Catholics admit that Jesus established an authoritative Church, that the Church wrote and compiled the New Testament writings, that she added them to the Old Testament, and then called the entire library of Sacred Scripture the Bible. Catholics admit that the word of God is not only present in the Sacred Scriptures, but is also present in that same Sacred Tradition—oral teachings and authoritative leadership—He established. The subject of this admittance is what is called the Christian Rule of Faith.
The Protestant Church of Christ has a different Rule of Faith, and it is, of course, Protestant. You do not admit God established an authoritative Church—one that should never be usurped by any latter-day community. In essence, you believe St. Paul failed to include an expiration date when he wrote, Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give an account (Hebrews 13:17). Do you believe St. Paul meant to endorse ecclesial revolution, ecclesial reinventions, or an ecclesiology that allows for the advancement of any novel group that has determined for itself the “true” meaning of the Scriptures? Because at some moment within your group’s history, your members must admit your elders did not submit to any other elders. Your leaders either appointed themselves, or they were elected by people who would not submit to leadership, to usurp established Christian ecclesial leadership. And even though your group was born from ecclesial derailment, you would have the world believe that, although you deny you are Protestant, the Protestant Rule of Faith best represents the proper approach to Christianity; that the Scriptures are the only word of God, all you believe is the Bible, and the Bible is all you believe.
Does the Bible foretell any future Restoration when men should not obey the Church’s leaders, but instead, disobey them, create something new, and call it old? Your model presumes those responsible for “the Apostasy” were elders who went out from you—that Catholicism developed after your invisible, nebulous notion of what “Church” was and is—and you would deny that the Catholic elders are owed your submission because you deny that the Catholic Church is or was Christian; but doing so would undermine your entire theory of Apostasy and Restoration because that would contradict your hope that the Catholic Church “became” apostate. And of course, you deny historical Christianity’s understanding of Jesus’ intent for apostolic and sacramental perpetuity. For what body other than the Catholic Church has your group paraded as the evil monster? The world knows the early Catholic elders never left any pre-Campbellite leaning sect, but you would suggest the elders went out from a model that did not exist, that the elders who instigated “the Apostasy” did not believe in your not-yet formed religion; an honest and curious student would understand that your group is not old, but new. Which of your dueling hopes is true? Did the Catholic Church become apostate, which means it was at one time the true Church; or was it born at some late time, which means your accusations towards her as instigating the Apostasy are grossly misdirected!
Is it not the Catholic New Testament canon you have adopted as Scripture? Is it not clear, then, that you accept the Catholic eldership to the point of determining the New Testament canon, yet deny her any authority beyond that? As such, is it not clear that your group, which claims to be “the Church”, cannot mind St. Paul’s exhortation to submit to the Church’s leaders? Can you not reason through the basic chronology—that your group, if it had existed in centuries past, had abandoned an authoritative body that possessed the infallible charism of determining which books are inspired? And even if you cannot concede to these clear facts, the additional fact that your group, as you know, was “restored” ex nihilo(out of nothing; with no anchor to the ancient Church that reaches beyond your own private interpretations of Scriptures) in the 19th century presupposes a jump from a pre-apostate environment to a different one—a separation, not subordination, of allegiance, of apostolicity, of Holy Orders, of Christ’s nascent Church with yours.
And so we have two different Rules of Faith. The Catholic Rule of Faith approaches Christianity by admitting both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are God’s ordinary means of revealing His message, and your Rule of Faith is that of the Protestants: the Bible alone is the only authority in matters of religion. But your Rule, which you trumpet boldly, is clearly not what you truly believe! You do not believe that the Scriptures alone provide your concluding understanding of religion; it is your understanding of Scripture you resort to as your Rule. Your Rule is not the Scriptures; your Rule is yourself.
The anti-Catholic polemicists attack the Church, use words such as “popery” or “papist” to hopefully ascribe a disparaging characteristic, yet in reality, such people are practicing self-popery in that they have elevated their own understanding of the Sacred Scriptures to at least the same level of authority as the Scriptures. Consider the Catholic who believes the Bible is the word of God because her Church says so. Is she not in perfect harmony with her Faith’s Rule? Then, consider the plight of the Protestant or Restorationist who believes the Bible is the word of God because her church says so. Would she not be violating her own Rule? When the rubber meets the road, you do not believe in your Rule; you believe in yourself, you believe in your social network’s conclusions, and you simply hope the Protestant Old Testament and the Catholic New Testament is the one, is the authoritative, is the complete word of God.
So allow us to expect the Protestant Church of Christ to believe in its own uninspired Rule and forgive the fact that its Rule is placed under its presupposed and always-present necessary requirement of private (Protestant) interpretation. Because if your Rule were true, then it should be presented within the very specific material your Rule suggests, which is the Scriptures alone. But what we should find, if your Rule were true, does not exist! Does the Bible ever teach your Rule? Can you point to a passage that somehow implies that a collection of books that were A) not completely written, B) never claimed inspiration, and C) never meant to be used as a Rule, are in fact inspired and provide all Christians with the complete and all-sufficient word of God?
Most of your members, I would estimate, have never once demanded to know if the Bible teaches “Bible-only” Christianity—they accept it as a starting point and expect the world to accept their premise even when their purported source of all authority cannot, in any way, support them. Most of your members, I would guess, would be surprised to learn that not one New Testament book claims inspiration for itself (other than Revelation, perhaps). Your members, I know, would not be able to provide a single biblical command, example, or inference for your model; but you hold to it because it is all you know, because it seems “Christian” to you, because you believe there is no other avenue, because your group has closed itself to a more reasonable and Christ-intended means for approaching and pursuing Christianity. In short, your Rule has preemptively closed the door to Jesus’ intent and has maligned the Catholic Rule, which is the only Rule that makes sense and that can, in any way, be supported by the Scriptures your group claims to love and understand. In other words, the Bible does not teach your adopted and impossible theory of sola Scriptura, and therefore, sola Scriptura is unbiblical. Your Rule invalidates itself.
If the Scriptures could support your Rule, you surely could, and would, point to it! True, all Scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), but that does not mean the New Testament’s content claims inspiration for itself—it was the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church that determined what is, and what is not, in the Bible. You have taken her Bible as your only Rule, yet you deny God’s means of providing the Bible and informing the world that St. Paul’s Second Letter to St. Timothy is indeed inspired; and you have taken the Bible as your only Rule when the Bible in fact teaches against your Rule. You have replaced the elders with your own, and you want the world to believe you are the real Church of Christ, that you are “biblical” when you do not obey your leaders and submit to them. And since you have eradicated the eldership from your conscience by divorcing yourself from God’s chosen means of pastoring His Church, you have cut off the life-giving conduit of the Spirit of truth.
Your Rule’s self-invalidating status breaks down even further in its application. Are rules not applied to all people? Does your Rule not indicate the necessity for all people to examine the Scriptures? Does your Rule not demand all people first come to an understanding that each book of the Bible is indeed inspired? And if you are able to concede that the books of the New Testament do not claim inspiration for themselves, then what extra-biblical material provided that sacred teaching? How can your members apply your Rule when your Rule’s very scope dissects from the Christian experience the only means of knowing if the New Testament is indeed inspired! Without the Catholic Church, you have no reason to believe the Bible is God’s word, or as St. Augustine wrote, “I would not believe in the Gospels if not for the authority of the Catholic Church.”1 Fortunately, you do believe the Gospels, but your reason is not because the “Bible only” has communicated its own inspiration. The reason you believe the Gospels, though you deny it, is because the machine that produced the Bible has declared that the Gospels are true and that the Bible is inspired; and the pre-Christianized society from which your sect was born had absorbed that part of her authoritative teaching. There is no other way. And so at the end of any analysis, you do not truly believe in the Protestant/Restorationist Rule of Faith; you know that a tradition of sorts, which existed before your group’s birth, had already accomplished the hard work of not only determining the inspiration of the books that she chose to include within the Bible, but of determining which books are not inspired.
Are there exemptions to your Rule? If the Bible alone is God’s intended means of communicating His message, then should the Bible not be equally obtainable by all people? Is it not every person’s responsibility to examine the Scriptures, to determine if they are indeed inspired, to determine that precious parts are not missing? If there are not exemptions to your Rule, then you all are subject to it; you all must surely have conducted the necessary research to reach your conclusion! You would have the world believe your members have not been shaped by any pre-Christianized society, that you have studied to shew thyself approved (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV),2 and that you know the Bible is the word of God because you have privately and infallibly determined that it is so.
You would have the world believe the formation of the New Testament did not rely on any Sacred Tradition, but that some other force your group has never described is what formed the New Testament’s Table of Contents. You would have the world believe the Bible is the only word of God because the Bible says it is the only word of God, even though it certainly does not. You would have the world hope the Bible contains all that has a right to be in it, and does not contain anything that ought not be in it, even though you are incapable of establishing your reasons. You hope the world accepts your Rule not by examining your Rule’s construction, but by ignoring your Rule’s construction and accepting the extra-biblical theory that the Bible is all one needs for spiritual truths and the pursuit of holiness. You expect the world to disregard your Rule prior to entering it, and then expect the world to proceed under it, and never inquire into its merits.
I hope your Rule has exemptions! Among you, are there many, or any, of your members who have a coherent reason to believe the New Testament is inspired, that it is full and complete, and that it is God’s intended primary means of communicating His message? Are your children who reach the scripturally-absent “age of accountability” and are then baptized, intellectually confident in their knowledge that St. Mark’s Gospel is inspired? When she quotes St. Mark’s Gospel, He who believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16), has she any reason to believe such words are inspired or even true? Is she any more informed than an infant?
St. Mark was not an Apostle; he was a disciple, and he never communicated that he was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Why do your youngsters not reject his Gospel as Holy Scripture, or why do they not accept any disciple’s writing as Holy Scripture? Why is the epistle of Barnabas, or any other non-Apostle, not Scripture, yet St. Mark’s is? Can your members who enthusiastically preach sola Scriptura address these questions? Yet, as your children are baptized, and as they enter into a lifestyle that is presented as a “Bible-only” way of living, they are unaware that they have only come to their convictions by the aid of a pre-existing Catholicized society; for the Bible alone offers no reason why St. Mark’s Gospel has any right to be included in the canon. The “Bible only” did not form any of your members’ convictions regarding St. Mark’s Gospel; they believe it is inspired because the body your group calls apostate and argues against has determined it is inspired. Are your adults, elders, preachers, or professors any different than your children?
Are there exemptions for those who do not have the intellectual ability to discern biblical truths? If the Bible alone is all we need, then does your Rule not exclude tutors as mediators of God’s message and will? At what point does a person’s ability to understand the Bible become sufficient? What happens if a person is not able to grasp your ungraspable Rule? If your Rule is intended for all people (which is what a rule is), then your Rule itself should be easy to understand, and the Scriptures themselves must be easy to understand—do you not believe God shows no partiality (Romans 2:11)? But the Scriptures themselves never claim to be easy to understand; they in fact reveal a difficult nature. St. Peter wrote, There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures (2 Peter 3:16). But of course, you would be hard-pressed to establish why St. Peter’s Letter is inspired (“other scriptures” are addressed later) and has a right to its inclusion within the canon, and then you would need to establish how your group is both informed and stable, and show how those who expect your group to provide a coherent reason to believe in your Rule are ignorant and unstable.
Were there periods within Christian history when your Rule did not apply? Do you think the original Christians believed in any pre-Protestant form of sola Scriptura or “Bible-only” Christianity? The Protestant Church of Christ must insist all Christians were subject to your Rule, or admit its form of religion is not what it once was, that it has changed, that it practices something the nascent Church did not practice. So, when, specifically, did sola Scriptura become true? At what point in time did proper Christians independently shed their fidelity to authoritative Church leadership and turn to the Scriptures (and themselves) only? The Bible did not exist in a form you would recognize for centuries after Jesus’ Ascension, so did sola Scriptura become true once the Bible took on a form you would agree with, or when your precise canon was developed in the sixteenth century? Did sola Scriptura become true upon the death of the last Apostle? If so, where does the “Bible only” teach that? Do you believe the early Christians professed a belief in the all-sufficiency of the not-yet fully formed library of Sacred Texts? Can you point to any ancient writing, biblical or otherwise, that forms your theory?
Your Rule would have been a cruel Rule, because it suggests God chose to use little-known, soon-to-be dead, or soon-to-be obscure languages for all of humankind to become acquainted with and master. Woe to the untold millions of illiterate people from the first century through modern times, woe to those who lived during the first four centuries before the Christian canon resembled the Bible that you might partially recognize today, woe to those who could only guess as to which books are inspired and which are not inspired; the pursuit of spiritual truth would have been formidable! And woe to the immediate disciples of the Apostles and their successors who approached Christianity by trusting that Christ Jesus built an authoritative, perpetual, and pastoring Church.
But even if most of Christian lay-history were defined by literate, educated believers; and defined by a literate, educated mission field, the West had not yet developed the removable-type printing press to mechanize the production of preferred translations of the Scriptures for many centuries after the Ascension. So even if a proponent of sola Scripturacould find any biblical allowance for copying the Bible’s content for mass printing, she would not have been able to properly evangelize the heathen in accordance to your Rule. And of course, mass distribution was not achievable until the press was invented as well; the fullness of time, as it would seem, was not the first century, but the sixteenth: the birth of Protestant-styled Christianity—the birth of any concept resembling your Rule; a Rule that, although your group denies it, first depends on the Catholic Rule of Faith, and then rejects its means for its product only: the Bible only.
The fullness of time, however, was not when mankind developed the necessary technology and infrastructure to support your Rule; it was when God sent forth his Son, born of a woman (Galatians 4:4), Who then built His Church on St. Peter, Who promised the Counselor would guide her into all truth, Who established a primitive and perpetual leadership to which all believers would submit; which is the same institutional leadership that matter-of-factly created the Bible. Clearly, the Catholic Rule of Faith is God’s intended means of communicating His message.
1 St. Augustine, Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus 5:6. Available at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1405.htm as of May 15, 2014.
2 Protestants often quote this verse from the King James Version because its nuance implies that the Scriptures only are to be studied (“Study to shew thyself approved . . . rightly dividing the word of truth.). Most other translations recognize that the Greek verb (spoodad’zo) the KJV translates as “study” does not mean “study”, but to “do one’s best”, to “endeavor”, to “give diligence”, or to “make haste”. The subject of what one “studies” or “gives diligence” to is the “word of truth”, and Protestantism recognizes “the word of God” as “the Bible only” (and forces the term “word of truth” to equate to “the Bible alone”—the Bible does not communicate that link, but rather, illustrates how Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are the word of truth). Additionally, St. Paul’s Letter was to his successor, and he was instructing St. Timothy how to apply his role as a priest—as a “man of God”, which I explain later in this chapter when I address the Protestant Church of Christ’s most often-used proof for “Bible-only” Christianity: 2 Timothy 3:16.