Thursday, February 23, 2017

Protestants Are Their Own Popes?

  • Introduction:
          -Roman Catholics tend to ask Protestants who adhere to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura the following question, "By what authority do you guys interpret the Bible?" In other words, Catholics ask non-Catholics for the divinely appointed authority which they use in opposition to the authority of their Church. Conservative Catholics believe that if you deny the authority of the Bishop of Rome and decide to read the Bible for yourself to examine what it says about a particular doctrine, then you automatically establish yourself as being your own infallible guide who determines what God wills for the entire church. But how does one come to the conclusion that the Church of Rome is the one, true church that was indeed established by Jesus Christ in the first century? How do Roman Catholics know that their Church's interpretation of Scripture is correct?
    • Straw-Man Argument:
              -The "Protestant Pope" objection is a straw-man argument because it misrepresents what Sola Scriptura means regarding biblical interpretation. In other words, it presents an overly-simplified version of how advocates of the "Bible only theory" interpret Scripture, how authoritative they view their interpretations of the Bible when compared to potentially differing views, and the authority of Scripture in general. 
              -We cannot simply interpret Scripture in any way that we desire. In other words, we have been called to act reasonably by interpreting Scripture in its proper context, by comparing our interpretations of an individual passage of the Bible to what others passages say on that same topic, use our common sense or reasoning to the best of our ability, and by obeying the wisdom of the godly church leaders or instructors who give us the necessary tools (concordances, lexicons, commentaries) for properly understanding the written Word of God. There are certainly right and wrong ways to get things done, which includes church function. 
              -It is wrong to assume that Protestants presume themselves to be their own "infallible Popes" when they neither claim infallibility to their interpretations of Scripture nor anathematize other people who have slightly different points of view. Our reasoning abilities are liable to error. Some non-Catholics do act in such a manner, but that is not the fault of Sola Scriptura because that is not what it teaches. However, we can indeed have great certainty behind the meaning of Scripture. There is a significant difference between choosing an ultimate authority and being an ultimate authority.
              -We who believe in the principle of Sola Scriptura do not view ourselves as the ultimate authority in doctrinal matters. Rather, all spiritual standards of the church are subject to the one infallible and supreme authority, Scripture. A correct understanding and application of Scripture is necessary in order for it to operate as the ultimate spiritual standard for the church. This knowledge is enhanced in our minds by the continuous study and mediation of Scripture. A person who reads the Bible simply consumes the inspired message of God's written revelation. This is not a matter of spiritual authority. The precepts of the Lord are embedded into the minds of those who hunger and thirst for His righteousness.
    • The Logical Necessity Of "Private Interpretation":
              -In every aspect of life, we are obligated to use the fallible judgment of our fallible minds to correctly execute decisions. We have to use our fallible reasoning capacities to make any sort of move in our daily lives. Our fallible reason is what we use to make sense of the world around us. Reason is what keeps the world turning, yet God has appointed no "infallible" ruler to preside over each elemental category of our lives. We therefore must be, at least in some sense, our own "decider." Decision making is a mandatory, constant, and inevitable procedure which literally runs through the course of every second in our lifespan. There may be guides to help us make the correct decisions in difficult situations, but we have no evidence proving the existence of or the necessity of these means of occasional support being infallible. Yet, things seem to work in an orderly manner. Are secular governments infallible? Why would the church need to be infallible in order for it to function correctly and thus maintain the purity of the glorious gospel? God is perfectly capable of preserving a faithful remnant. 
    • The "Protestant Pope" Argument Against Sola Scriptura Is A Double Standard:
              -If a Protestant who embraces the concept of Sola Scriptura automatically becomes his or her own pope when he or she decides to interpret Scripture for himself or herself to support a theological position, then it follows from this premise that any Roman Catholic who defends the Church of Rome becomes his or her own pope because he or she also fallibly interprets Scripture and official church teaching. Both sides are resorting to private interpretation in defending theological positions which are believed to be true.
    • By Who's Authority?:
              -When Roman Catholics ask us by what authority we interpret the Scriptures, we should retort by asking them by what authority they keep the commandments of God? The point is that we do not do such things because of any alleged authority on our part. Rather, we do these things because God expects us to do them. We have the moral obligation to seek out truth. One does not need any special "authority" to read the Bible. If one must have some special authority in order to give grounds for his or her beliefs, then how does he or she become a Catholic? One cannot argue for an authority by appealing to that same authority. By what authority does one affirm the authority of the Roman Catholic Church?


    1. Well said, Jessie!

      Your points are not only all true, but they are necessary for Catholics and anyone else who wants to understand the simple necessity of interpretation when reading Scripture. NONE OF US have an infallible interpretation, but we all MUST still interpret and use our human reasoning.

      That simple concept just seems to be so hard to accept for many people.

    2. The biggest mistake Christians make is to ask other men what the Bible says about this or that, or read books about the Bible or read Bible commentaries, instead of going to the Scriptures themselves and studying the Scriptures, praying and praying, trusting in God for revelation, cultivating a relationship with God through prayer and Bible study and live a holy life, testifying to others about the good news of Jesus Christ. God will give revelation to his children, and when God gives him something, man cannot steal it or confuse it with their opinions. Because a man has attended a Bible college, a Bible seminary, or pastors, a large church does not mean that he is right. Or that some fate that one has faced throughout one's life is endorsement so that whatever one says is in fact coming from God. I say this because I left a church that the compulsory reading of two books written by Watchman Nee caused spurious behavior in the church. The first book is called Spiritual Authority, which in a nutshell claims that God has appointed delegated authorities to say through His will and that these authorities must be blindly obeyed because God has so wished. The second book is called Normal Christian Life and teaches that only through the church can God truly manifest His work. Over time the church pastor began to harass people who somehow lived their lives without communicating anything to the church (that is, they did things in private life without the pastor being aware, because when he quoted church he actually spoken of himself only in third person). Changing jobs, traveling, nothing can be done without the pastor's knowledge. Is there a spiritual reason for this? Again the pastor complained that people who were not directly involved in church work were "worse than shit" because of "shit we could make manure" while these people could expect nothing. What is this Christianity? It is for these things and other things that I trust God's direct relationship with a person through faithful Bible study, relying on the revelation of the Holy Ghost. It is becoming increasingly difficult to know who to trust ...

      1. Cromo Somos,

        First, God doesn't give us revelations; the canon is closed.

        Second, don't denigrate learning from scholars who have studied the languages and can give a lot of insight. I've read through the Bible cover-to-cover too many times to count, yet I still learn interesting things from commentaries, things which help fill out the "picture," so to speak.

        Third: You are 100% correct as to problems with the teachings of Watchman Nee. He had a very mystical and aberrant outlook on the Scriptures, and the man following him as leader of their group was Witness Lee, who started the cultic "Local Church" with their false version of the Bible called, "The Recovery Version." They are often found at fairs handing out their Bible and other materials.

    3. Cromo Somos,

      I agree that we should not allow the traditions of men to overrule the commandments of God. We should not place pastors and theologians on a pedestal, no matter how godly or intelligent that they may appear to be.

      If a person in a church leadership position is mistaken about something, then he should be corrected with Scripture. We must weigh the content of every sermon or commentary (however seemingly insightful) in light of God's Word.