Nothing made me appreciate God’s call for church unity more than being Protestant. It was during my years of identifying as nondenominational that I came to appreciate many types of Christians. But this was also when I asked myself “Why is there division in the first place?”
As a result years later, I created this blog with hopes of showing that having different denominational names does matter, and this “diversity of doctrine” is at direct odds with the concept of a true Universal Church which can only exist through the efforts of the Holy Spirit, love, and our willingness to be obey God’s commands. That is not to say that every Christian community should look alike, but they should not have conflicting religious beliefs!
Even more importantly, Christians should desire to be united with all members of Christ body, not operating without connection with its other members. St. Paul warns us that the body cannot function properly unless all of its members are working TOGETHER. Sorry Christians, but our only job is not to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior and the spread 20 different versions of “the Gospel”. We are also called to live in obedience to God and unity with one another, which leads me back to the things I have learned from being Protestant.
1. An appreciation for the Bible. Nothing gets a Protestant going like the ideas born from the Protestant Reformation. Solo Scriptura is the motto of most denominations, and my Baptist schooling taught me immense reverence for the Word and a responsibly for knowing scripture.
What being Protestant did not teach me was that the Word is not subjected to EVERYONE’s interpretation. Sure it can have personal meaning to an individual, but the teachings on salvation are not up for multiple interpretations. Unfortunately, the existences of conflicting doctrines around salvation implies that it is. Some who believe in double predestination would argue that salvation and damnation was predetermined, while others only believe you receive salvation by a specific verbal prayer accepting Jesus to be your Lord and Savior. Still others would say it doesn’t count unless you get baptized (some very specific about the way you get baptized)….and the list goes on. Since these denominations do not believe in a hierarchical systems they have nothing to establish authority of their doctrine over others except for a claim that they are guided by the Holy Spirit and some powerful reformer that God sent them.Still some would say these petty argument do not matter, that one only needs to love and believe in Jesus. If I were being led to convert this would rise the significant question of “What is salvation?” I would wonder if the meaning was relative in a religion that was supposed to be offering me some absolute true.
Catholics taught me the necessity of Tradition and Apostolic authority in protecting the interpretation of the Bible and discernment of which interpretations guided by the Spirit. In the Bible, God calls people to specific roles, and to the Apostles and those they trained, he gave exclusive authority over His teaching (The New Testament). The Apostles did not just let the people interpret for themselves how things in the church would be carried out. While the Holy Spirit would give these people and understanding, the Apostles were the only ones with authority to preserve and interpret God’s Word. They policed the believers. Their letters were either praising or reprimanding converts on how well they were following the teachings and obeying God’s will. The Bible (Jesus’ teachings) are important, but are not the only authority Christians need to look to besides God. Believing in the authority of the Bible means that you also indirectly TRUST the authority of the men who compiled the teachings and the specific role the Holy Spirit played through them. This is a specific role still given to members of the church today, BUT NOT EVERY MEMBER. It is given to through Apostolic session which is overseen by the Holy See–one of the only church governance to acknowledge the continued authority of the Apostle calling to preserve truth. This does not mean that the Holy Spirit does not use other to correctly interpret; it just means that policing power can only lie within the governance that acknowledges that the office of the Apostles is still necessary and relevant as a source of authority. Even the Ark of the Covenant was not left without the protective forces of the high priest in the Old Covenant. Only pride gives us the idea that God calls everyone to their own understanding of the Word. No. The Holy Spirit helps us understand, and God calls a few to police the interpretations. We each have different roles, and not everyone should interpret as he pleases.
What I learned: The Bible is authoritative.
Extension of my knowledge: Solo Scriptura can only exist if God had not included man in the construction of the Bible (which He could have chosen to do as He did with Moses and the Ten Commandment Tablets). Therefore, the history of Christianity shows that The Bible AND the Apostolic session are authoritative under God’s New Covenant. This belief requires a strong faith–one in God and one in His will to work through specific roles he designated for member of His church. In this structure God calls up to have faith in Him and each other–the different members of his church body.
2. The importance of fellowship or what Catholics call communion. One thing that I enjoyed about being Protestant was the emphasis on community and experiencing life with other Christians. While Catholics do this as well, I particularly like the readiness of Protestants to pray for one another, ask for prayer, and form support groups for one another. I experienced my spiritual walk with other Christians on a daily basis. As a result, I was more open and built strong relationships with my Christian community. I was also always ready to talk things through and consult them for spiritual insight.
What I failed to learn was how to grow without relying on people.
While I learned that it was always important to have personal relationship with God, Catholics taught me the importance of internal transformation. Nothing was more frustrating than attending Mass and discovering that a lot of the work was left up to me. While prayers and liturgy were said in unison, the whole system of worship required the participation of my heart in mind in a way that seemed alien to me. I had to pay attention on my own without someone trying to engage me or entertain me with jokes and stories. I would have to will my heart and mind to worship and want the things of God. Though I still believe fellowship is important, I also realized how essential it is to have moments of Adoration and contemplation where I close off everyone and sit silently with God. The same joy I felt engaging in community was intensified when I placed myself in the presence of God just to adore and listen without my mind wondering or my heart concerned with other things. This type of discipline has also developed in me a desire for living righteously in a way that is counter cultural, denying myself so that I can better submit to God’s commands. Without this spiritual discipline and the Holy Spirit, I do not believe this type of growth could have occurred.
What I learned: Fellowship and communion with God’s community is important and fosters spiritual growth.
Extension of my knowledge: Internal discipline and time alone with God in Adoration and contemplation deepens growth in faith, the desire for righteousness, and love for God.
3. Courage to share my faith. While my experiences differ from others, there is no fear is entertaining faith based dialogue in the Bible Belt. While religion is said to be a taboo topic to talk about, being Protestant taught me the joy of not holding back. I agree that no one should force their faith on others, but I also believe Christians have the same free speech as everyone else. At some point we are all guilty of feeling the need to say things like “I will keep your family in my thoughts” instead of what we really thought, “I will be praying for you.” Often these changes have nothing to do with making the other person uncomfortable, but instead stems from a fear of being judged. This is pride, and I am going to assume that it offends God since pride is a sin. It is true not everyone thinks in this way, but for those of us who naturally desire to express ourselves in terms of faith, it is okay to glorify God in this way. I am no longer hesitant to share a blessing or thank God openly as that is often the way the good news was spread in the early church. What I find even more shocking, is that Christians often do not share their faith with each other as an encouragement or support! Almost everyone has an acquaintance that they know is Christian but never discuss their faith with. It may not be appropriate at all times, but if we are afraid to talk about Christ with each other and build brotherly love, how can we even began to show others His hope, grace, and mercy when we do not share our stories and spiritual journeys. Being Protestant taught me that is okay to say “Thank God” and “Have Blessed Day”. Most importantly, it taught me that is is okay to share my spiritual struggles with a friend or ask them how things are going at their church and in their spiritual life. It is okay to discuss God outside of Mass or Bible study. You can even invite friends to join you at Christian events.
What I did not learn is that different Christian philosophies influences how comfortable Christian feel expressing their faith.
In the United States, most Christians outside of the Bible Belt including most Catholics are not always open to sharing their faith and view their spirituality as personal. While not everyone is the same, what I have learned from Catholics is that more work could be done by parishioners to share their faith with others. Catholicism might be one of the most misinterpreted and misunderstood religions. This won’t change unless people are willing to lovingly enlighten others and open up about faith in their friendships. It might be good to explain why you walk around with ashes on your head on Ash Wednesday or what a scapular is if you are wearing one because we are all wondering (I’m just saying). These are small steps of sharing your faith. Sure people can research this own their own, but do not forget that you should be a walking reference. Restricting yourself to silence is self persecution. You are given freedom to express your faith is varying capacities. Do so.
What I learned: I have the freedom to express my faith with others.
Extension of my knowledge: We can work on embracing and exercising this freedom more.
Challenging you to be challenged by God.