This article will examine the primary problems of Protestantism, absence of authority and contradictory teachings. Before jumping into these issues, however, I would like to briefly discuss the ordinary and extraordinary means of salvation. The ordinary means of salvation is nothing other than the means Christ gave us to be saved. By grace, we are justified through faith and baptism. From this very moment we are called to walk in faith and continue in our baptismal holiness, which includes love of God, good works and rejection of sin. The extraordinary means of salvation depends on invincible ignorance, which is ignorance that prevents one from knowing the truth. If one is vincibly (intentionally) ignorant about God’s plan of salvation, that person will be held accountable for refusing to seek the truth. Because we are made for truth, one must seek and apply the highest truths, truths about God, at all cost.
St. Paul provides us with a situation of this nature in Romans 2:14-16, which states, “When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law unto themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” In this passage, the Gentiles have not received the law, but the law is written on their hearts. They will be judged according to what they know and their consciences’ reactions to their knowledge and acts. Notice that Jesus is still the litmus test for their judgment: “God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” Therefore, all humanity will be judged according to the truths they know and whether their actions conform to these truths, which are ultimately found in Christ, who is Truth. In this passage, the Gentiles are invincibly ignorant of Jewish law, yet they do what is right according to the law they know.
Similarly, when those outside Christianity are invincibly ignorant of Jesus Christ, seek God and do what is right, there is a pathway to heaven for them. For Protestants who are invincibly ignorant of the Catholic Church’s originality, authority and teachings, yet seek Jesus and try to conform themselves to Him, they have a pathway to heaven also. Now, this does not mean the Catholic is free from the duty to evangelize. Rather, the Catholic is obligated by love to share the full truth of the Catholic Church with all humanity. For what kind of person knows such glorious truths and refuses to share them? Therefore, Catholics are held to a higher standard, the standard of complete truth given to the Church by its founder, Jesus Christ, and its continual Guide, the Holy Spirit.
Within this framework of truth, ignorance and responsibility, I will now proceed to the two aforementioned Protestant issues. First, as clearly articulated in Article 3, Jesus founded one Church and gave it his preeminent authority. No Protestant church was founded by Jesus and, therefore, no Protestant church has Jesus’ authority. This absence of authority clearly results in the inability to tell someone authoritatively that they must believe Protestant teachings. All Protestant churches deny papal infallibility, the charism that protects the pope from speaking erroneously when issuing official, universal teachings on matters of faith and morality. Yet, these same churches will command their members to believe their teachings. Essentially, they command without authority and make themselves hypocrites. The second Protestant problem is that of contradictory teachings.
When observing the spectrum of Protestant churches, one should notice something that is essential to their nature…division. Division within Protestantism is perpetuated through continual disagreements on scriptural interpretations. Almost immediately after Martin Luther rejected the Catholic Church and presented his own Bible interpretations, John Calvin rejected Martin Luther’s interpretations in preference for his own. Division after repeated division was and continues to be the hallmark of Protestantism. For example, some Protestant churches teach that baptism washes away sins, while other churches teach the opposite. Some churches teach a form of salvation known as once saved always saved, while others reject this doctrine. Some churches believe abortion is always immoral, while others teach that the morality of this abhorrent act is circumstantial. The same can be said about contraception, faith alone, the Bible alone and a host of other teachings in Protestantism. The issue here is that when one church teaches one thing and another church teaches the opposite, one of the churches is lying. Go back to the baptism example. Baptism cannot be both efficacious and inefficacious. Teaching this results in contradiction and, therefore, a lie.
Therefore, Protestantism, which includes all churches founded since A.D. 1517, is a kingdom divided against itself (Mk 3:24), and it cannot stand as a universal kingdom that proclaims the unadulterated truth of God. St. Paul warns us in Acts 20:30, “…from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciple after them.” Martin Luther, John Calvin, King Henry VIII and Ulrich Zwingli, the four early pillars of Protestantism, were Catholics who ultimately preached against the Catholic Church and drew disciples after them. St. Paul even gave us the remedy for such factious people in Titus 3:10, “As for a man who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is perverted and sinful; he is self-condemned.
Though Protestantism began with factious people who spoke perverse things, that does not mean all Protestants are guilty of this. Many Protestants have a true love of Christ and seek to become like him. Their love of God is genuine. I have a brother who has battled addiction and relatively recently found his way to Jesus Christ. His love for Him is unmistakable and he is excited to share this love with others. I am very proud of his progress and what he is doing to build up Christ’s kingdom. Though he is currently attending a “non-denominational” church, his hunger for truth is persistent and his desire to share it is strong. Unfortunately, he and many other Protestant Christians were born into and are influenced by a brand of Christianity resulting from divisions that began 500 years ago. This does not mean our Protestant brothers and sisters love God less than Catholics. It simply means that by knowing fewer truths about God, they cannot love God deeper than Catholics. One can only love to the extent that one knows. The more truths one knows about God, the more truths there are to love and the more one can fall in love with God. Essentially, we are called to love God by learning every truth about Him we can and conforming ourselves to them.
If you are reading this article and you have questions about the Catholic Church, please reach out via the “Ask a Question” tab at the top of this page. The last article of this series will discuss the problem with the Orthodox Churches. God bless you all!