Lately, I have been engaged in a variety of discussions in which both Roman Catholics and Protestants have been involved and I have noticed something very interesting. Protestants are very quick to reject what Catholics contribute, even on topics that are not related to Catholicism. In fact, I have observed a projection on the Catholic regarding their doctrine when their doctrine had nothing to do with the discussion. It is as if the Protestant is telling the Catholic they have nothing meaningful to contribute simply because of the doctrinal positions that they hold.
It is not lost no me why this happens since at one time, I too would be very quick to dismiss Catholics and Roman Catholicism, wholesale. The primary reason I believe is because Protestants have embraced a model of Christianity that leaves no room for practices ascribed by Catholicism. In fact, I think if you were to ask the average evangelical Protestant about Catholic faith and practice, you might get these kinds of responses
- they promote a works-based system of merit
- they have elevated the Pope to same status of Christ and scripture
- they engage in practices that are contradictory to scripture, such as prayer to others rather than GodThese were my responses at one time that demonstrated an ignorance of Catholic doctrine and its historical development. Taken at face value, it does seem that Catholic doctrine flies in the face of what we Protestants hold dear with respect to Soteriology and Ecclesiology. This includes
- Salvation is through grace alone, through faith alone, through Christ alone.
- Jesus Christ is our advocate and prayer is conducted to God through him; we don’t believe in praying to Mary or to others
- Jesus Christ and Scripture is the final authority for faith and practice, not the Pope.However, I have come to realize that what appears to be contradictory practices of Roman Catholicism must be examined in context of the historical development of the Catholic church and how their doctrine is sourced in a rich tradition of early church practice. It is only through this understanding, that I believe Protestants can be more accepting and understanding of Catholic doctrine and practice. Absent that understanding, we will always measure the practices of Catholicism against our own and deem them unorthodox at best and heretical, at worst.