Protestantism’s Authority Problem

By Graham Glover

Protestants have a problem. It’s a problem that’s not going away. Protestants try to explain it, they try to finesse it into something understandable, at times they even ignore it – wishing it weren’t as big an issue as it is. But it’s still here. It still lingers.

This problem affects Protestants of every variety: Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, etc., to include every stripe of non-denominational adherent and all those in-between. There’s no escaping it. It’s a problem that will plague Protestantism forever.

The problem is one of authority. Specifically, who, or rather, what, is authoritative for the Christian faith?

Protestants like to give the Children’s Sermon answer when asked this question: Jesus. Jesus is the only authority we need, Protestants gleefully exclaim. Sometimes they give the stereotypical Protestant answer to every theological question or dilemma: The Holy Scriptures. The Bible is the answer to all our doctrinal conundrums, they say. On one hand, these answers are correct. Jesus is the ultimate authority for Christendom. As Christians around the world celebrated His Resurrection this past Sunday, there is no doubt that the Risen Savior, Jesus Christ, is the focus of the Christian faith. Likewise, the Bible is an eternal and inerrant authority on questions pertaining to Christianity. But on their own, these answers, Jesus and the Bible, are not and never will be enough.

Now before you take that last sentence entirely out of context, understand what I’m saying: to simply suggest that Jesus or the Bible is the only authority Christians need misses the question of interpretation – it misses the question of whose Jesus or whose Bible, or to put it another way, whose understanding of Jesus or whose understanding of the Bible, is correct. It misses the bigger question of who, or rather, what, decides what is authoritative when talking about Jesus and the Bible, and how they are to be interpreted. It misses the question of who, or what, is right?

And on that question, Protestants do not have an answer.

Again, don’t misinterpret what I’m saying here. I’m not suggesting our faith is not focused on Jesus. It is. Nor am I suggesting that something or someone can teach things that are contrary to the Holy Scriptures. They can’t. Jesus is and always will be Christianity’s focus and the dictates of its faith can never contradict the Bible. But what are Christians to do when there is disagreement on who Jesus is, what He did, what He continues to do, and what He has yet to do? How are we to reconcile the countless number of interpretations of the Bible that exist in Protestant circles? When Christians are confronted with questions about our faith, whose answers are right? Who, or what, is authoritative?

All Protestants worship Jesus. They all cite the Bible. But they do so is widely different ways – oftentimes, contradictory ways. So, whose interpretation is right? Whose doctrines are truly authoritative? For the Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, and non-denominational answers can’t all be correct. They can’t all be authoritative.

It’s not a question of whether Jesus or the Bible is authoritative. It’s a question of whose interpretation is. It’s a question of what to do when people attempt to reform the Christian faith when they believe that faith is being perverted. Without something else – without some other means of deciding whose interpretation is correct, the issue of authority will never be resolved. It will forever remain a problem.

Which leads me wonder, is Protestantism’s problem one of authority, or is it one of who, or rather, what constitutes the Church?

106 thoughts on “Protestantism’s Authority Problem

  1. Graham, please email to help me understand the role JW organization has in your above description of the role authority, Christianity and for those of us who believe Jesus is the Son of God, our Savior who died for our sins. Thank you.

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    1. Gail, I don’t think my friends and colleagues at the Jagged Word have a whole lot to do with my understanding of authority. All of the authors are members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, so we probably agree more on authority than those who aren’t LCMS (although I’m probably the outlier of the bunch!).

      What I’m trying to get at in the article is the problem that Protestants have in agreeing on an ultimate authority for interpreting the Christian faith. Who or what decides what is a correct interpretation? The Bible? If so, whose interpretation of it? Jesus’ words? Again, if so, whose interpretation?

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      1. Thanks Graham……………….I think I understand what you are saying in your comments,,,,,,,,,,,,my question to you is personal……………if you care to give me your thought on that please do so at my email. Thanks

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  2. Are you suggesting some human being should have authority over Scripture; if of course, that person or group’s opinion will rule over what Scripture should say to me? I’m not comfortable with that thinking, Graham.

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    1. Don, as every honest Protestant knows, the Catholic Church authorized the Bible. The Church came first. I am prescinding from the Jewish canon, of course. Even here, though, the Church authorized the duetero-canonical books, deciding that, after all, the God of the Hebrews did know Greek. In any event the complete canon of the Bible (New and Old Testament) was decided by the Catholic Church. I always ask my evangelical friends: Why do you believe these books in the Bible are the inspired word of God? Jesus quoted from many OT books but not the majority of them. And He never told the Apostles to write a word, but to preach orally. So, I ask Protestants, is the table of contents in your Bible part of the Word of God? As Mr. Glover notes, By What Authority.” “Hear the Church,” Jesus commanded, “He that heareth not the Church let him be unto thee as the publican and the heathen.” So, it was not “some human being” that decided which books were inspired by God, but the united voice of the Church’s bishops under the pope. The criteria for this was based on tradition and common acceptance both in the East and West. Rome had the authority to settle any disputes, but no pope had authority to invent a doctrine or declare a book inspired that had no tradition of inspiration. Yes, Jesus did leave human beings in charge of the visible Church He established, one body united. He told Peter “Feed My Sheep” and again to Peter and to all the Twelve, “Whatever you bind on earth is bound in heave.” He gave the Holy Spirit to be with the VISIBLE Church, “teaching all truth,” until the end of time. The Jews had to obey Moses, Christians must obey those who “sit on the chair of Moses” — that is to say, when they “bind” consciences with declarations from the Chair of Peter, in council or out of council. The pope and the bishops as one body under the pope are only infallible when they “bind” the faithful with a universal pronouncement on faith or morals. And that pronouncement must be drawn from scripture (at least implicitly) and tradition. As I said, the pope cannot offer his personal opinion on any matter as definitive. No pope ever has, no pope ever will. The Holy Spirit will not allow it, as Jesus assured us before He ascended.

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      1. Brian, you raise some valid points, especially about the place and role of tradition in the formation of the Scriptures and Christian doctrine. But I’ll ask the question that not only vexes Protestants, but Eastern Christians as well, why does the Bishop of Rome have such authority?

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      2. I’m intending to reply to Mr. Glover:
        Jesus set it up that way because it works. “Upon this rock … “. It’s vexing only if you don’t understand human nature. Doesn’t it make more sense to invest authority in one office than in millions of individuals? Of course it does. We can attest to that by the results, if not by common sense. We arrange things that way every time we set up a committee and appoint a chair (cathedra). It works.
        One authority figure over a period of almost 2000 years = one Church. Hundreds, thousands, millions of authority figures over a period of about 500 yeas = {fill in the blank} denominations. NonCatholic Christians are vexed only because they often fail to see or acknowledge that they themselves are the authority they follow. It’s quite frustrating trying to help them realize that fact.

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      3. Catholics have significant problems with the issue of authority as well. There are doctrines in the Catholic Church which have changed and evolved over time, and as we all know, two contradictory positions can’t both be correct.

        If the Catholic Church is the sole interpreter of scripture, you have to ask “the Catholic Church at which point in history?” Was the Catholic Church authoritative when it taught – in the Papal Bull Unam Sanctum (nod to Table Talk Radio) – that you must be a member of the Catholic Church to be saved? Or was the Catholic Church authoritative when Pope Francis said that atheists with no connection to the church can also be saved?

        Luther recognized that popes and councils contradicted each other. This is still true today. Having a Pope over the church doesn’t solve the issue of authority, because every Pope is going to have their own ideas, and there are going to be gradual changes over time to accommodate the culture or to seek to become relevant, as we see with the church changing it’s position on whether or not non-Catholic’s can be saved. In 2009, Pope Benedict stated that “Luther was right on justification…” yet Luther was condemned as a heretic at the Diet of Worms.

        Pope Paul V declared that Galileo was a heretic because he held to a heliocentric universe. Does Pope Francis still declare that a heliocentric universe contradicts the teachings of scripture?

        I’m sure you can find many other examples throughout the history of the church in which popes and councils contradict each other. I’m sure you can find numerous examples in which the Catholic Church has changed it’s teachings.

        Having a Pope doesn’t solve any issue of authority, because the popes are all over the map in terms of what they teach. Unless truth is relative and can change with the declaration of The Supreme Leader, having a pope solves nothing.

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  3. Don, I’m not altogether sure what I’m suggesting. Just asking some probing questions.

    So let me pose some more, from whence do the Holy Scriptures come? Who or what decides how they are to be interpreted? When there is disagreement (which happens often!), who or what decides what is ultimately correct?

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    1. Graham: Authority is not as complex as it seems, I think. Scripture is how God speaks to us. It has its own authority. Our responsibility, as I understand it, is to seek the truth in it, with the help of the Holy Spirit. We are free to do that, but we will make errors in judgment about who we listen to and how we understand it. Making a rule about authority over it will only set someone or some entity above its authority, which is God’s. I realize that is not comforting, but it’s the same for any rule a human sets up to control how something is done – it will necessarily contain corruption and sin, and it will withhold freedom in the Christ that freed us. It will undermine the real authority, which is Scripture. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t interpret it – God made us in such as way as to allow it in us. It only means we should investigate it together to find the truth, which we will mess up a lot. Another authority is just hedging, so we will be able to pretend absolution of errors for ourselves , which is no comfort at all.

      I remember a guy fussing about wanting a hard rule for who we can admit to Holy Communion. Of course, that removes any possibility of discretion and binds pastors to a rule that God didn’t institute. He made the ones he wanted to make for the care of souls, even for that sacrament. Extra ones are just hedging.

      I don’t know if I’m making any sense. Hope so.

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      1. The problem with this approach is that you never actually know anything. You mention rules about who can be admitted to Communion – Scriptures are pretty clear that receiving unworthily is a terrible thing that puts your soul at risk. Don’t you think, then, that it is important for it to be clear what counts as “unworthily,” for the sake of souls?
        Let’s go even more basic. Water baptism. There are groups that say that if you do not receive water baptism, you will go to hell, end of story. There are groups that say water baptism is irrelevant. There are groups that say that it’s ordinarily necessary for salvation, but that God works outside of it as well in some cases. Never mind which group you think is actually right or why, the question is how does Joe Shmoe tell? Joe Shmoe of average intelligence who listens to all the groups, thinks a couple different ones make sense, and can tell that they’re all sincere and love Christ. (And of course he’ll pray about it, but different Joes will feel that they received different, if any, real guidance.)
        In a world where a million different people are telling me a million different things, how do I tell what I personally should do to get to heaven? You may say I only need to believe and not do anything, or you may not and have some other answer, but again, how do I know that you’re right? That you personally think the bible says so is not enough, because other people think it says other things. How does Joe tell?
        Also, in your original comment 1) it’s not about having authority over scripture, it’s about having authority over those who read scripture, so that when someone says “I think the bible doesn’t really oppose fornication,” or some such nonsense, someone can say “that’s wrong, it definitely does” authoritatively. And 2) it’s not about what scripture is telling you, it’s about what you are telling you that scripture is telling you. How many people have you heard say some variation of “I read the bible and I know Jesus, and he wouldn’t oppose love, so [insert some sexual whatever] must really be ok, and that’s what Jesus and the bible tell me.” (And of course, you’ve heard people give the opposite view on such issues with the same “that’s what Jesus and the bible tell me” justification.) How do you or I know that scripture is talking to us, and we’re not just talking to ourselves? That is what the authority is for, to guide us and keep us from going off the deep end by becoming so wrapped up in what we or the people we like think that we put our own or their own word is the mouth of God.

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    2. When there is disagreement there is a Council- the bishops come together and guided by the Holy Spirit arrive at an answer. It’s not always pretty but it has worked for two thousand years. It was a Council that gave us the Canon of the Bible; it was a Council that gave us the Nicene Creed. Paul spoke about an early Council when he discussed what was required of Gentile converts to Christianity- a very big issue for early Christians. Must one first convert to Judaism, must one obey all of Mosaic law? I cannot remember who said it but one of my favorite quotes is “sheep need a shepherd or they wander around lost”. To me it is inconceivable that Christ left us without an earthly shepherd, one guided by the Holy Spirit.

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  4. If we allow the Holy Spirit to do his work according to scripture it would help. We have too many diverse hermeneutics by which we choose to believe. I feel the proper hermeneutic is one that places history and context to scripture for understanding. Look at how often we hear someone down on their luck say “well I guess it rains on the just and unjust a like” not understanding rain is a time of rejoice in the context of an agrarian society. I could do this for days.

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    1. Do you see how disturbing the word “if” and the phrase “we choose to believe” are, followed by “I feel”. The beauty of authentic authority is knowing what the Truth is regardless of MY choices or MY feelings. The freedom that lies therein is comforting beyond words.

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  5. The protestant authority has to be the very same thing that Catholics claim – The keys to the kingdom were given to Peter on the basis of his confession of faith – it is the same confession that gives Protestants the same authority by the same Spirit. It is just that the reality can be different to the theory.

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      1. Thanks Mark – yes, only “impulsive” Peter was right out there “walking on water” and it is such as these who are able to “open the door” of the kingdom. These keys are given to all who believe with this confession of faith. It does not mean that he started some inherited religious system, although even if it did, it does not mean that this same system would carry on through regardless simply because of an attached name or title. Anyway, not much point in arguing about it, it is what it is, always has been, always will be. Thanks again Mark, best wishes.

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      2. Hi Mark, I am basing that on “If you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth, you will be saved”. I figure if one is saved then he has the keys to the Kingdom. But I will have to leave it at that I’m afraid. Thanks, and best wishes.

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    1. Jesus had changed Peter’s name from Simon when He first met him before his confession of faith. Furthermore, Nathanael (Bartholomew the apostle) made a similar profession when He met Christ.. Peter is always listed first among the twelve. He was their leader even after his denial of Christ (following his repentance). He alone was singled out by Jesus resurrected: Feed my lambs and then Feed my sheep, that is the whole Church. He addresses the Jews at Pentecost. He heads the Council of Jerusalem. He is singled out as well at the Last Supper: Simon satan has desired to sift you (plural in the Greek, i.e., all the apostles) as wheat, but I have prayed for you (singular in the Greek) that thy faith fail thee not, and thou being once converted confirm thy brethren. All tradition, east and west, testifies to the Petrine supremacy.

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      1. Thanks Brian, that is an impressive resume’. I wonder though whether that original foundation continued to be attested to by the resultant building. To each his own I guess. Peace.

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  6. Graham –

    I believe a good part of your not understanding “authority” in the context you raised, begins with the very title of your post. Regardless of the others you mentioned, and their search for authority, we Lutherans are not ‘protestants.” And in asking “What are we then?” – you will also begin to have the answer to your overall question of authority. Properly understood, we are Confessional Lutheran Evangelical Catholics.

    And the answer you seek regarding “authority” is found in the words of our Call documents placing us among the saints as Pastors – we take an public oath before God and man – to confess and uphold the inerrant and Divine Holy Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments, and the Unaltered Book of Concord of 1580.

    Pax – jb

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    1. Jeff, I concur, in many respects, Lutherans are not Protestants. I wrote on this a few years ago:
      https://thejaggedword.com/2014/10/01/lutherans-are-not-protestants/

      And I also concur that a Lutheran’s authority comes from the Holy Scriptures and subscription to the Book of Concord.

      But the question still remains, even among Lutherans, who determines the right interpretation of the Scriptures and/or a right application of the Book of Concord? As you know, there is wide disagreement even in our Synod on doctrinal matters. So is it enough to simply say the Bible or the Confessions are enough? That they alone are authoritative?

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    2. Jeff: I’m pretty sure the only actual protestants, historically speaking, are Lutherans – given that name from the presentation of the Augsburg Confession. I suppose, how it manifests is debatable, though.

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      1. Don –

        I dislike and avoid the term “protestant” for a number of reasons. One, despite what some say, it provides no clarity at all. If “protesting were the qualification, I would say Hus (of whom Luther spoke well) actually started the “protest” – and was in short order removed from the pastoral roster permanently. But reducing what the Lutheran Reformation was all about, and what it produced, to some bowl of porridge called The Protestant Reformation doesn’t cut it, nor is it really accurate at all. What truck do I have with calvinism, which has become for most every protestant church nowadays the operating principle? I have none whatsoever!

        Luther and the Lutherans of that day went to great pains to emphasize, from the AC on, that their intent was to “reform” the One Holy Church in those matters in which it had erred. Theirs was not a “protest.” It was a confession of what the Church of all ages had always taught and believed.

        In short, what would you rather be –

        A Confessional Lutheran Evangelical Catholic, or . . . A Protestant?

        Kinda answers itself, agreed? 🙂

        Pas – jb

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      2. I have no argument with any of that, Jeff, but we are protestants by definition and by historical precedent. I don’t really think it’s a accurate term, certainly not all-encompassing or sufficiently exclusive to be helpful; but it is what it is.

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      3. Don, good point. As I remind my peers in the Chaplain Corps on a regular basis, we are the first “Protestants”, the original protestors. The problem is the use of this term in 2017. While I agree we are technically Protestants, we clearly do not fall in line with the vast majority of the rest of the Protestant world. Semantics, yes, but an important distinction.

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      4. And, too, Don, in the original Augsburg Confession, Melancthon insisted that Luther insert at the end that “there is no salvation outside the Roman Catholic Church.” Yes, he actually put “Roman.” Melancthon did not want to give the impression that the protest was against the “One Church” as such — and that being, the Roman Catholic Church. Melancthon also told his dying mother “It is easier to live in the new church, but safer to die in the old.”

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  7. Graham –

    I’ll grant you the question is asked out there, and many don’t seem to find the answer they seek. And perhaps it is there we might place our focus, Why don’t we find the answer(s)? Maybe, because, we’re always looking in the wrong places?

    Churches of the “Catholic” communions – RCC, EO, Anglicans, Us – we all have a three-fold “hierarchy” in place. We are the sole exception in avoiding the historical names for the Offices, but we still have the Priest, Bishop, Arch-Bishop. Of all of them, we have more focus on the individual flock and their needs, and also, we recognize they, too, have a voice in the Church. Although at times that has bordered on rank congregationalism, it nonetheless allows for all to be “in the loop” – as it were. Yet even with those precautions, there will always be divisions within the Church. St. Paul was pretty straightforward to that end. The divisions, he goes further, “must come” – that those who are right are known.

    We must likewise admit that our Old Adams are never content, and are always seeking out the new, or the novel, or what seems unique at the moment. We often know those things as adiaphora! Heh! And there are those who wish to create division, and can be quite successful in doing so. And our task of guarding the treasure can often become tedious, and distressingly depressive. We want order in the house, and by God, we WILL have it!

    Except, that approach won’t work. It has never worked. Let me give it a bit of a stab – bear with me.

    How many of us WCW’s in the parish do all of what we know we should – not merely trying to rightly handle the Scriptures, but going to the Biblical languages, cross-referencing with the Confessions, making ourselves study to know – not merely for ourselves, but for the souls entrusted to us. It’s easy to peel off sermons full of pious platitudes couched in congregational dialects, and let it go at that, quite another to endure the tedium required to preach “with authority” – as one who knows Do we seek out the fellowship and prayers of the Brethren, and really examine those thing hurting us as the Church? Same questions of the Circuit Visitors and the DP’s. Those responsibilities are part and parcel of our Divine Calls. Do we take the time, each week, to go up on the mountain and pray – for ourselves in our tasks, and for those over whom the Lord has placed us as Overseers? The same questions can be put before Synodical Presidents – a task for which I have nary a desire, believe you me! Thank God He puts forward men like Matt!

    And the big question, are we too busy in this hectic age trying to “do Church” – that we lose the need and understanding that comes with simply being content at “being Church?” I think every one of us would admit we have failed at those tasks at times. The satan won’t permit it otherwise!

    In other words – all of us – especially we who have taken up the yoke ad the staff – have we been responsible to the Lord, ourselves, and those we serve? Are we “setting the table” properly for the responsibility of being the authorities we have been called to be. The Holy Office we hold has been entwined together with the Word and the Sacraments, the saints we serve, and the understanding that “Preaching Jesus” is not some everyday chore. Being a chaplain, you have to understand more than most the importance of the last words of a sermon or Bible study we speak to those to whom the Lord has called us to serve, Going into battle, in war of in the world, we don’t know who will unexpectedly see Glory early, But we ought to know that we gave them forgiveness and grace of hope the last time they heard our voice. We are the oracles – mouthpieces of God. Will our folk reflect what they should know before the Lord Almighty, or the newest “better way” we offered from the pulpit the last time?

    Graham, I am saying nothing original, nor earth-shattering, but that wisdom that has been handed down to us by the Church of all ages. Have we done our tasks, our part of “Being authority?

    The more who do, and do so with the understanding of how life and death serious it is, we will have all the “authority” we need to do what they ought. Yes, we in Missouri have it a good bit easier in understanding the lines of responsibility and authority than do our Protestant brethren. Ought not we, rather than looking at all the “new” (which are nothing of the kind), show them how they can come to grips with the issue of authority, and how it begins within ourselves in our dedication to do what we know to do, in a good, right and proper fashion? I motion that would be a real “win-win.”

    The best in Christ always –

    Pax Christi- jb

    Mea culpa for any typos I still might have missed. 🙂

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  8. Why do we have to make everything so difficult and confusing, folks? Do we just like to create more misunderstanding over Lutheran distinctives when the plain truth is already set before us, already explained with great clarity? Item 1: Are Lutherans Protestants? Answer: Yes we are. We were the earlier “protestors” against the heresies of Roman Catholicism. Item 2: Who is our authority? How difficult is it to remember defining terms like “Sola Scriptura,” “Sola Christi,” ” Sola Gratia,” “Sola Fide,” and the testimonies of the Gospel writers, of Paul, Melanchthon, Luther? Our authority is scripture, and the words of Our Blessed Lord. So why question our identity as Protestants, or our Authority? Sure, there are other denominations with their own interpretations and traditions. Nothing new here. We need to teach clarity, not confusion, lest we promote doubt, and spend time in needless disputes, when we really ought to be firm in what we believe and where we stand as Christians and Lutherans.

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    1. John, I’m not looking to promote doubt, just wanting us to think about how we understand the authority of our faith. I think the dialogue is doing that…

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      1. Mark, that’s a great question. Obviously, we had the Hebrew Scriptures prior to Pentecost, but the New Testament wasn’t codified until years (centuries, perhaps?) later. That begs the question, who or what decided which books would be contained in the New Testament and what type of authority (if any) do they/it have today?

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      2. John,

        My point is that if Scripture is the sole authority, then how did the Church operate for hundreds of years – teaching, preaching and saving souls – without the existance of the complete written Word ?
        And even after the Canon was completed – nobody owned a Bible. Since it took 3 years to scribe one Bible – you had to be wealthy to own one.
        Plus, the average Christian would have had little use of the Book – because he couldn’t read.

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    2. Not to be a pain but where does scripture say it is the sole authority for our belief? What did Christ say we should do? If Christ is our authority than how can scripture – which He didn’t request anyone write – be our authority? All these opinions will never draw us to a conclusion of any of it.

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  9. Addendum: Being concerned with the correctness or not of other denominational interpretations of Scripture does not change the inerrancy of God’s word, nor does it nullify His authority. God will judge the matter, and no doubt all denominations, including our beloved LCMS, have some flawed interpretations for which He will hold us accountable. But in His mercy, the Lord understands that truth and error are often present together to some degree. We should never let this side track our witness, and if we speak of the fundamentals of our faith, we cannot go wrong.

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    1. John, good addendum. And yes, our interpretation does not change the innerancy of the Scriptures. But let me poke the fire a bit more: who or what gave us the Scriptures? They didn’t fall from the heavens and they weren’t written by one man, so who determines what is the Scriptures?

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      1. Graham, you know the answer to those two questions? God gave us the Scriptures through His prophets and through the men He inspired to translate them for our edification? Yes, the scriptures did “fall from the Heavens” in a manner of speaking, and they have served us well. If one questions the Scriptures, than one’s faith can be shaken. You must not question these things, lest you give the devil an opportunity to take you into the realm of unbelief.

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  10. Legitimate questions, Graham, for sure. But let’s be careful to acknowledge that they are indeed questions (plural). I.e., “who/what has authority?” is not the same question as “who/what is right?” Not only are they very different questions, but, as such, the answer to one doesn’t necessarily imply the answer to the other. (In a different context, see, e.g., Roe v. Wade.)

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    1. kdm, that’s a fair distinction. But wouldn’t answering the authority question subsequently inform how one answers the what is right question?

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  11. Don – you wrote: “I have no argument with any of that, Jeff, but we are protestants by definition and by historical precedent. I don’t really think it’s a accurate term, certainly not all-encompassing or sufficiently exclusive to be helpful; but it is what it is.”

    Graham – you answered: “While I agree we are technically Protestants, we clearly do not fall in line with the vast majority of the rest of the Protestant world. Semantics, yes, but an important distinction.

    Good Brothers: This, and then I will have said my all on the issue. We are not “protestants” by definition, nor by historical precedent. There need be no semantics necessary. Find the actual word “protestant” in the Confessions – it is not there, because the Confessors did not see themselves “protesting,” but reforming what had always been. The RCC used “protestants” on Lutherans as a major diss and insult; while the other side of the aisle, from calvin onward, wanted to be In on things. That last item, unfortunately to this day, plagues us muchly through the countless variations of the church-growth movement and the loss of the Liturgy. And all of it lends itself, negatively, to the original issue of this post – authority in the “Protestant Church.” If we use inaccurate terms and and do the semantical dance, we will never arrive at an answer to the question. Being an RC into adulthood, before I came Wittenburg way, I have a fair and adequate understanding of the question, and understand and know that the Confessions put it to rest.

    Been there, done that! 😉

    Pax Christi – jb

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  12. Graham,
    You asked the $64,000 question:
    “It’s not a question of whether Jesus or the Bible is authoritative. It’s a question of whose interpretation is.”
    Where does Jesus answer your question in Scripture? How did the Apostles who learned from Him answer questions regarding interpretations of what Christ taught?
    Great discussion.
    Joe

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  13. In this whole discussion, there seems to be an irrational fear of having some “human” authority above Holy Scripture. However, if one is being honest, every church community is also a human community and requires human means to address authority – regardless of denomination. The problem isn’t that Protestants have no human authority to interpret Holy Scripture and the person of Jesus but rather they have too many human authorities to determine these things who contradict each other substantially. Whereas Catholics may have but one pope who can make a definitive decision, Protestants have as many popes as there are believers. The problem of Protestants isn’t that they have no pope, but rather they have too many, each one claiming to be just as infallible as the Roman Pontiff. If one cannot trust ecumenical councils, papal decisions, and a living magisterium, why should one trust the Augsburg Confession or the Book of Concord – or the local pastor for that matter?

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  14. Michael, you raise some interesting questions. I’m sympathetic to your trust in councils, etc. But as an heir of Luther and his Reformation, Lutherans still ask the question: what to do when the pope or living magisterium or even councils err? Is that possible? Or to put it another way, what does a Christian do when any one of these “authorities” promulgate teachings that are contrary to the Holy Scriptures?

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    1. Graham,
      You asked another great question:
      Who gets to decide “when any one of these ‘authorities’ promulgate teachings that are contrary to the Holy Scriptures”? Me or you or my pastor or your pastor?
      The unbeliever seeking the truth wants to know.

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    2. If it were possible for the Church to err in matters of Faith or morals, then we would have absolutely no grounds to believe anything definitively, i.e. the Resurrection, the Trinity, the Incarnation, the canon of Holy Scripture, etc. It would all be a matter of academic debate, personal opinion, and perhaps wishful preference. Already there are enough scholars who deny the very substance of each of these Christian beliefs. Christ, however, promised to be with his Church until the end of time. He became Flesh for our sake, that is, He also founded an incarnational and unerring Church that is visible and tangible – through an apostolic ministry and sacramental reality that is accessible in this world. On what basis can one claim that a council or the magisterium has erred in a definitive way? Who has the authority to question the authority of Christ present in His Church? The Protestant might answer: everyone. I’m not naive to historical examples of the shortcomings of members of the Church, but the Holy Spirit safeguards the Church in spite of the human sinfulness of Her members and ministers. Disregarding the magisterium of the Church by setting up a parallel Protestant “magisterium” in opposition to the original magisterium is hardly convincing.

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      1. Joe and Michael(s), you replied so incisively. Your comments get to the heart of the authority issue. Mr. Glover, at the very point you ask for the Lutherans, “What to do when the pope, magisterium, councils err?” you are setting them/you up as THE AUTHORITY who alone can determine that the Church is in error. It comes full circle and, if the discussion is had long enough, one ends up being that very human authority one disdains. It will always end that way.

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      2. Michael, with respect, you can’t generalize all Protestants on the issue of authority. We’re not all alike there.

        An additional problem this topic creates is how one understands “Church”. Roman Catholics defines that very specifically, that is, emanating from the Bishop of Rome.

        Lutherans define Church as: “Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.” (Augsburg Confession, Article VII).

        So again, we’re back to the issue of authority. The reformers believed the Church erred when it did not teach the Gospel properly, hence their attempt to reform.

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      3. I didn’t mean to generalize about all Protestants; I certainly don’t want to be polemic. However, how did the Reformers come to the conclusion that some teachings of the Catholic Church contradicted Holy Scripture? What standard or criterion were the Reformers using? Why were they convinced that they were right and that the Catholics were wrong? If this is supposed to be self-evident, I’m missing it. Obviously, the many opposing interpretations of Holy Scripture suggest that this is not self-evident. Historically, the Reformers’ teachings were radically novel and without precedent nor continuity with previous Christian orthodoxy.

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      4. I also don’t agree that the Catholic understanding of the Church emanates from the Bishop of Rome; that would be a mis-characterization of Catholic ecclesiology and a common misunderstanding of the papacy.

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  15. Graham
    “Lutherans still ask the question: what to do when the pope or living magisterium or even councils err?” Well we know what the historical answer has been? You split the church. Yet how can you be 100% certain that your right in that case? Could you not be in error and the Church correct? You asked earlier, why the Bishop of Rome? I might ask you, why Martin Luther? Why not John Calvin or Zwingli? Just because your interpretation of Holy Scripture agrees with his? So why the Bishop of Rome? Well I might deceive myself into thinking my own intellect is really the Holy Spirit. Satan may be able if I am not very careful, deceive me, into thinking that he his the Holy Spirit. For these reasons I am leery of my own judgement. But, our Lord promised us that the Holy Spirit would be with us to guide the Church, so he must speak through someone, but who? The Apostles? but they all died ages ago. Their successors, yes but they don’t always agree, and yet one apostle was given the keys to the kingdom, the Gospel tells us, and what good does that do us to know, if that office died with him. So what does scripture tell us, “May another take his office.” ACTS 1: 20 quoting Psalms 109:8.

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    1. Andy, let’s be fair here. The Church split in 1054 between East and West. Blame our Orthodox friends if you want.

      Also, remember, Luther never wanted to split the Church, he called for an internal reformation of it. (https://thejaggedword.com/2017/01/04/an-internal-reformation-not-an-external-revolution/)

      And Lutherans don’t look to Luther as head of the church, nor his specific interpretation of things. He wrote some of our Confessions, but not all, and those are always normed by the Holy Scriptures.

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      1. Graham
        About the great schism there is more than enough blame to go around so I don’t blame the Orthodox communion, and the rift of 1054 might be healed today but for the sack of Constantinople during the 4th crusade and the west was entirely in the wrong there. Also the Orthodox issue with the authority of the Pope is more complex than the issue the Protestants have. I have heard many Orthodox refer to the holy father as being “first among equals” which isn’t something that would have any meaning at the first baptist church down the street.
        I would remove ” Just because your interpretation of Holy Scripture agrees with his?” because I now see that it detracts from what I was trying to say and I ask your forgiveness.

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  16. Authority will always be the crux, in my opine. It applies to each one of us, always has. Everyone submits to “something”; it’s either outside of us or it’s within us.
    God gave Jesus authority; Jesus gave the Apostles authority
    So after the Apostle John left this earth, what happened then? Where did the authority go? When divisions sprang up, what principle would I have used to determine whom to follow? To be “recognized as genuine” as Jeff alluded to earlier.

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      1. Sorry Graham, just now seeing your reply. Well, if all are in agreement that there was no “Great Apostasy” as the Mormons presuppose, then we’d have to agree that followers of “The Way” were in quite a bit of agreement from the beginning, as the Book of Acts suggests. They received direct Apostolic teaching, passed on to them authoritatively from Jesus Himself. If someone began to espouse a doctrine or practice that seemed in conflict, I would suggest the principle would be to hold fast to the teaching of the one who was “sent” (Rom 10:15). That would be the first way to tell if someone has gone “from us” (1 John 2:19).

        However, as I’m sure you know it has been shown in history that even those sent with authority can err, cuz you know, people. That’s where the Catholic paradigm comes into play, and gives a plausible answer to the question. Not necessarily in a person, but in an office. This is prefigured in the Prime Minister of the Davidic Kingdom, described in Isaiah 22:20. This is the same language given to Peter only.

        Moses spoke from his “chair” with God’s direct authority. Wouldn’t that mean he was protected, at least in some sense? Is it at least plausible that Peter’s chair could be a fulfillment of that model? If Peter’s office, or chair, is not protected, then how is that different than any other human institution that can surely fail? If so, then we’re back to where we started right? Wouldn’t we be on our own, choosing where to submit with whom we agree?

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  17. The question of authority can be asked in any number of ways:
    “If scripture comes to us by the authority of the Saints, who has the authority to proclaim a person a Saint?” (a problem of infinite regress)
    “Is every text older than the Church scripture? If not, who has the authority to categorize one text as scripture, others as not?” (a problem of authoritative categorization)
    “Is it even possible for a book to have authority?” (a problem of actualization)
    “Is it even possible for a text to have inherent meaning?” (a problem of formal linguistics)
    “If Christ is the source of all authority, and Christ never commanded us to write scripture, how can scripture have any authority?” (a problem of logical justification).
    “Christ cared for and served his flock while on Earth as a model for his priests. If one wishes to leave his flock in the care of others, does he lay a book on the ground and walk away, or does he entrust that flock to the care of trustworthy men who love and serve him?” (a problem of logical coherence)
    These were just some of the questions I had to answer during my conversion process. The answers guided my choice.
    Christos Anesti!

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  18. Graham, you posed a very important question. Jesus told the Apostles to go forth and teach all that He had commanded. He founded His Church in Peter, and He only founded one Church. For over 1400 years it was the only Christian Church. That Church established the canon of Scripture at the council held in the year 398. For almost 400 years the Christian community had no canon of scripture, no bible. They had Hebrew scriptures, but at the time the Church established the canon of scripture the Hebrews had not yet established a canon of Hebrew scripture. The Church, on the authority given it by Jesus when He gave them, and only them, the authority to teach all that He had commanded, established the canon of scripture based on two governing principles. One, the authority given it by Jesus, and, two, whether the documents under consideration for inclusion met the traditional teachings of the apostles. Jesus gave His Church, in the person of the Apostles and their successors, the divine right to forgive sin (“whose sins you forgive shall be forgiven, and whose sins you retain shall be retained.”) and to confect the Eucharist, things only a Catholic priest can do. The central question of authority rests in the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. It is a Divine commission and right, and is found in no other institution. That is why the teaching authority of the Catholic Church is a Divine institution, not a purely human institution. Jesus promised He would send the Holy Spirit to remind His Church of all He had taught. This is the origin of the doctrine of infallibility when the Pope teaches authoritatively on matters of faith and morals (and only on faith and morals). He gave this gift, and authority, to no other institution. Jesus also identifies personally with His Church, as He expressed at the conversion of Paul when He asked Paul, “Why do you persecute Me?” All other Christian religions were founded by some man who was not given such a Divine commission and authority. Because of that you have posed the other critical question. With over 30,000 different non-Catholic denominations, all claiming to teach the truth, and in one way or another in some level of disagreement as to what Truth is, how do you know who is right? Jesus said if a man sins, you counsel him, and if he will not listen you come back with two witnesses. If he will still not listen, you take it to the Church (note the singular). How do we obey His command today? Which Church has the Divinely granted authority to decide? I would answer that none do except the Catholic Church. Many argue scripture is the only authority (sola scriptura), and in doing so reject the authority of the Catholic Church and reject apostolic tradition. This is interesting because the bible came from the authority of the church when it decreed the canon of scripture in 398, and made its determination of which books of the many to include based on their conformance with apostolic tradition. One would also have to ask, on what authority did the protestants, as part of the Reformation, remove seven books from the bible? Several years before the Reformation, the first book published by the Guttenberg Press was the Catholic bible, all of the books.
    I wish you well in your continued search for the authority you seek. You said you think you will not find the answer. I would say you will not find the answer until you are willing to invstigate whether the Catholic Church does have that authority. I would encourage you to diligently study the writings of the Early Church Fathers as part of your quest. You will find that every doctrine proclaimed by the Catholic Church was taught since the first century, and no new doctrines have been proclaimed since. Some have been officially confirmed when they have been challenged, like the doctrine of the Eucharist confirmed at the Council of Trent, but of you read the witings of Ignatius of Antioch in the first century you will see that this was the official docrine even in the first century.

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    1. James, I think the seminal issue that divides (at least for me) Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism is the issue of authority, or maybe how one understands the Church (and the authority she has). So, as an heir of Luther, I think it is incumbent upon me to continue to ask this question and what it means for the Christian faith.

      Thanks for your insight on the matter.

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  19. Protestants live in anarchy. No matter what authority structure you create it really has no authority. Sola Scriptura is the only authority you recognize. Therefore, when a dilemma over interpretation arises, no one has the authority to tell the other person they are wrong. It is a recipe for anarchy and that is exactly what Protestantism has become. Your endless splits over disagreements have created over 40,000 denominations and counting.
    Protestants can argue this point all they want but scripture is clear. Jesus Christ, God, gave the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven to one person in all of history. Simon, whom he renamed Peter, just as He renamed Abram and Jacob when he set up everlasting covenants with them. Who did Jesus give the authority to bind and loose to? Who did Jesus tell to feed his sheep? Who entered the tomb first? Who did Paul feel the need to correct? Peter. Why? Because he was the undisputed leader of the Church.
    Jesus gave us a model to follow. Protestants chose to reject that model in 1517 based on the notions of one man, Martin Luther. So, if you are Protestant, you are already accepting the authority of one man. You believe that Martin Luther had the authority to rewrite 1500 years of Christian teaching. I think history has proven that you chose poorly.
    Is the Catholic Church perfect? Nope! Never will be. Jesus taught us that too by choosing Judas to be part of the Church from the beginning. He was letting us know that evil would always be present inside the Church. However, he also let us know that the gates of Hell would NEVER prevail over His Church. And, 2000 years later, despite the best efforts of the most powerful empires on earth, atheists, agnostics, heretics, Protestants, evil popes, and various others, the Catholic Church still stands. Why? Because Jesus said so. We continue to stand because we have authority vested in one imperfect man, our Pope, whom the Holy Spirit protects from teaching error. We have the ability to settle disputes. We have the authority to set doctrine. We have the authority to proclaim what truth is. Protestants don’t and without that authority you have nothing but a church built on a foundation of sand. And that is why your churches continue to break apart and reform. It’s the never-ending reformation as each new Martin Luther decides he knows better than the last one.

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  20. I would add, Protestants come home. The true Church is waiting for you as it has been for 500 years. It’s time to come back into the fold where the shepherd awaits. Let God heal what Satan broke apart.

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    1. Robert, do you say the same to Eastern Orthodox Christians that continue to reject the authority of the Bishop of Rome? Was Satan as active in 1054 as you suggest he was in 1517?

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  21. michaelsvf, thanks for the follow-up. It’s not self-evident because our respective communions use different lenses to interpret the Scriptures. As sympathetic as I am to the Roman understanding of Church and authority (clearly more than the vast majority of LCMS clergy), I don’t think it’s fair to suggest the Lutheran reformers were teaching radically novel concepts, especially in the early years when they were simply trying to address some of the abuses occurring within the Church.

    I’ve always been fascinated by the argument of some Roman Catholic theologians who suggest Luther was right in his early calls for reform and for his emphasis on the doctrine of justification (whether that is the issue on which the church stands or falls is an entirely different conversation (https://thejaggedword.com/2017/01/11/the-papacy-or-the-doctrine-of-justification/). But these same Roman Catholic theologians note that Luther erred when he would no submit to the authority of the Church.

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    1. No, not in that plump sense. The pope is the servant of the Church, not her master. He is the sure sign of unity among Christians. When the bishops, the true successors of the Apostles with divine authority to serve the whole Church, are divided among themselves, the pope is the definitive guarantor of orthodoxy in disputes. Ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia est. This is not due to some ancient convention, but by divine promise.

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      1. Cyprian’s Treatise on the unity of the Church could be helpful here.

        “…. yet that He might display unity, He established by His authority the origin of the same unity as beginning from one. Surely the rest of the Apostles also were that which Peter was, endowed with an equal partnership of office and of power, but the beginning proceeds from unity, that the Church of Christ may be shown to be one.”

        If that was the model established from the beginning to discern between truth and heresy, then why can’t it be now? When did that model become inadequate?

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  22. The Bible came from the Catholic Church, & it took centuries to determine which books were truly inspired. Jesus & His apostles used the Old Testament Septuagint of 46 books.(not 39 like Luther). In fact, Protestant authors Gleason Archer & G.C. Chirichigno list 340 places where the New Testament cites the Septuagint, but only 33 places where it cites the Hebrew canon. By this count, the NT writers quote from the Septuagint over 90% of the time.
    The Christian (Catholic for universal or worldwide) Church continued to use the Septuagint. The late evangelical scholar F.F. Bruce confirms: “So thoroughly, indeed, did Christians appropriate the Septuagint as their version of the Scriptures that the Jews became increasingly disenchanted with it.”
    In 1529, Martin Luther proposed to adopt the canon used by rabbinic Judaism of 39 books as the OT canon. The principal reason Luther did not accept the 7 additional books in the Christian OT Septuagint is that they taught doctrines he did not like. Also, Luther’s private judgment was his justification for adding the word “alone” to his German translation of Romans 3:28 in the NT.
    Bible believing Protestants have no choice but to accept the authority of the Catholic Church when it comes to the Bible. The complete Bible (OT 46 books, NT 27 books) was determined by the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, beginning in A.D. 382 at the Council of Rome, and subsequently confirmed by several councils thereafter over time. In reality, the Table of Contents (Canon) is the Catholic Church’s Sacred Apostolic Tradition which came first (certain sacred writings were preached at Mass); then those divinely inspired readings from Tradition were standardized into the books of the NT (plus the OT Septuagint) for the benefit of the whole world.
    Because Jesus ascended to the Father, He gave His Church (which is the visible extension of His Incarnation on earth) His authority to act on His behalf until the end of time. He promised to send the Holy Spirit, and to be with His Church forever. Please consider the following Scripture references:
    APOSTOLIC CHURCH
    Jn 15:16 – Jesus chose special men to be His Apostles
    Jn 20:21 – Jesus gave the Apostles His own mission
    Lk 22:29-30 – Jesus gave them a kingdom
    Mt 16:18 – Jesus built Church on Peter, the rock
    Jn 10:16 – one shepherd to shepherd Christ’s sheep
    Lk 22:32; Jn 21:17 – Peter appointed to be chief shepherd
    Eph 4:11 – Church leaders are hierarchical
    1Tim 3:1, 8; 5:15 – identifies roles of bishops, priests, deacons
    Tit 1:5 – commission for bishops to ordain priests
    AUTHORITATIVE CHURCH
    Mt 28:18-20 – Jesus delegates all power to Apostles
    Jn 20:23 – power to forgive sin
    1 Cor 11:23-24 – power to offer sacrifice (Eucharist)
    Lk 10:16 – power to speak with Christ’s voice
    Mt 18:18 – power to legislate
    Mt 18:17 – power to discipline
    Backed up by Early Church Fathers such as: St. Irenaeus (c AD 200), St Augustine (AD 392), Eusibius of Caesarea (AD 4th cen), & many others.
    INFALLIBLE CHURCH
    Jn 16:13 – guided by Holy Spirit into all truth
    Jn 14:16, 26 – Holy Spirit to teach and remind them of everything
    Lk 10:16 – speak with Christ’s own voice
    1 Tim 3:15 – Church called “pillar and foundation of truth”
    Mt 28:20 – I am with you always
    1 Jn 2:27 – anointing of Holy Spirit remains in you
    Acts 15:28 – Peter and the Apostles speak with voice of Holy Spirit
    Early Church Fathers
    OTHER BIBLICAL QUOTES ARE AVAILABLE, BUT THE ABOVE SHOULD SUFFICE.
    ALSO HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: paperback edition of BY WHAT AUTHORITY? AN EVANGELICAL DISCOVERS CATHOLIC TRADITION by Mark P Shea
    MAY GOD BLESS EVERYONE IN THEIR SEARCH!

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  23. michaelsvf, very intrigued by the pope being a sure sign of unity. More on that in the weeks to come…
    Thanks for chiming in on the conversation!

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  24. I admire your willingness to undertake head-on the issue many identify as the most critical in evaluating the truth claims of Catholic vs Protestant Christianity, namely authority, as well as your unfailingly charitable engagement with your interlocutors.
    You can find excellent discussions on this and other issues faced by Protestants, primarily clergy, who have “swum the Tiber” on the Journey Home (8:00 p.m. EDT, EWTN) hosted by Marcus Grodi, founder of the Coming Home Network, http://www.chnetwork.org, While it is directed towards those coming from a Reformed perspective, you can find very rigorous discussions at calledtocommunion.com. The greatest and most fulfilling challenge is to become familiar with the life and work of Oxford Movement leader and later convert Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), whose Apologia Pro Vita Sua has been hailed as the best spiritual autobiography since Augustine’s Confessions, certainly in English. In any event I hope you will undertake to read (if you haven’t already) the inimitable G. K. Chesterton.
    You should consider these not merely because I am suggesting your conversion (from my perspective it would be uncharitable if I did not) but because here you will find challenging arguments expressed by people who had the enormous moral courage to make real sacrifices to honor the demands of conscience.
    By the way, I don’t think that it is quite fair to consider the Eastern Schism of 1054 as substantially analogous to the 16th century Protestant Reformation. Surely the theological differences between the Orthodox and Catholics are not nearly as profound as those that developed later, and relate more to touchy egos, cultural clash and politics more than anything more substantial. I’m not an expert, but the Filioque issue seems to me a pretext, rather than a reason for separation.

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    1. David, thanks for your comments and for the commendation of Newman. I studied for a year at Cambridge University and know him and his writings well. I’m a big fan!
      And I’ll grant you that there are more doctrinal differences between Rome and the many Protestant communions, than Rome and the East. Nonetheless, it is a little frustrating to hear the charge that Luther split the Church.

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      1. Thank you kindly. I agree with you that to say Luther “split the Church” is to overstate and oversimplify the complex dynamics that arose in the 16th century. That also ignores the tremendous political, social, and economic forces at work during that time when modern nation-states were beginning to arise. It is remarkable that the larger the distance from and the shortest-lived the relationship to Rome, the more likely a region was to break off from Peter and follow the teaching of one of the “reformers.” Most of the successors of Peter during that time, while outstanding neither for their sanctity nor for their statesmanship, were not the worst to sit in his Chair. For example, while one could readily disagree with some of Pope St Pius V’s policies (such as excommunicating Elizabeth I), we should be grateful for his efforts in the organization and sponsorship of the fleet that won such a decisive victory at Lepanto in 1571.

        I also believe that in spite of the doctrinal and moral divisions which multiplied following the initial break with Rome, our understanding of the Truth of the Faith has ultimately been deepened as a result. Pope St John Paul II alludes to this phenomenon in the chapter “Why Divided” in his remarkable book “Crossing the Threshold of Hope” with Vittorio Messori. I highly recommend it for its far-ranging consideration of the Christian Faith at the millennium, particularly his philosophical reflections. You can read it at http://www.excerptsofinri.com/printable/crossing_the_threshold_ofhope-popejpii.pdf.

        Please also permit me to thank you for your service in keeping us free. It is a sad statement of the moral state of our country that chaplains, once considered vital to the effectiveness of a fighting force in a Christian milieu was casually relegated to “non-essential” status by the past Administration. In such a case, one may reasonably doubt if America can remain as good as Alexis de Tocqueville found, and thereby lose her greatness as well. In this battle, pastors such as yourself are on the true front lines, as there is a target on the back of every one of you visible only to Satan and his minions.

        God Bless!

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  25. andy, thanks for the reply. What if we met half way: that is, I grant the primacy of the Bishop of Rome – a first among equals, but maintain that this position is an earthly one and not a divine one. While problematic for both Roman Catholics and Lutherans, I think this could be a good way for the conversation to begin.

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    1. There is no compromising Truth. The problem with meeting protestants half way is that while protestants are walking towards Truth (a good thing!) Catholics are walking away from it (not good). Pope Benedict spoke of this right after he retired in a speech that was not ‘politically correct’ so did not get much attention.
      http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Blog/3466/pope_emeritus_benedict_xvi_dialogue_cannot_substitute_for_mission.aspx
      “The risen Lord instructed his apostles, and through them his disciples in all ages, to take his word to the ends of the earth and to make disciples of all people,” retired Pope Benedict wrote. “‘But does that still apply?’ many inside and outside the church ask themselves today. ‘Is mission still something for today? Would it not be more appropriate to meet in dialogue among religions and serve together the cause of world peace?’ The counter-question is: ‘Can dialogue substitute for mission?’
      “In fact, many today think religions should respect each other and, in their dialogue, become a common force for peace. According to this way of thinking, it is usually taken for granted that different religions are variants of one and the same reality,” the retired pope wrote. “The question of truth, that which originally motivated Christians more than any other, is here put inside parentheses. It is assumed that the authentic truth about God is in the last analysis unreachable and that at best one can represent the ineffable with a variety of symbols. This renunciation of truth seems realistic and useful for peace among religions in the world.
      “It is nevertheless lethal to faith. In fact, faith loses its binding character and its seriousness, everything is reduced to interchangeable symbols, capable of referring only distantly to the inaccessible mystery of the divine,” he wrote.

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      1. jbg, I love Benedict (see next week’s article to be published on Wednesday, 26 April). I put him on par with Augustine and Aquinas. He’s that good. No Christian theologian comes close to his writings in the last several centuries, maybe more.
        I’m also very sympathetic to his and your concern about compromising on truth. Benedict/Ratzinger spoke much about this in his writings, especially as it relates to relativism.
        But do you really think Benedict is talking about Lutheran-Catholic dialogue and compromise in the above quote? Seems a bit of a stretch to make that leap of logic.

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  26. Maybe not directly but it does concern Truth. Any deviation from the Truth will result in the loss of Faith for all concerned. If one teaching of Jesus is compromised for the sake of a false unity then it would only be a matter of time until another one is questioned, then another. We already see that playing out now. There are so many protestant denominations that hold to different beliefs that non believers look at that and say well they can’t even agree so my truth is just as good as theirs. Then you have those who say well you only need a personal relationship with Jesus. Well…..which Jesus is that? What they are really saying is I want my own personal Jesus. They separate Jesus from His Church. That is why the Church is so important. Jesus did not leave any instructions on the Bible. What He did do was establish the Catholic Church. Jesus Christ and His Church are One and the Same. That is where you will find the True relationship with Jesus through the sacraments He instituted for us (I will be with you always) and His teachings (doctrine…..if you love me you will obey my commandments).

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  27. David, I appreciate the compliment. Serving Soldiers has been one of the highest honors of my life. All of though are on the front lines battling the enemy of Truth. I pray this dialogue has been fruitful in our efforts to seek it.

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    1. I agree entirely with all your sentiments above. My earlier point is that priests, pastors, & ministers represent a particularly large target since to smite the shepherd is to expose the sheep; in consequence all of us sheep should pray diligently for the protection and support of our shepherds. Pope St Gregory I (the Great) preferred the title “Servant of the Servants of God” to all the others that attach to that office, which in truth applies to anyone engaged in ministry at any level. The Patron Saint of Parish Priests is St John Vianney, who I really recommend you look up if you aren’t already familiar with him – just amazing.

      Thanks also for your kind words about Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI; since you have read him you are aware of just how gentle and humble his manner really is (particularly his Jesus of Nazareth trilogy); which gives the lie to the overworked label of “God’s Rottweiler.” One may perhaps be forgiven for yearning for the precision of expression that was so eminently characteristic of he and Pope St John Paul II.

      God Bless!

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  28. I left the Catholic church in my early teens and journeyed through Protestantism for over 30 years. From evangelicalism to Reformation theology to Lutheranism to Anglicanism, my journey ended back to my starting point: the Catholic church. It was the only place that made sense.
    Teaching authority rests in the Chair of St Peter, anchored in the teaching of the Church for 2,000 years.

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  29. Graham,
    I echo several here who have complimented you on the respectful and cordial manner in which you engage with those who may disagree with you. Rare – thank you.

    Jesus is always right. Individual believers like us don’t carry that assurance. So, rather than presenting each other with our own positions on the authority question (arrived at by our own genuine logic/study/opinion), why not examine Jesus’ teaching on the subject?

    I would really like to know the specific answers to the following:
    1) What does Scripture say Christ taught about authority after He ascended? (This is a very different question than what you or I think about authority.)

    2) Historically, how was Christ’s perfect deposit of faith preserved from distortion in the first several centuries when ‘variations’ of Christianity were presented? How was the “true teaching” determined?

    Thanks in advance for the answers.
    Peace to you,
    Joe

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    1. Joe, thanks for the reply. I’ll tackle the 2nd question, since I think it informs the first: the church, namely, the bishops. Of this, there can be no debate, and I say this as a Lutheran clergyman. Of course the problem is what are elements within the church to do (Luther) when the church is practicing something that is so blatantly abusive (the sale of indulgences in the 16th century)? Does one simply submit even when such practice is antithetical to the Scriptures? A la Luther, I think not.
      However, as noted above, I’m sympathetic to the argument that even if right, Luther should have eventually submitted to the teaching authority of the church. One wonders if the church had been more receptive to his call for reform if all the mess that resulted might have been mitigated…

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  30. What a thrilling conversation! Watching the comments play out is like replaying the tape of the conversations I had in my own head as I was discerning whether or not to take, what was for me, the very frightening leap into the Catholic Church.
    Regarding the papacy, it’s the Bishop of Rome because that’s where Peter ended up. Had he been martyred in Antioch, where he once headed the Church, the pope would be the Bishop of Antioch. And we Catholics are funny in a way, at least by contemporary standards- the holder of that office doesn’t get their authority and legitimacy by their charisma, erudition, or any other aesthetic measure; they get the authority from the office itself.
    Regarding the difference between the Continental Reformation and the East/West Schism in the 11th century, there’s a lot to talk about there- but suffice to say that the splits in the Eastern Church leveled out pretty quickly BECAUSE of a common understanding of ecclesial authority- if not in the Bishop of Rome, at least in the idea of Bishops. Dialogue between Rome and Orthodoxy will always have a different character than dialogue with denominational Christianity because of that shared understanding.
    At any rate, I’m enjoying the thoughtfulness and charity of this discussion. Thank you for initiating the conversation.
    Keep asking questions. God is not afraid of them.

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    1. M. Swaim, thanks for your input. Agree that the divide between East and West isn’t as wide as between Rome and Protestantism. Quite frankly, I think Protestantism, especially among those of us who practice congregational polity, are very weak with our arguments about authority and miss much by our unnecessary rejection of apostolic succession.

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  31. By replying on April 23, 2017 at 4:58 pm, “God, in the Holy Trinity, always was, is now, and will be forever” is the AUTHOR and FINISHER of my life is the complete statement I wanted to make. My trust is in the AUTHOR rather than in authority. Thank you.

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  32. JC, I’m not arguing that the model is inadequate (even if Eastern Christians continue to reject the primacy of Rome). The question that continues to divide is what if that model preaches/practices heresy/error? This is what Luther initially sought to reform, errors of practice, not an entire way of understanding authority. Initially he appealed to the authority. The problem, as we all know, is that the authority wasn’t interested in Luther’s appeal. So here we are today. And until (if ever) we come to a common understanding of the power of that authority, our divides will remain.

    (Great quote, by the way!)

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  33. Hi Graham,
    Thank you for the interesting topic and I’m glad to have found your blog.
    I don’t think that Protestantism has an authority problem when the issue is framed appropriately but I would respectfully suggest that you have put the issue in very “Roman Catholic” terms. At some point I hope we can discuss the Protestant authority issue but it seems to me that the RC claims should be dealt with so that your readers cannot be under the misapprehension that they are legitimate.
    I see that SG Roberts says, “The Bible came from the Catholic Church…’ and that “Bible believing Protestants have no choice but to accept the authority of the Catholic Church when it comes to the Bible.” The Catholic Bible says that you can purchase your salvation (Tobit 12:9). It also teaches that God created the world out of preexisting matter in the Wisdom of Solomon (11:7). That’s Mormon theology, not Christian theology.
    The Book of Judith says that Nebuchadnezzar was king of they Assyrians (1:1,7) but that is a gross historical error. And Tobit claims to have been alive when Jeroboam revolted (931 B.C.) and when Assyria conquered Israel (722 B.C.), despite the fact that his lifespan was only a total of 102 years (Tobit 1:3-5; 14:11).
    So how sad it is to see that James Dobbins thinks that the Apostles taught this! And no, SG, not even Bible believing Catholics should believe this!
    Please don’t be dissuaded, friends. Rome has abrogated any possible claim to authority with regard the establishment of the canon by putting her “authority” behind these errors. There is no other reasonable conclusion.
    And it saddens me to see that Mr. Dobbins is still being misled about Peter being the “Rock” of the church. That is a claim that cannot possibly be true with any honest reading of all of Scripture. How can we know this? Because the Scriptures that Jesus knew spoke only of the “Rock” being God. There are several dozen references to the “Rock” in the OT and they all refer to God. And we do well to remember that Jesus affirmed every “jot and tittle” (Mathew 5:17-21) of that teaching. The Psalmist said it correctly, “ You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior”. The “Rock” is God, alone. To claim that Jesus abdicated His position as head of His church in favor of a man he later called, “Satan” is incredible.
    I suggest that it is Rome that has the real authority problem.
    Thank you, Graham, for your hospitality.

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    1. Paul, welcome to the conversation!
      I’m curious why you think the apocryphal books of the Old Testament that Rome and all the Eastern Orthodox Churches include in their Bible should not be included? Granted, there was some fluidity to the canon of the Scriptures through the time of the Reformation, but since we’re talking about authority on this article, by whose authority should these books not be included?

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    2. Greetings Paul,

      The Old Testament we are talking about is the Greek Septuagint – as I’m sure you are fully aware.
      This was the source referenced by Jesus and the Apostles.
      This is why it is in Catholic Bibles. If there was a better source, the Church would have used it.
      Picking verses out of context to undermine the Bible as a whole does not make your position any more tenable.
      It is indisputable that Jesus called Peter – Rock.
      Read in any other fashion, MATT 16 doesn’t make sense.

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      1. Lutherans do have a specific authority, Scriptures as explained in the Lutherans Confessions. I am not going to revisit the issue. Since it does involve each communion’s doctrine, this little chart (http://scholia.net/files/mccoy/58%20Chart%20onFormal%20and%20Material%20Principles.pdf) is quite helpful to that end – explaining the Formal and Material Principles of each.

        As to Matthew 16:18 – having been raise in the Roman Communion, I was obviously one who believed that Peter was the first “pope.” That is, until one intrepid, Confessional Lutheran placed in my hands, at age 24, The Book of Concord and Pieper’s Dogmatics. The BoC validated matters of the true faith and the errors into which the Catholic Church had fallen, in an effort to “reform” the Church. Ergo, I am not a Protestant, despite what so many like to say, or call me.

        However, my final hurdle to moving to Wittenburg was, indeed, the Papacy. And I kept using that “Peter is the Rock” as my reason, until I read Pieper’s discussion of the issue, and especially, the ever “magic” word “rock.” My problem was quickly resolved.

        Yous see, Jesus used two different words in His statement to Peter, something that is always lost in the discussion. Peter had just made the greatest of confessions, that “Jesus was the Christ!” (see Lutheran Material Principle in the chart above). Jesus called Peter by his name – Peter – which in the Greek is Petros – Πέτρος. It means a piece of rock. Pieper call it a small stone. He identifies Peter as the one making the “Great Confession” – the Material Principle of all of Scripture. But then Jesus shifts gears, which is not something most do when discussing this verse. He went directly to the confession made by Peter, and calls it πέτρᾳ – “a large rock, masses of rock, a ledge of rock” – focus being – immovable, but with the strength such that it would shatter the very gates of hell! You mean Peter? I think not.

        A few days later, the gates of hell were indeed shattered, as The Christ descended into hell after His death, and made the proclamation that He had defeated death. Not satan’s best day. So putting the matter in context, it is the confession of Christ that is our great weapon, not Peter nor the pope, and it is that which results in justification by faith. It was the Πέτρᾳ of the Christ whom Peter confessed. It might also help to know that Πέτρος was used only twice in Scripture, both times in pointing to Cephas. The Matthew 16:18 text, and John 1:42, when Jesus called his name Cephas, which means πέτρος – a small piece of rock. Πέτρᾳ occurs some 70 times in Scripture, from Exodus to Revelation, and always refers to God, or Christ. Psalm 46, upon which Luther penned his hymn A Mighty Fortress – is but one of the 70+ occurrences of Πέτρᾳ throughout Scripture.

        All of those are inconvenient facts to those who find justification of the Papacy in Matthew 16:18. Some will rush to Jesus saying what he said about “what whatever is binding upon earth is bound in Heaven,” and apply that to Cephas, but this past Sunday’s Gospel rectifies that misconception in short order – when the freeing of, or binding of sins was granted to all of the Lord’s first pastors! (John 20:21-23)

        Pax

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      2. Thank you Jeff for your thoughtful response.
        Your discussion about rock vs piece of rock or stone is a common objection.
        The reason the Greek uses a different word for Peter is because Rock in Greek is the feminine.
        The male derivative had to be used since Simon was a male. Petra vs Petros .
        In a French translated scripture, it actually works as it should. “You are Peter, and on this Peter I will build my Church.

        Regarding your comments about ” Jesus descending into Hell “.
        Be careful.
        Which “hell” are you talking about.
        We all know Scripture denotes 2 different hells.
        Jesus did not enter into the hell fire of eternal punishment.

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  34. Graham,
    Thanks for the reply. You’re correct that the Church was in need of correcting some of its practices or actions that may have gone wrong. The Church Christ founded was never given the promise of sinlessness. She was given the promise of authority to teach infallibly on matters of the faith. Jesus distinguished between infallible teaching authority and sinful behavior in describing the Pharisees in Matt 23 (Do as they say – for they have the authority, but not as they do – for they are hypocrites.) Peter was corrected by Paul for separating from the Gentiles to eat, not for teaching that. All the Apostles sinned, but they didn’t teach error. Some Popes have been terribly sinful (like me!), but none of those men taught errors that all Christians must believe.

    What Protestants have done is rejected the authority of the Catholic Church on ALL matters of faith and morals. To a Protestant, what the Catholic Church teaches is totally irrelevant. Doesn’t that contradict what Jesus taught about the authority he gave to those who He personally sent (As the Father sent Me, so I send you)?

    The Protestant’s authority is completely derived from their own personal determination of what makes the most sense to them. It may be from privately interpreting Scripture, or from a historical document written centuries ago, or a fabulous preacher, or a combination of these. But the true authority that shapes a Protestant’s theological path is, in fact, his own personal evaluation. That’s how one selects a denomination. (“Yep. This one aligns the closest to what I believe. Let’s go here…..until they don’t.”)

    This is not how Christ set it up. Nor is it how Christianity behaved until only several centuries ago. And it was the main lightbulb moment that began my journey to the Catholic Church from several “Bible alone” denominations.

    I mean no disrespect so please forgive me if some of the points are sharp.
    Peace to you,
    Joe

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    1. Joe, no disrespect at all. I welcome the dialogue!
      I’m not sure it’s entirely true that Protestants reject the authority of the Roman Catholic church on all matters. Would you say the same of all Protestant authority? What Protestants (Lutherans) would reject is that the rule of faith is found outside of the Scriptures. Rome, at least as I understand it, puts the Scriptures and the authority of the Church/papacy on equal ground. Here is where we get into the sola scriptura argument…And I most certainly do not think what Rome teaches to be irrelevant. The Roman Catechism is a gem and you already know how much I love Benedict XVI.
      I’d also argue, as least within Lutheranism, that we understand authority to be an entirely individual matter. This type of hyper-individualism is never what Luther or the reformers taught or desired. Now, whether or not their reformation caused this to be the case…that’s an entirely different question, and one that should make Lutherans continue to ask why the reformation should continue…

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      1. Graham,

        You’re correct that Protestants don’t reject the authority of the Catholic Church on all matters. I shouldn’t have generalized like that. And across the spectrum of Protestanism, of course, the degree to which each denomination accepts or rejects teachings of the Catholic Church varies widely. But, since Protestants, by definition, are not bound to follow what the Catholic Church teaches, that compliance (or not) with each Christian doctrine is ultimately determined by the individual leader of that Christian group – which points us back to the original question you raised:
        “who, or rather, what, decides what is authoritative when talking about Jesus and the Bible, and how they are to be interpreted?” (I haven’t seen a principled answer to your insightful question.)

        Interestingly, whether Protestants want to admit it or not, they DO universally accept the authority of the Catholic Church when it comes to a very significant issue: the NT Canon. No Protestant independently separated out the 27 ancient writings from the hundreds generated in the early Christian community and called it the New Testament. No, they accepted (and accept today) the list given to the faithful by the Catholic Church in the late 4th century. It is inconsistent to accept the authority to define what qualifies as Holy Scripture, while rejecting the authority to interpret those texts.

        I’m glad you reject ‘hyper-individualism’. However, I’m not seeing the middle ground. I guess as long as the individual Christian is entitled to choose which teachings they can accept/reject, it sounds like they have become the ultimate authority. If my kids get to decide which one of my parental rules they are not obligated to follow, I’m not really an authority in any sense of the word.

        A great book on this subject is “By What Authority?” by Mark Shea. He presents many of the points you raised in your OP in a very readable manner.
        Peace to you,
        Joe

        Liked by 1 person

  35. A good (and recent) example which illustrates the issue of authority:
    https://www.aomin.org/aoblog/2017/04/19/response-frederica-mathewes-green-hank-hanegraaff/

    Dr. White is arguing Hank’s recent conversion to EO in light of a post made by a staffer at CRI, and the EO claim for historical authority. White makes this statement:

    “Ironically, when it comes to the actual text of the New Testament, the Orthodox Churches are well behind the curve, so to speak, in the study of the textual tradition of the very Greek manuscripts their predecessors helped to preserve. Further, Orthodoxy has a “squishy” canon, a less than dogmatic understanding of what actually constitutes Scripture. It is very odd to see such things put in conjunction with such a sure statement, “Theirs is the interpretation held by the Orthodox Church.” But even the statement has to be very throughly question: what interpretation, exactly? Whose? Given that each writer is admitted to be fallible (a point Frederica herself raises and acknowledges), then when they differ, which is the “true” interpretation? Anyone who reads the early Fathers knows how often they differ from one another on a plethora of issues. The assertion that the Orthodox Church holds to a singular interpretation that somehow represents the interpretation of “the early church” is simply too vague to carry the necessary weight.”

    Without a “living voice” guided and protected by the Holy Spirit to lead us to “all truth”, Dr. White is right in his perspective of the interpretive quandry for us. However, for him the answer is easy:

    “So do we just give up and say no one can get back to the Apostolic message? No, for thankfully, we possess an entire library of Apostolic writings. It is called the New Testament. If you wish to know Apostolic Tradition, read Apostolic writings! Yes, in their original language! In their original setting! Doing proper and in-depth exegesis!”

    I would be willing to bet my next paycheck that you would not agree with Dr. White’s “in-depth” exegesis concerning some pretty hefty theological issues. The (self-determined) “main and plain” things as it were. Let alone orthopraxy.

    So….. we’re back to where we started. Your argument, questions and concerns still stand.

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    1. And what we’re left with is a couple of directions to go: A) That there is no visible “Church,” no visible authority to interpret scripture, only the Holy Spirit speaking authoritatively to the individual believer. The result: a relativization of authority, a relativization of scripture itself, and ultimately, a relativization of truth. Everything is subjective, and ultimately, one of us monkeys typing on a typewriter is going to end up banging out Hamlet, and the rest of us are just screwed.

      Or, B) There is a visible Church with an authoritative interpretation of Scripture. To find it, go back to the Apostles. If you can’t find them, find the guys they personally taught and handed on the faith to. If you can’t find them, find the guys THOSE guys handed it on to. And when you find that chain of guys entrusted with stewarding that authoritative interpretation, you’ll find the Church. Sure, you’ll find some along the way who were bad stewards, just like you’ll find Judas among the apostles; but when you find those bad stewards, don’t follow Judas, who apostasized; find Peter, who remained.

      At least that’s the conclusion I came to when I found myself asking the questions that the author is asking. It was kind of an embarrassing conclusion, because it meant I’d been wrong about a lot of things.

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  36. “If then the Church can err, O Calvin, O Luther, to whom shall I have recourse in my difficulties? To the Scripture, say they. But what shall I, poor man, do, for it is precisely about the Scripture that my difficulty lies. I am not in doubt whether I must believe the Scripture or not; for who knows not that it is the Word of Truth?

    What keeps me in anxiety is the understanding of this Scripture, is the conclusions to be drawn from it, which are innumerable and diverse and opposite on the same subject; and everybody takes his view, one this, another that, though out of all there is but one which is sound: Ah! who will give me to know the good among so many bad? Who will tell me the real verity through so many specious and masked vanities. Everybody would embark on the ship of the Holy Spirit; there is but one, and only that one shall reach the port, all the rest are on their way to shipwreck.

    Ah! what danger am I in of erring! All shout out their claims with equal assurance and thus deceive the greater part, for all boast that theirs is the ship. Whoever says that our Master has not left us guides in so dangerous and difficult a way, says that he wishes us to perish. Whoever says that he has put us aboard at the mercy of wind and tide, without giving us a skillful pilot able to use properly his compass and chart, says that the Savior is wanting in foresight. Whoever says that this good Father has sent us into this school of the Church, knowing that error was taught there, says that he intended to foster our vice and our ignorance. Who has ever heard of an academy in which everybody taught, and nobody was a scholar? – such would be the Christian Commonwealth if the Church can err. For if the Church herself err, who shall not err? And if each one in it err, or can err, to whom shall I betake myself for instruction? – to Calvin? But why to him rather than to Luther, or Brentius, or Pacimontanus?

    Truly, if I must take my chance of being damned for error, I will be so for my own not for another’s, and will let their wits of mine scatter freely about, and maybe they will find the truth as quickly as anybody else. We should not know then whither to turn in our difficulties if the Church erred. But he who shall consider how perfectly authentic is the testimony which God has given of the Church, will see that to say the Church errs is to say no less than that God errs, or else that he is willing and desirous for us to err; which would be a great blasphemy.”

    “Are you ignorant that Our Lord has purchased the Church with His own Blood? And who can take it from him? Think you that he is weaker than his adversary? Ah, I pray you, speak honorably of this captain!”

    St. Francis de Sales

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  37. Mark –

    What I said about Πέτρος and πέτρᾳ is not to be relegated to a mere “common objection” as you called it. That is just trying to airbrush it from the picture. Πέτρᾳ is not MERELY the “feminine” of Πέτρος. There is way, way more to the issue, and you know it. In the masculine, It is not used but twice by Jesus – John 1:42 and His wordplay in Matthew 16:18. Peter uses Πέτρος identifying himself at the beginning of each of his Epistles, but that’s it. It is “small rock, stone.” It is in no way equivalent to the meaning of πέτρᾳ. Merely saying it is based on gender is, in this case, woefully inaccurate and wrong. Check out the LXX. It’s all there.

    Πέτρᾳ is quite a different matter altogether. As i pointed out yesterday, it is used over 70 times, and it speaks to Almighty God and His immovable, steadfastness in every single instance. While it is “feminine” gender – it is also its OWN word with its OWN meaning. You, likewise, just ignored that. I am not going to go into Jesus having to call the first “pope” “satan” a mere five verses later (quite the demotion), nor Paul having to dress him down as a legalist regarding clean and unclean food. The confession of Πέτρᾳ</e is of the Living God – every time – You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” It is a confession of faith.

    Πέτρος simply means small stone; or rock, or refers to Cephas.

    Which brings me to your rather mysterious “two hells.” If you are speaking to the resting place of the Fathers and faithful of the OT until Jesus’ death, well, that ain’t “hell” per se. If you deny Jesus descended into the really hot place – why? I know RCC commentaries try to dance around I Peter 3:18ff., but Peter speaks to those condemned as the flood approached, and then to the 8 that were saved by the type to Holy Baptism.

    Upon Jesus “giving up the ghost” – God dying – immediately He was Christus Victor – the Right Hand – the power of God. A stroll through he devil’s abode to announce to him and his demons they had been squashed like a bug was well – He was ubiquitous – Christ goes wherever He wishes, and sometimes all at the same time. Peter precludes that descent to only being to raise the OT faithful. In 3:18ff., he speaks specifically of the damned. The Formula of Concord is quite precise as to what happened (Controversies, Article IX).

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    1. Greetings Jeff,

      The issue of Peter being rock or stone is a very common objection.
      It is so common, that volumes have been written about it.
      In fact, even most Protestant Bible Scholars now admit that Peter is The Rock on which Christ would build His Church in MATT 16.
      When God changes your name, He has big plans for you.
      As in Abram –
      Who, by the way, God referred to as rock in Is 51:1

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  38. Thanks everyone for your input/comments on this post. (I had to comment, since mine will be the 100th comment!)

    I recognize this is not an easy issue. If it were, our communions would have figured out how reconcile our differences over the past 500 years. I do however this this is THE issue that divides us. We may talk a lot about justification (which is extremely important), but authority is always the issue that will determine whether one is a Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or some variety of Protestant.

    Stay tuned for more posts on similar topics in the weeks to come.

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    1. As St Augustine said “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things charity”. I think if we can achieve that we will be well on the right road.

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      1. Profound quote by St. Augustine. Our discussion here centers on who gets to define “the essentials” that all Christians must adhere to: The Church Christ founded, MY particular denomination that is separate from that Church, or the individual Christian?

        And if the answer is not the Church, upon what teaching of Christ is that based?

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  39. Paul Baxter said: “You see, Jesus used two different words in His statement to Peter, something that is always lost in the discussion.”

    Jesus was speaking Aramaic in His statement to St. Peter, not Greek. Which two different Aramaic words did Jesus use?
    Peace to you,
    Joe

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  40. Hi Joe,

    You nailed it.
    It is ONE Aramaic word.
    You are Kepha, and on this kepha I will build my Church.
    The position of the words in the sentence point to Peter as the Rock, just as he is the one entrusted with the keys to the kingdom.
    Another awesome feature is the context of where this discussion took place.
    At Caesarea Philippi there is a massive rock measuring 200 by 500 feet – Jesus picked this spot and the Gospel writers knew the significance.

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