Have you ever had a conversation with a Protestant critic who challenges you on one matter of faith, but before you can answer, he introduces about twenty other objections? And he's just getting warmed up! It can feel very overwhelming when this happens because you want to give the best answer you can, but he's off to other questions and accusations before you can wet your lips and begin responding!
When speaking with non-Catholic friends (or foes) who put you on the spot like this, you might try to refocus the conversation by telling them that they have lots of good questions, or that you note their various objections, and you'd like to start by answering the one that he started the conversation with. There was no pope in the New Testament; Peter did not have primacy among the apostles; Jesus had blood brothers and sisters; there is no New Testament priesthood... The list can be long and arduous. What you might notice, is that most of the questions really center on the matter of "authority".
If the Catholic Church does not have the "authority" that it claims to have, given by Christ to the apostles who laid the foundation for the Church, then Protestants can assign their own authority to their own personal interpretations of the Scriptures, especially those interpretations that are contrary to Catholic theology and truth. However, if Christ started a Church, gave it authority to teach in His name... a Church that would be guided to "all truth" by the Holy Spirit, then that Church certainly has the authority that the Catholic Church claims to have, authority to make doctrinal statements that are binding on all Christians.
So, if the Catholic Church has the authority that she claims to have, then it has the juridical power to safeguard the deposit of faith and teach authoritatively in alignment with what was given to her by Christ and the apostles. Thus, most, if not all, of the Protestant objections are rectified in their acceptance of the Church's authority. However, Protestants deny the Church's authority, while assigning that authority to Sacred Scripture alone. Unfortunately, what they are actually doing, is assigning authority, not to Scripture, but to their own personal feelings and self-interpretations of the Scriptures. And that's a problem... It's a problem because the Protestant movement includes countless individuals and churches that all claim to use the Bible as their sole source of Christian teaching, yet find disagreement with one another on almost every matter of faith.
The saying, "But we agree on most of the basics" is not true. What are the basics? Who decides that? Is the Eucharist the literal body and blood of Christ or is it symbolic? Is water baptism necessary for salvation, or is it only symbolic of a spiritual rebirth? What is required for salvation? Who decides what the basics are? Did Christ establish the Church on Peter, the Rock or didn't he? Did Christ say that the gates of hell would not destroy his Church or didn't he? Did Christ tell the apostles that the Holy Spirit would guide the Church to all truth or didn't he? Did he really mean "all the truth" or only "some of the truth"? Should we put our faith in the Church that continues what Christ started 2,000 years ago, or do we put our trust in individuals who claim to have deciphered a different message from the Sacred Scriptures through their own self-interpretations?
The Bible says: "First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (1 Peter 1:20-21).
Do we put confidence in individuals who claim their understanding of truth is superior to the Church that was around 2,000 years ago? Or do we prefer the Church Fathers, such as St. Justin Martyr, St. Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, St. Athanasius, St. Ambrose, and St. Augustine (just to name a few), heroes of our faith who lived and led the Church through the early years of its development? Whose interpretations of Scripture most likely have closer alignment to what the apostles taught, both in writing or through their everyday oral teachings?
The question of "authority" is at the heart of all Christian apologetics. Does the Catholic Church have that authority? That is the question. That is where we must begin, because without authority, we only have fallible self-interpretations, which sometimes may be right, and other times, not. We should want the opinion of the Church who safeguards the full deposit of faith, the Church guided to "all truth" by the Holy Spirit! That's the only Church that has anything I want, because that's the only Church that can best guide my journey to heaven!
Look for future articles, either here in the Apologetics Forum or in our Blog, that address the issue of authority. Below is an excellent short video of Paul McCusker who discusses how the question of "authority" played a pivotal role in his conversion to Catholicism. I found his testimony on the Coming Home website (chnetwork.org). Enjoy!