I have been told that Protestants and Catholics have different views of the Bible. I grew up a Baptist, and thus a Protestant, and we looked down our noses at Catholics for many reasons, not least of which was “we knew” Catholics didn’t care much for the Bible.
I was taught from an early age to bring my Bible to church. That is what Baptists do−at least they did when I was a kid. This makes sense given the apparent high value placed on the Bible by Protestants. I was also told that Catholics do not read their Bibles because they don’t need to, They are told by the Pope what to think. Though I still feel “naked” without my Bible with me in church, I now see things differently.
Below are some observations I’ve been musing over, tell me if you’ve noticed the same things, agree, or disagree. Note, if it sounds like I am being critical of Protestants a little, I am, because I am being critical of myself.
- The Bible is a difficult book to understand. Knowing how to read it well is more important than just having it open on your knee in church. In my experience, most Protestants, like most Americans, in general do not know how to read well, let alone read the Bible well. This is probably true for most Catholics too.
- When we bring our Bibles to church, those Bibles were given to us, that is, the books of the Bible were collected and made canonical, by the Catholic Church. Protestants did remove a small number of books from the Catholic Bible, but most Protestants cannot tell you what books were removed, why they were removed, and if they should have been removed. Protestants have their Tradition too.
- If we believe in the Trinity, that Christ is fully man and fully God, and if we believe that scripture is inspired by God, then we are in line with the tradition of the historical (read Catholic) Church. If we recite any of the old traditional Christian creeds (Apostles creed, Nicene creed, etc.) then we are reciting Catholic creeds. If we believe that any doctrines we hold and any traditions we follow must conform fully to scripture, then we are hold the same position as does Rome.
- The doctrines we hold dear should conform to what the Bible says, but most of us, Protestants and Catholics, hold to doctrines given to us by the church we are in, and not because we discovered them on our own in the Bible. We believe what someone else has told us.
- When Catholics read the Bible they will likely see scripture conforming to what they already believe.
- When Protestants read the Bible they will likely see scripture conforming to what they already believe.
- Both Protestants and Catholics claim their dogmas conform to what scripture says.
- The reasons we find certain doctrines to be obviously true has a great deal to do with what Peter Berger calls the “plausibility structures” in which we live. We are, in countless and subtle ways, molded by our culture and circumstances to accept some beliefs over others. This is a normal part of how humans come to believe anything, but it must be called out. Yet, each of us tends to disbelieve our own beliefs could possibly be the work of plausibility structures. But we tend to believe other’s beliefs are.
- The reasons we tend toward one church or another has a great deal to do with where we feel most comfortable. That comfort comes largely from such things as the way we were raised, the friends we have, and the social environments to which we gravitate. These factors generally play a much bigger role in what Christians believe and where they go to church than does strict adherence to doctrinal orthodoxy.
- Catholic teaching, especially Catholic apologetics, is deeply scriptural, just like Protestant teaching and apologetics. Most Protestants don’t know this because they don’t read Catholic apologetics.
- Protestants tend to dislike the idea of having someone telling them what to think, thus they dislike the idea of a pope or a centralized church. But then they tend to believe what someone tells them to believe (their pastor) and conform their thinking to a semi-or-non-centralized church (the one they currently attend) that gets its dogmas from a centralized organization somewhere (from its own tradition−Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, or one of the 35,000+ denominations in the U.S. alone).
- Sola scriptura takes authority away from the Pope (or the church) and makes every man a pope. Though this also confuses the real idea or purpose of the Pope.
- We tend to confuse the idea of “be true to yourself” with truth, which it is not, unless one is Christ.
- All Catholic doctrines that Protestants dislike are argued similarly from scripture as are Protestant doctrines. The issue is not so much Catholic tradition versus Protestant scripture, as it is one interpretation of scripture against another. For a Catholic, tradition plays an obvious role in interpretation. The same is true for a Protestant, but Protestant tradition tends to be carefully obfuscated and its existence often denied, yet it plays just as big a role in interpretation.
- Protestants have very strong opinions about Catholicism, but generally know very little of Catholic doctrine, even those Protestants who were formerly Catholic. This may be, in part, a failing of the Catholic Church.
- Most Protestants generally know very little of Protestant doctrines, but believe them passionately anyway.
- Most Protestants cannot say why they are called Protestant or what they are Protesting.
- Most Protestants, though they bring their Bibles with them to church, cannot adequately use their Bibles to defend Protestant doctrines that they insist are derived from the Bible. Thus they trust in their church, and the social context of similar thinking Christians, for that assurance. This is the same for Catholics. But Catholics are less likely to carry their Bibles around with them, or pithily quote Bible verses (in or out of context) at the drop of a hat.
- Finally, when and wherever Pope Benedict XVI (who can read Greek, Hebrew, and bunch of other languages) travels he has with him an old, well-worn Greek Bible which he reads and studies everyday. Most Protestants who hold firmly to sola scriptura, or some similar presupposition, cannot read the Bible in any of the original languages.
I do not believe that any of the observations above are reasons for a Protestant to become Catholic, or vice versa. However, I do know there are strong opinions between Protestants and Catholics about doctrine, the Bible, and about each other, and that some of those opinions unravel just a bit if we are honest with ourselves. We should also remember that an ignorant member of a particular belief system does not negate the validity of that system.
Thoughts on the picture at the top: The statement, “A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t,” may be true. It is difficult to be in the word on a regular basis and not have at least some Biblical worldview enter one’s life. That worldview gives one the kind of perspective one often needs to weather the storms of life. However, I’ve met too many people who pour over the Bible in a near obsessive way who also seem somewhat skewed in their understanding of God, God’s creation, and their place in it. And I’ve seen their lives fall apart as well. And I’ve seen many faithful, God fearing, Bible loving people suffer. So a well-worn Bible is no guarantee of a life incapable of falling apart. Plus, we must be clear on what we mean by a life falling apart or not falling apart. Sometimes I am convinced that those Christians I see whose lives are all “together” may not, in fact, be destined for the kingdom of God. This world (the flesh) is all about having one’s life together, solid, not falling apart. It is in fact the way of the world. And there are so many ways to get one’s life together, to be in control, to live the good life. Conversely, it is possible, even probably, that a life that is falling apart is a life in God’s hands, for it is through the trials of life that we gain wisdom and our faith is tested. One way God shows His love and commitment to us is to bring trials and suffering into our lives. The goal in this life is not to have a life free of suffering and strife, rather the goal is faith, hope, and love. The goal is the kingdom of God. The goal is union with Christ.