The Magisterium and the Protestant Reformation, Part 3

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.

Today’s post will focus almost exclusively on some points on which I believe the Catholic Encyclopedia article is correct.

The Oral Teachings of the Apostles

And as He preached Himself so He sent His Apostles to preach; He did not commission them to write but to teach, and it was by oral teaching and preaching that they instructed the nations and brought them to the Faith. If some of them wrote and did so under Divine inspiration it is manifest that this was as it were incidentally. They did not write for the sake of writing, but to supplement their oral teaching when they could not go themselves to recall or explain it, to solve practical questions, etc. St. Paul, who of all the Apostles wrote the most, did not dream of writing everything nor of replacing his oral teaching by his writings.

I’m not sure how to add to this. You either believe what they say here or you don’t. Personally, I think this is undeniable, quite obviously true.

Paul wrote but 13 letters to seven churches. A lot of those letters didn’t make it to other churches, though some did. Were those letters really Paul’s entire Gospel and all he had to teach the churches? If so, why didn’t he leave writings behind for the church in Ephesus and the churches in Crete rather than leaving Timothy and Titus to train and instruct elders there?

The things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit those things to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2)

Doesn’t that seem like Paul meant to leave oral teachings, committed to a few leading men chosen by Timothy, rather than leaving writings?

It’s not just the church in Ephesus, where he left Timothy, for whom he left oral teachings:

Therefore, brothers, stand fast and hold onto the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or by our letter. (2 Thess. 2:15)

That seems to speak for itself. Take a look at Paul’s pleading with the elders in Ephesus, with whom he would never speak again, and see if you don’t agree that he’s leaving them oral teachings to pass on to the church while they take care of the church.

Interestingly enough, he’s doing that despite the fact that he knows that some of them are going to be corrupt.

The Oral Teachings of Roman Catholicism

Back to the Roman Catholic issue for a second. My complaint about the Roman Catholic Church is not that they claim that there is oral teaching handed down by the apostles. My problem with the RCC is that they have corrupted these oral teachings into an unscriptural mess that has produced corruption, tyranny, and a vast host of nominal, unconverted Christians.

The Protestants left Roman Catholicism because of this, but since they inherited the idea that the church could be a hierarchical organization from their RC predecessors, they have the same problem with a vast host of nominal, unconverted Christians, as well as the problems that result from that problem.

We need to find the oral teachings of the apostles from a reliable source. You cannot find any oral teachings of the apostles reliably from the RCC.

Finally, the same texts which show us Christ instituting His Church and the Apostles founding Churches and spreading Christ’s doctrine throughout the world show us at the same time the Church instituted as a teaching authority; the Apostles claimed for themselves this authority, sending others as they had been sent by Christ and as Christ had been sent by God, always with power to teach and to impose doctrine as well as to govern the Church and to baptize.

Excuse me? Teach and "impose" doctrine?

That’s exactly the problem. The RCC gives lip service to the fact that all tradition must have an apostolic source (see my Dec. 20 post), but it’s nothing but lip service.

A Reliable Source: The Real Church

The apostles imposed doctrine. The elders were to preserve it, and in a church that is a family made up of Christians—rather than an organization composed primarily of weekly visitors—there is no need to "impose" doctrine. All the members love the doctrine of the apostles and help preserve it.

The loss of that church is why the RCC also lost the oral teaching of the apostles.

Whoever believed them would be saved; whoever refused to believe them would be condemned. It is the living Church and not Scripture that St. Paul indicates as the pillar and the unshakable ground of truth.

This is true, but the living church is not the RCC. That is an organization that can never be the church nor serve as a fit vessel to hold the pure wine of Christ’s teaching, which was preserved first by the apostles and then afterward by the family of God and its elders.

God has given a promise to the family of God that it can be the pillar and unshakable ground of the truth. John explains how that happens in 1 John 2:27. The Anointing will lead the church—not individuals; all the yous in 1 Jn. 2:27 are plural—into all truth, and that Anointing will be reliable.

That Anointing will lead them to understand the Scriptures—which are the writings of the apostles—correctly, and that Anointing will lead them to understand the writings of the early churches—which bear witness to the oral teachings of the apostles.

But understand, the purpose of the Scriptures is not to resolve doctrinal disputes on unimportant matters. The purpose of the Scriptures is for the correction of our behavior so that we may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (1 Tim. 1:5-7; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Those who don’t know this swerve aside, says the KJV, into "vain jangling."

About paulfpavao

I am a church historian and pastor, but I do occasionally play APBA baseball for fun.
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