I have friends who are Catholic, some of whom I am convinced are my brothers and sisters in Christ based on our common affirmation that people are rescued from the just penalty of sin by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Protestant Reformation-esque–? Odd…). What’s more, there are apparently (I have never attended one, but I hear they exist) some Catholic churches that preach the right Gospel, and I suspect it is these Catholic churches that have a much higher view of the Bible than Rome does.
That said, even among Catholics who hold this seemingly elevated Catholic view of Scripture, there remains, nonetheless, a great error in their rejection of the doctrine of Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura). This rejection, along with the insistence that the Magisterium (aka the teaching authority of the [Catholic] Church) essentially trumps the authority of the Bible is seen clearly in quotes like these:
“Scripture exists because the church exists” (Karl Rahner).
“The Scriptures have only as much force as the fables of Aesop, if destitute of the authority of the Church” (Stanislaus Hosius).
N.T. Wright provides a helpful analogy that sheds light on the error of the Roman Catholic understanding of authority. He writes:
This makes the rather obvious logical mistake analogous to that of a soldier who, receiving orders through the mail, concludes that the letter carrier is his commanding officer. Those who transmit, collect and distribute the message are not in the same league as those who write it in the first place.
The result is that the statements by Rahner and Hosius would be true if worded in exactly the opposite order:
“The church exists because Scripture established it.”
“The Church has only as much force as the fables of Aesop, if destitute of the authority of the Scriptures.”
Such statements are reflective of Ephesians 2:19-21, for example, in which Paul says that all who are in Christ,Â “areÂ fellow citizens with the saints andÂ members of the household of God,Â built on the foundation of theÂ apostles and prophets,Â Christ Jesus himself beingÂ the cornerstone,Â in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows intoÂ a holy temple in the Lord.” The Church did not lay the foundation for the Scriptures; rather, the Scripture laid the foundation for the Church. In light of this, it is clear that all church traditions, statements by the Pope, sermons, hymns, praise songs, etc., are only valuable to the degree that they are consistent with Scripture.
This view, however, is criticized by the Roman Catholic Church because, they argue, the Scriptures are not self-validating. In response to the Roman Catholic criticism of the doctrine of Scripture Alone, Michael Kruger asks a most penetrating question in his fantastic book, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books:
If the Roman Catholic Church believes that infallible authorities (like the Scriptures) require external authentication, then to what authority does the church turn to establish the grounds for its own infallible authority?
Kruger rightly argues that claiming that the Church derives its authority from the Scriptures results in circular reasoning, since the initial claim is that the Scriptures derive authority from the Church. In addition, he points out that arguing that the Church’s authority is validated by the history of the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t help because of the line of “abuses, corruption and documented papal errors” throughout Rome’s history. The only other option, according to Kruger (and I agree), is that the Church is simply self-authenticating. “Or, more bluntly put,” says Kruger, “we ought to believe in the infallibility of the Roman Catholic Church because it says so.”
If this is, in fact, the case, “The Catholic church, then, finds itself in the awkward place of having chided the Reformers for having a self-authenticating authority (sola scriptura), when all the while it has engaged in that very same activity by setting itself up as a self-authenticating authority (sola ecclesia)” (Kruger).
In the end, I am left wondering why anyone would argue for an authoritative Roman Catholic Church when it is demonstrably fallible (capable of error), particularly since God has given us a wonderfully sufficient, inerrant, divinely inspired, utterly authoritative Word that is worthy of all our trust. As one of my mentors, Gary Timmons, has often said in reference to Scripture, “Stick with the Stuff.”