Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Roman Catholicism's view of Authority versus the Bible

2 Timothy 3:15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

To remain faithful to the Gospel, the areas of faith, the Bible and Jesus Christ must match the scriptures.  This matching is done when we understand faith, the Bible and Jesus Christ to each be necessary, sufficient and exclusively ordained by God for salvation.  In today’s blog we want to consider the nature of the scripture’s authority.
As we will discover, just like the matter of saving faith, the Roman Catholic Church would say that the Bible is necessary for both the beginning and continuation of faith, however the Bible by itself is not sufficient nor exclusively the only source that is binding upon the consciences of men.

The Nature of Spiritual Authority in Roman Catholicism versus the Bible

A quick history lesson
In the sixteenth century a monk by the name of Martin Luther protested the Roman Catholic Church over the issue of its appealing to the masses to purchase extra merits for attaining favor with God (i.e selling of indulgences).  The Roman Catholic Church had come to teach that from the grace achieved from the saints of the past, such grace, added to Christ’s accomplished merit on the cross, existed in an overflowing manner.  Such grace, called “an indulgence”, was available at a price. 

The Catholic Church viewed itself as having the authority to dispense salvation, thus placing its tradition on equal par with the Bible.  Beginning with Martin Luther, others in his wake joined in this protest, thus beginning the birth of the “Protestant Reformation” on October 31, 1517 (called “Protestantism” since they protested against the Catholic Church on much of its theology of salvation and church practice).

Fast forwarding some 450 years later, the Roman Catholic Church made some historic updates to its system at a historic event called “Vatican II”.  The current Catechism of the Catholic Church is a fruit of that historic event. Does Roman Catholicism still retain much of its viewpoint about spiritual authority like it did in Martin Luther’s day?  Does it still view its own tradition and teaching authority of the papal system as equally binding and infallible along with sacred scripture?  Lets find out.

Roman Catholicism’s equating of scripture, tradition and the Papacy
Picture a three-stranded rope as representing Roman Catholicism’s view of supreme spiritual authority: The Bible, the Papal Heirarchy and Church Tradition.  This was the system articulated in Martin Luther's day.  Did Vatican II really change that viewpoint?  Consider this quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
"It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium (The Papal heirarchy) of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls." 1

The Biblical view of spiritual authority: The Bible Alone  uniquely binds the consciences of men and is without error
One of the truths reaffirmed from the Protestant Reformation was the assertion of sola scriptura or the Bible alone.  This little phrase did not negate the valuable need for doctrinal statements nor give permission to ignore the wisdom of other Christians from the past 2,000 years of church history.  Rather what it did was affirm the Bible's unique status as having "binding authority" upon the hearts of  human beings, something of which neither doctrinal confessions, church policies nor any other secondary sources do not possess.

The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message has this to say about the roles of tradition and scripture: “Baptists are a people of deep beliefs and cherished doctrines. Throughout our history we have been a confessional people, adopting statements of faith as a witness to our beliefs and a pledge of our faithfulness to the doctrines revealed in Holy Scripture.”2  With that statement made, the Baptist Faith and Message makes this important clarification: “That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience.” 3
How Baptist Churches view various authorities and the Bible versus the Roman Catholic View
The belief in “scripture alone” entails viewing the Bible as the sole inerrant and infallible authority that binds the consciences of human beings.  Pastors and the church constitutes spiritual authority in the sense of providing the Christian the spiritual food and necessary equipping for carrying forth the gospel.  However only the Bible uniquely informs all Christians as to what is final in matters of life, salvation and eternity.  A pastor or a church has delegated authority that derives from Christ's authority excercised through the agency of sacred scripture.   In contrast to Roman Catholicism, which teaches an equality between the Bible, Tradition and the Papal system, the Bible Alone is unique. 
Was Jesus’ view of spiritual authority “sola scriptura” or more like the Roman Catholic System?
In Jesus’ day the Jewish Scribes and Pharisees had developed an elaborate system of laws and rules that they viewed as on equal footing with the Old Testament.  When Jesus would deal with that system, he would contrast his teaching from scripture to their system.  When referencing their system, he would use the phrase: “it has been said”. (compare Matthew 5:21,27,31).  However whenever He was making an authoritative statement, or quoting scripture, He would use the phrases: “but I say” or “it is written”. (Matthew 5:22,28,32) 

Did Jesus value things like tradition?  He must have, otherwise he would not had celebrated a post-biblical festival like the Feast of Hanukkah that many believed he did in John 10:22.  However he never believed tradition to be equal, binding nor infallible.  In Matthew 5:18 Jesus states - “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”  Jesus Christ clearly taught and lived by the ultimate authority of the Bible, since He Himself fulfilled its expectations and provided the basis for its declarations. 

Believing in sola scriptura or "the Bible alone" spells the only way of fidelity to the true Gospel 
Scripture alone has this quality of enduring long after tradition has changed or human authorities have passed on and off the scene.  Jesus clearly taught the primacy of scripture and its unique role.  May those who name the name of Christ take seriously this pattern which lies at the heart of the Gospel – namely the Bible Alone is the final authority on all matters of faith, history, practice and eternity. 

End Notes__________________

1. Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Article 2, Part Three, Paragraph # 95.
2. 2000 Baptist Faith and Message

3. 2000 Baptist Faith and Message

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