To most Protestants:
- The Body of Christ is not a tangible, physical organization, but a conceptual fusion of sincere hearts. The Kingdom of God on earth is allegorical, not a organized, connected body--but somehow a blurry, abstract spiritually-connected group. This spiritual connection is not specifically defined but assumed by many to be a belief in sola scriptura and sola fide--or, for the more simple minded--their love for Jesus.
- Baptism is nothing more than a symbolic public confession that they have received Christ into their hearts. It has no intrinsic grace. There is no regenerated New Man as the death and resurrection with Jesus at baptism represents more of a legal exchange than an authentic "born again" experience. For a Protestant a person's new birth occurs with an experience--when a person asks Jesus to come into their hearts as Savior.
- The Communion Bread/Eucharist is symbolic to a Protestant. And here is where we see the huge difference in worldview which affect our views of each other.
In Protestant corporate worship, they come together to pray, sing praises and to listen to a sermon usually about a Bible text. Many imagine that their assembling together to worship brings a fuller presence of God than in their personal devotions at home. But from those I have encountered, many do not. They believe that God is no more at church, than He is in their private prayers and Bible study.
The very essence of Protestant worship and doctrines are: spiritual symbols, spiritual thoughts, spiritual feelings, spiritual experiences that happen in their heart.
The symbolic even bleeds over to their actions. Many evangelicals and fundamentalists teach that a Christian should not expect any apparent sanctification in their lives. Moral growth and becoming holy is to them, again, symbolic.
So, all that to build my case:
When you see Christianity through the lens of the symbolic; when baptism, the church, spiritual growth and the Eucharist/Communion bread is all allegorical; when your highest form of worship is infused with symbols, then you see idolatry in Catholicism's symbols.
When kneeling to pray to God is a Protestant's highest form of worship, they see idolatry when they see someone kneeling to a statue of Christ or Mary or another saint. They cannot fathom that to a Catholic kneeling is subsidiary to worship. It aids in worship but it is not worship itself, as throughout history and in almost all cultures one would bow to one's king, queen or local lord or even to one's family. The Bible is replete with these examples.
When prayer is the highest form of worship, Protestants see idolatry when they see Catholics praying to saints. They cannot fathom that to a Catholic praying is subsidiary to worship. It aids in worship but is not worship itself, as throughout history and in almost all cultures one would pray (or in today's language: petition) to one's king, queen or local lord. History is replete with these examples.
These actions ARE worship to a Protestant, the fullest expression of what humans do to worship. So when they see others acting in a way which represents their highest and most holy form of worship, they sincerely believe Catholics are idol worshipping.
What they don't realize is two-fold:
1. Catholics highest form of worship is not praying, praising, bowing or even studying God's written word. To a Catholic the sacrifice of the mass is the highest holiest form of human worship. Worship is the re-presentation of Jesus on the Cross to the Father. It is partaking of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ in the Eucharist. All other things are worship aids--the music, the rites, the rituals, the candles, the stained-glass windows, the genuflecting and bowing, the reading of scripture, the prayers. All these things are not worship in and of themselves but are done to keep our hearts and minds upon the greatest and most holy act of all time:
Jesus on the Cross.
Coming before Him at the foot of the Cross and joining with Him in the sacrifice for our sins and those of the whole world, participating in the Last Supper with Him and joining our very bodies with Him in eating of His true flesh, that and that alone is the fullness of worship. (And that is why we keep Jesus on the cross in our crucifixes--always reminding us of what Jesus did for us at the Cross.)
Just as holding hands and kissing are not the fullness of marital consummation, but aids to bring two people together in the fullness of human intimacy, so bowing and praying, praising and Bible study are not the fullness of worship. As you can hold hands with your parents and kiss your siblings without committing adultery because you have not reached the fullness of consummation (and it was never a temptation to go there!) So we can pray/petition others, bow to them without even a hint of idolatry.
2. Secondly, what Protestants do not realize is that worship has for all history been participating in sacrificing to idols. The first commandment of God on Mt. Sinai:
"Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them..."
This making of an image and bowing down to serve it means, within the context of Hebrew history, sacrificing a living thing and sharing in a covenant meal with the god, who the pagan believed to be alive. They would bring them food and drink, they would consult the oracles as to what the idol told them to do or to find out predictions of the future.
Pagan worship was not symbolic! It was a true joining with the demonic spirit's soul through a covenant meal offering. They worshipped a piece of stone, or an animal--not by just bowing or even praying to them as symbols. But this "bowing and serving" was known to all as joining themselves to the idol through a corporate sacrifice of a covenant meal. That was why Paul kept bringing up eating meat sacrificed to idols in his letters to the different churches. Joining in a covenant meal with an idol was tantamount to adultery. Please, if you don't believe me, do a Biblical study on what idol worship was in the Old Testament.
Idol worship wasn't symbolic, so Protestants misunderstand true idol worship because they cannot fathom a spirituality that is real, with a real Body of Christ in a real church, a real Eucharist and a baptism of regeneration.