Protestant/Other Christians

When reading the Bible devoid of its historical and textual context, there is no context except the context which any person might supply for it.

or put otherwise,

A text without a context is a pretext.

I always get frustrated when self-proclaimed Bible students or teachers start pontificating about the meaning of the Bible and theology without a clue what they are talking about or what the Bible is talking about. We had a classic example of this in our family this week. A Fundamentalist condemned us Catholics for emphasizing the need for good works (cp. James 2:24) using verses like Romans 3:28 that says, “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.”

IMGP0964.JPGWith great ignorance the Fundamentalist said “This verse proves you Catholics wrong. We are saved by faith alone and not by good works.”

Such blithering nonsense has nothing to do with Romans 3:28 — which is not a Catholic-Protestant debate but a Jewish-Gentile debate. But in an argument like this the Fundamentalist ignores the historical and textual context. He uses the Bible verse as a club–as a proof-text to promote his Fundamentalist traditions of men. He creates his OWN context to the detriment of the historical and textual context. It is his argument to trip up Catholics who are not well catechized in their faith.

In Romans and Galatians (and Acts 15) this is the argument: Can an uncircumcized Gentile become Christian (follower of the Jesus the JEWISH Messiah) without first becooming a Jew by being circumcized and obeying all the Laws of Moses and regulations of the Pharisees?

circumcision.gif“Works of the Law” is a technical term. It refers to those actions that made Jews distinct from the Gentiles. Paul says we are not justified by “works of the Law” or Mosaic circumcision and prescribing to all the 613 laws of Moses, but rather by faith.

This is how the Catholic Church understands the New Testament and why the Fundamentalist who takes verses out of their context plays the fool and twists the Scriptures to their own confusion and the confusion of all those who are foolish enough to listen to them.

For more on this read my earlier blogs “Flint Knives and the Gospel” and “St. Paul Did Not Write to Us.”

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Every day, Catholics are invited by coworkers, neighbors, and even family members to “ecumenical” Bible studies. Should they go? Certainly all of us would benefit from more study of Scripture, but as someone who has been a part of a number of Protestant Bible studies—I’ve even taught them—I discourage Catholics from attending them because of the foundational premises and principles in operation at these studies.

Protestants are delighted to have Catholics attend their Bible studies, but it is often not because they want to hear and discuss the Catholic perspective on Scritpure. Instead, they see it as an opportunity to bring them to the “true Gospel”—to evangelize them, to get them saved.

In many cases, though certainly not all, the non-denominational Bible study is the Trojan Horse that infiltrates the Catholic’s mind and succeeds in drawing him away from the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church—to join a Protestant group. Most of us have a family member or friend who has been affected in this way.

An unwary Catholic who steps into the Protestant Bible study usually does so with no intention of leaving the Catholic Church. They just want to study the Bible. The Catholic usually has a hard time finding a good and welcoming Bible study in Catholic circles—but this is changing.

First, while the Bible study may call itself “non-denominational,” Catholics and Orthodox are not usually included under this umbrella. While they may be invited, you’ll rarely find them in leadership.

Protestants think of themselves as people of the Book, not hampered by human tradition. They think of Catholics as, at best, followers of traditions for whom the Bible is secondary.

That is a huge misconception: Protestants are also people of tradition. No one reads the Bible objectively. People who claim to “just read the Bible” really read it through the eyes of a tradition they’ve already accepted, whether that be Fundamentalist, Calvinist, Pentecostal, Baptist or one of many others. Everyone depends upon tradition, but not everyone recognizes it.

“Bible Christians,” based on their tradition, study the Bible with these premises:

  • There is no binding authority but the Bible alone.
  • There is no official binding interpretation or interpreter.
  • The Bible is perspicuous (i.e., easy to understand) and can be interpreted and understood by anyone.
  • An individual can and should read the Bible and interpret it for himself.

Catholics, based on their Tradition, study the Bible with different premises:

  • The authority of the apostles and the Church preceded the Bible, and the Tradition of the Church is an equally infallible authority (2 Thess. 2:15; CCC 80–83). The Bible is part of the apostolic Tradition.
  • The authoritative interpretation of the Bible is the prerogative of the Catholic Church (1 Tim. 3:15; Matt. 18:17; CCC 85-88).
  • The Bible is not always easy to understand (2 Pet. 3:15-16) and needs to be understood within its historical and contextual framework and interpreted within the community to which it belongs.
  • Individuals can and should read the Bible and interpret it for themselves—but within the framework of the Church’s authoritative teaching and not based on their own private interpretation (2 Pet 1:20-21).

These basic differences place the Catholic and Protestant worlds apart even though they are opening the pages of the same book and accepting it as an authoritative revelation from God. The Catholic position is biblical and has been espoused from the first days of the Church. The Protestant position is unbiblical and is of recent origin. The Catholic is in full continuity with historical Christianity; Protestants are in discontinuity.

Catholics attending a non-denominational Bible study need to be aware of these differences and be ready not only to filter out false conclusions but also to guard themselves against the false underlying assumptions (e.g., that everything has to be found and proven explicitly in the Bible).

Catholics who are unaware often begin to adopt a Protestant mentality without knowing they are doing so, gradually learning to suspect the Catholic Church and trying to prove everything from the Bible.

Let’s Take Just One Example: Baptism

But what difference do these premises make? Let’s take the example of 1 Peter 3:18-21:

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Notice the words in italics. What does it say? To Catholics it makes perfect sense because Christians have always taught (until the Reformation) that baptism is essential for salvation. As Catholics, we can draw from a wealth of other biblical and patristic passages that consistently and continuously teach a seamless garment of doctrine—the constant teaching of the Church, of all Christians.

A few examples:

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)

This has always been understood to mean water baptism, until descendants of the Reformation denied it and came up with new interpretations, such as that the water refers to the water in the womb, the word of God, or even a synonym for the Spirit (as in “water, even the Spirit”). There is no consensus among Protestants.

Other examples are Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16. The first says, “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”

The second one says, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”

These verses agree with the words of Jesus, Titus 3:5, and the rest of the New Testament about the necessity and importance of baptism. But many Evangelicals will offer in reply a list of verses that say salvation is by faith (e.g., John 3:16) and argue that since he can find twenty-five verses that say salvation is by faith, it can’t be by baptism.

Can we cut two verses out of the Bible because we find ten others that seem to contradict? Heavens, no! We have to find a way to explain and accept both and harmonize them into a cogent theology. That is what Catholics have been doing well for two millenia.

One of the great reliefs for me as a Catholic was to read the Bible without having to set aside verses that didn’t agree with my preconceived assumptions. Catholics do not have this problem.

A Figure of a Figure? Go Figure.

Now, back to 1 Peter 3:18-21. Protestant commentaries on Scripture admit it is one of the most difficult passages of the Bible to interpret. Here is a quote from my book Crossing the Tiber:

In his recent anti-Catholic book The Gospel according to Rome, James McCarthy says that “when Peter says that ‘baptism now saves you,’ he is speaking of the typological, or symbolic, significance of baptism. . . . It [the word figure] tells us that what follows, ‘baptism now saves you,’ is a figurative illustration that complements the symbolism of a preceding figure” (331-332).

It seems he is saying that baptism is a figure of a figure instead of the fulfillment of a figure. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature offers a different and more straightforward interpretation: “Baptism, which is a fulfillment (of the type), now saves you, i.e., the saving of Noah from the flood is a . . . ‘foreshadowing’ and baptism corresponds to it [fulfills it]” (75).

McCarthy does go on to say: “This verse is part of one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament to interpret. Nevertheless, this much is clear: it does not support the Roman Catholic doctrine” (331-332). (Crossing the Tiber, p. 130, note 56)

The Catholic interpretation explains the passage quite comfortably without twisting the text from its clear meaning, accepting the literal meaning of the text, and complementing the rest of New Testament teaching. It is difficult for McCarthy to interpret because he comes to the passage with a handicap: his Fundamentalist preconceptions.

Catholics: Seen but Not Heard

Baptism is just one example, and we have only scratched the surface. Other examples of passages that are difficult for Evangelicals—and where unwary Catholics attending a non-denominational Bible study can be misled—are John 20:23, Colossians 1:24, James 2:24, Matthew 16:18-19, and John 5:28-29.

Catholics often find non-denominational Bible studies appealing because of the warm, serious, loving, and family-like environment. Being used to reverence and quiet devotion, Catholics find the welcoming and chatty nature of these gatherings refreshing and new.

But there is such a thing as an ecumenical Bible study that doesn’t allow knowledgeable Catholics to participate in leadership or where the Catholic perspective is not equally presented and discussed with respect. In a truly ecumenical Bible study, the Catholic interpretation and teaching is not treated as substandard or heretical.

Also, the Catholic Church is not a “denomination” (which means “to take a new name”); it is the Church. Those who are in schism, who break away or subsist apart from it are denominations or sects. The Church is not. It is the Church.

There’s still a long way to go to get Catholics to the point of scriptural study that Protestants have achieved. But it is happening, and you can help. For more information, see my article “Starting a Parish Bible Study” at www.catholicconvert.com.

SIDEBARS

Before Chapter and Verse

Chapter and verse divisions in the Bible are quite recent. They have proven quite helpful in biblical study and finding our way around. But they can also be a great hindrance if people begin to see the Bible as an unrelated collection of wise maxims listed numerically. It becomes quite easy to pluck a numbered statement (a verse) out of its context and quote it as in independent entity. For the first 1,600 years of Christianity, biblical study was conducted without verse numbers, forcing the reader to see whole texts and not simply lists of unrelated sentences randomly compiled.

Bible Resources

Sites to help you find a Bible study, start a Bible study, or get Bible study materials:

www.catholicscripturestudy.com

www.greatadventureonline.com

A Catholic Answers booklet to help you get started reading the Bible:

Beginning Apologetics 7: How to Read the Bible by Jim Burnham and Fr. Frank Chacon (San Juan Catholic Seminars, 2003)

Books available at www.catholic.com to help your understanding of Scripture:

A Guide to the Bible by Antonio Fuentes (Four Courts Press, 1987)

Inside the Bible by Kenneth Baker, S.J. (Ignatius Press, 1998)

You Can Understand the Bible by Peter Kreeft (Ignatius, 2005)

How to Read the Bible Every Day by Carmen Rojas (Servant Books, 1988)

Books that answer common Protestant questions:

Where Is That in the Bible? by Patrick Madrid (Our Sunday Visitor, 1999)

Where We Got the Bible by Bishop Henry G. Graham (Catholic Answers, 1997)

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JOHN MacARTHUR: MANDATED BY GOD

by Steve Ray on May 14, 2017

I posted this letter by Karl Keating of Catholic Answers about 10 years ago but it’s worth reading again.…

JOHN MacARTHUR NEEDS TO TALK WITH ROSALIND MOSS

Before she became a Catholic, staff apologist Rosalind Moss used to be a member of John MacArthur’s congregation, Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. He runs a ministry called Grace to You. Its motto is “Unleashing God’s Truth One Verse at a Time.” The unleashing is done chiefly through a widely-syndicated radio program.

In a June letter to his ministry’s supporters, MacArthur wrote about John Paul II and the “amazing release of emotion” that accompanied his death. “From politicians and media pundits to Hollywood celebrities and everyday citizens, everyone had praise for John Paul II, his gentle ways and his social and political achievements as a world leader and statesman. I can understand that.

“What I cannot understand,” continued MacArthur, “is the response of some Evangelicals to what matters most about the pope: his beliefs about God and the gospel. … Influential leaders embraced the deceased pope as a brother in Christ and the Catholic church as just another Christian denomination. …

“During the Reformation, countless men and women died rather than deny the biblical truths of salvation. Countless others today are giving their lives as missionaries to people lost in the darkness and guilt of Catholicism.”

MacArthur goes on to write about the “damning error” that is Catholicism and notes that he has released a new 90-minute lecture called “Unmasking the Pope and the Catholic System.” He says that “the church I pastor is loaded with people who were saved out of the Catholic church. … A longtime Grace to You board member and dear friend of mine is a former Catholic. He speaks with great emotion about the bondage he and his wife lived under.”

How many times have we heard these claims before? “The Catholic Church is not really Christian.” “Catholics believe you ‘earn’ your salvation through good works.” “Catholicism is based on guilt, not truth.” “People are in ‘bondage’ to Catholicism–and we need to save them.”

Each Sunday 7,000 people attend MacArthur’s church. This is what he tells them about an institution that was around for nineteen centuries before he was born and that is now headed by a man who shows not a hint of MacArthur’s arrogance.

It is MacArthur who claims a divine commission: “I do have a mandate from God to compare what others teach to the gospel of the Bible.” He says, “‘Does the pope teach the gospel?’ is a valid question.”

Rosalind Moss left John MacArthur’s church because she realized that, yes, the pope really does teach the gospel–and that John MacArthur does not.

The Grace to You ministry’s letterhead has this slogan at the bottom: “The Bible Teaching of John MacArthur.” Benedict XVI is more modest in his claims. His letterhead does not have at the bottom “The Bible Teaching of Benedict XVI” because the Pope is not trying to push his own agenda.

Instead, he is the custodian of what has been passed down through the centuries. His job is not to refashion the Bible in his own image but to convey to us what each of his predecessors conveyed to the people of their time.

Grace to You is built around one man. It may have many employees, but when John MacArthur dies, his ministry will die. His flock will scatter, taking with them the silly prejudices he has imbued them with.

When Benedict XVI dies there will be another pope to succeed him, and another, and another, until the end of time. Each of them will demonstrate to those with open minds and hearts that, yes, the pope does teach the gospel.

Karl Keating E-Letter, August 23, 2005. To subscribe to Karl’s E-Letter, click here.

(Steve once wrote a letter to MacArthur challenging him for his anti-catholic attititude. The letter was addressed to John Ankerburg because of a book he wrote and I sent it to MacArthur as well since he wrote a foreword for the book.)

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Yes, Christians Do Have an Assurance—but Not an Absolute Assurance—of Salvation

May 14, 2017

By Dave Armstrong: Many Protestants understand being “saved” as a one-moment-in-time act of repentance and acceptance of Jesus Christ as one’s “personal Lord and savior” (a phrase that nowhere appears in the Bible, by the way), a life-changing transformation of “lost” sinner who becomes a “saved” child of God. They believe this to be an […]

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Steve’s Interview of Luther & the Reformation with Al Kresta

May 12, 2017

This was a fun and informative interview as an introduction to this 500th Anniversary of the Luther’s actions which started the Protestant Reformation (or Deformation, depending on how you look at it). Click this LINK, then click on the + sign for Hour One and move the slider to 8:20 where the interview begins. It […]

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(Link Fixed) The Other Catholics: A Short Guide to the Eastern Catholic Churches

May 5, 2017

Since we are in Jerusalem, where many of the Eastern Catholic Churches converge, I decided to share this excellent article. I found it very helpful. Many think the name of “our church” is the “Roman Catholic Church” — but that is only the name of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. The “Catholic Church” […]

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Was Abraham Save by Faith Alone?

March 28, 2017

Today I am flying to Franciscan University of Steubenville to be the guest for Franciscan University Presents, the one-hour TV show produced by the University for EWTN. Mike Hernon hosts the program which is a round-table discussion with a guest and panelists from their Theology Department, Dr. Scott Hahn and Dr. Regis Martin.  Our topic will be Abraham, […]

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Trail of Blood: Do Baptists Have a Claim to the Original Church?

March 23, 2017

What is the history of Baptists? Can they trace their roots back to the 1st century? Many ”fundamentalist” Baptists believe they can. Are they correct? There is a booklet that is very popular among this fundamentalist crowd. It is entitled “The Trail of Blood”. The booklet claims that Catholics persecuted the true Christians — the Baptists — leaving […]

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The Protestant and his Three Huts

February 28, 2017

The Protestant’s Three Huts A Protestant was stranded all alone on an island. He begins sending smoke signals, hoping that somebody will find him. Ten years pass, and a boat is sailing by. The captain notices the smoke signals, and decides to pull into the island. When he docks, he sees three huts. The Protestant […]

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Salvation by Faith Alone?

February 15, 2017

Since the days of Martin Luther it has been popular to reduce salvation to a sound bite. Salvation is not by works but by “faith alone.” However, the Bible seems to have another idea. In my book CROSSING THE TIBER I mention a few passages from Scripture to give a more biblical perspective. Here is […]

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“Ecumenical” Bible Studies

February 12, 2017

Without a teaching authority or the tradition of the historic Church, this cartoon shows what many Bible studies are really like. I remember Bible Studies that started out with “What does this passage mean to you?”  To keep from arguing or fighting, many just avoid difficult passages. There are many studies that exclude Catholic ideas […]

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Vatican to Release Stamp Honoring Martin Luther

January 19, 2017

January 18, 2017 (Catholic World News) The Vatican will issue a stamp to honor Martin Luther this year, marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The Vatican regularly issues stamps to mark special occasions and to honor individuals. In the past, stamps have been issued to honor non-Catholics, but never to honor a non-Catholic […]

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Founding Father John Adams Visits a Catholic Church

December 31, 2016

John Adams (1735-1826) was a Founding Father of the United States. He was raised in an austere Protestant movement called the Puritans who left England to flee liturgical Christianity and to find religious freedom. He was raised as a Congregationalist and later turned to Unitarianism. He was elected President of the United States in 1796. […]

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Who Speaks for God on Morals? Many Choose their Church Like they Choose a Restaurant

December 29, 2016

We have a “church” near our house that is making it comfortable for anyone to join no matter who they are, what they believe or what they practice. They say it is our job to accept and love, to be nice, not to judge. Celebrate Diversity is a slogan of acceptance, multiculturalism, non-judgmental inclusion. Some […]

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Jack Chick Died, Remember his Cartoon Tracts? Very Anti-Catholic Evangelist; 9 Things You Should Know

October 25, 2016

I remember handing out those cartoon Chick Tracts when I was a Protestant. As uninformed as I was, I liked the simplicity and brashness of the little booklets. Now I know how crude and deceptive they were. Jack Chick just died and Jimmy Akin wrote a bit about it.   First Jimmy writes about Nine […]

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Sola Scriptura and the Canon of Scripture

October 12, 2016

Sola Scriptura and the Canon When non-Catholics are asked to provide biblical support or their belief that the Bible Alone is the sole rule of faith for the believer, they usually cite 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which states that “all scripture is God-breathed and is useful”. However, they somehow miss the fact that the two verses […]

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