Further to our discussion, I thought it would be good to write to you and explain a little more clearly the differences between Protestants and Catholics. The difference in attitude between us is so great that sometimes we don’t even regard each other as Christians. Protestants have traditionally thought of Catholics as being antichrist, which is a very serious accusation because it means Catholics are totally opposed to Jesus Christ and the true Christian religion, and that they are the enemy of Christ and the Christian Church.
Catholics, on the other hand, see Protestants as being split off from the true Church (which, they say, is Catholicism) and therefore not Christian and therefore not going to heaven. They say Protestants are heretics (i.e. they have corrupted the Truth) and are schismatics (they have divided the Church) and are not obedient to the Pope, who is Christ’s representative on earth. They say that if Protestants (and indeed all religions of the world) want to be with God in heaven, they have to submit to the Pope and become Catholic – this is non-negotiable. So when we see the Pope praying with leaders of other religions (i.e. Islam, Hindu, Buddhists, and Jews etc.) he is only doing so because he wishes to bring them under his power. Besides, Christians cannot pray with people of other religions unless it is certain that they are praying to God as he is revealed in Jesus Christ.
The Catholics claim to have been the true Church ever since it started with the Gospel; Protestantism only began as a movement in 1517 AD. At that time the Catholic Church was so corrupt and filthy, filled with immorality and every kind of vice and cruelty, and squeezing every cent out of everybody they could, even selling release from God’s punishment for sins, that there was general unrest among the Christians of Europe, and a break from Rome occurred, which resulted in whole nations and areas revolting from the authority and influence of the Pope. It was a very tumultuous time and resulted in some terrible wars, and terrible crimes were committed on both sides; but, as Protestants, we believe that the Church was delivered from the bondage of an unbiblical church, and set free to worship God as the Injil instructs us.
This revolt by Protestants is called the Reformation, a very significant event in Western history because it shaped Europe, not only religiously but politically. And even the Catholic Church recognized its need to change at this time. There were many Christians within Catholicism who saw the corruption in the Church and started to try and reform it from inside, rather than break away as the Reformers did (Reformers were the founders of the Reformation). Once the Reformation had begun it was too late to stop it, but one of the things the Catholic Church did was to have a council (i.e. a gathering of all the bishops in the church) to discuss how the church should be reformed; this resulted in the Council of Trent, and it shaped the Catholic Church into what it is today.
But this twofold division of the Christian Church is confined to the West; in the East there is a third major Christian group; it is called Orthodoxy, and is the division of the Christian Church with which Islam has most contact. When the Prophet conquered the East in the name of Allah, the churches that came under his control were almost totally the Orthodox Churches. So Christianity really consists of three major divisions. In 1054 AD, the Western Church, under the leadership and control of the Pope of Rome, split from the Orthodox Churches. So now, each of these divisions sees itself as the true representative of Christianity, and you can only get to heaven through association with their branch of Christianity.
So, just as Islam has two major divisions within itself, Shia and Sunni, with other, smaller groups, such as Sufi and Druze(?), Christianity has three major divisions; but whereas Islam’s division began at the death of Mohammed, ours began first in 1054 AD with the division between East and West, then again in 1517 AD with the Western Church dividing again. Protestantism is the Christian group which has most in common with Islam.
Each of these three divisions has the bible as their authority; but it is only Protestants who have the bible as their sole authority. Catholics and Orthodox have added the collected writings of the Christian teachers of the first thousand years, and the decisions of the seven Ecumenical councils, as another authority; they call this teaching Holy Tradition, and it is believed to be the unwritten teaching of the Apostles (the 12 men chosen by Jesus Christ to be with him in his earthly ministry and to build the Church after he went to be with God in heaven), and the decisions of the Church aided the guidance of God, to counteract false teaching. And Catholics have added a third authority, that is, the teaching authority of the Church itself, called Magisterium, and the infallible teaching of the Pope.
Protestantism however, is prone to division, and now there are many groups within Protestantism. But the differences between them are often insignificant and quite often are only in how the churches should be organized; and these differences do not put those who hold them outside the Christian Church. One of the largest of them now is the branch called ‘Pentecostal’ or ‘Charismatic’ – its key feature is an experience called ‘ the Baptism with or in the Holy Spirit’. The Pentecostals are having a major effect on the Church because they are very lively and seem to offer a relationship with God which is much more personal and intimate than the traditional view. I personally disagree with Pentecostal teaching and practice and think the effect it is having on Christianity is detrimental, but it still falls within the bounds of Christianity….but only just, I think. It is the branch of Christianity that compares with Sufism in Islam.
But there are others of these groups which we call cults, and which differ so radically from Christianity, and their interpretation of the bible is so opposed to the clear teaching of the bible, that they cannot be regarded as Christian, even though they make that claim. When people who are not Christian see these radical groups and practices they understandably disregard and disrespect the whole of Christianity because they think we are all one.
Anyway, I am Protestant because I acknowledge that the bible is the Word of God and is my sole authority in religious matters. If anything differs from the teaching of the bible then it is wrong. The bible was given by God but not in the same way as Islam says the Qur’an was given. God still revealed its writings to men, who wrote down what they received from God, but they received these inspired and infallible words from God in various ways, as it pleased God to give them – thus not in the same way as Muhammad received the Qur’an. Sometimes God spoke; sometimes he wrote down the message personally; but however the message was received from God, it was always written down without error. And the bible is still without error.
And as a Protestant I believe that Jesus Christ is God who became true Man; that he died on a cross to bring people back to himself. Way back in the beginning, very soon after God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, Shaitan deceived them and caused them to sin against God. As you would agree, God is so holy that he will not allow sin into his presence. Therefore Adam and Eve, who had sinned, were banned from God’s presence. They died spiritually as soon as they sinned, and died physically later, because the penalty for sin against God is death. And because they were now sinful, they could never make themselves holy; and they produced children who also had this fallen nature, thus they too could never make themselves holy; therefore, unless God did something, Man could never come in to God’s presence again.
But, praise be to God, he is all merciful and all compassionate; he is also a mystery – we don’t know how he can exist as three persons yet be one God – this is a mystery that is incomprehensible, but God is God and we believe what he tells us about himself. The first Person of the three (which we call the Trinity) is the Father (whom you know as God), the second Person is the Son, known to us as Jesus Christ – he was born of the Virgin Mary but was conceived spiritually and miraculously by the third Person of the Trinity; thus Jesus, as Man, had no earthly father and was not conceived by sexual intercourse but by God himself. As God, Jesus has no beginning and no end, but as Man he was born, lived, and died as truly human, while still being God. This is another mystery, incomprehensible to us, that God could take on a true human nature but still remain God, thus being two natures in one person, truly God and truly man. The third Person of the Trinity is the Holy Spirit – he is not merely an influence, nor is he the angel Gabriel – he is God himself – and like the Father and the Son has neither beginning nor end because he is God in every way.
As I said, this is incomprehensible to our poor, finite minds, and seems impossible; but we believe it because God has told us that that is who and what he is. But even though God in his nature and being is incomprehensible to us, we still love and serve him, and are truly thankful to him for his great mercy and love for us. As I began to say earlier, God is the only way that human beings can be with God and have a relationship with him, because we are too sinful in ourselves. The only way that God could bring humanity back to himself was to become one of us and pay the penalty himself; i.e. the penalty of death. Man is too sinful for his death to benefit anybody else spiritually, so one person could not die for another to make him acceptable to God.
So the only way for Man’s sin to be wiped away was that somebody else who was deity and without sin should die in their place. Therefore God the Father sent God the Son as that sinless being to die for a fallen, sinful, human race. This is yet another mystery but as we consider it we see the depths of God’s great love; his mercy and compassion. So in order for the Son to die, he had to become human. This is exactly what he did, and the whole Christian Church, every division of it, celebrates this amazing event, God the Son becoming Man – this event is called Christmas.
While God the Son, Jesus Christ, was on earth, he taught the apostles, who were the founders of the Christian Church, and then he allowed himself to be taken by the Jews and the Romans, and they killed him by nailing him to a cross. The Jews hated him because he claimed to be God and they manipulated the Roman governor to crucify him.
But the great triumph of Christ and Christianity is that Jesus was raised from death within three days (this is the event that every division of the Christian Church celebrates at Easter, and it is the most important event the Church celebrates). So Jesus, as true Man, rose from the grave. His resurrection was witnessed by many people, and some of them wrote down what they saw and what Jesus said and did following his resurrection; these accounts are found in the New Testament.
And the bible tells us that he sits with God the Father in the place of absolute authority; and he is the one who will judge every person at the end of time. As Christians we look forward with great longing for Jesus to return and to bring truth and righteousness and judgment, and we will live with him forever.
Zahir, this is the outline of what I believe as a Protestant Christian. I know that it is not what you believe, and is not what the Qur’an teaches. But I want you to know what I, and other Christians, believe. There are many differences amongst Christians but the facts I’ve outlined are common to us all, and it is belief in these facts that make us Christian. Similarly, what makes a Muslim a Muslim? It is my understanding that all one has to do in order to become a Muslim is to acknowledge that Allah is the one true God and Mohammad is his prophet, and to live accordingly – even though there are some divisions within Islam, and different understandings of how the Qur’an and Hadith are interpreted, this one belief is common to all and one cannot be Muslim without declaring it to be true.
I hope I have given you a little bit more insight into Christianity; if I’ve only confused you instead, please let me know what you want clarified.
God bless you and your lovely family. Please pass on my love to them all.