Last time, we ended with a question that becomes necessary as a consequence of certain opinions that were held by (for example) Martin Luther: to wit, that the Holy Spirit helps a person to correctly interpret the Bible. The question is this: Given two Protestant scholars of equal training, equal intelligence, equal acumen, equal reputations for godly character, and with equal access to all essential resources, except that one is Presbyterian and one is Baptist, which one of them is correct with regard to the doctrinal and theological issues over which they disagree?
Beyond any argument they cannot both be correct when it comes to their respective understandings of the doctrine of Baptism (to name just one). Which one, then, has the Spirit (assuming Luther is correct), and which one does not?
Or are they both wrong?
Let’s grant of course that not all things about which Christians disagree are truly significant. St. Paul says this in Romans 14, and there really is no good reason to quibble about it. But are the issues about which Protestants disagree truly all matters of indifference? It’s absurd even to suggest this, because it is inconceivable at the very least that God does not care about the truth with regard to the form and meaning of the sacraments. If He gave them to us, then the outward signs matter in terms of what they represent. If He gave them to us, then the outward signs are meant to represent something specific. These things being the case, it is simply and flatly inconceivable that error on our part in regard to the matter and form of the sacraments is a thing of indifference to God.
And now we are arriving at our destination. Because on Protestantism’s own terms, it is simply and flatly impossible to determine who is right and who is wrong about the sacraments. But if Protestantism cannot deliver the goods with respect to the sacraments, then what Protestants say about how we learn truth from God has fundamental problems. In particular, since there are godly men on all sides of Protestant disputes about the sacraments, on Protestantism’s terms it would be special pleading to pretend that this one or that one among them has the Spirit, while the others do not. But this means that what Protestants say about how the Spirit leads the Church into all truth is simply wrong. Without any argument the Holy Spirit does lead the Church into all truth. But the facts of the case indisputably demonstrate that He does not do so in the individualistic way that Protestants suppose.
Sadly, the pioneers of the Reformation unconsciously imbibed too much of the spirit of Renaissance humanism. In their sincere zeal to see the undeniable abuses in the Catholic Church corrected, they went too far, and asserted for themselves the right to decide for themselves what the Bible says – to decide for themselves what the Bible teaches. Man as the measure of all things – but in a baptized version. For they would not throw God out, but rather, they would decide for themselves what it is that God says, and then they would seek to be faithful to that. In the Lord’s good providence, they and their descendants have to a great degree remained faithful to much of the truth of the Gospel of Christ, so that Catholics do not need to be afraid to reckon them as brothers and sisters in Christ. But to the extent that they have arrived at correct answers by means of their chosen hermeneutical tools, we have to recognize the fact that they have done so using an invalid method. Contrary to what they say, it is not for them to decide what God’s truth is. It is not for me to say so. It is not for them to pass judgment upon God’s Church on the basis of their own opinions. Rather than the humanistic approach of deciding for themselves, Protestants must acknowledge that the Church is the guardian of Gospel Truth, and they need to come home to her.
[Adapted, with some minor revisions, from this older post of mine.]