Are Protestants an authority unto themselves? It sure appears so to many Catholics. Many Protestants claim to follow Scripture, but the thousands of denominations disagree over fundamental doctrines, including salvation and the nature of sacraments.
There’s a tension between private judgment and Church authority. Both Protestants and Catholics experience it, though not always in the same way.
Let’s look a bit more at this tension through the lens of both Catholics and Protestants.
Catholics—at the end of the day, we all use private judgment.
As humans, we constantly have data flowing into our minds — both the true and the false. You may be walking through the woods and see a fuzzy image that looks like an animal, but upon closer inspection, you see it’s just a clump of branches with brown leaves on it.
We need to be careful about overemphasizing how much Protestants use private judgment. Because we do too. We have data coming in, and we have to figure out what’s true.
The Church doesn’t spell every single thing out for us in detail. But it does issue clear doctrinal statements that are binding on us. That’s much easier than having to personally decipher the most important Biblical doctrines from the pages of Scripture.
Protestants—you may be relying on the church leaders more than you think.
Let’s be honest — many people simply don’t have the time or knowledge to find out all the necessary doctrines that Scripture teaches. That’s why they have preachers. You’ll see Protestant leaders excommunicate people from their communities for going against the denomination’s official creed.
As much as their denomination may claim to support private interpretation, ultimately, the people in the pews are having to take their pastor’s word as gospel. Thankfully, some Protestants are more honest about this ecclesiastical influence on their thinking. But others are in denial.
The Bible is a book of inspired writings from many different centuries. The canon of Scripture wasn’t officially determined until well after the start of Christianity.
We need an authoritative Church to guide us in the knowledge of God. Otherwise, we each become our own pope.