Catholics, Protestants, and HistoryMARTY ROTHWELL
Catholicism, not Protestantism, represents the faith of the early church.
Dr. Horton claims that Protestantism has been the true faith since the Church's inception. In chapter 2, Dr. Horton classifies himself and other Protestants as members of the "early Catholic Church". He defines the "early Catholic Church" by saying:
He also says, "It was the early Roman Catholic Church that successfully opposed the Gnostics, Arians, Pelagians, and numerous other false movement, and we who count ourselves evangelical Protestants belong to this Catholic Church today."
Dr. Horton believes that if the Catholic Church had not taken a disastrous wrong turn in her doctrines, then all Christendom would be what Protestantism is today. He says the time of the disaster occurred around the Middle Ages:
But let us focus on two of Dr. Horton's points concerning the early Catholic Church:
Since Dr. Horton acknowledges these two points about the "early Roman Catholic Church", then let us examine:
As Dr. Horton notes, there were many heresies throughout the first 11 centuries of the Church's existence. Whenever there was a major issue concerning matters of faith and morals in the church, it seems the Church followed the pattern given in Acts 15.
Even in the time of the apostles, the Church had to decide on matters of faith and morals. There was a great schism developing between the Christian Pharisees and other Christians. The Church had to come to agreement on the issue regarding whether Gentile Christians were obligated to keep the law of Moses as Jewish Christians had been doing. Here is how they decided the issue:
In this particular instance, St. Peter first gave the parameters of what was allowed in the discussion, and it was further fleshed out and discussed from there. But the pattern remains basically the same.
What is done today? The bishops convene to discuss an issue, they reach a consensus and if the Pope (as sitting in the chair of St. Peter) ratifies the consensus of the bishops, the issue is believed to have been properly guided by the Holy Spirit and decided. If the bishops hold a council and reach a decision, but St. Peter does not ratify it, then nothing comes of the council.
Also, as we have already seen in Acts 15, if needs be, St. Peter can also issue guidelines of allowable parameters of discussion by himself without a council. But normally, a council is held and the consensus is given to St. Peter for his review.
This model has been used successfully for 2,000 years as the mechanism the Church uses to squelch heresy.
I think anyone can see this is a reasonable and proper manner for deciding matters in the Church. It provides a reasonable venue to let all sides discuss the matter and a system of checks and balances. When this procedure is used and the outcome decided, it is to be believed that the Holy Spirit himself infallibly guided the outcome; therefore it cannot be revoked at a later time.
This also serves to aid the Church, because now they can treat this decision as infallibly given by God and can be used as a defense in further discussions on other matters. This decision becomes part of clarifying the deposit of faith once delivered to the Church by the apostles.
Anyone who would try to deny that this method works could only do so by eviscerating God's power to speak to His own Church. Secondly, this method has a proven track record of working for 2,000 years. Anyone who contends for another method will be hard pressed to come up with a better method or one that has a better track record.
Now, given that the Church adhered to this procedure to ascertain correct doctrine from heresies, what doctrines were derived and held without controversy prior to the schism in 1054?
The list below
gives the doctrines "held without controversy" throughout the Church prior to
the 11th century.
These are not simply Catholic doctrines, but historical Christian doctrines. How do we know this? Because in the 11th century when the Eastern Orthodox Churches split from the Catholics, both sides kept these doctrines!
These doctrines were "held without controversy", to quote Dr. Horton (and St. Paul) earlier. Regardless of their other differences, both sides believed, and continue to believe to this day, that all of the above doctrines are part of the deposit of faith given by the apostles to the Church.
Therefore, anyone who claims to be connected with historical Christianity would certainly hold to these doctrines also. Protestants must answers the following questions before Protestantism can be taken seriously:
Let us also examine these points about Catholicism:
Where does that leave us?
Dr. Horton can choose to join or reject the Catholic Church, but he cannot claim Protestantism has any connection to historical Christianity. In fact, for Dr. Horton to feel the need to write to his fellow Protestants and assure them that they are connected to historic Christianity begs the point that Protestants today do not feel they are part of historic Christianity. It is absolutely clear that Luther broke with the historic doctrines of the faith and created his own doctrines.
Luther did have many debates with clerics and theologians. He certainly did not "overwhelm their opponents with citations from the Church Fathers as well as from scriptures." In fact, Luther tried to remove the Epistle of St. James, Revelation, and the Epistle to the Hebrews from the New Testament canon because he felt they were at odds with his interpretation of Scripture.
Cardinal John Henry Newman was a prominent 18th century Anglican bishop who also grappled with the problems between Protestantism and historical Christianity. Unlike Dr. Horton, he did not try to rewrite Church history. Instead he saw the fallacies Protestantism is built on, and converted to Catholicism. He wrote:
Today, Protestants are continuing to come to the Catholic Church as they read the early Church fathers for themselves. We respectfully request Dr. Horton to do the same.
Marty Rothwell. "Catholics, Protestants, and History." Petersnet September 4, 2002.
This article reprinted with permission from the author.
Marty Rothwell became a Christian in 1973. As he began reading the early church fathers for a course he was teaching, it didn't take him long to realize the discrepancies between what the early church believed and what his Protestant denomination taught. He then began studying the differences between the Orthodox and Catholic positions and, in spite of his strong anti-Catholic bias was surprised to find that Catholicism had very well reasoned arguments for the positions it held. In addition it was the first time he had encountered a church that was intellectually vigorous and very pious spiritually. It also, as Marty says, could make a refreshing claim no Protestant church could, that it was there from the beginning. Marty and his family were received into the Catholic Church in Dec 1999. Marty Rothwell is now a member of St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church in Clifton, Virginia. He can be reached here.
Copyright © 2002 Marty Rothwell
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