Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Infallible Magisterium or Magician’s Sleight of Hand?

Is Roman Catholicism Christian? part 4

[Earlier posts in the series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3]

[Note: This post is really long… it was much longer, but I’ve edited it into two, and will post the second very soon. ~Squirrel]

The Church of Rome has claimed that it is the only infallible source of interpretation of the Scriptures. This belief makes the church the only definer of what is true. If the church decides what is true; then there is no accountability, they can say whatever they want, and no one has the right, or the ability, to question them. Once again, let’s let Rome define itself:

[889] In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility. By a "supernatural sense of faith" the People of God, under the guidance of the Church's living Magisterium, "unfailingly adheres to this faith."

[890] The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium's task to preserve God's people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church's shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. the exercise of this charism takes several forms:

[891] "The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful - who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.... the infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter's successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium," above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine "for belief as being divinely revealed," and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions "must be adhered to with the obedience of faith." This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.

[892] Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a "definitive manner," they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent" which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.

(Paragraph 892 just kills me. The pope is infallible… except when he’s not. How’s that for “cover your butt” vagary?)

Yet, nowhere in Scripture is this “infallible Magisterium” granted. Rome bases this belief on their tradition of “apostolic succession:” the idea that Jesus made Peter the head of the Apostles, and that that office has been passed down in an unbroken line from Peter to the current Bishop of Rome. While there is much debate over this “unbroken line” among historians, if Jesus did not, in fact, put Peter in charge, the succession is moot. So, did Jesus leave Peter in charge?

The one & only Scripture that Rome points to in order to substantiate this claim is Matthew 16:18 : "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Rome says that Peter is the rock upon which the Lord built His church. This claim does not work, when Matthew 16:18 is put into its context.

Let’s read the full passage:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." He *said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ. (Matthew 16:13-20)

It is plain to see, in context, that the “rock” on which Jesus would build His church was Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah. And, while no one who is committed to the inerrancy of Scripture believes that the Apostles were infallible in what they taught, there is absolutely no reason to believe that their infallibility was passed on to anyone else.

A cursory reading of the Early Church Fathers doesn’t seem to support an infallible Magisterium either. Where did Athanasius look to support his arguments against the Arians? Without a doubt, to Scripture, and Scripture alone. It has been said that, if all ancient New Testament manuscripts were lost, we could reconstruct all but a few verses from citations made by the Early Church Fathers. That is how much they quoted from, and argued from, the Scriptures.

It has come up several times in the discussion thread that, since Protestants don’t agree on every little detail of doctrine, then sola Scriptura is a failure. I must disagree most strongly. A key principle of Bible interpretation is the perspicuity of the Scriptures: the belief that they Scriptures are clear in what they teach. That the main things are the plain things and the plain things are the main things. None of us, in our short lives on this earth, will ever come to understand everything in the Bible fully, nor are any of us going to get everything absolutely right, but the key things are so simple that a child can understand them. Jesus said, “(W)hoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it…” (Luke 18:17) We do not need to understand absolutely everything; we do not need to understand everything perfectly; but we can all understand enough that we understand what we need to understand.

What do we need to understand? We need to understand that we have all sinned against God (Romans 3:23). We need to understand that, because of our sin against God, we all deserve to die, and spend eternity apart from God, but that God, through Jesus Christ, has made it possible to be forgiven and to have eternal life with God in heaven (Romans 6:23). We need to understand that this forgiveness is available because Jesus died for us on the cross, taking our punishment, and giving us His righteousness in exchange (Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21). We need to understand that this salvation is available only through Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:10-12). And we need to understand that this salvation is available only by God’s grace through faith, and that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that we can do to earn it (Ephesians 2:8-9). All of these things can be easily understood from Scripture alone.

What of Rome’s infallible Magisterium? It’s like a shell game. Rome promises you this great certainty, that the church is infallible, but when you pick up the shell, there’s no pea under it. They never have to prove anything; they never have to support anything. You just have to take Rome’s word for it, and that’s it.

Well, God did not operate that way in the Old Testament, but, through signs and wonders, He verified His messengers. Moses’ words were attested to by signs that signified that he spoke for God. And Moses’ words were enscripted for future generations to read and be enlightened through.

When God established the Prophets in Israel, He did so through the signs and wonders associated with the ministries of Elijah and Elisha. After the Babylonian Captivity, the Old Testament canon was closed, and there were no prophets in Israel (1 Maccabees 4:46 &9:27) until the coming of John the Baptist (Luke 1:76). During the 400 or so “silent years” when there were no prophets in Israel, God did not establish any “Magisterium” to infallible interpret the Scriptures. (The Pharisees abrogated for themselves this position, but we’ve already seen what Jesus had to say about their traditions, and how those traditions related to what was written in the Scriptures {Mark 7:1-9})

In His story about Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:20-31), Jesus said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them,” and, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:29,31) Jesus was saying that all anybody needed to do was read and believe Moses and the Prophets (by implication, the Old Testament) in order to be saved. Jesus didn’t point to infallible “teachings” or “traditions”, He pointed to infallible Scripture.

The Scriptures are sufficient “to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15) We do not need, nor do we have any reason to believe in, any “infallible Magisterium.”

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[I would like to thank L. D. for his research, some of which was incorporated in this article. ~Squirrel]