Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 26, 1951

Birds Of A Feather

Bill J. Humble, St. Petersburg, Florida

The old adage, "Birds of a feather flock together," is a concise way of saying that individuals whose backgrounds and interests are similar find companionship more congenial than those with differing backgrounds and ideologies. This principle extends to the realm of religion; for many Protestant denominations find co-operation easy because their origin, doctrines and practices are at most points analogous. Differences which do arise are minimized as insignificant and unimportant.

Some Protestant ministers have attempted to apply this principle to the relationship of Catholicism and Protestantism, recognizing a common background and many common practices. Mr. Charles S. Milligan, a New England Congregationalist minister, recently delivered a sermon, "Some First Principles of Protestant Tolerance," in which he recognized that Catholics and Protestants are "birds of a feather." In pressing for a more indulgent attitude toward the Catholic Church, Mr. Milligan stated:

The substances of what I have to say is simply that we Protestants must be very careful not to indulge in prejudice. We can love our religion without hating Catholicism. We can differ vigorously on issues without stooping to name-calling, unfriendliness and persecution of any variety.

The body of his sermon consisted of "four facts," each of which was discussed at length. They were:

First, Catholicism is the parent of Protestantism.

Second, Christian ethical principles apply in this controversy.

Third, Catholics are not increasing in vast numbers.

Fourth, We must debate issues without indulging in hostility.

It would be interesting to inquire how one can love true Christianity without "hating" a religious apostasy which once corrupted and is now diametrically opposed to true Christianity. One might ask how it is possible even to discuss issues without name-calling since most denominationalists cannot see that their doctrines are being discussed unless they are named specifically. This article, however, is concerned only with the first point, involving the origin of Protestantism.

After announcing that Catholicism is the parent of Protestantism, Mr. Milligan stated:

Neither parent nor offspring has been proud of the fact, but it is a fact nonetheless. So many people talk about the two as if there were no connection at all. They seem to have forgotten that Martin Luther was a Catholic priest and had no intention at first of breaking away from the mother church. They forget that John Calvin was a Catholic layman at the outset, whose education—religious and moral—was gained in Catholic schools . . .

For fifteen centuries the Catholic churches, Greek and Roman, kept the Christian faith alive and preserved its writings, traditions and propagation. Protestantism inherited its scriptures, much of its doctrine and lore from them. (Emphasis mine: BJH)

Protestantism is a child which differs with its parent about many things. It cannot pretend that these differences are unimportant, nor agree merely for the sake of harmony with its parent. But neither does it need to play the part of a spoiled and sullen child, only blame and suspicion, never the gratitude and due credit, toward its parent.

Many of these statements could as easily have been written for Knights of Columbus propaganda as for delivery by a Protestant preacher before a Congregationalist church. Birds of a feather! Their significance, however, is great; for if Protestantism inherited much of their doctrine and lore from Catholics, as this preacher admits, there is absolutely no basis upon which Protestants can oppose the Catholic doctrine or hierarchy and still remain Protestants! "Thou therefore that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? ... thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou rob temples?" When Paul Blanchard, author of the best-seller, American Freedom and Catholic Power, spoke recently in St. Petersburg, he admitted frankly that he had no objections against Catholicism as a religious system, but only as it has become a political system, a state within a state.

It ill behooves Protestantism, while sharing in the corruptions of Rome, to criticize Rome for those corruptions. Should a Methodist bishop criticize the ecclesiastical organization of the Catholic Church, a Catholic bishop could remind the Methodist bishop that there is as little authority in the New Testament for "Methodist bishops" as for "Catholic bishops." And Cardinal Spellman might ask, "Is not Methodism a daughter of the Church of Rome, through the great apostasy of Henry VIII?" Of a Lutheran he might ask, "Whence cometh your sprinkling of infants, from heaven or from Rome?" A Baptist might be plagued with the following query, "Who placed instrumental music in the worship of God, Christ in the first century or Pope Vitalian in the seventh?" And to include all in one blow, Cardinal Spellman might enjoy inquiring,

"Why do you Protestants celebrate Lent and Easter? Don't you know that we Catholics are responsible for the inauguration of these holidays? Since you Protestants claim to believe that the Bible is your sole authority in religious affairs, suppose you point out the passage which authorizes either Lent or Easter." A Protestant bird plucked of its Catholic plumage would be a sad sight indeed!

When Alexander Campbell debated Bishop John B. Purcell of the Catholic Church in Cincinnati, January 13-21, 1837, his procedure indicated that many Protestant practices are as vulnerable to attack as Catholic practices, since neither originated in apostolic authority. Mr. Campbell also demonstrated that any scriptural assault upon Catholicism will apply with equal force to certain aspects of the Protestant world, whether intentionally or unintentionally. At Cincinnati Mr. Campbell was appearing as the champion of all Protestant groups, but on the very first proposition his arguments pricked his Protestant supporters as sharply as his Catholic opponents. Arguing that the Catholic Church was a sect in every sense of the term, Campbell offered as proof the fact that her popes and cardinals are unknown to the Bible, whereas all New Testament ministers were equal. On this point Mr. Charles Hammond, editor of the Cincinnati Daily Gazette, commented:

Here was Mr. Campbell at home. He laid down this proposition, that the organization of the Catholic Church consisted, of Pope, Bishops, Pastors, and laity; that this polity was entire; that if any one of its parts was anti-scriptural the whole fell to ground. Hereupon Mr. Campbell found occasion to assail the Pope and the whole order of the Episcopacy. He wrung the withers of the Protestant Episcopal Church and of the Methodist Episcopal Church as severely as he pressed upon the Catholics.

After his own manner he made a thorough scatterment of the Pope, and of papal and protestant Episcopacy, so that the dogs might turn away from the whole with loathing and disgust. —"Thinks I to myself," what a champion of Protestantism! The constable's injunction to keep quiet, tied me to my seat, so that I could not get a peep at the phiz of my Methodist Episcopal friend, Samuel Lewis, Moderator, neither could I explore whether any one of the Episcopalian communities, who united in calling Mr. Campbell to this championing of Protestantism, was present. I should have been pleased to have said to them, what think you of this?

(Daily Gazette, Jan. 14, 1837)

When Campbell argued against apostolic succession, Hammond was again incensed, writing,

"Very well this, for the selected champion of Protestantism against Catholicism, giving the first Protestant Church, to the demons of error, great as those against which she protested." (Daily Gazette, Jan. 18, 1837)

Since it is apparent that no Protestant minister can successfully attack the Catholic Church on Protestant principles, who, then, is able to assault the citadels of Rome? The answer is evident: only those who accept the New Testament alone in practice as well as in theory. To give verbal allegiance to the Scriptures is one thing; to give practical allegiance, another. The ground occupied by churches of Christ is the only ground from which Catholicism can be successfully contested. The need is great, our opportunities proportionally great. Herein lies our power: we are birds of a different feather!