Okay, since there are 22 topics, all of which deserve more attention than I have time to devote at this point (seeing how I’m already up to six pages!). I think it makes most sense to offer the short responses and invite you to choose 1 or 2 topics from this list that you found most intriguing or troubling to go into more deeply. (Of course, how you respond is completely up to you!) I’ll number the responses so that you can jump to them from the list given above.
2. The Church is the “pillar and ground of truth.” (1 Tim. 3:15). Elsewhere in Scripture, Jesus tells the apostles that Holy Spirit will “guide you into all truth.” (John 16:13). We know that the fullness of truth, the “faith” was “once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). This raises some important questions, such as: if the church is the pillar and ground of the truth, which church today in the yellow pages is actually serving this function? Which church is really following the Head of the Church, Christ, and which churches are following traditions of men? If the Bible is the only authority, then why doesn’t the Bible say so? (Note: the Bible is authoritative, but it never says anywhere that it is the only authority.) Instead, the Bible itself presents other authoritative sources of truth besides the Scriptures. St. Paul commands his followers to stick fast to the traditions he has passed on to them, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15, 1 Cor. 11:2, 2 Thess. 3:6). He doesn’t say that they should only go by the traditions he wrote down. Rather, he says that they should follow everything. St. Paul taught in some places for years. I see no reason to assume that nothing he taught was important except for the things that he wrote down. In fact, many of St. Paul’s letters address the things that the Christians in various churches missed or got wrong…not the specific things they got right. In other words, Paul never intended all of his writings to form a summary of the Christian life and belief. Rather, he seemed more interested in setting up a Church that would maintain the traditions through the selection of faithful men (like Timothy, for instance). He worked hard to do just that, as did the rest of the apostles. (Yet – those of you that I spoke with today seemed to have little interest in reading the writings of those very faithful men the apostles chose. Why is that?) So, we see that the Bible speaks of traditions that Christians are obliged to follow. We also see an authoritative Church, founded on the apostles, the first bishops of the Catholic Church. We know the apostles held an office in the fulfilled Davidic kingdom of king Jesus. The KJV actually is the best translation for showing us! Here is Acts 1:15–26:
15And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,) 16Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus. 17For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry. 18Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. 19And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood. 20For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.
21Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. 23And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. 24And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen,
25That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. 26And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
So, here we see Peter in his role as head of the apostles stand up (which was the same gesture he performed when speaking authoritatively at the first Church Council: the Council of Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 15). Peter declares that Judas must be replaced, since his office—his “bishoprick”—remains even after Judas has vacated it. Peter and the apostles draw lots and choose Matthias to be numbered with the apostles. So, we see that from the earliest times, the Church of the Bible was guided by Bishops. These bishops held offices that Jesus himself established in choosing the apostles, and these offices didn’t disappear when one bishop/apostle died. Rather, bishops succeeded the apostles, who held the posts first. The bishops’ job is to continue passing on the traditions, unchanged and unaltered, and that remains the job of the successors of the apostles—the bishops of the Catholic Church—today.
Elsewhere in Scripture, we see Jesus give authority (the “keys of the kingdom” were an ancient symbol of primary authority) to Peter as the chief apostle (Matthew 16) and to the apostles in general (the power of binding and loosing in Matthew 18). In Matthew 18, we even see Jesus teach that if a conflict arises between Christians, they should ultimately bring it to the Church. Notice, the Bible, once again, describes the Church as having a living, breathing authority. In fact, in Matt. 18, a person who doesn’t abide by the Church’s judgment is to be cast out, or “excommunicated.” Matthew 18 is a verse that is rendered meaningless by our present state of 30,000+ denominations. If I have a problem with another Christian about abortion, to which church can I bring the problem to for judgment? Some churches say abortion is okay, others not. If I have a problem with another Christian about infant baptism, once again, many churches believe it is okay, and others do not. My point: Matthew 18 presumes an ongoing Church that has authority (both in Bible times and now) to make judgments and to “bind” Christians by those judgments.
So, to be Catholic is to recognize that the Bible describes three centers of authority in the life of a Christian: Sacred Scripture (written traditions), Sacred Tradition (oral traditions), and an authoritative Magisterium, whose job it is to pass on both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition perfectly intact, without addition or subtraction. Now, the Catholic Church, which has faithfully passed on both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition for 2,000 years has grown to understand both of these precious deposits more deeply, but the Catholic Church has never changed a single one of these teachings. Granted, the Church does have certain “small-t” traditions or practices that can change with time (such as priestly celibacy, for instance), but nothing that pertains to faith and morals can ever be changed. In other words, something that was doctrinally true in the year 100 is still true today. Something that was morally wrong in the year 100 is still morally wrong today. Only the Catholic Church has never changed a single one of her doctrinal and moral teachings. (Every other Christian group has changed at least some of their doctrinal or moral teachings…even Baptists.)
Now, before you discount Sacred Tradition, remember that you yourself actually follow some Traditions.
The biggest one of all is the table of contents of the Bible. We all believe in inspired Scriptures, but how are we to know that the books in the Bible are the right ones? No book of the Bible itself says that “the books of the Bible are…” and then lists them. And even if it did, how would we know that that book itself was inspired?
The only way we can trust the table of contents of the Bible is if we trust the bishops of the Catholic Church in the first four centuries of the Church, since it was these men who had the task of assembling the New Testament. They did just that in the Councils of Hippo and Carthage at the end of the fourth century A.D. Did you catch that? No canonized New Testament even existed for the first four hundred years of Christianity! Rather, local communities of believers had various documents and letters, and each used various groups of letters in their liturgies. Some local churches didn’t think that Revelation was inspired; others did. Some local churches thought that St. Clement’s letter to the Corinthians was inspired, others didn’t. Some thought that the Didache (also called “The Teachings of the Aposltes”) was inspired, others didn’t. There were well over 50 books that could have been included in the New Testament, and it was ultimately the Catholic Church that decided—under the guidance of the Holy Spirit—which books should be included in the New Testament. Yet – this same Church had already been teaching many Catholic doctrines for centuries by the time they canonized the New Testament. According to some Baptists, by the year 400, the Catholic Church was already deeply in apostasy. Yet, these same Baptists trust the decisions those Catholics in apostasy made in assembling the New Testament, even suggesting they were guided by the Holy Spirit! In any case, the Canon of Scripture is an important Sacred Tradition that Baptists and Catholics follow together (with the exception of the seven books from the Old Testament and, at first, the three New Testament books that Martin Luther removed because they didn’t support his new doctrine of justification by faith alone).
Realizing that trusting the Canon of the Scriptures meant trusting the Catholic Church, the famous Protestant theologian R.C. Sproul has concluded that we have a “fallible canon of infallible books.” In other words, Sproul admits that we can’t actually know with absolute certainty if the books in the Bible are the right ones! What we can learn from Sproul is that if you throw out the Catholic Church, you lose an infallible canon of Scripture as well. Which raises the question: how do you know the Bible you believe is actually the inspired, written Word of God?
There are other Sacred Traditions that Baptist follow as well, such as the prohibition against polygamy. No where does the Bible explicitly prohibit polygamy. Martin Luther, recognizing this, once admitted that he couldn’t prohibit polygamy based on the Bible alone. (Verses such as the one commanding bishops to be the “husband of one wife” even seem to imply that for others, having more than one wife is okay. At least the Bible would read that way to someone who wanted to think that polygamy was okay.) Rather, the prohibition against polygamy has always been faithfully preserved by Christians as a Sacred Tradition, something passed on by the apostles but never actually written in the New Testament. Throw out Sacred Apostolic Traditions, and you throw out the only way to prohibit polygamy. The Bible Alone doesn’t prohibit it.
Even Jesus recognized authoritative Traditions in the Old Testament. Remember when he tells the apostles to obey the scribes and Pharisees that sit in Moses’s seat (Matt. 23:2). The idea of an authoritative “seat of Moses” is no where found in the Old Testament…yet, Jesus assumed that his listeners not only knew what he was talking about but also that they were supposed to be obedient to the occupant’s authority…even when the people in positions of authority were vipers!
Was Jesus against all tradition when he said we shouldn’t follow the traditions of men? No – Jesus and Apostles expect us to follow the Sacred Traditions of God, taught to the Church by the Apostles. These Traditions are not traditions of men, and so Jesus’s condemnation of tradition does not apply to them.
Okay…there is so much I’d like to share, but I promise I’ll try to keep my next answers shorter. (No promises, but I’ll do my best!)