23 June 2011

Protestant Myths about the Catholic Church: A Taster

I wondered the other day whether somewhere out there in the world there's a Giant Bumper Book of Protestant Myths about the Catholic Church, annoyed as I was to see such respected Protestant preachers as John Stott and Don Carson perpetuating complete falsehoods about the Church, and someone soon told informed me that, in a sense, such a book exists. Roman Catholicism by Loraine Boettner, an American Presbyterian who worked for the Internal Revenue, was first published in 1962 and certainly looks like it fits the bill; while I doubt anyone I know has personally waded through Boettner's ranting, I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised if his ahistorical, unscriptural, and flat-out illogical claims have had indirect effects. Maybe people I know have read stuff or heard stuff by people who've heard what Boettner said, for instance, and who have passed on his gibberish on trust...

If you have a long spoon and fancy supping with the Devil, it seems you can read the whole thing here; I've had a glance, but am too busy to wallow in vitriol, bile, and hogwash. Still, if you want to waste your money you can squander it on Amazon.

With this in mind, I have a yen to write a series of short posts over the next couple of months -- an intermittent series, broken up by other things, as is my nature -- on Protestant Myths about the Catholic Church I've come across or been actively confronted with in the last few years. Offhand, I can think of about fifteen things I've stared or sighed upon hearing and then had to laboriously refute in conversations since moving to England. I'm sure if I thought harder I'd think of more, but just off the top of my head...
  1. The Catholic Church was not created by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century.
  2. Catholics do not worship Mary, and the Church doesn't say that they should.
  3. Catholics do not worship Saints and Relics, and the Church doesn't say that they should.
  4. Catholics do not worship Statues and Pictures, and the Church doesn't say that they should.
  5. Catholics do not only ever think of Jesus as being in the arms of Mary
  6. Catholics do not only ever think of Jesus as being on the cross, and the Church does not teach that Jesus is sacrificed every single time the Mass is said.
  7. Catholics do not believe the Pope is always right, and do not have to do whatever the Pope says.
  8. Catholics do not believe the Pope can overrule the Bible, and the Church does not teach that he can do so.
  9. Catholics do not believe we're saved by doing good works, and the Church doesn't teach that we are.
  10. Catholics do not believe they can be forgiven their sins if they put money into a box by a statue of St Peter in Rome, and the Church doesn't ever offer forgiveness for money.
  11. Catholics were not forbidden from reading the Bible in the Middle Ages, and translations of the Bible were not banned by the Church.
  12. The sixteenth-century Catholic Church did not add books to the Bible at the Council of Trent.
  13. The Catholic Church does not teach that only Christians can be married, or that Christians whose marriages weren't presided over by priests are living in sin.
  14. The Catholic Church does not teach that all non-Catholics will go to Hell.
  15. The Catholic Church does not teach that everybody will go to Heaven.
Three of these are historical points, but those aside, almost all of these, as far as I can see, come down to misunderstandings about terminology. A major part of the problem is that Catholics and Protestants use language differently, and so Protestants and Catholics can often agree completely on a subject while sounding as though they differ absolutely, purely due to how both groups use words. Protestants see Catholic practices or read things by Catholic writers, and often do so in a spirit of sincere curiosity, but misunderstand what they're looking at or reading, and make assumptions which are fundamentally wrong.This is why one of the first requirements of any honest debate is that terms should be defined; without properly defined terms, things get confused and the most well-meaning people wind up at loggerheads over things about which they essentially agree.

I'm not saying there aren't real differences between Catholics and Protestants. There are. They're just not the ones above.

Roger Olson had a good piece about a similar matter the other day, saying, in connection with debates between Arminian and Calvinist Protestants, but stressing that this applies to any honest discussions of any theology:
'We need to distinguish carefully between criticism and misrepresentation.  Fair criticism is valid; misrepresentation in order to criticize (straw man treatment) is invalid and should itself be criticized by everyone.'
So anyway, I reckon I'll give this a shot soon. Fifteen or so short* posts, spread out over a month or two, interspersed with witterings about work, life, drawing, cycling, books, films, and whatever. None of them will be apologetic, in the sense that they'll not be about proving 'why Catholics are right' or 'why Catholicism is Biblical' or anything like that. They'll just be about what Catholicism is, and what Catholicism most certainly isn't. Not just yet, though. I've something to finish first.

* No, really. That's the plan.


Jeannette said...

I am enjoying your posts. Fix # 12 on this one...

Terminology is so important. Often people are in such a rush to respond and debate that longer explanations such as "and by this term I mean," are left out.

I like your statement that the "riddles of God are more satisfying than the answers of man."

whistle on...

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

Thank you, and for pointing out the error on twelve, which I've fixed. I'll start into these soon.

I'm pretty sure that the line about the riddles of God is from Chesterton's essay on Job. It'd certainly make sense there.