Dear Catholic Exchange:
How do I respond to or even pursue a friendship with someone who is “non-denominational” who insists on living his life sola scriptura and believing that Christ's Resurrection overrides any need for a water baptism? He is excellent at quoting Scripture to support everything we discuss. He seems to be an extremely Christ-like man, but I am concerned about his attacks on the Catholic faith during our discussions. I grew up in the Catholic faith, was baptized, made my communion, was confirmed and love all the richness that the Catholic tradition embodies.
Thank you for your help,
Dear Ms. Klaus,
Greetings in Christ! I hope this response will adequately address your question.
Your friend understands that there are major differences between the Catholic Church and Protestant churches, but a key point is that there is not only one Protestant church. There are more than 25,000 different kinds of Protestant churches, and each believes and teaches something different from the others. They are not united with each other in a visible communion, nor completely united in doctrine (even on crucial, salvation-related issues). The Catholic Church is both a visibly united communion and a unity in faith and moral teaching.
Protestants do have many things in common with Catholic Christians. Most Protestants are validly baptized (with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Almost all of them believe that God the Son became a man, Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, to save men from their sins. On this basis alone, Catholics have more in common with Protestants than with almost any other people. Because they really are Christians, but not in full union with the Church founded by Christ, we call Protestants “separated brothers.” Therefore, we treat them with love and respect, and pray that they will someday be united with us in the faith and the Church. Here is what the Church taught Catholics about these separated brothers at the Vatican II council:
“The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve the unity of communion with the successor of Peter. For there are many who honor sacred Scripture, taking it as the norm of belief and action, and who show a true religious zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, Son of God and Savior. They are consecrated by baptism, through which they are united with Christ.
They also recognize and receive other sacraments within their own churches or ecclesiastical communities [Protestants, for example, may be validly married]. Many of them [Eastern Orthodox, not Protestants] rejoice in the episcopate, celebrate the Holy Eucharist, and cultivate devotion toward the Virgin Mother of God. They [all] also share with us in prayer and other spiritual benefits.
Likewise, we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them also He gives His gifts and graces, and is thereby operative among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of shedding their blood [in other words, to die for the Christian faith]. In all of Christ’s disciples the spirit arouses the desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd, and He prompts them to pursue this goal. Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope, and work that they may gain this blessing. She exhorts her sons to purify and renew themselves so that the sign of Christ may shine more brightly over the face of the Church” (Lumen Gentium, 15).
Your friend has brought up several issues that you can discuss with him. One point is that many Protestants claim that they dispense with all tradition and adhere solely to the Bible. However, in practice Protestants have many “traditions” of their own. Interestingly, their least biblical traditions regard the Bible. The infallibility of the Bible is not explicitly in the Bible. The doctrine of sola scriptura, or “the Bible alone,” is not found in the Bible. Scripture itself does not supply the canon of Scripture the books that are divinely inspired and constitute the Bible yet Protestants have excluded seven books. Nothing in the Bible indicates that the King James Bible is the Bible (a more fundamentalist tradition).
While many Protestants espouse sola scriptura in theory, they are unable to implement it practically in everyday life. As soon as there is a dispute regarding the Bible’s meaning in a particular passage or concerning a particular doctrine, one person or group asserts its interpretation as the one the Holy Spirit intended (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16). The Catholic Church teaches that its teaching authority or Magisterium, i.e., the pope and the bishops in union with him, has alone been entrusted with authentically interpreting the Word of God, whether in Scripture or Tradition (CCC, no. 85). In practicality, all Christians believe in a pope or valid interpreter of Scripture, be it themselves, their pastor, their congregation or someone else, depending on the issue; however, only the Catholic Church has the one and only pope, the Successor of St. Peter, whom God protects from teaching error (Mt 16:18; Jn 14:26, 16:13; 1 Tm 3:15).
While some Protestant traditions are consistent with Scripture, they are not all found explicitly in Scripture. They were developed in the first 1500 years of the Christian Church and then continued after the Reformation. Examples of these are the Trinity (three persons, one God) and the hypostatic union (Jesus Christ has two natures divine and human).
Other Protestant traditions are based on the Bible but, not being explicit in the Bible, have been developed in error. The fact that Protestants themselves dispute these traditions indicates a lack of explicit Scriptural support. Examples of these traditions are millennialism (there are three major traditions), baptismal regeneration, predestination, the symbolism of the Lord’s supper and the Eucharist, and the doctrines regarding “once saved, always saved.”
Finally, we can look to what many people call “Protestant traditions” the different denominations themselves. The fact that there are thousands of denominations speaks to separate traditions. Disputes over traditions causes the splitting. Apart from the question as to which of the thousands of denominations is correctly living out the Bible’s teachings, the Bible does not call for multiple denominations. Yet, it is a Protestant tradition to assume authority, protest, and divide. The multiplication of Protestant denominations has further substantiated the need for a God-ordained Magisterial safeguard to interpret the Bible correctly (see Catechism of the Church, nos. 85-87).
Our separated Christian brothers and sisters often preach “half truths.” However, just as it is better to have the whole truth than it is to have half, it is better to have half than little or none at all. The Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, leads us into all truth (Jn 15:13, 14:26), and that is to be greatly preferred to Protestants’ half-truths. If we love non-Catholics, as we should, we will want them to have the whole truth and we will try to find a loving way to offer it to them. The way we witness to our faith in Christ and His Church will do far more for non-Catholics than our skills in apologetics. Our discussions with Protestant Christians must always be done in charity, even when they “attack” our faith. We must be able to defend our faith and present it with kindness.
The FAITH FACTS listed below, which explain different aspects of Catholicism, may help you answer your friend’s objections about Church teachings:
There are many more FAITH FACTS available online at www.cuf.org.
United in the Faith,
Catholics United for the Faith
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