Thursday, December 20, 2007

Unauthorized Edition?

Two Christians were recently discussing the Church. One said to the other, "I don't understand how you can be comfortable remaining within Protestantism." The other said, "You've been in my shoes. What's so hard to understand?" And the first said, "When I was in your shoes, there were two questions to which I had never given thought. Once I did, and as I've found no satisfying answers, I am unable to go back."

Q1. What authority gave the rule that the Bible is the sole source of Authority for God's Church?

Q2. What authority defined the Bible's canon as containing these 66 particular books?

[I variously considered these questions in these two posts: here and here.]

The comfortable Protestant often falls back on observations of the grave depravity of the Western Church at the time of the Reformation. The uncomfortable one is not even able to appreciate the strength of sentiments a faithful Christian would have felt in Luther's time, watching their Bishops and Pope lay waste to the holy visage of the Church. However, the questions above still stand.

Who sent you (cf. Acts 15:24)? By whose authority do you declare this new teaching?

But then, the comfortable Protestant fairly asks, "Where does it say in Scripture that the Church would be preserved from all error?" Any takers?


joseph said...

I think the comfortable Protestant would also interpret any Scripture that explicitly or implicitly shows that the Church will be preserved from all error in a way that it doesn't. So, can anyone win in the Scripture battle?

Devin Rose said...

To my knowledge, the Bible doesn't explicitly say that the Church will never err in her teachings on faith and morals.

However, Jesus did say in John 16 that the Holy Spirit would come and lead the apostles into all truth.

How are we to understand this? Well, many Protestants I know would say that the Holy Spirit individually leads each person into all truth, an individual illumination, if you will.

In practice we see that this theory doesn't work because Protestants' beliefs differ from denomination to denomination and even person to person, often quite significantly.

But what Jesus said was true, so another theory I would put forth is that the Holy Spirit has led us into all truth through the Church. It is not a big leap then to realize that, because of the Spirit's divine guidance, the Church cannot err in her teachings on faith and morals.

This theory holds water much better, one experiential example can be seen by looking at how most Protestant denominations' teachings have changed with regard to marriage, divorce, and remarriage, contraception, and so on, while the Catholic Church has remained one of the sole voices against these evils. It doesn't "prove" the theory, but it is powerful evidence.

Tim A. Troutman said...

I can fully see how a Christian at the time of Luther would have been inclined to believe the teachings of Luther & Calvin.

500 years later I see no way to view the 'reformation' as anything but a dismal failure. It did not reform the Church. The Church retained ALL of her doctrines. Since the Church refused to conform to their teachings, they re-defined 'Church'.

Even Pope Leo X (Pope at the time of Luther) for all his personal faults of greed etc... was a solid theologian. His writings in the form of bulls and encyclicals are still with us and open for anyone to read - there are no doctrinal errors. Even from the popes who were worse than him (and there have only been a few 'bad popes') they taught no doctrinal error.

We believe the Bible implicitly teaches the Church will be protected from error.

One thing we do know is that the Scriptures most certainly teach (explicitly) about a visible Church in a physical earthly location to which one may go to for authoritative (even from God) settlements on doctrinal disputes.

It was a moment of euphoric curiosity when I first entertained the thought that this Church might actually still exist. If it does, we only have one candidate. It certainly isn't the "Church" Calvin spoke of and try as they might, even the Federal Visioners are merely engaging in wishful thinking.

But in all honesty, I don't know how to think about this question because I've never been a 'comfortable Protestant' at least not past the age of reason.

When I became intent on studying God's word (about 11 years ago) I ran into problems with the PCA doctrine I had been taught almost immediately. As a 15 year old, from the very second the question of the canon entered my mind, I was no longer a 'comfortable Protestant' and never would be again.

I tried all my resources to answer the question of the canon. In fact I tried for nearly 10 years and I had no desire or thought of becoming Catholic. I was perfectly content on being my own denomination. God had something different in mind though.

So I don't know what it feels like to be a comfortable Protestant.

Gil Garza said...

Matt 16:18; Jn 16:12-13; 1 Tim 3:15

Thos said...


You're right in that a Catholic needs to be careful before letting a debate be had strictly from the text of the Bible. In my, uh, hypothetical discourse between a comfortable and a not-so-comfortable Protestant I think I see the benefit of using Scripture where able to prove that a given interpretation is not as clear and one-sided as may be imagined (and I'm sure you agree, I'm just clarifying).

Devin, thanks for your sensible articulation of the verses Gil lays out.

Gil, I feel better seeing that I came to the same verses you noted. I would also add the Great Commission, Matthew 28:16-20.

"Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee...Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

I think the promise by Christ that he would be with "the eleven" always, until the very end of the age is helpful to this discussion. I'm fairly convinced by it!

Tim, Thanks for the points on good writing coming from even clearly scandalous popes. I hope to learn more of this some day. Have you posted on it by any chance? I suppose to be comfortable with the canon-authority issue, one has to buy into one of the several theories I know of.

Peace in Christ,

Anonymous said...

1 Tim 3:15

I think that is preatty clear. Of course Protestants will say that they have a different defenition of Church. Of course that "church" does tend to be wrong quite often.

Thos said...


The completely opposite definition of "church" used by Protestants and by the Catholics and Orthodox does make it nearly impossible to agree on handling such verses.

"Of course that "church" does tend to be wrong quite often." Even in this line you have used "church" differently than the Protestant does (at least, Reformed Protestants) when interpreting these verses (to avoid just the trap you have noted). The Church, as explained in my Reformed Circle, is the invisible collection of all the elect -- all those chosen to be saved, and who have true faith.

It quite nice fits the definition of circular logic: the Church is composed of all true believers, the Church will never fail, therefore all who are elect have not failed to hold on to the right faith as was promised in Scripture.

Peace in Christ,