More responses to the Catholic Encyclopedia’s article, Teaching Authority and Living Magisterium.
Definition of "magisterium" from yesterday’s post:
The magisterium is the self-assigned and self-acknowledged “teaching authority” of the Roman Catholic Church. It’s a reference to whatever authority gets to decide what is true teaching. For Protestants, then, the magisterium is the Bible, though it’s not a very successful teaching authority because Protestants feel free to interpret it any way they want, even if the interpretations are ridiculous and embarrassing. For Roman Catholics, taken to its logical conclusion, the magisterium is the pope or a dogmatic council.
A good portion of that article is an attack on the Protestant’s rejection of the Roman Catholic magisterium. Some of it is good; some bad. It’s the arguments against the Protestant position of Sola Scriptura that I think we need to pay attention to and consider. History establishes that returning to Roman Catholicism is worse than the present situation, but can we not improve on the present situation?
In a similar way they show that they cannot dispense with a teaching authority, a Divinely authorized living magistracy for the solution of controversies arising among themselves and of which the Bible itself was often the occasion. Indeed experience proved that each man found in the Bible his own ideas … The exercise of free inquiry with regard to Biblical texts led to endless disputes, to doctrinal anarchy, and eventually to the denial of all dogma.
We can’t deny that each man interpreting the Bible, the Protestant "magisterium," for himself has led to endless disputes and to doctrinal anarchy.
Protestants have denied all dogma, however. They have simply extended the right to dictate dogma to thousands of competing denominations.
Hence the necessity of a competent authority to solve controversies and interpret the Bible.
The Protestants have either given this authority to their denominations, to some chosen teacher, or to themselves.
The question is, what’s the alternative? As we saw in yesterday’s post, and is amply explained by John Calvin in his letter to Cardinal Sadolet, Protestants found it impossible to leave that authority in the hands of the unspeakably corrupt 16th century Roman Catholic Church. Anything was better than that, including "endless disputes" and "doctrinal anarchy."
[The Roman Catholic] position was amply justified when the Protestants began compromising themselves with the civil power, rejecting the doctrinal authority of the ecclesiastical magisterium only to fall under that of princes.
Wow. If that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black. This doesn’t even have much to do with today’s post, but it was so hypocritical as to be shocking. I don’t even know how to respond! I had to include it while I was quoting.
Moreover it was enough to look at the Bible, to read it without prejudice to see that the economy of the Christian preaching was above all one of oral teaching. Christ preached, He did not write. In His preaching He appealed to the Bible, but He was not satisfied with the mere reading of it, He explained and interpreted it, He made use of it in His teaching, but He did not substitute it for His teaching. There is the example of the mysterious traveller who explained to the disciples of Emmaus what had reference to Him in the Scriptures to convince them that Christ had to suffer and thus enter into His glory.
This is all true, but what they’re forgetting here is that the Roman Catholic Church hasn’t preserved any of the apostles’ oral teaching! Or if they have, it’s so mixed up in the midst of invented nonsense that it can’t be found. Things like bowing to statues, Mary being the queen of heaven (see yesterday’s post for the dogmatic pronouncement of the RCC that this is so), the worship of the bread of the Lord’s Supper rather than the true oral teaching of the real presence, and the creation of an ecclesiastical organization with powers so far beyond any thing apostolic that they can rightly be described as bizarre, superstitious, and despotic.
Having stated that I don’t believe the RCC has any oral apostolic teaching to pass on to us, the question remains as to whether we need it and where we would find it if we did.
The Catholic Encyclopedia has rightly pointed out the confusion and disputes in Protestant Churches. This blog is often devoted to pointing out how badly Protestant Churches are misinterpreting Scripture; so badly, in fact, that most can be accused of not believing it at all, preferring their tradition even when Scripture clearly refutes it.
I think we have to do something, and finding the oral teaching of the apostles to the churches they formed seems like an excellent solution if that oral teaching can be found.
Many people agree with me, which is why there is such a revival of reading the early Christian writings among Protestants today.
The problem is, listening to those writings and to their teachings would rip apart the entire fabric of Protestant Christianity (just as it would rip apart the entire fabric of Roman Catholic Christianity).
To me, the primary problematic issue is that the oral teaching of the apostles highlights the clearly Biblical teaching that the church is supposed to consist of committed Christians who know each other intimately. Such a church can cleanse itself of leaven, as commanded in 1 Cor. 5, by putting out not only the adulterers and immoral, but even the greedy.
The problem is, if we did that, we’d lose at least half our Protestant members and probably more like 80 to 90% of them, thus depriving most pastors and church staff of a job.
If course if the 10% to 20% left, became part of one another’s lives, and formed Biblical churches, then the pastors and church staff could keep their jobs by either evangelizing or tickling the ears of the 80 to 90% that are left.
That sounds shocking, but at this point millions of people agree with me. George Barna, in his book Revolution, argues that up to 20 million Christians have left organized churches to seek the very sort of fellowship I’m talking about.
The bad news is that even most of those don’t really want God intervening in their personal lives, and working out unity by the power of the Holy Spirit is an undertaking that requires immense self-denial that most people are not willing to give. (Think of it like marriage. It sounds great when you’re courting, but give it some time, and those that are not willing to make significant sacrifices will fail.)
Enough for today. More tomorrow.