Over the past several years, I’ve been reading a lot about Protestantism and Catholicism, what separates us, and what we have in common. Most recently, I read the new book by Peter Kreeft, titled Catholics and Protestants: What Can We Learn from Each Other. And so, today I’m thinking about what it might take to re-unify so that we may fully become what Christ intended …. one fold and one shepherd. Though there are many more, I’ve come up with what I consider the five most troublesome doctrines, what Catholics believe and what mainline Protestants believe. To my Protestant readers – if you find anything to be in error, please leave a comment. To my Catholic readers, especially priests – please do the same! I realize that there are many more sticking points, but I believe the following may be the most serious.
1) The doctrine of Faith Alone, or Sola Fide. Protestants believe that, to be saved, all it takes is for us to declare our faith in God and our faith in Jesus Christ. As soon as we do so, we are saved and this cannot be reversed. Catholics believe that salvation depends on what truly in one’s heart. As such, much more is needed, such as good works and the sacraments, and we won’t know whether we are saved until Judgement Day.
2) The doctrine of Scripture Alone, Sola Scriptura. Protestants believe that Sacred Scripture is the sole authority as far as what the revealed truths are and what is to be believed. Catholics believe that Sacred Tradition, whether recorded (Sacred Scripture) or not, contains the full truth. There is also the issue of correct interpretation of Sacred Scripture. Protestants believe that interpretation is up to the individual, whereas Catholics caution that accurate interpretation is important and therefore the individual should read a Catholic version of the Bible alongside a Catholic commentary, perhaps in consultation with a Catholic priest.
3) The question of apostolic succession. Protestants believe that the Church that Jesus founded became corrupt sometime after the death of the last apostle and did not get back on track until the sixteenth century. Catholics believe that the Church that Jesus founded is the Catholic Church and that Pope and the bishops constitute an unbroken line of succession from the earliest days. Catholics believe that these successors have met every heresy and obstacle that has arisen via various church councils, such as the Council of Nicaea and the second Vatican Council among many others, with the same authority as the apostles before them.
4) Papal authority. Protestants dispute the Catholic claim that the Pope, as the successor of St. Peter, has ultimate authority in matters of faith and morals. They say that he (the pope) is just a man subject to human error and weakness and that the real authority is Sacred Scripture (see #2 above). Catholics believe that one of the promises that Christ made to his Church is that he (Christ) will be with us “until the end of the age.” Because of this, they believe that when the pope issues a statement in regard to faith and morals that he does indeed have the authority in these matters.
5) The Real Presence in the Eucharist. Protestants believe that Jesus was only speaking metaphorically at the Last Supper when he said “This is my body … this is my blood … do this in memory of me,” and in John, Chapter 6, when he first spoke of this. Catholics believe that he instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist when he said these words and that his body and his blood are truly present in these consecrated elements under the appearance of bread and wine.
The disagreements on these points appear to be insurmountable, almost like the points debated by the Republicans and Democrats in the U.S Congress! In fact, some Protestant leaders have said that Catholics are not Christian. And Catholics say that they have the fullness of the truth. Well, I would like to propose a compromise. Imagine this for a moment if you can. The two factions come together and form a new religion, if you will, the Re-Unified Church of Jesus Christ, or, simply, Christianity. Leaders of both factions hold a “council” and debate what can be agreed to 100% and what can never be agreed to. Perhaps such a council can be held annually. Then, allow the factions to go their way in these matters but promising mutual respect at the same time, while each being a part of this new re-unified church. It would be a miracle, I know, if they were ever to agree on all the issues. But let’s give ourselves time. It’s been exactly 500 years since Martin Luther’s theses. Maybe slowly, over the centuries, we will draw closer together and in the year 2517, we will jump the final hurdle and be fully unified. I believe that with prayer and confidence in the will of God, this indeed is possible.