All my internet friends are in the Church of Rome (for the most part), so when local Roman art sensation Owen Cyclops asked some questions on Twitter, I thought I might answer ’em. My official affiliation is the church of the Augsburg Confession, which is called “Lutheran” (among other churches that believe wildly different things, but are also called Lutheran), but I am a layman enthusiast and not a trained and authorized spokesman for my church, so take this with grain of salt.
I missed the granddaddy of the whole list, which I’m going to answer above the fold. The list itself, then, will be answered below the fold.
if youre christian, what convinced you to be the particular “branch” or “denomination” that you are? since ive “figured things out” ive been focusing more on my relationship with god than on this question, but im looking to take things a little further […]
I was brought up Baptist. Officially non-denominational, but as I learn more about the history of the church and its various factions, I find it was effectively Baptist. Which is the most American denomination, and I’m pretty solidly American by blood and culture, so it fits.
In college, I didn’t know what to do with my life, and so, like a moron, instead of dropping out of school before I got any debt and trying different things, I went to a non-denominational Christian school in hopes that the Holy Spirit would help sort me. While there, I got drafted into basically a local Dungeons and Dragons group that was 90% Christian. The DM was an argumentative Lutheran who would pick theological fights with my classmates.
I, myself, enjoy watching and commenting on debate, but I do not enjoy picking or defending a side. In my experience, every person on all sides of any debate has an instinct to Strawman like crazy, and I don’t see the point in talking to someone who is ideologically unable to hear the words coming out of my mouth. But sitting on the sidelines and saying, “no, I think you went too far there,” or, “oh, damn! That’s a good point,” is a useful learning technique for me.
And I learned that the Scriptures teach that Baptism saves and the bread and wine of communion are the body and blood of Christ.
At that time, I converted to the Lutheran church. I wasn’t happy about it, but they were right and I was wrong and that was that.
A few years later, though, I realized that both Rome and the Orthodox also teach this, and I hadn’t ever given them a fair shake. I began purchasing apologetics by all sides of this three-way argument.
The case between the Lutherans and the non Sola-Scriptura churches is fundamentally hard to analyze because they admit different standards of evidence. I was 70% Lutheran but 30% really undecided until very recently because of this. If a Baptist debates a Lutheran, you both have a single authority, the sacred Scriptures, to which your arguments are beholden, and you can work hard to reject the less Scriptural argument in favor of the more Scriptural argument. But when a Roman Catholic goes, “Your name is Peter and on this Rock, mic drop,” you’re in a bit of bind because by Rome’s standards of evidence, that really is a pretty good argument, but by Augsburg’s, it’s a ridiculously paltry one. When you judge which side has the better of that discussion, you are basically choosing who wins in advance.
And that’s not reason or logic. That’s raw prejudice. But the differential evidentiary standards necessitates it. All arguments between Rome and Augsburg are and, fundamentally, must be talking past each other.
All except one: Sola Scriptura itself. Since choosing the evidentiary standard effectively chooses the church, that became the topic of greatest concern to me.
(Well, not quite. If Sola Scriptura falls, I still have to pick between Rome and the East, and frankly, the East seems more likely to me, but there you are).
And that’s what I’ve been mulling over for the last couple of years. I’m now 90%/10% instead of 70%/30% on the Sola Scriptura topic. I’ve reached a point where my best option to settle it once and for all is to do a deep dive into Patristics, but I haven’t gone for that deep dive just yet. ‘Cuz Holy Cow, there’s drinking from the firehose!
And now for the original post:
1. if youre a type of protestant that doesnt think there needs to be some big organized church authority deciding things, how do you know basic things like what books belong in the bible? there are scriptures that could have been added to the bible or were removed, so…?
The Inspired Scripture breaks down as follows. The Old Testament is those books endorsed by Jesus. The Apocrypha are regarded as good books written by faithful members of the Church, but not inspired or inerrant, sort of on the level of the work of C.S. Lewis.
Our Bibles have historically included the apocrypha, but don’t usually in the English-speaking world because instead of producing our own Bibles, we’ve bought them from other Protestants.
The fundamental distinction of the New Testament is Apostolic Authority. We believe that magisterial inerrancy, which is a power Christ gave to the Apostles, and which Rome and the East believe persist within the church as a whole (in Rome’s case boiling down finally to the deciding vote cast by the Pope), died with the Apostles. Therefore, that authority only remains in their writings, and to records of their teachings by men who knew them personally.
Some of these writings are so certain that when the church as a whole debated the canon, there was a large swath of the New Testament that wasn’t even questioned. By anyone. We retain the books that were questioned, like James and Revelation, but insist they must be interpreted in light of the ones that weren’t, and that no doctrine may be held as binding on the conscience of the church unless it is found clearly taught in the writings that were universally recognized as Apostolic.
We do believe that the Church as an institution does have a certain magisterial authority. However, the authority is subject to the writings of the Apostles which, in every book except Philemon, command the layman to judge his teachers and to reject wolves in sheep’s clothing. Sola Scriptura does not mean Scripture is the only authority. It means Scripture is the only authority that cannot be contradicted by a higher authority. And we do look to church history and tradition as guidelines in its interpretation, on the principle of the farther back you go, the closer the interpreter is to the original context, and the better his arguments have been tested by the ages.
One minor annoyance I have when arguing with the RCC is that the RCC does claim to believe the Scriptures are authoritative. That is, Rome believes, as I believe, that what the book says is true and cannot be contradicted. Their distinction is that is not the only authority, that the Papacy has bonus lore that has additional context, and that the Magisterium, by which they ultimately mean the Pope, enjoys the same protection from error the Apostles enjoyed. (Not protection from all errors, but protection from officially teaching errantly).
But this shared ground, that the Scripture is True, is 80% of Sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura means the writings of Peter are θεοπνευστος and the writings of Franky the Hippy Pope may be true, but are not θεοπνευστος. The position of Rome is that that the writings of Peter are, and the writings of Franky may or may not be, depending on the circumstances, we’ll get back to you on that if it becomes important. Heck, the Papist even believes there is no higher authority which can contradict Scripture. His critique of my dogma is not that he get’s to override Scripture, it is that I, lacking the context he has, understand Scripture wrongly.
But the moment the topic comes up, the average Roman Apologist will declare that Sola Scriptura, more than half of which his church officially agrees with, is 100% wrong and stupid and anyone who believes it is a moron. And this tells me that he does not know or care what his opponent thinks, and is not actually in the argument at all.
And so I pass on this argument wherever I find it. If you neither ask nor know what I believe, your refutation of so-called my belief is irrelevant to me.
2. i dont really know by what means the orthodox church claims to be the “official” or “real” church. basically i feel like i still dont “get” their version of the story
I like the East, but obviously I’m not of them. If I open up speaking for my own church with a disclaimer that I’m an untrained layman, obviously I’m not going to speak for a church I’m not in at all.
3. if god wants us to do all this stuff that isnt in the bible, why isnt it in the bible?
We do a lot of stuff that isn’t commanded in Scripture, but Scripture pretty clearly gives churches a lot of freedom in how they run feasts and fasts and so on. There’s a big chunk about weighing various traditions and being fully convinced in your own mind in Romans. So, technically, when the Lutheran church maintains a liturgy based on the medieval Roman liturgy, which in turn is an evolution of what the church has been doing for as long as we have records of it, we can say it’s totally in Scripture because Romans straight up tells us to use whatever traditions seem Good and Right.
I would hold that the blue jeans and guitars and smoke machines services common to most of Protestantism are painfully suboptimal, but well within the freedom Scripture gives us in most respects. (Though I would militantly reject their anti-sacramental stance).
So that’s one list of things not commanded in Scripture explained. But what about rules?
Now, both Rome and Protestantism at large like to pile up bonus laws. For the Baptists, Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew, don’t go with girls who do. My church is constantly engaged in a low-key war between people who are trying to make absolutely sure we don’t pile up bonus laws like Rome, the East, and most of Protestantism, and those who are terrified of slipping into antinomianism.
I will say I think Rome gives out the Gospel better than the Baptists, which is kind of ironic since Trent anathematized the Gospel. But a Baptist who dances and plays cards has no clear path back to the light, whereas a Papist who has a steak on Friday in Lent can go to a priest and be absolved.
4. if there was a guy in the woods who really got on his knees and begged god to redeem his soul do you actually think god would withhold his grace and love and redemption because he wasnt part of the right church or because he didnt do the proper rituals and procedures?
Again, my answer has to make a bunch of assumptions because your question is imprecise. We believe the only way to salvation is Christ.
If Woody here is, say, an Orthodox Jew who believes Christ is in Hell, boiling in a vat of excrement, our response would be, well.. Christ judges souls. We don’t. Maybe Christ will decide he was wrong in good faith. But we strongly urge him to repent, be baptized, and believe, and we would expect that if he truly is one of Christ’s sheep, Christ would send someone to preach the gospel to him, rather than letting him persist in error and discounting that error on the Last Day.
If Woody here is, say, a member of the church of Rome, or the East, or the Baptist church, or the wacky charismaniacs, we’ll straight up say, yeah, he’s probably saved. All y’all are wrong and in some cases dangerously wrong, but you are still in Christ’s church.
Again, though. Christ is the judge. Not me.
5. theres a simple guy who works at a factory in alabama. am i supposed to believe god expects him to go online and do all this complex research on history and theology in order to figure out which church is the right one? his IQ is like 85 and he hasnt read a book in 35 years
No, we would not expect that. If he trusts in Christ for his salvation, Christ will save him. If his shepherds are false, Scripture says they will be held doubly accountable, and some scary stuff about millstones besides.
That said, the Scriptures do command the laity to judge the orthodoxy of the magisters. As I said, in every book of the New Testament except Philemon, you get some form of the “beware false teachers” schpiel.
Now, if your complaint is that the church should be one, so that our friend in Alabama need not fret his head over which church is right, I agree. The bishop of Rome should repent for claiming authority beyond his station and thus splitting the church into a million pieces not once, but twice.
It’s annoying to me that he can repent for persecuting Galileo, when he wasn’t really wrong in that instance, Galileo was kinda asking for it, but he can’t repent of this. But then, we’ll get to that.
6. (similar question) likewise, someone was born into a family that is devoutly part of a church organization that you think is incorrect. do you actually think theyre going to hell even if they love god because theyre not the kind of person that would ever question this?
I think I’ve already established that we believe a lot of churches that are deeply and dangerously wrong are still Christian and still heaven-bound. Moreover, I believe Christ knows His sheep, and will not lose a single man who is devoutly in the wrong church, even if they are straight up heretical sects like the Mormons or, I dunno, blood-worshipping Aztec pagans. Though, again, I would expect Him to collect His sheep from these situations by sending someone to preach the Word.
7. hurts me to ask this and i say this not as someone who is just doing the fedora atheist talking points, in the interest of questioning everyone equally, if youre catholic how do you “explain” all the bad stuff in the church hierarchy and church history? opulence, sex crime etc
Christ foretold that there would be false teachers in His church. You will not find a spotless hierarchy among the Orthobros or the Lutherans or the Baptists any more than among the Papists. If there is a wheat field with no tares in it, it’s not the field of Christ.
Or the secular priesthood of Science and Education, which actually tend to poast a lot more horny on main. But we’re not allowed to publicly recognize that the pagans are worse than us because they are members of the state religion, and it is verboten to question the state religion.
My church teaches that the office of the Papacy is the Man of Lawlessness foretold in Thessalonians, who sets himself up in the temple of God. But far from stopping the Roman Catholic Church from being the lion’s share of the Church Catholic, that actually confirms they are, indeed, the temple of God.
But not, as they claimed at Trent (and have, I am grateful to say, since rolled back without ever admitting they were wrong) the whole of the Church Catholic. Again, you guys are quick to repent of offending the pagans, but never get around to repenting of offending your brethren.
But of course, the Roman position is that you were never wrong, and your current position is exactly the same as your former position if only I think about it.