Who Needs the Church When You’ve Got the Bible?

Let’s say for some bizarre reason you want to set up your own church as an alternative to the Church Jesus established. What’s the best way to go about this? First, you have to deny that God ever planned for His Church to have any authority. Now, if you don’t lead people through the verses that demonstrate Church authority (Mt 16: 18-19, Mt 18: 17, Lk 10:16, Acts 16:4, 1 Jn 4:6, 2 Thess 3:14, Titus 2:15), most folks will never piece this together. Don’t ever point out that the Church is “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim 3:15), and the majority of people will never even notice that verse. And for heaven’s sake, don’t ever encourage your people to read anything written by the first Christians, like Ignatius of Antioch, martyr for the Faith who wrote circa 107 A.D. He stresses over and over the absolute necessity of obeying the bishops as the means of maintaining orthodoxy. Tell your folks that the first Christians fell away minutes after the apostle John expired. As David Cloud (Way of Life) assures us: “The fact is that the ‘early Fathers’ were mostly heretics!” Keep telling yourself that….

But with the Church out of the picture, you do need some kind of authority, something around which to center your beliefs….

So “Scripture alone!” becomes the rallying cry of the Reformation! “Scripture alone!” is used to justify the creation of innumerable denominations, each believing that it can see the truth of the Scriptures that others cannot see. We have been sold the notion of the Bereans as “Bible-only” Christians, and most people don’t examine that text closely enough to notice that the Gospel-rejecting Thessalonians were the real “Bible-only” people in that passage. No one mentions that the Bereans submitted themselves to the authority of apostolic teaching….

And the irony of all this is the assumption that the doctrine of “Scripture alone” is taught in Scripture.

Remember, there were two “solas” upon which the Reformation was based. Luther, in his infinite wisdom, added the word “alone” to his German translation to make the doctrine of “faith alone” (when Jehovah’s Witnesses alter the text of Scripture, we howl – most people have never been told that Luther did exactly the same thing). The second “sola” of the Reformation was “sola Scriptura” – the Bible alone.

Looking at an Open Bible church website (a charismatic denomination), we find a doctrinal statement that I think would be acceptable to most Protestants:

“We believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God and accept it as the only infallible guide and rule of our faith and practice:

Matthew 24:35

Psalm 119:89

2 Timothy 3:16-17

2 Timothy 2:15

2 Peter 1:19-21

Sounds good, right? But where does the Bible tell us that it is the “only infallible guide and rule of our faith and practice”? Not in any of the verses listed above!

Most people would point to II Timothy 3:16:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Every word of this verse is true, but note what it does not say. Protestants read into this verse a justification for sola Scriptura that simply is not there. All Scripture is most certainly God-breathed and most certainly useful (other versions call it “profitable”), but does this verse say that the Bible alone is our SOLE guide? Or does it rather tell us that when St. Timothy needed to engage in teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, the God-breathed Scriptures were useful for that task? It does say “that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Does that mean that everything we need for salvation can be found in the Bible? Yes, it does. Everything we need to know to be saved can be found in the Bible – but it still needs to be interpreted and expounded upon by someone like St. Timothy who has learned from the Apostles how it is meant to be taken. Otherwise, St. Paul would have instructed him to make sure everyone got a written copy of the Scriptures, and then retire.

The fact is that II Timothy 3:16 (or any other passage) does not even hint at Scripture being the “only infallible guide and rule of our faith and practice.” II Timothy 3:16 says that Scripture is inspired and necessary (AMEN!), but in no way does it teach that Scripture ALONE is all the individual needs to determine the truth.

When my daughter was being taught the doctrine of “sola Scriptura” at her Baptist school, she raised her hand and asked her teacher where the Bible teaches that everything we believe must be found in Scripture. The teacher snorted and replied, “Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?”

And that’s the firm foundation upon which this doctrine is based – “It’s obvious!”

So what we’ve got here is a case of

All Christian doctrines MUST be found in Holy Scripture!!

(except THIS doctrine!)

Thanks to the rebellion instigated by Luther, Calvin and the rest of the Reformers, Protestants have been relying on a system of authority that is not taught in the Bible – not in the Old Testament and not in the New. The Reformers were forced to invent the doctrine of sola Scriptura (no one believed or practiced this before their time; this is historically verifiable) – because they rejected the legitimate authority of the Church Jesus established on the apostles, authority which IS discussed throughout the New Testament. We see the fruit of the Protestant system which resulted within two decades after the Reformation in 12 different denominations, and we all know what St. Paul said about denominations:

“My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” I Cor 1:11-13

So reliance on Scripture as the sole rule of faith (with a token nod to the Church Fathers whenever they happen to agree with what a particular Reformer is teaching) resulted within 20 years in “I follow Luther!” “I follow Calvin!” “I follow Zwingli!” and so on…. Is Christ divided? Was Luther crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Calvin?

Of course this approach of the Reformers soon degenerated into what we have nowadays – a total disregard for anything the Church taught for 20 centuries. “The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible!” is the rallying cry of the modern-day Evangelical churches. And there are how many Protestant denominations?

This system is bound to break down for it is based on a false assumption, the assumption that the Bible, not the Church, is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). NOWHERE does the Bible teach that Scripture is the only infallible guide and rule of our faith and practice. God-breathed? YES! Profitable? YES! A lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path? YES! (But note that it is “A lamp” and “A light….”). Everything the Bible says about itself is true. But being “profitable for teaching, etc.” so that we can be “thoroughly equipped for every good work” is NOT the same thing as being “the sole authority” for Christians.

So, who needs the Church?

You do.  

On the memorial of St. Gregory the Great.

Deo omnis gloria!

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