Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Response to Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE) Street Evangelists, Part 6 of 24

This is the fourth part of a 24-part series of responses to a street evangelist I met from Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE). Please click here to see the first post, which contains a set of links by topic to all the posts in the series.

6. An Infallible Bible does little good without an infallible interpreter.  I asked a number of questions up above relating to whether you believe yourselves to be infallible interpreters of Scripture.

Here, I’ll just ask you to consider the perplexing problem of what good inspired Scriptures are if we can’t be sure we understand them.  Keep in mind: everyone thinks they have the most reasonable interpretation of Scripture, or else we wouldn’t have Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Adventists, Church of Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Assemblies of God…along with the many sub-groups of the above as well as the countless “non-denominational denominations.”  Certainly, almost no one stays in these churches without agreeing on at least what they consider the essential teachings of those different denominations.

The recent controversy over Rob Bell’s book on heaven and hell, which is so sadly dividing evangelical Protestants, shows that the Bible is a book that can be interpreted in many different ways by people going on the Bible alone.  Ironically, few Protestants today share many beliefs in common with Martin Luther, although they claim to be following the same Bible Alone as he claimed to do.

Let me put the whole question another way: if God saw fit to inspire the authors of Scripture as they were writing, why would he not also protect those people who occupy the offices (remember that discussion from question #1?) that he created, especially when he told the original occupants of these offices: “He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me” (Luke 10:16).  This verse once again speaks to the authority of the leaders in Christ’s church to speak in His name, which would be an impossible command to give Christians if he did not also grant the church the special protection of the Holy Spirit.  Thus, when the Church authoritatively decides a dispute between Christians in Acts 15:28, they say, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”  Bible Christians from the beginning of the Church have always recognized the Holy Spirit’s work through the Church (especially through the apostolic bishops of the church, and most especially when these bishops meet in council), and the Church is promised that protection especially when she is defining faith and morals in order to protect the sacred deposit of faith passed down from the beginning.

To put the question yet another way, how could Christ grant the Church the power to bind and loose (“what you bind on earth is bound in heaven” as Jesus says in Matthew 16:19 and 18:18) if he didn’t protect the teaching of the Church with the power of heaven itself?

Christians have always believed that God does protect the Church (specifically: the pope and bishops united with him) from teaching error (a) in the areas of faith and morals and (b) when these popes and bishops are teaching the universal church with the explicit intention of defining something infallibly.  Infallibility is due to the special protection of the Holy Spirit; it is not an ability that any man has on his own.  The charism of infallibility is given to someone by virtue of the office they sit in.  This does not mean that certain bishops have not fallen into heresy, but no individual bishop has the gift of infallibility.  Only when the bishops teach in union with one another and with the bishop of Rome, the Pope, and define a doctrinal or moral truth for the whole Church, are they thought to be speaking infallibly.  Infallibility is actually a much more limited doctrine than most non-Catholics (and even many Catholics!) understand.  It does not mean that the Pope is infallible on everything, such as who will win the World Series or that he will solve every math problem correctly.  It doesn’t even mean that the Pope’s private theological writings are infallible.  It doesn’t mean that the Pope is impeccable and does not sin.  (This seemed to be a surprise to one of you when I mentioned it.)  It also doesn’t mean that the Pope will always teach the truth in the best way or in the best timing.  It simply means that when the Church defines something as true (such as the New Testament canon), it is true.   They don’t make it true by defining it; they simply use their authority to teach with greater clarity what is true already, but has come under attack and needs further strengthening.  The great theologian St. Augustine once said that he would not believe the Bible were it not for the authority of the Catholic Church.

What good is an infallible Bible without an infallible interpreter?  Looking at the sea of division with Christianity over the last five centuries, the answer is: not much.  With those divisions in mind, how are we ever to convince the world that we have "the truth" without the world looking back on Christ's Body (the Church) with the words of Pontius Pilate on her lips: "what is truth?"  Only in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church do we find the blueprint for Christian unity.  And it just so happens that this Church is the only church that can make the reasonable claim to have been founded by Christ himself on a Rock (Matthew 16:16-19), can claim truthfully to have never changed one of her doctrinal or moral teachings, and is the only church today even applying for the job of being the one, true Church.  She is a church that more and more faithful Protestants are joining out of the realization that the divisions of non-Catholic Christianity are not Christ's will for his Bride.  (Read their stories here and here and here.)  

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