Eastern Orthodoxy is often a tempting option for those Protestants who see the bankruptcy of Protestantism but are not prepared to consider converting to Catholicism. One must admit that Eastern Orthodoxy carries more weight than Protestantism’s individualistic mentality, after all, Orthodoxy in theory has a hierarchy that can assemble in council in order to settle controversies and bind the consciences of the faithful. However, the fatal flaw of Orthodoxy is that there is no objective way to determine which council of Orthodox Bishops is binding on the faithful, whereas, in Catholicism one can know which council is binding by simply pointing to the council approved by the Bishop of Rome. Without an objective way to determine which councils are binding and which councils are not then at the end of the day the Orthodox essentially end up in the same boat as Protestants with one group of Orthodox claiming a particular doctrine is binding while another group of Orthodox claim it is not. This is the fatal flaw for the Orthodox churches: who determines what is an ecumenical council in order to know what is binding on the consciences of the faithful?
Some people might ask: if Catholicism is true, couldn’t one convert a person to Catholicism just by showing them all of the facts about Catholicism? Not necessarily. It is true that Catholicism is true but often there are many obstacles that prevent a person from embracing the truth. Here are a few obstacles that are hard for people to overcome in order to convert to Catholicism:
1. Pride. One obstacle is that the person would have to admit they were wrong. This is one of the greatest challenges since pride dwells deeply within the hearts of men.
2. Hard work. It requires a great deal of effort to work through all the caricatures and to really find out why Catholics believe what they believe. For example, it is easy to dismiss the Catholic belief in relics by simply saying they are superstitious, it is much harder to actually look into the issues and see if it is a Biblical concept.
3. Apathy. The majority of people don’t care enough about truth in order to see if they are wrong and if Catholicism is true. Let’s face it, most people, at least in America, are more concerned about the next reality show coming on or the next football game than things like Catholicism.
4. Livelihood: Sometimes, people may have their livelihood tied into their current beliefs, for example, they might be a Protestant pastor. If this is the case then it is hard to truly consider the merits of Catholicism if it will put their income in jeopardy.
Louis Berkhof, in his Systematic Theology, wrote concerning the distinction between the invisible/visible church the following words:
“It is said that Luther was the first to make this distinction, but the other Reformers recognized and also applied it to the Church.” (P. 565)
How is it that the entire Church of Jesus Christ for nearly 1400 years did not come to see such a distinction in the Scriptures? Is it that the church just did not have the Holy Spirit to guide them? Is it that the Church just did not exist until the reformers came along? Is it that there were a few unknown people in church history who believed in the distinction between a visible and invisible church, yet we simply have no record of them? If this is the case, couldn’t anyone make up a religion at any moment and then claim there were a few unknown people throughout church history who believed in their religion? If so, how could such a claim be falsified? If it is the case that the church openly believed in such a distinction, which Theologians, Priests, Bishops believed in such a distinction and in which works? If nobody, prior to Luther, believed in this distinction, why should a Protestant remain a Protestant when the very foundation of their Ecclesiology is completely novel and contrary to antiquity?
Some Protestants, especially Baptists, believe their doctrines preceded the reformation and go back far into antiquity. This is partly true, for example, some of the Gnostics in the second century seemed to have rejected baptismal regeneration and believed that the work of redemption could not be applied through material elements such as water. How do we know this? St. Irenaeus of Lyons in the late second century wrote,
“Others [Gnostics], however, reject all these practices, and maintain that the mystery of the unspeakable and invisible power ought not to be performed by visible and corruptible creatures…[t]hese hold that the knowledge of the unspeakable Greatness is itself perfect redemption.” (Against Heresies, i, xxi, iv)
In a day and age where orthodox doctrines almost seem eccentric, Protestants should be lauded for maintaining many orthodox positions (three cheers for them). However, the Protestant rejection of baptismal regeneration and the view that Christ is not actually present in the Eucharist, something that would have been impossible for Gnostics since they believed Christ did not really have a body, seems Gnostic. Essentially, the Protestant denial that God uses any matter to apply Christ’s work of redemption and that salvation is something purely spiritual seems to be Gnostic since it resembles a dualistic view where matter is opposed to Spirit. May Protestants, by God’s grace and through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, come to accept the orthodox position of the use of matter in the work of redemption and enter into full communion with Christ’s Church.
One of the hardest questions for a Protestant or an Evangelical to answer is: who determines which books belong in the canon of Scripture? The common Protestant answer is that the canon is self-authenticating. The argument goes: over time, God’s people recognized which books were inspired and canonical since the books themselves testify to their own inspiration.
Is such an answer sufficient for determining the canon of Scripture? Unfortunately, such an answer does not sufficiently determine the canon since it raises the following questions: How does one know who is part of “God’s people”? Does one include Catholics in this group? What about the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox? Does one include Gnostics, Montanists, Manicheans, Arians, Donatists, Novatians, Monophysites, Monothelites, Waldenses, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. in this group? Depending on which groups are included as “God’s people” will determine which books will be included in the canon. Also, one must ask how does one know over time God’s people will recognize the canon? By what standard does one determine the answer to this question?
Such are the questions that must be answered by Protestants in order to claim the canon is self-authenticating. Apart from sufficient answers to such questions, Protestants cannot maintain the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, the view that the Scriptures alone are the final authority for each individual Christian. If Protestants cannot adequately defend this doctrine, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, by providing cogent answers to the questions above, then they must abandon their schism and come back to the Catholic Church.