“Catholic at Heart” – What Fundamentally Orthodox Protestant/Evangelical/Pentecostal Christians and Eastern Orthodox Christians and Catholic Christians (of the Eastern and Western Rites) Are Already United in Is Precisely the Catholic Faith of the Undivided Early Catholic Church
According to the standards of the Early Church (which called itself the Catholic Church, because it was the Catholic (Universal) Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches, Eastern and Western), “doctrinally conservative,” traditionally orthodox Protestant/Evangelical Christians are “Catholic at heart” while “doctrinally liberal” Protestant Christians who question, doubt, or deny the traditional Christian fundamentals and the traditional Bible Canon itself are “Protestant at heart.” This is because the vast common Christian faith which fundamentally orthodox Protestant/ Evangelical/ Pentecostal Christians (and Eastern Orthodox Christians) and Catholic Christians (of the Eastern and Western Rites) are already united in is precisely the Catholic faith, with its traditional New Testament and its traditional essential “fundamental” Christian doctrines as articulated by the Early Church Councils of Catholic overseers (Eastern and Western bishops/eparchs, patriarchs and popes) in official settlement of the many early Christian CONTROVERSIES over these issues (Catholic Tradition and Magisterium understood as functions of the mystery revealed in the Bible (Ephesians 5:32 etc.) that the Church is the “Body of Christ” and the thus the “pillar and foundation of the truth” – 1Timothy 3:15). For Protestant Christians to attack or criticize the Catholic Church out of desire to remain in protest against it is to attack the historical and the only solid foundation for the New Testament Canon and the traditional fundamentals of orthodox Christianity.
All non-Catholic Christians who believe in the traditional fundamental tenets of orthodox Christianity believe in the Bible (including the Catholic Church’s New Testament fixed in a very Catholic process from 367-405 AD) as interpreted by Catholic Sacred Tradition as clarified by the Catholic Magisterium (teaching office) of overseers (bishops/eparchs, patriarchs and popes) at the Undivided Early Catholic Church’s Ecumenical and other major Councils . God has revealed Himself not only through the written Word of the Bible, but through the Living Word, Jesus Christ Himself, and the Bible calls the Church on Earth the Body of Christ. Jesus the Head of the Body spoke through His Body, the Undivided Early Catholic Church (with its Sacred Tradition and Magisterium of overseers [bishops/eparchs, patriarchs and popes] guided “into all truth” by the Holy Spirit as per Jesus’s John 16:13 promise), when this Catholic Church collected and officially defined the New Testament Canon and clearly articulated and developed the only proper fundamental interpretations of the Bible which all orthodox (non-heretical) Christians accept, and which make them all Catholic at heart. All traditional, fundamentally orthodox Christians act just like Catholics where it matters most!
To expand this point in a few paragraphs borrowed from A Proposal for the Reunification of Today’s Divided Christians According to the Model of the Undivided Early (Catholic) Church’s Catholic (Universal) Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches, for the Great Benefit of Both Today’s Catholic and Non-Catholic Churches and Towards the Belief of the World Which Jesus’ Prayer Linked to Our Christian Unity:
The Church is the “profound mystery” of the Bride and Body of Jesus Christ Himself (see Ephesians 5:22-32). Jesus Christ the “Head” of the Body directs the Church His Body through His Holy Spirit who indwells individual Christians and who animates the Body of Christ the Church as a whole and guides its ordained leadership offices into “all the truth” (John 16:13) as Jesus promised His Apostles and their successors the ordained overseers (bishops or eparchs and patriarchs, including the chief overseer/bishop and patriarch, the pope). The Non-Catholic Christian Churches which left the ancient Catholic Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches collectively known as the Catholic Church in the Second Millennium can indeed be fundamentally orthodox and share in the above common saving Christian faith, and can indeed be used of God as instruments of His salvation in the world, but only by being “Catholic at heart,” and acting as if the First Millennium Ecumenical and other major Councils of the Catholic Church, directed or ratified by Catholic popes, had genuine Holy Spirit-guaranteed authority to settle for all time the many disputes among early Christians over just which books should be in the New Testament and just how the Bible should be fundamentally interpreted.
Catholic Christians consider the traditional New Testament Canon and the traditional fundamentals of Christian faith as absolutely certain truths because they trust that the Catholic Sacred Tradition of how to interpret the Bible and the Catholic Magisterium (teaching office) of overseers/bishops (including the chief overseer/bishop, the pope) which settled the early Christian controversies in First Millennium Christian history are functions of the “profound mystery” (Ephesians 5:22-32) revealed in the Bible that the Church is the Body of Christ Himself, led by the Holy Spirit into “all the truth” (John 16:13) such that the Body of Christ the Church is indeed, as the Bible itself proclaims, “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Luther’s foundational Protestant doctrine that “the Bible alone is authoritative and binding on a Christian’s faith,” which deliberately excluded any authority belonging to the Catholic Sacred Tradition and Magisterium of the Church, logically excludes any certainty being given to the judgements of the Early Church Councils in settlement of the early controversies as to just what constituted basic Christian orthodoxy and even the New Testament Canon (list of Sacred Books) itself, which is precisely why the character of “Liberal” Protestantism is to not be certain about just which parts of the Bible are truly inspired Scripture and to not be certain even that Jesus is God – orthodox Protestants do not really follow Luther * but are unconsciously “Catholic at heart” by their insistence that the New Testament must be the traditional (Catholic) New Testament and it must be interpreted according to the Catholic Sacred Tradition clarified concisely in the traditional (Catholic) fundamental Christian doctrines by the early Catholic Magisterium in the Early (Catholic) Church Councils (this Catholic Sacred Tradition is usually preserved in fundamentally orthodox Protestant creedal “Statements of Faith” which include words and phrases not from the Bible Alone such as Trinity, Incarnation, “Jesus is one in being with the Father” and “Jesus is fully God and fully man”).
The early 20th Century Protestant Fundamentalist and Evangelical movements were (unconscious) movements away from Protestantism and back towards Catholicism, wherein orthodox or “Catholic at heart” Protestants clung to the Catholic Sacred Tradition preserved in their traditional creeds instead of clinging to Protestant “Bible Alone” doctrine the way “Protestant at heart” liberal Protestants do. In response to the huge 19th and 20th Century trend of “doctrinal liberalism” and unorthodoxy within the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” churches, which was simply the result of Protestant churches maturing in their Protestantism and thus naturally and logically becoming uncertain of the traditional Catholic New Testament Canon and fundamentals, those Protestant Christians whose traditional orthodoxy was vitally important to them reacted with the early 20th Century Fundamentalist and Evangelical movements. These movements stressed the traditional fundamental Bible interpretations of Catholic Sacred Tradition (not realizing the fundamentals were simply the official Catholic interpretation of the official Catholic New Testament Scriptures), and thus “Evangelical” and “Fundamentalist” Protestants no longer strictly followed the “Bible Alone” doctrine which leads logically to doctrinal liberalism and unorthodoxy (even though Evangelicals still pay “lip service” to “Bible Alone” doctrine, they do not truly practice it as historical Protestants did, which led the mainline Protestant churches over centuries to gradually lose their grip on even the basic Christian fundamentals). Conservative, Evangelical, orthodox and therefore “Catholic at heart” Protestants cannot win arguments based on the Bible Alone with their fellow Protestants who are “doctrinally liberal,” because on the basis of the Bible Alone they cannot justify why the Bible must be interpreted according to Catholic Sacred Tradition and why the New Testament must be the traditional collection of 27 books that the Early Catholic Church Magisterium said it was in the late 4th Century. The only way the “Bible Alone” can be used to win arguments against knowledgeable “doctrinally liberal” and unorthodox Protestant Christians is to recognize that the “Bible Alone” testifies that it is not meant to be taken alone but in concert with an authoritative Tradition and Magisterium as functions of the Mystery revealed in the Bible that the Church is the Living Body of Christ Himself. (For much more on this, see my book Sola Scriptura? What Scripture Alone Testifies Concerning the Church as the Body of Christ Expressing Himself in Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium: The Biblical Basis for the Early Church’s Formal Repudiation of Heretics, Which Is the Biblical Basis for Refuting Modern Doctrinally Liberal Christianity Which Likewise Rejects or Doubts Traditional Christian Faith and Morality). Catholic Christians can explain and justify their belief in the common fundamental doctrines of traditional, historic Christianity in terms of their beliefs in certain of the uniquely Catholic secondary doctrines, especially the Succession of Apostolic authority including the papacy as functions of Mystery revealed in the Bible that despite the weaknesses of its human members the Church is the Living Body of Christ; Protestant/Evangelical Christians cannot explain or justify their belief in the common fundamental doctrines of traditional, historic (Catholic!) Christianity in terms of their beliefs in the uniquely Protestant secondary doctrines, especially “Bible Alone” doctrine, the “Pillar of the Protestant Reformation,” which is exactly why so many of the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” churches have lost their beliefs or their certainty about their beliefs in the traditional fundamentals of historic (that is, Catholic) Christian faith and morality (for more on this see Volume III Chapter 7 of So That The World May Believe).
Since orthodox Protestants already unconsciously act just like Catholic Christians where it matters most, in order for them to avoid in the long term the Protestant “doctrinal liberalism” which is the mature form of Protestantism, with its uncertainty or unorthodoxy, currently orthodox Protestant churches must eventually (this process cannot be rushed) formalize their relationship with the Catholic Church they already belong to “in heart” by their commitment to the traditional Catholic New Testament and traditional Catholic Christian fundamentals. But, according to the model of the Undivided Early Catholic Church’s Catholic Communion of orthodox Sister Churches and the precedents of former Nestorian and other heretics or schismatics who later recanted their errors and rejoined the ancient Catholic Christian communion they had left in their own reunified Sister Churches (such as the Chaldean Rite of the Catholic Church), “Catholic at heart” Protestant churches must not simply rejoin the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church they left but form new Rites/Sister Churches within the Catholic Communion. Such new Rites would allow them as Catholic Christians to be permanently solid in Christian orthodoxy (to ensure they avoid the fate of so many once-but-no-longer-orthodox Protestant churches, like the one I was raised in), while at the same time formally enriching the Catholic Communion with their particular Evangelical strengths and gifts from God, as one of its Sister Churches (they already informally enrich the Catholic Communion which has already borrowed many good things, especially worship songs, from “Catholic at heart” Protestants).
This formal reunion of “Catholic at heart” Protestant Christians with the Catholic Church (for the benefit of all sides) is something that will take much time, as both Catholic and Protestant Christians have to get used to thinking about Christian unity the way the Undivided Early Church lived it. The great majority of today’s Catholic Christians are Roman Rite Catholic Christians who because of their numerical dominance for centuries got used to mistakenly thinking the Catholic Church was just their one Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, and these Roman Catholic Christians are only just starting to learn and get used to the fact that their huge Rite is only one of the Sister Churches in the ancient and unbroken Catholic (Universal) Christian Communion of orthodox Christian Sister Churches known collectively as the Catholic Church – as their own recent 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican Council II) at last clearly and officially defined (at Vatican II all the minority Eastern Rite Catholic overseers [bishops/eparchs and patriarchs] were appropriately influential, getting the majority Roman Rite overseer/bishops to recognize the Catholic Church always was and was always meant to be much more than the Roman Catholic Sister Church, despite its current huge size). So not only will fundamentally orthodox, therefore “Catholic at heart” Protestant/ Evangelical/ Pentecostal churches (and Eastern Orthodox Churches already virtually the same as Eastern Catholic Rites) have to become ready to formalize their relationship with the Catholic Church they already belong to in heart by their traditional Christian orthodoxy, but today’s Catholic Christians will also have to become ready to welcome large numbers of non-Roman Rite Christians of many older and newer Rites back into the ancient Catholic Communion of orthodox Sister Churches. The 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican II) has already laid the groundwork for serious dialogue about this to happen, which will have to be engaged in by all sides patiently and lovingly “so that the world may believe,” as Jesus made it clear the world’s belief in Him is contingent upon our loving Christian unity (John 17:21,23).
© 2007, 2009 Peter William John Baptiste SFO
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* That is, orthodox Protestants do not follow Luther’s “Bible Alone” doctrine strictly and to its logical conclusions, as unorthodox Protestants do. They do follow Luther’s personal example of remaining unconsciously “Catholic at heart” despite his protest. Luther insisted the Bible must be interpreted according to the traditional fundamentals of orthodox Christianity, mistakenly believing that these truths were “obvious from Scripture alone,” not realizing that they were only “obvious” to him because he was a Catholic priest who had been steeped since birth in the Catholic Sacred Tradition of how to properly interpret the Bible. Many of those Protestants since then who were not raised in the Catholic Sacred Tradition but strictly followed Luther’s “Bible Alone” doctrine eventually ended up coming up with many of the same linguistically valid possible Bible interpretations as did those Early Christians who did not take the Church’s Tradition and Magisterium seriously – such as the Arian heresy which denied the Divinity of Jesus! A great many “doctrinally liberal” Protestants today are modern-day Arian heretics after centuries of following “the Bible Alone,” while “doctrinally conservative,” orthodox Protestants strictly follow not “the Bible Alone” but also the Catholic Sacred Tradition of how to properly interpret the Bible which is preserved in their orthodox (“Catholic at heart”) Creeds or Statements of Faith.