“Catholic questions?” you ask. “Isn’t it our business to provide Catholic answers?”
Yes, but asking the right questions can engage people in actively thinking through the issues, the result being that they often see their prejudices more clearly and appreciate the truth they’ve “discovered” more deeply.
Of course, it’s extremely helpful to directly provide answers for those who are seeking the truth about the Catholic faith. However, when we feel assaulted by anti-Catholic accusations, rather than allowing ourselves and our Church to be put in the position of a criminal defendant (presumed guilty until proven innocent), it may be time to step out of the witness box and begin asking a few questions of our own. We do this not to be argumentative but simply to reveal some of the inconsistencies of Protestantism as well as the complete soundness of the Catholic faith.
In the first part of “Catholic Questions,” we began by using just such inquiries to show our Protestant friend that the early Christians didn’t actually rely on the “Bible alone” as their guide to truth but looked to the teaching of the apostles in the Church. But before he can accept the Catholic Church—and the Bible it uses—he’s bound to raise some objections.
Too Many Books in Our Bible?
Your Protestant friend tells you that you have seven extra books in your Bible. He accuses the Catholic Church of adding to Scripture—in effect, acting as though it is above the Word of God.
- Would you accept as your Old Testament Scripture the same books accepted by our Lord, the apostles, and the early Church? (Of course, they didn’t call it the “Old Testament,” since there wasn’t yet a New Testament. But it was their Scripture, and corresponds to what is now called the Old Testament.)
- Did you know that Protestant and Catholic scholars agree that the first Christians used a version of the Old Testament called the Septuagint as their Scripture? It is also know as LXX. A respected Protestant Bible dictionary says this: “The early Christian church . . . took over the LXX as their Bible. Their use of it, to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, caused a change in the Jews’ attitude toward it. Soon after 100 A.D. the Jews completely gave up the LXX, and it became a Christian book. The Jews sponsored new translations of the OT [Old Testament].” (New International Bible Dictionary, based on the NIV, Douglas and Tenney, eds., Zondervan Publishing House, 917).
- As Christians, do you think we should follow the lead of the apostles and the early Church and continue to regard these same books as the Word of God? Or should we prefer a version later selected by certain—not all—Jews?
- If the Catholic Church continued to use the Septuagint as their Old Testament, would you say that’s wrong? The Catholic Church has done just that, right to this day.
- Would you be surprised to learn that the 1611 version of the King James Bible (a Protestant Bible) contained all the books of the Septuagint, even those seven later deleted from Protestant Bibles? In fact, there was an ordinance at that time that anyone who printed the King James Bible without those seven books should be imprisoned for a year (E. Goodspeed, The Story of the Apocrypha, University of Chicago Press, 136).
- So, if this was the Scripture of Christian believers for well over 1,500 years, what could justify altering it? Who would presume to remove books from the Bible? Isn’t that showing a lack of respect for the Word of God?
- I know you love Scripture. Wouldn’t you feel cheated if there were more books in the Bible than you had been told?
- At the very least, don’t you think it’s unfair to accuse the Catholic Church of adding books to the Bible since they’re using the same Old Testament Scripture which was used from the very earliest days of the Christianity?
- Isn’t it more accurate to say that, due to the Protestant Reformation, books were deleted from Scripture? That Protestant Bibles are, in fact, missing books that had been accepted in the canon of Scripture?
- We saw in our last discussion (part one) that the Catholic Church was the instrument used by the Holy Spirit to clarify and define the canon of Scripture. How, then, can we justify disregarding the Church’s decisions on the content of Old Testament Scripture? If it was right about the New Testament, how can we say it’s wrong about the Old? Doesn’t that bring the whole canon of Scripture into question, leaving it open to any challenge?
- Maybe an ingrained suspicion of the Catholic Church makes it hard to accept these truths. But it might help if you ask yourself this question: “Why should I be afraid to accept as my Old Testament the same books that the apostles accepted as Scripture?”
The Catholic Church has been unfairly accused of adding books to the Bible. Historically, we can see this is false, since the Catholic Church accepts as Scripture the same Old Testament canon as did the apostles and the early Church. Later, Protestant churches chose to publish a different version of the Old Testament in their Bibles—one with seven books of the original canon missing.
One reason given for the deletion of these books was that they were not included in a particular version of a Hebrew Old Testament, the implication being we should give preference to this Hebrew version. As Christians we are to be led by the Holy Spirit and adhere to the Scripture used by the Spirit-led apostolic Church.
Can You Find the Church?
Talking about the “true Church,” i.e., the one started by Christ and founded upon the apostles, makes your Protestant friend uneasy. The “true” church, he says, does not have a visible structure. You can’t point to it. The true church consists of all true believers in Christ. It does not have unified leadership, teaching, or even worship.
- Jesus did say he was going to build his Church, didn’t he (Matt. 16:18)? Isn’t “the church” spoken of often in Scripture (e.g., Eph.3:10, 5:21–32; Col.1:24; 1 Tim 2: 15)?
- Then I guess our disagreement is not over the existence of the Church but over just what the Church is, right?
- While we can agree that Christians share a significant spiritual bond, do you think this “invisible” union is all Jesus had in mind when he spoke of his church?
- What about the time Jesus said if we have an unresolved grievance we should “tell it to the church” (Matt. 18: 17)? How’s that possible if the church is “invisible”? Didn’t his Church have to be something which could be found, and which had the authority to resolve disputes among its members? Notice, too, he said tell “the church”—only one.
- Do you agree that the Church of the New Testament is the true Church—the one divinely founded, ordered, and guided by Christ?
- If you wanted to join the New Testament Church, could you find it? Could you point out its leaders and learn its particular doctrines?
- Doesn’t the New Testament Church have a visible structure, with bishops, presbyters, and deacons?
- Do you think you would have been considered a member of the Church if you had followed different teachings and leaders not approved by the apostles, even though you professed belief in Christ?
- If the Church of Scripture was a visible body unified in government, teaching, and worship, what is your basis for defining the Church in another way? How can you be faithful to Scripture and deny that the Church Christ founded has a visible structure and unified doctrine?
- If you could belong to the New Testament Church, would you want to? To share not just a spiritual union but also the same leadership, doctrine, and worship with believers all over the world? Doesn’t that sound more like the unity Christ intended for us?
- Is it possible that you’ve settled for the idea of the Church as this partial spiritual union because, based on your experience, you believe that’s all that is possible?
- Sometimes people are bothered when Catholics say that Jesus has only one true Church, but how many churches did Jesus start?
The idea that the true Church is invisible and intangible contradicts the scriptural accounts of the Church both in form and in action. The “invisible church” is a partial picture of what Christ began and intended. Therefore, anyone who is satisfied with the notion of the Church being merely a disjointed spiritual union of believers is settling for something less than the Church divinely instituted and ordered by Christ. And, as a result, they interpret the word “church” as it appears in Scripture differently than intended by those who lived in the organized unified visible New Testament Church.
A Good Church Gone Bad?
After your discussion, your friend acknowledges that the New Testament Church had an external structure and unity but says it became corrupt and therefore no longer represented the true Church. He claims that people actually had to leave that structure behind to try to recapture the purity of the New Testament Church. Maybe the original Church was visible and structured, he says, but it’s a case of a good Church gone bad.
- I’m not saying I agree with your assertion, but assuming I did, let me ask you this: If the New Testament Church was the true Church—and it definitely had a visible structure with hierarchical authority—how can you possibly restore the authentic New Testament Church without restoring its original structure and authority?
- Isn’t it true, practically speaking, that most if not all Protestant churches have a structure and leadership? Do you consider any one of them the true Church, the original Church founded by Christ? So you have structure, but not the one founded by Christ? How do you ensure its purity?
- What happened to the original true Church, with its apostolic leadership and unified teaching? When do you claim it became “invisible”?
- Did you know that history shows that the New Testament Church didn’t disappear or deconstruct? Its apostolic leadership and teaching was handed on from generation to generation without missing a beat—in the Catholic Church. (That’s not really a statement of faith so much as a historical fact, attested to by honest historians of all faiths and of no faith: the Catholic Church is the Church Jesus started.)
- Isn’t saying his Church became corrupt the equivalent of saying the Holy Spirit failed, and Jesus couldn’t make good on his promise that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church (cf. Matt. 16:18)? Isn’t it a matter of faith in Christ to say that his Church would not fail?
- If, as you claim, the Church Jesus founded became corrupt, how can you have confidence in the churches founded by mere men? Are we saying that they can preserve the true faith and succeed were Jesus failed?
- When you say the Catholic Church became “corrupt” what exactly do you mean? That its members failed morally? That its teaching fell into error? Both?
- As for members of the Church not living as they should, that was true right from the beginning—remember Judas Iscariot? Would the faults of Jesus’ first followers have kept you from joining him? Did they make his Church “corrupt”?
- And which Protestant denomination has not had any moral failure among its members? Is it fair to judge Protestantism by those who fail to live up to its teachings? In the same way, those who fail to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church are examples of what it isn’t, not what it is.
- In fact, those who faithfully follow the teaching of the Church inevitably become holy men and women. What does that say about Catholicism?
- And on the subject of doctrine, have you ever compared what the apostles taught their followers as recorded in the early Church history with the teaching of the Catholic Church? If not, how can you say its teaching has fallen away from the ideal of the early Church?
- I don’t expect you to take my word for it, but what would you say if I told you that what the early Church taught fits perfectly with the doctrine of the Catholic Church? It was hard for me to believe at first, but any honest investigation will prove it’s so. Are you willing to look into it? Isn’t it a matter of simple justice and integrity not to make accusations before getting the facts?
- History shows that the original, divinely instituted structure of the Church still exists in the Catholic Church. And if your honest investigation reveals, as it surely will, that its teaching has remained consistent with that of the early Church, then the Church Jesus founded still exists and has not become “corrupt.” If this is so, how could any Christian prefer to belong to another church? Is it easier to believe the Church has failed than to consider the possibility of becoming Catholic?
Historically speaking, there’s no denying that the Church Christ founded and entrusted to the apostles still exists in the Catholic Church. To say that it became corrupt is to accuse Christ of failure and unfaithfulness. Claiming that the forces of the world have conquered Christ’s Church and that we—not Jesus, notice, we—had to start over in order to get it right exhibits both unbelief and arrogance.
In addition, the charge that the Catholic Church has deviated from the teaching of the early Church can easily be proven false by anyone who simply compares the two. It is a matter of taking the time to look into it with unprejudiced eyes. In fact, it will be discovered that many Protestant doctrines, including sola scriptura, are deviations from the foundational truths of the Christian faith.
Finally, if we throw out the Church because of the moral failures of some of its members, every Christian denomination could be discounted on the same grounds. Whatever human failings are found within the members of the Church, it remains the Bride of Christ. He will cleanse her until she is “without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing . . . holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5: 27), but he will never divorce her. How could anyone ever think he would?