The Bottom Line is this: Does the authority lie in Christ and his church or on you the individual? This is what I will examine.
As an evangelical, I was taught that the Bible was our Sole Authority. This always frankly bothered me. How was the Bible Alone the Sole Authority? There are so many interpretations of the Bible! So which interpretation is correct? Just ask anyone and they will tell you that THEIR interpretation is correct or at least that is what they think. Others may say, and with some merit, that the "majority opinion" is what is true. As such they may agree that Jesus is God and Believe in the Trinity and perhaps a few other doctrines (Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura perhaps) and then the rest is put up as the "non-essentials". Unfortunately, it is these "non-essentials" that divides families, communities, and churches. The evidence of what these "non essentials" mean is in the destruction left in their path, surely they are truly part of "the essentials".
To emphasize the point of the necessity of an interpreter of the scripture I will use a simple example, and a personal one.
How is the Bible and what it says implemented in our lives? And how, more specifically, is it used to settle very real disputes between the faithful?
What is Christian marriage? What are the roles of the spouses? What is love? Do you need to "hate your family" in order to follow Christ? Can you have a family and follow Christ? When one spouse is taught something contrary to what was always taught growing up, and what "the majority" of the Christians around us thought, then how do we handle this? Imagine a scenario in which questions like this arose. Imagine the amount of friction and pain can confusion that comes with such questions. Imagine both parties of the marriage believing strongly in their interpretation of scripture regarding this. Now this couple decides to get help resolving this and despite appealing to friends and family and Church, at the end of the day there were two opinions on what the Bible said. Both sides argued from scripture and both sides held their opinion as to what the apostolic author intended.
How is one to determine the better opinion? Or more clearly, how is one to determine which opinion, if any, is the Truth of Christ?
One may say common sense, or majority rules, which is fine for a theological forum, but not in the intimate realities of an individuals life! It could easily be argued with merit that, Jesus did not do what was popular, and "narrow is the road and few find it".
These are very good points against the idea of "majority rules". On top of that it is not a Biblical idea. It is not how things were settled in Acts 15 at the council of Jerusalem, and throughout church history, heresies were condemned despite their popularity.
Whenever speaking of settling disputes and church authority, I find it is imperative to look at Matthew 18 where Jesus tells us exactly what to do regarding this issue;
15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
We should have been able to confront each other on Christian teaching regarding marriage, or any other "non-essential" then if necessary go to a couple friends or pastors, and finally go to the church and have the church tell us what is true and what is not.
This brings up the great question of which church?
Naturally, when one party refuses to trust a specific church, then anything that church says is moot, and there are no consequences. you just go and attend a church that you do agree with. The dispute in my example was UNABLE to be settled by the church I attended, because it lacked the authority to settle the dispute. They lack the authority to say "thus sayeth God" leaving that authority to the individual and their personal relationship with God. Further, if this was a non-essential, something not regarding salvation, the church was satisfied to allow you to find a church more in line with your beliefs.
How is this not truth relativity?
Prior to finding the Catholic Church, and as a result of this issue, I thought the only way to settle this dispute is going to be to find what was historically taught about these verses. What did the early Christians believe about marriage and what did they teach. What I found led me directly to the Catholic Church.
I will argue that the only church that has the ability to effectively manage disputes according to Matt 18, is an apostolic church and specifically the Catholic Church.
At this point I can talk about what the Bible says about church authority, I can point to Peter receiving the keys of the kingdom in Matt 16:18, I can point to the Apostles being given the power to forgive sins in John 20, I can point to this being implemented through Paul's letters of correction to different churches, and I can point to a clear implementation of church Authority in Acts 1 when Matthias is appointed and Acts 15 when the issue of how to treat circumcision is declared.
I am not going to go through all of that in detail, because it can be found widespread over the internet and in textbooks. The arguments have been made and made well, and yet there is still dispute over if the verses are interpreted properly. If it doesn't line up with your tradition it is imperative to find away around it or else risk the fall of your tradition. And that is exactly what occurs.
So, I will focus more on the church fathers. These are people that often knew the Apostles or lived right after them, people that lived before the Council of Nicea that most Christians accept as authoritative, and people who give good witness to how the Christian Faith should be practiced.
Jesus tells us in John 14:26
"But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
He prays that
"The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; John 17:22
and he tells us that
on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[c] will not overcome it. Matt 16:18
If we are to believe Jesus, and believe that he knew what he said and said what he meant, then we must believe that he will guide his church with the Holy Spirit, desire unity of his church rather than division, and that evil will not overcome his church.
This should bring serious question to anyone who does not belong to a church that traces its origins to the Apostolic period. I will not deny that Christ can and does still work in many of these churches, but that does not mean it is the church he founded and the church that properly cares for the Truth given once and for all to the saints.
I will dive more into the Church Fathers in my next post, teased by the following quote;
See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.