Monday, 30 April 2007

The Problem with Protestantism: an insider's view

I decided to publish this post in light of the blog war looming over chez Greg. As I member of a non-Conformist church, I am allowed to give such a rant. I would warn others, however, that I would disagree vehemently with those who take it much further than I do.

The problem is well stated by the Baptist Union's Declaration of Principle

'1) That our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, is the sole and absolute authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the Scriptures, and that each Church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and administer His laws'

My concerns

My problems with such a principle of religious self-determination run very deep indeed. I shall examine them below:

Those of you who frequently read this blog will notice a recurring theme here: relativism is one of my pet hates. Read my other post on Truth if you wish to see quite why. But this principle of 'liberty to interpret His laws' is very much part of the relativist affectation which rots our society from the core. Since we are working for the purposes of this post inside the grounds of the Christian Faith, we must accept relativism to be unacceptable. 'His laws' are very much a question of one truth only. Thus what we say these truths are are very important. There should not be room for dissent. Whilst we cannot force belief, we should at least acknowledge that God's law is absolute. Such a Declaration of principle does not do that.

Modern Issues
The problems are best illustrated when we take examples where the 'churches' differ.
  • The most controversial topics at the moment involve the qualifications required to join the Priesthood. The Church of Rome states that one must be male. The Church of England does not. Are female priests sacramentally valid? Being a conservative, I'd say that they're not. Would others agree?
  • Can a church re-marry a divorcee? The established churches rightly refuse to do so. This is perhaps a more clear cut example. "Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery". Doesn't really leave much wriggle-room. Yet my church - in interpreting God's Laws themselves - permits this. How?
  • We also seem to deny the Universality of Baptism. For those of you not versed in Church Doctrine, this means that all baptism is valid. Except our church encourages people baptised as infants 'to prayerfully consider [split infinitive] the New Testament teaching about baptism in the hope that they will follow our Lord's example in this matter'. But what the church ignores is that that self-same New Testament teaching states that baptism is a requirement for the forgiveness of sins. Without Baptism, there can be no salvation. that is the teaching. We imply by suggesting re-Baptism (what a concept!) that the first was not valid. If this is so, then according to 'our' beliefs, all Roman catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox Christians, Methodists, Presbyterians and all other infant-baptism supporting denominations are condemned to hell. Excuse me for questioning my church's leadership, but is this not a little ridiculous?

The solution

As I perceive it, the solution requires an absolute authority over the Church. Obviously, we have Christ at the head of the Church to fulfil that role in the greater scheme of things. But who is to say what Christ's rules are? That is the problem we started with. What we need is some lovely biblical evidence of Christ conveying upon a human His authority over the Universal Church - so that that human may officially state Christ's law, being shown the Truth by the Grace of God. Try this one:

"Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

These words of Christ to St. Peter are often quoted in defence of Papal Authority. St Peter - who led the Church for years in Rome until his crucifixion - was commissioned by Christ - above all of the other Apostles - to lead His Church. Some areas of it I'd like to highlight:

  • "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" - This means that either God will be bound by St. Peter's mistakes, or St. Peter will not make a mistake.
  • "this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven." - This solves the above question: God reveals His law and truth to St. Peter in order that it may be correctly taught to the Church, which rests upon the shoulders of St. Peter.

Thus, the only tiny leap of logic we need to be Papists is to accept that the Bishop of Rome bears the authority of St. Peter. Why do I believe this must be inevitable? Christ's church is eternal: thus Christ would not have instituted authority to last only some 33 years until St. Peter's death. No: it must be more long-lasting than that, or else Christ might have well just given us another long sermon instead. If we need a source of Petrine Authority, who else can we turn to but Rome?

That's the inevitable answer I painfully reached many months ago. It dragged me kicking and screaming - at first - into mainstream Catholic beliefs.

We cannot have relativism. Protestantism is a beautiful idea. But it simply will not work on Earth. We must have the Church led by someone. And someone who cannot err.

Let all follow the Bishop, as Jesus Christ follows His Father.

St Ignatius of Antioch, (107AD)


Gavin said...

If only everyone was so objective and academic as this, Phil, the world would be a much better place. Greg's blog war is getting very low-brow and working class.

Note: that last comment was a little tongue-in-cheek.

Francis said...

I'm very impressed by this piece Phil - it even goes as far as pushing me a little further towards the man-with-the-mitre. Your powers with logical argument are irrtatingly good, so I suppose you're heading towards the right line of work.

At the moment, I personally don't feel ready for this jouney of self-questioning that many seem to be going through. However, when I do get there, I'm becoming increasingly convinced that I may end up in the same place as the rest of you.

Gavin said...

Sort it out later, Francis. Much easier.

Francis said...

Well it shant be a problem now we've got the codeword sorted.