Since Martin Luther pegged his 95 Theses to that church door, this debate has been arguably the most important and lasting debate in Christianity. Christianity’s basic doctrines about who can interpret Scripture and how men are saved are at stake. Do I have the ability to interpret Scripture in a manner I see fit as long as it is done within proper bounds, or must all my beliefs be dictated to me by the Vatican? Whence proceeds infallibility? Scripture or Jesus Himself on one side, the Roman Catholic Church on the other? Is man saved by faith alone, or by faith and works?
Now that the basic disagreements have been articulated, I hereby present:
THE PROTESTANT SIDE
My premise is that only Jesus Himself is the infallible authority on doctrinal matters, and all else is fallible, but not necessarily without authority. For example, Saint Augustine is not infallible, but he does serve as a good authority as to what might be correct doctrine. I disagree with many Protestants largely because of what this premise implies: Scripture itself is not infallible. However, it is our best authority on what Jesus taught and did and also what early Christians believed and how they worshiped.
Why do I think that, you ask? I contend that even inspired individuals cannot perfectly communicate God’s truth, because they are still human. Paul himself admitted to only “know[ing] in part,” which means his teachings were probably not without flaws. If individuals cannot communicate God’s truth perfectly, then this implies that even the pope himself cannot and is therefore not infallible.
However, Jesus can communicate God’s truth because He is God’s Son and one with God. This means He is our only infallible teacher and authority. All the rest of us might be wrong. Jesus taught his disciples many things about how to live a Christian life, including feeding the poor, helping the widow and orphan, and clothing the naked. All Christians, Protestant or Catholic, Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness, believe these things are good and attempt to do them.
On the other hand, we disagree on whether these actions themselves are part of what saves us. I contend they are not, because of Jesus’ clear affirmation that if you believe in Him then you are saved (John 3:16). Now here is where we turn to Paul, because Jesus also declares that those who do not treat the least among men well will be punished (Matthew 25). Paul says if you believe in your heart and declare with your mouth that you believe in Jesus then you will be saved (Romans 10:9). Within the broader context of Romans, Paul is arguing for justification by faith. The key part of this verse is the believe in your heart, because James declares: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” So faith not just an affirmation that “oh yeah, God exists.” It’s a continuous desire to do what God calls you to do and to love others.
The difference between this and salvation by works may not be readily apparent. However, deeper comprehension allows the Christian to understand that what Jesus, Paul, and James all esteemed is the loving of others, not doing good deeds.
Protestantism as a movement is how I came to this belief, because I wouldn’t have been able to question Catholic doctrine on this issue had I been raised Catholic.
(This is just part one of the debate and my introduction of my beliefs, so this is not a thorough discussion of Catholic vs Protestant doctrine.)