by Marcus Guevara
I recently wrote an article titled “7 Things Every Protestant Should Know About Catholicism”. Due to it’s great success in sparking a great deal of dialogue I figured it would be a good idea to follow it up with a discussion of Protestantism from the Catholic perspective. I stayed very high level because I am not an expert in all areas of Protestantism. I intended this for Catholics because I believe we should make an effort to better understand each other. This is not an all encompassing article. It’s just a few simple things about Protestantism that I think everyone should know. If you believe I got something wrong or would like to share some insights with me – please do so in the comments below the article.
#7 The Term “Protestant” Comes From Those “Protest”ing Against The Catholic Church
After my conversion I didn’t really know what the term Protestant meant. Like many people when someone asked me if I was a Christian I probably said “No, I’m Catholic”. I didn’t really know that Catholic’s are Christians until I found out that the term Protestant usually referred to a non-Catholic Christian (there are non-Catholic Christians that are not Protestant).
Once I started learning about my Catholic faith I encountered many people who jumped at the opportunity to challenge and sometimes attack my faith. At times I was even worried that the Catholic Church was as bad as many others made it out to be. Almost always the challenges, attacks, and slurs about the Catholic faith came from Protestants. I began to wonder why it seemed that so many Protestants were so against the Catholic Church. I found the answer when learning about the history of Christianity. Protestantism has only been around for a fourth of the life of Christianity.
At the birth of Protestantism the term was applied to those who “did not intend to tolerate Catholicism within their borders” . The Catholic Encyclopedia, NewAdvent.org, states that the term originally meant “no toleration for Catholics” but later changed to describe “Western Churches and sects which, in the sixteenth century, were set up by the Reformers in direct opposition to the Catholic Church”. So the birth of Protestantism was a violent rejection of the Catholic Church. Most people don’t realize that the Protestant Reformation was actually pretty bloody at times. The German Peasants’ war brought the deaths of about 100,000 people. Many Catholic Churches were looted and defaced and people were starting churches because they disagreed with the Catholic Church. These are the roots of Protestantism. Protestant churches even to this day, following the writings and works of the reformers (like Martin Luther and John Calvin), will sometimes preach a very anti-Catholic message.
This is not meant to label all Protestants as under the umbrella of anti-Catholicism. This is simply meant to show that there is some bad blood in the history books which helps to account for why there is still some bad blood today.
However, the interesting thing about all this is that not all Protestants are “protest”ers of the Catholic faith. Many don’t even like the term Protestant.
The tide seems to be changing. Both Catholics and Protestants are gaining a greater understanding of each other which is helping to bring peace. I believe that the more that Protestants learn about the Catholic faith – the less they feel they have to protest it. We have so much in common that we can concentrate on. Good dialogue doesn’t mean we ignore our differences but it also doesn’t mean we have to ignore where we agree.
#6 Protestants Who Don’t Respect Catholicism Usually Don’t Understand It
In my opinion there are not many Protestants who truly understand the Catholic Church’s teaching and practices and have a problem with them. In fact, I don’t think I know of any. Any time I have had a chance to talk to a Protestant and explain or answer questions about the Catholic faith they usually don’t have problems with it. I usually get the response “That makes sense. I didn’t know that was the reason”.
The point is that we shouldn’t see Protestants as our enemies. If a Protestant does attack the Catholic faith we should see that as an opportunity to engage with them in a dialogue about Catholicism. I truly believe that if a Catholic spends time learning about his, or her, faith then they will be prepared to enter into a fruitful discussion with their Protestant brothers and sisters. Then, if a Catholic charitably defends and explains the Catholic faith more Protestants would gain a greater respect for Catholicism.
#5 Many Protestants Have A Great Zeal And Authentic Love For Scripture
It is well known that many Protestants have a great love for Scripture. This is evident in the fact that most will only accept a teaching that they themselves can find explicitly in Scripture. It is also evident in the pride that many of them take in reading and memorizing Scriptures to learn how to apply it in their faith lives. I have a deep respect for that. I truly do. I think it’s a beautiful thing when a Protestant is familiar with their Bible. There’s nothing bad to say about Protestantism when it comes to their love for the Bible. In fact, I find it inspiring and would encourage all Catholics to try and match the zeal and love for Scripture that is found in many Protestants. Many Catholics have a deep love and reverence for Scripture and not all Protestants are zealous about the Bible. Still, I am certain that the love of Scripture that many Protestants have helps to further the kingdom of God. I’m cool with that.
#4 Protestants Do Not Have The Entire Bible Memorized
In my experience, many Catholics don’t feel that they can explain or defend the Catholic faith because they don’t know enough about the Bible. In fact, I used to feel like that. I felt like I couldn’t hang in a discussion with a rain man Protestant who started spouting random Scripture passages like “Well, what about Romans 5, or John chapter 3 or “…etc. Catholic’s sometimes get intimidated thinking that because a Protestant memorizes the location of a few Scripture passages they are all knowing when it comes to Scripture. My experience is that not only is this not the case but often times some Protestants put too much stock in trying to memorize a Scripture verse and location and not enough time in understanding the context and meaning. That’s not to say memorization is bad. I could probably spend some more time memorizing Scripture to have handy in my discussions but Catholics often know a lot more about the Bible then they realize. My advice to Catholics is: don’t be afraid to talk to a Protestant about your faith because they have some Scripture memorized. Hear what they have to say, learn what you can from them and enter into dialogue. Don’t be afraid to say “I haven’t heard that before” or “I don’t know the answer to that question”. Truth is truth. It doesn’t change because you don’t know it. If you have to go find the answer to a question you will be all the better for it.
#3 Not all Protestants Agree On Central Issues
Protestantism is a very general term that normally is used to distinguish Christians who are not Catholic and sprung from the reformation of the 1500’s. However, there is a sobering reality that Protestantism is not one giant belief set. Protestants are very divided and do not have a central structure or authority by which they are in union. There are many different denominations inside Protestantism (including the denomination of “non-denominational” Protestants). Some are closer to the beliefs and structure of the Catholic Church and some are very far from Catholicism. Some Protestant denominations include Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Calvinists and Baptist. There are many more. The beliefs among them differ and sometimes greatly. Some have long standing traditions and some are so new that they don’t have much tradition. Many subscribe to Sola Fide (the idea of being saved by faith alone apart from works) but some don’t. Many believe in Sola Scriptura (Scripture is the sole rule of faith) but some do not. Some practice infant baptism and others don’t. Some are high church with incense and an organ and others are modern day style with rock music. There are many, many, many divisions and each has their own set of beliefs.
#2 Not all Protestants Are Faithful and Practicing Christians
That being said it’s also important to note that each persons faith is something that is between them and God. We should never try and judge the state of another persons salvation. It is not our business and we couldn’t make a sound judgement anyway. St. Paul says we can’t even judge ourselves! That’s not for us – it is for God. I am not saying we shouldn’t talk, debate, encourage and discourage. We can judge behavior – just not the state of a persons soul. The point though is that I don’t appreciate when someone says “If the Catholic Church is the true Church than why does my friend do bad stuff and not attend service on Sundays”? If we don’t want others to base our faith on the malpractice of some other obscure Catholic then we shouldn’t do the same. Protestantism isn’t true because Billy Graham may be a holy guy and it’s not false because Joe Shmoe is a terrible Christian. It should be evaluated on it’s own merit. I always separate the philosophy/Theology of Protestantism from Protestants.
#1 Many Protestants Are Faithful People
I go to lengths to ensure that I separate the philosophy/Theology of Protestantism from Protestants because I know of some really good and faithful Protestant Christians. I never want someone to feel like I am attacking them because they are Protestant. I argue/debate against the Theology – not the person – because the person can be living out their faith to the best of their current ability and current knowledge. How much they open their heart to truth is something only they can know. I don’t blame faithful Protestants who reject Catholicism when they have a false understanding of Catholicism. My mission is to educate others so that they are aware of the beauties and riches to be had in the Catholic faith. I truly believe that if a person truly understood Catholicism – I mean really and truly understood it – they would become Catholic. I believe that because I have spent a lot of time and effort in my search for Truth. I don’t expect that all others will have the same understanding as me and I don’t expect anyone else to base their faith on my assertions. Everyone has their own journey and I respect that. I am only here to offer my understanding and experience in the Catholic Church. I am not looking to convert anyone. I leave that to God. I love my Protestant brothers and sisters and hope that we can continue discussing these important matters in a respectful manner. My encouragement to Catholics is that we should take any and all opportunities to recognize a non-Catholic Christian who has a true and authentic love for Christ.
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