Protestants, Catholics, and the “literal” interpretation of the Bible

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I really don’t understand why Evangelicals claim to believe in the literal interpretation of Scripture. It is certainly not true. A literal interpretation would mean that they would have to believe that:

  • Baptism is essential for salvation
  • Babies can, and should be baptized
  • Salvation can be lost
  • The bread and the wine at Communion actually become the Body and Blood of the Lord
  • Peter was ordained by Jesus himself as the earthly head of the Church
  • That there is one, and only one, Church ordained of God
  • Groups that splinter from the Church are outside of God’s will
  • That Purgatory is real

The only way that you can NOT believe in these doctrines/dogmas is to take the literal truth of Scripture and explain it away somehow. This is often done by taking verses out of context. It is done by saying that Jesus did not mean what he said. Instead he was only speaking symbolically or figuratively. It is also done by rewriting history, saying that the early Church believed as they do currently.

The truth is, the Evangelical position did not exist until Martin Luther and after. Even then, Luther himself still accepted most of these as truth.

Addendum: 5/1/2008 – I just wanted to point out that in writing this post, I did not mean to sound like Catholicism teaches a literal interpretation of Scripture. I was only commenting on those who say that they do, yet do not.

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Questioning Fundamentalism: Most of 2006-2007

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There are several things that have been leading me to question my Baptist, and “Fundamentalist” (not fundamental) customs.

Point 1
The whole time that I have been a Baptist, I have missed the active, physical part of worship. At GBC it is difficult to know if you can raise your hands in prayer, say “Amen” during the sermon, or applaud a good musical performance without calling attention to yourself.

Is this all there is—just sitting in a pew, singing some songs that are no more than camp songs with pabulum lyrics, and listening to a sermon on a subject that I have heard a thousand times? The fellowship is great. I have made some very good friends. And what would a Sunday School picnic be without John Wood’s BBQ chicken?! I love going to Sunday School and getting into the depths of the Bible.

Homestead did not have a physical form of worship, but it was an atmosphere of worship that was quite profound—something that I had not experienced since I stopped attending Catholic Mass.

Point 2
All my life I have never been able to accept evolution as possible. Science is squarely against it, as is the Bible. However during the last few years I have not been too sure about the age of the universe. I have done much study in this area from sources like the Institute for Creation Research, Answers in Genesis, Kent Hovind Ministries, and Reasons to Believe.

I will not go into all the details here but what has been revealed to me is that it is impossible for Scripture and science to directly contradict each other. If science absolutely proves that the age of the universe is 14.5 billion years old, and Scripture says that it is only about 10,000 years old—tops; then one or the other is wrong. We know that provable science cannot be wrong (it may be incomplete), and we know that Scripture cannot be wrong. Therefore what is wrong is the interpretation of one or the other (or both).

The age of the universe is unquestionably just what it looks like, 14.5 billion years old. (This does not necessarily mean that evolution took place). Therefore it must be the way that Scripture is translated or interpreted that is incorrect. The six days of creation must be long ages of time. Perhaps I will go into more detail on this in a separate chapter later, but it would just confuse the issue if I went into much more detail here. A very good book on the subject is A Matter of Days, by Hugh Ross. You can purchase it here.

This is very much like the church persecuting Galileo for saying that the sun, not the earth, is the center of the universe because it was against the Bible. As scripture was being misinterpreted before, so it likely is now.

Point 3
This study has brought me to another point. I still believe that Scripture is inspired and inerrant, don’t get me wrong. But what else may we be misinterpreting?

In the last several years the Left Behind books by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye have been very popular. I read most of these books myself and was very entertained. Ever since my conversion I have pretty much held these same views. And for the most part, I still do. However, before Jesus came, the Jews severely misinterpreted the signs and prophecies concerning their own Messiah. Could we be just as wrong regarding his return? Is Pretribulationism really biblical or was it created to assuage the fear that we may have to go through the tribulation? I really don’t know. I don’t think we can know until the prophecies begin to take place. Is the rapture itself misinterpreted? Only a very small minority of Protestants believe it, and only for about the last 150 years.

Point 4
Although Baptists will say that you do not have to be Baptist to be saved, many of them believe it without knowing it. I have heard on many occasions where a Baptist missionary candidate is on deputation trying to get support. He will very often say that they are going to such-and-such city in such-and-such country and that they will be the only missionary within say, 600 miles. A simple internet search may show that they may be the only Baptist missionaries, but there are missionaries from other denominations who are just as Christian, and just as dedicated to the spreading of the Word. But we can’t associate with them because they baptize babies instead of adults. There may even be Baptists of another type and yet they say that they are the only ones going there.

So either that means the missionary thinks that only Baptists are Christians, or they are lying from the pulpit, or they haven’t done enough research.

Point 5
We love to recall when we were children; reminiscing about the “good ol’ days”, digging into our genealogies and family histories, going to family reunions, high school reunions, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, etc. One of the most tragic things that many of us come in contact with is when people suffer dementia and begin to forget even their closest relatives, losing their contact with their own past.

Most of us doing family genealogies are delighted to find someone famous (even infamous) in our family tree. It seems to be an innate need for we humans to connect with our past. This continuity provides us with security, like an anchor to things ancient so that we are less likely to be blown about by the winds of unpredictability and change.

This is no less true for our religion as it is for everything else. The Bible is full of history, genealogy, and using great people of the faith as role-models. Jesus’ genealogy is important to prove his Davidic family line.

Where is the security in a denomination that changes every 30 or 40 years? Even early Christianity was grafted into the secure foundation of the Old Testament and Judaism.

Point 6
Fundamentalists often will say that one of the surest ways to identify a cult is that they claim to have a new revelation from God that makes everything before it moot. An example is Jehovah’s Witness. There are many reasons to believe that this is a cult, but one of them is that they claim to have truth that no one else has and the Church has been in error for 2000 years.

However, Protestantism has the same claim. They say that The Catholic Church and Orthodoxy were wrong for almost 1500 years. So the same logic applies. Why would the Holy Spirit wait to reveal the truth of salvation for 1500 years after it was revealed to the Apostles?

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As I am pondering these (and other) points, I just wonder if we have got it all wrong. Baptists will often say that at the reformation they were returning to the church of the New Testament. But then wasn’t the Baptist denomination supposed to be the return? Then the Regular Baptists split from the Northern Baptist Convention, who split from the Triennial Convention. Each one claimed to be a return to the New Testament church.

But are they? Do we really know what the early church was like? The New Testament doesn’t really say what the early church was like other than a couple of glimpses in its early days. Acts mentions a few things but mostly takes it for granted that the reader, who was contemporary, knew what was going on. After chapter 9, it mainly concerns Paul’s activities rather than the Church’s, or most of the Apostles for that matter.

I decided to look into this further. My hope was to find justification for my Baptist theology. I could not have been more wrong.

My life as a Baptist: 1983—2007

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After Mary and I moved to Killeen, TX we had some trouble finding a church. There were no PB churches anywhere nearby. We ended up settling for a new Baptist church that was meeting at a person’s home. We went to this church for the rest of the time that we stayed in Texas.

After returning to Michigan in 1986, we found that a lot of people from Homestead had moved away, some were divorced, and the spirit there was just not the same. I still don’t really know if it was the church itself, or if it was I that had changed. During the next couple of years some very important people in the congregation had died, including Randy, and by 1991 they disbanded and sold the property. After some searching, we decided to attend Grandville Baptist Church (GBC), which was a very short distance from our home and only about ½ mile from where I grew up.

Although Mary and I had been attending Baptist churches for the past three years, at heart we still felt like we were PB. We were able to reconcile this in our minds (at least I did—Mary, I’m not so sure) by forcing ourselves to accept certain beliefs by reinterpreting them. To understand what I mean I need to show the Baptist distinctives and and why we had a problem with some of them.

Baptists use an acrostic to identify their beliefs, however they are not all truly distinctive, as many denominations hold these as truth as well, to varying degrees. But the Baptists never met an acrostic they didn’t like:

B ible – the sole authority for faith and practice (sola scriptura)
A utonomy or independence of the local church
P riesthood of all believers
T wo offices:

  • Pastor
  • Deacon

I ndividual soul liberty and responsibility
S aved, baptized church membership
T wo ordinances:

  • Believer’s Baptism
  • Lord’s Supper

S eparation of Church & State

There were only two that I had problems with. The first was that I still believed that the offices of pastor and deacon were both the same office. I have since come to realize that they are indeed distinct, but at the time I believed that the important thing was that there was a plurality of leadership in the church. It didn’t matter that much to me what titles they held.

The other is membership. I still do not believe that this is taught in the Bible. Every New Testament verse that a Baptist will use to convince you of the existence of local church membership are actually verses about being members of the universal (catholic) church. However—it may not be specifically stated, but in order to maintain church discipline and to hold orderly meetings and elections, a membership roll is very useful. So I accepted it on practical grounds rather than biblical.

In about 1987 I began to work in the church library. I found it a great way to minister at the church without requiring a huge time commitment. Also, I am not really good with children. This was a way that I could still be involved with them at the church in a limited way. By 2003, the other people who worked in the library retired and that left me as what you might call a “Head Librarian”, although the church has no title for this position. I only include it here to help you understand my duties.

I am currently in the process of training someone to take my place in the library. After more than 20 years, I am getting very tired of it. I will elaborate more in the next chapter.

My time at GBC has been fruitful. Each of my sons went through their respective crises of faith, one worse than the other, but I will just leave that there. Those are their stories, not mine. They both found their Savior, have dedicated their lives to him, and are seeking his will for their future.

Mike, the elder of the two, is still living at home and at the time of this writing is working at Pine Ridge Bible Camp for the third summer in a row. He is hoping to still make it to Bible college someday and become a pastor.

Matthew is married to Amy, a wonderful Christian woman who Mary and I have grown to love as if she were our own daughter. They complement each other very well. They have been married for over two years, and by the looks of it, you would think that they are still dating.