Parallels Between the ‘KJV-Only’ Movement and Radical Catholic Traditionalism

Parallels Between the ‘KJV-Only’ Movement and Radical Catholic Traditionalism August 16, 2019

I mentioned in many previous articles how I converted from cradle-Catholicism to Protestant Evangelicalism as a teenager. A guest preacher from a Christian summer camp who was instrumental in my dramatic conversion experience had given me a King James Version of the Bible. Upon receiving this gift, he had told me to read no other Bible but that one alone, and that I would come to understand why someday. Despite feeling confused, I accepted the gift as though no felony was committed; and I still have it on my shelf to this day. As I had kept in touch with the guest speaker from camp, I soon learned he strongly adhered to a fringe movement that believes the King James Version is the most authentic English translation of the Bible in existence.

My experiences with the King James Only movement

Two years later, I had found a weekly KJV-only Bible study through a friend from summer camp. So, to cure my curiosity, I began to attend regularly. These friends had told me the Catholic Bible has 7 additional books in the Old Testament (known by Protestants as the apocrypha) which had been apparently used to justify Purgatory as a means to reap money from the poor who prayed for their dead. While I had only read small portions of these books at the time, their arguments based upon their citation of Scripture such as missing verses and distorted translations in other English versions seemed legitimate enough to convince anyone who cares about biblical accuracy.

Admittedly, for a two-year span I blindly took their word rather than taking it upon myself to do the research. Aside having to sever ties with these former friends, what convinced me to abandon the KJV-only mindset was the logical fallacy of appealing to authority. This was usually evident in such phrases like,

“Any modern version of the Bible is tainted by traditions of man!”

“If it’s not in Medieval English, it’s no good!”

“You can’t have a sword without the handle!”
(The ‘sword’ referring to the Bible, and the ‘handle’ being their preferred translation)

“Burn all your other Bibles except the KJV!”

Oddly enough, some Evangelical friends have told me they had known people who would say, “If it was good enough for the Apostle Paul, it’s good enough for me!” Such a phrase implies a gross misunderstanding of Church history and ignorance of how the English language evolved over the centuries. If one were to compare modern English to Old English from over a thousand years ago, it appears to be a completely different language!

What also turned me off was how these particular KJV-onlyists constantly criticized papal authority while dodging the issue of King James’s supposed authority to give the green-light to translate the Holy Scriptures, let alone his questionable morality. Every dirty deed done by a supposedly infallible pope was dissected with all the gory details, but James’s abuse of power and sexual scandals were often nonchalantly brushed aside. The typical answer would be that God uses imperfect people to carry out His will — unless it’s the pope.

The cognitive dissonance of this anti-Catholic mindset is enough to break one’s jaw when it hits the floor.

After my return to Catholicism…

Years later, my disillusion with Evangelicalism as well as contemporary Christian worship made me long for a deeper, meaningful and more reverent form of worship — which inevitably led me to revert back to Catholicism. Though I am happy to back home, it wasn’t long before the honeymoon was over. Even though I had grown up attending Mass, I began to notice details that didn’t seem right based on what I had been reading from Catholic apologetics sources.

In the modern liturgy of the Mass known as the Novus Ordo, I learned that liturgical abuses had been further enabled since Vatican II. Whether it was how people handled the Eucharist, where the Tabernacle was placed, or if the music was too happy-clappy or irreverent, I eventually found it easy to nitpick all the things that could be done better. This led me to explore different parishes with different liturgical forms such as the Byzantine Divine Liturgy and the Traditional Latin Mass (also known as the Tridentine Liturgy or Extraordinary Form).

Attending The Traditional Latin Mass

Admittedly I have only gone to the Latin Mass a handful of times compared to how often I’ve been to the Byzantine Divine Liturgy. Both forms are absolutely beautiful and put Christ at the very epicenter of worship far more than any Evangelical service I had ever been to. Though the BDL was at a Ukrainian Catholic parish, I was also surprised to see the amount of cultural and racial diversity at the TLM (largely because I grew up attending a rural Novus Ordo parish in a French community).

I find myself consistently drawn to a more organic form of worship which is evident in the Byzantine Divine Liturgy and the Traditional Latin Mass, but that does not come without reservations. I have a tremendous amount of respect for my friends who identify as traditional Catholics, but it’s difficult to overlook certain individuals who embody the stereotypes of angry, radical reactionaries who hold everyone else in contempt. I especially see this in many Catholics who associate with or lean towards sedevacantism — a movement within Catholicism that believes the papal chair of St. Peter has been vacant since Vatican II in the 1960’s.

For the handful of times I’ve attended the only TLM parish in my city, I am happy to see the supposed pharisaical reputation does not appear to be the case there. Despite feeling intimidated upon my first visit, I’ve always felt welcome to worship and receive the Sacraments there. Though it’s hard to know what goes on beneath the surface when I’m only an occasional visitor from a different parish and liturgical tradition.

A precept of man and not God?

While I believe the Tridentine Liturgy is superior to the Novus Ordo in many ways, I’m concerned whether some of those who advocate for a return to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass may be doing it for personal vanity. Personally, I would argue the Traditional Catholics I know personally are self-aware enough to know they are putting God first through the TLM. I am also certain most trads are aware that Latin was not the official language of the Church until roughly the 4th century.

If it’s about pursuing worship authenticity in its earliest form, why not advocate for the Mass to be done in Aramaic instead of Latin? But if it’s about maintaining an organic tradition that has developed over the centuries of prayerful thought, discussion and theological debate, then advocating for the Tridentine Liturgy is incomparable to holding fast to a preferred Bible translation.

Tradition is the means, not the object of worship.

Granted that languages are ever-evolving over the years, I still see much value in the Novus Ordo. I don’t think I would have considered reverting back to Catholicism if the liturgy was strictly in Latin. I also think the caricatures of a typical Novus Ordo parish are overly exaggerated by rad-trads and do a great disservice to the parishes who actually treat their faith seriously, though this does not negate my concern for liturgical abuse. I think the Novus Ordo makes a good gateway for evangelizing to non-Catholic Christians who are searching for something far deeper than what their denominations offer them.

But like the KJV-only movement and its attachment to 17th-century English, I think it’s easy to develop a similar attachment to Latin.

A Cautionary Tale…

In the case of both the KJV-only Protestants and radical Catholic traditionalism, the biggest parallel I see is the temptation to take matters into one’s own hands. My former friends who hosted the weekly Bible study did not attend any church on Sundays because they believed they were all too ‘corrupt’ without the KJV. While radical Catholic traditionalists may have access to all the historical Church documents prior to Vatican II, I think having access to them is not the same as having the power to exercise authority with them. I fear the Reformation should be taken as a cautionary tale as for what radical Catholic traditionalism would lead to.

Though I want to pursue a relationship with Christ in it’s rawest, most authentic form, I can forsee the movement for the correct form interfering with the One for whom the form conforms to. My experiences with KJV-only Protestants have forced me to conclude it is a movement based on a misunderstood attachment to Shakespearean English. Ironically, it is nothing more than nostalgic idolatry and a precept of man rather than God.

As I find myself inclined more and more towards becoming a traditional Catholic, I would absolutely hate to see the revival of the Traditional Latin Mass become something eerily similar to the King James Only movement.

“The Lord said: Since this people draws near with words only and donors me with their lips alone, though their hearts are far from me, And fear of me has become mere precept of human teaching.” —Isaiah 29:13 NABRE

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