Have you ever heard something like this from a Bible Christian concerning Catholics: “Catholics follow their (man-made) traditions, but we follow the Bible.”
One of the common notions I have heard and that I myself used to think, is the idea that Catholics don’t really follow the Bible like “Bible Christians” do. There is no question that “Bible Christians” tend to emphasize the study of the Bible more than many Catholics have in the past few generations, but the notion of the Catholic Church not emphasizing the Bible is indeed old and tired.
Let’s start with Bible Interpretation. Every Christians who claims a “Bible Alone” belief is an offshoot of Protestantism in one way or another. Even if they call themselves “non-denominational”, they are in fact, protestant. Any exceptions to this would fall under the category of following a belief system that has little, if any, historical validity, and therefore cannot be taken seriously. If I say, for example, that I follow the true Christian Church called “The Way” from the Acts of the Apostles, I have simply found a name for my new sect of Christianity that I, or the founder of said sect, has decided to invent based on something not found in history over the past 2,000 years. It simply doesn’t hold water to invent a new belief system (from documents written that long ago) that has not been consistently followed down through history. Which is also a pretty good argument against Protestantism, but I will not go down that path at this time.
The real issue here is that many Protestants claim that the Catholic Church does not follow the Bible. This comes from their recognition of the fact that the Catholic Church interprets certain passages differently than certain individual protestants do. The ironic thing is that other protestant groups also interpret certain text differently, but they are rarely identified as not following the Bible, but instead basically given a pass and simply agree to disagree on that particular difference. But they don’t accuse each other of not following the Bible, as they both would say about the Catholic Church.
Let’s look at some examples. Many protestants would say that the Catholic church teaches Confession to a priest which is nowhere found in the Bible. However, the Catholic would point out that Jesus himself said to his apostles, the first priests, that “whoever sins you forgive are forgiven, and whosever you retain are retained”. This is very biblical to a Catholic, but not to a protestant. It’s just a difference in interpretation, yet instead of just agreeing to disagree based on interpretation, many protestants will dismiss the Catholic view as unbiblical.
Many protestants accuse the Catholic Church of teaching a works based doctrine of salvation. They hold to the notion of Faith Alone for salvation, yet the Bible clearly says that we must continue to do good works in order to attain salvation. There are plenty of verses to support this in the Bible, and it can be very strongly argued that works are necessary for anyone who continues to profess Jesus. Jesus makes that clear in the parable of the goats and sheep. Both call him Lord, but Jesus says that only the ones who fed others, took care of others, and helped the poor would be counted among the sheep. James clearly says that Faith without works is Dead. And yet, most Protestants today still hold to the notion that all one has to do to be saved is accept Jesus into their hearts and all their sin, past, present, and future are forgiven at that instant, no matter what sins we commit. Protestants don’t typically point to this as a difference in biblical interpretation, but instead accuse Catholics of not following the Bible, and simply holding to some man-made tradition. Yet, it seems clear that the Catholic is following a more historical, more consistent interpretation of scripture then the protestant is.
The point of this post is to point out the inconsistency in protestant accusations toward Catholic compared to how they view other protestants who differ in their biblical interpretation. Of course, the fact is Catholics do include two types of Traditions(written and oral) as valid forms of transmitting the faith, whereas Protestants only hold to one form of Tradition (written). Ironic, since the written tradition that they hold to itself states to:
“…stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”
2 Thessalonians 2:15