Drunk Catholics

(I’ve heard variations of this question several times)

Q: The Catholics I know have a reputation for getting drunk and sleeping around. How could the Catholic Church be right if they can’t get their members to follow Jesus?

A: It’s a good question, and a particularly sensitive one for those who had conversion experiences after living sinfully in Catholic schools growing up. A few thoughts.

1. There are over a billion Catholics in the world. Just like in Protestantism, there are people who don’t live out their faith. But there are tens of millions of faithful, wonderful people in the Church. I’ve met many already. Either way, it doesn’t disprove that the Catholic Church is the true Church.

2. The Catholic Church has been around for 2,000 years. There have been many highs and lows. The last few decades will not make the Top 10 list. It doesn’t disprove that the Catholic Church is the true Church.

3. If the Catholic Church is the true Church, then we need to weep when its members fall into sin (including the hierarchy) and pray earnestly for renewal. The burden of proof is on those who broke away from the Church, particularly the Protestants, to provide sufficient reasons for “protesting.” This would include defending the doctrine of “sola scriptura,”the Bible alone as the sole authority (rather than including the Church too). As we witnessed this month, that’s harder than it looks.

3 thoughts on “Drunk Catholics

  1. You say the burden of proof lies with the one holding sola scriptura, but why is this the case? What would you accept as proof? How can you “prove” sola ecclesia?

    The answer is not as simple as insisting that the burden of proof rests with the opposing side. I do not attempt to “prove” sola scriptura. It would be foolhardy, as it is the axiom of my entire worldview. An axiom is a necessarily unprovable starting point, a first principle from which all other truths are derived.

    I cannot prove sola scriptura, because in order to do that I would have to appeal to a supposed higher authority (e.g. the Roman Catholic Church), which would in fact be self-defeating as it would mean there actually was a higher authority.

    This should not be considered an inherent weakness of my view, however. It is found in every worldview. For example, every time I’ve asked a Romanist to “prove” the validity of the Roman Church as the one true Church, they are driven back to simply reassertion of their assumptions, or else trying to point to certain Scripture passages. When asked why their particular interpretation of such-and-such passage is necessarily the only correct one, they – without fail – answer that it is because that is the way the Church has authoritatively interpreted the text, thus returning once again to their prior assumption of the authority of the Church.

    A better test of the truth of a worldview is internal consistency. If a system of propositions is necessarily contradictory, the system fails. A more fruitful method of engaging Protestantism (or Romanism) would be to point out supposed contradictions in the system of doctrine (i.e. demonstrate that sola scriptura is self-refuting). Protestants typically point out the inconsistencies between the teaching of the Roman Church and that of Scripture, along with the inconsistencies between declarations of the Roman Church herself.

    Rather than rehash those issues (which have been addressed by those more knowledgeable than I), I’m more interested to see how you believe sola scriptura to be self-defeating.

    • Hey brother I appreciate your comments, and I certainly would have been saying “Amen!” only a few months ago. It was certainly in my interest. I was excited to be leaving to serve as a missionary in India by March of 2013. It’s everything I had been building towards and I was not unhappy at seminary.

      Even as an evangelical desperately trying to remain so, it was my view that the burden of proof is on sola scriptura. I think it was because of my readings in church history, where the church certainly didn’t seem to adhere to sola scriptura, even from my Protestant books. How did we get today’s agreed upon definitions of the Trinity (3 persons 1 God) or the nature of Christ? Were people just given copies of the scriptures (which didn’t exist) and told to decide for themselves, and if there was any disagreement they could just form denominations? No, there were councils and people were heretics or orthodox.

      Sola scriptura is self defeating, I think, because there is nowhere in the Bible that lists 66 books saying, “make these the Bible.” So how do we know we have the right books? What gives us the authority to decide? The Reformers said it was the Holy Spirit, but Catholics certainly believe the Holy Spirit plays a huge role! The question remains though, how do we know we have the right books without some divine authority outside of the Bible (apostolic succession)? Protestants may say the Holy Spirit led the Church into agreement, and there was agreement over most books, but not all. Also, Martin Luther wanted to remove James from the Bible and moved James and other books as an appendix to his translation of the Bible because he doubted their canonicity. Who’s to say he’s wrong?

      Anyway yes internal consistency is important, but that is interpretation too. I’d say the other side is apostolic succession. If apostolic succession can be disproved then Catholicism loses. That’s where the discussion needs to go, and I have great respect for Protestants who examine apostolic succession and that’s where it goes.

      Everything else follows. If apostolic succession is true, then all of Catholicism clicks into place!

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. “…it was my view that the burden of proof is on sola scriptura.”

    One cannot be asked to prove his axiom. It is an impossibility for anyone. The only reason I ever ask a Romanist to prove sola ecclesia is to demonstrate that it is impossible for him, too. I make no bones about sola scriptura being unprovable. I’m not sure why some evangelicals believe they must prove the truth of Scripture or the existence of God by some other means. By attempting to do so, they are assuming that there is some source of truth which is above Scripture. It seems like Rome simply provided you with an organization that fit your already-held presupposition – that Scripture must be answerable to a higher authority.
    “How did we get today’s agreed upon definitions of the Trinity (3 persons 1 God) or the nature of Christ? Were people just given copies of the scriptures (which didn’t exist) and told to decide for themselves, and if there was any disagreement they could just form denominations? No, there were councils and people were heretics or orthodox.”

    The early councils met as churches recognized the need to combat false doctrine. Agreements were made and creeds written. Those councils and creeds were only valuable insofar as they reflected the teaching of Scripture, however. They did not simply exchange their own opinions as an authority unto themselves. They sought to understand and systematize the doctrine revealed in Scripture, which they recognized as the true authority over doctrine and practice. As men grew farther apart from Scripture’s teaching, the councils and creeds became less valuable – not somehow attaining a position higher than Scripture alone.

    A list of canonical books is not needed for sola scriptura: the 66 books are part of the axiom. I would write out the axiom thusly: The Bible Alone is the Word of God. In that sentence, the word ‘Bible’ is defined as the 66 books of Protestant canon. Thus, again, to try to somehow prove this list by an appeal to a higher authority is self-defeating. It is not self-contradictory to begin with the assumption that those 66 books are what constitute God’s written revelation.

    Despite his doubts, Luther included James in the canon and preached from it. I do not wish to rewrite history concerning Luther’s doubt over James, but many of his quotes concerning James are taken out of context and without consideration for his views in later life.
    “…internal consistency is important, but that is interpretation too.”
    I’m not sure I understand what you mean here. Looking for internal consistency is not interpretation, but rather simply adhering to the basic rules of logic.

    What prevents me from putting the burden of proof on apostolic succession? Historians (even Roman ones) are divided on the historical evidence for such. To repeat an earlier point, you are assuming the truth of apostolic succession. It is part of your system’s foundation. As you admit, if it could be disproven, the entire system of Romanism falls apart.

    The question then becomes, what evidence would you accept? I could present historians who insist there is no discernable, continuous link between Peter and the popes of this century. I could present historians who provide evidence for a completely different process of the evolution of what is now called the Roman Catholic Church. But these you would dismiss in favor of historians who would agree with your presupposition.

    Thus the futility of either of us asking the other to prove his axiom(s). Neither of us can do it. Shifting the onus onto the other does not work. Our respective worldviews must be examined to see if there is any discrepancy, any contradiction. If such is found, the system is faulty.

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