Why Am I Protestant?
All of the hype and excitement surrounding the election of a new Pope has me thinking about many things in regard to our faith. One of the things I’ve noticed in this excitement is the degree to which many Protestants seem to be just as excited as many Catholics regarding the new Pontiff. It makes me wonder if many Protestants view him as their leader as well. This makes me ask another question. Have we lost our understanding of why we call ourselves Protestants? I think many have. Protestants are, by definition, protesting against something. In this case, we are protesting against what we believe are unbiblical teachings in the Roman Catholic Church.
Before I even begin to talk about these things, I would like to say that I’m NOT denouncing Catholics here or saying that no Catholic is truly a Christian, or anything of the sort. I would not presume to make such a judgment. As is the case with Protestants of whatever stripe, salvation is a personal matter between the believer and God. However, there are differences between what the Roman Catholic Church teaches and what Protestants teach. If there were no differences, we’d all still be Catholics. There are many things I admire about the Catholic Church, in fact, and I think we can learn much from studying her teachings, but there are some critical differences which serve as the reason I’m not a Roman Catholic.
(By the way, in a very real sense of the word, we are all catholic. The word catholic is a synonym for the word “universal.” Catholic simply means universal Church, and all genuine believers in Jesus Christ are a part of that One Church, regardless of what other title is over the door post of their local meeting place.)
One of the primary reasons for the Protestant Reformation is the office of the Pope. According to the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Wycliffe, Knox, Tyndale, et al), the papacy is not biblical. If you read Luther’s 95 Theses, you’ll find that, in addition to the practice of selling and granting indulgences (aiding a dead loved one in escaping from purgatory), he believed that the power vested in the Pope by the Roman Catholic Church is not biblical. The idea of a man being able to grant indulgences and the corruption that accompanied such power is what sparked Luther’s protest.
Catholics believe that this newly elected Pope, Pope Francis, is a direct successor to the Apostle Peter, whom they believe was the first Pope, as enacted by Jesus Christ Himself in Matthew 16:17-19. They believe that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth. That is, that he is the representative of Jesus Christ, that He speaks for Christ when he speaks ex-cathedra (from St. Peter’s Basilica), and that he speaks infallibly when he does so. That means that Roman Catholics believe the authority with which the Pope speaks from the porch is equivalent to the authority of Scripture. In fact, when and if a contradiction happens between Scripture and the words of the Pope, the Pope’s words will supersede the authority of Scripture. Indeed, the more recent a proclamation or teaching, the more authoritative and binding it is.
The Reformers saw the office of the papacy as unbiblical. The “keys to the Kingdom” as referred to in Matthew 16, belong to Jesus Christ and are given to the entire Church as a stewardship, not to Saint Peter and not to successive Popes. As for authority, the Reformers believed in Sola Scriptura, or Scripture alone is our authority. Roman Catholics believe in progressive revelation of God’s message to man, which includes the Scriptures but also includes the Roman Catholic Catechism, which consists of the pronouncements of the Church through various Popes which have also spoken infallibly from Rome. I should note that Protestants have no trouble with a Catechism. In fact, many use such tools to teach their own children. The issue here is with the authority given to the Catholic Catechism as equally inspired as Scripture itself. Protestants believe that Scripture is our sole authority, though we certainly respect and recognize God’s working through teachers and leaders throughout the centuries. We simply do not view their words as a final authority or inerrant, as the Catholic Church views the words of their Popes when speaking ex-cathedra.
The distinctives of Protestantism can be summed up in the 5 Solas of the Reformation:
Sola Scriptura – Scripture Alone
Solus Christus – Christ Alone
Sola Gratia – Grace Alone
Sola Fide – Faith Alone
Soli Deo Gloria – The Glory of God Alone
The Reformers believed that the Catholic Church was violating all of these, and so they protested against it. This is why we are where are today. I would be remiss if I did not mention at some point in this article what I believe to be the MOST critical difference between what I believe and Catholicism, and it is summed up in Sola Fide and Sola Gratia just above. Faith alone and by grace alone, not works of any kind- not even God-inspired works (which Catholics refer to as “meritorious”), can count toward salvation. It is as the Apostle Paul told the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Now, the next verse says that we have been created unto good works, but the merit for salvation is found by grace through faith alone- in Christ’s completed work on the cross on our behalf. Catholics believe that justification itself is a process, not a one-time event, and that our “meritorious works” contribute to our salvation in the final analysis. So, this is one of the primary reasons why I’m a Protestant.
Now, I would not presume to say that God has ordained all that has happened in various Protestant churches since the time of the Reformation. In fact, one of the greatest indictments against the Protestant Reformation is all of these denominations which have risen since that time. Some estimate that number to be over 20,000 Protestant denominations. It’s ridiculous. However, it should be noted that there were and are valid reasons for not being a part of the Catholic Church today. I would encourage everyone to read, study, and pray about these reasons and come to your own conclusions. It is worth your time my friends.