Friday, August 17, 2007

Authority: Does the Buck Stop There?

When my efforts at discernment began over three years ago, no single argument rocked my deep-seated confidence in the claims of Reformed Protestantism as did an argument on Authority, and particularly the Authority to identify Scripture as canonical. Three pages written on this topic by a convert to Catholicism have been more compelling than several books I have read to date by Protestant theologians . In an effort to keep clear that which I was trying to discern, I developed the questions posted yesterday, which I felt all Christians should be able to answer with a clear conscience.

This sequence of thought seems to be the requisite starting point for any ecumenical Christian theological discussion. Those Catholic doctrines that are more commonly, if not hotly, debated, such as the Marian Doctrines, Transubstantiation, Purgatory, Indulgences, Prayers to the Saints, etc., are merely subordinate to the primary debate of reliable Authority.

I would qualify this, however, by quoting Sherlock Holmes, "Watson, as I have said, whenever all other possibilities have been ruled out, the improbable, however unlikely, must be the truth." Applying an inverse of this logic, I remember that even if all arguments cut in Rome's favor but one, and that one is clearly wrong, Catholicism must be wrong. It must mean I've been mistaken about everything else.


Amber said...

I remember that even if all arguments cut in Rome's favor but one, and that one is clearly wrong, Catholicism must be wrong. It must mean I've been mistaken about everything else.

I agree with this statement... however, you must then apply the same logic to Protestant denominations and their doctrines.

This comment also reminds me of something St. Augustine said regarding Scripture:

St. Augustine to St. Jerome said, “On my own part I confess...that it is only to those books of Scripture which are now called canonical that I have learned to pay such honor and reverence as to believe most firmly that none of their writers has fallen into any error. And if in these books I meet anything which seems contrary to truth I shall not hesitate to conclude either that the text is faulty or that the translator has not expressed the meaning of the passage, or that I myself do not understand.”

It is most likely that if you find something wrong with Catholicism, it is because you don't understand the arguments and not necessarily because they are wrong.

Christ did not leave us without an authority to provide us the FULL truth of the Christian faith. And I don't believe it's logical to believe he left us with an inerrant book without an authoritative interpreter.

There can only be one Church which contains the fullness of truth that Christ intended for us.

This church has authority, is visible and has doctrinal unity in morals and faith. How do we know this?

Mt 18:15-18
"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

1 Tim 3:15
But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.

The church is the pillar and foundation of the truth! But which church? If I want to know what truth is, how can I recognize which church has the authority to uphold this truth? Also, in Mt 18:15-18, we see that we have to “tell it to the church”. You cannot tell it to an “invisible” body of believers. And you cannot learn the truth from an "invisible" body of believers either. So, which church do you go to? If you go to one protestant church they’ll tell you one thing, another will tell you something else, and still a third will tell you something entirely different. That’s why Christ gave us the Catholic Church. He knew we couldn’t do it by ourselves... Is there any other church that goes back 2000 years by name and in doctrine?

Then, let’s look at Eph 1:22-23
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

We see here that the church is the body and the FULLNESS of Christ. Jesus has physical and spiritual aspects, therefore so MUST the church have physical AND spiritual aspects. You can’t have a physical head without a physical body.

The world has to see unity:

John 17:22-23
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

How can the WORLD see unity when Christianity has been splintering since the Reformation? Is the body of Christ ONE? If the church is the body of Christ, and there is only to be ONE body, then there can only be ONE church.

Can there be conflicting doctrine within the body of Christ, the church?

Acts 4:32
All the believers were one in heart and mind…

1 Cor 1:10
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.

John 17:11, 20-22
I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one.

"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one:

So, the question remains, where is the ONE church Christ gave us with the authority to bind and loose? The one he promised in Matthew 16:18 that the gates of hell would not prevail against it? Which Church is THE Church?

A book I highly recommend on this topic of authority is "By What Authority" by Mark Shea.

God bless you on your journey!

Adam Roe said...


That was a very compelling article. I'll be giving it some thought.


Adam Roe said...

Sorry for the mis-spelling. It should have been "Thos."

Thos said...


That article was a bit of a watershed for me PRIMARILY because when I took it to my father (Ordained Pastor), he had no response - said it was just too long ago that he studied this stuff in seminary. I have been disturbed since that there really is no good reply (and I've read and tried to find something in spite of my dad's non-interest).