We had some fun with the eighth grade class this week. As they’re getting ready to go to high school here in the Bible Belt, I take a few sessions to teach them some basic Catholic apologetics. 

I began by explaining how Baptists and Bible Christians originated, why they believe in sola Scriptura and the best way to counter their most common challenges.

So often the secularists mock Christianity by pointing out that Christians don’t actually obey the Bible. They dig up verses from Leviticus banning pork and shellfish and calling for adulterers and witches to be stoned to death. Then they say, “Ha! Why do y’all use the Old Testament ban on homosexuality when you’re not willing to keep those other laws. Huh?”

It is, of course, a shallow and stupid argument, but the secularists use it because their understanding of Christianity has so often been formed by Sola Scriptura Protestants. That the secularists use this argument shows shows how strong the Protestant Fundamentalist form of Christianity is in the United States.

The secularists’ argument does not carry weight with Catholics because we’re not Bible Only Christians, but their point is strong against Biblical fundamentalists, and as such it is a good argument to use when Bible Christians attack Catholics.

So how to respond when the Bible Christian quotes Matthew 23:9 (where Jesus says, “Call no man Father”) and says, “Why do you Catholics call your priests ‘Father’?”

First I got the kids to look up the Bible verses banning all contact with pigs, the consumption of “beasts that swim but do not have scales and fins” and for good measure threw in that verse from I Timothy saying women should not have braided hair or wear gold jewelry or pearls.

I showed mock horror when we spotted one girl with her hair in a braid wearing a gold necklace and pearl earrings. More dismay at the thought that lobster, oysters, scallops and shrimp were off the menu. More shock horror at the thought that not only could they not have bacon, but pork barbecue was out of the question and most shocking of all–no FOOTBALL! Why? Because footballs are made of pigskin and you ain’t allowed to touch the flesh or the carcass of the pig!

The point being that all Christians do not take every verse of the Bible literally. They pick and choose what they believe and obey in the Bible. Catholics do too. It’s just that we acknowledge the fact and have a reliable authority to help us discern the way forward and interpret the Bible correctly.

This explanation moved on to some enjoyable role play. I took the part of the Bible Protestant. Eighth grader Jared took the Catholic part:

Fr DL: So Jared, you mean to say you’re a Catholic?!

J: You bet!

Fr DL: So why do y’all call priests Father when Jesus says in Matthew “Call no man Father”?

J: Have you ever eaten at Red Lobster?

Fr DL: Huh? I guess so.

J: What did you order?

Fr DL: I don’t know. Fried Shrimp and Scallops I think.

J: Sinner! The Bible says you can’t eat that! What about pork barbecue? Do you like that?

Fr DL: Shore I do. This is South Carolina!

J: Sinner! Don’t you know the Bible bans all pork products? What about football. Do you play football?

Fr DL: (Putting on his best South Carolina accent) Man! This is Clemson Land. Go Tigers! You gotta play football!

J: Sinner! Dost thou not know that to touch the carcass of a pig is a great sin and what is a football but the skin of a pig?

Fr DL: You’re crazy man!

J: OK. I’m just trying to make you think. Of course it is okay to eat pork, play football and enjoy oysters. But here’s my point. You admit that there are certain verses in the Bible you don’t take literally, I mean even though it says don’t eat pork or shellfish and don’t touch a pigskin that it’s okay to do that?

Fr DL: I guess.

J: So there are some parts of the Bible you can disobey if it make sense?

Fr DL: Seems that way.

J: Same with us and that verse about “Call no man Father.” See, in Jesus’ time there were pagan religions in which the people called their teachers and gurus “Father” and “Master” and worshipped them as semi-divine beings. 

We call the priest father, not because we worship him or think he’s God, but because he’s like our father in the faith. He guides us, loves us, prays for us and shares his wisdom with us. That’s all. It’s not really such a big deal.