The Semi-Permeable Membrane of the Various Protestantisms

Elizabeth Scalia is bumping up against one of the standard ploys used in Protestantism for ignoring historic Christian teaching.

I described the sleight-of-hand several years ago:

Retention of Catholic Sacred Tradition fragments has kept Protestantism in such sanity as it still possesses. So when the Bible Answer Man appeals to “historic Christianity” in understanding what the Bible means, that’s typically a good thing. He’s appealing to Sacred Tradition and agreeing with the Church. It’s Eupocrisy in action!

However, in those places where Protestantism attempts to reject Catholic Sacred Tradition, the narrative suddenly and wrenchingly changes. Suddenly, the demand is made for nothing less than an explicit proof text from the Bible. It works like this:

  1. If a thing is condemned by the Church, but permitted by the Protestant (say, gay marriage) the demand is for an explicit text forbidding it (“Show me where Jesus said one word about not allowing gay marriage! That’s just the Church imposing its purely human ideas on what Jesus came to say.”).
  2. Conversely, if a thing is allowed by the Church but condemned by the Protestant, the demand is for an explicit text commanding it. So, for instance, we get demands like, “Where in the Bible do you find anyone asking us to pray to dead people? That’s just the Church imposing it’s purely human ideas on what Jesus came to say.”

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  • Modern Revert

    What I can’t abide are the endlessly circular arguments demanding to know where something or other *is* in the Bible.

    • ivan_the_mad

      Mark or somebody in his comboxes recently wrote or quoted (I know, go ivan’s memory) something like “Christians did not find their faith in the Bible; they found the Bible in their faith”. It’s pithy and true, and doesn’t suffer from the inconvenient fact that Christianity precedes the writing of the NT.

  • Steve Hardoin

    As a protestant fan of your blog I have learned to take your digs on Protestantism with a grain of salt. You are otherwise intelligent and well written. I don’t think this shows your best work though. There are some leaps of logic that I observed and I want to question if you believe you are being fair and honest on this one;

    My forthcoming rant may be null if I misunderstand your application of the word protestant. Perhaps you are not referring to the protestant faiths, but merely anyone who protests against the Catholic church?

    Protestant faiths do not reject the Catholic teaching condemning the notion of gay marriage. Oh sure there are fringes out there that like to think they are holding to core teachings while also accepting sin as sacred but I am sure you will agree the Catholics have their own rebels of similar nature. So using an obvious sin as your first example of protestants demanding scriptural proof is intellectually dishonest. It is a straw-man. A better example would be where the church condemns priests to marry. Now there you could make a realistic point of protestants demanding scriptural proof. Gay marriage was just a bad example for the point you were making. the red letters may not say anything explicit about homosexuality (arguably) but there is much said in all of the inspired word who IS Jesus (1 John).

    Your second point is also intellectually dishonest because it attributes the desire for scriptural proof on the wrong motive. It is not because there is a lack of scripture to defend the practice, there are many traditions born outside of scripture that are harmless and even potentially meaningful. The real issue with praying to the dead is that there appears a contrast with the practice, and scriptures that point our prayers directly to God. Now I am not trying to address the actual argument of praying to the dead here, only trying to point out that you minimize the legitimacy of the protestant condemnation by substituting the substantial argument with a silly one. It is poor writing in my opinion.

    You almost appear to believe that protestants might as well be lumped in with atheists because apart from the Catholic church, we are all equally lost. You attribute rebuttals to protestants that are normally expected from those who have no faith at all. Give us a little credit for having a rational and legitimate point, even if you disagree with us in the end. Please don’t insult our intelligence by suggesting we have no more thoughtful standing for our faith than those who worship the flying spaghetti monster.

    Other than that, I completely agree with you.

    • Dan F.

      I can’t speak for Mark but he was formerly Protestant and so was I so here is my take on your points:

      1.) The Church doesn’t condemn priests to marry. I think you meant to say that Protestants disagree with the Church’s long-standing discipline (not dogma) of priestly celibacy in the Roman (i.e. Western) Rite of the Catholic Church. However, that is not a dogma, so it is also a strawman (to borrow your phrase). A better example might be most Protestant sects allowing the use of contraceptives.

      2.) Your example begs the question of having scriptural proof in the first place (in this case because of “scriptures that point our prayers directly to God”).

      In both instances though, you have begged the question that the tradition/belief/practice must have some root in Scripture without justifying why that should be.

    • Cinlef

      There are Protestant churches that allow/sanction gay marriage

  • Alexander Anderson

    Where does it say you can attack Protestants on a blog in the Bible? It’s inventions like these that make me sure your faith is full of purely human tradition.

  • Tucker

    As a protestant fan of your blog I have learned to take your digs on Protestantism with a grain of salt.

    Yes, I arrived at the same opinion some time ago. Mark, you are thoughtful and kind; you have a spirit of gentleness that constantly humbles and inspires me; and in fact you are among several writers who occasionally make me consider whether the claims of Rome might be true. But the commenter above makes some great points that I quite agree with. Instead of making me want to swim the Tiber, you sometimes leave me wondering whether you really understand the faith that you left behind. In particular, as the commenter says: it is possible to respect tradition without believing the Roman Catholic Church’s claims in toto.

  • Tom R

    Funny, l count Stephen Colbert, as Catholic, like your Vice-President, who devel-… err, evolved in his doctrine to favour SSM (slightly) before your born-again fundamentalist bible-alone President did.
    Re Mark’s puzzlement at what he suspects is a bait-and-switch: when l was Catholic, it used to puzzle me too.
    The answer is that Protestants adopt, consciously or not, some version of what Presbyterians call the “regulative principle of worship.” Combined with the principle of “Christian liberty” they derive from St Paul, this products the following distinction:
    (1) In most areas of life, if the purpose of your action is benefit to humans, the guiding principle is natural reason subject to anything that is either clearly taught by the Bible (“even if you divorce [except for adultery], you can’t remarry”) or is deductible from it by “good and necessary deduction” (ie, polygamy US forbidden too, because it would bring about the same result – if a second marriage is forbidden even after divorcing [except for adultery], then a fortiori it is also forbidden if you don’t divorce first.)
    This, Protestants would say, is why the canon of inspired Apostolic writings closed half a century after the Ascension: the basic principles had all been laid down (indeed, Jesus seemed to think that His teaching on divorce/ remarriage was not some new revelation but an elaboration of what was already discoverable in Genesis by what Protestants call “due use of the ordinary means.”
    (2) By contrast, Protestants would say, when it comes to the question of how best to worship deity, natural reason alone don’t get us very far. The Trinity, for example, is not deducible from nature in the way that the Golden Rule is, and no sect that doesn’t canonise the Christian Bible (whether the classic edition or the director’s cut) has the doctrine.
    So for details about the deity (does He/ She/ It demand human sacrifices, or not?), we are largely dependent on supernatural revelation. Sure, natural reasoning can fill in the details and tease out the implications (eg, once it’s been revealed that God has a son, then Joseph Smith and Scott Hahn can deduce that He must also have a wife in His celestial household) but it must in all cases not only not contradict revelation, but also not range too far beyond it.
    So if, for example, Yahweh has for two millennia been telling prophets and apostles, “Yea, graven images are fully acceptable unto Me. For just as each captures a small part of the Divine Essence, if you fill your churches and temples with paintings and statues of Me, you will have an ever deeper understanding of My nature…” then any denomination that insisted on keeping its places of worship bare and adorned would be wasting its efforts. Even if its clerics wrote lengthy tracts explaining that, logically, any self-respecting deity should abominate graven images in worship. It would be like insisting that “all Americans like baseball” and insisting on giving World Series tickets as a birthday gift to someone who’s often said quite plainly that she has zero interest in that sport. (She might recognise your good intentions and accept the offering to spare your feelings.)
    So, Mark, one more anti-Protestant trope (are they ever “tired, old and stale,” or is that all and only anti-Catholic tropes?) you can discreetly retire. This particular distinction does rest on a difference, after all.