On the Evangelization of Protestants

Ask a believing Jew, and he will tell you that Jesus Christ is not the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures. Moreover, he will provide you with the proper contexts and meanings of the passages on which the “misunderstanding” supposedly turns.

The fact that there are interpretations of the Hebrew Scriptures that do not support the claims of the Church should not surprise. As a matter of necessity, the Hebrew Scriptures were long ago re-understood by those Jews who rejected Christ in a manner that undercuts the claims of Christianity. The confidence of the Jew regarding his interpretations is also to be expected. It is a consequence of the institutionalization of those once novel understandings of his tradition.

Because of these facts, it is far more difficult for a believing Jew of today to discover the truth about Jesus Christ than it was for his forefathers to do so.

My reference to Judaism is meant to bring out a point about Protestantism that is not obvious to many Catholics and is certainly not obvious to most Protestants. That might serve as helpful in regards to evangelizing the latter.

The above holds true also for Protestants. A Protestant will tell you that the claims of the Catholic Church are refuted by the Bible. Moreover, he will confidently present you with a number of scriptural passages by which the claims of the Church are “easily refuted.”

The fact that there are interpretations of Scripture that support Protestantism is to be expected. This is a direct consequence of the fact that Protestants necessarily reject the authority and tradition of the Church and so have, by necessity, created and continue to create a new religion on the basis of the Bible alone and outside its proper interpretive context. Again, as a matter of necessity, the Bible would be re-understood in a way that rejects the claims of the Church.

The confidence of the Protestant regarding his view of the Scriptures is also to be expected. Is it a surprise that the Protestant has a Protestant gloss for every passage? Is it a surprise that he finds Protestantism proved on every page? Revisionist understandings of the biblical texts have now long been institutionalized. What were once novel re-interpretations now cloud out all others. What meanings could these passages have other than the obvious meanings — other than those that are “clear as day” when viewed through the lens of Protestantism?

The Protestant is, like the Jew of today, nested in a complex of distortions that constitute — together with his general ignorance of Catholicism and the example of many “Catholics” who are themselves ignorant of the Faith — a nearly impenetrable safeguard against finding the truth.

For this reason, it is difficult to evangelize a Protestant.

The Protestant is unaware that he is looking through the interpretive lens of an upstart religious tradition. He is unaware that his outlook is governed by a lens at all or even of what that means as far as discovering objective truth is concerned. Moreover, he is unaware that there exists a rich, coherent, and unbroken interpretive tradition and understanding of the nature and place of Scripture and of its meaning that predates Protestantism by 1,500 years.

To add to this, the Protestant’s thinking on religious matters is bound and distorted by a foundational commitment to the idea, foreign to historical Christianity, that the Bible is to be understood all on its own as though it fell from the sky — not in the light of the religious tradition from which it came, but strictly in the light of itself. He does not consider that his understanding of the nature and purpose of the Bible corresponds to a new and problematic interpretive framework. This is to say that it necessarily changes the meaning of the text.

Jesus was speaking metaphorically when he said we must eat His body and drink His blood. And when He said to his disciples, “This is my body,” what He meant was “This is a symbol of my body.” And when He gave his disciples the power to forgive or to retain sins, He…well, He must have meant something else by that. He could not have been referring to the sacrament of reconciliation as the Catholics claim. If God really wanted us to confess our sins to a priest, He would have told us this more clearly in the Bible.

The above points about the nature and place of the Bible and of tradition should, on my view, be addressed as a preliminary component of evangelistic efforts directed toward Protestants.

Admittedly, this is a difficult task that requires a good deal of prayer and patience. In my experience, Protestants are generally unfamiliar with the considerations I have raised here. Moreover, although they are used to reasoning from the Scriptures, they are unused to reasoning about them. Their foundational premise, sola scriptura (Bible alone), is too foundational to be considered suspect. It is for the Protestant axiomatic and self-evident.

On top of this, Protestants, generally speaking, have little to no knowledge of the history of Christianity (even of Protestantism), although they do embrace a set of self-confirming myths about it. This does not bother them. Christian tradition is, to the mind of most Protestants, wholly irrelevant to the understanding of the Bible, which does not require any context outside what can be discerned from its pages. History can thus be disregarded.

I was snapped out of Protestantism by a single remark (although I did not become a Catholic  for another six years). While a Protestant, I rejected the Catholic doctrine of the Communion of the Saints. I was sure that it was refuted by Scripture. One day, a friend of mine answered my objection without hesitation, simply and elegantly. I was floored to discover not only that there was an answer to my objection, but even more so that there was an obvious one. I came to see in an instant that I had been blinded by my own tradition.

Unfortunately, most Protestants will not respond in this way. It was only by the grace of God that I was able to do so in that moment.

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