Seeking Advice on a Fundamentalist/Literalist Friend's Views

Hi all,

I have a friend who was raised in a non-denominational, Bible-based church. She has no (visible) doubts about what she was raised to believe: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide mainly, and we occasionally get into discussions about each other’s beliefs.

When I have discussions with her, I always get the feeling that she’s “putting the ox before the cart,” as in she has defined her beliefs before seeing any evidence of them, so when she looks at Scripture or anything else, all she can do is look at things in a way that support her beliefs.

For example, (she knows very little about church history-- I’m not saying I’m exactly a scholar on the subject, I’m still in high school…) she had no idea that the early church (the one that Catholics are linked to by Apostolic Succession and Tradition) was the one that canonized the Bible. Once she learned this fact, she promptly told me that she believes corruption within Catholic beliefs started just after the canonization of the Bible- to put it in loosely into her own words “The early church kicked it off by making the Bible, but then they started adding things in and changing stuff”

What do I say to this? Is there some crazy-long line of Church corruption I’ve missed? Sure, things were a little dark in the Middle Ages before the Reformation, but aren’t we the closest link to the early Christian church that the world has?

When I ask her if she has anything to substantiate these claims, she can’t produce anything. She has it in her head that since Catholics do more than sit around and read the Bible, we’re all crazy and off on the wrong path. Infant Baptism, Communion, Reconciliation, going to church a lot during Holy Week, adoration of Mary, Saints, our knowledge on angels, demons and exorcisms… The list goes on… These are all crazy corrupt Catholic mumbo jumbo to her. How can I explain to her that they’re not? **When did all of these **(especially some of the more specific) traditions begin? If some of them were in fact “added in” later, how can I justify this?

She is a heavy-duty Bible fundamentalist; she told me that she thinks she’s likely a direct descendant of Noah, and that the Earth was created in seven twenty-four hour periods. As a response to this, I like to point out how, if taken strictly literally, the Bible contradicts itself all over the place, and often contradicts science (for example, the Bible says that hares chew cud). Is there anything more I can say here?

She is also a VERY heavy believer of Sola Fide. Recently, to argue my point, I picked a semi-random Bible story from the Liturgy of the Word a few weeks ago; Lazarus and the Rich Man. I pointed out how Lazarus went to Abraham’s Bosom (so for argument’s sake, Heaven), and the Rich Man went to Hell, without any mention of the faith in God of either; the Rich Man went to Hell for not going out of the way to help Lazarus- he wasn’t a jerk or anything, but he didn’t go out of his way to help him. Is my interpretation of this parable correct?

When I told her this, she said something like “So what did he go to Hell for? His lack of good works?” hoping she’d lull me into a trap by my agreement; I’d say “yes” and she’d whip out a Bible passage (I don’t know if off the top of my head, but I’m sure all of you who are familiar with the Sola Fide argument have heard it multiple times) that denounced the necessity of “good works” for Salvation. Finally, she conceded, and turned her nose up at the passage, saying “Well okay, you have one thing that maybe supports your case… What else is there? I have a lot supporting mine.” So… I’d like to ask all of you the same thing; what else is there? I’m sure there are tons of Bible passages that reference the necessity of other things than faith for Salvation. Can any of you give me some?

What else can I say to my dear friend? It worries me that she belongs to a rather radical group of Christians, and I’d love it if I could help her come closer to Home- or at least help her lose her contempt for my Catholic beliefs. Praying on the matter is obviously an important thing, and I’m doing my best to be direct and use general rules of having a peaceful argument- no sarcasm, no accusations, answering all of her questions to the best of my ability, etc.

For the TL;DNR crowd- just read the bolded questions, along with the background information in their respective paragraphs, and please answer any of the questions that you can :slight_smile:

Thanks in advance for your responses :slight_smile:

Peace be with all of you!

I’m sure some other people will be able to give you lots of Bible quotes. I think that can be useful, to a certian degree, with fundamentalists - simply because they often won’t even listen to anything else.

But mostly, I would ask a lot of the questions that you are already asking.

The traditions you mention arose at various times, due to various circumstances. One could write a book on each of them! Some things, like beliefs about demons, seem to have been passed down from the beginning. The Eucharist also seems to have been present from the beginning. Infant baptism may have been, but probably wasn’t common until a bit later - it was seen as the logical response to the circumstances that existed, given the understanding those people had of baptism.

One idea, since you don’t have a lot of history either, might be for the two of you to set out to learn about the history of the early church together, in a sort of study group. Be up-front that you don’t know a lot of the answers, and find some good, unbiased material that you guys can study - not overtly Catholic or fundamentalist. It would probably be really worthwhile and interesting, even if she doesn’t change her mind about anything.

Thanks for reading all of that :slight_smile:

Any suggestions as to where one might find accurate, unbiased historical accounts of the early church? I figured this would be a good site to ask these things on rather than just doing an internet search, because many views of Christianity are represented here; people can sort of check up on each other in cases of bias.

Thanks again! :thumbsup:

You could direct your friend to me. I have researched early church history and hold my views because of this research. But I will let you guys solve this…

That’s typical, non-Catholics often don’t know anything about Church history prior to the Reformation. When I’m meeting new people at church and I want to make the conversation memorable, I like to ask fun questions like “Who’s your favorite heretic?” or “Who are your favorite theologians prior to the Reformation?”

Incidentally, do you know how many of those councils were actually held in places now controlled by the West and how many of them were held in African or Asian cities that are now associated with Eastern Orthodoxy?

aren’t we the closest link to the early Christian church that the world has?

No, you’re not. You could learn a thing or two from the East about how church leadership was done in the first millennium. They’re still doing it that way, and you’re not. And btw, the apostles did establish the Church in the East before they went West. It was not simultaneous. They went to the East first. West second. Yes, both of these things happened very early on, but they did go east first. And if the shoe was on the other foot, you know you’d claim Western priority because of it.

She is a heavy-duty Bible fundamentalist; she told me that she thinks she’s likely a direct descendant of Noah, and that the Earth was created in seven twenty-four hour periods. As a response to this, I like to point out how, if taken strictly literally, the Bible contradicts itself all over the place, and often contradicts science (for example, the Bible says that hares chew cud). Is there anything more I can say here?

In reality, she probably believes as she does because she thinks the authors of the Bible intended for her to believe that way. If you’re going to have any success, you need to convince her that the authors’ intended meaning leads somewhere besides an Earth that’s less than 10,000 years old.

The big question now, though, has to do with whether or not you’re able to argue for the author’s intended meaning without appealing to the interpretive authority of the Catholic Church. Because if you can do it, who needs the interpretive authority of the Catholic Church? Certainly not your friend. But then again, you won’t get anywhere with her if you say “You clearly can’t understand this- that’s why you must submit to the teaching authority of the Magisterium.”

That’s what I call a Catch-22.

She is also a VERY heavy believer of Sola Fide. Recently, to argue my point, I picked a semi-random Bible story from the Liturgy of the Word a few weeks ago; Lazarus and the Rich Man…Is my interpretation of this parable correct?

Doctrine should not be based on parables. This is a basic rule of thumb when doing the work of interpretation. There’s always a message that you need to hear from any given parable, but as a general rule, that message does not consist of “this illustration should be used to create or refute key doctrine.”

When I told her this, she said something like “So what did he go to Hell for? His lack of good works?” hoping she’d lull me into a trap by my agreement…I’m sure there are tons of Bible passages that reference the necessity of other things than faith for Salvation. Can any of you give me some?

If she was more familiar with Church history, I’m sure she’d already be telling you that the Catholic Church did a good job of refuting semi-Pelagianism in the sixth century at the Second Council or Orange, but not such a good job at the end of the 16th century in the midst of the post-Reformation brouhaha involving Molina and Banez.

What you need to do is demonstrate that Catholic teaching is more faithful to the Augustinian teaching than hers is. But hers is probably based on Luther’s (at least indirectly), and he was actually Augustinian. I don’t know if you are or not, but if you are, it helps. Thomism’s probably OK too.

Also, you need to make sure she doesn’t think your theology is semi-Pelagian, even if she doesn’t know what that means. Please remember that no one in human history has ever called themselves semi-Pelagian, so the really important thing is that you make sure she doesn’t think that you are.

So you need to know exactly what it is about your description of the faith/works relationship that doesn’t make you completely indistinguishable from the semi-Pelagians, because I guarantee she will think that you are if you don’t prepare in advance. And even if you do, she still might. Because you might actually be that way.

Make sure you’re not.

What else can I say to my dear friend? It worries me that she belongs to a rather radical group of Christians, and I’d love it if I could help her come closer to Home- or at least help her lose her contempt for my Catholic beliefs.

Try getting her to explore Eastern Orthodoxy. You might have more luck there. Tell her they never had any Reformations, and if she’d been born into the EOC, she wouldn’t have been able to find a good reason to go away. Also, you might finally amaze her at just how little she knows about ancient Christianity. I bet she doesn’t even know what an Orthodox Christian is.

On one hand, this is a little bit like inviting a headhunter to a job interview. But on the other hand, maybe you don’t really look at the East as a competitor. Maybe it’s like teamwork.

Even if it doesn’t completely work, though, I’m sure your friend would be more open to learning about Eastern Orthodoxy than Catholicism, and either way, she’s getting more literate in ancient Christianity. Maybe try getting her to read up on Coptic Christianity, too.

Wow, um, I was going to say something, but Cooterhein said everything that I was going to say. Cool!

I think you are getting some really good advice here – on both sides. I went into my study of the early church over ten years ago with the intent to learn the truth of our Christian history. I was raised in the Catholic faith, but what I learned from my studies has convinced me that the Catholic Church has corrupted and added to the teachings of the apostles. In addition, they place burdens on the faithful that were never intended by the apostles to be placed on the children of God. As you go through the early church you can see these things being developed.

I highly recommend you search this out for yourself and take your time doing it.

That’s my opinion. God bless!

Here is my advice. First, let me say that I am Baptist born, raised, educated and ordained. I know first hand a lot about Fundamentalism.

If there is one horse that needs to take the lead, it is that of the role of Scripture. Namely, that the Bible alone is to be our guide into all Truth and knowledge of God. If you are dealing with a logical mind, you might ask them to try and find the first and foundational fundamental in Scripture. It is mostly this failure that caused me to realize the internal illogic of this position, thanks to John MacArthur (but that’s another story).

However, there are many fundamentalist, like there are many Catholics, that are not open to the tough work that hashing out this type of logic takes. My best advice for dealing with most fundamentalists is the ecumenical approach. Prayer is a good start. You pray for them ask them to pray for you. You pray together. Also, discuss the Bible, in areas of agreement. Work on your own relationship with Christ. Step one to any sort of ecumenical understanding is being able to live so that others see and know in us, the Savior that they see and know in themselves.

As far as the details, you are here at Catholic Answers, after all. The founder and director (a.k.a.,Big Kahuna) here Karl Keating wrote what I think is the definitive work on fundamental apologetics. Check this out.

shop.catholic.com/product.php?productid=36&cat=0&page=1

All I can say is the earth isn’t flat. If she is going to talke such a view she should at least become a seventh day adventist. Not that I would suggest she should join the only False cult whos beliefs can be proven wrong by science and science alone. But hey if someone wants to worship a God that lies or a God that absolutely did not create all things… go ahead. I don’t want them and neither does the true God.

Choose.

In reality, she probably believes as she does because she thinks the authors of the Bible intended for her to believe that way. If you’re going to have any success, you need to convince her that the authors’ intended meaning leads somewhere besides an Earth that’s less than 10,000 years old.

Were the authors really writing to further our scientific knowledge of the Earth? Their knowledge back then was very limited; they thought the Earth was flat, and the center of the universe, for one thing. Of course God knew better than this, but if he was writing through people, isn’t it to be expected that some of their naivety would shine through in their writings? Isn’t this in itself a case for not interpreting every last word of Scripture literally?

Doctrine should not be based on parables. This is a basic rule of thumb when doing the work of interpretation. There’s always a message that you need to hear from any given parable, but as a general rule, that message does not consist of “this illustration should be used to create or refute key doctrine.”

Thanks, I’ll keep this in mind. I’m still learning :slight_smile:

I’m sure your friend would be more open to learning about Eastern Orthodoxy than Catholicism

I thought people belonging to Eastern Orthodoxy were Catholic? Isn’t the full title Eastern Orthodox Catholic, or something like that? Or by “Catholicism” did you specifically mean Roman Catholicism?

I don’t think God lies, or lied, if that’s what you’re suggesting. I think that the literal message of Scripture might be a little off, because it was written by (Inspired, but still) human hands, who lacked the knowledge we do today- such as the Earth not being flat.

The Holy Spirit did not directly possess them, and force them to write word-for-word 100% literal truth, did it?

EDIT: Although the SPIRITUAL truth Scripture gives us is unflawed… Right?

I feel like I’ll find bias just about anywhere I go when searching for early historical truth. Could you, instead, provide me with a couple of examples of what you found that made you feel this way?

I’d love to hear what you’ve researched! Could you give me any specific examples that have caused you to hold your views?

Primary sources.

I would recommend that Catholics go to the Catholic Encyclopedia and read the church fathers there. At least they will be reading them on a Catholic friendly website. The important thing is that they be read in context.

No, they weren’t. And I did state that badly. It’s actually impossible to demonstrate that the author of Genesis intended for the readers to calculate any age of the earth from its content. So instead of convincing her that the authors’ intent was for a different age, the right course of action probably involves convincing her that the author did not intend to communicate a particular age of the earth at all.

That can be successful when paired with a demonstration of our ability to measure the age of different things, which does include rocks. But a demonstration of the reliability of carbon-dating is sufficient to convince someone that a large number of things (really!) lived and died much earlier than 10,000 years ago.

Their knowledge back then was very limited; they thought the Earth was flat, and the center of the universe, for one thing. Of course God knew better than this, but if he was writing through people, isn’t it to be expected that some of their naivety would shine through in their writings? Isn’t this in itself a case for not interpreting every last word of Scripture literally?

I’m more a proponent of “normal” interpretation, although it is sometimes equated with “literal.” Each of these is contrasted with “literalist,” which isn’t really a legitimate scholarly position and is seen very rarely.

Ummm…let’s see. This is where I would have helped myself out if I’d gotten that other part right the first time. For proponents of normal interpretation, the guiding principle is that the intended meaning of a divinely inspired author is the truth. I guess there’s a couple of qualifications, though- there is something to be said for phenomenological language, Biblical authors frequently make truth-statements that are clearly not intended as strictly narratival accounts, and we’re only able to express an author’s intent to the extent that we can know it.

Something other than YEC is compatible with your friend’s process (provided that this is something like her process, which I think it is), but only if she no longer believes that the author of Genesis intended to set a particular date on God’s creative actions.

I thought people belonging to Eastern Orthodoxy were Catholic? Isn’t the full title Eastern Orthodox Catholic, or something like that? Or by “Catholicism” did you specifically mean Roman Catholicism?

By “Catholicism,” I mean the rites of Catholicism that comprise the Catholic Church. All members of these rites are in full submission to Rome, but not all of them call themselves “Roman Catholic.”

This is an outline of all the different rites. ewtn.com/expert/answers/catholic_rites_and_churches.htm

You’ll notice that in some of the descriptions you see there, the members “never separated from Rome.” But they still probably won’t call themselves “Roman Catholic” because the language and cultural nature of their religious rites are not Roman/Latin- they would be Maronite Catholic, Ruthenian Catholic, or Coptic Catholic, for example.

Like it says right near the top of the source, though, the overwheleming majority of Latin Catholics and Catholics in general practice the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite.

Regarding Eastern Orthodoxy, none of them are Catholic. If you’re Eastern Orthodox, that means you’re not in full communion with Rome. It also means you don’t practice any one of these Catholic rites.

Now, you will notice that a lot of the rites on that list include details about how and when a group of people “resumed communion with Rome in Year X. Most people in Country Y are (X, Y, or Z) Orthodox and not in communion with Rome.”

See, here’s what happened. Before the separation of church and state made if possible for a person’s nationality to not infallibly determine the chuch they’d belong to, the Great Schism led to a situation where countries from Eastern Europe (including Russia), the Middle East, and North Africa ceased to be in communion with the Catholic Church. (Something similar had already happened on a much smaller scale in Egypt in the 5th century). When that happened, all those people stopped being Catholic.

Later on (varying lengths of time, depending on the country), people began enjoying the freedom to choose a religion that wasn’t determined by their birthplace. Some of those people (to varying degrees, as outlined in the source) chose to “resume communion with Rome in Year X.” (This doesn’t necessarily correspond to their first opportunity to do so). Those people are now included in the Catholic Church. Other people (in many cases, most of the people in a given country) chose not to resume communion with Rome. If these people are from Eastern Europe, they’re generally called Eastern Orthodox.

Long story short, the Eastern Orthodox are the ones (though not the only ones) who didn’t come back. From the Catholic perspective, that is.

An Orthodox Christian will describe it as a situation where the East and the West reached a breaking point in their centuries-long series of differences, but suffice to say it was not related to heresy. Anyway, they split. Then, according to this side of the story, the West found themselves in need of a Catholic Reformation but they had a Protestant Reformation before they could take care of it and poof, now there’s 30,000 denominations.

You know how Catholics sometimes throw that number at Protestants as a way of calling them divided, while implying that Christ’s One True Church would be more unified? The Orthodox do something very similar in the comparison of the East and West.
West => 2 Reformations, much sectarianism.
East => Bagel.

For these reasons, and a few more I can think of, your friend might be more willing to look at Eastern Christianity.

Where is* sola fide *in these passages?

“Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” Matthew 7:21.

“Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” Acts 2:38.

Too long to reproduce here, but Matthew 25:31-46 recites a long list of good deeds done by those going to Heaven but not done by those going to Hell.

“And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.” Revelation 20:12-13.

Maybe you can show these to your friend and force her to say the words of Christ and Peter and John are aberrations.

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