How clear is your understanding of Protestant theology? Test yourself and see. Evaluate each of the fol-lowing ten paired statements and mark the one that you think best states a Protestant doctrinal position.
(1a) God gives a man right standing with Himself by mercifully accounting him innocent and virtuous. (1b) God gives a man right standing with Himself by actually making him into an innocent and virtuous per-son.
(2a) God gives a man right standing with Himself by placing Christ?s goodness and virtue to his credit. (2b) God gives a man right standing with Himself by putting Christ?s goodness and virtue into his heart.
(4a) If a sinner becomes ?born-again? (the regenerat-ing, transforming process of character), he will achieve right standing with God. (4b) If the sinner is granted right standing with God through faith (?born-again?), he will then experience transformation of character.
(5a) We receive right standing with God by faith alone. (5b) We receive right standing with God by faith which has become active by love.
(6a) We achieve right standing with God by having Christ live out His life of obedience in us. (6b) We achieve right standing with God by accepting the fact that He obeyed the law perfectly for us.
(10a) Only by the imputation of Christ?s righteousness through faith can we fully satisfy the claims of the Ten Commandments. (10b) By the power of the Holy Spirit living in us, we can fully satisfy the claims of the Ten Commandments.
Protestant: 1a, 2a, 3a, 4b, 5a, 6b, 7b, 8a, 9a, 10a.
Behavior among the people of God is defined by doctrinal beliefs, and doctrinal beliefs are rooted in some source of authority. The question of authority is basic, it is the foundation of any religious system. Roman Catholi-cism and Protestantism initially and fundamentally divide around the question of authority. The doctrinal differences that form the expanse that separates the two arise from the distinctively different voices of authority which underpin them.
Authority in Protestantism
Protestantism contends that the Scriptures are the sole source of authority for the believer–hence, sola scriptura, or, Scripture alone as authoritative. sola scriptura (along with sola fide–faith alone) was the rallying cry of the Reformers. They realized anew that the Bible alone is vested with absolute authority. It alone is the guide for the believer?s faith and life. Protestant belief in the Bible as the single source of authority results in the subordination of all beliefs and practices to the Bible. Those beliefs and practices which are counter to the Scriptures are expected to be discarded and replaced by those which are clearly biblical.
Every religious movement that develops some unity and continues to live has its traditions. These traditions gather up the beliefs, thinking, practices and rules of the group, particularly as these are expressed in its doctrinal standards and forms of government. In this manner the movement gives stability to and regulates its own manner of life, and hands that stability and manner of life on to the next generation.
We do not reject all tradition, but rather make judicious use of it in so far as it accords with Scrip-ture and is founded on truth. We should, for instance, treat with respect and study with care the confessions and council pronouncements of the various churches, particularly those of the ancient church and of Reformation days. We should also give careful attention to the confessions and council decisions of the present day churches, scrutinizing most carefully of course those of the de-nomination to which we belong. But we do not give any church the right to formulate new doc-trine or to make decisions contrary to the teaching of Scripture. The history of the church at large shows all too clearly that church leaders and church councils can and do make mistakes, some of them serious. Consequently their decisions should have no authority except as they are based on Scripture.
Protestants…keep these standards strictly subordinate to Scripture, and in that they are ever ready to re-examine them for that purpose. In other words they insist that in the life of the church Scrip-ture is primary and the denominational standards are subordinate or secondary. Thus they use their traditions with one controlling caution: they continually ask if this or that aspect of their belief and practice is true to the Bible. They subject every statement of tradition to that test, and they are willing to change any element that fails to meet that test.
Faithfulness to the Bible is the believer?s weapon against costly spiritual compromise and error. Faithfulness to Scripture translates into faithfulness to God in the life of the believer.
Authority in Roman Catholicism
In contrast to the Protestant position of sola scriptura, Roman Catholicism finds its source of authority in three areas: the Bible, Tradition, and the teaching authority of the Church, or the Magisterium. Roman Catholic documents state:
Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out of the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move toward the same goal. Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And Tradition transmits in its en-tirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and by the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching. Thus it comes about that the Church does not draw her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Hence, both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal feelings of devotion and reverence.
Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church. By adhering to it the entire holy people, united to its pastors, remains always faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (cf. Acts 2:42 Greek). So, in maintaining, practicing and professing the faith that has been handed on there should be a remarkable harmony between the bishops and the faithful.
But the task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone.
It is clear, therefore, that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.
Roman authority resides, then, in the ?Word of God? as the source and the teaching office of the Church as interpreter.
1. Identify some traditions that are present in the Protestant sub-culture today. Where do these traditions come from? How do our traditions benefit us? How do they hurt us? What power do traditions hold over us?
2. What traditions have influenced your spiritual nurturing? Have you ever challenged a tradition that you have grown up with and changed it after discovering that it lacked compelling biblical support? Are you open to such personal challenge? Are there elements of your personal faith that need to be challenged by Scripture?
3. How does the usage of ?The Word of God? differ between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism?
Roman Catholicism embraces the inspiration of the Scriptures.
In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, ?but as what it really is, the word of God.? [Note the lower case ?w? in ?the word of God.?] ?In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his chil-dren, and talks with them.?
God is the author of Sacred Scripture. ?The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.?
For Holy Mother Church, relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.
Roman Catholicism?s Bible differs, however, from the Protestant Bible. The Roman Catholic Bible contains the Apocrypha–books contained in the LXX (Greek Old Testament or Septuagint) but not contained in the Hebrew Scriptures. The early church and the Reformers questioned the authority of the Apocryphal books on the basis of their absence from the Hebrew Canon. ?Jerome (d. A.D. 420) declared as apocryphal all those writings which stood outside the Hebrew Canon, but in his Vulgate Version he included them according to church practice, though not without some reservations.? Jerome?s Latin Vulgate was declared Rome?s official Bible at the Council of Trent in 1546. In doing so, it was therefore canonized by the Catholic Church. The Latin Vulgate Version alone was recog-nized as authentic by the Catholic Church.
The Vatican Council of 1870 [Vatican I] reaffirmed the declaration of the Council of Trent that ?these books of the Old Testament and New Testament are to be received as sacred and canonical, in their integrity, with all their parts, as they are enumerated in the decree of the said council, and are contained in the ancient Latin edition of the Vulgate.?
In the year 1590 Sixtus V issued an edition of the Vulgate which he declared to be final, and pro-hibited under an anathema the publication of any new editions thereafter unless they should be ex-actly like that one. However, he died soon after, and scholars found numerous errors in his edition. Two years later a new edition was published under pope Clement VIII, and that is the one in gen-eral use today.
Rome?s reverence for the Vulgate over the centuries meant that Catholic translations of the Bible were only translations of translations rather than translations of the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Advances in the quality of the original texts gained by the process of textual criticism did not benefit Rome.
The Church seems to have shifted in its position toward the Vulgate according to Vatican II documents.
…suitable and correct translations are [to be] made into various languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books.
Sola Scriptura, Indeed!
The Reformers? commitment to sola scriptura was, no doubt, met with many assaults by the Roman Church. Certainly they were sometimes over zealous in protecting their theology from potential incursions of tradition. The following illustrates the unusual extremes to which they were willing to go to defend sola scriptura.
The Hebrew alphabet originally consisted of consonants only. Few of the vowels had any written notation prior to the age of the Masoretes (who began their work about A.D. 520). At that time, Hebrew was falling into dis-use so that people were increasingly less conversant with it. Visible representations of the vowel sounds in the He-brew Old Testament had become a necessary crutch. The Masoretes did not invent the vowel sounds, but ?received? them as part of their tradition: what they did was add signs or ?points? to the text as visible representations of the traditional vowel sounds. This pointed Masoretic Hebrew text became the text that the Reformers relied on, and is still the text on which virtually all modern Protestant translations are based.
Some of the Reformers? successors found themselves embarrassed by these Hebrew points. The points were simply tradition–something that had been handed down. sola scriptura, indeed! The Catholics had their ?ancient and vulgate edition,? which was translated from the Hebrew prior to the addition of the vowel points and certified as authentic by the magisterium of the church. The reformed churches, the Catholics insisted, had no comparable cer-tainty.
Some of the Reformers were uncomfortable with this seeming dilemma, and undertook to argue that the points, far from being of recent, man-made origin, had always existed alongside the consonantal letters and were equally inspired by God. The climax of this was reached in 1675 when the Helvetic Consensus Formula provided that no man should be licensed to preach the Gospel without first professing his belief in the divine inspiration of the He-brew vowel points!!
Use of the Bible
Historically, the Roman Catholic Church has forbidden the free use of the Bible by the laity. The Council of Trent reaffirmed the earlier Council of Valencia (1229) with the following:
In as much as it is manifest, from experience, that if the Holy Bible, translated into the vulgar tongue, be indiscriminately allowed to everyone, the temerity of men will cause more evil than good to arise from it; it is, on this point, referred to the judgment of the bishops, or inquisitors, who may, by the advice of the priest or confessor, permit the reading of the Bible translated into the vulgar tongue by Catholic authors, to those persons whose faith and piety, they apprehend, will be aug-mented, and not injured by it; and this permission they must have in writing.
Such was the teaching and practice of the Roman Church for centuries. For one to possess or read the Bible in his native tongue without permission in writing from his superior and under the watch-ful eye of the bishop was a mortal sin, for which absolution could not be granted until the book was delivered to the priest.
The Church has recently shifted its position regarding the use of the Bible. Vatican II encourages Bible study among the laity.
Access to sacred Scripture ought to be wide open to the Christian faithful.
…all clerics, particularly priests of Christ and others who, as deacons or catechists, are officially en-gaged in the ministry of the Word, should immerse themselves in the Scriptures by constant sacred reading and diligent study.
Likewise, the sacred Synod forcefully and specifically exorts all the Christian faithful, especially those who live the religious life, to learn ?the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ? (Phil. 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. ?Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.? Therefore, let them go gladly to the sacred text itself….
1. Working with 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21, and 1 Corinthians 2:13, compose a statement regarding the in-spiration of the Bible. Does the usage of Bible passages to validate the inspiration of the Bible constitute circular reasoning?
2. Protestant doctrine rests on the foundation of the 66 books of the Protestant Bible. Upon what basis do we recognize these 66 books as inspired and therefore authoritative?
3. Irenaeus (d. c. A.D. 200) is said to have identified tradition and Scripture as one and the same. Is it reason-able to assume that tradition (that which was given by the apostles), once inscripturated, was replaced by the written documents?
4. Why did the Roman Church prohibit the common use of the Scriptures?
5. What might be the potential result of free access to the Bible for Roman Catholics?
6. How does the Catholic Church?s post-Vatican II position on access to the Bible concern Protestant evan-gelism of Roman Catholics? How might the Bible be utilized in evangelizing them?
What is Tradition?
Webster defines tradition as ?the process of handing down information, opinions, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example….? Tradition in Catholic theology is that which has been handed down from the apos-tles.
Christ the Lord…commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel…. This Gospel was to be the source of all saving truth and moral discipline. This was faithhfully done: it was done by the apos-tles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the insti-tutions they established, what they themselves had received–whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit….
In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them ?their own position of teaching authority.?
Thus, the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time. Hence, the apostles, in handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to maintain the traditions which they had learned either by word of mouth or by letter….
The Catechism adds,
This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, ?the Church, in her doctrine, life, and worship perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.? ?The sayings of the Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and her prayer.?
Tradition is Living
Roman Catholic Tradition then is the apostles? preaching, example, and institutions passed down through their successor bishops and expressed in the life of the Church. This Tradition is said to be living in that the Holy Spirit maintains the continuity of the unwritten, apostolic Gospel in the Church, and provides growth in insight into the Tradition through its expression in the lives and worship of the faithful.
Catholic theologian Avery Dulles explains,
It had become common, especially since the Counter-Reformation, to think of tradition objectively, as a collection of truths communicated to the apostles and preserved in the church. Without re-jecting this notion, contemporary Catholicism shows a deeper awareness that tradition cannot be adequately understood as a body of explicit teaching. Many doctrines are contained in a merely implicit way in tradition considered as an activity or process whereby faith is expressed and trans-mitted.
So, Tradition is not simply a body of truths, but is a ?process whereby faith is expressed and transmitted.? The expression of the Roman Catholic faith collectively by the faithful continually elucidates the Tradition in such a way that previously unseen elements of its content become unobscured. In this way, insight into the Tradition grows,
The Tradition that comes from the apostles makes progress in the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on. This comes about in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and study of believers who pon-der these things in their hearts. It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth. Thus, as the centuries go by, the Church is always advancing towards the plenitude of divine truth, until eventually the words of God are ful-filled in her.
McCarthy comments about this growth in insight,
Since what the Church does reflects what the Church believes, the universal practice of the Church is also considered a reliable witness to the Roman Catholic faith.
The Sensus Fidei
?The sensus fidei refers to the instinctive sensitivity and discrimination which the members of the Church possess in matters of faith.?
The holy People of God shares also in Christ?s prophetic office: It spreads abroad a living witness to him, especially by a life of faith and love and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips praising his name. The whole body of the faithful who have an annointing that comes from the holy one cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural apprecia-tion of the faith (sensus fidei) of the whole people, when ?from the bishops to the last of the faith-ful? they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals. By this appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, guided by the the sacred teaching authority (magisterium), and obeying it, receives not the mere word of men, but truly the word of God, the faith once for all delivered to the saints. The People unfailingly adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life.
Catholic theology holds that no further revelation is to be expected prior to the return of Christ. The sacred deposit is complete, though not yet fully understood. The significance of the Word of God will be increasingly under-stood over the course of time.
…no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it re-mains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.
…the Roman Church…denies that it formulates any new doctrines at all. Rather it insists that in ex cathedra pronouncements the Holy Spirit enables the pope to draw out and proclaim what be-longed to the original revelation.
2. How accessable is the Catholic ?Word of God??
3. How is ?growth in insight? validated in the case of non-objective truth?
4. Based on the Roman Catholic understanding of Tradition, would it be true that the practice of the Church at any given time accurately reflects the Gospel of Christ? Can the Church become heretical?
5. Which of the two, Tradition and the Bible, would seem to be more encompassing? What could this imply about the authority of Tradition versus that of the Bible?
The sacred deposit, Scripture and Tradition, were entrusted by the apostles to the whole Church. The re-sponsibility for interpreting the sacred deposit, however, lies with the Magisterium–the bishops headed by the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. The bishops and the Pope are formally considered to be the apostles? successors.
This sacred synod [Vatican II], following in the steps of the First Vatican Council, teaches and de-clares with it that Jesus Christ, the eternal pastor, set up the holy Church by entrusting the apostles with their mission as he himself had been sent by the Father (cf. Jn. 20:21). He willed that their successors, the bishops namely, should be the shepherds in his Church until the end of the world. In order that the episcopate itself, however, might be one and undivided he put Peter at the head of the other apostles, and in him he set up a lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and communion. This teaching concerning the institution, the permanence, the nature and import of the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and his infallible teaching office, the sacred synod proposes anew to be firmly believed by all the faithful, and, proceeding undeviatingly with this same undertaking, it proposes to proclaim publicly and enunciate clearly the doctrine concern-ing bishops, successors of the apostles, who together with Peter?s successor, the Vicar of Christ and the visible head of the whole Church, direct the house of the living God.
That divine mission [the spread of the Gospel], which was committed by Christ to the apostles, is destined to last until the end of the world (cf. Mt. 28:20), since the Gospel, which they were charged to hand on, is, for the Church, the principle of all its life for all time. For that very reason the apostles were careful to appoint successors in this hierarchically constituted society.
In order to fulfill such exalted functions [those ecclesiastical functions of the bishops], the apostles were endowed by Christ with a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit coming from them (cf. Acts 1:8; 2:4; Jn. 20:22-23), and, by the imposition of hands (cf. 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6-7), they passed on to their auxiliaries the gift of the Spirit, which is transmitted down to our day through episcopal consecration.
Hence, the Roman Catholic Church is said to be apostolic ?because she is founded on the apostles,? and ?continues to be taught, sanctified, and guided by the apostles…through their successors.?
…the task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. Yet this Magisterium is not supe-rior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.
This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.
Avery Dulles adds,
Since revelation is public, the church requires a way of publicly proclaiming the doctrine that ex-presses or safeguards that revelation. Catholics find evidence in the New Testament that Christ commissioned Peter and the apostles with the responsibility of overseeing the life and witness of the church. The pope and the other bishops are regarded as successors, respectively, of Peter and the other apostles. One of their most important tasks is to keep the church in the truth of the Gospel by proclaiming sound doctrine and condemning doctrinal deviations. In this function the hierarchy constitutes the church?s official teaching body, or magisterium.
The Pope, a word which comes from a Latin term meaning father, is the Bishop of Rome and the head of the Roman Catholic Church. According to Boettner, at his coronation, the Pope is triple crowned as the Father of Princes and Kings, Ruler of the World, and Vicar of our Savior Jesus Christ. Later documents (i.e. Vatican II) em-phasize the Pope?s title as Vicar of Christ and his supreme ecclesiastical authority.
…the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, namely, and as pastor of the entire Church, has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can al-ways exercise unhindered.
The Lord made Peter alone the rock-foundation and the holder of the keys of the Church (cf. Mt. 16:18-19), and constituted him shepherd of his whole flock (cf. Jn. 21:15 ff.). It is clear, however, that the office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter (Mt. 16:19), was also assigned to the college of the apostles united to its head (Mt. 18:18; 28:16-20).
According to the Catechism,
The ?power of the keys? designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Je-sus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: ?Feed my sheep.? The power to ?bind and loose? connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judg-ments, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church.
The infallibility of the Pope has already been mentioned above. Vatican II addresses papal infallibility, which extends to the college of bishops when they exercise the supreme Magisterium.
The Roman Pontiff…enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful…he proclaims in an absolute decision a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. For that reason his definitions are said to be irreformable by their very nature and not by reason of the assent of the Church, in as much as they were made with the assistance of the Holy Spirit promised to him in the person of blessed Peter himself; and as a consequence they are in no way in need of the approval of others, and do not admit of appeal to any other tribunal. For in such a case the Roman Pontiff does not utter a pronouncement as a private person, but rather does he expound and defend the teaching of the Catholic faith as the supreme teacher of the universal Church, in whom the Church?s charism of infallibility is present in a singular way.
Dulles further explains,
When Catholics speak of the infallibility of the Magisterium they mean that in certain specified acts the popes and bishops, teaching doctrine concerning faith and morals in a way that binds the whole church, are divinely protected from falling into error. …the pope can teach infallibly when, in his capacity as successor of Peter (ex cathedra), he proclaims by a definitive act some doctrine to be held by all the faithful on the basis of divine revelation.
1. What biblical support exists for the concept of apostolic succession? How does Hebrews 5:4-6 and 1 Peter 2:9 inform this?
2. How important is the concept of apostolic succession to the structure, continuity and claim to authority of the Roman Catholic Church?
3. Vatican II articulates the subservience of the Magisterium to the Word of God. At the same time, the Mag-isterium is vested with the sole authority to interpret it. What are the potential dangers of the Magisterium?s authority?
4. How would you respond to Roman Catholicism?s usage of Mt. 16:18-19 and John 21:15ff to support the primacy of Peter? Provide an alternative interpretation of these passages.
5. What conditions would be required for infallibility to apply to a statement from the Vatican? Would docu-ments such as Vatican II and the Catechism be considered infallible?
Two: The Church
The Catholic Church
There was a time when every Christian was pleased to identify with the catholic church–catholic with a small ?c,? that is. Following Pentecost, the gospel spread rapidly. Despite seasons of in-tense and violent persecution, pockets of believers emerged throughout the Roman Empire. These early Christians held to a common faith and enjoyed a God-given affinity wherever they met. Paul?s teaching of the church as one body made up of all true believers provided a theological under-standing of this new relationship (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).
Early Christians used the term catholic, a Greek word meaning concerning the whole, to describe this worldwide nature of the church. When early Christians referred to the catholic faith, they were speaking of the faith of the whole or universal church. The oldest document containing the term is a letter by Ignatius from the early second century. He wrote, ?Wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic