The True Magisterium of the Church

By Joel A. Hess

Often times, my Roman Catholic friends enjoy mocking my reformation allegiances by pointing out all the different denominations. “Luther did that!” they quip.  Perhaps the major criticism of the reformers from the Roman side is their introduction of individual interpretation over and against the official Church interpretation. Of course, if one were to actually read the confessions, there is no support of every man for himself interpretation. Also, having an official magisterium does not guarantee unity of teaching. There are as many ‘little’ church bodies within the Roman community as there are among protestants.

The reformation slogan sola scriptura and the rejection of a divinely appointed single-teaching office such as the Roman magisterium are fundamental teachings of the Lutheran Church. But they are not really understood by our own people! In this messed up world, it’s so tempting to desire authority—authority greater than Holy Scripture and authority that lies in a person. Quite frankly, this argument has tempted a few weak-minded Lutherans to jump ship.

I recently read an excerpt from a Roman apologist, Scott Hahn, who claims he left Protestantism (whatever that is) because a professor made him look for sola scriptura in the Bible and he couldn’t find it. This is a pretty clever trick for the dimwitted. It’s akin to the Jehovah’s witnesses begging us to show them the word Trinity in the Bible. Nope, I can’t show them the word, but I can show them the Trinity! The same goes for sola scriptura. Paul teaches sola scripture when he says to the Church in Galatia, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” Galatians 1:8-9


Yeah, anybody! The Galatians were tempted by men who had authority who were teaching contrary to the Scriptures. Even Paul puts himself under what he had already written which we now call Scripture! And of course, that means Peter too—wink wink! It’s not ridiculous to apply Paul’s warning to future men who come in the name of Jesus and teach contrary to the Gospel!

But seriously, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a magisterium in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod or whatever church body you belong to?

Wouldn’t it be great to enjoy the leadership of a group of men, chosen by God, to properly interpret Scripture? You know, like they have in the church of the very latter, as in never, day saints? So in times of doubt, we could just refer to them. Let them teach and lead. When there is discussion and debate, we can turn to the magisterium for clarity. Would that not make life easier as a pastor and Christian?

I think so.

Well, we actually do have a magisterium. Who are they?

Paul, Peter, John, Matthew, Mark, Luke, James, and Jude!

That is what sola scriptura means! It means I will trust Paul over Gregory and John over Thomas. I don’t want to diss my friends within the church, but when there is an argument on a matter, I’ll take the authors of the new testament.


Sola Scriptura does not mean we believe the bible is a book that fell from the sky like the coke bottle in the controversial film The Gods Must Be Crazy. It was written by men selected by God, and it’s really quite clear.

The reformers would have had no problem with keeping a magisterium in the church. That was the least of the reformation’s concerns and quite frankly the least of my concerns today regarding the Pope. The reformation occurred and is still sadly valid because the ‘magisterium’ contradicted and still contradicts the original official teachers of the Church!

 When that happens, a Christian should cling to the original immediately selected magisterium, which we happen to call ‘holy scripture.’

Good Christians do not forsake the wonderful writings of the church fathers. They should even take them seriously and allow them to guide them in their understanding of God’s Word. However, even Luther must take the back seat when he contradicts what Matthew, Peter, or Paul write.

So don’t cry about how your friends have an authority figure in their life, such as the magisterium, and you don’t. You do. Yours was immediately chosen by God Himself. Sola Scriptura means Solum Evangelium.


7 thoughts on “The True Magisterium of the Church

  1. Thinking about the relationship of Sola Scriptura to the “catholic” faith, as expressed in the writings of the Church Fathers, I think there are essentially four approaches:

    1. Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox
    2. Confessional Lutheran/ Conservative Anglican
    3. Reformed/Evangelical/Anabaptist/Cult
    4. Liberal

    In the first case, tradition dictates the meaning of scripture. In the second case, tradition helps us determine the proper meaning of scripture. In the third case, tradition doesn’t have any real bearing on the meaning of scripture. In the fourth case, neither scripture nor tradition really mean that much, at least not when it becomes convenient to change them.

    Obviously, I think the third position is best. We take tradition seriously, but we don’t adhere to it blindly. We’re don’t engage in chronological snobbery, but we avoid traditionalism. That’s a good place to be. It’s the most balanced position.


    1. In discussions I’ve had with these Catholic “apologists”, I have found:

      1) They cannot distinguish between New World sectarians and the Reformation churches.
      2) They cannot distinguish Lutherans from other protestants.
      3) They do not understand being confessional.
      4) They usually are like recovering addicts – many times they are former evangelicals now sworn off their grape juice sacramentarianism and deeply inhaling incense.
      5) They will insist that all doctrines of Roman Catholicism are “in harmony” with their reading of scripture. Mary can be assumed into heaven, it is possible because it doesn’t say in scripture that it did or didn’t happen. Also, the Magisterium interprets scripture to say that only the Magisterium can interpret scripture and they’ll insist this is sound logic while sola scriptura is circular.
      6) 2 Timothy 3:16 does not, in their estimation mean that scripture is ever enough, only that it is “profitable” and only part of what God breathes (the other part being what comes out of the mouths of popes and church councils). Scripture, they will claim, is “materially sufficient”, it has all the necessary bricks,but is not “formally sufficient”, doesn’t tell you what to make out of the bricks without the Apostolic Authority of the Magisterium.

      For the most part, they are writing for a Catholic audience defending itself against evangelical and baptist proselytizing and for converts from the former to comfort their consciences. Biggest difference I have found between converts from protestantism or non-Christian backgrounds and cradle Catholics is that cradle Catholics could go on forever without hearing or understanding a word of scripture and live only on what comes from the clergy and Magisterium and the converts, at least, insist on scripture.

      One think I have learned not to do in discussing anything with them is appeal to the Church Fathers – Jerome giveth and Jerome taketh away, It cedes legitimacy to the Fathers because you get trapped by the legitimate Catholic accusation of cherry picking the Church Fathers. Even if the claim that tradition was considered equal to scripture can be found in the earliest days, it only means that people messed up the church right from the start. Certainly, Paul would agree given those “foolish Galatians’! The way to show the value of sola scriptura is to keep to scripture.


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