For the first ten or fifteen years after my reversion, my main apologetical interest was in debating and discussing with Protestants. These days, I rarely engage the Protestant/Catholic debate, and I focus more on the "culture wars" by debating secularists and atheists. Protestants are fellow Christians, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and the Church is very clear on that.
However, every so often, I revisit the issues that divide Protestants and Catholics because Truth matters, and because the Church is a stronger witness to the world when we are undivided. At the Last Supper, hours before His death, Jesus prayed that his followers all be one. Not some loosey-goosey "oneness of fellowship", but a Trinitarian oneness. True unity, no dissension, no separation.
So, there was this epic thread that took place on my Facebook page the other day, and while I very much encourage you to read through all 700+ comments (get some popcorn and settle in; it's that good!), I have excerpted for you here some comments from a woman named Renee Joy, who jumped into the discussion and unexpectedly "came out" as a Protestant-turning-Catholic! She had been researching and praying and pondering this move privately, but this was her first public statement!
Her insights and thoughts on this journey are truly compelling, and I think anyone on either side of the Protestant-Catholic divide will appreciate her intellect, sincerity, and deep faith. Please note, this is not a discussion about sin vs. sanctity (there are sinners and saints in both camps), rather, this is a discussion about doctrinal truth vs. doctrinal chaos.
Read the whole Facebook thread, here (it's public), and meanwhile, here's just a taste of what Renee Joy had to say (I've strung together several of her comments) as she primarily engaged a thoughtful Protestant named Allison.
After 38 years in the Protestant world -- growing up Southern Baptist, under the teachings of Adrian Rogers (and any good S.B. knows who that is), going to a Evangelical Christian school K-12 heavily dominated by Reformed Presbyterians and non-denominational Evangelicals and Southern Baptists in the heart of the Bible Belt, I was frustrated with "church" for many reasons.
A few years ago, I started meeting Catholics, and realizing, oh my goodness, they are not the cult I was taught, and hey, wait a minute -- they make a lot more sense than anything I've seen. If you've lived Protestant then you know that Protestants cannot agree on anything. Sola scriptura my big foot! That's the issue! Everyone interprets everything their own way, and it has led to a complete disaster.
There are more denominations and subsets of those denominations, than is even believable. Independent Baptists eschew the Southern Baptists, who of course teach that the Methodists and Presbys are completely off base, the Lutherans and Episocopalians are totally different, Church of Christ, Church of God, Assembly of God, COGIC, none of them agree on much of anything -- not the way they define the relationship of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, not on baptism, not on what is considered "necessary".
Predestination? Huge point of contention -- so much so that most Baptist churches say that it's just a mistranslation, yet the Presbys insist it's foundational. Some allow female preachers, teachers, elders. Some allow homosexual marriage. The majority are fine with artificial birth control even though we all know that it risks causing miscarriage. The divorce rate is astronomical. The churches tend to be either dominated by men (with women in a completely subservient mode with no opinions or purpose) or dominated by women, mostly single mothers with kids, or married women whose husbands stay home. The average family size is tiny -- and their belief of "prolife" really just translates to anti-abortion. They don't agree on the proper method or function of baptism (sprinkle? dunk? indoor dunk or lake?). Even all the Baptists don't agree with the other Baptists -- you have Southerns, Independents (which can be very conservative or far out there), and a ton of little offshoots.
I've seen more Southern Baptist churches split over the dumbest things: a fight about the new carpet color (blue or burgandy???), adultery with the pastor/secretary, fights about what version of the Bible to use (and don't get me started on the nonsense that is the "Message" or the many discrepancies in the various translations), even one split occurred over the replacement of a steeple. And don't get me started on "cultural relevance" -- the turning of most Protestant churches into semi-heathen pep rally environments mixed with rock concerts, where trashy, revealing clothes are the norm, and the focus is on having a good time, getting "pumped up for the Lord" -- on "experiences" and "feelings", not Truth, not discipleship, sacrificial living, ministry.
I'm not Catholic yet -- but the more I walk, the closer Rome looks on the horizon. The dissension in the Protestant churches, for me, stems from the fact that yes, they were based on "protesting"-- someone saying "I don't like this, I'm taking it out". And ever since then, that's what they've done. Each denomination, purging out the things they don't want/like/understand, until they're all practicing some mutilated version of pseudo-Christianity that leaves the congregants unsatisfied, unguided, and unhappy.
Sola scriptura, which clearly is not supported by Scripture itself, since it would mean that we could only use the Old Testament, has resulted in at least a dozen different translations of the "Bible" -- many vastly different than the others, and hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny "churches", each thinking they have it all right, none in agreement with others, and a lot of folks walking around saying "I'm saved" but having lives that look no different in functionality than the people walking around saying "I don't believe in anything except being good to fellow man."
The confusion that has arisen from everyone trying to interpret things their own way, has led to a disaster. And if Protestants truly believed that the Holy Spirit alone interpreted Scripture, and that church meetings were for fellowship (let us not forsake assembly), then there wouldn't be preachers sharing anecdotes and interpretations. There wouldn't be denominations.
And I will say, my husband and I were both raised very heavily in the Southern Baptist/Protestant world -- with my husband's family in the ministry in multiple generations, both of us raised in private Protestant schools, etc. There's a lot of false teaching that we've received over the years, about Catholicism, that we're having to research and refute, if that makes sense. But the more Church history we read, the more we confront the reality of what we see happening in Protestant churches (like the claims that Catholics are wrong for reciting prayers, despite the fact that Protestant churches not only recite the Lord's Prayer, but also typically have an altar call where people are led through a "Sinner's Prayer" to "get saved," etc.), the chaos and collapse of so many families, the blatant disregard for so much of Scripture that Protestants just can't reconcile with their particular denomination's beliefs and so they just ignore/discard it. The more my husband and I talk about it and put it out there, the more obvious the answers are.
And if you ever ask a Protestant, how, if they believe the Catholic Church was in error all those years, and that the Apostolic traditions are invalid, how the Protestant churches went from the New Testament housechurch pattern, to the set-up that exists today, which is often more like a corporation with tiered levels of authority, or conversely, is completely separate from all other churches, neither of which is true to New Testament teaching, they have no answer. If they truly believe that the Bible alone defines everything, then how do they reconcile those differences? If teaching stopped with the books in the New Testament, then how can it be correct to have what they have now? They have no answer.
I think two of the biggest issues were the "Romans Road" (i.e., Cliff Notes version of the Bible?) and the reality of what "salvation" was described as being in the Southern Baptist church, versus the reality of how that played out. For one, if all we really needed to understand salvation and Christianity was the handful of verses from Romans that most Protestant groups use to persuade people into joining their church, then why did God provide all the other books? Why is everything else necessary or important? You can't whittle away at it, taking away all the rest, pulling things out of context, and expect it to mean anything.
I think to be a Protestant, you have to be able to just say "it doesn't make sense but that's ok." I'm serious. There's so much you can't question -- or you're treated like an outcast. There's no consistency, no firm answers. It's all subjective. To be honest, I was talking about this earlier with another Catholic convert, and she pointed out that being Catholic isn't easy. In contrast, being Protestant is. Especially Southern Baptist. Once you've "prayed the prayer" and "gotten saved" (which are very important phrases), then you have your fire insurance. Anything you do, from then on, well, do your best but it's ok regardless. You can't get "unsaved" in that denomination. You're good to go. It's easy, in so many ways.
For years, I was taught that Catholics believed and taught things contradictory to Scripture. Purgatory, for instance. The respect they have for Mary, as another thing. In fact, there was a whole list of "violations." So, I started digging- not just to see if Catholics were right or wrong, but to see if the denomination I belonged to was also right or wrong. Because I grew up influenced by so many different "religions" (paternal grandfather, Southern Baptist; paternal grandmother, Methodist; maternal grandmother, Roman Catholic; maternal grandfather, Church of Christ. Went to a school taught by Reformed Presbyterians, non-denominational Evangelicals, and Southern Baptists. Went to Southern Baptist church. Nannied for a Jewish couple, worked a college job for a Sikh, had Muslim customers in Saudi Arabia and UAE, etc., and had a few Mormon friends. Worked in the inner city, where most worshipped at COGIC or Missionary Baptist denominations. You name it, I've heard it) -- I knew they could not all be correct. Someone has to be wrong. I don't want to be part of the ones that are wrong!
So here's the thing: I agree there are false teachers within the religious world. No doubt. That's obvious. The question is, who are they? So I started looking at that specifically -- across the board.
Presbyterians rely on Calvin, and to be honest, Scofield. I have a Scofield Bible on my nightstand, actually, and had used it for years. They set the standard and wrote the belief systems, pulling out the Scriptures they needed/liked to formulate what was "right" vs. "wrong." But who gave them that authority?
Most independent Baptist churches are pretty insistent on KJV. Why? I've even been in a church where I was carrying my Scofield NIV, and the church elders politely informed us that we couldn't read aloud in the Bible studies from the NIV, we had to use the KJV, and to help us "no longer be in error" then they had purchased us KJV's and left them in our pew. What gave them that authority?
None of the Protestant denominations agree foundationally on the majority of their religion. Even though they might say that "anyone who believes in the Trinity, in the fact that we are all sinners in need of a savior, and then confesses the name of Jesus Christ as Lord" is "saved," do they practice that? Is there unity between the churches? NO. Not at all. They are fundamentally different, and if you stay in any denomination for very long, you'll hear how/why they believe they have the "correct" interpretation of Scripture. The problem is, they seem to evolve with time, with this cultural relevancy concept. I cannot fathom how a church can believe that homosexuality is fine, acceptable to God, that gay marriage should be performed -- and yet, last year, the Presbyterian USA voted to allow it, it's up to the individual churches. Without a standard of interpretation and teaching to hold to -- that "tradition" that is mentioned in 2 Thess 3:6 -- this is what happens. Everyone comes up with his own thing, something that suits him. And the scary thing is, they all contradict.
Every Protestant denomination thinks they have it right. They can all cite Scripture to support their own doctrines, often pulling things out of context, or ignoring other Scripture that clearly adds to/supports/mitigates the tiny little bit they've decided to pull out and build a religion on -- like the importance of baptism, or the function of taking the Lord's Supper. Without the teaching from the apostles to round things out, to explain things, it's like looking at the framework of a house being built. You need the drywall, the shingles, the wiring, the plumbing, to make it a home. That's why we're not supposed to forsake gathering together. that's why we're supposed to not just go off on our own and read the Bible and think that's sufficient.
When I first posted on my Facebook wall over a year ago that I was frustrated beyond belief with the Protestants, I had no desire to become a Catholic. None. I was firmly convinced that the Pope might be the anti-Christ, as I had been taught from the pulpit, that they worshipped Mary, talked to dead people like witchcraft, etc etc etc. I had trouble reconciling that with the Catholics I knew, though, including my grandmother and the many Godly, faithful, peace-loving, kind, inclusive, "die to self and live for Christ" women I had met through Reece's Rainbow. I was looking for the "best" Protestant denomination to join. But over and over, people in various Protestant churches were commenting and PM'ing and emailing me to say they had the same struggles -- and over and over Catholics were saying "I think you're looking for us" and "I think you're Catholic and don't know it yet" haha.
I started studying not to become Catholic, but to disprove it, to find that fatal flaw that allowed me to cross them off my list as a viable option. But the more I dug, the more I learned and the more it made sense. I had to learn to separate what I had drilled in my head for years, decades really, by the teachers/preachers in my life, the code phrases that were programmed in -- the "compare everything to Scripture" (but not necessarily Scripture in context, but Scripture as interpreted and presented by the leadership of that denomination, hence the major debate over sprinkling vs dunking, predestination vs foreknowledge, etc). It all really does come down to the apostolic tradition, and the verses in the New Testament that refer to that being relevant. How we interpret anything is dependent on who is doing the interpreting and what criteria they use, what bias they have. The fact that the Catholic Church can trace the Popes all the way back, and the fact that Jesus renamed Peter and then in the same sentence said that on that rock He would build His Church, is huge. It was minimized in the Southern Baptist church, written off as a coincidence of naming -- but why would Jesus do that? Why would God want to confuse us? He's not the one that's the author of confusion! If He had wanted to rename Peter, He could have done that at any point, and not followed that with "and upon (the new name I just gave you that means Rock, i.e. foundation that is not sinking sand) I build My Church". When I realized that -- realized that it made more sense that Peter was named Rock because he would be the first Pope, just like Abraham was renamed to "Father of Multitude" because that was his role -- it started all making sense....
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." -- John 17: 20-23
Trinitarian unity of Christians is what God desires, and it's what Christ chose to pray for for in the precious hours before His agony. It cannot be minimized. God bless Renee and the countless others who have heeded Jesus' call to unity, so that the world may believe that He is Lord, sent by the Father.
Related post: Catholicism is objective, Protestantism is subjective