I am a Protestant. I have been trying to trace the church from the time of Jesus to the current day. I have a question.

In the first half a century I see great debates in the defense and development of true doctrine. During this time central truths were developed such as the doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation. At least 24 major heresies were withstood, and the New Testament was canonized. If any of this would have failed to happen, Christianity, as we know it today, would not look the same.

Here is my question.

Many of the doctrines of the early church, such as tradition, liturgy, icons and so on were all well established by the third and fourth centuries. They have been rejected by the Protestant faith as false teachings. But these doctrines were developed close to the source where the water is usually the purest. They were developed by men that gave their lives for what they believed and taught. If they were heretical, would the streets have not run with blood, yet it seems there was unity on most doctrines?

  • 1
    I'm not sure this question can be answered. Or if it can be answered you are more or less setting all Protestants up as a straw-man. Asking about one doctrine, like the Eucharist, might be more appropriate. FWIW, the Catholic Church, holds that if everybody believes something that it must be true (it's a bit more nuanced than that). And we'd have had a lot more of blood spilled if every heretic was killed. Most are excommunicated and their doctrines anathematized.
    – Peter Turner
    Nov 20, 2018 at 22:39
  • I don't see a question here. Your last sentence is part musing, part assertion, and part question. Can you please edit that to be just a question? Nov 20, 2018 at 22:49

2 Answers 2


If the apostles had deliberately passed on tradition to the early church in addition to the scriptures, then it would be expected that what was additional would be in accord with the written documentation.

What Protestantism rejects is the concept that the apostles could have deliberately passed on traditions which are contrary - in either content or in tenor - to what the gospels and epistles set forth.

Or that they would have passed on what was supplementary to the degree that it could ever be considered 'further revelation'.

Article Six of the Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England states :

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

Importantly, this articles refers to 'whatsoever is not read therein nor may be proved thereby . . . is not required of any man, as an article of Faith, nor is it necessary for salvation.

What is known, historically, of the history of the Church outside of the apostolic accounts, may be useful in terms of examples to follow, but cannot, in essence, be regarded as essential for salvation nor can be regarded as obligatory.

Protestantism holds that one of the very reasons for the Divine Provision of an inspired and infallible documentation - the Greek scripture - is that historical traditions, even if, as the OP question states, those traditions are 'close to the source' are just not reliable enough.

The words of Jesus Christ himself, and the words that he gave to his apostles, are those which are documented in Holy Scripture. Protestantism, in its original form, holds that nothing else is to be considered above scripture in fact or in authority.

Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing . . . by the word of God. Romans 10:17.

  • "whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man," that ironically contradicts somethingin Scripture itself: "brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we handed on to you, whether by word of mouth or in our letters.." And those who hold to Tradition also believe "nothing else is to be considered above scripture" inasmuch as neither the Church to which the Scriptures were entrusted, nor the Tradition of which they are a major component, are 'above' Scripture, or each other. Nov 19, 2018 at 17:26
  • @SolaGratia That the Apostles handed on by word of mouth was helpful to those who heard it. But I want it in writing, precisely, exactly and infallibly. Because I do not - and will not - trust those words to be conveyed to me without contamination. Amen.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 19, 2018 at 19:02
  • "But I want it" is not the same as 'is Christian doctrine.' Nov 19, 2018 at 19:04
  • @SolaGratia Only the Apostles can tell me what is - and what is not - Christian doctrine. And how shall they tell me ? By words handed down (by word of mouth) or by words infallibly transcribed ?
    – Nigel J
    Nov 19, 2018 at 19:06
  • My point was that Apostles don't teach "Do what thou wilt" in tradition or scripture: that's a tenet of Satanism, rather. You don't see the question begging in what you're saying? How so? By conflating 'what the Apostles teach me' with 'only what they wrote down.' Nov 19, 2018 at 19:12

In my understanding, Protestantism takes the view that "if not in the [Protestant] Bible, it's human doctrine" (view more formally called sola scriptura). And if human doctrine, it is therefore fallible and should be judged according to their merits and consistency with the rest of the biblical teaching. This is the origin of many Protestant rejections of Catholic and Orthodox doctrines.

Now, you are asking for these other practices that are not in the [Protestant] Bible. Are they true doctrines? Well, this is surely a matter of debate. A Protestant apology of the adoption of some of such doctrines is in this answer. Ultimately, the key issue is to whether there is authority in what the Catholic and Orthodox churches call Tradition, i.e. the rules of faith and practice that were (allegedly) transmitted by the Apostles to their own disciples and churches, and which are not explicitly in the Bible. It is pointless to deny the existence of these traditions. St. Paul himself states:

I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you.

So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

The debate is about what exactly does this tradition include and to which extent it is necessary for salvation.

It should be remembered here that not even within Protestantism there is a unified voice about what doctrines and practices are valid or not. For instance, an issue as basic as the Eucharist is very contentious (e.g. see here). Not all hold Sunday as the observance day either. And so on. In effect, here the Catholic Church states that actually, the Bible alone is not enough to define all necessary doctrines of faith and practice. Hence its recourse on Tradition for things like the seven sacraments, and so on.

Finally, notice also that the canon of the Bible is different among denominations. Thus, for instance, things like the purgatory are justified in Catholicism based, among other things, in 2 Maccabees, which is not part of the Protestant canon. Thus, even without recourse to tradition, mere canon differences give rise to doctrinal differences among denominations.

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    @ luchonacho, there could be no Bibles produced by Protestants until the Reformation started in the early 1500s. Yet Luther came to his changed beliefs by studying the Catholic-produced Bible. The Reformation was out to get Catholics back to the biblical truths in the existing Bible and to reject the build-up of extra-biblical superstitions that had accrued over the centuries. Your view that sola scriptura means "if not in the [Protestant] Bible, it's human doctrine", is incorrect and somewhat misleading, if you don't mind me saying so as Catholic Bibles contain God's truth.
    – Anne
    Nov 19, 2018 at 8:49
  • @Anne The last paragraph presents an example of a doctrine which is justified in Catholicism partly on a book not in the Protestant Bible. This is an example of Biblical-based faith which difference arises foundationally because of the canon. Luther rejected the inspired nature of this book.
    – luchonacho
    Nov 19, 2018 at 10:22
  • That example is relevant, indeed. Re. the Deuterocanonicals (Apocrypha), Flavius Josephus's writing about the Hebrew [OT] canon, circa AD 100, is what Protestants go by. This canon was closed before Jesus was born. The only issue is whether post-Malachi writings should be included - Catholicism says 7 of them should. But neither Catholics nor Protestants decided the original canon of the OT. The Jewish nation had that sorted at Christianity’s start. Luther respected the relative value of the Apocrypha, including that in his Bible translation as an Appendix.
    – Anne
    Nov 19, 2018 at 16:45
  • @Anne Interesting for sure, but how is that related to my answer?
    – luchonacho
    Nov 19, 2018 at 16:51
  • But he certainly told Eck that the II Maccabees 12:45 quote used by Catholics to teach purgatory had no divine authority. From around 1826 the Protestants stopped including the Apocrypha even as an Appendix. However, sola scriptura means that the Bible stands alone among books, religious and secular, as God’s words to humans. It is a perfect revelation of God's mind for man's salvation. He didn't cause everything he knows to be written down; nor did he write down everything that took place in the world's history but he caused to be written all that was necessary for us if we are to know God
    – Anne
    Nov 19, 2018 at 17:05

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