10 June 2008

Answers to Catholic Arguments on Authority

The following six questions were asked by a Catholic apologist, John Martignoni.

1) Could the Holy Spirit, through the universal Church (which is the Body of Christ), have enabled believers – particularly the Bishops (the successors of the Apostles), in the first few hundred years of the Church, to faithfully and accurately pass along the traditions Paul taught by “word of mouth”? Yes, or no?
Yes. But they could have also mixed the apostolic teaching with much error, just as God's people of old did before to the teaching of the Prophets. "Could" implies possibility not certainty! Could God have created a 3-legged creature on Pluto? Yes. Did he? Perhaps he did, but I'm pretty sure he didn't.
2) Are you infallible in your interpretations of Scripture? Was Martin Luther infallible in his? Or John Calvin? Yes, or no? (Note: this question concerns not your personal infallibility, but the infallibility of your scriptural interpretations.
No, no, no, and so will any sensible Christian, and especially Christian teachers, say. We are not infallible. We can all make mistakes in our understanding and explanation of the Bible.
3) Is the canon of the Bible infallible? In other words, does the Bible contain exactly the number of books, and the correct books, that it should contain? Yes, or no?
If by “infallible” you mean “correct”, yes, I am convinced that the Bible contains the correct and exact number of inspired books.
4) If you answered, “Yes,” to #3, then by what authority do you believe this to be so? The Bible, or oral tradition?
By what authority? By God’s authority who’s character and purpose are revealed in the Holy Scriptures. In his wise providence, God has so directed his people (fallible and imperfect as they are) to recognize his Word. The Good Shepherd promised that his sheep would hear his voice, and that they will not be mislead by the voice of a stranger - and that is exactly what happened, and what continues to happen today. “My sheep hear my voice!”

Historically God gave the inspired Scriptures to Israel and the early church. God's people then passed on the sacred writings to future generations, and they were received as such by believers, to this very day. The canon is not a doctrine to be deduced from the Bible. The Christians in the early centuries simply collected the canonical books on the basis of the internal and external evidence that they are indeed Holy Scripture.

Did the church receive the canon on the presumed authority of some “infallible” declaration of an ecumenical council or pope? No, and neither did the Jews for centuries, nor did Catholics for 15 long centuries, nor do Christians to this very day.

How then could we be certain? We can be certain because we rely ultimately on God who alone is infallible, and who in his all-wise providence uses very fallible and weak instruments to fulfill his eternal purposes.
5) If I were to deny that the Letter of James was inspired Scripture, by what authority would you declare me to be wrong? Does the Bible say James is “God-breathed?” Yes, or no?
The church does not determine the canonicity of a particular book on an inspired contents page! If you doubt the inspiration of James, as some early Christians did in the first centuries, and even Luther in the 16th, I would seek to convince you on the basis of the internal and external evidence, just as the church did in the formation of the canon. Notwithstanding his doubts, Luther included the Epistle of James in his translation of the Bible and gave it to the German people in their native language; something the Roman Church failed to do until after the Reformation.
6) If Bible-only Christians can get it wrong when it comes to their interpretation of the Bible in regard to traditions, as you stated can be the case, then can they get it wrong when it comes to their interpretations regarding doctrines? Yes, or no?
Whatever the preamble means, we do not hesitate to admit that we can be wrong in biblical interpretation; we can be mistaken in some of our beliefs and doctrines. If it were not for the grace of God, we would not believe a single truth rightly.

But being fallible does not imply that one is necessarily mistaken. I am fallible when it comes to mathematics. My math teacher used to remind me of my fallibility each time she corrected my homework. But that does not mean that I got all my sums wrong! Long before the bishop of Rome asserted himself as the infallible head of the universal church, the saints of the Old and New Testaments believed and cherished Gods truth, albeit their many false beliefs and mistakes. Think of the Corinthian church. Where they Christians? Yes. Did they believe the true gospel? Yes. Did they also hold false teaching? Oh yes! Evangelical Christians are happy to continue in the tradition of our forefathers in the faith, and we invite Catholics to return to the roots of our most holy faith.

We may be wrong on many things, but we are most certainly right when we exalt Jesus as the only Name given in the world by which we must be saved. We preach Christ crucified. We preach Christ resurrected, glorified, Lord of heaven and earth. We trust our soul solely to his care. We have no other desire but to glorify our Beloved by living in obedience to his Word. May the Sovereign God open all our minds to understand the Scriptures, and grant us the grace to believe in his Son for our salvation.