You will need to use your imagination here, as I am going to do, trying to defend a talk I did not witness. A recent Facebook posting caught my eye because it came from a former member of our parish who is now a Protestant minister. It consisted of five photos of a whiteboard presentation by a Methodist bishop on the “progression” of Christianity over the centuries. I am not going to mention either name because their identity is not relevant to my comments. I use this only as an example of a typical view of Protestant Christianity.
To justify being a Protestant, one usually takes one of two positions. Either the Catholic Church as we know it was an invention during the reign of Constantine, or Jesus did begin the Catholic Church, but it went off the rails at some point in history and was reformed in the 1500s. Keep this in mind when looking at the Methodist presenter’s timeline. Be also aware of several listings I would call “set ups.” These are points that would not normally be included in the history of the Church unless you were setting up the reader for a contrasting viewpoint to come.
Of course, having only the whiteboard notes to peruse, I do not know what was said about each, so this will require some speculation. I am going to list some of his notes from each of the five eras along with my own comments. After each, I will add some glaring omissions. The first board listed the following:
New Testament Church
- various locations
- secret gathering
- certain times of worship
- breaking bread
- spirit led
- spirit speaks to everyone
- repeat history of faith
- risk persecution
- shared good news of Jesus to everyone
- dissention – indecision
- faith overcame doubts
- gifts from the Holy Spirit
My Comments: From the Catholic view of history, we would agree with much of this assessment. Surely the early Christians met in various locations, in secret gatherings because of persecution, at certain times on the Lord’s Day. We know the Church was led by the Holy Spirit, preached the good news, and celebrated the Holy Eucharist. Yes, there was dissention (sic). We read about it in Scripture, and also know from Scripture how it was settled. Two little subtleties warrant attention here. The words, “to everyone.” He says, “the spirit speaks to everyone,” and they “shared good news of Jesus to everyone.” These statements are preparing us for a perceived future change that will support the need for reform. If the Holy Spirit is indeed speaking to everyone at this time, where did the dissension and indecision come from? This seems like an attempt to say an authoritative hierarchy was not needed.
Glaring omissions: The whiteboard list makes no mention of the Church being founded by Jesus Christ on Peter, who was given the keys to the Kingdom with the authority to bind and loose. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide his Church and said the gates of hell will not prevail against it. If someone wants to know what the early New Testament Church worship was like, no better source exists than the writings of the early Church Fathers. This vast treasure of documents provides tremendous insight into the mind and practices of the first Christians. Ignatius of Antioch The used the term "Catholic Church" is his Letter to the Smyrnaeans that he wrote in about 107 AD to Christians in Smyrna. The Didache, also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, is a first century document that contains a description of liturgical norms in use at that time. A Catholic today would recognize chapters describing the Mass.
- 4th Century Official Religion
- People stood in worship
- Local customs important
- Baptismal practices – Infants
- Ordination of Women deacons
- Milk & honey in communion
- Weekly communion
- More structured
- Liturgical Calendar – A/C – L/E
- Prayer professionalized
- Music – unison / choirs?
- Small à Large
- Formal Leadership
- Sunday Sabbath
My Comments: To be clear, Constantine made it legal to be a Christian. He did not start the Catholic Church as some believe. People probably stood in worship. We still do at times. Local customs important? Perhaps, but that does not mean everyone did their own thing in worship. Liturgical norms were prescribed. Again, read the Didache. Infants were baptized. Scripture speaks of entire households being baptized. There were women deacons, but they were not “ordained.” Their roles were not the same as the ordained male deacons we know today.
Milk and honey were apparently brought up with the bread and wine as part of the oblation around the second century as part of the Rite of Initiation when infants received Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist together. The practice is described in Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition, written around 215 AD.
As far as being structured, having weekly communion, a liturgical calendar (Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter), music, and formal leadership, all of those things continued to develop as the Church grew from her infancy. We still have them today. I am not sure what the presenter meant by professionalized prayer and ceremonialism unless he is referring to centralized structured prayer which enables us to pray in unison, and the ceremonies of the liturgies which are an essential part of the universal Church. The “Sunday Sabbath” was already in practice at this time. Again, refer to the first century Didache that describes meeting on the “Lord’s Day.”
Glaring Omissions: No mention of any Church Councils. The Canon of the Bible was determined by the Catholic Church during this period. Without an infallible authoritative Catholic Church, Bible-only believing Protestants would not have an inerrant Bible to base their faith upon.
Middle Ages 600-1500
- Sitting – pews – audience
- Priestly run – not spirit led
- Worshipers as observers
- Latin & mumbling
- Altar against the wall
- Ecclesiastical Leadership Structure
- Communion in 1 kind à prescribed
- Curtain separation
- Resurgance of Jewish-like worship
- Marriage in church
- Baptism necessary for salvation
- Priestly interv for salvation
- Prayer prescribed
- Caste system for clergy
- Feast days
- Canonization of saints
My Comments: Now we see where this is going! This Protestant must show the Catholic Church going off the rails to justify the so-called reformation. The common ploy is to depict the Church now excluding the people, hiding the truth, and being controlled by the clergy for their own benefit. He tries to portray Catholics as mere spectators sitting in pews, while a self-serving priest with his back to them mumbled something in a language they did not understand. This may seem the case to someone who denies the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharistic and therefore does not understand or appreciate what happens on the altar.
Unlike most Protestant denominations where the preacher is the focus of attention at worship, both the priest along with the congregation generally faced east (ad orientem) toward the altar where the focus was on Jesus who would become present during the liturgy under the appearances of bread and wine as He does today. The Church, being universal, adopted a universal language. There were no printing presses during the middle ages. The Scriptures had to be copied by hand. If you could read in the Middle ages, you knew Latin. It was closest thing to a universal language at the time. The Church today still issues official pronouncements in Latin first, to be then translated into the vernacular throughout the world. Latin was a way of maintaining unity of thought throughout the Christian world.
To say the Church is now “Priestly run – not spirit led” is a particularly telling statement for a Protestant to make. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to “guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13) When he gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom and the authority to bind and loose on earth, He also said the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church. (Matt 16:17-18) The Protestant must hold that Jesus’ declaration was wrong. What is really different here? Is it the Church’s leadership, or the protester’s dissatisfaction with the Church’s leadership? Jesus’ mandate assures us that the Church will never fall away from the truth even if some individual Catholics do. The Church is still led by the Holy Spirit, but the Protestant disagrees with the leadership so they protest.
The Eucharist is the resurrected Body of Christ. His body and blood were separated at death, but reunited at the resurrection. The Church teaches that the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ exist under the appearances of both Bread and Wine. As a matter of practicality and to avoid profaning the sacrament by spillage, the congregation generally received only under the form of bread.
The Church has preserved certain relics, not because they hold some mystical power, but rather in knowing their occasional association with God’s miracles. 2 Kings 13:20-21 tells of a man brought back for the dead after contact with the bones of Elisha. See also Matthew 9:20-22 where a woman is cured of a hemorrhage after touching a tassel on the cloak of Jesus. In Acts 19:11-12, cloths that touched the hands of Paul cured disease and removed evil spirits.
The presenter mentions curtain separation. Again among the common Protestant contentions is that the Catholic Church tried to hide the truth from the people, keeping them separated in some way for some selfish gain. This may or may not be what this presenter was surmising. The history of the curtain dates back to the Old Covenant as referenced in Hebrews, chapter 9. A curtain separated the Holy of Holies where only the high priest could enter once a year. The Holy of Holies held the Arc of the Covenant, and among its contents was the manna, the Bread come down from heaven.
The manna prefigures the Living Bread from heaven, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus present under the appearance of Bread in the New Covenant. The curtain, or veil, formed a barrier to prevent sinful man from inadvertently entering into God’s sacred presence. When Jesus died, the temple veil in Jerusalem was torn from top to bottom. The Eucharistic Bread under the New Covenant is reserved in tabernacles in every Catholic Church. Even today, those tabernacles often have a divided curtain inside the door that may also visually emphasize the holiness of Christ’s Real Presence.
Briefly addressing the remaining notes the presenter lists as Middle Age developments, Jewish-like worship should not be a major surprise. The first Mass took place during the Passover meal. We are, in a sense, fulfilled Jews. Marriage, or Matrimony, is one of the seven sacraments and would naturally take place in the Church. Is Baptism necessary for salvation? Read 1 Peter 3:21. Regarding Priestly inter(vention?) for salvation, the priest is the one who confects the Eucharist that Jesus tells us we must eat in order to have life within us. Jesus gave us a prescribed prayer, the Lord’s prayer. Not wishing to speculate on what the presenter was addressing in his caste system for clergy or feast day remarks, I will refrain from comment.
Glaring Omissions: I am surprised the presenter made no mention of indulgences, the often misunderstood remission of temporal punishment dispensed under certain conditions by the Church as a minister of redemption. While the practice may have been abused at times during the Middle Ages, prayers and almsgiving are bona fide forms of recompense due for sins committed, and it was prudent for the Church to assign weight to the value of the offering. The reformers would later cite misuse of indulgences to justify their revolt.
- No curtain
- Printing Press
- King James
- Common Prayer
- Congregational Participation
- Bap. & Euch – Sacraments
- Frequent Eucharist
- AniBaptists – Adult Baptism
- 4-Part Music singing
- Cultural Heritage no role in R.C.
- Preaching central
- Bibles vernacular
My Comments: As noted above, the purpose of the curtain was not to hide anything from the people. What reposed behind the curtain was too awesome for sinful eyes to behold, and the curtain was a reminder of this fact. Today, Catholic Churches often have a small curtain or veil over or inside of the tabernacle where the Consecrated hosts are reserved. Since its purpose was never to obstruct as some would like you to believe, whether the curtain is present or not is irrelevant.
Prior to the invention of the printing press, Bibles had to be copied by hand, a long and tedious process. The Church was not trying to keep the Bible out of the hands of the people. They were simply difficult to come by. The Gutenberg Bible, the first Bible printed on the printing press, was the Catholic Bible.
King James was the successor to Henry VIII, who broke away from the Catholic Church when the pope refused his request for a divorce. As head of the so-called Church of England, King James had no authority to issue a Bible more than any other head of state. It would be somewhat like Donald Trump commissioning a bible today. Jesus gave His Catholic Church the sole authority to bind and loose, and that includes determining the canon of Scripture.
The Book of Common Prayer was issued by the Church of England to revise the various rites by removing doctrines rejected by Protestant reformers. Tenets of the Christian faith from the beginning, including the belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, the Sacrifice of the Mass, praying for the dead, and the seven sacraments, were changed or eliminated.
I suspect the presenter mentions Congregational participation as the reformers counter to his previous contentions that the congregation was a mere audience of spectators at Mass. The problem with congregational participation in the reformers’ church is that it eventually allowed the congregations to choose their own doctrine. Uniformity was lost, and Protestantism became fractured beyond repair. Seven Sacraments became two, Baptism and Eucharist. And Eucharist was no longer valid because Martin Luther was not a bishop and could not validly ordain priests. Therefore, the line of Holy Orders was broken. The Catholic Church has maintained Holy Orders, and we have Eucharist everyday.
I don’t know what the presenter said about persecution. Christians have been persecuted throughout history and continue to be today.
The “Anibaptists” (sic) believed that faith had to come before baptism. Therefore, it would be wrong to baptize infants since they could not profess their faith. While some of the higher order Protestant denominations still baptize infants, most of the others do not. Scripture says that baptism replaces circumcision, and circumcision usually happened when the boy was eight days old. The Church had baptized infants and children throughout history, so this was another Protestant change. To them, baptism was not efficacious. Rather it was a symbolic manifestation of a person’s faith.
The reason for listing 4-part music singing here is unclear. Sacred music has always been preeminent in the Catholic Church, from Chant to the great composers like Mozart and Bach who wrote beautiful music for the Mass. Also puzzling is his statement that cultural heritage had no role in the Roman Catholic Church. Many parishes arose along ethnic lines as Catholic immigrants came to this country. Neighborhood parishes often are named after the patron saint of the country of those who settled there.
Once the reformation split took place and Bible-only Protestantism fractured Christianity, preaching became central. The loss of focus on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist made the preacher the central focus of worship. Lacking the Magisterium, doctrinal disputes caused multiple divisions. With no centralized authority, people could choose their place of worship based on whether they liked the preacher and his or her interpretation of the scripture. More bibles were produced in the vernacular because the invention of the printing press made it possible.
Glaring omission: The presenter makes no mention of the seven books removed from the Bible by Luther and his attempt to discredit or remove certain New Testament epistles. (James, Hebrews, etc) He also fails to mention how the rejection of papal authority caused doctrinal chaos within Protestantism.
Modern Times 1700-present
- Female Clergy
- Lay Participation
- Individual Experience
- Shared Resources
- Revivals & Tent Meetings
- Baptism Debate
- Altar Calls
- Expansive hymns
- Common Lectionary
- RC little recog of cultural dif
- Eucharistic understanding
- Liturgical Calendar
My Comments: The Age of Enlightenment was a period when reason became the primary source of authority. With it came increased questioning of religious authority. Adopting this philosophy became a license to oppose what the Catholic Church had taught through the centuries. Religious norms were up for grabs once Christianity began to divide. Where the Catholic Church was the Bride of Christ, and the male priesthood acted in Persona Christe, Female clergy became commonplace in Protestant offshoots. The lines between male and female roles began to blur.
Lay participation now allows many Protestant congregations to choose their own ministers. The Individual experience is manifested in relativism. If someone does not like what is being taught in his congregation, he can find a different one to suit his taste, or simply start his own. He has no Divinely issued authority on earth for guidance or correction.
I cannot comment on the presenter’s listing of Shared Resources other than it implies that resources were not being shared prior to this time, which is not true. Resources are shared more easily in modern times. Revivals and Tent meetings became popular because the preacher was now the center of attention. Showmanship attracted audiences as much or more than the actual message being delivered.
The Baptism Debate was one of many debates that would arise once the Church was no longer obeyed as the pillar and foundation of truth. Luther’s notion of justification by faith alone apart from works led to the belief that all one had to do is declare Jesus as his Lord and Savior. This often happened at an Altar Call, a nineteenth century development that coaxed people into making a public commitment to Christ.
I will avoid the topic of music here. There have been many beautiful hymns written in the past few centuries by both Protestant and Catholics. The Common Lectionary used by the Catholic Church and several Protestant denominations is on a three year cycle where much of the Bible is covered. The same readings will be read in every Catholic Church in the world on any given Sunday. Additionally, the Catholic Church has daily Mass readings that cycle on a two year schedule.
The presenter noting that the Church has little recognition of cultural differences is a bit puzzling. As noted before, many parishes still have ethnic roots. Music in the liturgy can vary culturally. Various saints are venerated in areas according to local custom. Liturgical uniformity, however, is necessary for the universal Church. Christ established one Church, one faith, one baptism for all, and that Church is guided by the Holy Spirit to foster Christian unity.
Eucharistic understanding certainly changed in the Protestant community after the reformation. They view the bread and wine as symbolic of the Body and Blood of Christ, rather than the transubstantiated actual Body and Blood of Christ. And in fact, they are correct in their own congregations, because they no longer have a valid Eucharist. Martin Luther had no authority to ordain anyone, so the apostolic succession necessary for the laying of hands was broken. Holy Orders remains valid in the Catholic Church and in some eastern churches where apostolic succession has continued.
His final notation cites the Liturgical Calendar that Catholics and many other Christian denominations observe. In the Catholic Church, we observe the Advent season, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. Outside of those seasons we refer to as Ordinary Time.
Glaring Omissions: The so-called reformation began the splintering of Christianity. Once the Magisterial authority and the Oral Tradition of the Church was denied, Protestants were left to define their own interpretation of Scripture. With no one in authority to settle disagreements, doctrinal splits became rampant. Today there are thousands upon thousands of Protestant denominations, many of them not affiliated with any particular leadership other than the preacher who started it. All of them may believe in the Bible alone as their guide, but their interpretations of the Bible do not always agree. With the loss of focus on the Holy Eucharist, worship can devolve into a Christian pep session where the preacher and performance are the attractions. Doctine is fluid. Most Protestant denominations now allow artificial birth control, pretty much unheard of prior to 1930. Some promote same-sex marriage. Even abortion is permitted in some. Twisting interpretation to fit certain desires can justify most anything with no divinely authorized body to provide guidance.
More interesting than the evolution of Christianity over the centuries is what has remained constant in the Catholic Church. We have maintained apostolic succession and Holy Orders. We have an all-male priesthood, with the priest acting in the person of the bridegroom, Jesus Christ, with the Church as His bride. The Holy Eucharist, the Real Presence of Jesus Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, is still available to us as the center of our Faith in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We have kept the canon of Scripture intact throughout Christian history. We have the seven sacraments instituted by Christ, including Reconciliation where we are absolved of our sins. We stand strong in respecting the sanctity of marriage and the right to life.
God is does not change, so what makes more sense? Should we look for truth where it seems illusive, or should we look where it has remained firm and constant? The defense rests.