“The B-i-b-l-e yes that’s the book for me. I stand upon the word of God, the B-i-b-l-e!”
This song is one I can remember belting out with much enthusiasm at vacation Bible school meetings as a child. Gathered together in the sanctuary of our small, rural Baptist church, we would all sing as the Holy Bible, the Christian flag, and the American flag were processed in and presented before the congregation. The most important part of this tripartite presentation was, by far, the Bible. The Bible was, and is, for Baptists and most Protestants, the sole authority from which they take the tenants of their faith. A Baptist without his Bible at a Sunday morning service is like an MLB player without a bat during the World Series.
Such memories bring me much joy, and I am extremely grateful for the instruction that I received as a child in Biblical authority. From an early age I was taught to search out the scriptures, to turn to them for guidance, and to rely on them for unfailing support. As a Catholic convert, this foundation has only benefitted me as I have embraced the fullness of the Christian faith. Although I now reject the claim that the Bible ALONE should be our guide, I do affirm, as does the Catholic Church, that scripture is the infallible, inerrant word of God which is a crucial part of our faith. In fact, a significant part of the Catholic mass is built around reading the Holy Bible. So, where do I differ from how my Baptist friends believe? That question can be addressed by another: Where does the Bible say we should turn to it ALONE?
One of the cornerstones of the Protestant reformation (or rebellion) was the idea that only the Bible could be trusted to contain all of what Christ wanted for his Church. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura (scripture alone) as it was called posited that no individual Church, clergy member, or especially any Pope could ultimately be used to transmit divine truth. Though understandably vexed by the sinful actions by some in the church at the time, the Protestant “reformers”, in lack of a better phrase, threw the baby out with the bathwater. At no time up to that point had orthodox Christianity taught that the Bible alone should be our only guide. In fact, the Bible itself speaks nowhere about this mandate to be “Sola Scriptura-ists”. To state that one must turn to the Bible alone implies that the Bible had better teach such a precept. But, alas, the doctrine is nowhere to be found. Instead, we read things like this passage in 1 Timothy 3:15:
“If I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church<span class="crossreference" data-link="(A)” data-cr=”#cen-NIV-29747A” style=”box-sizing: border-box; position: relative; vertical-align: top; top: 0px;”> of the living God,<span class="crossreference" data-link="(B)” data-cr=”#cen-NIV-29747B” style=”box-sizing: border-box; position: relative; vertical-align: top; top: 0px;”> the pillar and foundation of the truth.” NAB
Is the Bible the pillar and foundation of the truth, or is that the Church? Being honest, one must admit that the Church is said foundation. This text, as well as many others, cut me to the core as an evangelical Protestant. If the Church is so important, how do I know I am in the right one? I already knew that being nominally “Christian” was not enough due to the amount of aberrations of Christian churches in today’s society. Each church claims to have the truth, yet each one teaches a different variation of it. There has to be one church united in faith, practice, and history that bears witness to the reality of 1 Timothy 3:15. After all, two churches who teach different things on salvation, for example, cannot both be pillars of truth unless we are willing to accept the proposition that truth is relative.
The answer I found to the question of “which church?!” came to me as I studied early Christianity and dove into those men we call the Church Fathers. Strong defenders of scripture were they, no doubt, but they also safeguarded things like the authority of the Church and the supremacy of the bishop of Rome (the Pope). I had very little understanding of such things, but I knew that they had been taught from the beginning of Christianity and that parts of my Baptist upbringing did not correspond to what they were saying. Church to me was the small rural church I grew up in, and the closest thing we had to a Pope was the pastor who could be voted in or out by a showing of hands. In any case, I knew that if I was to be honest with myself, all the information kept coming back that the Catholic Church was THE church that is talked about in scripture.
The Bible, without an authoritative interpreter, becomes the subject of rampant interpretation and disagreement. The Catholic Church is the only ecclesial community that can fully affirm the truth of scripture while authentically claiming to be the unique bearer of divine truth which Jesus established over 2000 years ago. This reality should motivate us to cry out to the darkest corners of our neighborhood, state, country, and world with the message of Christ and His Church. As Christ died for His Church, in return we should give up our lives in service for Her.
Peace be with you!