Luther Fundamentally Misunderstood St Paul, Part 1: Introduction

By November 21, 2015 Apologetics 12 Comments

Calling All Converts exists to make conversion easier. Those looking at the Catholic faith have needs, not least the need for answers.

With this in mind, among other things this blog site will be devoted to teaching and defending the truth of the Catholic faith.

My Need for Answers

For me, the road that led to the door of the Catholic Church was long and winding and difficult in so many ways. I needed  inspiration for the journey. I needed connection with at least someone who understood what I was going through. I needed spiritual direction. And yeah, I needed to think long and hard about what I might do to make a living if I left the ministry to become Catholic. I needed help of all kinds.

But more than anything, I needed clarity on the issues. More than anything, I needed answers.

Why? Because ultimately I knew that whether I remained a Protestant pastor or entered the Catholic Church wasn’t going to depend on whether the transition was easy. It wasn’t going to depend on whether or not I liked the smell of incense or the sound of Gregorian chant. It was going to depend on my conviction as to where the truth was to be found.

And this wasn’t a mere intellectual exercise, the solving of some interesting and intricate puzzle. It had to do with my life and my family’s life. If the sacraments were real, we needed them. If the teachings of the Church were true, we needed to know them and live by them.

Fundamental Disagreements

Of course, if the disagreements between Catholicism and Protestantism had been minor, it might not have mattered so much. I could have found some way to continue my life as a Baptist minister and surreptitiously burn incense on the side. Listen to chant on the way to the office.

But the disagreements are not minor. They involve almost entirely different views of the Church, of how we know what we know as Christians, even how we make our way to heaven.

In fact, along with the dispute over authority in the Church, the key doctrinal dispute of the entire Reformation was over the issue of salvation. What does it mean to be justified in Christ? What must we do to inherit eternal life? Do we have to do anything at all?

Well, it’s obvious where I came out on the issue.

My conviction now (let’s see how provocatively I can state this) is that Martin Luther, the primary figure of the Protestant Reformation, fundamentally misunderstood what St Paul teaches about justification, and that Protestantism to this day, following in the steps of Luther, has inherited this fundamental misunderstanding.

Providing Clarity

Because it’s so important that those looking at the Catholic faith have clarity on this most critical and practical issue, I’m going to devote a series of posts to at least attempting to bring that clarity.

Yes, I will be making arguments and presenting the scriptural, historical and theological case for the Catholic view. I’ll be doing apologetics.

But whether I convince or not, I want those of you who stick with me to come out with a clear understanding of (1) what Protestantism teaches about the doctrine of justification, (2) what Catholicism teaches, (3) precisely how the two differ, (4) why so many Protestants view the Catholic teaching on salvation as, to quote well-known pastor John MacArthur, “a damning system of works righteousness” and (5) where exactly Luther, and Protestantism with him, went off the rails.

Because of this I’m going to move slowly and methodically, creeping and crawling along. I’m also going to attempt to keep the lessons short.

This may be a source of frustration to those of who you want to see the entire argument spelled out at once. But no can do. I’m tired of receiving death threats for packing my posts with too much.

I like what the great educator Mortimer Adler once said: “The world is content with words; few are they who search into the meaning of things.” Let’s see if we can’t search into the meaning of things and come out having gained real and significant insight. That’s what I like.

Last of all, these lessons are not going to come exactly “one after the other”. This blog exists to assist converts and reverts and those curious about the Catholic faith in all their various areas of need. And so along the way I’ll be writing about other things, mixing in interviews with converts, interviews with the leaders of great Catholic apostolates, making recommendations of great resources in the way of video, audio, books and more.

My sincerest apologies to the raving biblical theologians and apologists out there. I’m one of you. I feel your pain.

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  • David says:

    I can see why a Christian who has a strong position against The Catholic Church’s dogmas can end up becoming Catholic – because they actually care about doctrine.
    I’m a cradle Catholic who was lapsed for many years. I recently reverted driven primarily by my discovery of the Truth which I hadn’t learned growing up. I’m now totally convicted and I have a fire for apologetics and a newfound love for God, His Church and the Sacraments.
    A few years back I married (outside of the Church) a woman who’s a Baptist. Sharing my faith with her has been difficult. It just dawned on me that she doesn’t really care about doctrine. She doesn’t believe in “faith alone” and has some pretty liberal interpretations of Scripture. (She does adhere to believers baptism but doesn’t really care to defend it) I think she’s Baptist mainly because it’s her tradition and she likes the music and preaching. She’s more of a “just me and God” type of person. Outside of that her worldview it pretty relativistic. Any advice on dealing with someone like that? I try to take it easy because I know I came on too strong at first. But these issues do come up sometimes. We have a baby that needs to be Baptized and eventually taught the faith.
    I pray and I know that it is ultimately the Holy Spirit that converts.

    PS – her main issue with the Church is the authority and all its “rules”. Will you be covering these topics in the future?

    • MaryS says:

      “Rules” exist everywhere. Do you drive? You have to follow the rules: stop at red lights, stay on the correct side of the road, etc. Without such rules, we’d have chaos, and no one would dare to drive: it’d be unsafe. Our freedom to drive comes as a direct consequence of following the rules.

      Marriage has rules: you can’t sleep with someone else. Without such rules, there can be no marriage. Society relies on rules to guide us in appropriate behavior. Those who break the rules end up in jail or in a mental hospital, or, at least, friendless and alone.

      So, it stands to reason that the Church has rules. Every church does, but she may not recognize any from her upbringing. Or she rejects them, as no one in her church has any basis for authority to make such rules. So maybe the real issue isn’t the rules, but the authority to make them and hold people to them.

      Without a central authority, no one can say anything certain about Biblical interpretation, how to worship, how to understand salvation, etc. No one has authority except the one given authority by Christ, Himself: Peter, who handed on that authority to his successors through to Pope Francis, today.

      If she refuses to submit to any authority, then she has made herself The Authority of All Things. (That’s some huge responsibility.Fed by pride.) Most of the time (like… every time!), people who reject authority and rules are really saying “no” to the whole thing due to an unwillingness to adhere to a particular rule or set of rules. Example: Because the Church teaches that contraception is immoral, people who want to use contraception reject the Church’s authority in its entirety. It isn’t that they have carefully considered each teaching… it’s that they refuse to accept that one teaching.

      God gave us rules (10 commandments, for example), and Jesus clarified and extended those (“But I say to you, whoever looks at a woman with lust has committed adultery”), and the Church He founded continues to teach and admonish and apply those rules to modern life. How can anyone claim to be a disciple of Christ yet reject “rules”? Only by pridefully claiming all the authority for herself.

      The best way to bring a loved one into the Church is to pray that God will put someone in her life who will influence her, so that her heart will be opened, so that she can be lead into the Church. IOWs: You can’t do it. She won’t listen to you. “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own house…”.

    • Joy says:

      Wow…you just described my husband perfectly. Just wanted to comment that you’re not alone. I feel like this type of mindset is the most difficult to reach. Lots and lots and lots of prayer and living by example is all I can do.

    • Mick Terich says:

      David, continue to practice your faith, baptize your children, I didn’t and it was a huge mistake you will be lonely and isolated in your own home and especially on Sunday’s at mass. My wife is a born again fundamentalist bible only Jesus and me Baptist and everything she believes about the Catholic faith is wrong but she has no interest in learning the truth especially from me. Pray and be the best Catholic husband you can be God promised to answer our prayers, sometimes it takes awhile 35 years my mom prayed for me to return, but I’m back and loving my faith more than ever.

  • Mark Womersley says:

    Thank you. I look forward to what you write. Mark

  • P says:

    “World without end”. Not scripture, nor science and not in the Latin “Gloria Patri”. How do we get rid of it. It is a corruption.

    • Daivd says:

      world without end is simply older English and means: forever. The Latin and Greek version of the Gloria Patri saysk “unto ages of ages”. So world without end has nothing to do with the world not ending. People need to learn their own langauge.

  • Bruce Barthorpe says:

    I am a Catholic revert. I am sure Ken well knows the Protestant thinking on salvation and justification. I too look forward with great interest to Ken clearly and fully explain the Protestant and Catholic doctrines of salvation and justification. Bible only believers always want to hear”where is that in the Bible?” Catholicism is the Bible AND Sacred Tradition, as the Bible states.

  • Saint2Be says:

    Intriguing. As an ex-anti-catholic,I find this to be verrrrry interesting. We all knew that Luther disagreed with the Roman Catholic stance, but few understand that he actually got it wrong – he didn’t fully understand the theology. Hence, his disagreement. Mind you, my conversion to the Catholic faith was based on many factors (the positives outweighed the negatives in the end), but the eye brow raising drama of Luther certainly helped lead me down the road to Catholic conversion. Kudos!

  • Rick McGarry says:

    David (and all those who replied to him), can I suggest that you will win converts when your relationship with God, his people, and his creation becomes enviable? I do not foresee any mass migration into the Catholic church until it looks like the Catholics are the ones who are having all the fun, becoming better people, and making the world a better place. Of course, if this is already happening in the circles in which you move, I apologize preemptively and I will just say that it is a mystery to me how you keep it a secret from your spouse. I would also like to clarify that if I were reading these things on a fundamentalist, evangelical or liberal protestant blog I would respond in exactly the same way. My mother found Jesus when I was a child and I watched for many years as her relationship with God failed to improve her marriage in many ways. I read your post and replies through that lens and I can only hear you saying this: My spouse is a Protestant loser and every problem in our marriage is their fault because they refuse to believe the truth about God.

  • Jesse Sanchez says:

    I will be also interested to see how you caricature Luther, Calvin and the Protestant tradition. I thank God for what he has done in Christ and proclaimed in the Pure Gospel of Christ that Paul preached for the ungodly! I have studied RCC & New Perspective on Paul, and no matter how one addresses up works, at the end of the day, its still works! E.P. Sanders, N.T. Wright and others disagree with each other on crucial points in regards to Justification By Faith Alone. They often contradict each other as if they cannot agree. They say that its not a works-righteousness paradigm, including RCC. But in the end it is a inheritance by works, and nothing more.They say that we (Classical Reformed Protestants have got it wrong, that Luther misunderstood Paul and Second Temple Judaism with works-righteousness that is Legalism! I will read what you have to offer here in your blogs, video, audio presentations. And hope you don’t get the Reformation wrong.

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