One People Divided by Two Languages


In the movie Patton, George S. Patton makes the claim that the United States and Great Britain were two nations divided by a common language. Having lived in America for 57 years and in England for 3 years, I definitely concur with Patton's analysis. In America, we do speak English; however, many of the same words we share with the British are radically different in meaning. For example, in America and in England football is the most popular sport. The only difference between the 2 sports is that in England they actually use their feet to play the game, whereas in America only the punter and kicker get to connect their feet to the ball! In America, you pour milk gravy over a biscuit; in England you could actually dip your biscuit (what we would call a cookie) into a cup of tea. A bonnet? In America you put it on your head; in England you check under it to see what is wrong with your engine. The sentence "I am going to eat a biscuit and look under my bonnet while you play football" would mean 2 different things to an American and a Brit.

This phenomenon of using the same words, even actions to mean two different things is not restricted to the Brits and Americans. This phenomenon is actually found in many cases in the relationship between the Roman Catholics and Protestants. We actually use many of the same words differently which leads to unnecessary and heartbreaking confusion and divison.

By no means am I the first to understand that there is a lot more uniting Protestants and Catholics than what we have been led to believe in the past. Billy Graham himself, a Baptist, made just this same point at the 2002 Dallas Billy Graham Crusade. He lamented the fact that good Christians from both the Protestant and Catholic traditions just simply didn't understand each other. He gave the story of the Baptist deacon at the race track to illustrate his point.

In Billy Graham's story, a Baptist deacon heads off for the race track to watch the horses. Now being a good Baptist deacon, he was only going to watch the races and not gamble because gambling is of course a sin (at least to Baptists). Well, before the first race begins, he sees a Catholic priest approach a horse and bless the horse, no other horse, just that horse. Well, the horses are all lined up in their shoots, the gun fires, the gates open, and the horse which the priest had blessed shoots out of the gate like a bolt of lightning. By the time the horses get to the first bend, that horse is already 5 lengths ahead of his closest competitor. And he doesn't let up on the pace. By the time the horse crosses the finish line, he doesn't only win, he wins by 20 lengths. Amazing.

Well, the Baptist deacon is stunned. Maybe it was just a fluke. But he keeps his eye on the priest. Sure enough, the priest blesses a horse for the second race, and that horse too wins by 20 lengths. This recurrs race after race after race.

Finally, it is time for the last race. In all the previous races, the horses blessed by the priest have won by 20 or more lengths. So, the Baptist deacon surmizes, if he places money on the next horse the priest blesses, he won't be gambling because this will be a sure thing. So with a totally clear conscience, he goes and bets the bank on the final horse the priest blesses for the day.

You got it. The same thing happens in this race...but only better. This horse is so blessed that it is actually already 10 lengths ahead of the next horse by the first bend on the track. This horse is on fire. Coming to the final bend, he is already 20 lengths ahead. The other horses are tiring out from the pace. 25 lengths, almost 30 with just 15 yards to go, and then . . . the horse drops dead to the ground.

The Baptist deacon is horrified! This was a sure thing. He had bet EVERYTHING on that horse. He rushes up to the priest. "What happened? Every other horse you blessed won by 20 or more lengths. What happened? AGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!" To this the priest replied, "Crazy Baptist. Doesn't know the difference between a blessing and the last rites."

I fear that many times this is not only what I experienced as a Protestant (and as a Baptist), I not only misunderstood what the Catholics were doing and saying, but I was also critical of Catholicism. In this study I try to show that many times Catholics and Protestants are not as divided as many claim they are. There is much common ground. Moreover, if Protestants are true to their principles of sola Scriptura, they will find that some of the Catholic doctrines Protestants tend to dismiss as unscriptural are actually very scriptural indeed.


The argument goes like this from Protestant quarters. It is actually one I was taught in Church Evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary: "Protestants claim we are saved by grace through faith; Catholics believe we are saved by grace through the sacraments." Nothing could be further from the truth. Both Protestants AND Catholics affirm that we are saved by grace through faith. In fact, the newest cathecism at the very beginning emphasizes the role of faith in a person's relationship with Jesus. All Catholics and most Protestants claim, though, that the grace produced by the cross is actually in the sacraments, and that faith triggers the benefits of grace in the sacraments. Baptists and Pentecostals affirm that the grace is not attached to the sacraments. That is all well and good; however, the principle remains the same for both groups: faith is the human response to God's offer of grace produced by the cross.

Just a side not here. Most Protestants hail Luther as the patron saint of their theology. Well, many of them, especially Baptists, don't know Luther if they claim him as a patron saint. Luther was a sacramentalist. He believed that grace was communicated through the sacraments. He differed from Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy only in the number of sacraments (2 versus 7) and in the nature of the bread and wine offered in the Lord's Supper (the same holds true for Episcoplians). The real divide is not between most Protestants and Catholics but between Catholics, Orthodoxy, and most Protestants on the one hand and Baptists, non-denominationalists, and Pentecostals on the other hand.

"But," my Baptist, Pentecostal, Non-demoninational (BPN) friends will claim, "sacramentalism is not taught in Scripture." I don't want to go into a full discussion here about this because I dealt with it in another paper. (See One of the most radical sola fide proponents is Rudolf Bultmann. He takes sola fide to its logical conclusion: you truly only believe. You don't believe anything according to Bultmann. You don't believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead. You don't believe He was God the Son. You just only believe. Now that is truly sola fide! Yet even this radical anti-sacramentalist had to admit that John 6 is sacramental. He just claims that the evangelist John didn't write that segment because he would have only promoted sheer faith. That is an assumption many BPN would never agree to. Whoever wrote John 6, we all believe that it is Scripture, divinely ordained by God, completely authoritative. Since it is sacramental, then sacramentalism is not contrary to salvation by grace through faith. It just simply states the 2000-year-old belief of the church that the grace produced by the cross is received by faith in the sacraments.

Something of monumental significance has transpired recently. The Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church, after much dialogue, have issued a joint declaration on justification by faith. In this rather long statement both groups repeatedly state that they are in agreement essentially in the way a person is justified by faith (see This is of tremendous importance because too many people (including Lutherans) have misused Luther and Catholicism to promote a view of justification which misrepresents their views. Both Protestants and Catholics affirm justification by grace through faith. It is only BNP's who rip grace froom the cross apart from the sacraments. Hopefully C.S. Lewis is right. Hopefully all this disunity in Christianity is due to the fact that we are in the beginning immature stages of Christinaity. Hopefully we are not entering a much more mature stage and achieve unity, the unity Christ Himself prayed for just before His betrayal (John 17). Maybe Lewis' wish and Jesus' prayer are coming true.

Sola Scriptura or SCRIPTURE ALONE

Here is the way Protestants frame this issue: "Whereas Catholics have the pope as their authority, we have Scripture! The pope versus Scripture!" When it is framed this way, of course Protestants are going to win every time.

Not so fast. The issue is not Pope vs. Scripture. It is the Catholic interpretation of Scripture versus the Protestant interpretation of Scripture. RCC promotes this far better than Protestants do...papal infallibility is for the sole purpose of protecting the authority of Scripture, that is, apostolic authotity. Scripture came from the apostles. Luther had zero connection with the apostles, other than their writings, whereas the papacy continues to embrace the interpretation handed down to us by the very ones taught by the aposstles themselves! Papal infallibility: what Benedict XVI said about going outside the stream of apostolic authority--not infallible then.