A question - not meant to inflame.


#1

I would honestly like to hear how Protestants explain the fact that there are thousands and thousands of different protestant faiths and beliefs, all derived from individuals and/or congregations who are reading scripture and believe they are being led by the Holy Spirit in their interpretations. Do Protestants not believe there is one ultimate truth? If so, what is that truth?

I have posed this question a few times to one of the seemingly more “passionate” Protestants on this board and have yet to get a response, so I thought I would open it up to everyone.

Thanks.


#2

All the Christian protestants have certain things in common. Other things vary. Kind of like if all Thomists went to a separate parish than the Molinists. Or if all women who wanted to wear a mantilla went to a separate parish than those who don’t. Those are some big things to disagree on but they are both still Catholics. Neither is considered heretical.

When Barrett (the guy who counted 33,000 Christian denominations) cited Catholics as one “tradition” he also cites Protestants and one “tradition.”

Mainly the difference is that Protestants have no central human authority that says “Hey, it’s ok if you believe either way(on these topics), don’t argue about it!” So being human they argue about it. This is not something to blame following the Holy Spirit for. It’s human nature that screws up.

I posted an “explanation of Protestants” thread the other day that answers the rest of your question.


#3

I suppose that the ultimate truth for them is the bible. :shrug:


#4

Ahhh Protestants…

As long as they believe in Jesus is the son of God, Im happy with that…


#5

Hi Antwill,

As a Protestant believer, allow me try and answer your questions.

I am busy editing a book on doctrinal diversity and unity within Evangelicalism (although one of the contributors is from the United Catholic Church). My main thesis is that denominationalism is not the root cause of disunity; it is sectarianism. I quote from one of my chapters:


Some Christians have in the past and up to now shown a sectarian attitude, believing that unity means conformity to all their views and “refusing to allow for diversity in others”. They have broadened Christian orthodoxy by breaking fellowship with any other Christian who disagrees with them on non-essential doctrines, which is fuelled by their belief that the Holy Spirit illumines their minds to understand everything that is written in the Bible. There is, however, a subtle danger that all of us must face in our effort for unity. We must be aware that when we apply principles of interpretation, we are approaching Scripture with our presuppositions, influenced by our environment and theological traditions."


Diversity does not equal disunity amongst Protestants. I mean let’s face it, if you are a happy clappy type of Christian, then join a charismatic church! And if you are into the smells and bells, then join an Anglican church! Christian unity is rather to be demonstrated in “saving orthodoxy”; which is the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1ff; Col. 1:15ff). Our unity is further demonstrated in our agreement on the “essential” doctrines of the Christian faith, which is the Trinity & deity of Christ, original sin, and salvation by grace. How we discern between the “essentials” and “non-essentials” of the faith is will also be answered in my book - which hopefully will be published later this year.

Protestant


#6

Then why do some groups come up with crazy beliefs like rejecting hell, Satan and even the divinity of Christ. They claim to be following the Spirit as well.

Also doctrinal differences, go to an Anglican church and you’ll hear “Mary Mother of God” go to an evangelical church and you’ll hear nothing at best and you’re quite likely to get some rant about how Mary in Marian apparitions is actually a daemon.

These are big differences and I don’t see how the Holy Spirit can play a part in there existence.


#7

I appreciate your answer, but the whole “essential” or “non-essential” way of looking at doctrine is plagued by the same disunity that affects everything else. Who decides what is “essential” or “non-essential”. I know you list what you see as the “essential” doctrines, but I could find others who disagree or say their are more (baptism, for example). Again, is their not an ultimate truth we can all look to? What exactly does “salvation by grace” mean? I understand the concept of grace; however, some will tell you it is faith alone through grace that saves you, some will argue that works does have something to do with it. What about salvation? OSAS? Is it possible to lose your salvation? I know there are many protestant mindsets on these.

In essence, without a final authority on earth, it appears to me that there is nothing to stop the endless splintering of the protestant faith.

I would argue that what you see as a “subtle danger” is really a pitfall of enormous proportions, leading to and continuing the fracturing and disunity of the Christian faith.

Good luck on your book. Let me know when it gets published.


#8

Hi Jonnyws,

You wrote:

The existence of the sects or cults of Christianity that deny the deity of Christ is not a “Protestant” problem. Arianism was around long before the Protestant Reformation.

Also doctrinal differences, go to an Anglican church and you’ll hear “Mary Mother of God” go to an evangelical church and you’ll hear nothing at best and you’re quite likely to get some rant about how Mary in Marian apparitions is actually a daemon.

These are big differences and I don’t see how the Holy Spirit can play a part in there existence.

I agree. There are two passages of scripture that Evangelicals (I don’t know about Catholics) mainly go to in order to justify their presupposition that the Holy Spirit can illumine our minds to understand and know everything that is in the Bible:

(1) 1 Corinthians 2:10-13. However, in context the apostle is referring to the “message of the cross” that is being rejected (1:18) and the crucifying of the Lord of glory (2:8). Thus “what we speak” (the “spiritual truths”) concerns the gospel. God has given us his Spirit to understand everything we need to know about the gospel - not about every point of doctrine or theology.

(2) 1 John 2:27 refers to the anointing of the Spirit which will teach us about “all things”. Again, in context, this anointing refers to knowing the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Father (vv. 20-23) – it does not concern every point of Christian doctrine.

What I’ve written may be scary to the reader who would like to have an apostle or leader over us to teach us the “truth” about every point of Christian doctrine. But as soon as this happens, Christian unity and fellowship is broken and divided as we claim to have all the truth, and nothing but the truth.


#9

Let me know about your book. It sounds interesting. :thumbsup:


#10

While there are some doctrinal divisions, such as paedobaptism vs credobaptism, the number of “sects” is expanded for a number of reasons. One is that Protestant Churches are generally national in scope. As such there are at least as many Prebyterian Churches as there are countries. However doctrince does not necessarily differ and they are linked worldwide in the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. Different denominations in each country can also be linked through national councils of churches.
Another factor is Church government. Groups that might otherwise be classified as a denomination do not consider themselves one, as they view each congregation as a separate, individual church. This is especially true among, to my understanding among Baptists. Thus there may be hundreds, if not thousands of churches, each listed as separate, that hold the same doctrines as others.
The differences among most Protestant demoninations tend to be rather minor and they work closely together. For example, the Presbyterian Church I attend has welcomed guest ministers from Menonite, Anglican, Lutheran, and United Church of Canada congregations. Most Protestant Churches accept the Apostle’s and Nicenean Creeds which are the real basics of Christianity.
All that said, it is still a shame that there is not more unity among Protestant Churches.


#11

I guess I don’t follow this very well.

One Protestant says that infants must be baptized. Another says no.
One says that baptism washes away original sin. Another says no.
One says that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist. Another says no.

These are not insignificant differences.

When one Catholic woman wears a mantilla and another does not, salvation is not on the line. They have different preferences, but they are not arguing about two contradictory Church teachings, because the one Church does not contradict itself.

Protestants can and do contradict one another while claiming that they (and even occasionally Catholics) are members of the one true invisible church united on an undefined (and unbiblical) set of “essentials”.

:nope:


#12

But that’s just it. Christ did give us this leader in the Pope and the magisterium of the Catholic Church. As is evidenced by the thousands of different protestant faiths, the establishment of an earthly authority was critical in teaching the ultimate truth of the faith. Christ loves us too much to leave these questions of eternal importance to our own fallible interpretations.


#13

Your figure of “thousands and thousands” is probably flawed–for one thing, many Protestant “denominations” are not based on distinctive beliefs but on particular historical circumstances that lead to the formation of a particular group–but there certainly are a lot.

Different Protestants would explain it differently. Some would say much what Catholics would say–there is one truth and we are in possession of it, and these other Protestants have rejected it. Such Protestants are no more obliged to “explain” why there are lots of people who disagree with them than Catholics are (unless they adhere to the deeply flawed notion that Scripture is self-interpreting and any reasonable person is going to get it right–even then they may simply say that people who are wrong are wrong because of sin, which is a pretty good explanation). Other Protestants would say that diversity of belief is perfectly OK–it’s a natural result of human freedom and as long as we all believe in Jesus there’s nothing wrong with having different groups representing different emphases or whatever. Others would say that we have all fallen away from Jesus’ teachings to some extent and need to learn from each other in order to recover the fullness of Jesus’ message.

These are three ways in which some Protestants would explain it.

Edwin


#14

Denominationalism grew out of sectarianism, and it is far more fatal to unity. Sectarians at least agree that there is one truth, and because they conflict with each other there is a possibility that the conflict may be resolved. Denominationalism is what happens when the exclusive claims are abandoned, but instead of coming back into unity the different groups simply agree to disagree in a friendly fashion. That makes unity impossible. Sectarians are, in their own way, seeking unity. Denominational Protestants have grown beyond such a simplistic notion–which is to say that in one important sense they have grown beyond the Gospel.

And yes, this raises the $64,000.00 question: what is unity? And the answer is actually quite simple: mutual accountability. Of course it’s not simple to put into practice!

Edwin


#15

It’s like the United States. There are 50 different states flying the same national flag. There may be many different churches with different names but the cornerstone of our foundation is Jesus Christ.

For example, I’m in a non-denominational church but Baptists and other Pentecostals attend too. We all come from different backgrounds but we all have one foundation… Faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. However, some things do differ like our interpretations of the book of Revelation may be a bit different, some believe in speaking in tongues other don’t, some pastors preach primarily on love, others on healing, others on prophecy, others on relationships, it just depends on what the sheep of that congregation need to be fed. The teaching varies but the faith is the same.

I’ve met several protestants on this board and although we go to different churches, our faith in Jesus Christ is the same.


#16

I am not sure, to be honest.

The simplest explanation in my mind is that there is no central church organization over Protestants as there is in Catholicism. The closest you get is a number of closely related mini-central organizations.

I suppose it all goes back to the relationship between church, tradition (history), and the written Word. Protestants are (rightly) skeptical of Catholicism being weighted too much towards church when they observe Catholic dogma that is difficult (at best) to substantiate either through the lens of history or from the written Word. But Catholics are (rightly) skeptical of Protestants being weighted too little on the church and history side when they observe disunity amongst Protestants and Protestant dogma that has no basis in history.

I once started a thread here on the topic on whether Jesus designed His church to be centralized or not, but the thread went nowhere. I would actually like to see the proposition (that I have heard) that he did not design a centralized church defended, because I for one am skeptical of it.


#17

Every Protestant I ever heard of believes Baptism is commanded by God to be done. The debates are not over weather baptism is required at all it’s, on when we should baptize. The same with communion. They all believe it’s required and important ( Know the Salvation Army does not hold communion but they also do not consider themselves a church, technically). Debates are over how often it’s to be done, and what exactly God does during it.


#18

I would honestly like to hear how Protestants explain the fact that there are thousands and thousands of different protestant faiths and beliefs, all derived from individuals and/or congregations who are reading scripture and believe they are being led by the Holy Spirit in their interpretations. Do Protestants not believe there is one ultimate truth? If so, what is that truth?

I have posed this question a few times to one of the seemingly more “passionate” Protestants on this board and have yet to get a response, so I thought I would open it up to everyone.

Thanks

Protestants are able to decipher the Scriptures for themselves, via the Holy Spirit and, of course, diligent scholarship. Many have neglected the latter. What’s more, over 90% of denominational splits have been over tradition … To be Catholic one MUST accept the church’s interpretations.

Furthermore, the only justifiable reason I can think of to see all these splits when there is real communion between the Spirit and a believer, and when true scholarship is involved, is this: God may provide an answer to one person, and give that same answer to another person. Yet they might take it in two entirely different directions, for the Divine dialogue can be a tough thing to understand. His thoughts are above our thoughts, after all, and to comprehend the Divine answer is no easy task! Even it ends up a matter of interpretation here on earth.


#19

…but you would think that with one supreme God, there can only be one supreme Truth, and that there would only be one set of rules, laws and beliefs to follow. One religion. One denomination. One Church.

One, not hundreds…


#20

One group (the Pentecostals) insists on speaking in tongues as evidence of baptism in the Spirit. Another (the Baptists) denies the gifts of the Spirit have been given at all since NT times.

These are not minor differences. But all are claiming to find their doctrines in the Bible Alone.

Contradictory and conflicting doctrine is evidence that sola scriptura has been a failure since Martin Luther first proposed it 500 years ago.

Even he complained about the problems within his own lifetime:

“This one will not hear of Baptism, and that one denies the sacrament [Real Presence], another puts a world between this and the last day: some teach that Christ is not God, some say this, some say that: there are as many sects and creeds as there are heads. No yokel is so rude but when he has dreams and fancies, he thinks himself inspired by the Holy Ghost and must be a prophet.” (De Wette III, 61. quoted in O’Hare, THE FACTS ABOUT LUTHER, 208.)

“Noblemen, townsmen, peasants, all classes understand the Evangelium better than I or St. Paul; they are now wise and think themselves more learned than all the ministers.” (Walch XIV, 1360. quoted in O’Hare, Ibid, 209.)

Hope this helps. :tiphat:


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