The Achilles Heel of Atheism and Protestantism
The Achilles Heel
The term is known to be the end-all topic of conversations, the deciding factor which leaves no room for further discussion on the total validity of any matter. When that Heel is found and crushed, the feet lose their strength and the body comes crashing down like timbers, leaving it alive, but ultimately defeated. Numerous topics have undergone the scrutiny of this device. I will use the Achilles Heel of Atheism as a brief example, and then discuss the Achilles Heel of Protestantism concerning its lack of submission to the Catholic Church, which is the focus of my paper.
These two topics, Atheism and Protestantism, have something innately errant within themselves, being of a self-contradictory nature. But understand I am not knocking the overarching validity of Christianity that is present in Protestantism, just the relationship it has to the Catholic Church. While reading this, understand that I have been on both sides of the argument -- now Catholic, but once always very much sure of my Protestantism. This paper most likely will be offending in some sense. I'm not trying to be outright rude, but I need to be clear in what is wrong.
Now, on to Atheism. Many people claim that God does not exist. It is an arrogant claim to say the least. Truth-seeking individuals on both sides of the argument have debated for centuries and millennia. Some refuse to accept this truth because they honestly do not see the evidence for a Creator. Others refuse to accept it because they do not want to have a Master above them. Still others simply do not care, which perhaps is the most unfortunate of all.
Scientists and theologians (presuming I can take the artistic license and classify them into two stereotypical groups) have adopted several methods for arguing the existence of a Creator. Some rely on the unlikelihood of evolution because of the enormously high improbability of the process occurring by random chance. It is a good argument, and in fact, a great one if we wish to prove the existence of a Creator. The opposing side, however, attempts to debunk the believers by addressing the problem of evil -- theodicy. How can evil exist in a world created and controlled by God?
There are several flaws with that argument in that atheists' reasons for evil's existence are based on fundamental presuppositions that are ultimately flawed. If they better understood the Biblical approach, perhaps they would not be so quick to present their ideology. But you will not find the Achilles Heel of atheism in evolution (though for all practical purposes it is very close), nor will you be able to prove the Creator does not exist by suggesting the presence of evil and suffering as the counter-argument. The answer lies before the beginning. It lies in what happened before the Big Bang occurred.
Science has never had to contradict the Holy, and now the creation has vindicated the Creator. Simply put, it all lies within the First Law of Thermodynamics. This states, along with common sense, that energy cannot be created nor destroyed. The key line in this is that "energy cannot be created." Hence, we are begged to ask the question where did all of this "stuff" come from? Where did that tiny sub-nucleic particle which exploded to make the Big Bang originate and how did it come to exist? It is scientifically impossible -- energy cannot be created. To put it in layman's terms, something cannot come from nothing.
Creation was step one, the beginning step of creation that atheists gloss over, fruitlessly believing that one day they will find the answers. However, while creation is step one, the scientists insist that we must argue step two (evolution) and then step three (theodicy), while entirely skipping the first step (creation). You cannot skip steps in a process like this in order to validate a proof. It is absurd and insulting to the intelligence of the open-minded. It's that simple. Everything we see, hear, feel, touch, and taste cannot have come from nothing. Hence, a Creator. While I do not have all of the answers to all of the questions, I do believe I have the Answer to the Question. Nature, by its very nature, is supernatural.
Regarding the defense of Protestantism, I know most of the arguments as I have supported most of them. I know the Catholic side as well, and was terribly bitter toward the Church for several years. This bitterness came for a couple reasons. One, I knew I was right and they were wrong. There was just no question. "I mean seriously…Catholicism? Please, you know what they teach; you have got to be kidding." Two, I loved Christ with all my heart and desired to serve him not just because I feared Hell and yearned for Heaven, but because He is God. Therefore, when I heard teachings that went against my interpretation of the Scriptures, God's love letter to us, I was furious, and spent hours and hours on tiny individual doctrines so that I could debunk them. I remember praying at times for "the truth." After a while, I became spiritually aware enough not to ask for "my truth" but for "the truth and the humility" to accept it wherever it would come from.
Good Lord, that was difficult. Taken together, I have never been so humbled in my life and it was utterly humiliating. I would actually cry in my shower, in my backyard, on my bed and in my car, earnestly praying for things to be clear for me in a heartbeat. But oh no, God has this way of making you journey. And thank the Lord He does.
Now, onto Protestantism. What is Protestantism and in what way am I arguing for its Achilles Heel? Protestantism is what its name implies -- a protesting of something, in this case, the Roman Catholic Church. I will address the focal point of my paper here so that it will be upfront and blatant, and then slowly make my way up to proving my point. The Achilles Heel to Protestantism deals with their acceptance of the NT canon -- the books that made it into the New Testament -- while denying the authority of such councils that finalized the often ambiguous determination of the canon. Since then, we have known which books are God's Chosen. There were several councils before Hippo and Carthage, yet Protestants do not profess to believe all that these teach, though they do submit to most. And there were councils after the canon was finalized, such as one most Protestants are familiar with, the Council of Trent to begin the Counter-Reformation. And of course there was Vatican II this last half century.
If you do not accept the canon, then this argument is not directed toward you. If you do accept it, then it is very much directed toward you. Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, "There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are thousands who hate what they think the Catholic Church is." I am wholly dumbfounded by the misconceptions people have of the Catholic faith. I cannot emphasize that enough; if I was able and if those reading this had enough patience, I would dedicate an entire paper to that subject in itself. That is how absurd it truly is. And saying it in one paragraph hardly does it justice, but I feel the utter necessity to state that fact and pray that you do not take this news lightly but realize there are probably many things you think you know, as I once did for many years, about the Catholic Church -- both teachings and history -- in which you are unfortunately, by little fault of your own, grossly misinformed.
Therefore, I realize that hypothetically speaking, even if the Holy Spirit manages to convince you that the Achilles Heel I will present is true, you may still be struggling with some of the other issues and wonder how Christianity can even exist with so many things "we know are wrong" in Catholicism. Mary, Purgatory, the Papacy, Eucharist (somehow this is not one of the top items despite the fact that it truly is the differing factor between Catholicism and Protestantism being the most Blessed and most important as it is Christ Himself) and the like may have you confused or more likely, disturbingly upset to the point of screaming. I remember all too well.
But as I said above, there are disgusting amounts of misconceptions, of which I will not cover here, but I would gladly console anyone who thinks these are false teachings. They were all decreed to be truth the same way the Bible was decreed to be truth. After all, the Bible did not decree itself, as some seem to claim. Most of the books of the NT canon, 20 of the 27, were well accepted by the majority of believers. It is the remaining seven books -- James, Hebrews, II and III John, II Peter (especially), Jude and Revelation -- which were debatable. And as if that were not enough, there were scattered churches in the first few centuries that accepted apocryphal books as authoritative -- The Didache, and The Shepherd of Hermas, I and II Clement, and The Gospel of Barnabas to name several. And then there were the nearly universally rejected books such as The Gospel of Thomas, and The Gospel of Peter among others.
The problem should be obvious by now. There needs to be someone telling them which books are authoritative and which ones were not, both within the debatable inspired seven and the debatable apocryphal books that people at one time accepted as part of Scripture. The decrees and decisions set by the Council of Hippo and the Council of Carthage were the deciding factors of the Christian Scriptures. The final list was submitted to the Bishop of Rome for approval and then became binding upon the whole Christian community once approved. The books were constant all throughout the centuries that did indeed include what Protestants call the Apocrypha.
The funny thing about these so-called "apocryphal" books of the Old Testament (also seven books) is that Luther took them out of the Bible with his idea of individual interpretation. No, you say! The Catholic Church put them in the Bible during this time, and Protestants have the true Scriptures! That is flawed history and propaganda at its best. Look at the decisions of the councils first, then look at the Bible of the Eastern Orthodox Church for proof. Well, why the Eastern Orthodox Church, what do they have to do with this? They split from the Church of the West (Rome) in the middle of the 11th century, 450 years before Luther. Contained inside their sacred Old Testament Scriptures are these Holy Canonical Books of God's Word, what Protestants call "apocryphal," or false. They were decreed to be God's Word the same way that the New Testament was decreed and existed that way for centuries until Luther essentially raped the Bible from the hands of the Catholic Church that gave it to him.
I do not use harsh words unjustly. This is very important and is of the absolute necessity for "Bible Christians" to know if they truly want to be "Bible Christians." Though I would argue that Catholics -- presuming they actually follow what the Church teaches about Scripture -- are the real "Bible Christians." Luther also was content to diminish the seven above-mentioned New Testament books, but thankfully, and to their credit, some of his more conservative reformers prevented him from removing them. But it needs to be said of Luther, that he was perhaps the most devoted to actually "reforming" the Catholic Church, as opposed to Calvin and Zwingli and the others.
In regards to the New Testament canon, in Lee Strobel's wonderful book, The Case for Christ, Bruce M. Metzger, speaks of the canon of Scripture, though he does so as if it were all predetermined. I will list a couple quotes and then discuss the thoughts of each:
When Strobel asked about the seven books that took longer to place into the canon, Metzger replied,
Now, understand that Strobel is not questioning Metzger about the authority of the Catholic Church. Therefore, we cannot assume that his answers would be the same if he was, but we can assume that they would be very similar since it deals with the same subject manner. Let's examine the first quote.
The problem lies within the fact that he is stating that the authority lies in the books alone, and not those who decide which books are Scripture. In truth, both the Scripture and the decision must be infallible, otherwise we are building our foundation on sand and not Rock. We can have all of the intuitive insight that man is able to possess, and use deliberate and careful analysis until the sun sets its last, but Christian people have been doing that for centuries with multiple goals -- not just determining Scripture, yet this determination of Scripture is accepted by all believers. And it seems that Metzger contradicts himself in the above statement because in one sense he declares that "we already knew before the pronouncement was made," and yet several moments later he says how careful the early church had to be. How careful? But I thought he said this was clearer than crystal? Evidently not.
And this is where I thought Protestantism would fail, and lo and behold, after the investigation I was right. Coincidence? I disagree. Protestantism, by its very nature, absolutely must place all authority in Scripture, because to have authority in man (albeit man led by the promise of the Holy Spirit) is to be…well…Catholic. Protestantism has no choice, whatsoever, so it inevitably must find ways to place all authority in Scripture. And history is all too clear at what chaos and divisions that produced (note Steve Ray's comment at the bottom of the paper).
But even so, who is doing the above insights and analyses into the Word of God? The answer is shockingly horrifying. They are just men. None of their works made it into the Bible; they are not inspired in that way. So why do people accept their decision? We accept it because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit the same way the councils are inspired by the Holy Spirit today. The authority comes from God, as do all things Holy. If we accept the determined Scripture as God's Word, then by Christ-God Himself I do hope and pray that we know who we are trusting and believe that their decision is infallible.
How in the world can people accept the council's decisions as not having authority? And on what authority do you believe the Bible as we have it today, is the true Word of God? The Bible itself certainly doesn't say so. Around and around we go, until we realize that the infallibility to discern such things was and is present in such Councils. Metzger is wrong, in fact our faith requires that he is wrong, otherwise we have no binding decision on which to base our faith in the Word of God. We could base it on other people's decisions such as those who accepted the apocryphal Gospels, like The Gospel of Barnabas -- but we do not. Why? Why accept the finalized council decision? We could accept the Mormon Bible on faith -- but we do not. We could accept on faith the individual interpretations of men in the early centuries on what is and what is not Scripture -- but we do not, for the last seven NT books anyway.
Rather, Christians today accept a decision by a group of Catholic men (and Catholic they were indeed, as by this time Rome was formally Christianized and the term "Catholic Church" was synonymous with the "Christian Church") who acted in the same way as Catholic Councils act today. It was a convening of bishops from various provinces, all watched under the authority of the Bishop of Rome, and then ratified by Rome. These councils are authoritative, they must be authoritative otherwise there is no definite Scripture. The Councils of Hippo, Carthage, Florence, and the Council of Trent in an attempt to nullify the so-called Reformation are all Councils, as was Vatican II this last century. Their decrees were decreed the same way the Bible was decreed. If you accept the Bible, by the same logic, and ultimately by the same faith, you must accept their decisions as God's will as the Bible came about the same way other decrees came about -- Purgatory, Mary, the seven Sacraments and so on.
On what authority do we accept the Bible as being written by inspired men? The Bible certainly does not say so for every book contained within because it simply was not in existence (in so far as all Scripture being known) until it was ratified. It was and is the Catholic Church that decrees, protects, and delivers the true Word of God and its meaning to the faithful.
You cannot understand Catholic theology looking through Protestant eyes. You cannot go into discussions or debates with certain presuppositions such as the "Bible alone" and not be willing to toss that out for at least a little while. There was no Bible in the early years, and if people wanted to argue "Scripture alone" back in the day before the canon, well then we would have a heck of a mess because there were a lot of fallible Scriptures back then. One could and would have pulled out 1 Clement or such a book and debated for hours because it was believed by some to be Scripture. Hence, the need for a council, as the Church has always done since Acts 15. It's just developed over time and remains the same Church then as today, as I was the same person at 2 years old as I am at 20 years old. Hence, the decision of the canon must be authoritative.
I do not want people to think that I am haughty and have all of the answers. I do not, nor would I pretend to. But there are just some things that we cannot fool ourselves with. All of the "official teachings" of the Magisterium must be God's Truth. Notice I say official teaching, and not the teachings of some parish or priest. There will always be those who sway. For instance, it is absolutely forbidden through official teaching to worship Mary or any other than God (latria which is the worship for the Trinity alone). Do some people do this? Of course, and that is why it is up to us to teach the truth and correct the errors -- not to start all over again and build the church up from ground zero again. That is already taken care of in the Catholic Church, and only by the grace and promises of God.
You can be a Christian and believer in almost any denomination. The Church even teaches that truth and accepts it. But the foundation of which you build your faith is what matters. And we all say, "We build it on Christ." I know that's the belief, but it's usually built on the idea that you are following his every teaching and truth, rather than truly believing the real truth in all things. I mean, just take a look at the different denominational doctrines -- they're either right or they're wrong. In my opinion there is no better place to worship God than in the Catholic Church, the bulwark of truth He established (1 Tim 3:15) and from which all truths -- the Bible, Traditions, and further revelations come from.
Christ is "my Lord and my God" (John 20:28) and I have found the inner room of my home within Him -- the Catholic Church. I have two final quotes. One from a man of antiquity and a church doctor, and another of recent times.
St. Augustine, in 397 AD, around the time of the canonization of the Bible, wrote:
Steve Ray, Catholic apologist, former Baptist, recently wrote:
If you accept the Bible, then this argument has been for your benefit to bring you a step closer to a fuller relationship with Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church. If you do not accept the Bible, then this argument is not directed toward you; but it is my fervent prayer that you connect with Christ Jesus and live that life of faith with Him for His eternal glory.
If I were to have read this several years ago, I probably would have been terribly upset, presuming I even got through it all in the first place. The typical Protestant argument is that the Bible came about through the decisions of uninspired men, not even through councils. Then God help us! is all I need to say about that. No, it was decreed as a whole complete set of Holy Books by the Roman Catholic Church in the 4th century.
The Bible is a Catholic book as far as publishing goes. They did not make the books inspired, but they were the ones who, through the unexplainable workings of the Holy Spirit, brought our Bible to us. The Church revealed the ambiguous to the inquisitive faithful. Let us read and worship with her. Amen.
Jonathan, Catholic by Grace
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