Thoughts of a Living Christian

Musings of an amateur theologian and hopeful writer

Archive for the month “February, 2011”

The Illogic of Protestantism

Kids say the darndest things, don’t they?

My girlfriend has told me so many stories of the funny things her kids say, like “Miss Harris, you look like a hippy soccer player” or “if you have kids, could I please be your child?” When I was a kid, I said some strange things…surprise surprise. I had about a dozen older brothers and sisters. My ‘favourite’ brother and sister lived in their separate houses down the road. My year one teacher even asked my mum if this was true.

Catholics say the darndest things, don’t they?

Like purgatory (that place most Christians go to work off their debt and be purified before entering heaven), indulgences (what you can buy for yourself or for others to reduce time, say 50 years, in purgatory) and papal infallibility (whatever your priest says is true and authoritative, as though it were Christ saying it Himself, full stop).

What has this got to do with the illogic of Protestantism?

Well, in my readings I have heard so many Catholics proclaim that very statement. Some ex-Protestants are now Catholics because of the ‘lack’ of logical theology in Protestantism.

…interesting.

I am a proud Baptist, lover and follower of Christ, part of the universal (Catholic) church, and worshipper of the One True, Triune God. However, despite Catholicism having not nearly as many denominations as Protestantism, being the major influence in doctrines such as the Trinity, and pretty awesome cathedrals, relics and flower arrangements, I am by no means – at all – a supporter of Roman Catholicism.

Despite all this, Protestantism is still far more illogical.

I know…I know. Let’s all calm down. Let me explain.

Catholicism has many sacraments that are essential to your salvation. You are judged by what you have done in this life. If you reach the mark of a “good” Christian you can skip purgatory. If you are above the line, the Pope can sell your Christianly awesomeness to others who don’t reach the line. If you are extremely Christianly awesome, and if your mortal hands have caused a few miracles, people can pray to you. However, if you don’t quite reach the line – but you have partaken in the sacraments all your life – you go to purgatory where you are painfully purified before entering heaven.

Sounds a bit like capitalism, currency, or basic economics, right? You get what you payed, or didn’t pay, for.

From the outside, from a human perspective, this makes at least some sense. In a world where you receive goods or payment depending on how much you have payed or worked, a works based religion makes a lot more sense than God dying for God’s enemies. This Catholic, works-based faith is a lot easier to accept for someone who has grown up in a capitalist society. However, this approach nearly obliterates most of what is at the heart of the Good News.

That is the whole point of the Gospel – that it is a faith-based faith, not a works-based faith. Paul says it in Romans – “But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Ro. 3.21-24).

Also in Galatians – “we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.” (Ga. 2.16). Paul is so adamant about his rejection of a works-based salvation he even says that “if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.” (Ga. 2.21). I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to paraphrase this to say: “if justification comes through the sacraments, then Christ died for nothing”.

Notice how there is no mention of an on-going need for continuous redemption?

Notice how there is no mention of the need for a mediator between us and Christ?

We don’t need to continuously go back and re-do the whole salvation process through the sacraments, or eat and drink the literal body and blood of Christ (through the process of transubstantiation) to make sure we are still Christian. We don’t need to pray to a saint or pope – a human person, just as sinful and deserving of death as us…..no offence. We can just pray directly to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, who dwells in every Christian. That is scripturally acurate, and if ‘tradition’ says otherwise, how could such a contradiction be tolerated? If tradition is just as divinely inspired and infallible as scripture, why would they be contradictory?

That was a wee bit of a digression.

My point is that Protestantism places far more emphasis on grace and faith alone for salvation (“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God” Ro. 5.1,2).

But from a human perspective, this makes no sense!!!

1 Co. 1.21-23 – “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

It makes no sense that God would come in the form of a human being, the creator in the form of the creation, and be humbled to the very bottom rung, a servant (considered less than nothing, pets were treated better than servants), and die the worst possible way – crucified (that’s where we get the word excruciating, because crucifiction tickled…immensley), rejected by friends and family (Phillipians 2), and forsaken by God (Mark 15). Horrible.

The very idea that God would – or even could – die was an idea absolutely foreign to the people of the time. It’s the equivalent to believing that gravity makes things fall upward, that blood gets pushed around our bodies by little men, and that Kobe is innocent. Believing such things is ridiculous.

That’s exactly what the Gospel is.

Ridiculous.

And it is that ridiculousness that makes Protestantism shine.

The Gospel according to the Reformers is a glorious, wonderful Gospel. Any Gospel that has anything remotely human takes away from it’s glory. “If anyone adds to [the words of this book], God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this  prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city” (Re. 22.18, 19).

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