It seems that, when debating the issue of Sola Scriptura, most of the heavy work consists of correcting misconceptions. And the fourth reason to not believe in Sola Scriptura by Joel Peters is exactly that, a misconception.
Reason number four in the article states,
“Christ tells us to submit to the Authority of the Church.”
And every Bible believing Christian who holds the doctrine of Sola Scriptura shouts with a hearty, “Amen!” This is absolutely true, and is in no way a violation of the protestant doctrine.
The doctrine of Sola Scriptura does not claim there are no other authorities one may submit to. The doctrine states that of all the authorities God does expect His people to sit under are not infallible as are the Scriptures. The Bible, because it is infallible, has a supreme seat above the others. The Bible does teach us to submit to the church, but the Bible never calls that church Theopneustos (God-breathed) as it does with Itself, that’s the crucial difference.
The Bible teaches God’s people submit to many authorities, not just the Scriptures. The Bible teaches to submit to the church, the government, and the family (fathers/parents). All three are authoritative units ordained by God.
Every Christian should be a member of a faithful, Bible-centered, local church, and should be in submission to that local authority.
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
Christians are to obey the government.
Romans 13: 1-6,
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
*For another reference, see 1 Peter 2: 13-17.*
Wives have an authority they are supposed to submit to alongside the Scriptures and the church: their husbands.
Ephesians 5: 23-24,
“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”
Children are to submit to and obey their parents. Parents are authoritative to their children.
Ephesians 6: 1,
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”
Would it make sense to assume that, because we are called to submit to these authorities, that they are therefore infallible guides? Of course not. Mom and dad are not infallible, Barack Obama, local governors, and the Constitution are not infallible. Nero was not infallible, and a wedding ring turns no man into an infallible husband. It would be a leap of logic to assume that because the Scriptures calls these entities authorities, that they must be infallible. And that is the exact leap Peters makes when he uses Matthew 18:17 as part of his argument.
Parents throughout history have proven themselves fallible. Governments, every single one throughout history, have proven themselves fallible. And, with that, the church, in every definition, has proven itself to be fallible. Every local church and every local church leader has proven fallible, and the Roman communion is no exception.
The fact that the “infallible Church” has to have so many qualifications for infallibility demonstrates this reality, qualifications one would be hard pressed to find the Apostles being held to in Scripture. . Remember, the Roman Catholic Pontiff and the Church are admitted to be fallible most of the time. The Pope can err; the church can err. And over history, gross and embarrassing errors from both of those entities have been made.
Only under a particular set of circumstances (ex cathedra) and when dealing with particular subject matters (faith and morals) is the church “infallible.” The Pope must also speak with the approval of the magisterial council. And there is still debate as to when those particular requirements are being met.
The bottom line is the Roman church has an admittedly messy, chaotic history, and that in and of itself takes the sting out of her claim to global, infallible rule.
By Whose Authority?
Now, another interesting fact: the Roman Catholic Church has only infallibly interpreted, at best, up to seven verses of Scripture. Some would argue that it’s only been around five. Ironically, the passage the article refers to (Matthew 18: 15-18) is not one of them.
By his own standard, Peters has no idea what he is saying is true. He can’t know. He is using his own private, fallible interpretation to make his argument from this text, and according to his worldview, said interpretation isn’t worth a hill of beans. He cannot make these knowledge claims about a text the Church has not infallibly defined.
Context, Context, Context
What is “the church” according to the passage the article utilizes? The individual members of the local body is the church in this context, but that’s not what Rome means when it speaks of an “infallible church.”
The context is church discipline. Verse 15 begins with instructions on how to handle a brother sinning against you. And the instructions are as follows:
- Confront him privately.
- Confront him with two pastors from your local church.
- Tell the entire local church.
- Excommunicate him.
Thus, when Jesus says “If He will not hear the church” who/what is Jesus talking about when He says “church?” Every particular local church is what Jesus means. That’s why local churches are able to follow these instructions; it’s about them.
Yet, our author does not believe every local Catholic parish is an infallible entity. The context completely destroys the argument, and we see yet again, the author playing fast and loose with the semantic domain of the word church. The definition changes too frequently and illogically.
Alongside this, notice the biblical clarity the Protestant position offers when dealing with this term. Protestants have two definitions of Church: the visible and the invisible. The invisible church is the global unity of Christians. All Christians everywhere are Christ’s Bride, Body and Church. Remember, as has been discussed before, the word ekklesia which we translate to “church” really means “called out ones” or “congregation.” So all those called out, all those chosen, are the Church.
We also believe in local, visible churches. Groups of professing believers who meet together regularly to worship. Both of these definitions have ample biblical support.
Paul wrote letters to local churches. The church in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and to “the church of the Thesselonians” in Thesselonica. John wrote to some of these churches, as well as others. John also wrote to the Church in Pergamum, the church in Thyatira, Sardis, Philedelphia, and Laodicea. Would it make any sense to ask Paul and John which of these churches is “the true church?”No, it would not. They are all local churches (fallible ones).
Even the text the article uses in this section demonstrates our definition of authoritative, local, visible bodies called “churches.” In the text of Matthew 18:15-17, members who are in unrepentant sin are excommunicated by their elders and fellow members. That’s a local church exercising authority.
However, in Paul’s letter to the local church at Ephesus, in chapter 5, Paul speaks of Christ “loving the Church” and presenting Her “to Himself in splendor”, making Her “holy and blameless”, calling Her “members of His Body” (25-30). Now, why is Paul, a man who wrote to many churches, speaking as if there is only one? Obviously, Paul here is making a distinction between the local church at Ephesus, and the universal Church of believers he began his letter discussing.
We as Protestants have clear, distinct, and biblical definitions. We never have to play fast and loose with these definitions in conversation.
Binding and Loosing
The author claims the concept of binding and loosing makes the Church infallible, as Jesus repeats it from an earlier chapter (16) in verse 18. More will be said on this issue in a blog dedicated to Rome’s view of the Papacy, but allow for one minor refutation.
Contextually, Jesus gives this power to the Apostles. Thus, if the terms “binding” and “loosing” mean “infallible” (which has not been demonstrated, only assumed) it either applies only to the Apostles, or every local church. Limiting it to the Bishop, sometimes, with magesterial approval, is completely foreign here.
Neither side disagrees that the Apostles were infallible. As a matter of fact, the author admits that this was said to the apostles:
“Our Lord then solemnly re-emphasizes the Church’s infallible teaching authority in verse 18 by repeating His earlier statement about the power to bind and loose (Matt. 16:18-19), directing it this time to the Apostles as a group rather than just to Peter.”
The article admits that the authority was given to the Apostles, and in the same sentence equivocates the apostles with “the church.” But that’s not who the church is within Jesus’ context! If so, then no one today could follow Jesus’ words in Matthew 18 because we don’t have any of the original 12 apostles still living to bring sinners to when they sin, or, every church is filled to the brim with modern day Apostles. Yet again, the term “church” has utterly lost all definitions.
The Apostles were infallible, not the local church mentioned directly above. And, Rome does not claim (like the Mormons do) to have living Apostles today. Thus, the burden of proof is to show, first and foremost, “binding and loosing” is synonymous to infallibility, and then Rome must demonstrate the apostles transferred half of their apostolic duties (interpretation without revelation) to a non-apostolic entity (magesterial council), and then also show where the Scriptures teach that the council which inherited this partial authority is allowed to pass this authority on its successors. Where are those passages?
[As a bit of a side note, this verse which the article connects to Peter actually completely obliterates Rome’s interpretation of Peter. Half of the argument for Peter’s papacy is established on the fact that he was given these powers (to bind and loose). However, the article admits these same powers were given to ALL the apostles in this verse. Why aren’t they all popes? How is Peter greater?]
The article made much of Jesus interpreting Scripture whenever appealing to it. The argument being that even though Jesus did occasionally appeal to the Scriptures, He did so by providing an infallible interpretation of them,
“Of course there are instances in the Bible where Our Lord does appeal to Scripture, but in these cases He, as one having authority, was teaching the Scriptures; He was not allowing the Scriptures to teach themselves…[W]henever Christ refers His hearers to the Scriptures, He also provides His infallible, authoritative interpretation of them, demonstrating that the Scriptures do not interpret themselves.”
Not one Protestant would disagree with the fact that Scriptures must be interpreted. However, there is an irony above. Although in Jesus’ day, Jesus interpreted Scripture, the article is using Jesus’ inscripturated words to determine Scripture cannot interpret Scripture. That means, he was appealing to a section of Scripture where Scripture interprets Scripture, to teach us Scripture cannot interpret Scripture.
In Matthew 13:3-9, Jesus gives His famous parable of the sower. He speaks of a sower sowing seeds, and each of these seeds landing on different soil, and thus having different outcomes of growth. Now, the parable can be applied because God’s people know what each of these things represent. How does the man of God know this? Well, he keeps reading. In verses 18-23 Jesus explains exactly what each portion of the parable represents. And since Jesus isn’t here speaking audibly, this means Scripture is interpreting itself.
On a much more fundamental level, the argument needs to be made in regards to why we trust Jesus’ interpretation. In the article, the author pointed out that Scripture doesn’t interpret itself, because the Pharisees got it wrong. Thus Jesus had to interpret it for them.
“For example, [Jesus] would respond to the Scribes and the Pharisees by using Scripture precisely because they often tried to trip Him up by using Scripture. In these instances, Our Lord often demonstrates how the Scribes and Pharisees had wrong interpretations, and hence He corrects them by properly interpreting Scripture.”
The question needs to be asked here: in the case of two opposing interpretations, why does the author trust Jesus’? Why does he just assume Jesus is the one who is allowed to correct the Pharisees, and not the other way around? Well, the answer is obvious: Jesus is God. It is the nature of who Jesus is that gives Him the authority to interpret. When Jesus spoke, it was God’s very Words, that’s why we rely on His interpretation. And guess what, the Scripture carries the very same nature. The Scripture, like Jesus, is God’s very Words. They carry Divine authority. Thus, for the very same reason Jesus was allowed to interpret His own Scriptures, the Scriptures get to interpret Themselves. To say otherwise is to subtly attack the nature of the Scriptures.
Oh, the Irony
Given all of this, how does the author know Jesus expects Christians to submit to the local church? Well, he knows this because He cited Jesus….explicitly saying it….
in the Scriptures.