How Protestantism Undermines Respect for the Bible
THE centuries-old opposition of the Catholic Church to Bible reading by the common people in any vernacular language has caused many sincere Catholics to believe that the Bible is a “Protestant Book.” And, of course, Protestants themselves consider their religion to be 100-percent Bible-based. One authority states: “It is no mistake to say that its [Protestantism’s] very basis is still the Bible, which contains the Word of God, or that it is the book of the Church, the home and the individual, the book the Protestant goes to for practical counsel on his moral life, his social life and his thinking on man, his nature, his destiny and his relationship to God.”a
A learned article on the history of Protestantism carries a subtitle “The Role of the Bible,” and states: “The common factor in Protestantism has been the acceptance of the supremacy of the Bible over the churches; the belief that ecclesiastical ministries or hierarchies were to be tested against the Bible as the word of God; the doctrine that all things necessary to salvation were to be found in Holy Scripture.”—Encyclopædia Britannica, 1979.
Thus, the average Protestant generally feels closer to the Bible than the average Catholic, who knows he is expected to give as much credence to Church tradition as to the Holy Scriptures. But is it true that the Bible is the “very basis” of Protestantism’s doctrines, and does the average Protestant (whether of the clergy or of the laity) still go to the Bible “for practical counsel on his moral life”?
Attachment to the Bible Overrated
The facts show that from the very earliest days of the Reformation, Protestantism’s strict adherence to the Bible has been greatly overrated. Although Luther’s name is indelibly connected with his translation of the Bible, in his theology he placed “individual insight” above what is written clearly in the Bible. In his efforts to prove “justification by grace through faith,” Luther upgraded such Bible books as Romans and Galatians, and downgraded canonical books such as Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation, thus creating what has been called “a canon within the canon.”
Similarly, John Calvin paid lip service to the Bible, yet in his major work Institutes of the Christian Religion he expounded such unbiblical doctrines as the Trinity (Book I), man born with no free will (Book II), absolute predestination (Book III) and infant baptism (Book IV). He also shared responsibility for the arrest and subsequent death by burning of Michael Servetus, another reformer but one who did not share Calvin’s view on the Trinity. Was this recognizing “the supremacy of the Bible,” such as its giving counsel against retaliation at Romans 12:17-21? Hardly!
Moreover, the reformers and the Protestant churches they fathered continued to accept the creeds issued by past ecumenical councils of the Catholic Church, such as the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, which set forth unbiblical doctrines like the Trinity and hellfire. Protestantism has produced its own crop of creeds, among others the Lutheran Augsburg Confession, the Reformed Churches’ Second Helvetic Confession and the Anglican and Episcopalian Thirty-nine Articles, all of which set forth required belief in such unscriptural doctrines as the Trinity. More recently, the Protestant World Council of Churches published as a “basis” for membership the necessity to confess Jesus “as God.” Thus, from its very inception up until the present day, Protestantism’s doctrinal attachment to the Bible has been greatly overrated.—See John 17:3, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Acts 3:23 and Psalm 146:4, where the Bible clearly shows that, not Jesus, but his Father is the “only true God” and that the soul does not survive when a human dies.
Protestantism and Higher Criticism
The very nature of Protestantism, born of rebellion against tradition and the authority of the pope of Rome, made it more vulnerable than the conservative Catholic Church to rationalism and to the negative aspects of Biblical criticism. It will doubtless be helpful to explain here what is meant by Biblical criticism. It is divided into two branches: Lower criticism is the scholarly investigation of Bible manuscripts, their origin, preservation and relative value in relationship to the originals, which are no longer available. This is sometimes called textual criticism. Higher criticism is the study of the authorship, date of writing and historical accuracy of the Bible, in the light of archaeology and history.
Lower criticism has done much to further Bible scholarship, pruning out interpolations and producing reliable master texts that provide the basis for better translations of the Bible. On the other hand, higher criticism has opened the gates to a flood of pseudo-scholarly works whose effect has been to undermine people’s confidence in the Bible.
Commenting on Protestantism’s vulnerability to rationalism and destructive higher criticism, the Encyclopædia Britannica (1979) writes:
“The question of biblical criticism was first posed in the German universities; i.e., whether a man might be a Christian and even a good Christian though he held some parts of the Bible to be not true. This became the great question for Protestantism, if not for all Christendom, in the 19th century. . . . German Protestantism showed at length an elasticity, or open-mindedness, in the face of new knowledge, which was as influential in the development of the Christian churches as the original insights of the Reformation. Owing in part to this German example, the Protestant churches of the main tradition—Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Congregational, Methodist, and many Baptist communities—adjusted themselves relatively easily (from the intellectual point of view) to the advances of science, to the idea of evolution, and to progress in anthropology or comparative religion.”
By classifying certain portions of the Bible as myths, many members of the Protestant clergy have cast doubt on the entire Bible. In fact, in its introduction, under the title “The Bible: Its Significance and Authority,” the Protestant 12-volume Interpreter’s Bible goes as far as to state: “It follows from this brief inquiry that it would not be in the least contrary to Scripture itself but rather in harmony with it, nor would it be contrary to anything essential in the Christian faith, if we ceased altogether to speak of the Scriptures as the Word of God.”
Such statements kill the influence of the Bible in the lives of people even more effectively than a papal bull prohibiting Bible reading.
Fundamentalists—Not True Friends of the Bible
One branch of Protestantism has, however, resisted the assault of higher criticism. It is called Fundamentalism. This has been defined as ‘a militantly conservative movement originating around the beginning of the 20th century in opposition to modernist tendencies and emphasizing as fundamental to Christianity the literal interpretation and absolute inerrancy of the Scriptures.’
Fundamentalists are right in claiming that the Bible is inspired by God, and their fight against destructive higher criticism and such pseudoscientific theories as evolution is commendable. But are they really enhancing the Bible in the minds of reasonable people when they claim that everything written in the Bible is to be taken literally? Are they furthering the interests of the Bible when they say that the earth was created in six twenty-four-hour days, whereas the Bible itself uses the word “day” to designate periods of time of varying lengths?—Compare Genesis chapter 1 with Genesis 2:4 and Ge 5:1; also 2 Peter 3:8.
Moreover, are fundamentalists true friends of the Bible when, while claiming to stick strictly to the Scriptures, they teach such unbiblical doctrines as the Trinity (compare Deuteronomy 6:4; John 14:28), the immortality of the soul (Ezekiel 18:4) and hellfire (Jeremiah 7:31; Romans 6:23)? By their literalistic interpretations of the Bible and their teaching such God-dishonoring doctrines, Protestant fundamentalists undermine the power of the Bible in the minds of many people.
Protestantism and Worldliness
Jesus stated to his disciples: “If you belonged to the world, then the world would love you as its own. But I chose you from this world, and you do not belong to it; that is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19, Today’s English Version) Yet it is a patent fact that the major Protestant churches take an active part in the political systems of this world, some of them even being “state religions.” One reference work states: “It is possible to speak of Protestantism’s contribution to modern nationalism. . . . All but the radicals tended to make much of loyalty to the existing state, and Protestants often provided an ideological base for each new state as it rose to self-consciousness—as was the case in Prussia or in the United States.”—Encyclopædia Britannica.
At the beginning of this article, a Protestant writer was quoted as saying that the Bible is “the book the Protestant goes to for practical counsel on his moral life.” Can this still be said to be true when clergyman after clergyman from the main Protestant churches make statements condoning premarital sex, adultery, homosexuality and abortion? An article in the French daily Le Monde entitled “Many Churches Open the Homosexuality File” and based on a report published in Geneva, Switzerland, by the World Council of Churches, revealed that several large Protestant churches even tolerate homosexual ministers. Yet the Bible states: “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders . . . will inherit the kingdom of God.”—1 Corinthians 6:9, 10, New International Version.
Thus, while Protestantism has not built up a record of hatred for the Bible and for those who read it in the common languages, such as the Catholic Church built up for itself over the centuries, nevertheless, by its belief in unbiblical doctrines, its acceptance of higher criticism and pseudoscientific theories, its worldliness and acceptance of permissive morals, Protestantism bears heavy responsibility for undermining the influence of the Bible in the lives of millions of people.
Yet, in spite of Catholicism’s centuries-long opposition to Bible reading by the common people and Protestantism’s more subtle but nevertheless devastating undermining of God’s Word, the Bible is still a book to which people are rarely indifferent. They either love it or hate it. Just why this is so and how it affects you will be examined in the concluding article of this series.
a Histoire du Protestantisme, J. Boisset, page 6.
[Picture on page 9]
To support his ideas, Luther upgraded certain Bible books and downgraded others