On Tuesday morning my husband and I were doing our usual thing: he had just returned home from working third shift at his job and I was busy getting ready for the day. I still had a towel on my head when I noticed two well-dressed men approaching our doorstep, bibles in hand. Jehovah’s Witnesses. The main door was already open with only the storm door separating our living room from the front porch. We were very obviously home. There would be no getting out of this.
So I did what any reasonable person would do: I bailed on my poor unsuspecting husband, opting instead to blow dry my hair in the bathroom and leave him to answer the door. (“What honey? No, I can’t hear you over this thing. You get it!”) But as I was in the bathroom
avoiding the situation getting ready, I realized that I was being an idiot. I had always been so afraid of these door-to-door evangelists, but these days I can’t get enough of faith-related discussions. I usually spend my free time perusing the internet for a good debate to jump into; now one had just shown up at my front door. I decided to put on my big girl pants and join my husband outside on the porch.
The gentlemen seemed very nice. I could tell right away that they were passionate about what they were doing, but without that whole “You’re going to hell!” attitude that so often characterizes this type of evangelism. They had been discussing something with Shannon before I entered the scene and when I came out, he headed inside to set out breakfast for the kids who were screaming like very hungry banshees. I introduced myself and then cut straight to the chase.
“Did my husband tell you anything about our faith background?” They shook their heads. ”Well, we’re recent converts from Reformed Protestantism to Catholicism.”
Our visitors looked a little surprised. The younger gentlemen actually laughed a little and said, “Wow, you never hear of that happening!” I could empathize. Not long ago, I’d have said the same thing.
The older man had a few questions for me. ”So you believe in everything the Catholic Church teaches?”
“And you believe the Pope is infallible?”
“Yes.” That was the first time I’d ever answered those questions with a simple affirmative answer. It felt weird but awesome at the same time. No doubts here!
The man continued. ”So how do you feel about the Pope’s recent statements that we should remove the word “God” from our government and from our schools and even from our Bibles?”
“Well, I don’t think that actually happened. Do you have a source for these claims?”
“It’s on the internet!”
“I see,” I said. I realized right then that it was time to start directing this conversation.
In June I wrote a post about authority and how authority is the bedrock upon which all other doctrinal matters rest. Here before me stood two men who had come to convince me that Christ is not God. Though I could have launched into a discussion about why Arianism is unbiblical, my arguments would have quickly disintegrated into a proof-texting battle with only one conceivable result: strong disagreement based on personal interpretation of scripture. For the Catholic, however, this need not be the case. When speaking to a Jehovah’s Witness (or any person outside the Catholic faith for that matter), we must require the person to demonstrate their authority to interpret scripture before we even enter a discourse about what scripture actually says.
At this point in the conversation, my visitors were attempting to steer the discussion towards the topic of Christ and His role in creation history. Basically, they were using carefully-selected snippets of Scripture to prove that Christ was a creation of God, not God Himself. I listened carefully and then responded. ”I understand that you believe these verses to be evidence against the doctrine of the Trinity. I disagree with your interpretations and believe that you have mistakenly taken the verses out of context. Let’s talk more about that later. First I would like to ask you some questions about how you establish truth in your faith tradition. Do you believe that truth comes from the Bible?” Yes, they answered. ”Do you believe that the Bible is the only place to find this truth?” They answered yes again. ”Before we go on, could you please show me where this idea comes from, this idea that the Bible is the only place where divine authority rests?”
For the next ten or so minutes, the evangelists paged through their bibles in search of supporting texts for sola scriptura. It was the usual suspects: 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Matthew 15:1-9, and so forth. Having recently examined these very texts in light of Catholic teaching, I was able to explain why each of these proof-texts were not to be considered evidence of a “bible alone” approach to the written word of God. The older gentleman resorted to the common argument that “Scripture interprets itself,” but I insisted that this could not possibly be true. People interpret Scripture, and given the vastly different interpretations of even essential doctrines of the faith, most of these interpretations are wrong. Who is wrong? How do you know you are correct with such certainty that you can boldly share your interpretation with me on my porch today? I explained the Catholic answer to this otherwise impossible problem: we believe sola scriptura to be thoroughly unbiblical.
Shannon had returned to my side on the porch and we tag-teamed a Reader’s Digest introduction to Catholic authority. I used the three-legged stool analogy to explain where authority is derived, namely Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. Shannon helpfully provided evidence from the Church Fathers to support this general structure (The Fathers Know Best by Jimmy Akin came in handy for this). He also dispelled some myths about the Papacy, taking care to point out that infallibility does not mean sinlessness, nor does infallibility apply to such things as predicting the weather or making bets on the outcome of the World Series.
I could tell that we were about to subject our visitors to information overload so I wrapped things up. ”This is what we believe about our Church. We converted to Catholicism because we believe that the Catholic Church is the only Christian body that has the God-given authority to define anything related to our faith. If you can prove otherwise, we’ll consider converting. In the meantime, all other doctrinal issues are secondary. We must agree on authority before we can even discuss anything else.”
The two gentlemen admitted that they were not familiar with Catholic teaching on these matters. They’d never heard of sola scriptura either, so I encouraged them to research the doctrine a bit and consider its implications for Protestant thought. They definitely seemed to agree that we were at a loggerhead in the discussion based on this division alone. We made it clear that they were both welcome to visit again soon to discuss these issues more. I also complimented their obvious passion for God, misguided though we believed it to be. ”Catholics could learn a thing or two about evangelization from you,” I said. We ended our conversation on a friendly note. I thought the entire exchange was very peaceful. They were really nice people, I have to say. I hope they thought the same of us. They promised to be back and I genuinely hope they return.
To conclude, here are three thoughts that have been on my mind since the visit.
1.) If you’re Catholic, please read this article by Catholic Answers titled “What’s Your Authority?” It is an excellent resource to equip yourself for the inevitable day that you’re called to the carpet to defend your Catholic faith. This article is useful for your interactions with Jehovah’s Witnesses, all Protestants, and even fallen-away Catholics who may be skeptical of Church teaching. We’ve printed it, highlighted it, and review it regularly in an attempt to “always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in us” (1 Peter 3:15). I firmly believe that the discussion suggestions in this article are the most effective for defending our faith – and causing others to evaluate their own. Start with authority and save Michael the Archangel and blood transfusions for later. Authority is the biggest deal!
2.) I am once again so overwhelmed by how blessed I am to be Catholic. I am continually struck by God’s faithfulness in providing a clear compass here on earth for navigating the path to truth. Christians were never meant to constantly engage in circular debates with one another in a battle of personal interpretations. Christ’s Church was never intended to be fractured with doctrinal divisions by groups all claiming to follow “Scripture alone.” While Catholics are certainly granted liberty in some matters, we need not rely on merely human interpretations of the sacred word of God to discover the saving knowledge of Christ. We have the divinely-inspired Church on earth which can be trusted to bring us closer to Him by providing a unified, consistent, true interpretation of Scripture and Tradition. We can confidently point to the Church and say to our separated brethren, “Here is truth. It has always been, it will always be. Authority is here.” This is awesome beyond words and gives me peace like I’ve never known.
3.) I just realized that we didn’t even touch on the topic of the Eucharist with our visitors. Imagine if we did. Next time.