Have you ever been tempted to be a Catholic Wyatt Earp? You know, to be a Catholic gunslinger, a Quick Draw McGraw of the apologetics scene?
Soon after I became a Catholic I would sometimes get myself involved with a Protestant in what I later termed a “Bible Gunfight”.
Like a couple of desperadoes my Protestant friend and I would take cover behind our respective church theologies and fire pot shots at each other, gunslinging Bible verses back and forth trying to prove our point.
The problem is, neither of us were very good shots. The Bible bullets kept whizzing over our heads.
Here’s why: no matter what verse the Protestant fired at me, I had a Catholic interpretation of that verse, and no matter what Bible verse I fired back, he had a Protestant interpretation of that verse.
Example: I’m trying to prove that baptism is necessary to salvation so I believe I’ve got the magic bullet. It’s in the third chapter of John’s gospel. Jesus is talking to the Pharisee Nicodemus and says, “A man must be born again by water and the Spirit.” Now this is a real bullseye because my Evangelical Protestant friend is real big on John chapter three. This is where he gets his term “born again”, by which he means the Billy Graham type of conversion experience. It’s also where you find the all-time favorite Protestant Bible verse, John 3:16 — yes the one they display at football games.
So I stick my head around the corner, eye up the enemy and take aim. I’m sure I’ve got my man.
So I stick my head around the corner, eye up the enemy and take aim. I’m sure I’ve got my man. It’s clear that Jesus is talking about the need for faith and baptism right? I take my shot. Bam.
He ducks and I miss. That’s because he replies, “Water and the Spirit?” The “water” there refers to the water that breaks when a child is born naturally. The amniotic fluid. Jesus is saying that a man is born naturally — “of water” and then supernaturally born again of the Spirit. It’s obvious! — What’s your problem? Where do you get baptism out of this!?”
As soon as you get involved in these Bible gunfights you realize that the exchange of Bible verse proof texts accomplishes very little. That’s because the Protestant (despite his protests to the contrary) does not actually believe in his favorite doctrine of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). He reads the Scriptures through his denominational doctrinal lens. He reads the Scripture backed up by his Bible commentaries, denominational assumptions, denominational education, context and background.
Catholics do this too; we just admit it. We never claimed to believe in sola Scriptura in the first place. Catholics have always relied on the Apostolic authority of the Body of Christ — the Church to provide the interpretative authority to rightly read Scripture.
This is why, when a Protestant engages me in debate and tries to shoot the gospel gun with Bible proof texts, I simply sidestep, put my gun in the holster and invite him to the saloon to have a drink. (He usually drinks sarsaparilla.)
Once there me and my pardner have a different discussion. I resist all his attempts to draw his gun and fight it out, and instead I ask one question: “Before we swap Bible verses, I need you to explain why your interpretation of the Bible is the right one and the thousands of other Protestant interpretations are the wrong ones.”
I explain that Catholics are not Bible-only Christians, that we look to the Church to give us the reliable interpretation of the Bible, and that these interpretations are rooted in 2,000 years of study, prayer, obedience and faith from Christians in every age and across the globe.
Then a very interesting discussion begins.
Which is better than the Gospel Gunfight in the OK Corral.