Saturday, May 23, 2015

My (Least) Favorite Protestant (Non) Replies to Catholic Questions

Our Protestant brothers and sisters tend to be somewhat more familiar with the texts of Scripture than we Catholics are. There aren't a few of them who are able to recite any chapter and verse asked of them, a skill both impressive and jealousy-inducing. It's as though they have every tool in the hardware store in their own garage.

But here's the thing: just because you have all the tools at hand doesn't mean you'll use them correctly. You might have a socket wrench in your collection, but if you use it to pound a nail into the wall, your possession of the tool is less impressive.

The battle cry of the Protestant Reformation/Revolution was sola Scriptura, Scripture alone! It is the only (or some prefer to say "final") authority they acknowledge in matters of faith, and the only source they will appeal to. Their operating assumption is that any question related to the Christian faith has an answer in Scripture. This belief, however, does not hold up to scrutiny, and it often leads to Protestants appealing to Scripture verses that have tangential relations at best to the issue at hand. Here are some of my favorite examples, to illustrate what I mean.

One key divisive point between Protestants and Catholics is the question of the communion of saints, the spiritual relation of the members of the Body of Christ to one another, with the sticking point usually being the dearly departed members. When a Catholic asks why a Protestant objects to the practice of asking for the intercession of the saints, a very common Protestant response is to quote 1 Timothy 2:5, "There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ." The Protestant smiles and says, "Your argument is with the Word of God, not with me. ONE mediator, my friend, not many."

Yet the Protestant should be careful, for this argument proves too much. If the passage here meant what they believed it does, that there is one and only one person, Jesus, who can mediate between any of us and God, then this passage rules out the mediation not only of the deceased saints in heaven, but mediation by any living Christian as well. If you ask your friend to pray for you that you pass your exam, the proposed Protestant reading of this passage would have them respond to you, "No, I won't! You can go to God yourself! ONE mediator! Don't make an idol of me!" I have yet to meet a Protestant who holds this position. Now, they might press on with other objections to the practice, which can be dealt with elsewhere, but this is enough to show that the appeal to this passage does not work.

My go-to question to our Protestant friends is to question the premise of sola Scriptura itself: "You appeal to the Bible because it is the Word of God. But how do you know that this book in your hand, this collection of books, is the definitive collection, is the entirety of the Word of God, that you haven't included too much, or--as I would say--left anything out?" The common Protestant counter is 2 Timothy 3:16 (Timothy's getting a workout today!), which says, "All Scripture is inspired by God, and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness." The Protestant looks at you and says, "See? I know the Bible is the Word of God because it says itself that all Scripture is inspired, 'God-breathed.'"

Do you catch the problem here? Scripture says that all Scripture is inspired, but that wasn't the question. There is no dispute that Scripture is inspired--that's a tautology: that which is inspired is Scripture, that which is Scripture is inspired. The question is: how do we know which writings are inspired, and thus are Scripture? The Bible did not drop from the sky shrink-wrapped in silver with an inspired table of contents chiseled into its golden pages. Where did it come from, then? If you're going to claim a text is the Word of God, the first question anyone would ask is, "Who says?" And the quest to answer to that question will lead the Protestant in a non-Protestant direction.

OK, I think that's enough for now, but you get the picture. Just because a verse comes from Scripture doesn't mean that it applies, or applies well, to the question at hand.

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