After many weeks of research and study, my wife and I have decided to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. For those of you do not know my background, I grew up in a Protestant family, was raised in Protestant churches, and studied at a Protestant college. I have lived and breathed common Protestant beliefs to include the concept of sola scriptura, the strictly symbolic nature of both baptism and communion, and the assertion that salvation is by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone. Through my study, I determined that none of these concepts hold true not only in scripture, but also in the history of the early Christian church. I will begin the bulk of this blog with the top three reasons (in order) why I am leaving Protestantism to enter into full communion of the Catholic Church, and I will conclude with short apologetic responses to common misconceptions of Catholicism. This blog post is not meant to be scholarly, but rather simply a glimpse of my still young understanding of Catholicism. I am sure that as my knowledge grows, I will write more in-depth blog posts on these subjects.
1. Sola Scriptura
The concept of sola scriptura was championed by Martin Luther, and thus is one of the cornerstones of Protestant theology. Sola scriptura is Latin for ‘By Scripture Alone’, and means that biblical scripture is the only authority for Christians because its creation was inspired by God and therefore inerrant. There are two fundamental issues with this concept. First, the claim of sola scriptura is not in scripture. This begs the obvious question, ‘How could the claim of sola scriptura be possible if the Bible itself does not contain the claim’? Second, if the Bible is the ultimately authority for Christians, how did Christians know how to lead their lives prior the canonization of the Bible? In order to answer both of the questions, we must first establish the origin of the Bible as we know it today.
During the times of the early church, there were many writings claiming to be scripture. Many Christian groups recognized writings such as the gospel of Thomas, or the third letter to the Corinthians as authoritative. It was not until mid-300’s that the canonized version of the Bible as we know today was official established by the Catholic church. But if the Bible is the only authority for Christians, then how could mere men determine what constitutes Holy Scripture? The answer is simple, the Bible is not the only authority over Christians; and this claim you can find in scripture.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:14-15, Paul states, “For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” This instruction given by Paul clearly indicates that the words of the apostles were equivalent to their writings. Furthermore, Jesus had this to say on Christian authority, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17) The authority in this parable is the church, not the scriptures. This is not only tradition, this is biblical, and understood to be the truth since the beginning of Christianity.
2. The Eucharist
My entire life I had been taught that communion was a symbol. Not the actual body and blood, but simply a remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice for humanity. This assertion is unbiblical and contrary Christ’s own words. This is clearly stated in John 6:41-66:
41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.
The Jews were obviously disgusted by Jesus’ statement about eating and drinking His flesh and blood because they thought he was speaking of cannibalism. Jesus must have been speaking literally because otherwise Jesus would have corrected them, as was His custom. But rather, Jesus continues by asking if they are offended. He then lets the disciples who refuse to believe in this teaching to leave. During transubstantiation, the priest consecrates the bread and wine, thus turning them into the substance of Jesus, or the ‘essence’ of Jesus per his teaching. This means that Jesus’ body, blood, soul, and divinity are present in the Eucharist.
3. The Necessity of Water Baptism
Growing up, I consistently heard the classic Protestant statement of baptism, that it is “an outward expression of an inward change.” This assertion is the easiest to debunk of my top three. In Mark 16:16, Jesus clearly states, “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.” For me, this is clear cut. Moreover, Jesus says again in John 3:5, “Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.’” Not only did Jesus teach the necessity of water baptism, but the early church fathers believed in his teaching. This can easily be found in the Nicene Creed where it states, “I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins”.
Common misunderstandings of Catholicism
1. Catholics worship Mary and other saints
Catholics only worship God. When we pray (make a request) to saints, we are asking them to intercede for us, similar to asking someone here on earth to pray for us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states, “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. . . . They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.” (CCC 956)
But what about verses like Deuteronomy 18:11? These verses speak of conjuring up the dead through mediums and other sources, essentially necromancy. This is wrong, and is not the same as asking for intercession from saints. If it were same, then Jesus would have been sinning during the transfiguration.
2. The Pope is completely infallible
This is an extremely common misunderstanding, one that I used to believe as well. Papal infallibility does not mean that everything the Pope says is infallible, or that he cannot sin. Papal infallibility can only be exercised in a very specific circumstance, when dealing with issues of faith or morals, in conjunction with the body of bishops, during what is called a ‘Supreme Magisterium’. (CCC 891)
3. Catholics worship idols
Again, we do not worship anyone other than God. Statues, icons, and various other items are tools to help us stay focused on God. They are reminders of our faith that help us to stay true to God throughout the day.
4. Catholics use a different Bible
The Bible used by Catholics is the same group of books that was canonized in the mid-300’s. It was not until the reformation that Martin Luther took seven of the books out. An act, that I would argue, if carried out today by a Christian denomination would be considered a cult by most Protestants. Ironically, one of the aspects of sola scriptura is that the Bible cannot have additions or reductions, which is exactly what Martin Luther did during the Reformation.
* All scripture quoted in this blog is from the New Revised Stand Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)