Monday, June 15, 2009

Ephesians 1:22-23 part three

And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:22-23).

Last time we looked briefly at the differences in how evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics understand the Church. This lesson will present an overview of the differences between both groups in their understanding of the Scriptures, the Pope, and Mary. At the outset, I want to stress this is an overview.

The Catholic Church, teaches the Bible is the fully inspired Word of God (for example, see here, here, here and here). (Catholic Bibles contain several additional books, sometimes called Deuterocanonical, or Apocryphal. These books include 1 & 2 Maccabbees, Wisdom, Baruch, Judith, Sirach and Tobit. It is beyond the scope of this lesson to discuss the reason Catholic Bibles include these books, and Protestant and Jewish Bibles do not).

Evangelical Protestants also believe the Bible is the fully inspired Word of God. The difference in the theologies of each group, however, is related to the interpretation of God's word.

As we saw last time, Catholics interpret Matthew 16:16-19 as the origin of God-inspired Church hierarchy and leadership. Indeed, St. Paul argues in his first letter to Timothy that the Church is the "pillar and support of truth." Further, we can see the unfolding of this understanding of Church hierarchy and leadership in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) and in St. Paul's address to the leaders in the church at Ephesus in Acts 20. In the Acts 15 example, the apostles make a binding decision regarding orthodox faith. In Acts 20, Paul warns the church that "from among" themselves, wolves will come and scatter the sheep -- thus implying the need for apostolic Church leadership. And there are many other examples one could cite in support of church authority.

In fact, a cursory study of the early heresies that attacked the Church (e.g. gnosticism, Arianism, Docetism, Nestorianism, and Marcionism), will show that if it were not for the Church leadership in those early centuries in Rome (and Constantinople), orthodox Christian faith would look quite different today.

Evangelical Protestants, on the other hand, believe basically that the Holy Spirit guides His people "into all truth," and therefore, by diligent systematic study of the Scriptures, one can know God's truth for himself or herself. As a consequence, Protestants are generally skeptical of a central authority deciding what is "true" doctrine.

Which brings us to the reason for the fundamental difference in Catholic and Protestant view of the Sacred Tradition. While Catholics believe the Word of God is fully inspired and is "profitable for doctrine . . . .") Catholics also believe Christ (through the Holy Spirit) gave to the Church (again, see 1 Timothy 3:15) the sacred right to correctly and authoritatively interpret Scripture -- much like the Apostles did here and here, for example.

Doctrines specific to Catholic faith are based on Sacred Tradition originating from Church councils and early Church Fathers. Those councils and Fathers interpreted Scripture to demonstrate Catholic truths such as Mary's immaculate conception (meaning, she was born without the taint of original sin), her perpetual virginity and her Assumption into heaven. The same can be said for Catholic doctrines such as Indulgences, Purgatory and the Seven Sacraments.

Evangelical Protestants, on the other hand, rely only on Scripture (called by some, sola scriptura), and while they may look to early Church Fathers for an historical understanding and commentary on any given text, the Fathers do not pull any greater weight on the interpretation of Scripture than more recent commentators such as Luther, Wesley, Calvin, Matthew Henry or C. I. Scofield.

As I said at the beginning, this lesson is nothing more than a very broad overview of the reasons why evangelical Protestants and Catholics look at the Church through different colored glasses.

Nor is it my intent to elevate one view over the other (although I certainly believe the Catholic view to be the correct one).

It is my intent, however, to help each group understand a little about the other, because understanding is the first step toward dialogue. And dialogue is a first step toward Christian unity.

Next time we will continue our study in Ephesians with chapter 2 and verse 1.

Questions for Reflection:

1. Compare this passage in 2 Timothy with that of St. Jerome,"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." What do you think St. Paul meant when he wrote, "Be diligent to present ourself . . . .?

2. Read this Psalm. What might you do to work with the Holy Spirit toward unity of the Church?

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