Disagreements under different models of supreme authority
At left below is a list of things which one Roman Catholic apologist states Protestants can disagree one amongst themselves, and to the right is my list of things Catholics do and can disagree on amongst themselves. Both lists are incomplete and both can be added to (this is an unfinished work).
This comparison was provoked by Roman Catholic apologists who often argue for supremacy based upon assertions of unity under Rome, versus Protestantism which they broadly define (see here on the charge of 33k denoms), even though substantial disunity exists among Catholics (as seen in this comparison with evangelicals), and which Rome effectually fosters, while unity itself is not the goal of the Godly (see commentary).
Although the major focus in this polemic is between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, yet the latter is not one church but many, and a more fitting comparison is between the two different means of unity. The church of Rome is one particular church among others which formally or effectively hold to “Sola Ecclesia” (that the church is the supreme doctrinal authority on earth. Rome in particular is effectively claiming the church is the supreme authority by claiming to infallibly define what constitutes Divine revelation, and its meaning, and thus defines herself as assuredly infallible, and under which conditions). Conservative Protestantism overall professes the supremacy of Scripture (as under “Sola Scriptura”). Meanwhile, The first list on the right is a short list of things which Catholics can disagree on, followed by things Roman Catholics can disagree on (but not all the things they do disagree on without real discipline, which would also be extensive).
Note that distinctive beliefs of cults which Catholics typically regards as Protestant are not included, for in reality they effectively operate under sola ecclesia. And if we do not include them under sola ecclesia due to their fundamental heresies which separate them from both Catholicism and historical Protestantism, then
And as the essay which follows* further explains, both Catholics and Scripture Protestants hold to a supreme doctrinal authority, but both see disagreement and divisions, the differences being in degrees, while as in the beginning of the church, authenticity must be established upon Scriptural attestation, with Scripture being supernaturally established as the assured Word of God.
This basis must allow competition, but is one in which evil is overcome by good, not by the sword of men, or "walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. " (2 Corinthians 4:2)
Thus the church began in dissent from those who could lay claim to historical decent, (Mt. 23:2) and as being the instruments and stewards of Holy Writ, (Rm. 9:3:2; 9:4) and recipient of promises of Divine presence and guidance, (Lv. 10:11; Dt. 4:31; 17:8-13; Num. 23:19,23; Is. 41:10, Ps. 89:33,34; Mal. 3:6, etc.) but who presumed an assured veracity which required obedience as unto Biblical law. But who an itinerant Preacher and His followers — whose authority they rejected (Mk. 11:28-33) — reproved by Scripture, (Mk. 7:2-16; Acts 4:9-12) and which writings were established as Divine without an assuredly infallible magisterium of men.
Things Scripture Protestants can disagree on:
1. Once Saved Always Saved
2. Universal versus Limited Atonement
3. Infant Baptism
4. Form of Baptism (e.g. full immersion vs pouring)
5. Whether Baptism is necessary in ordinary circumstances
6. Whether the Lord's Supper is purely symbolic or some sort of 'real' presence
7. Divorce and Remarriage
8. Whether icons/pictures of Christ are allowed
9. Which doctrines are perspicuous/essential
10. Whether Charismatic Gifts of the Spirit have ceased
11. Whether instruments are allowed in church
12. Female ordination
13. The "biblical" form of church government
14. Sunday versus any day worship / Whether the Sabbath is still in force in some sense.
15. House churches versus dedicated congregational churches
18. Imputed Active Obedience
19. Whether traditional categories like Person/Nature are true/valid
20. Mary being "Mother of God"
21. Mary's Perpetual Virginity
22. Whether Inspiration of Scripture is plenary or limited to faith and morals
23. Whether one can/should pray to the Holy Spirit
24. Whether Sola Scriptura applied during the time of Christ and the Apostles
25. How to define/understand Sola Scriptura, especially as it relates to Creeds and Councils
26. Should Christians engage in politics, civil service, etc.
27. Whether Christians should pray the Our Father
28. Whether prayer should be only spontaneous
29. Whether keeping the Commandments is necessary for salvation
30. Whether illness, suffering, poverty, etc, are due to sin or lack of faith
31. Whether Free Will and Double Predestination are true or not
32. Whether Mark 16:9-20, John 8:1-11, etc, are actually part of Scripture
33. Which translation of Scripture should be normative (e.g. KJV)
34. Which Protestant denominations are to be considered "Christian"
Things which Catholics can disagree on
Things which Roman Catholics can disagree on:
The (Orthodox?) author of the first image argues,
Churches in doctrinal agreement with the Patriarch of Constantinople, are the actual direct descendants of the State Religion of the Roman Empire, founded under the authority of the Patriarch and the Emperor in Constantinople (starting with Constantine), while modern Roman Catholicism, far from being Christianity "fused with the Roman Empire," is the religion of the Bishops of Rome who repudiated the authority of the Roman Emperor and excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople.” (http://www.friesian.com/popes.htm#pope)
Another Orthodox voice states,
On the other hand, Roman Catholicism, unable to show a continuity of faith and in order to justify new doctrine, erected in the last century, a theory of "doctrinal development."
Following the philosophical spirit of the time (and the lead of Cardinal Henry Newman), Roman Catholic theologians began to define and teach the idea that Christ only gave us an "original deposit" of faith, a "seed," which grew and matured through the centuries. The Holy Spirit, they said, amplified the Christian Faith as the Church moved into new circumstances and acquired other needs...
On this basis, theories such as the dogmas of "papal infallibility" and "the immaculate conception" of the Virgin Mary (about which we will say more) are justifiably presented to the Faithful as necessary to their salvation. (“Father” Michael Azkoul, http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/reading/ortho_cath.html)
The author of the one on the left contends,
“The problem is obvious - Rome, sedevacantists, traditionalist Catholics, Pope Michael-ists, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, and various other churches with incompatible teachings all appeal to this set and limited corpus of Scripture and Tradition. It would appear that the criticism against Sola Scriptura of multiple denominations applies to the Roman and EO rule of faith as well.
The Romanist or Orthodox might object: "But we're not in communion with those schismatics/heterodox/heretics!" Now, what if I were to reply, as a member of a Southern Baptist church, that, have no fear my non-Sola Scripturist friends, my church holds that everyone who's not a member of a Southern Baptist church is a schismatic/heterodox/heretic too? Would that make our Romanist or Orthodox friends feel better?
Or would that make them criticise us even more strongly: "See? You Sola Scripturists can't even hold communion with each other!"? Yep, my money's on that one, too. We're darned if we do and darned if we don't, but somehow if the Romanists or Orthodox don't hold communion with these other churches, that's just fine. Such special pleading is just...special...
If you want to compare unity and disunity, compare the adherences to the competing rules of faith. Or compare churches, like the Roman Church to the Southern Baptist Convention or the Pope Michael Catholic Church to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. What do we find, if we do this?” (http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2009/12/special-pleading-of-sola-ecclesia-ists.html)
*Roman Catholicism represents one church whereas Protestantism consists of many, and for the typical Roman Catholic apologist Protestantism can represent whatever “Christian” church is not of Rome or not in formal communion with her. A better comparison would be between churches which
A. hold Scripture as the supreme doctrinal authority, and,
B. those who hold that the church is.
Under A, evangelical-type denominations and churches typically have a central magisterium, and overall affirm the Apostle's Creed and or Scripturally substantiated conflating statements defining who God is and what Christ did and related basic truths, especially the primacy of Scripture and salvation by grace to save the damned and destitute sinners, (vs. some hope in earned credits and or the power of the church), under the premise that Scripture is the assuredly infallible Word of God, and standard for obedience and testing truth claims, which Scripture abundantly affirms, conflation upon which (in text and in power) the church began, in critical dissent from those who were the instruments and stewards of explicit Divine revelation, (Rm. 3:2; 9:4; Ps. 147:19-20) and possessors of historical decent. (Mt. 23:2) (Yet writings were established as Divine, and truth was preserved and given, without an assuredly infallible magisterium as per Rome, as God is able to raise up from stone children of Abraham: Mt. 3:9)
And under this model, assent of these basic truths by leaders is required and is overall manifest, among other ways, in a shared common contention against those who deny these common essentials (“cults”), as well as against certain traditions of men by Rome. This contention is done by spiritual means, though at times in the early stages of reformation it followed Rome in also using the sword of men.
Evangelicals also exhibit and enjoy an active substantial transdenominational fellowship of the Spirit with each other, as shown in manifold ways, and which testifies to greater unity in moral values and basic truths than among Catholics), as a result of a shared Scripturally based conversion and relationship.
It is outside core truths that they do have the most disagreement, though in varying and limited degrees (which historically has largely been due to commitment to doctrine, versus the complacency typical among Catholics), and which has often resulted in formal divisions. However, this typically has not negated the aforementioned fellowship and contention for core essentials and the basic gospel of grace while the real division (besides from cults) is between them and institutionalized churches which foster perfunctory professions and confidence in one's own church or merit for salvation, and liberal moral views. And as Christ promised division (Lk. 12:51) and as such is necessary for beneficial unity, (1Cor. 11:19) this ability enables them to separate from critically aberrant or dead churches to practice living faith, while traditional Roman Catholics must tolerate those whom they call CINOS, but whom Rome counts and treats as members in life and in death. And most who leave Rome for evangelical churches testify that they do so due to spiritual lack, not doctrines in particular.
Under this model, believers do not claim to be assured infallible, though that does not disallow that they can speak verifiable Truth, but veracity is based upon Scripture being the only transcendent material authority which is wholly inspired by God, and was established as such due to its Divine qualities, as Christ and the church was also.
Under B, sola ecclesia, members are also required to assent to certain core truths defined by their magisterium, though this is one of implicit faith that the extraordinary magisterium is infallible and Rome is the OTC. And as a result it wars (in much of Rome's history by physical force) against others who affirm many of the same core truths but who deny Catholic distinctives and submission to her.
Outside infallibly defined truths (and even what these consist of and their full meaning), there can be and are varying degrees of disagreement (including how much is allowed ), while great liberty to interpret the Bible in attempting to support Rome (as they understand her) is allowed.
Under this model believers are to look to the magisterium which claims assured infallibility at its highest levels, yet its students cannot claim infallible understanding of its teachings, and its teaching is quite limited (very little of Scripture has been officially defined), while there is disagreement over how much has been infallibly or officially taught, and its meanings, with most of what Roman Catholics believe and practice coming from the Ordinary magisterium. Things not officially taught are more than most realize, though lack of great interest doctrine makes disagreement much less manifest.
Under sola ecclesia there are also formal divisions, consisting of many disagreements as to what Tradition, history and Scripture teaches. In addition, under the broader model of sola ecclesia is seen the greatest aberrations, as this is what cults effectively operate under (in which the “Living prophet” and the WTS elders and equivalents being as infallible type popes).
Therefore both Catholics and SS Protestants hold to a supreme doctrinal authority, but both see disagreement and divisions, the differences being in degrees. While evangelical churches ordain pastors, and uphold the principle of the magisterial office, and historically do not follow the error of Rome as regards things such as fostering faith in one's own merit and the power of the church for salvation, and regeneration via proxy faith, and praying to saints, etc, yet they do lack a centralized leadership overall (which should be a goal, though only based on spiritual basis for authority), except in their own denominations.
However, regardless of her denials, Rome also is effectively only as one denomination, and her leadership is hardly one of spiritual power, and she cannot even exercise authority over the EOs, who also claims to be the OTC in particular.
Nor is the organizational and doctrinal unity of Rome necessarily greater in conformity than in cults, or what can be under any one particular denomination.
In addition, unity based on required assent of faith is inferior in quality, if not quantity, to that which is the result of the Berean heart and method, however more difficult and rare that is.
In the end, Truth was never and is not established and preserved via an assuredly infallible perpetual magisterium, but by writings being supernaturally established as Divine, and men of God being established as such due to conformity to them in word and in power, and therein is the contest.
And it is only insofar as the gospel manifests that it is the power of God unto salvation, with its manifest regeneration and living by faith, does the church evidence itself to be the church of the Living God, grounded in and upholding the Truth, versus institutionalized ritualized religion. May its tribe increase, wherever and whenever it meets.