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Everyone knows that at Hillsdale, the “Protestant-Catholic” debate will come up con­tin­u­ously. I see this as a good thing. Hillsdale is full of stu­dents who take their faith seri­ously, which means pre­senting reasons for believing it, and (hope­fully) sin­cerely con­sid­ering the reasons pre­sented by others. In the spirit of good, old-fash­ioned pot-stirring, then, and in an effort to further healthy and friendly dis­cussion of this question, I argue that truly catholic Chris­tians should leave the Church’s Roman denom­i­nation.

It is important to note what I am not arguing. First, I am not arguing that Roman Chris­tians are unsaved, or are bad Chris­tians, or any­thing like that. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ. It is, in fact, pre­cisely unwill­ingness to divide myself from any part of the real catholic (“uni­versal”) Church that leads me to con­clude that Chris­tians should avoid its Roman denom­i­nation.

Second, I am not arguing that other Chris­tians have nothing to learn from Rome. I have attended several tra­di­tional masses and they are glo­rious. The typical evan­gelical church has much to learn from this.

Finally, non-doc­trinal issues are not the only lessons Rome offers Protestant Chris­tians. It is per­fectly pos­sible to be a Protestant and believe that typ­i­cally Roman teachings are more accurate than typ­i­cally Protestant ones. After all, there is no Protestant mag­is­terium to forbid it. For example, though every­thing comes down to def­i­n­i­tions, I believe that Roman lan­guage about “reason, scripture, and other tra­dition” is more accurate than lan­guage of “sola scriptura.”  

There is, in fact, only one fun­da­mental issue in dispute between Roman and non-Roman Chris­tians: The Roman denom­i­nation claims to possess a teaching mag­is­terium with the authority to make infal­lible doc­trinal state­ments. If this is true, then the Roman church is in fact the true Church, and all Chris­tians ought to join it. If it is not true, then members of the Roman church should leave that denom­i­nation so long as it requires them to affirm this doc­trine.

The question then becomes: Can the Roman church defend its claim that an author­i­tative teaching mag­is­terium exists and that the Roman one is it? The answer is no. None of the argu­ments made in defense of this idea is sound.

The stereo­typical defense of the Roman mag­is­terium and the authority of the pope, orig­i­nates in  Matthew 16. Peter was the pre­em­inent apostle and the first pope, it is said, therefore, the pope has mag­is­terial teaching authority.

There are mul­tiple problems with this claim. It is cer­tainly true that Peter was the pre­em­inent apostle, but the important question is: In what sense was he pre­em­inent? He is given the keys to the kingdom, but the text defines this as the power to bind and loose, which is given to the other apostles just two chapters later. And to pred­icate the entire doc­trine of papal authority on the description of Peter as “this rock” would be eisegetical in the umpteenth degree. Even if some sort of super-apos­tolic teaching authority were vested in Peter, it still would not follow that that authority descends to whomever suc­ceeds him in one of the offices he filled (the bish­opric of Rome). There is no credible evi­dence for papal authority.

If the case for a Roman mag­is­terium is basi­cally nonex­istent, the evi­dence against it is strong. The mag­is­terium requires Roman Chris­tians to affirm numerous doc­trines that there is good reason to believe are false. The natural deduction is that its claim to teaching authority is false.

Con­sider Roman teachings about Mary. Members are required to believe that Mary always remained a virgin, con­trary to Matthew 1:25, which states fairly directly that she did not. They are required to believe that Mary was sinless. Again, scripture strongly dis­coun­te­nances this idea. Mary offers a sin offering; she refers to God as her savior; and, of course, “all have sinned.” Finally, Roman Chris­tians are required to believe that Mary did not die, but was bodily taken up into heaven. Once again there is little to no scrip­tural and tra­di­tional support for this idea. It was more or less forced on the church only in 1950 by papal decree.

As another example, con­sider tran­sub­stan­ti­ation: The Roman denom­i­nation claims the bread and wine of the Eucharist are lit­erally the body and blood of Christ. But the cases from scripture and tra­dition stand against this reading. John 6 indi­cates that Christ’s common metaphors “eat my flesh” and “drink my blood” mean coming to and believing in him. And in one of his sur­viving frag­ments the patristic bishop Ire­naeus describes the idea that the Eucharist “was actually flesh and blood” as an intol­erable accu­sation.  

Truly Catholic Chris­tians — those of us whose alle­giance is to the entire church across the nations and the ages, not a parochial fragment of it — are free to join any denom­i­nation that does not require us to affirm things that are false or do things that are wrong. Since the Roman denom­i­nation fails to meet those cri­teria, Chris­tians should avoid mem­bership in it until it allows members to question unsub­stan­tiated doc­trines and returns to catholic unity by ending its schism from the Eastern and Protestant churches.

Jonathan Ashbach is part of the Van Andel Graduate School of States­manship 

  • Timothy Dexter

    I would be inter­ested to hear more about the Ire­naeus quote cited above. I believe that I found it, and it context, it does not appear to verify the author’s point:

    “For when the Greeks, having arrested the slaves of Christian cat­e­chumens, then used force against them, in order to learn from them some secret thing [prac­tised] among Chris­tians, these slaves, having nothing to say that would meet the wishes of their tor­mentors, except that they had heard from their masters that the divine com­munion was the body and blood of Christ, and imag­ining that it was actually flesh and blood, gave their inquisitors answer to that effect. Then these latter, assuming such to be the case with regard to the prac­tices of Chris­tians, gave infor­mation regarding it to other Greeks, and sought to compel the martyrs Sanctus and Blandina to confess, under the influence of torture, [that the alle­gation was correct]. To these men Blandina replied very admirably in these words: How should those persons endure such [accu­sa­tions], who, for the sake of the practice [of piety], did not avail them­selves even of the flesh that was per­mitted [them to eat]?” Fragment 13.

    In fact, looking at Irenaeus’s non-frag­mentary writing, the insin­u­ation that Ire­naeus did not believe in the real presence is demon­strably false:

    “When, therefore, the mingled cup and the man­u­fac­tured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the sub­stance of our flesh is increased and sup­ported, how can they affirm that the flesh is inca­pable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which [flesh] is nour­ished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him?— even as the blessed Paul declares in his Epistle to the Eph­esians, that we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. Eph­esians 5:30 He does not speak these words of some spir­itual and invisible man, for a spirit has not bones nor flesh; Luke 24:39 but [he refers to] that dis­pen­sation [by which the Lord became] an actual man, con­sisting of flesh, and nerves, and bones — that [flesh] which is nour­ished by the cup which is His blood, and receives increase from the bread which is His body. And just as a cutting from the vine planted in the ground fruc­tifies in its season, or as a grain of wheat falling into the earth and becoming decom­posed, rises with man­ifold increase by the Spirit of God, who con­tains all things, and then, through the wisdom of God, serves for the use of men, and having received the Word of God, becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ; so also our bodies, being nour­ished by it, and deposited in the earth, and suf­fering decom­po­sition there, shall rise at their appointed time, the Word of God granting them res­ur­rection to the glory of God, even the Father, who freely gives to this mortal immor­tality, and to this cor­ruptible incor­ruption, 1 Corinthians 15:53 because the strength of God is made perfect in weakness, 2 Corinthians 12:3 in order that we may never become puffed up, as if we had life from our­selves, and exalted against God, our minds becoming ungrateful; but learning by expe­rience that we possess eternal duration from the excelling power of this Being, not from our own nature, we may neither under­value that glory which sur­rounds God as He is, nor be ignorant of our own nature, but that we may know what God can effect, and what ben­efits man receives, and thus never wander from the true com­pre­hension of things as they are, that is, both with regard to God and with regard to man. And might it not be the case, perhaps, as I have already observed, that for this purpose God per­mitted our res­o­lution into the common dust of mor­tality, that we, being instructed by every mode, may be accurate in all things for the future, being ignorant neither of God nor of our­selves?” Against Heresies (Book V, Chapter 2.3)

    • Timothy Dexter

      In fact, it might be worth­while to look at other patristics, as well: http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/father/a5.html

      In fact, the quo­tation from Ignatius of Antioch might be par­tic­u­larly illus­trative of the Ire­naeus quo­tation of St. Blandina, which the author quotes:

      “Con­sider how con­trary to the mind of God are the het­erodox in regard to the grace of God which has come to us. They have no regard for charity, none for the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, none for the man in prison, the hungry or the thirsty. They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus
      Christ, the flesh which suf­fered for our sins and which the Father, in His gra­ciousness, raised from the dead.” (written between 80 – 110 A.D.).

      St. Blandina appears to be stating crit­i­cizing the “het­erodox” who refuse to receive the Eucharist on account of their unbelief.

  • Bwambale Basil

    Mr.Jonathan Ashbach the reasons you have given for not joining the Catholic Church are the very reasons why protes­tantism con­tinues to exist…, Luckily it’s not part of Roman Catholicism ten­dency to invite Protes­tants back to the Catholic Church. The Blessed Virgin Mary , the Papacy and the Eucharist are incom­pre­hen­sible issues to Protes­tants… We Catholics only pray that God reveals those truths to our Protestant brothers. it’s not aproblem to us that Protes­tants don’t believe what we believe … but I do request you Mr.Jonathan to take time and study all the available lit­er­ature about the issues you are con­testing or protesting to. There’s a great number of former Protes­tants including pastors that are today Roman Catholics.. You might want to contact them and compare notes because most of them studied their way into Roman Catholicism without any body’s invi­tation. I learnt that for many years there was a section of Protes­tants from the US and UK who per­sis­tently requested Rome to be admitted into full com­munion with Roman Catholicism and it’s Pope Benedict vi that finally per­mitted them .… I have heard of renowned Evan­gel­icals like Ben Hin speaking quite favorably of the Catholic Eucharist…, So take your time and study those issues you might by the grace of God appre­ciate them but remember Roman Catholicism doesn’t require your approval..neither do we require you to believe as we do…but we do respect you as a brother in Christ.

  • Bwambale Basil

    Mr.Bill you have labored to give meaning to Christ’s words of being “the Bread of life”.. you have also tried to faulter the Catholic Church on her take of the same. Your inter­pre­tation and indeed the under­standing of the protestant world of those words remain only at the physical realm. To me , your per­ception of Christ’s statement is similar to that of the pple that walked away from Jesus won­dering how Christ cld give them His flesh to eat. Under­standably You have dif­fi­culties in accepting and under­standing those words just like that crowd so you try and give those words your own meaning. You need to go in deep prayer and ask Jesus what He meant by giving us His Flesh to eat and His blood to drink. I thank God I was born Catholic and I haven’t been brought up in a com­munity of believers where indi­viduals are referred to or quoted for inter­preting Jesus’ words. Mr.Bill you are giving your own under­standing of scripture and that of others that thought like you ; what proofs do you have to assert that your thinking is what Christ meant ??? And that He didn’t mean what the Catholic Church teaches??? Catholic Church Doc­trine is not of any body but it’s the teaching of the church which she has received from Her master the Lord Jesus through the apostles to the early church fathers up to us today. It should be noted that the debate Mr.Bill and your ilk are putting forward isn’t new„, it’s the doc­trinal debate that partly gave birth to protes­tantism… I still repeat that those of you pple strug­gling to chal­lenge Catholic Church teaching unin­vited shld take time to study a little more the history and devel­opment of Catholic Doc­trine. Mr.Bill may you let me know your under­standing of what you Protes­tants call “Holy Com­munion”?. The Catholic Church has seven Sacra­ments with the Eucharist inclusive and being the heart of Catholicism. What you Mr.Bill and your friends try to do is to UNDO the basis of Catholicism but you should know that there’s alot you do not know about the sub­jects you are attempting to debate… the reason I urge you to give con­sid­erable time in studying the versed doc­u­ments or write ups available con­cerning your queries. Over the cen­turies Christ has per­formed a number of Eucharistic mir­acles to afirm the teaching of the Church„, Christ has appeared and spoken with many saints in the history of the Church to reaffirm Church teaching in all these areas you are ques­tioning and wrongly arguing. Mother Mary has appeared and still appears even in our time to reem­phasize what the church teaches. You might want to search about the ‘Devotion to the Pre­cious Blood of Jesus ’ , a recent message received from Jesus empha­sizing His presence in the EUCHARIST. The protestant church seems to be limited to their five physical senses in trying to under­stand scripture„, in vain and unin­vited they try to inval­idate Catholic teaching but they do not know that God is very alive in the Catholic Church and He guides His Church.. , Protes­tants can con­tinue to put forth many argu­ments against Catholic teaching but I can sure you that the gates of the under­world shall not Prevail over the Catholic Church. What the church teaches is what she has been entrusted with and what she pre­serves uncon­t­a­m­i­nated. It’s not about what your argument will advance or some body’s argument ‚it’s about what Jesus passed on to the apostles who passed it to the church fathers and handed down to us.. it’s in the protestant churches where your argu­ments determine the dif­ferent direc­tions of Doc­trine that protestant churches take , no wonder there are a million protestant churches with dif­ferent teachings on the same scrip­tures or even moral social matters„,that can’t happen in the Catholic Church. Catholic Church teaching is based on Sacred Scripture and Sacred tra­dition that are kept and handed on to gen­er­a­tions by the Mag­is­terium of the Church. Your argu­ments are Protestant and so you can’t imagine you can rightly elu­cidate Catholic Church Doc­trine… Your attempts to do so are utterly futile …, Take your time and study those topics as much as you can, God cld come to your aid and help you under­stand what you are laboring to negate. What we believe is what has been believed and prac­ticed since ever Christ Ascended. Your argu­ments started with the protestant reformers over 1500 years after Christ’s Ascension. For the Protestant churches to remain in exis­tence those argu­ments must be main­tained just like you are doing oth­erwise you become Catholic . What amuses me is that it’s always the protestant pple trying to explain Catholic teaching to whoever cares to listen „, I never find our clergy bothered with protestant teachings but so many Protestant pple including their Pastors have ended up being Roman Catholic in their struggle to debunk Catholicism.. May you try and do some study please , you will dis­cover a lot more.

  • Jen­nifer Melfi

    all that Protes­tantism does is free chris­tians from embar­rassing rela­tions to one of the worst sexual abuse scandals in the history of our nation.

    • Jen­nifer Melfi

      I should also add — and from embar­rassing opinions about the sup­posed inter­cessory powers of a man in rome who wears a silly hat.

      • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

        Hey, even the Pope wears a Yarmulke. 10 million Jewish believers worldwide-plus one Pope-can’t be wrong. Mazel Tov!

  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    Matthew 7:3 ’”Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?’

    The main thing is that you accept Jesus Christ as your savior and rec­ognize He gave his body and blood so that our sins could be washed away. If you believe that, you’ve grasped the most important concept. Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, doesn’t matter. Pick the denom­i­nation you are most com­fortable with and worship with your fellow believers.

    • Jen­nifer Melfi

      #false­doc­trine many lutherans would say that it is only faith — dic­tated by scripture that saves people from HELL. Catholics would say that you must accept the mass and be bap­tized as well. It’s all a load of BS.

      • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

        I agree there is WAY too much self-serving Church Dogma, but accepting Jesus Christ as your per­sonal savior is all you need to make it through the pearly gates. None of us can work our way there without doing that, there are not enough good deeds in the world do achieve sal­vation. Nothing wrong with doing them, though.