative guide.”

But all this does is push the buck down the road.  How does the Christian know that the verses they are comparing the external source with are the correct verses?  How does the Christian know those verses, if they are correct, are being interpreted correctly?  He could look for other verses in Scripture to interpret those, but then he’s just back as square one again.

            The Catholic case against the reasonableness of Sola Scriptura continues with a look at the 'unlimited right to self-interpretation'.

            Eventually, Martin Luther himself even saw the weakness in the idea of ‘self-interpretation’:  "There are almost as many sects and beliefs as there are heads; this one will not admit Baptism; that one rejects the Sacrament of the alter; another places another world between the present one and the day of judgment; some teach that Jesus Christ is not God. There is not an individual, however clownish he may be, who does not claim to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, and who does not put forth as prophecies his ravings and dreams. " (cited in Leslie Rumble, Bible Quizzes to A Street Preacher [Rockford, Ill.: Tan Books, 1976], 22).

            But the case against this idea is rooted in Scripture itself:  First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation…” (2 Pet 1:20).  The word ‘Prophecy’ does not refer, as many think, only to future predictions, but means God’s Word.  A Prophet is one sent by God to preach what He tells them.  A prophecy is what a Prophet says.

            The larger Catholic case against Sola Scriptura continues with a study of history, not just of what Christians in history stated about the issue, but the historical context and how Sola Scriptura could not have even been sustained prior to the 16th Century.

            The Christians of the first few years of the Church had not written any of the New Testament yet and were too busy preaching it orally, to even do so.  The Christians who came to Faith through this preaching could not have practiced Sola Scriptura because there was no 'Scriptura' to be 'Sola' about.  What about when Scripture was written?  We will explore that shortly.

            How about the next generation after the Apostolic generation and subsequent teaching?  Obviously, says the Protestant, Sola Scriptura was not only possible because the Bible was written, but it must have been preferred to the 'game of telephone' called Tradition.  A brief study of history not only shows this to be untrue, but quite the opposite.  Yes, all the books that would eventually make up the New Testament were all written, but so were hundreds of other writings all claiming to be of Apostolic origin or otherwise Inspired.  There was no clear decision on what books were and were not Scripture until the local council of Rome, the councils of Nicaea and Carthage nearly 300 years after the death of the last Apostle.  Until then some groups included works like 'Letter of Clement to the Corinthians', 'Shepherd of Hermes' and other groups excluded works like 'Revelation', '2nd Peter', '3rd John' and 'Letter to the Hebrews'. 

            So how did the Truth get transmitted so that souls would be saved?  Through oral Tradition: the passing of information from teacher to student.  This Apostolic Tradition, given to the next generation from the Apostles who received it from Christ Himself, is appealed to immediately and consistently whenever a dispute arises in the first several hundred years of the Church:  "As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this Faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it.  She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth.  For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the Tradition is one and the same." (St. Irenaeus of Lyons Against Heresies 1:10:2 (c. A.D. 189)).  Consistently, when a new teaching would arise, the teachers of the Apostolic Tradition would immediately ask the bearer of the new teaching from who they learned it.  They didn't mean just the last person they heard it from; they wanted the 'Golden Chain' of instruction.  The recipients would be able to rattle off the list of teachers they learned their information from, going all the way back to an Apostle.  Even today, although it would be impossible to memorize, Bishops of the Catholic Church, have documents showing their chain of Apostolic Succession going back to one of the Apostles.

            How do we know, contends the Protestant, that Tradition isn't like a game of telephone where the end message is completely warped from the original message?  In at least two ways, replies the Catholic. One: it was nothing like a game of telephone.  In the game, the rules are that a person may only hear the message once and point of the game is to have an end result that is humorously different than the original.  In the handing-on of the Deposit of Faith or Apostolic Tradition the hearers knew this was no game.  They knew that accuracy was imperative.  Additionally they could go back to their source more than once and in reality they often sat at the feet of and listened to their source person for years before teaching it themselves.  In many cases the person could 'cross reference' what they had heard with other teachers.  In the game of telephone would the result change if any person was allowed to hear from anyone before them, as often as they liked and in the end, if the message stayed the same, everyone was given a candy bar?  Of course.

            The Catholic case continues: not only historical documents, but historical context makes Sola Scriptura impossible.  Even in the modern era, but especially in eons past, the number of people who were illiterate exceeded the number of people who could read.  Some estimates of the literacy rate in history state that until the invention of the printing press (in the 15th Century) literacy was confined to the few upper elite.  Protestants today still report having difficulty teaching Sola Scriptura in illiterate nations.

            Additionally, prior to the printing press, Bibles were expensive and tedious to make.  A Bible may take three years to write, 100 sheep's worth of velum to create and cost somewhere between 3 and 10 years average salary, not to mention that the Bibles were extremely cumbersome.  To add 'insult to injury' the barter system of most of the world until very recently, would have made purchasing large quantities of Bibles, so that every person could read for themselves, ridiculous.  One can only imagine in jest a deal of hundreds of thousands of chickens, potatoes or gallons of milk for 1,000 Bibles!

             Spreading the Gospel to all the world could not have been done if God meant for it to be done by Sola Scriptura.  The modern Protestant practice of handing out Bibles on street corners would have been impossible.

The Catholic Catechism states: "Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal." (Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 80).

The final point brought up here is Sola Scriptura is self-refuting.  For Sola Scriptura to be true by its own definition it must be in Scripture.  However a simple computer search of any translation will not find the phrase “Scripture alone” or “Sola Scriptura” anywhere.  As to the verses used to support Sola Scriptura (listed above), the first thing to realize is that not one of them say “Bible alone” or “Scripture alone”.  There isn’t even one close.  2 Tim 3:16-17 is probably the most often cited verse – almost used at times as a proof text – but it merely says that Scripture is “God breathed” and “profitable”.  The rest of the adjectives in the verse are in reference to the “man of God.”

But the nail in the coffin of Sola Scriptura belief is the canon of Scripture, that is, what books make up Scripture.  Nowhere in Scripture does Scripture say what books belong in there.  Some will point to the table of contents in their bible, however, that page was added by the publishing company and is not part of inspired Scripture.  But even if, let us suppose, the table of contents was part of the body of work called “the Bible” the bible would have to show that the table of contents belonged in Scripture!  This argument alone puts the Sola Scripture practitioner on the horns of a dilemma: the Sola Scriptura practitioner must either rely on the authority of the Catholic Church councils that decided the content of Scripture – which would be rejecting Sola Scriptura – or to hold with Sola Scriptura they must say with R.C. Sproul (very well-known Protestant theologian) that the best that can be said of Scripture is it is a “fallible list of infallible books” and in saying so undercut all ability to appeal to Scripture with any certainty.  For if the Christian cannot be certain that the book of the bible they are quoting from actually belongs in the bible, they cannot use it as an authoritative source.