Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Eight Ways in Which Protestants Distrust Tradition

And some of these have stronger Scriptural support than the previous eight which Protestants trusted. Here they are without further qualification (and I realize some Protestants may loosely concur with some version of these):

1. The Eucharist (that is - Transubstantiation)
2. Apostolic Succession
3. The Primacy of the bishop of Rome
4. Infallibility of the Church
5. Mariology

1. The fact that Peter was ever in Rome (yes I've heard this doubted by seminary professors)
2. The deutero-canonical books as part of the canon
3. The visibility of the Church (i.e. that you cannot redefine "Church" as "any group of believers who interpret the scriptures like me")


Anonymous said...


I had actually posted a comment yesterday to an entry you had posted a week or more ago. It was pertaining to "The Decline in the American Church" I believe. I had also asked a few questions in the comment post as well. I ask you these things because I am at a point of confusion with all of this "religion vs. relationship" stuff, the one true church, baptism, the Eucharist, and much more. I was raised in a Catholic home, attended Mass every Sunday, I was baptized as a newborn, etc., etc., etc., with the Sacraments. At the present time though just really struggling with "what is true"! I asked you about preachers such as Andy Stanley and Louie Giglio. Perhaps you can go back to that entry and take a look at my questions. I have been a quiet "lurker" of your blog for some time now, I respect your opinion, so if you could help answer some questions I would greatly appreciate it.

I know this is not the type of comment you usually receive here on your blog, so if you don't want to answer back that is fine. Perhaps some of your other readers may even have answers for me. Again you can find my questions under that other entry I had mentioned.



Phil Snider said...

I think the problem here isn't that Protestants don't agree with these, but that they disagree with the Catholic take on them. This is why I'm a little cautious about talking about Scriptural support because I'm more than willing to agree about the passages, but I don't agree that they can only be understood as proving the Catholic position. Usually, something is missing. Let me demonstrate.

The Eucharist
If we're talking about Real Prescence, I would say, absolutely this is true (knowing many Protestants, especially Calvinists) would disagree). However, I would deny that transubstantiation is the only way to understand the Eucharist and that Scripture only supports this understanding. I don't want to dismiss it, but the explanation of how the Eucarhist works is not necessarily explicit in Scripture. The fact that Jesus is present in it, that is supported.

Apostolic Succession
Well, as an Anglican, I should make the historic claim of apostolic succession, but, then, a Roman Catholic would note that I'm a schismatic, so, not point in getting into that one.

However, many Protestants would claim what is important isn't the physical succession of apostle to bishop to bishop, but that the apostolic testimony passes from generation to generation, largely through Scripture, but, for those tradition minded Prots like me, in the tradition as well.

Primacy of the bishop of Rome
For myself, this is a question of degree. I'm more than ready to say that the Bishop of Rome is an important voice in the church who should be consulted in important eccesiastical and theological issues. What I would protest against is that he is the final authority. That would be an ecumenical council (if we could call one).

Infallibility of the Church
Well, yes, eventually, but, then, I'd take up Augustine's image of the 'mixed' church--sinners and saints mingled. That means that error can occur in the Church in the here and now, but it will get it right in the end.

Yes, Mary is important and she is a very important example of faith and obedience. She is also the first of the saints and the theotokos. That makes her an incredibly important example to all the faithful and, if we acted like here, we could hardly do better. So, we're agreed on her importance, I think.

What Protestants have a problem with is the idea of her as mediatrix. If Jesus claimed to be our sole Advocate, what are we doing putting a middle-woman in between us and him? Further, I can't see that Scripture helps you here because Jesus was known to dismiss even his mother, if she was getting in the way of what he was trying to do.

Peter in Rome;
Scripture, I don't think, helps you here, but, personally, I think he probably was because later tradition suggests he was. I don't know anyone's salvation is hanging on it.

Again, this is one of these no-one's-salvation-is-hanging-off-it questions. Roman Catholics accept these because the Vulgate, following the Septuagint includes them. Fair enough, they are helpful books, but it should cause pause that the Jews themselves question them. Of course, they do tend to read conveniently for Christians, so this could explain the the Jewish tendency to reject them. As you can tell, I'm not really invested in this one.

Visibility of the Church.
Well, my eccesiology is sufficiently Catholic, you know I'm not going to disagree with you here. I think you are caricaturing the position a bit. Still, I don't find it helpful because it makes the Church rather too abstract and ignores the Church Militant on earth. This is why I think Augustine is right about the 'mixed church' idea.

I hope that is helpful in demonstrating what I mean by saying that the problem with many of these isn't the positions, but that it is the Roman Catholic reading of them.


Tim A. Troutman said...

Anon- thanks for the comments. I got your comments before I just havent had a chance to listen to those guys yet. I briefly looked at their website.

I think there's a lot of great preaching in evangelical / Protestant ecclesial communities don't get me wrong. In fact, pound for pound I'd say you're more likely to hear a better sermon in a Protestant ecclesial community (barring the techno-churches) than in a typical Novus Ordo Catholic Church.

Of course, if you go to an Eastern Catholic Church thats a different story (in my experience anyhow).

Anon - I will try to listen to those when I get a chance but just remember a few things about religion versus relationship.

Religion is God's invention not man's. God prescribed the exact rituals for the Israelites and He prescribed the liturgy through His earthly voice - the Church.

Of course, ultimately the relationship with God is paramount in our spiritual life but we ought not discount the liturgy.

I need to get back to work but if you have some specific questions or issues I'll be glad to discuss those - not that I'd be much help.

Phil .... I'll respond later.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Phil, it looks like were going to continue our perpetual discussion -

The point I'm trying to make is that many evangelicals say that don't accept Mariology etc... because it's based on tradition rather than Scripture whereas in reality, they trust Tradition just like we do only on other things. A run-of-the-mill Protestant will no sooner contradict the Nicean concept of the Trinity than he will John 3:16.

So it's really aimed at them - for someone like you, again it becomes a bit muddy since I think you admit that you do value Tradition to some degree.

So my point isn't really directed towards your camp.

On Transubstantiation vs. Eucharist - I think a proper understanding of Tradition and doctrinal refinement/development can only leave us saying that it is not anachronistic to speak of Transubstantiation in the early Church any more than it is to speak of the Trinity in post-Nicean language in the context of the first three centuries of Christianity.

St. Paul's version of the godhead would have been so radically different from anyone post-Nicea that it would have literally been unrecognizable.

On the other hand, while the earliest fathers don't explicitly spell out the doctrine of transubstantiation (as opposed to merely Real Presence that is) by the fifth century there can be no more debate.

But here's the point: the language of the early writers like Ignatius and Irenaeus on the Eucharist are much more compatible with the language of Ambrose - Cyprian and even Aquinas and later the council of Trent than the aforementioned example. That is, if we compared Transubstantiation as defined by Trent with Ignatius-Justin Martyr-Irenaeus (and the New Testament), we'll find more harmony and a smoother fit than if we compared the Nicean doctrine of the Trinity with the New Testament or the early fathers.

On the infallibility of the Church, I think you might not understand the Catholic doctrine on this issue. You bring up Augustine as if the Church taught that we don't have sinners mixed in with us and nothing could be further from the truth. What you have spelled out as your belief on the issue is almost exactly what the Catholic Church herself teaches and always has. See this post re: Ratzinger on that topic. You should also know that almost everything Augustine taught was adopted by the Church.

On Peter in Rome - you certainly couldn't make a very good case for it out of Scripture. But you could make a much better case for this than for the fact that he was crucified upside down out of Scripture (and Protestants accept that without second guessing). I'm juxtaposing the two. Don't you think it's a bit suspect that the average Protestant would at least place high doubt on the fact that Peter was ever in Rome while at the same time believing that he was crucified upside down on much slimmer evidence?

If Peter wasn't in Rome that means theres no such thing as pope. If there's no such thing as pope then I don't have to follow him. Don't you see how biased our historical view becomes? In fact, we have wide evidence for Peter being in Rome and dying there. It is particularly strong. We even have biblical passages that suggest it (not prove it of course).

At any rate, my point is that everyone needs to look at their views on tradition and see why it is that they reject it. They think they reject it because of lack of Scripture - in fact they reject it so they don't have to submit to the authority of the Catholic Church.

Kim said...

Tim, you make some very good points about how we Protestants view tradition. It truly is another example of the cafeteria style way of thinking that invades much of our theology. It's good to be called on it. I'm investigating the CC for myself and am finding, on the one hand, many answers to some confusing questions, and on the other hand, more confusion. But I trust God will work this out for me as I get more and more of the pieces to this puzzle in place.


Tim A. Troutman said...

Kim, thanks I'm glad it has been of some use.

The journey is not easy - intellectually or emotionally but keep praying is the best advice I can give. If you have specific areas of interest or questions about the faith - I'd be glad to offer any help I can.

Kim said...

I'm finding that to be true. But it seems God is leading me to many good Catholic blogs, such as your own, for help in working the confusing stuff out. I know there will come a day when I'll have to just accept things I may not have answers to, but by then I imagine there will be so much I agree with that it will come easy. I hope so, anyway! Prayer is definitely a must! And thanks for your help. Just do what God tells you to. He'll take care of the rest.

Phil Snider said...

Hi Tim;

I take your point that your comments are particularly aimed in my direction, yet I continue to answer them because it might be helpful to consider this view. I've always found that I learn more from thoughtful moderates than from the extremists anyways. So, in that spirit.

On transsubstantiation. Personally, I'm ont prepared to dismiss this out of hand, although I just don't think the Fathers were this specific and, thus, other Real Prescence arguments are equally valid, at least as far as understanding the patristic testimony. Still, I'm fully prepared to say that transsubstantiation may well be correct and that, while Roman Catholic doctrine has developed in the direction of this explanation ,there is no compelling reason to dismiss other Real Prescence understandings entirely. It is rather more important, in my mind, to see the Real Prescence than, necessarily, nail down how it works. It is, after all, a mystery.

That said, my own hesitation about transubstantiation rests in two areas. One, it has proven itself open to all kinds of abuses and mis-readings which encourage a magical understanding of the Eucharist which I think we all understand is problematic. This was the Reformer's issues with it, of course, nor was this entirely unfounded. Yet, I hasten to add that this magical understanding of the Eucharist is no more accepted by sound Roman Catholic theology and practice than by Protestants. I very carefully chose the terms abuse and mis-reading to describe this understanding. Yet, I worry about how transsubstantiation is understood in the pews. Mind you, I also worry about the understanding of the Trinity in the pews too. Potential misunderstandings are not reason to dismiss a concept, but it should be enough to make us watchful.

Second, I really to think that transsubstantiation does rather too good a job in explaining what is, after all, a mystery. I really don't think we understand how the Eucharist works and I think we would be in error to think we do, even with transsubstantiation. It doesn't bug me to admit that I don't get it, that, perhaps, God is doing something that no one understands. I don't think transsubstantiation necessarily kills the mystery, but I don't personally favour it as an explanation.

I take your point on the infallability of the Church, but I think we are rather closer than we both originally thought on the issues. I agree with you that, eventually, the Church will always get it right. Where we may disagree is the here and now. Historically, we have seen times when the Church is simply not getting it right for decades at a time. The Arian controversy is an excellent example: the entire East and good chunks of the West were semi-Arian. It took over fifty years of hard theological work, lobbying and out and out polemics to get the Church to accept the spirit of Nicaea. I think you'll acknowledge this.

What worries me about the Roman Catholic formulation is that it assumes that the Church at Rome is and will be infallable now and always. That hasn't historically been true, although it has been truer more often than any other place. Error can happen, but what we have faith that, ultimately, the Spirit will lead us. Does that narrow the gap a bit>

On the Peter and Rome thing, that is just annoying on the part of Protestants who reject it (I note most Anglicans I know don't have an issue with this). Agreed, the Scriptural case isn't perfect, but there is an old tradition on this, so why not accept it? Like I said earlier, no one has lost his salvation over this one, but the history is fair enough to accept the story.


Tim A. Troutman said...

Phil, I think we can end this one in near perfect agreement for the first time in a while!

Phil Snider said...


When are the Four Horsemen coming by? :)


Cow Bike Rider (alias, Chris Sagsveen) said...

"everyone needs to look at their views on tradition and see why it is that they reject it. They think they reject it because of lack of Scripture - in fact they reject it so they don't have to submit to the authority of the Catholic Church."

Good point


Anonymous said...

Wait Phil said that Historically the Church has not always been correct. I would like for him to point out an intance in which the Church as not been correct on either Morals or Doctrine.

Phil Snider said...


To be strictly accurate, I said that there were times when the church was wrong (i.e. the wrong doctrine was accepted in the world-wide church-either on compulsion or merely mass error), but that it got it right in the end.

As for examples, the classic one is the one I mentioned: the Arian controversy, when pretty much everyone except Athanasius and a few exiled Western bishops got it wrong for about forty years between c. 335ish to the 370s. That is what I'm talking about. The fact that the error was temporary doesn't change the fact of the error-which included a coerced Bishop of Rome or two.


George Weis said...

I indeed distrust tradition very much... I even beg issue with some that I was raised in! All should be questioned! Sorry Tim :) I just seek purity in everything. I want to boil it down to the essentials.


Tim A. Troutman said...

George - what makes you think that your exegesis of Scripture is purer than the apostolic tradition of the Church? Tradition is basically the democracy of the dead - we give the saints before us a vote in how to interpret the Scriptures instead of merely starting from scratch and doing it ourselves.

BTW, did you read the previous post on the subject? This was meant as a one-two punch and this post doesn't stand well on its own.

George Weis said...


I hear that and I raise you a...

BUT if we already start with an assumed position say transubstantiation, it can easily be read into their position. Since Transubstantiation wasn't officially stated until sometime in the 1300s how can we really be sure of that? It is important to note, that deviation can come very swiftly... just look at this country in 200 years... see how much it has changed... for the worse!

Anyway, I do say, let the dead have a voice... particularly the Patristic fellows, but even still, I would approach the subject with scrutiny.

My exposition doesn't matter. I am a nobody ;)

Love ya dude! I hope you don't feel I'm just playing ping pong!


Tim A. Troutman said...

You're right, the task should be handled with prayerful care and scrutiny. In fact it's a job far too important for you or I as individuals to handle and privately discern. This is a job for the Church.

Much like in Acts 15, the question was too big for an individual to decide from the Scriptures, even the Apostle Paul himself. That is why he had to go to the Church and specifically the college of bishops at Jerusalem headed by Saint Peter who pronounced authoritatively on the issue according to Scripture. We must follow that paradigm today.

On the Eucharist and Transubstantiation, I have written quite a bit on that - I have a tag for "Eucharist" on the side bar.