Who Needs A Bible When You Have Rome?

This video is a good representation of the Roman Catholic Church’s argumentation against the practices of Protestantism.  Usually misunderstood, misrepresented, and devoid of Scriptural backing (sadly, this goes both ways often).  Then again who needs the Scripture?  Just appeal to Rome.  You have to wonder why we even need the Bible anymore?  Perhaps it’s a good relic.

Here’s my problem(s) with this video:

First, Alister McGrath is an interesting choice for an RC to use in order to refute (or at least argue against) the Protestant position.  While McGrath is a great writer, and does have valuable things to say, I would regard him more as a historian than a theologian.  And that book, I know, is more history than theology.  While this issue (who should interpret the Bible) may have historic roots, it is, in the end, a theological question.

Next, at 0:57 of the video, this man asks the question: “Who finally has the authority to interpret the word of God?”

Answer: The Word of God has the authority to interpret itself.  This is not circular, this is hermeneutics, and it is the only way to avoid error.  The Spirit indwelling a believer then opens the eyes of the faithful, through their faith and prayer, to interpret the Word correctly.  To look at interpretation any other way leads to any number of errors and divisions (ones this guy goes on to enumerate later).  This includes the errors of the Papists, who easily neglect this hermeneutical practice and interpret the Scripture, more often, by human Reason and Tradition rather than by Scripture itself.  Witness it in this video: Instead of validating his argument with any Scriptural defense, he appeals to Church authority, his own reasoning, and the proof that divisions exist in Protestantism.  Which is really no more than post hoc, ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore resulting from it) argumentation.

At 1:26 the priest points out the divisions following Martin Luther’s insistence that all the faithful have the Word.  The fallacy is to assume that only after the Scripture was made available to everyone, dissension and disagreements then arose.  A pretty convincing argument if you’re completely ignorant of history.  Major disputes and “wild ideas” had already arisen by the time Christ had died: Athanasius v. Arius, Augustine v. Pelagius.  There were even disputes within the RCC itself during its ‘glory days,’ we have only to look at the three “Great Schisms” within the RCC.  But, you know what they did in the early councils of the Church (i.e. Nicea and Orange)?  They did not appeal to themselves as the final authority…they used the Bible, and did not believe themselves infallible like Rome now likes to claim.  No doubt there were divisions after Luther, but the Word of God has always been divisive, even Christ tells us, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).

Now the RC might object, “this is why we need the Church’s presence and oversight to avoid the propagation and continuance of false teaching!”  Who in the world is objecting to that?  Who in the Orthodox Protestant camp has ever said, “we need to rid ourselves of the Church!  Forget elders, deacons, and pastors!  Disregard Church discipline!  Disregard councils!”

I know, NO-body.  In fact the Westminster Confession of Faith (arguably the most ‘Protestant’ document, and the 1689 Baptist isn’t much different) has an entire chapter on Church Councils (XXXI) and states in paragraph III:

“It belongs to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his Church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same; which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in His Word” (emphasis mine).

Yet, unlike the RC, it quickly follows with this important statement in paragraph IV:

“All synods or councils, since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both” (emphasis mine).

The issue is not, do we need Church oversight and bodies of church governance, the issue is who can have the Bible. In other words, does the individual have a right to the Word of God?  A right to know what it says, and a right to know God personally through His living, yes living (and speaking I might add), Word?  And while that individual may interpret it, he does not become the final authority on it either, the Bible still remains the final authority.  Let me repeat that, even that person does not become the final authority, the Word remains the final authority on itself, and the Holy Spirit supplies right interpretation of it.  He keeps appealing to a “final authority” needed, I would submit to him…it’s the word of God.  It is sufficient and authoritative on its own (2 Tim 3:16).

What is interesting though, is that the RCC has superseded the authority of Scripture and has propped itself up as the final authority…not Scripture.  This is just false teaching to the core.  I cannot tell you how much this sounds just like Mormonism.  To them the Bible is important (so they say), but the Book of Mormon and the Mormon Church is, often, more authoritative.  They’ve said to me, “The Bible is just so unclear and weak that you need an infallible interpretation from another authority.”  Even if you were to prove that both the Book of Mormon and the Church contradict the Word, their only defense is that I am just interpreting the Bible wrong.  Hmm, prove it…

The objection that the Word of God is not clear is so common among Mormons that it is alarming to hear it from this supposed “Christian” church (the RCC).  The Bible absolutely is clear on the essential doctrines of justification, sanctification, glorification, predestination, atonement, the trinity and the deity of Christ.  It is even clear on baptism (although method is disputed), the second coming of Christ (although how exactly is disputed), and general worship (although certain points are disputed).

Let me just throw this verse out one more time, in case you haven’t seriously considered what it says:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent (note: that is, artios in the Gr. = it means perfect, and the KJV interprets it that way), equipped for every good work.” -2 Tim 3:16-17 (emphasis mine)

**I realize the RCC has their little way of getting around that use of “artios” (a poor one at that) but that’s another note, it suffices for the point at hand. **

Lastly, he claims that “there are 30,000 protestant denominations around the world” (ca. 3:06).  I would love for him to define ‘Protestant’ and ‘Denomination.’  What separates the Orthodox Protestants is simply negotiable and oftentimes nonessentials (I say that with reverence), but never the Gospel.  This is very much a fact, just look into what separates PCA from OPC from RPCNA, and you will find it isn’t much; it certainly isn’t the Gospel.  The Gospel is what separates a true Church from a false one.  It is what separates Protestants from Rome.  Appealing to liberal, heretical, and false denominations is much like appealing to agnostics and atheists for your defense.

The point is, 1) the Protestant position is often very much misrepresented.  I am not just saying this, I have received a note from an RC telling me that the doctrine of “faith alone” is false, only to see the doctrine completely misunderstood.  But this is a warning, because (as James White has warned) Protestants have a tendency to do the same, and to think that the RCC cannot defend their positions from Scripture (or at least try), and that is not completely true. 2) While this issue may seem infinitesimal compared to the major doctrines that the RCC promotes, it is actually what underlies and used against the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura and the Priesthood of Believers as explained by Luther.  I wouldn’t just cast it off lightly, the issue of authority is at the core of the debate.

Perhaps Martin Luther concludes this best:

“We cannot attain to the understanding of Scripture either by study or by the intellect. Your first duty is to begin by prayer. Entreat the Lord to grant you, of His great mercy, the true understanding of His Word. There is no other interpreter of the Word of God than the Author of this Word, as He Himself has said, ‘They shall be all taught of God’ (John 6:45). Hope for nothing from your own labors, from your own understanding: trust solely in God, and in the influence of His Spirit. Believe this on the word of a man who has experience.”

Amen.

Advertisements

~ by TSL on December 19, 2009.

5 Responses to “Who Needs A Bible When You Have Rome?”

  1. Hmm…

    Interesting post.

    I just have one issue. You wrote that “The Word of God has the authority to interpret itself.” True, but the Bible doesn’t talk to us, pastors and churches do. The moment any church council or pastor says “This passage means _____”, they are authoritatively interpreting the Word according to some hermeneutical tradition (unless their entirely making something up). It’s inescapable.

    “The Spirit indwelling a believer then opens the eyes of the faithful, through their faith and prayer, to interpret the Word correctly”. So this appears to contradict your first statement that the Word interprets itself. What’s the difference between claiming that “the Spirit indwelling the Church then opens its eyes, through its faith and prayer, to interpret the Word correctly” and “the Spirit indwelling the believer then opens his eyes, through his faith and prayer, to interpret the Word correctly? I don’t see any. In fact, Scripture says that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church; individual Christians are not given that guarantee. I’m afraid this is where I find many Protestants are confused. They think that taking their Bibles into their quiet times and discovering, maybe even prayerfully, “what this verse means to them” is somehow Sola Scriptura. This is where the RC’s think they have us pinned. They look to that perversion of Sola Scripture that I mentioned above, which is largely all they see in Protestantism, and easily refute it.

    I must say that I wholeheartedly affirm Sola Scriptura, but I also cannot deny that it was a church council that decided what constituted the Scriptura in the first place. I thoroughly believe that the Holy Spirit was presiding over that council. The Church’s interpretation is not on equal authority; it can and has erred. We must always be Berean with our hermeneutical traditions, examining them in light of Scripture and the wisdom of the Church’s tradition as well.

    That’s all I have, thanks for posting,

    Godspeed,

    Caleb

    PS: I will actually be interviewing my pastor, a former Roman Catholic, on this issue to get his thoughts on the matter.

  2. I appreciate your response, but disagree with it on several points:

    “True, but the Bible doesn’t talk to us, pastors and churches do.”

    Do you not believe that the Bible is the “living and speaking” Word of God? Or does it only come to life, and is it only able to speak to us by the Spirit, if a pastor or the Church speaks it to us? I wholeheartedly disagree with that statement up front.

    “The moment any church council or pastor says ‘This passage means _____’, they are authoritatively interpreting the Word according to some hermeneutical tradition (unless their entirely making something up). It’s inescapable.”

    They are interpreting it, sure, but not authoritatively. As I said, the Word, by the Spirit, still maintains the authority to interpret itself. Not that preacher, not that Church, otherwise the Reformation would not have happened. Thus we must be Berean and examine it for ourselves to see if these things are true (Acts 17:11).

    “…this appears to contradict your first statement that the Word interprets itself. What’s the difference between claiming that “the Spirit indwelling the Church then opens its eyes, through its faith and prayer, to interpret the Word correctly.”

    How does that contradict? When did I ever say that the Church couldn’t have its eyes opened to right interpretation of the truth? I never said the Church couldn’t interpret the Word correctly. If I did then I am mistaken, please find it for me.

    “In fact, Scripture says that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church; individual Christians are not given that guarantee.”

    What makes up the Church? …Individuals? Are you saying that the gates of Hell can prevail against parts of the Church? If the Church cannot, then the individual cannot, for the Church is the ekklesia = “the called.” Once again, I disagree.

    “They think that taking their Bibles into their quiet times and discovering, maybe even prayerfully, ‘what this verse means to them’ is somehow Sola Scriptura. This is where the RC’s think they have us pinned. They look to that perversion of Sola Scripture that I mentioned above, which is largely all they see in Protestantism, and easily refute it.”

    Never said that was the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, never actually defined Sola Scriptura in my post. “What this verse means to me…” is certainly not Sola Scriptura, “What this verse means (period)” is.

    “…but I also cannot deny that it was a church council that decided what constituted the Scriptura in the first place. I thoroughly believe that the Holy Spirit was presiding over that council.”

    It was a church Council, but even then the council was not authoritative, the Word was, and God gives canonicity not the church, which you actually affirmed so I am not disagreeing.

    Thanks again…God bless,
    Jon

  3. By the way:

    I don’t see how ““what this verse means to them…” jives with what I said:

    “…while that individual may interpret it, he does not become the final authority on it either, the Bible still remains the final authority. Let me repeat that, even that person does not become the final authority, the Word remains the final authority on itself, and the Holy Spirit supplies right interpretation of it…”

  4. Jon,

    Thanks for the response. Firstly, you never said that Sola Scriptura was discovering what verses mean to people, I was merely expressing what many Protestants perceive it as. I am sorry if it came across as an accusation.

    I must humbly take back that first statement of mine (the Bible doesn’t speak to us, pastors and churches do), for you are indeed correct. No, I do not believe that Scripture is only “alive” and meaningful if it is preached from a pulpit or declared from a council. However, seeing that the preached Word is one of the Ordinary Means of Grace (along with the Sacraments and Prayer), there is a way in which the Holy Spirit speaks to us in a way that’s different from our private reading. I must also admit there is a disapprobation within me towards the idea of the Holy Spirit “speaking” to me privately primarily because God has not promised to particularly speak to me there and secondly because that just sounds really gnostic. Perhaps my disapprobation is incorrect.

    In asking the difference in the comparison, at first you said that the Word interprets itself but then you state that “The Spirit indwelling a believer then opens the eyes of the faithful, through their faith and prayer, to interpret the Word correctly”. My point in this was that your statement above is the exact same logic the RC’s use for their authority, they just replace “a believer” with “the Church”. The Roman Catholic argument is, as you know, that the Holy Spirit ensures that the Church’s interpretation of the Word will be correct. Are you not essentially saying the same thing in stating that the Holy Spirit ensures that the “eyes of the faithful, through their faith and prayer…interpret the Word correctly”? Given that you later state that the Church is defined by the sum total of all individual Christians (i.e. the faithful), I further do not see a qualitative distinction between your argument and that of your opponent. Both arguments have the Holy Spirit enabling a human party to correctly interpret Scripture “through their faith and prayer”; the Catholics simply believe in the enabling of the Magisterium and you in the enabling of the individual Christian. Therefore, in this argument, you have not disproved the Roman Catholic argument for interpretive authority, you’ve merely transferred it to the faithful (which again, is synonymous with the Church per your definition). Also, I am resting on the unspoken premise that interpretation is necessarily authoritative with which you disagree.

    All I meant with the statement about Scripture promising that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, not that they won’t prevail against Christians was this: To say that Oklahoma City is immune from attacks (obviously false) would not be the same thing as saying that every person who lives in OKC is therefore immune from attacks. Making a claim about a whole does not necessarily extend that claim to all its parts. Back to the church issue, St. Augustine said that “the condemned world is all that is without the Church” and he was right. The promises of God have almost always been given to His corporate people; to separate oneself from that people was always to become vulnerable to disaster (see what happened to Naomi’s husband and sons upon their departure from the Promised Land).

    Again, I am sorry for implying a wrongful accusation. That was not my intention.

    I hope I made myself more clear in this comment.

    Also, thanks for dialoging with me; it is a privilege to participate in civil discourse in an arena often characterized by a complete deficit thereof.

    Peace of Christ be with you tomorrow on the Lord’s Day,

    Caleb

  5. Caleb,

    I’ll leave most of what has been said where it lies, since I think we may be thinking the same thing, only it can come across wrong depending on interpretation ;) unless we were speaking face to face.

    The only thing that I would comment on, and maybe I should have made clearer, is the way in which the RCC puts Church where I put believer. But still, the Church nor the believer is the final authority, as said. The Word of God is.

    I do not have a problem with the RCC interpreting scripture, I have a problem with their authoritative claim to it. As you said:

    “The Roman Catholic argument is, as you know, that the Holy Spirit ensures that the Church’s interpretation of the Word will be correct.”

    But if it conflicts with the Scriptures, then it is nullified. The problem is that the RCC will not be upstaged by the Word of God, instead they impose their interpretation on it as if it were authoritative and infallible. In fact, Tradition and the Magesterium are placed on the same level as Scripture (Catholic Catechism, paragraph 95). Just as a believer must examine the Scripture, and to be rebuked, and submissive to it…so must the Church as a whole. The authority ultimately lies with Scripture not with the Church.

    Please don’t get me wrong here, I am by no means undermining the need for the Church. And for the Church’s oversight on doctrine. Only that oversight must be in submission to the Word of God alone. Sola Scriptura.

    In Christ,
    Jon

Comments are closed.

 
%d bloggers like this: