Examining The Authority of Rome

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.

The Sufficiency of Scripture

The sufficiency of Scripture, or sola Scriptura, is often a focal point of attack by Rome’s apologists, which is understandable, since the Bible alone is a big blow to Catholicism. Thus, there’s a need to be enlightened about this fundamental doctrine.

What is Sola Scriptura?

The term “sola Scriptura” is an oblative from Latin meaning “by Scripture alone.” The doctrine states that the Scriptures alone are sufficient to function as the rule of faith for the church. In essence, all that one must believe to be a Christian is found in Scripture and in no other source.

Consequently, the Scriptures are not in need of any supplement and its authority is as a result of its nature as God-breathed revelation. The Bible’s authority is not dependent upon man, church or council. Therefore, the Scriptures are self-interpreting, self-consistent and self-authenticating. This is a historic, orthodox principle of Bible Christianity.

Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox have this habit of misrepresenting sola Scriptura as “taking the Bible as the only authority” or “holding to the Bible alone as our guide.” That is solo Scriptura, not sola Scriptura.

Sola Scriptura means taking the Scriptures as the only infallible authority and the only infallible standard of truth and morals. It does not mean that one cannot appeal to history, tradition, councils or reason in arriving at truth, rather, the Scriptures alone carry the highest authority.

What Sola Scriptura is Not:

1. It is not a claim that the Bible contains all knowledge. “Jesus did many other things as well. If everyone of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books…” (Jn. 21:25)

The Bible is not exhaustive in every detail and it doesn’t have to be, in order to function as the sole rule of faith for the church. We don’t need to know details about all the miracles Christ worked, the apostles’ dress codes, or where they were buried.

The purpose of the Scripture is to record all that is necessary for us to be saved and which pertains to “life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3).

2. Sola Scriptura is not a denial of the church’s authority to teach the truth. The church can have its creeds, councils or confession of faith, but these are subordinate to the God-inspired Scriptures, and are subject to correction.

Thus, the church is being refined and purged by Christ and since the church hears the voice of her Shepherd from the Scriptures alone, the church does not add revelation or rule over Scripture (Rev. 1:19).

3. Sola Scriptura is not a denial that God’s Word was at a time spoken orally before they were committed into writing. Not everything the prophets spoke was written down however, because, not everything they said was inspired. That which God wanted preserved was carefully recorded

During the writing of the NT, the apostles could still appeal to an authority outside the Bible because at that time, God was still giving normative (standard-setting) revelation for the faith and morals of Christians.

This revelation was first communicated orally to the Believers alive at the time, and finally committed to writing for the believers today. Sola Scriptura applies to the normative stage of the church which we are in.

4. Sola Scriptura is not a denial of the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding and enlightening the church. That one adheres to sola Scriptura doesn’t mean one has rejected revelation from the Holy Spirit. There is a relationship between the Word and the Spirit – a balance that must be maintained – as Abraham Friesen notes in his work, Wonders of the Word:

“The Word was not merely a ‘testimony’ or ‘witness’ to the experience of the Spirit. Any experience, even one of the Spirit could not be self-authenticating; it need always to be tested by the revealed Word of God. Not the experience but the Word was the final arbiter of God’s truth.”

Objection I: “Nowhere does the Bible teaches sola Scriptura.”

Now, whether one is Catholic, Protestant or Eastern Orthodox, the basic truth we all agree on is the divine inspiration of the Bible. It is on this basis that the Bible authenticates itself. God doesn’t need men’s authority to be Who He is. In other words, the supreme authority of the Bible rests on its inspiration.

Lutheran theologian, Francis Pieper pointed out that: “The divine authority of Scripture rests solely on its nature, on its theopneusty – that is, its character as ‘God breathed’.” It is a travesty of Christian theology when people attempt to subjugate God’s inspired Word, the Bible, to traditions or a church magisterium.

From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2Tim. 3:15)

The “sacred writings” being referred to are the written words of Scripture. This indicates that the words of God which we have in Scripture are all the words of God we need in order to be saved; these words are able to make us wise “for salvation.” There is no justification for limiting this statement to the OT as Catholic apologists do. It is inconsistent to claim that the OT is sufficient, while the NT is not.

That passage says that God gave Scripture in order that we may be “complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:17) The Bible is sufficient without traditions. The Greek adjective translated as “complete” is artios. Vine’s Expository Greek work defines artios as “fitted, complete.”

Louw and Nida Greek-English Lexicon defines it as “qualified.” Greek scholar, Richard Trench in Synonyms of the New Testament explains that artios implies that the man of God is “furnished and accompanied with all which is necessary for the carrying out of the work appointed.”

In other words, all that a believer needs to be complete, qualified and capable in the faith is in the Scriptures.

Ps. 119:1 says “Blessed are those whose walk is blameless who walk in the law of the LORD!”

This verse shows an equivalence between being blameless and walking in the law of the Lord. All that God requires of us to blameless before Him is recorded in His written word.

As mentioned earlier, sola Scriptura is a norm for the readers of Scripture, not its writers, so it would be anachronistic to expect that a NT writer would make a systematic appeal to the NT to advance a claim.

Notwithstanding, the sacred authors appealed to prior revelations, even though they could speak on their own authority. Jesus and His apostles for instance, appealed to the Hebrew Scriptures as the final court of appeal. The phrase “it is written” appears 90 times in the NT (e.g Mt 4:4, 7, 10, 5:22, 28; 31, 28:18 etc). By this, they emphasized the principle of sola Scriptura.

John 20:31 “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name.”

This means that a person could take John’s gospel account, read it, believe it and receive eternal life just like that. The other gospel accounts have a similar purpose. They were written for us to read, believe and have eternal life. Since the Bible admits not to contain everything, it has said enough to us to believe and be saved (Heb 9:5, Col 4:7-9).

Objection 2: “There is no such thing as ‘Scripture only’ in the Bible

Let this be clear: sola Scriptura is a negative claim. It is saying that there is nothing else like Scripture. To equate a human tradition to the level of Scripture, you will first have to prove that it’s inspired like Scripture. “God forbid; yea let God be true but every man a liar.” (Rom 3:4).

Paul warned the church not to go beyond what is written – what is written? The Scriptures (1Cor. 4:6).

Objection 3: “How can the Bible be self-interpreting? Where does the Bible say this?”

This is based on the nature of Scripture itself. Since God has spoken through the whole of Scripture, one can understand what it says by taking one part in relation to the other. Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#102) agrees:

“Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, that one and same Word of God extends throughout Scripture and one and the same Utterance that resounds in the mouths of all the sacred writers, since he who was in the beginning God with God has no need of separate syllables…”

This is why the Old and New Testaments fit in perfect. Jesus and the apostles appealed to the Hebrew Scriptures to interpret what they taught and the New Testament frequently appealed to the Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled in Christ. Rome seeks to present the Bible as complicated or incomprehensible in order to hold people under her spiritual bondage.

Objection 4: “Sola Scriptura is bibliolatry nonetheless.”

Such an argument is self-refuting, because the very concept of idolatry has Biblical precedent. To accuse someone of it presupposes Biblical authority and Scriptural appeal. In the same vein, a person who looks up to an institution for salvation or as his final authority is guilty of idolatry.

Objection 5: “Sola Scriptura is a blueprint for anarchy. It has resulted in thousands of quarreling denominations with different interpretations.”

This argument has been addressed in another article refuting the 33,000 denomination harp from the Catholic echo chambers. It must be added however, that every denomination does not represent a different interpretation of Scripture and every difference doesn’t represent a disagreement.

Much of the denominational differences was due to nationalism or geographical distribution, particularly as monarchs and state churches arose. Liberalism is another reason. It is allowed (and necessary) for believers to split with a dying and liberal preexisting denomination overrun with heretics in order to serve God in truth.

In God’s plan, a variety of denomination works for His purposes. And it’s better to have a variety of young, growing leaves than a big, dead old rotten tree. Yes, there are false churches, but in this dispensation, we can’t weed out all the tares. They will continue to grow together with the wheat until the harvest (Matt. 13:24-30).

We don’t judge the condition of the field by the presence or even dominance of the tares. That some cults misuse the Bible doesn’t diminish its authority just as multiplication tables do not become wrong because a cashier uses it to defraud a bank.

If I write a book on Genetics, for instance, I won’t expect all my readers to arrive at the same degree of understanding. Some would read a little of my book and stop there. Some will read it and mix it with contents of another book by another author and some will memorise it without understanding. Will these diminish the credibility of my work? No. The same applies to Scripture.

The Catholic assumes his “church” is the standard by which all denominations are to be judged, so he glosses over the internal differences in Rome while he lauds the “scandal” of Protestant sectarianism and points his accusing knife at the Bible. This is hypocrisy.

Objection 6: “Sola Scriptura could not have been possible all through the centuries because most people were illiterate, and even if educated, couldn’t have had access to the Bible.”

This is a vapid line. From well-travelled 1st century Christians like Apollos, Paul, Philip, Aquilla and Priscilla, it’s clear that the early church had a good communicative network and the spread of the Bible couldn’t have been a problem.

On the other hand, how did the common people all through the centuries read or have access to the Papal bulls, Church missals or Council decrees? What was the express creed of the average Medieval peasant or village priest?

Folk religion and illiteracy were very common those times, so which core Catholic creed was mouthed by the masses? Or does the writings of Athanasius or Aquinas stand for the beliefs of the masses? Sola ecclesia entirely left out the laity and the lower clergy all through the centuries until the Reformation when Bible literacy and education were emphasized.

Respected theologian, Wayne Grudem, defines the sufficiency of Scripture as meaning that Scripture contained all the words of God He intended His people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains everything we need God to tell us for salvation, for trusting and obeying Him perfectly. He explained:

(a) We can find all that God has said on particular topics and issues by searching the Bible alone. We do not need to search through all the writings of Christians throughout history, or through all the teachings of the church or the subjective feelings or impressions that come to us, in order to find what God requires of us. We find God’s requirement by “examining the Scriptures” (Acts 17:11).

(b) At each stage of redemptive history, God’s word has always been sufficient. God has not spoken to mankind any more words He requires us to believe or obey than that we have in the Bible. Man cannot add any more words to what God has already spoken to His people.

(c) There is a strong warning not to add to Scripture and consider no other writings of equal value to Scripture (Is. 8:20, Gal. 1:8). This principle is violated by almost all cults and curious sects. Catholicism adds tradition and the Magisterium to the Bible. Christian Science adds Science and Health to it and Mormonism also adds the Book of Mormon and other false books.

(d) No modern revelations are to be placed on the same level as Scripture. We are to test visions or revelations with Scripture. There is a danger when a spiritual gift is directly or indirectly given a status that challenges the authority of Scripture in the lives of Christians (Is. 8:20).

(e) We are warned not to add more sins or requirements to those named in Scripture. Unless a specific teaching or general principle of Scripture is shown to prohibit an acitivity, if it’s not forbidden explicitly or by implication by Scripture, its not sinful (Ps. 119:44-45) (Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine, Inter-Varsity Press, 1999, 58).

The “Jesus Didn’t Write a Book” Argument

The following quote is taken from a book, Catholic Religion Proved by the Protestant Bible (published in the 1960s with “Ecclesiastical authority”):

“Did Our Lord write any part of the New Testament or command His Apostles to do so? Our Lord Himself never wrote a line, nor is there any record that He ordered his Apostles to write; He did command them to preach. If reading the Bible were a necessary means of salvation, our Lord would have made that statement and also provided the necessary means for his followers.”

What I find absurd about this booklet is its attempt to do the impossible. It tries to use the Bible to discredit itself and at the same time use it to endorse the authority of Rome. This is an elastic glass, it won’t wash.

By way of response:

1. The New Testament itself shows that Jesus and His apostles appealed to the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures.

In Luke 24:25, Jesus rebuked the two disciples on the road to Emmaus“How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”

Where have the Prophets spoken? Not in a myriad of rabbinical traditions, not in the “teaching office” of a religious institution, but in Scripture. Jesus wouldn’t have used such harsh language in holding these two ordinary people responsible for their ignorance of Scripture if it had not been readily available to them.

The proceeding verse says:

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (vs. 27). The Scripture was Jesus’ final authority.

There were certain things the disciples didn’t understand. “Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him…” (John 12:16). None of them appealed to traditions or an institution as final authority for the understanding of the revelation of Jesus Christ. Neither should we today.

It was the inspired Hebrew Scriptures that the apostles used in preaching the gospel and thousands of souls were saved (Acts 2:41, 47, 6:7, 8:12).

The assertion that “reading the Bible is necessary for salvation” is a straw man argument. One doesn’t have to read the Bible to be saved, one can as well hear it, believe it and be saved. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17).

2. Like the Old Testament, the New Testament is also the inspired Word of God. It’s a revelation of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit as God the Father willed. Yes, Jesus actually commanded John to write a book:

“The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place … Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy and blessed are those who hear it that and take to hear what is written in it … [Jesus said:] Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches … Then he said Write this down: for these words are trustworthy and true” (Revelation 1:3, 11, 21:5).

The entire New Testament was revealed by Christ:

“For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:12)

“How that by revelation he [Jesus] made known unto me the mystery; as I wrote afore in few words” (Eph. 3:3)

3. While the Lord Jesus didn’t pen a word of Scripture in His earthly ministry, He sent His Spirit to specifically do that. That the Holy Spirit did command men to write a book doesn’t make it less authoritative than if Jesus did.

Any attempt to relegate the Spirit into a lesser deity is a Trinitarian error. No true Christian denies or ignores the harmony of the Holy Spirit in the revelation of Jesus Christ:

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father and I will send in my name, He shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have said to you.” (John 14:26)

“But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own, he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” (John 16:13)

It’s interesting that Catholics love to appeal to the Trinity as an excuse (albeit a weak one) to exalt Mary as “mother of God,” but when it comes to the authority and inspiration of Scripture, they try to isolate the Holy Spirit from Jesus or the apostles as much as they can to cement their presuppositions

4. The argument raised in that book rests on the false premise that the church made the Bible. Actually, it’s the church that was founded on the revelation of Christ in Scripture, not the other way round.

When Peter confessed Jesus as the Son of God, He said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah,for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”

Referring to this confession He said, “on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:17-18).

The church is a community of all those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ, thus without the Word of God (whether written or preached), there will be no church. That’s why Irenaeus said:

“For we learned the plan of salvation from no others than from those through whom the gospel came to us. They first preached it abroad, and then later by the will of God handed it down in Writings, to be the foundation and pillar of our faith” (Against Heresies, 3:1, 8).

Unfortunately, Catholicism puts the cart before the horse. They claim that since the church pre-existed the NT, the church is greater than the Bible. If this is true, then, based on this flawed logic, Moses would be greater than Jesus and if we pursue it further, paganism would also be greater than Christianity!