The Protestant’s Dilemma: Divine Authority

 

This post is the first in a series of posts that I’m doing about a book called “The Protestant’s Dilemma: How the Reformation’s Shocking Consequences Point to the Truth of Catholicism,” written by Devin Rose (which can be purchased from Amazon here). (For an explanation, please read my page about it before finishing this post, if you haven’t already.) The first chapter is about Divine Authority.

The author doesn’t waste any time here: the very first sentence of the chapter says this:

If Protestantism is true, Christ revoked the authority that he gave to the Church when he founded it.

I don’t think there’s any doubt, either by Catholics or Protestants, that Christ gave authority to His 12 while he was still walking the earth 2,000 years ago, and by extention, His Church. But what there is disagreement on is whether or not the Catholic Church (as we know it today) still has that authority.

A few quotes from the chapter:

The vast majority of Protestants believe that the visible Church did in fact lose God’s authority at some point in time; that Christ revoked it when corruption entered into its teachings. Many fundamentalist Protestants believe that the date when the Church became corrupted and lost God’s divine authorization was the year 313, when Constantine proclaimed the Edict of Milan, which ended the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire and began (they say) the mixture of pagan corruption with the true gospel.

But Protestants in general are usually not so exact in their dating estimates, and instead claim that corruption entered into the Church somewhere between the second and sixth centuries. The dates vary according to when a particular Protestant, in studying the historical evidence, discovers a doctrine or practice of the Church that he belives is heretical.

(….)

No matter the particular date given for the corruption, it is common Protestant wisdom that by the fifteenth century, the Catholic Church had devolved in to such a disaster of human traditions and theological errors that the only solution was a clean break: to make clear the difference between the true Church of the Bible and the corrupted impostor.

So the basis of the Protestant belief that the Catholic Church no longer holds Divine authority is simply that God revoked that authority when the Church became corrupted. But yet, they have not universally agreed upon a date and instance of when and how exactly She became corrupted in the first place. From the year 313 to the 15th century is quite a big gap of possibilities there, isn’t it? So if they haven’t even agreed upon this, then how are they so sure that God revoked the authority that he gave Her? Moving on to the next quote:

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples: “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (10:16). Notice the direct line of authority: The Father sends the Son, and the Son sends the apostles with his authority, such that listening to them (and the men whom they in turn authorize) is equivalent to listening to Jesus and the Father.

(….)

Likewise, in order to make sense, the promises that Christ made to the Church must be understood as permanent; nowhere does Jesus say that at some point He would abandon His Church to let the gates of hell prevail against it (indeed He says the opposite) or that the authority He had given its leaders would be revoked.

Jesus said “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” – St Matthew 16:18, RSV-CE. (Some versions say “the gates of hell” rather than “powers of death”). For those who aren’t aware, Peter was the first Pope. You can trace the line of Popes all the way back to Peter, and the Popes are also known as the Successors of Peter. I don’t see how anyone could read that verse as anything other than Jesus basically announcing that the Catholic Church is the true Church. And if that is the case, and if He gave Divine authority to His Church, then how is it that the Catholic Church doesn’t have the same authority today? Another quote:

Since Christ established a visible Church in the first century and gave it rightful authority, the burden of proof falls on Protestants to demonstrate that He revoked this authority universally from the Church at some point in time. What event can they point to that caused Christ to take away His authority, and which Church leaders were involved in it? Where is the historical evidence for the claim? (….) The fact is, no event or even century can be pinpointed that can carry the wight of such a momentous claim, so the fall back is the idea that false teachings crept slowly into the Church and eventually tainted the gospel beyond recognition.

Seems like a tall order to me. I don’t have any idea of a particular time and place where this would’ve happened. Does anybody else? Next quote:

There is another problem with the Protestant version of events. Realizing the problematic nature of asserting that Christ’s Church became corrupted, most Protestants will fall back to the claim that the true Church remained pure but was simply invisible. We know from history, however, that Christ founded a visible Church, and the members of His Church were unified together as His mystical Body, of which He is the head. A body is both visible and alive; if you found a severed hand, a foot, an arm, and a toe on the ground, you would not say, “here is a body,” but rather, “here are parts that were severed from a body.”

Why is this part so important? Because if there is no visible Church that still has authority, but rather, the authority now belongs to the scattered individuals in the invisible true church, then how can anyone be excommunicated if they are found to be heretics? Mr. Rose goes on to say this:

If the true Church is invisible, it becomes impossible to determine who has authority to excommunicate another. Christ directed the apostles on how and when to excommunicate someone from the Church (see Matt. 18:17), but what does this mean when the Church is invisible and spread out across numerous denominations? A Christian “excommunicated” from one church just goes to another down the street, both a part of the “invisible Church,” rendering these Biblical passages meaningless. Being excommunicated from the Church makes sense only if the Church is a visible unity that one can be cut off from.

This only covers a portion of the arguments that Mr. Rose makes in this one chapter alone; there’s so much more that I had to leave out. I highly recommend that you get and read the book for yourself.

Now, let the (friendly!) games begin…

 

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34 thoughts on “The Protestant’s Dilemma: Divine Authority

  1. To take this a step further, there is a book that was written at the beginning of the 20th Century called The Facts About Luther written by Patrick F. O’ Hare. I have gotten all the way through it but the basic format it follows is he uses solely Protestant sources to show how Luther made it up as he went along.

    Regarding your post, I genuinely wonder how many Protestants know that one of their (correct me if I’m using the wrong word) tenants is that the Catholic Church lost its authority between the second and sixth centuries, often at 313 A.D. as you cited. I only bring this up because I assume many Protestants are cradle Protestants, as many Catholics are cradle Catholics and have done little research outside their formal education.

    Glad to see the new blog (though sad to see the old one go).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the recommendation! I’m gonna let my curiosity get the best of me and see if I can track that book down; it sounds fascinating…

      As for whether a lot of protestants really understand all of that, I don’t think a lot of them do. Or at least, not to the extent that the author might’ve. You actually touched on something here that I have had in mind to post about in the near future, so I’ll save the rest of what I have to say in response to what you said for later. 🙂

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  2. Oh, I’m liking this new blog. Excellent topic btw, and something I’ve wondered about divine authority. I’ve read some sources pointing out the Church began to lose authority by introducing Hellenistic ideas and beliefs, around the 3rd or 4th centuries. Is there proof to support this, especially relating to divine authority? The sources aren’t exactly reputable (bordering anti-Catholic).

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  3. I should probably mention that the questions I raised in the post are the kinds of questions that I mulled over when I read the book myself. I couldn’t come up with an answer to any of them, and I’ll be surprised if anyone else can come up with a **good** answer to any of them.

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  4. Yay for new blog! 🙂

    Cradle Prot here – nope, we don’t have teaching on this. We believe in the priesthood of the believer and the Church as the body of all believers. (Calvary Chapel, which is nondenominational evangelical – I know there are a lot of CC, but we’re not a denomination, honest. Grew up Baptist, would imagine it’s similar … there might be teaching at the collegiate level about this subject, but nowhere else).

    As long as I’m going to a church (small c) and serving there, I accept their authority to tell me how they want me to do those things that I do for them.

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    • Yeah, it’s pretty much as you described in a couple of Baptist churches that I’ve been to before. There’s not any formal teaching on church history (that I’ve seen). And that’s a problem.

      As for this:

      As long as I’m going to a church (small c) and serving there, I accept their authority to tell me how they want me to do those things that I do for them.

      I have to ask – what gives the Pastor there any authority to decide what you should do and believe, over the Pastor at a very different church up the street? When each individual church can differ vary greatly in even the most basic beliefs, how do you know that yours is right, and not one of the other thousands of denominations out there that are also thinking that their Pastor has that authority? A house divided cannot stand, after all.

      You don’t even have to answer that here if you don’t want to; I’m just trying to give you something to think about. There are so many things like this that I never thought of for years, and I just really wish someone would’ve challenged me on those a lot sooner.

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      • I agree that we should have a place to study more church history – perhaps not from the pulpit, but my church offers many classes (as do most large non-denom churches) and that could certainly be one of them.

        My pastor has zero authority to tell me what to do and believe, outside of what the Bible says – and general courtesy of “your house, your rules”. I am totally free to leave my particular church and seek somewhere else to learn and worship – and would do so, if I felt (or my husband felt) that my church was no longer offering the truth. Choosing a church home is serious business.

        How do we determine that? Reading Bible for ourselves, checking what’s said on the pulpit against the authority of Scripture. This is encouraged at my church, and the sermons are straight from the Bible. (We do verse-by-verse study, with *very* occasional topical studies).

        My pastor’s authority lies in the fact that he’s had more time to study the Word, has more resources, and that he has a pastoral gift of the Spirit. So I respect him positionally and intellectually.

        I feel that this reliance on the Word of God is the strength of Protestantism.

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  5. I was impressed with this book. But it’s probably not for everyone. Not so much a “story” of conversion, but rather a logical analysis of Christianity and how logic dictates either Catholicism or nothing. Rose is a computer guy and it comes out in his writing: not much emotion and lots of brutal logical traps.

    The author’s conversion story is here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5NHnv7lJvg and I found it help me understand the book better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the link! I’ll watch it as soon as I can.

      You’re right, it’s pure logic, no emotion, and would be brutal to debate against. That’s what I most appreciated about it though. I was looking for something that wouldn’t be sugar-coated with emotion. I wanted something brutally honest. Like Donal is showing so well in his current series (among many other points he’s making), you can’t rely on your emotions to point you to God. Emotions are fickle, and “following your heart” will typically lead you astray. What makes you feel good isn’t always good for you, and what’s good for you (and what’s right) will oftentimes be very difficult and won’t feel good at all. I’ve noticed in myself that when my emotions come into the picture, it’s that much harder to make a sound, well thought out, rational decision. So when it comes to making sure that I’m on the right path to God (which is the most important decision to make!), it’s for the best to leave emotions out of the stuff I’m absorbing to help me make that decision. Otherwise, I would’ve made a very different decision, and it wouldn’t have been the most well thought out decision either.

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  6. Cassie, rereading my comment I give the impression that the book was lacking because of his logical approach (he’s an electrical engineer major after all). But I don’t think that, I’m with your views, 100%. But watch the interview. Few people suffer to find Jesus like he did. The Holy Spirit clearly had him on the fast track to traditional Christianity. So much so his conversion almost literally killed him.

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  7. When did Martin Luther state that God had revoked the authority of the Roman Catholic church? What work of Luther’s does the author cite? I am Lutheran and I have never heard such a thing.

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  8. I believe that Church are all people who really follow Jesus ( if I should define church by a verse, it would be “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” ). Visible church in itself had never any authority in spiritual sense of the word, only authority there was, was from the community of people full of Spirit.

    I don’t see any reason to interpret Jesus’ words to Peter like anything more than individual authorization. But let’s assume there is divine authorization for earthly head of the Church – if it was “hereditary” wouldn’t be more logical that it should be passed by the bearer of authority, not by the election by conclave? Even if you could make good point for election (e.g. Matthias – although why not cast lots then?), how can you say “You can trace the line of Popes all the way back to Peter”? – what about Western schism or Sylvester III or the mere fact that there were popes like Alexander VI? You shall know them by their fruit* and there grew quite a few really bad apples on the Catholic tree…

    That authority to excommunicate argument doesn’t really make sense – if you say “what if he just goes to another church” it’s the same situation as if divorced and remarried Catholic just goes to receive communion to another parish. And we didn’t even ask if Catholic concept of excommunication is valid – why should be excommunication something metaphysical? Isn’t declaration that community of Christians found the person in constant rebellion against God enough? Why should it be somehow better if it was instead declared by, say, someone who made his bastard son a cardinal? And if the excommunicated person participates in other church and they don’t find heretic – isn’t it possible that the people in previous church were wrong? – God will sort it(or them?) out eventually. (And with being wrong about declaring people heretics has Catholic church definitely experience, e.g. Jan Hus for whose death did pope apologize couple of years ago)

    P.S.: in the Revelations there are letters to several churches, and saying there are literal letters to geographical churches doesn’t seem to plausible.

    * knowing them by the fruit is also the argument in other way – how can people who are according to you heretics (and not members of only one real (Catholic, ofc) Church), bear good fruit?

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  9. Blue Bee, Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X as a heretic in 1521. Either the Church holds this authority to excommunicate or the Church must have lost this authority at some point (Luther’s view was around 600 AD, although he wasn’t very logical in his theology).

    Liked by 1 person

    • What Protestant does the author cite as saying God revoked the Roman church’s authority on such-n-such a date? Who said it? When did they say it?

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  10. Pilgrim, Visible church in itself had never any authority in spiritual sense of the word, only authority there was, was from the community of people full of Spirit.

    I think even a casual reading of the bible, not to mention early church history, would show this to be untrue. In the Council of Jerusalem (Acts) Peter and James rule with authority and expect the other visible churches to follow. The “invisible” church idea is an invention of the Reformation and doesn’t jive with the bible or with early church history. Or even common sense. If Jesus came to start an invisible church of people that all believe different things he sure had a strange way of doing it. And he would be OK with non-Christians turning on the TV to hear thousands of different Christians contradict each other on nearly every doctrine as well as critical morality in his name: abortion, divorce, birth control, etc.

    In the book under discussion, the author first begins to break from his Baptist church over issues of morality. Sin was dismissed as unimportant (adultery I think) because Once Saved Always Saved. He could no longer “hang” with his fellow Christians since they believed wildly different things. So he went back to the traditional Christian view of authority. This invisible Church meme basically results in “Christian” not meaning anything.

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    • Of course Jesus only founded one church, and that church is both visible and invisible. The church is the body of Christ and like Christ the church has two natures – physical and divine. This idea began with St. Augustine, not invented by Luther or Calvin.

      If only the visible church exists inner beliefs would be irrelevant, if only the invisible church existed the church would be unable to carry out its commission.

      Contrary to Mr. Rose’s assertion, the church was not founded in Matthew 16 – that is the office of the keys Christ gave to first the disciples then all believers (see Matthew 18 & John 20). The church is founded on Pentecost (Acts 2).

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    • Peter and James had authority in church because they were full of Spirit and everybody could see it. They weren’t walking around, saying “respect me, ‘coz Jesus made me a boss”.
      I am pretty sure that Jesus would be quite fine with Christians disagreeing with each other on nearly every doctrine as long as everyone could see that they loved God above all and their neighbors as themselves.

      I didn’t read the book and I am not a baptist, but if I were to compare my local church which expelled an elder for adultery and Roman Catholic church which in the past elected the fornicators as popes, I think that it would surely win over issues of morality…

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  11. Of course Jesus only founded one church, and that church is both visible and invisible.

    Then the visible and invisible must be the same people…who believe the same things over all time.

    This idea began with St. Augustine, not invented by Luther or Calvin

    Augustine was always obedient to his Church and the pope. Always. No “invisible” church can exist divided from the visible. Augustine believed in excommunicating doctrinal heretics (Luther, Calvin).

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  12. @ Hearthie

    My pastor’s authority lies in the fact that he’s had more time to study the Word, has more resources, and that he has a pastoral gift of the Spirit. So I respect him positionally and intellectually.

    But how do you determine that those things give him any real authority, in the sense of the authority that God intended for the leaders in His Church? It doesn’t match up with what Scripture says. I didn’t include this in the post, but the book I based it from mentioned something Paul said to Timothy. He said Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the elders laid their hands upon you. (1 Timothy 4:14, RSV-CE). Jesus gave authority to his 12 apostles; those 12 ceremoniously laid hands on their successors to bestow the same authority onto them; those laid hands on others, and on down the line. A careful reading of the New Testament after the Gospels, and you’ll see how the early Church did it. God didn’t change how He wanted it to be done over the span of the last 2,000 years…

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    • Why do you assume that the part which you highlighted is generally true and wasn’t just incidentally true for Timothy? Also what about Paul? What elder laid hands on him? Or why did Cornelius get gift of the Holy Spirit just because of hearing the word?

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  13. @ Pilgrim of the East

    And we didn’t even ask if Catholic concept of excommunication is valid

    It’s not just a Catholic concept, it’s a Biblical one. See 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 and St Matthew 18:15-20 for examples.

    Michael Kozaki covered a lot in his reply to you, and the rest of your comment didn’t actually apply to the concept of the post, so I’m not going to reply to it at this time. But, you did say a couple of things that relate to something I have in mind to post on at another time, so stay tuned.

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  14. @ Sue Bee

    What Protestant does the author cite as saying God revoked the Roman church’s authority on such-n-such a date? Who said it? When did they say it?

    That’s just it – no Protestant can say what such-and-such date that God revoked the authority that He gave Her, or provide any evidence that the authority was in fact revoked. There are a vast array of times in which any particular Protestant believes that the Catholic Church became corrupt, but no date or event can be named as to when God officially revoked the authority. That’s the whole point. It’s just common belief among Protestant circles, regardless of denomination, that the Catholic Church, the Papacy, etc doesn’t hold authority today.

    The author does quote John Calvin (one of the Protestant Reformers from the time of Luther) as saying this regarding the overall and total corruption of the Catholic Church, in his opinion:

    The light of divine truth had been extinguished, the word of God buried, the virtue of Christ left in profound oblivion, and the pastoral office subverted. Meanwhile, impiety so stalked abroad, that almost no doctrine of religion was pure from admixture, no ceremony free from error, no part, however minute, of divine worship untarnished by superstition.

    ….which was cited as coming from “John Calvin: Reply to Sadoleto, Translation by Henry Beveridge in John Calvin, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, Volume 1, p. 49 (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1844).”

    I should also mention that the book is merely a jumping off point for the post, not the central focus. The concept of Divine Authority itself is supposed to be the focus of discussion here.

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    • The reason I ask for a citation is because Luther believed strongly that what we know of God, we know from Holy Scripture. It would be very uncharacteristic and inconsistent to suddenly proclaim that God took an action for which we have no written assurance in Scripture. I think a statement like “God revoked the church’s authority” would have to be attributed to prophesy, and Luther did not consider himself a prophet. Like Calvin (the quote the author cites) Luther was able to point out the corruption that could be seen with his own eyes, but not Divine actions.

      The Protestant reformers believed the church had authority, but only within limits of what is described in Scripture (to proclaim the gospel, administer sacraments, and grant absolution). Luther was excommunicated by the church of Rome for denying the infallibility of the pope and for condemning the practice of indulgences. Neither are supported by Scripture and are two examples of what he believed to be corruption. I think the author’s intention was to prove using Scripture that the church was given unlimited authority and therefore was incapable of being corrupt.

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  15. The reason I ask for a citation is because Luther believed strongly that what we know of God, we know from Holy Scripture. It would be very uncharacteristic and inconsistent to suddenly proclaim that God took an action for which we have no written assurance in Scripture.

    Except that Luther’s belief, what is now referred to as Sola Scriptura, has no basis in Scripture itself. He created the very doctrine that he says supported his whole viewpoint. Nowhere in the Church was the doctrine practiced before the Reformation. Furthermore, Scripture itself refutes the notion that the Bible alone was the source of Truth:

    14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, 15 if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.

    (1 Time 3:14-15)

    Keep in mind also that it was the Church which decided which books were canonical. We don’t have a Gospel to the Hebrews or Shepard of Hermas in Scripture for a reason. Of course, it should also be mentioned that Luther himself decided to fiddle around with Scripture, and tossed some books out that had been present for over a millennium, because he didn’t like them. Funny, but where did he get the authority to do that?

    [C: this is a very Ninja paragraph Donal!]

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  16. Sue Bee, Calvin was never excommunicated.
    True. Because only because he did not claim to be a member of the Catholic Church to begin with. His ideas were (and are) condemned as heresy, though. This is not surprising, since even he and Luther divided on doctrine. Protestants were doomed to splinter into every possible heresy from day one, some denying baptism and the Eucharist within the first generation (things hardly questioned before).

    Donal, …the Church decided which books were canonical.
    Note Catholics use different books than Protestants, Orthodox, Syrians, Ethiopians (who all disagree with each other). But Catholics have always been and remain >50% of Christians, fully worldwide, same canon, and unified under every pope since Peter.

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    • Note Catholics use different books than Protestants, Orthodox, Syrians, Ethiopians (who all disagree with each other).

      True. Although the Orthodox use books in addition to what Catholics use, they don’t disregard books in Catholic Scripture.

      But Catholics have always been and remain >50% of Christians, fully worldwide, same canon, and unified under every pope since Peter.

      Not true on that last bit. See the Avignon Papacy for one example. The Church has had its share of troubles, let’s be honest about that, but it always endures.

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  17. Donal, that’s a good point on the Orthodox. The problem, though, is that (like Protestants) what the Orthodox believe is open. Each Orthodox answers to his own bishop and yes bishops disagree.Therefore, just like “most” Protestants are missing 7 books and most “most” Orthodox accept 5 extra (except the Syrian and Ethiopians) nobody can say this with authority for each member. Thus, “Protestant” and “Orthodox” are abstract concepts. Only Roman Catholics can define what books (or what morality) they have.

    I don’t buy the Avignon Papacy argument, though. By this way of thinking the papacy today is not ongoing either since at least 1% of Catholics don’t accept the current pope (SSPX, etc.). There were always be schism among us, just like the Avignon then or Orthodox now. And those apart from the pope always fade and splinter over time. Catholics always define who was pope and who was not for all times. Delay doesn’t erase this finality nor assurance. And once the Church rules (with the bishops in tow) it’s a done deal, can’t go back.

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  18. Unfortunately, much of what the author says about my Protestant brothers is true. We know appallingly little of what Jesus has led His Church through and how He has done it. Many hear that the Church was infiltrated by Greek ideas around Constantine’s time, and leave it at that. They do not know the stories of the faithful men like Athanasius who were raised up by God to rebuke the heretics. Athanasius, who was excommunicated, yet still had authority whenever he preached God’s truth from the Bible. This lack of knowledge on the part of modern Protestants is unfortunate and I try to do my part to fix it.

    But the debate, as understood by the Reformers, was not about whether the Church had authority. But about the limits of the Church’s authority. Paul had authority in the Church as an Apostle. Yet he said, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, were to preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be anathema.” The Reformers were concerned that Rome was preaching another Gospel, so they attempted to talk to Rome about it. Rome listened enough to understand what the Reformers were saying, and then rejected it at the Council of Trent. I imagine that most of you have considered those arguments before, so I will not rehash them now. Suffice it to say that I believe that the Catholic hierarchy cut itself off from Christ when they anathematized the preaching of the Gospel at the Council of Trent. This gives us a clear point in time to point to.

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  19. Suffice it to say that I believe that the Catholic hierarchy cut itself off from Christ when they anathematized the preaching of the Gospel at the Council of Trent.

    Jeremy, that’s clear and cogent. Thanks.
    Logical flaws with this belief are many, however. I’ll just list two, but there are many more:

    1) Catholic doctrine at Trent is not new. The early Church members disagree with the Reformers. The bulk of Christians must then have been heretical from day 1 if the Reformers were right.

    2) The Reformers were completely splintered from day 1. They remain divided. Yet Catholics remain unified for 2000 years on both doctrine and organization. Protestants today disagree with each other on nearly everything important: Baptism? Eucharist? Church Authority? Salvation? What is sin? Once Saved Always Saved? Faith Alone? Works? The bible says the Church is one and can be trusted to handle all disagreements. If it’s not Catholic, who?

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