Most Catholics today have at one time or another met a self-professed ‘Bible Christian.’ This is someone who claims to only believe what is in the Bible, and nothing else. As such they reject supposedly “added” Catholic beliefs like the papacy, purgatory and the sacraments, because they claim they are not in the Scriptures. In some cases, such as purgatory or even the role of Mary, it does take a deep understanding of the Bible to see their foundations found within its pages. But there are some beliefs rejected by ‘Bible Christians’ that jump out of the pages of the Bible with just a cursory reading. These are what I call the “biggest biblical blind spots of ‘Bible Christians.’”
1) The role of Peter
When I was an evangelical Christian, I often studied the Scriptures, but somehow I never saw Peter as an important figure in the New Testament. Now that I am Catholic, I do not know how I could have been so blind. Peter is almost everywhere in the Gospels and in Acts, and he re-appears in Paul’s letters at times as well. We have three separate instances – from three different Gospels – where Jesus gives Peter a specific, and unique, role in the Church (Matthew 16:17-19, Luke 22:31-32 and John 21:15-17). Yet the vast majority of Protestants – and all ‘Bible Christians’ – fail to recognize any significant role for Peter in the early Church or in today’s Church.
2) The Eucharist
‘Bible Christians’ love to claim that they take the Bible literally, and they note their interpretation of Genesis 1-3 to support their claim. But what about John 6? In that chapter Jesus clearly states that he is the bread of life and one must eat his flesh to have eternal life. Yet no ‘Bible Christian’ takes that literally, and they relegate the Eucharist to a minor, purely symbolic, ceremony. The early Christians, on the other hand, understood the meaning of Christ’s words and made the celebration of the Eucharist the central act of their worship.
3) The role of works in salvation
“We are saved by faith alone!” cries the ‘Bible Christian.’ Yet the Bible is full of warnings on the necessity of works for the salvation of the believer. The parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) directly links our works with our eternal destination, and the only place in the New Testament where ‘faith alone’ is found (James 2:24) condemns it as unable to bring justification. But somehow the ‘Bible Christian’ still cries out “faith alone!” simply because it is a Protestant tradition.
4) The place of suffering in the Christian life
Often people don’t realize how much a culture impacts their worldview. This is true even for Christians. Our modern Western culture puts pleasure at the center of happiness, and rejects any value to suffering. This cultural presupposition has infected Christians, including ‘Bible Christians’. Yet if you read the letters of Paul, you cannot help but notice the role of suffering in his theology. The Lord himself made it clear how integral suffering would be to Paul’s life when he told Ananias: “Go, for this man [Paul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites, and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name” (Acts 9:15-16). And of course, the heavy emphasis put on Christ’s suffering and death in the Gospels should tell even the most cursory reader of Scripture how important suffering is in the Christian Faith.
5) The necessity of Baptism
The vast majority of ‘Bible Christians’ believe that one simply has to “accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior” in order to become a Christian. While some might also eventually baptize such a person, it is not seen as a necessary step in the life of a Christian. Yet nothing could be further from the biblical witness. When the crowd asks after the first Christian sermon how they might be saved, Peter responds, “Repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). Baptism was the normative means to enter the Church and no Christian denied this fact until recent years.
It is unfortunate that ‘Bible Christians’ reject such clear directives from the Bible. Such people are usually sincere, well-intentioned followers of Christ. Let us hope and pray that one day they will decide to enter the Church that gave us the Bible – the Catholic Church.