Understandably, Protestants try to find ways to demonstrate that the authority of the Catholic Church is illegitimate or that Catholic doctrines are somehow corrupt. The more Catholics they find who can’t refute an argument, the more effective that argument appears to be. Even after arguments have been refuted by knowledgeable Catholics, Protestants often keep using them. With a bit of homework, Catholics can prepare themselves to address persistent misconceptions.
A classic Protestant argument has popped up on my radar from three different sources lately, so I think it might be good to address it in a public way, in order to help my fellow Catholics.
The argument goes something like this: “Did you know that the Catholic version of the Ten Commandments is different? They re-arranged the numbers, taking out the second commandment and splitting the tenth commandment into two! Of course we can see past the scheme of these sneaky Catholics… by removing God’s clear commandment against making graven images, they can get away with worshiping their statues!”
Before we go any further, I need to clarify a few things. First of all, Catholics are strictly prohibited from worshiping/adoring anyone or anything other than God (this is serious stuff). Secondly, the definition of “worship” can be a debate in itself, and if it comes down to a Protestant insisting that a Catholic person is worshiping something involuntarily… well that dog just ain’t gonna hunt. Thirdly, although the “ten commandments” are referred to in Exodus 34:28, nowhere in the Bible are they assigned numbers. The numbering of the commandments is an extra-biblical matter settled (for Christians) by Church authority.
Right off the bat we can see that the Protestants are appealing to tradition in the way they number the commandments. But, setting that aside, let’s proceed…
There are two places in the Old Testament where we see the Commandments listed. First, let’s take a look at Exodus 20:3-17
3 you shall have no other gods before me.
4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13 You shall not murder.
14 You shall not commit adultery.
15 You shall not steal.
16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Protestants claim that verse 3 should be kept separate from 4-6, and that dividing verse 17 into separate references against coveting your neighbor’s wife and possessions is a stretch by Catholics in order to fill out the number of commandments to ten. However, let’s pause for a moment and consider a slightly awkward question…
Why are Protestants so determined to number wives in the same category as possessions, when Catholics are pointing out that it’s not necessary?
But it gets stickier from there. The case can biblically be made that verses 4-6 are a further clarification of the larger point made in verse 3, which is to not worship anything other than God (note also how verses 9-11 further clarify verse 8 regarding the Sabbath). There is good reason to not interpret words like “graven image” or “likeness” (depending on your translation) literalistically, because God instructed the people to make images, as seen in Exodus 25:18, Numbers 21:8-9, and 1 Kings 6:23-28. Finally, a blanket rejection of statues and images puts many Protestants in a tight spot, if their households contain photographs of loved ones or little statues in Nativity scenes during the Christmas season, or if they appreciate statues of historical figures.
You might still be thinking that dividing verse 17 into two distinct commandments (and ones apparently out of order, for that matter) is a bit of a stretch. That’s fair enough, and it brings us to the other list in the Old Testament of the Ten Commandments: Deuteronomy 5:6-21. This list is just as legitimate as the one found in Exodus 20, by the way. I encourage you to read it for yourself, but for the sake of brevity I’ll just quote verse 21:
21 Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife.
Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Here we can see two distinctly different commandments… the ones Catholics know to be the 9th and the 10th.
This was not a comprehensive examination of the subject, but hopefully enough explanation to be helpful.
For a much better explanation:
I’ve already shared significant portions of my journey from Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism in my posts Considering Catholicism, On the Road to Rome, and How Francis Chan Helped Me Become Catholic, however I also wanted to share a pivotal moment of my testimony that I haven’t shared on my blog before. By the time 2013 was winding down, I was facing some very real questions about my faith. Some questions had begun to nag me years before, such as why someone as intelligent as G.K. Chesterton could conclude that Rome was right. But others were more recent, such as how Catholics can point to Jesus’ clearly articulated words in John chapter six to explain Christ’s Body and Blood being present in the Eucharist (a.k.a. Communion or Lord’s Supper), while Evangelical Protestant explanations were falling short to say the least in saying our Lord’s words must surely be symbolic.
Facing the very real prospect of being convinced of the truth of Catholicism, but struggling with the unfamiliarity of it compared to my prior beliefs, I began looking for a way out of the spiritual conflict. Turns out, it’s easy to find a way out, especially when you’ve been raised in the fringe minority of Christianity that thrives in modern American culture. It’s easy to lose yourself in American culture whenever you get tired of theology (the study of God). I even found a song that I felt I could adopt as symbolizing my new determination to pursue only minimalist Christianity. “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd was how I felt and by determining to believe that God wanted nothing more from me than wholehearted simplicity, I decided to just read the Bible in a simple way, pray in a simple way, and serve others in a simple way, and Christianity didn’t need to be any more complicated than that. The admonitions of my relatives and friends seemed to echo the lyrics of the song:
“Boy, don’t you worry you’ll find yourself
Follow your heart and nothing else
And you can do this, oh baby, if you try
All that I want for you my son is to be satisfied
And be a simple kind of man
Oh, Be something you love and understand
Baby be a simple kind of man
Oh, won’t you do this for me son if you can?”
Trust me, if you drive down the road blasting songs like this with the windows down, it’s easy to forget about things like sacraments and ancient beliefs. But some things still rise above the noise:
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” -1 Cor. 10:16-17
I had a nagging suspicion that the little symbolic crackers that are passed out in Evangelical Protestant churches are not the body of Christ, even if I wished that it might be true, and if it wasn’t “a participation in the body of Christ”, was I even part of the body of Christ: His Church? Nonetheless, all of the Christians I grew up with and hung out with were all able to shrug it off as no big deal, and I was determined to do the same. Forget the Catholics and their evidence, they’re weird anyway! Perhaps the less I think about it, the better… Well, God had a patient way of working in my restless mind, and I should mention that even though I was growing weary of theology and wanted to live a simple life, I was also praying earnestly for God’s direction.
In the mean time, my wife and I decided to back away from Catholicism and we determined to make our Pentecostal church home work for us. We were sitting in a sparsely populated worship service at the Assemblies of God church one Sunday morning, and it was time for communion. I had been raised to take communion very seriously growing up, and I did, using it as a time of quiet reflection and bringing my sins before God. The pastor usually goes out of his way to remind everyone that it’s a symbol, even while hearkening back to Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. Even though I had been wrestling with the biblical, theological, and historical evidence put forth by the Catholics, I decided that I was just going to leave it in God’s hands and take my time figuring it all out… someday.
As we sat in what was nearly the center of the sanctuary waiting for the crackers and grape juice trays to make their way to us, it gradually dawned on me that the ushers had somehow missed us. I tried to think whether in all my years of attending Evangelical Protestant church services this had ever happened to me before… it never had as far as I could remember. How could they have missed us? I had determined that it would be fine to partake of this symbolic communion as I always had, but had God prevented it? A crazy thought… or was it? While the short communion time proceeded without me, I pondered the possibility that God was saying, “I am fine with you taking your time to work through the process of understanding the Catholic Church… but you know better than this.” My wife wasn’t as sure that God had intended to send a clear message, but she did find it strange at least that we were missed, especially since we had been wrestling with whether or not to continue the Evangelical Protestant version of communion in a symbolic way.
An usher came up to us after the service and was genuinely apologetic for having missed us. He didn’t realize it until after he had passed us by. I happily informed him that it was no problem at all. Little did he know how much God may have used him in that moment.
The journey was still long after that point, but it did seem to be the final clincher in the subject of symbolic communion. And knowing what I know now, it would probably be a sin for me to do something that I know to be a symbolic reinvention of what God intended to be a Sacrament, without the defense of unknowing sincerity. I know that people can quickly and easily disregard this story as coincidental (and even bring up instances of being missed in communion themselves), but I see this as being just the sort of thing that God would use to speak to a specific person in a specific way, and in a way that cannot be used as proof for anyone else. In and of itself, it is hardly evidence of anything, but as it was a tipping point for me (on top of a pile of evidence and prayers for God’s guidance), it might be helpful to others in a similar situation.
In closing, I’ve noticed that if there is one subject that even the most biblically-minded Evangelical Protestants like to avoid, it’s the subject of the Eucharist. Once the biblical evidence is honestly examined, you need to do some very creative footwork to justify that communion is a symbolic “ordinance” rather than a sacrament. After ruling out the churches of our upbringing, we still had to choose between the options that remained. For awhile, we tried out the local Episcopal church, and we would have gladly gone to an Anglican church (at the time) if one was nearby. Also, the Eastern Orthodox have some substantial arguments… but we knew we could never innocently go back to where we were before.
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” -1 Cor. 11:27
From here, I recommend this post:
In my transition from Evangelical Protestant to (Roman) Catholic, there was an orderly process of understanding that allowed me to slowly release my grip on the presuppositions and perks of Protestantism. The three steps I’ve outlined below are the foundation upon which Catholic understanding was established in my mind and heart:
- Truth is not relative. In other words, Jesus’ death on the cross does not mean whatever we want it to mean. If you want real Christianity, you need to venture outside the realm of preference. Important: misunderstanding Christ and His Church does not equal condemnation. However, every Christian should want to pursue the most accurate version of Christianity possible. Christians should desire the fullness of the faith. It seems rather dangerous to cling to a minimalist understanding of Christ and trust that God will look mercifully upon a refusal to look deeper. For too many people, it is simply convenient that Catholicism looks wrong to them, and an honest examination of Catholic beliefs is not on their to-do list. If someone is stuck at step 1, and they believe Christianity can be defined according to their preferences, then an explanation of Catholic doctrines can be a frustrating exercise.
- History matters. The accumulated knowledge of Christians throughout the centuries far surpasses my own knowledge. As someone with a degree in history I can vouch for the value of reading primary source material. Basically… if you want to better understand America, read the writings of the Founding Fathers. If you want to better understand Christianity, read the writings of the early Church Fathers. If nothing else, they offer some of the best possible commentary on Scripture that you can find. I began to really ponder how orthodox (authentic) Christian beliefs could be preserved against heresies through the centuries. The fact that heresies can be fueled by a misunderstanding of Scripture should be disconcerting to Protestants (of course an acknowledgment that heresy is bad should be part of step 1). Find a Protestant who cares about history, and you’ve got someone who can learn… and can grasp the need for apostolic succession and the value of Sacred Tradition.
- The Protestant concept of “Sola Scriptura” (“Scripture Alone” as the doctrinal authority for Christians) simply doesn’t work… nor is it biblically defendable. This was the death blow to my Protestant assumptions. Unity in the Body of Christ is important (again, step 1 is necessary), and Sola Scriptura causes tragic division among Christians. Sola Scriptura is not defined or demanded in Scripture itself. Perhaps even more importantly, there is no definitive scriptural way of knowing which books should be in the Bible, thereby creating uncertainty within the confines of Sola Scriptura about the reliability of the Bible’s contents.
Backed by history, and guided by the Church, Catholics are able to rely on Scripture with confidence and accuracy.
As a Protestant, I wholeheartedly embraced the first two steps in regard to secular subjects, but Catholics demonstrated how the principles could (and should) be applied to my faith as well. Also, it isn’t that I clung to the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura in opposition to the evidence… it’s just that I didn’t know any better. Finally, I was able to see that personal interpretation of Scripture is unreliable, and I began to seek solid answers to some tough questions. Watch for others like me, and be able to point them to the Church.
After the basic steps were covered, I was able to seriously consider what is perhaps the most important question I faced in my conversion process: the question of doctrinal/spiritual authority.
I think most Protestants never imagine that Sola Scriptura is wrong, and that is why they talk as though they are defending the Bible against the “men” or “traditions” of the Catholic Church. In reality they are defending their personal interpretation of the Bible against the Church that God has placed on this earth to guide all Christians. I had to learn that the Scriptures were intended to be part of the Church’s guidance and not our excuse to protest the Church’s guidance.
Protestants say that they don’t put their trust in men, so therefore they don’t trust the Catholic Church. They claim to be putting their trust in the Bible instead.
What if I said that I don’t put my trust in books, so why should I trust the Bible?
Of course I would be told that the Bible is not just an ordinary book. It is the exception to the rule and trustworthy because it is from God and protected by God. This is true.
That’s basically the explanation of the Catholic Church. It’s not an ordinary bunch of men, or simply a human institution. The Catholic Church is the exception to the rule, and trustworthy because it is from God and protected by God. This is a bold claim I know, but I only wish to point out that trusting the Church is no more of a stretch than trusting the Bible.
The Bible did not appear out of thin air. We trust that God equipped certain men to write the Scriptures, compile them, and preserve them through the centuries. Is it that much of a stretch to believe that God is using men to infallibly interpret the infallible Scriptures so that they were not written, compiled, and preserved only to be misunderstood? It has been necessary to protect orthodox Christianity against heresy since the beginning of the Church, sometimes with the necessity of calling a council.
Before you attempt to bypass the Catholic Church in your pursuit of God’s will, make sure that you are not attempting to bypass what God intends for you. A lifetime, even a long one, does not offer enough time for you to figure much out on your own. You and the Bible alone cannot get very deep. Real understanding comes from tapping into the accumulated centuries of the Catholic Church’s knowledge.
I don’t like to put my trust in men either. Therefore I hesitate to trust myself, or pastors that fulfill my own ideas of trustworthiness. I won’t put my trust in the writings of guys like Martin Luther, John Calvin, or Loraine Boettner. I also do not want to be part of a human institution like the Southern Baptist Convention. We all trust people to some extent. Make sure they’re qualified.
This short video goes a long way in explaining the central issue among Christians regarding Church authority.
Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love was basically a life-changing book for me. He challenged me in a powerful way to really live out the Christian life as though it is true (because we believe that it is, right?). Jesus really died for us, and this should be life-changing knowledge. If we are to truly follow Jesus, then eternity really matters more than enjoying this life. The all-powerful Creator loves us so much, and our love for Him and others should reflect this knowledge. But I read Crazy Love at a crazy time in my spiritual life, and as excited as I was to live the life that Francis described, he left me with more questions than answers. Eventually, further down the road, I found the answers in the Catholic Church.
Francis Chan motivated me in 3 overall ways that ultimately helped lead me to the Catholic Church (for which I am honestly grateful to him). I will briefly cover them in this post.
Christianity Takes Courage
“Jesus’s call to commitment is clear: He wants all or nothing. The thought of a person calling himself a ‘Christian’ without being a devoted follower of Christ is absurd.”-Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 85
Courage is an essential aspect of Christianity. Sacrificing, loving, and living with a reckless reliance upon God should be a normal aspect of life as a Christian. If you’re in your comfort zone, then you might not be on the right track. Obeying Christ in everything is not optional for Christians, even if it involves being poor so that others might have enough, or being ridiculed by people who don’t understand, or even giving your life for the faith.
Thanks in part to Francis Chan (and Dietrich Bonhoeffer), I really began to see how a true pursuit of the Christian life will naturally meet with opposition and hardship.
“He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” -Matthew 10:37-39
I wanted to take my motivation to live a real Christian life and use it to serve God with all my heart. But what would that look like? What sort of things should I be doing to live courageously for God every day? I had it in my mind that no cost was too great, but I wanted my service to be God’s will, and not just my own ideas… so I needed direction.
“Should you put your house on the market today and downsize? Maybe. Should you quit your job? Maybe. Or perhaps God wants you to work harder at your job and be His witness there. Does He want you to move to another city or another country? Maybe. Perhaps He wants you to stay put and open your eyes to the needs of your neighbors. Honestly, it’s hard enough for me to discern how to live my own life!” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 166
I began to get frustrated. How are Christians supposed to be living? Does anyone know?
“…I cannot say in this book, ‘Everyone is supposed to be a missionary’ or ‘You need to sell your car and start taking public transportation.’ What I can say is that you must learn to listen to and obey God, especially in a society where it’s easy and expected to do what is most comfortable.” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 168
I must learn to listen to God …how? Partially thanks to this book, I began to ponder what this really means. It didn’t help when I stepped back and began to see that there are thousands of denominations of Protestant churches with different ideas of what God is saying to us. I believe I did indeed learn how to listen to God enough for him to guide me to the Catholic Church, where people are not figuring out from scratch what it means to live a Christian life.
Take the Bible Seriously
Francis Chan had a great way of explaining how real Christians must study the Scriptures in a direct and painfully honest way, not allowing our preferences to explain the meaning. This means not skimming over verses that we don’t understand or don’t like. Courage must be applied when reading the Bible. I began to realize, however, that direction can not only be obtained from reading the Bible, but must also be obtained for reading the Bible.
Understanding and obeying instructions from the Bible is essential, but for the Protestant, this is subject to personal interpretation. Chan’s conclusion seems to be that the more extreme you are in your interpretation, the more likely you are to be correct.
Reading the Bible honestly is not enough. You must have it explained (Acts 8:30-31), or you will end up extremely frustrated (if you’re honest). The question is: who do you trust to explain it, especially when there are thousands of differing opinions? If you’re going out onto the mission field, you need to have concrete answers to people’s theological questions, not just your opinions about what you think the Bible means. I don’t assume that Francis Chan’s book was intended for deep theological instruction, but it would be nice to know that someone has straight answers.
“Pray. Then read the Bible for yourself. Put this book down and pick up your Bible. My prayer for you is that you’ll understand the Scriptures not as I see them, but as God intends them. I do not want true believers to doubt their salvation as they read this book. In the midst of our failed attempts at loving Jesus, His grace covers us.” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 87
How do we know we’re true believers? What does that mean?
One of Francis Chan’s motivating verses became the biggest example of my frustration:
“So then, none of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” –Luke 14:33 (NASB)
I have long believed that truth is not relative. I knew that it was up to me to discover what Jesus meant, and that I did not have the liberty to decide for myself what He meant. I wanted to be a real disciple even if everyone else was making excuses not to be, but what did Jesus mean when He said things like He did in that verse? How was I to understand it? Did anyone have definitive explanations?
I found that we don’t need a fresh look at the Bible. We need an infallible interpretation of the Bible. Otherwise we’re all walking around following our hearts like Disney princesses… or going crazy trying to find the actual truth and never being sure if we’ve found it.
I came to the conclusion at the end of it all that the only thing that really makes sense is if God placed something exactly like the Catholic Church on the earth to be the infallible interpreter of Scripture for the whole world. Otherwise it’s basically just relativism, and I didn’t want to live a life of courage and sacrifice for a Christianity of my own making. If God fits into a box of my assumptions and preferences, then chances are I’m not serving the real God.
“Not being able to understand God is frustrating, but it is ridiculous for us to think we have the right to limit God to something we are capable of comprehending.” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 33
We Have Work to Do
We’re here to love God and love other people. This means serving God on His terms, not our own, and serving others even at the expense of our own preferences and prosperity.
“So we can follow our own course while still calling ourselves followers of Christ? So we can join the Marines, so to speak, without having to do all the work?” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 85
“Lukewarm people say they love Jesus, and He is, indeed, a part of their lives. But only a part. They give Him a section of their time, their money, and their thoughts, but He isn’t allowed to control their lives.” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg 72
I knew that I wanted to offer my God-given strengths and abilities as part of the Body of Christ, His Church. I wanted to do whatever I could to help. But I was running into a similar problem that Francis Chan did…
“But I think we all feel deeply, even if we haven’t voiced it, that the church in many ways is not doing well.” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 22
“…I quickly found that the American church is a difficult place to fit in if you want to live out New Testament Christianity.” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 68
Thanks in part to Francis Chan, I could see that an Americanized Christianity was not original or likely to be correct, and fitting in too much can be an indicator that I wasn’t living the faith authentically. Yet I wanted to be giving my all as part of the Church. This was a quandary. All of the acceptable Protestant options that I tried seemed so inadequate if I wanted to be part of a biblical culture and a more ancient mindset.
I knew from experience that being on fire to make the necessary changes to a flawed system does not turn out well. Ideally, it would be better to find the system that isn’t flawed. And I was even open to the possibility that what might appear as flaws to me might actually be my own flawed criteria. Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church (Matt. 16:18), so I knew the Church still exists, but I also knew that it could not simply be a general unity of agreement between Christians about basic doctrines, because I could see so many disagreements even on fundamental issues. I also was not content to sit back and announce that my preferred interpretation of Scripture and Christian beliefs is right while everyone else’s is wrong, thereby insisting that my location is the location of the Church, like many people seem willing to do.
Biblically, Christians must be part of the Body of Christ, His Church. But what does His Church look like? Around the time I read this book, I had a couple of experiences where I could see plainly that the Evangelical Protestant concept of Church authority is hollow. Without universal authority in spiritual matters, how can you be the Church in possession of the Truth? The instruction we see in Matthew 18:17 to “…tell it to the Church…” seems to require a singular, authoritative Church, but where could this Church be found? Jesus prayed earnestly for His followers as recorded in John 17: 20-23: “…that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know…”
Francis Chan was onto something, but he was only scratching the surface of a much bigger picture. Christians must be part of a globally united Church that possesses the authority and unity of Truth. Then they can effectively reach the world with the message of God’s crazy love.
The Catholic (“universal”) Church has been there all this time (going on 2,000 years). Many of us have just preferred to ignore it so that we can do our own thing. But what if Christians really had courage and a commitment to truth like Francis Chan is encouraging us to have? Then it’s no longer about doing our own thing, is it?