All the teachings of Catholicism rest on a single pillar: the authority of the Catholic Church. The Convert’s Catechism of Catholic Doctrine (1977, 25) states:
“Man can obtain a knowledge of God’s Word [only] from the Catholic Church and through its duly constituted channels.” Why is this so? A Catholic website explains that the Bible “is younger than the Catholic Church and is the product of the Catholic Church. This means that the Bible is not the sole rule of faith for Christians, but rather the Church”.
This is what we call “sola ecclesia“. The 3 assertions made are:
1. The Bible can only be interpreted by the Catholic church
2. This is because the Catholic Church wrote the Bible.
3. Therefore, the authority of the Catholic church is greater than the Bible.
These claims do not hold water. Even in the Old Testament times, the common people were expected to know God’s Word, not through rabbinical interpretation but for themselves, and were able to. Psalm 1 speaks of the blessed man – not a special class of highly educated experts – who meditates on God’s Word day and night.
A “young man” is also expected to “heed” God’s Word- without a hint that it must be explained to him by a rabbi (Ps. 119:9).
The epistles of Paul were written to all Christians and were expected to understand them by the indwelling of the same Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures (2Pe.t 1:21). Timothy knew the Hebrew scriptures from early childhood (2Tim. 3:15) and it was taught to him at home not by a rabbi but his mother and grandmother (2Tim. 1:5). No one in the OT times looked up to any hierarchy for an official interpretation of Scripture. Nor do the early church. Nor should we today.
The second assertion made is as false as it sounds, since the Hebrew Scriptures existed long before any church came into existence. It must be emphasized that while the New Testament church pre -existed the New Testament canon, it didn’t pre-exist God’s Word. The NT church was constituted by apostolic preaching, so historically, the Word preceded the church. The only distinction is between the spoken and written word. Also, priority in time doesn’t equal to priority in rank. That Moses preceded Christ doesn’t make him superior to Christ. The NT books were addressed to the NT churches (Gal. 1:2, Col. 4:16, Jas. 1:1 etc). The church was obliged to submit to the authority of the written document, not the other way round. They were inspired writings that had authority over the church.
In a Catholic Answers tract titled What’s Your Authority? we are told: “The only reason you and I have the New Testament canon is because of the trustworthy teaching authority of the Catholic Church“. Yet they didn’t tell us why Rome’s authority is trustworthy and that of the Watchtower or the Mormon prophet isn’t. The Catholic just blindly assumes the authority of Rome without demonstrating its validity. The Convert’s Catechism of Catholic Doctrine brazenly declares:
“When he has once mastered this principle of divine authority [residing in the Church], the inquirer is prepared to accept whatever the divine Church teaches on faith, morals and the means of grace” (p 27).
Let me rephrase the second line: “the inquirer is prepared to accept whatever the Church of Scientology teaches…”
“the inquirer is prepared to accept whatever the Moonies church teaches…”
“the inquirer is prepared to accept whatever the Hare Krishna Society teaches…”
Enter in the name of any cult in the above quote and the argument remains valid. In fact, this is the first principle of every cult: surrender your mind and accept whatever you are told. One can’t embrace the false teachings of Rome unless one takes a blind logical leap to believe that Rome is an infallible authority. To Catholics, Rome is right because she says she’s right! Wrong. Catholic apologist, Karl Keating wrote:
“The Catholic believes in inspiration [of the Bible] because the Church tells him so…and that same Church has the authority to interpret the inspired text” (Catholicism and Fundamentalism, 125).
This implies that people can’t believe the truth of the Bible unless the Catholic church attests to its authenticity. So God needs the authority of Rome to endorse His Book! Of course that is nonsense. He went on to quote “St.” Augustine who said “I would not believe the Gospel if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so.” This is also false because the gospel has its own power to convince those who hear it, as does the Word of God which is “quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb 4:12). While the church has a role in the dissemination of Scripture, she does not have a role in its production.
This destructive belief that the Bible must have Rome’s endorsement is refuted by Scripture itself. Early in His ministry, before any church was established, Jesus sent His disciples forth “and went through the towns preaching the gospel” (Luke 9:6). Peter preached to 3,000 Jews who became Christians on the day of Pentecost without any mention of a true Church. Rather He preached only Christ who is “the true light that lighteth every man” (John 1:9).
In the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Samaria where thousands became Christians, Philip simply “preached Christ unto them” (Acts 8:5). When he met the Ethiopian eunuch, he preached Jesus unto him and he believed by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:35), not because ‘an infallible Church’ moved him to do so.
The apostles and 1st century Christians “went everywhere preaching the word” to those who never heard of a church or an ecclesiastical authority in Rome (Acts 8:4). Apostle Paul and his colleagues didn’t preach a church but “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1Cor. 2:2). If the endorsement of the Catholic Church wasn’t needed then, neither is it needed now.
An argument that is frequently thrown about is the statement of Paul in 1 Timothy 3:15 that the church is “pillar and foundation of truth”, but this doesn’t make the church infallible or even the truth itself. Patrologist J. N. D Kelly comments on this verse, pointing out that:
“As in 3:5, there is no definite article before ‘church’, and this suggests that Paul is thinking primarily of the particular local community… What Paul is saying is that it is the function and responsibility of each congregation to support, bolster up, and thus safeguard the true teaching by its continuous witness. We should note that (a) that ‘buttress’ is probably a more accurate rendering of the Greek endrawma (nowhere else found) than ‘foundation’ or ‘ground’ and that the local church is described as ‘a pillar’ not ‘the pillar’ because there are many local churches throughout the world performing this role.” (A Commentary on Pastoral Epistles, 1986, 87-88)
It is therefore wrong to equate Paul’s reference to a local church situation with a centralized and pyramidal agency where truth is vested in a top-down teaching office. Catholics have their authority in the wrong place. True authority is in the Head, NOT the body (Eph. 1:22-23). The ruling is in the King NOT the kingdom (Heb7:1-2). Therefore, the authority is in Christ NOT the church (Matt. 28:18).
True Christianity is a relationship with Jesus, not just being in a popular religion. Almost every Catholic convert boasts of the discovery of “an ancient church”- a human institution – and not the receiving forgiveness of sin through faith in Jesus. A “church” that replaces Christ, the Living Word with itself and denigrates the written Word, the Bible, is a false church.