Why I Am A Protestant

Title: Why I Am A Protestant

Text: Matthew 4:4, Romans 3:11, 23, John 10:14

Time: July 17th, 2012

 

Last time I explained why I am a Christian. I argued that Christianity best explains everything we experience in the world, it makes the most sense of everything when we think about it, and that it offers superior answers to more or most questions that we ask about life. I then also said that faith in Jesus Christ feels right, or in other words, it is fully satisfying personally and emotionally. Jesus claimed to be the bread of life, to fully satisfy our spiritual hunger – and I’ve found that to be true. Finally, I said that the superior fruits of the Christian faith are shown in the great success of the Western civilization. Christianity has been a greater blessing to more people than any other religion or philosophy. That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t made mistakes or that it hasn’t failed or is without fault in the world. But it says that even with all its faults and failures Christianity has been a great blessing to the world, greater than any other belief ever. Now today, I’d like to talk about a similar thing, only get more specific, and answer the question, “Why I am a Protestant Christian.” There are three main branches of Christianity in the world today – Protestantism, Roman Catholicism and Easter Orthodoxy. I’d like to explain why I’m a Protestant Christian, as opposed to say, being Catholic or Orthodox. Now to begin with, I must say that I was raised in a more or less Protestant Christian family, in a generally speaking Protestant American culture. So that stacked the deck somewhat in the form of Christianity I entered. And when I came to the place of committing my life to the Lord Jesus Christ personally, Protestantism was the form that I embraced because it was essentially the only expression that I had access to at the time. So I’m not unaware of the social and spiritual circumstances I was surrounded by when I fully embraced the Christian faith. But having said all that, and upon closer reflection on the different braches of Christianity, I’ve come to the point in my life that I can say that I not only embrace Christianity, but I also embrace Protestant Christianity. Why do I say that? Because there are some very good reasons why I believe that Protestant Christianity represents the purist and truest form of Christianity. I believe Bible-believing Protestantism is the truest expression of Christianity today. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate many aspects of Catholicism or even Orthodoxy. And there are days, when I see certain negative developments in Protestantism, that I wonder if maybe I should consider Catholicism or Orthodoxy. But something always brings me back to Protestantism as the superior form of the Christian faith. Why? Let me try to explain in this short message. So whereas last time I explained why I am a Christian, this time, I’d like to explain why I’m a particular kind of Christian – Protestant.

 

First, I’m a Protestant because I believe the Bible is the supreme authority in Christianity. Matthew 4:4, “Jesus answered, ‘It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Now in order to be a good Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Christian you have to believe that it’s not the Bible that is chief authority in Christianity, but rather the church. This I cannot do. For example, in Roman Catholicism, it isn’t the Bible that is the supreme authority for Christians, it’s the church hierarchy or the tradition that has been handed down from generation to generation. In the Orthodox church it’s a little different, but the authority still lies elsewhere than in the Bible. In Protestantism, generally speaking, it is believed that the chief authority for Christians is found in the Bible alone. If we look back to the time of the Jews before the New Testament, we find Judaism looking to the Old Testament as the authority for its faith. Yes, leaders held authority among the Jews. Yes, tradition was very important. But a prophet could come along and point people back to the Bible and call for reformation and expect faithful Jews to return, not to man-made tradition or human leadership authority, but to the words of the Bible as uttered by the earlier prophets. The authority in Judaism before the New Testament was the Old Testament of the Bible. Jews could be reformed by returning to the Word of God. So why shouldn’t it be so in Christianity? For Protestants the Bible is the supreme authority and therefore prophets can arise and call Christians back to the Word of God and the church can be reformed. But for Catholics and Orthodox Christians this cannot happen. Why not? Because the Bible isn’t the chief authority in the church, the leadership hierarchy is or the historical tradition is, or a combination of the two, along with, of course, the Bible. But that makes it practically impossible to reform Christianity or the church, because in order to do so, at times both the church hierarchy and church tradition must be reformed. But if church hierarchy and tradition are both sources of authority, and if they are the standards for reform, then we’d expect they would never be in need of reform, if they are both authorities by which reform comes. That’s the problem. If the Bible and the church and tradition are all authorities, then how can needed reform take place? It can’t. And that was the problem during the Reformation. The church was the authority and was unable to reform itself. No. There can only be one authority, only the Bible, so that both church and tradition can be reformed by it alone. I am a Protestant because I believe the Bible alone is the supreme authority for the Christian. The Bible stands above the church, its leaders, its traditions – or anything else. Only then can needed reform take place.

 

Second, I’m a Protestant because I believe all men and organizations are corrupted by sin. Romans 3:11, 23, “There is no one righteous, not even one. . . . For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” As a Protestant Christian I believe that everything and every one stands under the authority of the Bible. As much as I’d love to believe it, no man or no human organization is beyond sin and error, including the leaders of the church, including the traditions of the church. Now in order to be Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox you have to believe that while all men are sinners and all human organizations are corrupted by sin to some degree, the Christian church organization is kept from sin and corruption in order to provide an infallible guide to the faithful. I wish I could believe that, but I can’t. The reason I can’t believe it is because the Bible, the New Testament, teaches the very opposite. It teaches that all men sin, including all church leaders. It teaches that because sinful men populate all church hierarchies, they too are corrupted by sin to some degree; they are not infallible. The pope is a man – and therefore, he’s fallible too. Church tradition is a mixture of good and bad, true and false. Just because something has been passed on generation after generation doesn’t make it good or true. We must test everything and everyone by the Word of God. Nothing gets a free pass. This was an important point during the time of the Reformation. The Roman Catholic church was claiming special privileges because it was the guardian of the faith and therefore infallible in its pronouncements. The Reformers like Luther and Calvin countered by saying that even the church had to be examined by God’s Word. Only the Bible could be the ultimate judge. Corrupt man is in no position to make pronouncements. Even time-honored tradition must be put to the test of God’s Word. The Roman Catholic church hierarchy refused to place itself under the supreme authority of the Bible, but instead insisted that it could make judgments of itself because it was given a special grace of God to do so. Well, if the evidence supported it, that argument might be persuasive, but all the evidence pointed the opposite direction. Even today, as the Catholic church still claims special infallible grace from God, we might ask, “If the church has an infallible grace from God to lead and guide people why couldn’t it have corrected the priestly pedophile problem before it came to a crisis point?” The organization of the Catholic church looks like any other Christian organization on earth struggling to do what is right and good, although failing, falling, and yes, at times, sinning, and in constant need of reform. No. Only the Bible is infallible; all human organizations are corrupted by sin to some degree, even the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

 

Third, I’m a Protestant because I believe God relates directly to others and me individually. John 10:14, “I am the good shepherd: I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – I lay down my life for the sheep.” According to Jesus, he is the shepherd and we are the sheep, and he relates to us directly. In Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy it’s a little different. We relate to God through the priests, bishops and church hierarchy. In Protestantism, we can go directly to the Word of God and read what God says and believe it. Not so in Catholicism or Orthodox, where a biblical teaching must meet church approval before it can be believed. Now there is certainly room for teachers and leaders in the Christian church; they are essential. But in Protestantism they don’t carry final authority, God’s Word carries the authority. Yes, God does call pastors and church leaders to lead local congregations and even multiple congregations in denominations, but they can do nothing that contradicts or conflicts with the Word of God. They cannot formulate doctrine and make infallible pronouncements on dogma. Church teachers can clarify biblical teachings by bringing clarity to the Bible, but they can’t pronounce a teaching by virtue of their office or position in the church. I admire the Roman Catholic church in many respects because there seems to be more unity there than in most of Protestantism. And I admire much that I see of Orthodoxy, for example, in their opposition to novelty and their holding firm to orthodox doctrine and practice – in contrast to the constant changes brought about in Protestantism we hear about all the time these days. But I cannot follow Catholicism or Orthodoxy in their belief that the individual Christian is incapable of going directly to the Bible and teaching himself the Word of God. At the time of the Reformation, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and others tried to show the Roman Catholic hierarchy that it had erred in a number of places; and they had biblical evidence to prove it. But church hierarchy would not listen; it was infallible, incapable of making errors in doctrine, or so it thought. Besides, the church was supposed to be the infallible teacher of truth, not a fallible student who needed correction. So Protestantism was born out of a stubborn refusal by Catholicism to be reformed along the lines of the Bible. In ancient Judaism, it was always the case that a lone prophet could arise in the land and rebuke the established leadership by the Word of God, but by the time of Luther and the Reformation, the established church was incapable of reform. Thus Protestantism was born.

 

I should have truly wished that the Catholics and Orthodox were right – that there really was an infallible institutional church available on earth to make infallible binding decisions for all Christians. But alas, I can’t believe that, not after reviewing all of church history and by even noticing contemporary recent developments in relation to the church. The sad fact is that there is no infallible organization on earth today because all such organizations are populated by sinful humans who struggle with temptation, and sometimes even give into sin, make errors and fail. If this were not so we would have witnessed the glory of a spotless individual or organization and this would serve as proof that it is indeed possible to have what Catholics and Orthodox claim is true. But there is no evidence that their claims are truth, other than simply believing it by faith. But as a Protestant I don’t believe their claims because I see evidence to the contrary. Also, I don’t see the Bible guaranteeing such an organization for Christians. I don’t see any kind of office like what Catholics see in the pope. The Bible simply doesn’t outline such a development, nor gives instructions for its creation. No. Realism alone calls for us to conclude that there is no sinless, perfect or infallible organization on earth that is qualified to make dogmatic pronouncements. The Bible alone is the supreme authority in the church, as well as the authority in each Christian’s life. Each Christian can read and believe the Bible and live life according to its teaching. This doesn’t mean that individual Christians can’t be wrong in interpreting it, or even that whole churches and denominations couldn’t be wrong in understanding the Bible; it just means that the Bible is the authority, and when it is read and interpreted correctly gives us the final truth in Christianity. We should pay attention to past tradition, simply because very wise and learned men from past generations have insights to give us in understanding Christian truth. We should respect time-honored tradition because it means that many Christians have followed a certain well-worn path and that means we should pay attention to why they did so. It may help us on our journey in following God in our day and age. But in the final place, there is no ultimate authority for Christians and the church other than God’s Word, the Bible. This is the heart and soul of Protestantism. I have common bond with most of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, but as far as the supreme point of authority in Christianity, I look to the Bible alone. I can’t imagine looking anywhere else.

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