Who Has the Ultimate Authority? A Biblical Look at Sola Scriptura

đŸŒș  Written by Brittany Ann

Who Has the Ultimate Authority? A Biblical Look at Sola Scriptura

This post is post 5 in a series entitled Letting God Lead: My Journey Through Protestant and Catholic Beliefs. While you certainly can read this post by itself, I highly encourage you to check out the rest of the series as well. Find more about this series and a list of all of posts here. *This post contains affiliate links.



Pilgrimages are rarely easy, and my journey through Protestant and Catholic beliefs has certainly been no exception. When I first began this journey, I though I’d be looking through the issues one by one, checking off boxes on an imaginary master checklist. Instead, it’s been a jumbled mess of facts, opinions and emotions. And every time I turn around, another piece of foundation crumbles away, leaving me feeling shaky and uncertain.


I’m a lifelong Christian, a Bible college graduate, a teacher, a mom, and a Christian blogger. I’m supposed to have all the answers. I don’t like feeling uncertain. And yet that’s exactly what this journey has been.


My findings on the Eucharist were the first huge chunk of foundation that I felt being pulled out from under me. Today’s post, on the authority of the Bible and Church Tradition, was the second. Honestly, I swear I almost felt the ground move. It was like everything suddenly shifted, even if I didn’t know what it all meant at first (or even still).


When I sat down to map out this series, I initially was going to save this post for last. It’s kind of like the period at the end of the sentence, and if you really accept and embrace it, none of the rest of the posts will matter much. But then I realized I needed to move it up. Because it also provides a framework that will be essential as we dive into the remaining posts.



A Protestant View of the Bible


Several months ago, I read a post on Catholic.com that would change my perspective forever. In Should Catholics go to Non-denominational Bible Studies?, author Steve Ray highlights four tenants Protestants generally believe about the Bible.


  • Scripture is the only binding authority.
  • There is no official interpretation or interpreter.
  • The Bible is easy to understand.
  • Each individual can and should read and understand the Bible for himself.


Yes. I definitely recognized these teachings from my Protestant upbringing. Growing up, I was taught that the Bible was the absolute authority on everything it spoke about. The Bible was never wrong, and if you wanted an answer to some pressing theological or moral dilemma, all you had to do was simply open the Bible, read what it said and you’d find your answer.


In fact, in the back of many Protestant Bibles, you’ll even find extensive reference sections to help you quickly locate a great verse on any topic you like. The Bible I received when I graduated high school has the following sections (and more):


  • Well-known Biblical Events
  • Parables of the Old Testament
  • Miracles of the New Testament
  • Teachings of Jesus
  • Promises from the Bible
  • Dictionary
  • NIV Concordance
  • Index to Subjects
  • Index to Articles


No matter what problem or struggle I was facing, all I had to do was open the Bible, and the answer would be waiting for me right there on the page, plain as day. What more could I need?


A Catholic View of the Bible


Ray then goes on to list four major Catholic beliefs regarding the Bible, with Scripture references for each.


  • The Church preceded the Bible and the Tradition of the church is an equally infallible authority.
  • The interpretation of the Bible is the prerogative of the Catholic Church.
  • The Bible is not easy to understand.
  • Individuals should read the Bible for themselves, but within the framework of the Church’s authoritative teaching and not based on their own private interpretation.


And the more I thought about it and researched it… I worried… Uh oh. Could they be right? Here’s what I found.


Who Has the Ultimate Authority? A Biblical Look at Sola Scriptura


1. The Bible Wasn’t Around Right Away


With our constant and easy access to the Bible today, it’s easy to forget that the first century Christians weren’t so lucky. The Bible books may have begun circulating in the first century, but it wasn’t until the late 4th century that canon was officially decided upon–300 years after the last apostle died. And even after the Bible was compiled, the printing press wasn’t invented yet, so the Bible still wasn’t available to the average lay person.


So how did the early Christians learn about Jesus?  They had to look to the church. The church was the authority from the beginning. It had to be.


2. The Bible Was Written by the Apostles


Secondly, there’s the fact that not a single word of the Bible was written by Jesus himself. The Bible isn’t this stand-alone authority that came down from Heaven to answer our questions. Who wrote the New Testament? The church.


And if the church had the authority and ability to author the Bible (under the direction of the Holy Spirit, of course) and to make an infallible decision as to which books made the cut two thousand years ago, then what is stopping the church* from maintaining that same authority and infallibility today? Or did they just happen to have a lucky guess once?


*Just to be clear, I’m talking about official church doctrine ONLY, not how individual Christians do or do not live it out. 


The Bible doesn’t have authority because IT says so; it has authority because the Church says so. The Bible is a gift from the church, not the head of the church.


3. The Bible Isn’t a Comprehensive “How-to Guide”


Furthermore, we have to consider the purpose behind WHY the Bible was written. The apostles never sat down to write an official “how-to guide” that would address every issue. Instead, they wrote letters concerning very specific issues to very specific churches and individuals. The Bible was never meant to be an exhaustive source, but a helpful tool.


So yes, the Bible does hold authority on everything it teaches, but there are plenty of things it doesn’t teach on. So… how do we know the answer for the things the Bible doesn’t teach on? Who gets to decide?


4. There is NO Scriptural Basis for “Sola Scriptura”


Did you know that nowhere in the Bible does it teach the idea that we are to rest on the Bible alone? It says it is good for teaching, but it does not say it is the ONLY source of good teaching.


“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” –2 Timothy 3:16-17


In fact, it actually says the Church is the foundation of truth–not the Bible.


“if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” –1 Timothy 3:15


And when Christians had disputes, were they instructed to go to the Bible to see what it said? No, they were to take their disputes in front of the church–whether that was a minor dispute among brothers or a major theological discussion for which they had to hold a council.


5. Interpretations Vary Widely


Visit a couple churches (or read the comments section of this series!!) and you’ll quickly see that even the most knowledgeable and devoted Christians use the Bible to support all sorts of positions–many of which are in direct disagreement. Obviously there can only be one truth–so how do we know which interpretation is correct?


In Surprised by Truth, Bob Sungenis writes “I finally understood the value and necessity of Sacred Tradition. Tradition did not contradict the Bible, rather, it supported and made it clearer.”


Additional clarifying information… that’s what I had to find for the Eucharist post too. When all you have are the words “This is my body,” it’s easy to take them several different ways. But combine Scripture with history and Tradition, and a clearer, more accurate, picture begins to emerge. The new picture never contradicts the Bible; it simply clarifies it.


If just reading the Bible for ourselves was enough, we wouldn’t come up with 100 different interpretations. Clearly we need more information.


6. Jesus Promised to Send the Holy Spirit


Okay, I’ll admit I don’t find this argument that convincing personally, but from what I’ve heard it’s a HUGE one for Catholics, so I’m going to include it anyways and you can take it for what you will.


Essentially, Catholics believe that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth and to keep them on the right path based on these verses:


“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” –John 16:12-15


“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever” –John 14:16


“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” –John 14:18


“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” –Matthew 28:20b


Personally, I don’t see that these verses are talking about the church as a whole and not individuals, or that they are talking about official Catholic beliefs in particular instead of the church as a whole. I also don’t see that this means that we will never err. It says the Holy Spirit will LEAD us. That doesn’t necessarily mean we will follow.


BUT, I have to admit, for the church to hold so unwaveringly to its teachings from the first century until now, when so many denominations have fallen away and believed whatever they wanted too–well, that is pretty impressive. I’ll give them that 🙂


Chain lock and key


7. Power of Binding and Loosing


BUT the best reason of all can be found in these verses in the Bible:


“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” –Matthew 16:19 (see also Matt. 18:18)


“Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” –Luke 10:16


In other words, Jesus gave the Church the authority that whatever they say goes. That’s a pretty big responsibility, and a whole lot of power.


It’s like when I have a babysitter come over watch my children. The babysitter is expected to have the kids follow my house rules as long as she knows them. But obviously I can’t write down what I would ask in EVERY single situation. So while I’m gone, I entrust my children to the babysitter and let her call the shots. While I’m gone, she has the authority to make and carry out any rules that she likes, as long as they are in line with what she knows to be true about me and the way I expect my children to behave.


It’s the same with the church. God is the ultimate authority. The Bible lists some rules and guidelines, but cannot possibly cover them all. So it’s up to the Church to lead and guide and enforce the rules as best she can with the knowledge she has in the meantime. And as long as she’s left in charge, what she says goes. God has given her that authority.


So how do we know the Church didn’t get off by 5 degrees and is now way off course? Well, because Jesus said what is bound on earth is bound in Heaven… so as long as they aren’t WAY off (and the consistency of doctrine from the first century til now should assure us that they’re not), then… as long as they are doing their best–what they say goes.


And that’s about all there is to that.



A Brief Clarification on Tradition


Many Protestants are raised to believe that tradition is bad since Jesus denounces man-made tradition in verses such as Matthew 15:3-9 and Mark 7:1-15. What you need to know, however, is that Jesus wasn’t denouncing ALL tradition. If you read the verses, you’ll see he’s actually denouncing the fact that they people were holding on to letter of the law while forgetting the spirit. In other words, they were being legalistic.


Tradition itself isn’t bad. Even Protestant churches have plenty of traditions. It’s when those traditions take the place of the real heart of the matter that they become a problem.


Furthermore, Catholics differentiate between two types of tradition: “Big T” Tradition and “little t” tradition. Big T Tradition is official church doctrine and teaching that has been handed down throughout history since the time of the apostles. It doesn’t change. For example, the fact that Jesus was born of a Virgin and that he died and rose on the third day. Scripture strongly supports this type of tradition.


“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” –2 Thessalonians 2:15


“Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.” –1 Corinthians 11:2


“Little t” tradition are the things the church teaches (because she has the authority to do so) that aren’t in the Bible specifically and that can be changed. For example, the fact that priests are not typically allowed to marry. This is a little t tradition and could be changed.


And then there’s the whole Catholic culture, which is chock FULL of all kinds of fun (weird) things Catholics do just because they can and like to–but that are completely optional. (Praying to the Saints, making the sign of the cross, saying Scripted Prayers etc) But that’s a topic for another day. 🙂



I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions!! Leave me a note (or a book 🙂 ) in the comments section below!



10 Common Catholic Myths that Critics Believe


Enjoyed this post? Don’t miss the rest of the posts in the series!


The Day I Realized My Religion Got it Wrong

10 Common Catholic Church Myths that Critics Believe

Is the Eucharist Really Just a Symbol?

Is Faith Alone Enough?

Who has the Ultimate Authority? A Biblical Look at Sola Scriptura

A Brief Look at the History of Christianity

What All Christians Should Know About Priests, the Pope and Confession

What Do Catholics Really Believe About Mary, Saints and Statues?

Infant Baptism or Believer’s Baptism? Which is Correct?

What is Purgatory? What are Indulgences?

Why Do Catholics….? Honest Answers to Your Burning Questions

Protestant and Catholic Beliefs Series Conclusion




I’m not asking you to believe because I say so. Please DON’T take my word for it! The purpose of this series is only to share what I’ve learned on my journey in order to inspire you to begin a journey of your own. Here are a few helpful resources to get you started.

*This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase, I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

The New Catholic Answer Bible

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Surprised by Truth: 11 Converts Give Biblical and Historical Reasons for Becoming Catholic by Patrick Madrid

Should Christians Go to Non-Denominational Bible Studies?

Brittany Ann Equipping Godly Women

About the author

Brittany Ann is an ECPA bestselling author of “Fall in Love with God’s Word” and “Follow God’s Will” and the founder of EquippingGodlyWomen.com, a popular Christian-living website dedicated to helping busy Christian moms find practical ways to go "all in" in faith and family. Her work has been featured on CBN, The Christian Post, Crosswalk, and more.

  1. Brittany, are you planning to do a post on HOW the Cannon of Scripture came into existence? Both the various old ones, and finally the later Jewish, and also the Christian?

    By the time the Church formally defined the 27 books of the NT to be included out of about 520 books that were going around at the time. I believe that there were some 180 or so that they looked into to discern.
    The OT was a no-brainer. The Church picked the Septuagint (LXX), which holds the 73 books. It was what was being used worldwide.
    Curious fact: The Protestant OT cannon is the same as the Jewish one from (probably) the reformed anti-Christian Jewish school of Jamnia that was formulated about 100 AD, roughly 65 years after the birth of the Church.
    So the Catholic OT is formed of 73 books—the numbers 7 and 3—while the Protestant and Jewish is made up of 66; the number 6 twice. Interesting when taking numerology of scripture into account.
    Isn’t it something like: Perfection/Completeness and Divine/Trinity versus Incomplete and Human/Man.

    Been enjoying your write ups.

  2. I am enjoying this blog series. To give you my background, I was raised in a two-denomination household — my Mom was Catholic and Dad was Methodist. We often went to both churches, though we were raised Catholic. I was a devout Catholic for a long time; I even prepared to be a nun all four years of high school. Now I am attending a Baptist church, and while I don’t agree with all their teachings, there is so much that they are dead-on about (in my opinion), that I feel comfortable there. There are many things that I miss very much about the Catholic Church, but there was so very much that I came to disagree with, too.

    My only problem with #7 is this part: “So how do we know the Church didn’t get off by 5 degrees and is now way off course? Well, because Jesus said what is bound on earth is bound in Heaven
 so as long as they aren’t WAY off (and the consistency of doctrine from the first century til now should assure us that they’re not), then
 as long as they are doing their best–what they say goes.” If you review church history, the fact is — by the time Martin Luther came around — the Catholic Church was doing things that were so out in left field, that they truly were “getting it wrong,” and getting it wrong badly. Even when I was a devout Catholic, I viewed Martin Luther as a “hero” because he stood up to the Church when no one else would. Who knows if those terrible wrong-doings would STILL be occurring, had Luther not done what he did? So, to say that the church didn’t get off course, (even if you are only talking doctrine), is not really accurate — they really did, because they modified the doctrine to justify their actions during that time. Just a thought. Thank you for sharing with others your faith journey!

    1. Wow–Catholic to Baptist, that’s quite a change! From what I understand, the two denominations do NOT like each other very much! (I was raised baptist, myself, so I can certainly see how the beliefs differ significantly, but thankfully I never heard any anti-Catholic stuff growing up.)

      Yes, I like to think of those binding verses as a sort of “get out of jail free” card–if that makes sense. As long as they aren’t super wrong, they are in the clear! And from what I read, the church did have some huge reforms immediately after and because of Martin Luther, so that was good.

      Not sure if they modified their actual doctrines or simply their behavior though. I’m inclined to think they didn’t change their doctrines, just clarified them after the fact in light of the events. I don’t know though–I wasn’t there!

      1. Perhaps “changed” doctrine is not as correct as “manipulated” doctrine.

        I never heard any “anti-Baptist” comments growing up as a Catholic, but I am afraid I have heard MANY “anti-Catholic” remarks by Baptists — not from those in my own church, thank goodness, but from others in this “Bible Belt” area. I have been to many different churches, and I never go because of the denomination label. I go because they help me grow in my journey with Christ. I go because the other members walk the walk and talk the talk. The fact that I ended up in Baptist church is as surprising to me as it is to you. LOL. Especially since my first experience in a Baptist church was a complete turn-off. I will say that the church I attend has very little in common with other Baptist churches I have attended, though it is backed by the Baptist Conference. It focuses on four things — corporate worship, service teams, personal accountability, and life groups. The service teams allow us to actually LIVE our faith, and we are assigned to teams according to our own personal gifts. We also have VERGE groups — made up of 3-4 women or 3-4 men, which meet weekly to discuss our personal walk with Christ and hold each other accountable for that walk. Our life groups take the place of Sunday School, and go much more in-depth; we have Bible studies available on all different topics, on all different days and times of day, so that everyone will be able to attend one. I absolutely love this church. Please check us out at http://www.harvestchurchsi.com.

        I will continue to follow your blog as the weeks go on. Again, thank you for sharing!

      2. Really enjoyed reading your comment. It does sound like the church you are part of is really striving to help everyone into a deeper and richer life with Christ. That is a blessing.
        One thing that I realize is that your understanding of Catholic teaching is incorrect because of this comment: “Perhaps “changed” doctrine is not as correct as “manipulated” doctrine.”

        The Church has neither manipulated nor changed doctrine. The Catholic Church (CC), when properly understood is VERY PROTECTIVE of the Deposit of Faith. This is what the apostles handed to us.
        The CC says that ALL Divine Revelation ceased with the death of St John, the last apostle. NOTHING new as been given us in the last 1920 years. I truly do admit that looking at Catholicism through the teachings/perspective of Baptists (even these vary profoundly depending on the seminary the pastor goes to) some things are way off in the left or right fields. Yet, I ask.

        Why are there so many Baptist ministers becoming Catholics? Let’s not forget that these are people that have gone through extensive seminary teaching. Some are professors in seminaries, and all have a very deep love for the Lord, so deep and so great are their convictions that they sacrifice everything they worked their lives to be in order to enter the Church. Their hope is that they can serve her in some way.

        So Sherry, my question would be.
        What have they come to see, understand, and believe?
        Please remember that these are not ignorant people. Some were/are not only ministers with solid or booming careers, but also professors at Protestant seminaries.

      3. Antonio, thank you for your comment. But there are just as many Baptists becoming Catholics as there are Catholics becoming Baptist. Don’t forget — I was a cradle Catholic, and I even spent four years of my life very seriously preparing to be a nun. And by “manipulated” doctrine, I mean that during those many years when the Church was engaging in some reprehensible activities, they would “justify” their actions by manipulating the meaning of already-present doctrine.

        Part of me would like nothing more than to return to my Catholic roots, and there is still much of the Catholic tradition that I miss dearly. However, there were too many things that I disagreed with that led me to seek corporate worship elsewhere. Keep in mind that there are also many things about the Baptist denomination that I disagree with, also, but the particular church I am attending is very different from almost all other Baptist churches. It took me a while to come to terms with my differences, just as it took me a while before I made the decision to leave the Church. Neither were decisions that I made totally based on personal views, but on what I believed God was calling me to do. That does not mean that I might one day return to the Catholic Church, especially with the changes being made by this new Pope. In the meantime, I have complete faith that I am right where God wants me to be, and until led otherwise, I will continue to attend Harvest. Peace! 🙂

      4. Sherry, based on what I know, it was probably a good thing you did not become a nun. I have no idea how much knowledge you really had of the faith at the time, because I do run into similar comments from former Catholics who are even ministers nowadays, who think they knew the faith, but they had no idea what the Church really taught. I have spent hundreds of hours in dialogue with some, so I am keenly aware of what they know and what they ‘think’ they knew/know. Anyway, when I made the previous comparison, was to highlight the difference that those that leave the Church do not have nearly the depth of knowledge that those others that are coming in. From what I understand there is somewhere between 5 to 7 Protestant ministers per week contacting EWTN’s Journey Home inquiring about coming into the Catholic Church.

        More than likely, the congregation of nuns you were involved with, or looking into was way off in the ‘left field’. The Vatican is still trying to get many of these groups/congregations to realign themselves with Church teaching to this day; same with many ‘Catholic’ universities. Most monks, nuns, even Jesuits really went off the deep end after the crazy 60s. All I can say is be grateful to the Lord that He led you where you are today. The only groups that survived were the ones who were cloistered, without contact with the outside. These were the ones that spend a lot of time in prayer and protected from the world. All the orders in the USA are shrinking, except the few that were faithful to the Church’s teaching in those decades.

        Still I am confused by your comment, and I quote: “… during those many years when the Church was engaging in some reprehensible activities, they would “justify” their actions by manipulating the meaning of already-present doctrine.”
        I am sorry to say, but this doesn’t say anything to me. I read it as an accusatory sentence which generalizes too much, and insinuates just as much, but doesn’t really say anything. Can you point to specific item(s) that you feel or know this really took place? I am not talking about priests, or bishops, or superiors of congregations. These are not the Church. If they live or teach something contrary, or something that is not aligned with the Church’s teaching then they set themselves above the Church (dangerous business = break vow of obedience). I have met plenty of them in my day. Thank goodness those things are really turning around. Most of the bad apples are disappearing, or are being ‘converted’ into Catholicism. Sounds ironic, but it is true.

        One more thing that I think you need to be aware of. Pope Francis is not going to change anything except maybe the way we connect and reach out to people. His pastoral past by being the parish priest in an extremely poor and remote place has had a powerful influence on him, but nothing in doctrine changes. Furthermore, he comes in when most of the mess of the 60s, 70s and 80s is cleaned up and the weeds have been removed, so his focus is not the same as his predecessors.
        Each pope lives in a specific time slot. All the popes of the 20th century were pretty amazing. During the initial turmoil that shook the Church, Pope Paul VI wrote the most prophetic Encyclical; Humanae Vitae. He was also the first to leave the Vatican and travel abroad to meet the flock. Additionally, he was the one to reach out to the Eastern Orthodox and began the process of healing the 900 year old schism between both Churches.
        Pope John Paul II was the greatest threat to Communism and was the most formidable force that brought it down, although in the USA they give Reagan too much credit for it. John Paul II carried on the legacy of Paul VI, but with new vigor and strength. He began to clean house. Benedict XVI was (is) an incredible man. He was largely the doctrinal brains behind John Paul II, and later also carried the torch, although without the same charisma. He kept on cleaning house. He opened the doors to celebrating the Mass again in the older Latin format (Extraordinary Form), partially as an attempt to bring back into the fold a schismatic group (SSPX). Many returned when the opportunity was made and FSSP was formed (Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter), yet many chose to remain outside. The Catholic Church is still trying to bring them back into the fold. I am amazed observing this. I see it as a mother reaching out in tender love to some renegade teenagers. Anyway, I am not sure what you are hoping or expecting from Pope Francis, but not much can change, except style.

        Anyway, I hope this helps, and it is a pleasure to dialogue with you.

      5. Antonio, I am just now reading your comment, as I have been ill these last few months. My reply will be very brief, as honestly, your comment made me wonder if I had accidentally taken too much medication, since some of the things you said were so very odd. Anyway, the one and only thing that I would like to say is that both religious orders I considered joining are still going strong today. (I will not be commenting further, but I hope you have a blessed weekend. 🙂 )

      6. Really sorry to hear you were ill all this time.
        It has been a while, and I understand how some things might sound really ODD, every one of my comments was based on ‘factual’ events and each point I made was as an attempt to respond to things that you stated in your previous comment(s).

        Reading back your comment, there was something you stated (reading your present reply) that was a bit ambiguous for me, and I may have misunderstood it. If that was the case then a good portion of my previous reply would seem a odd.

        If those congregations of nuns that you were looking into are still going strong, that is a blessing, especially since an internal report came out very recently on the number of vocations, and the only area that is seeing, for the first time in decades, a complete turn around is priestly vocations. Nuns and monks are still on the decreasing side, albeit, as I mentioned earlier, there are a few exceptions within those groups. The worst cases are down to a handful of old nuns within those groups, or have closed the whole thing down. But, of course, I am possibly looking at a greater span of time than you may be talking about. Since the Catholic Church is almost 2000 years old, I tend to look at things in a larger context, including time (decades or even centuries).

        You too, Sherry, hope you have a blessed day.
        And may the good Lord grant you the grace you need in your struggle with your health and, hopefully already on, recovery.

      7. I LOVE how hands-on and involved your church sounds. I think more churches need to be like that–not just people who show up on Sunday, but people who get involved. Of course, you have to make sure that the church is teaching the right things too…

      8. You are correct Brittany in assuming that the Church did NOT modify teaching, but simply fixed the way things were being implemented and removed possibilities for abuses.
        It is similar to what happened with the sexual abuses we saw recently. The Church has always called their Latin Rite priests and bishops into vows of celibacy, yet these men not only broke their vows to God, but fell into serious and habitual sin. The worst was that some bishops listened to the secular psychologist’s wisdom instead of the wisdom of the Church. The teaching of the Church has NOT changed on this last matter either, but according to secular watchdogs, the Catholic Church has been the only entity to institute clear and deep reforms to prevent this from happening again.

        Three hundred years before Luther, the Church was in major need of reform also, and God raised the likes of St Francis of Assisi and St Anthony of Padua, along with others like St Benedict.

        While Luther was ‘reforming’ the Church in the 16th century, there were some real reformers who stayed inside the Church and reformed her from inside. Even non-Catholic Christians who seek to grow in holiness and closer to God reach for the writings of the great mystics:
        St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross, both Doctors of the Church.

        Both of these endured turmoil, especially John of the Cross who suffered tremendously at the hands of the superiors. They imprisoned him in a tower for 9 months being fed bread and water. It was during this time that he wrote the most amazing things. Additionally, both these saints are Incorruptible.

        There are many more great saints of the epoch, but a third one, whose life touched me was the (unknowingly) founder of the order that serves the sick in hospital worldwide; St John of God. Also known as a hero in Granada, he was a man of the world (jack of all trades) with a huge heart. At on time while in Africa, his faith was being challenged by the behavior that he witnessed of Catholics around him, on how they treated other people (things that Luther also witnessed and was confronted with, or even worse). A priest told him NOT TO JUDGE the Church and her teachings by what those Catholics lived and behaved like.

        Years later, he had the most amazing conversion and lived a very ‘interesting’ journey into holiness. Needless to say that at the end of his life, while very weak and in bed, he asked those caring for him that he wanted to get on his knees to pray. After a bit of refusal, they finally caved in to his requests. Some time later, when they returned to the room to check on him, they found him DEAD, but still on his knees and with his arms up in the air, and the room had the ‘aroma of sanctity’.

        Some people reach for Martin Luther as a great hero, not knowing all the facts. I reach for the great disciples of Jesus, who not only endured the greatest of sufferings, but through whose sufferings were transformed by grace into amazing witnesses of what God can do with mortal bodies. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross (not sure about John of God) have bodies that 450 years later act and feel as if asleep (soft, pliable, etc). They are not only some of the greatest saints of all time, but part of a group that God left as witnesses to what His Grace can do when we cooperate fully with Him; The Incorruptibles.

  3. I’m not an expert by any means, but it seems to me that you have created a “Catholic Church” of your own liking, that has hardly any historical basis.

    Does the Catholic Church give clarity into the interpretation of Scripture? Here’s some clarity for you – the only two cases of ex cathedra infallibility officially recognized are:
    1. The Immaculate Conception by Pius IX:
    “…by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”

    Hence, if anyone shall dare—which God forbid!—to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church…”

    2. The Assumption of Mary by Pius XII:
    “… by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma:

    that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
    Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.”

    So before you “jump ship” make sure you believe these “truths” because they are the only two truths that the Catholic Church is really sure of (and they have nothing to do with the interpretation of Scripture, because they have no basis in Scripture).

    The rest of the so-called “clarity” given by the Catholic Church is up for grabs and can change (and HAS changed) over time. Many in the Catholic Church like to claim they are consistent, and have been since the 1st century, but that just isn’t true. Take vestments as one example. The Catholic Church admits the early church did not use them (“It’s true the early Church didn’t use the Old Testament vestments, but this is because Christians didn’t want to identify their leaders with the Jewish priesthood….Priestly vestments are no more than stylized secular Roman garments which have accrued symbolic, liturgical significance over the centuries.” – https://www.catholic.com/qa/do-priests-vestments-contradict-scripture), and yet in Catholic “tradition” priests are required to wear them during mass (at least the alb, stole, and chasuble. The Catholic Church relates the change in vestment style to the change in the mass: “The liturgical vestments have by no means remained the same from the founding of the Church until the present day. There is as great a difference between the vestments worn at the Holy Sacrifice in the pre-Constantinian period, and even in the following centuries, and those now customary at the services of the Church, as between the rite of the early Church and that of modern times. Just as the ceremonies that today surround the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries are the product of a long development, so are also the present liturgical vestments.” (http://www.catholic.com/encyclopedia/vestments).

    If the Catholic Church isn’t consistent in vestments or in the mass (and neither has any link to the Apostles and any so-call verbal tradition that stems from Peter – and honestly, if they are so important why wouldn’t Peter write them down? He wrote two books in the Bible!), how can they be trusted to have a corner on the truth in other areas?
    The truth is you still have your original problem. You want someone else to tell you what is true so you can feel secure. But you can’t get that from men because men didn’t invent the truth. Truth comes from God, God’s Word is truth (John 17:17).

    As for me, I don’t believe in the “Immaculate Conception” or the “Assumption of Mary”
    and therefore, in the eyes of the Catholic Church I am condemned by my own judgment; that have suffered shipwreck in the faith; that I am separated from the unity of the Church. But in this, I say with a clean conscience and with a heart assured in faith in Christ, they are gravely mistaken. And I rather, on the basis of God’s Word, pronounce that it is the Catholic Church that is anathema (cursed) because they have preached a gospel contrary to what we received (Gal. 1:9 – if you are wondering what was received, read Galatians).

    1. Nathan, you’re confusing Papal Infallibility with the infallibility of the greater Church, and also confusing Dogma/Doctrine with discipline.

      The exact style and manner of liturgical vestments are not an infallibly defined dogma of the Church. So they can change over time to fit the pastoral needs of the Church.

      Also, the reason you only find two teachings defined under papal infallibility is because those are the only two teachings of the Church which fit the criteria as it was formally defined in 1870 at the First Vatican Council. There are others which occurred much earlier but their “infallibility” is debated based on Vatican I.

      Other teachings of the Catholic Church (the Magisterium, not the Pope) which are infallible and dogmatic include: The Canon of Scripture, Christ being both fully human and fully divine (countering Arianism and Gnosticism), cannot earn our way to Heaven without grace (Pelagianism), One God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity (Sabellinism, Arianism, and others), Mary as Theotokos – mother of God rather than God-bearer – (Nestorianism), and the Real Presence of the Eucharist. That’s not an extensive list, but hopefully enough for you to get the point.

      It’s also important to understand, as Brittany eludes to in her post on Church History, that the Church only formally and infallibly defines a doctrine when it sees a need. Much of today’s dogma was defined in the early years of the Church because there were many heresies spring up and the Church needed to define what beliefs were orthodox.

      Lastly you are confusing the usage of the word “anathema.” When used as part of a council defining dogma (Trent, for example) it does not mean “cursed” as it does in Galatians. When the Church uses it, it means excommunication. You are no longer part of the Catholic Church. Now, being cast out from the Church certainly increases your risk of Hell, but the Church is careful to never condemn anyone definitively. They leave that up to God, as we all should.

      1. Hi Brian,

        The issue I was trying to point out is that everyone saying that the Catholic Church gets its tradition from the Apostles is a baseless claim, and therefore should not be used as an argument in favor of the Catholic Church. Vestments and mass have changed over time (just two examples), and therefore can not be pure tradition from the Apostles.

        The whole infallibility claim doesn’t matter who or what claimed it – only that the two I cited have no bases in Scripture (and yes, they are the only two which come from a pope) and their historical tradition is sketchy at best. I wasn’t saying there are no other teachings or lesser infallible teachings, just that there are only two that the Catholic Church really, really wanted to be sure everyone knew were true and required for salvation (and hence, in my view, adding to the Gospel).

        The reason I cited Galatians is because those two “infallible” teachings were added by the Catholic Church as fundamental to belief in the Gospel – if you don’t believe them you have shipwrecked your faith. Can someone who has shipwrecked their faith still go to heaven in the eyes of the Catholic Church? I guess you are saying they can. But the language doesn’t seem to bode well.

        But I don’t agree with you that anathema at Trent doesn’t mean cursed (and therefore going to hell, as it does in Scripture – unless there is repentance). I think you are moving away from the historically accepted meaning (and especially the meaning of the authors at Trent who used the word so long ago) Of course in the Catholic church, penance and restoration with the Catholic Church is available, but if not, hell (note: the belief is that you have to be restored to the Catholic Church as well, and if not, hell).
        Here’s a bit of proof:
        “anathema, or the penalty incurred by crimes of the gravest order, and solemnly promulgated by the Pope. In passing this sentence, the pontiff is vested in amice, stole, and a violet cope, wearing his mitre, and assisted by twelve priests clad in their surplices and holding lighted candles. He takes his seat in front of the altar or in some other suitable place, and pronounces the formula of anathema which ends with these words: “Wherefore in the name of God the All-powerful, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, of the Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and of all the Saints, in virtue of the power which has been given us of binding and loosing in Heaven and on earth, we deprive N—himself and all his accomplices and all his abettors of the Communion of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, we separate him from the society of all Christians, we exclude him from the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church in Heaven and on earth, we declare him excommunicated and anathematized and we judge him condemned to eternal fire with Satan and his angels and all the reprobate, so long as he will not burst the fetters of the demon, do penance and satisfy the Church; we deliver him to Satan to mortify his body, that his soul may be saved on the day of judgment.”

        If Trent didn’t want to say “to hell with you” then they should have used a different word.

        Though I guess they took it back in 1983 Code of Canon Law. There is no more penalty of anathema….which just goes to prove my point again. The Catholic Church is not consistent and never has been, and therefore their so-called consistency should never be used as proof that they are “true” and “right”.

        But since they weren’t positively infallible on it (it was a discipline matter), I guess they can change. But tradition from the Apostles? No. That can’t be even claimed for the mass because it has changed so much. To me, the only type of tradition that would be valid from the Apostles, is one that is pure, and unchanged. But how can you prove that a tradition is from the Apostles? You can’t, unless it is found in Scripture (in my view).

        But that’s why the Catholic Church needs the Pope, so then they can have the authority to make up their own stuff and say something came from the Apostles, when in fact no one knows for sure.

      2. Hello, Nathan.
        I have been away from these dialogues for a while (too busy) and have a short minute.
        I glimpsed at your comments and also noticed Bryan’s. I will not tackle but one thing that you stated (WAY TOO MANY for my present time restrain). I will say that you read TOO fast and missed OBVIOUS clues.

        If you miss OBVIOUS clues that contradict what you claim against the Catholic Church, how much more difficult will it be for you to understand difficult nuances.

        Let’s grab the old formula of Anathema. If you read ALL the way to THE END, you will notice that it SAYS VERY CLEARLY (copying and pasting from your comment):

        “we deliver him to Satan to mortify his body, that his soul may be saved on the day of judgment.”

        Actually, the anathema ENDS with a prayer that AFTER all the troubles that the anathematized may go through, it concludes with a PRAYER for his/her soul to be SAVED on the Day of Judgement.

        My recommendation, because I have seen this happening much more often than not, is to SLOW DOWN and re-read things. I have found that as I re-read things and at a slower pace, allowing me to ponder on the words and their meaning, often I come out a a different take than what I had preciously understood them to mean.

        FYI: The ONLY dogma that I am aware for which there is no REAL scriptural defense is the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, but that one takes a whole other level of depth and thinking that, I am certain, would go over and be missed completely. Hence, would be a total waste to cover it here.

        Have a blessed day.

      3. Well now I can’t trust anything you say. You can’t even make up your mind how to spell my name! lol

        To your point on “tradition”: I want to clarify (well, attempt to clarify) what the Church means by Apostolic Tradition. This isn’t the practices such as liturgical vestments, form/language of the Mass, etc. This is the Oral Tradition which was handed on from the Apostles to their successors and so on.

        It seems very strange to us today because we have the Bible, but we forget that without the oral Tradition we wouldn’t know what the Bible is. Brittany addresses this in her Feb. 18 post. One of the ways the early Church recognized the inspired of scriptures was by comparing them with what they had been taught.

        Does that help clear things up any?

        As for anathema, this is the best explanation I can give as far as anathema in the Church: https://www.catholic.com/qa/does-the-church-condemn-those-who-disagree-with-its-teachings

        As you see from reading it, anathemas do not condemn anyone to hell except those Catholics who knowingly refuse to believe an important doctrine of the faith and do not repent. I’ll admit ignorance beyond that because this is something I haven’t researched much (it just doesn’t come up in most of my daily conversations).

        As to the idea of “added” beliefs, did you understand my earlier post about when things actually get defined? Just because these weren’t defined until much later, doesn’t mean that’s when belief in them began. Scripture is an example. People accepted the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John almost as soon as they learned of them. But with all the challenges we don’t have to deal with today (language barriers, no printing press, etc.) not every community had them. There were also other gospel accounts floating around which ranged from uninspired to completely heretical. This continued until the 4th century when the Church defined the Canon.

        The teachings of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are similar. They were officially defined because there was strong push for the Magisterium to issue a definition either to settle a debate or to further inform the faith.

        I won’t launch into defending them here, we can discuss those details some other time, but will say this about all the Marian dogmas: they cannot be understood without Christ, but when we understand them they help us better understand Christ.

    2. One thing we talked about in RCIA is that there is a difference between “Big T Traditions” (doctrines handed down from the apostles that can never change) and “little t traditions” (ways to doing things in a particular time that can change).

      Things like what the priests wear or what language they speak the Mass in are little t traditions. They’re just details. It really doesn’t change anything if they decided to change these little details. Doctrines such as the Trinity and the sinlessness of Jesus are big T Traditions that the church can not and will not change.

      Surely you wouldn’t expect everything little detail to be exactly the same now as it was then? That would be silly, because those details aren’t important. But as far as major church teaching, to the best of my knowledge, those very important core beliefs have never changed.

      Now, as to what counts as little t and what counts as Big T, that was one of my biggest questions, and one I never got a definitive answer to. (You’d think with all the time the Catholic Church has had to think about these things, someone could have written a definitive list! lol) Does that help at all?

      Also, I believe Bryan is right in that “let him be anathema” just means excommunicated. And since you and I aren’t Catholic in the first place… that’s kind of inconsequential.

  4. You are right in saying that number 6 has a good deal of meaning to Catholics. I think I may understand why it is tripping you up a little. Firstly, in a previous post you mentioned the differences in the way that Catholics and other denominations look at scripture. I would add that Catholics do not read scripture in such a way that a single verse has a single meaning. In the book of Genesis, when Abraham assures Isaac that “God will provide the lamb for the offering.” (Gen 22:8) He is talking about how God’s mercy resulted in Isaac being born, but also foreshadowing Christ, the Lamb of God and God’s own Son. Both meanings are true. So when you say that you “don’t see that these verses are talking about the church as a whole and not individuals” you are completely correct. We use these verses a lot when we are talking about the sacraments of Baptism & Confirmation, when we believe the Holy Spirit comes upon and specially gifts an “individual person”. However, we believe it is equally true that these verses reference Pentecost. Catholics celebrate the feast of Pentecost as only slightly less important than Easter and Christmas. We look at it as the “birthday” of the Church. The apostles were (very rightly) seriously confused and afraid after Jesus was crucified, rose again, and then ascended into heaven. The Church might never have assumed the authority Christ gave it, if not for the miraculous infusion of the Holy Spirit that occurred in the upper room. It is this miracle that Catholics believe is further evidence for the authority of the Church and the start of apostolic succession. Acts chapters 1-3 cover this account. We would consider Peter’s speech (Acts 3:14-441) to be the original papal address.

    1. I agree with all of that. My only reservation is–how do we know the protection for the church applies to the *Catholic* church specifically? Instead of the church as a whole or a different branch?

  5. Hi 🙂 I just stumbled across your blog series! I have pinterest to thank (had been looking at catholic funnies…there really are some side splitting ones but all that would get mixed in with jus non-comedy related Catholic pins and, well, here I am.)

    I truly love what you’ve fomented! True debate, exchanges of view points. People are just being true Christians and humane and tretingt the other (so fr) as humans, with the respect that deserves (if this was FB. Welll. The ad hominem attacks would hve reigned supreme.) But there’s true DIALOGUE I’m getting wonderful insight here (I’m Catholic but growing up in Buenos Aires and among Catholics in Dubai I never had met American Protestants, mostly High Anglicans .. Church of England and they are stilll in Commmunion with the Church so until I started my own studies into apologetics 2 years ago I hadn’t gotten the message about the MAJOR issues and I was a bit sad atfirst but thenjust read and read and watched the Journey Home a lot on EWTN and well, yeah, I get things much better now. You don’t know how CONFUSED I was regarding the whole ‘Catholics worhip Mary’ and I’d think ” I can PROMISE you we don’t …..I mean, isn’t it OBVIOUS? We just honour her…we venerate her. I mean, right? Worship is so diffeent. And same for saints! OF COURSE we don’t think they’re ghosts or that whatever theory on ‘catholics and the saints: weirdo beliefs’ had on that day (totally made that up sorry, a bit sleep deprived.)

    I duid grow up with a lot of interfith dilogue in my life. In Dubai having to coexist with a Muslim community though the expat community was also large. We all managed a nice balance. And then returning to Buenos Aires, going to mass at the Cathedral there…hearing then Bishop aftewards Cardinal Bergoglio speak and talk to us and have the Muslim/Christian/Jewish tv interviews/talks. IDK. It was ab it of a shock but I am getting over it for the most part (yes, I still go ‘seriously? AGAIN? NOOOOOOOOOO….no. Worship. of. Mary!’ :P)

    But yes….the interfaith or well intedenominational? dialogue going on here is beautiful and it made my morning. I have much to thank the Lord for. This is one. So CI’ll be singing away soon.

    Bless you and than you for giving this gift. I really see it as a wonderful gift. And Thanks to all others who have shown me debate isn’t dead on the internet (or limited to the few I know.)

    1. Hey, I love a good debate!

      I do understand the Mary thing–though I don’t necessarily agree with either side. It all comes down to the way you define “worship” and translate different verses in the Bible and it should come as no surprise that we all see them differently!

  6. wow. A lot of comments on this topic. In my Conversion, Church tradition was one of my two biggest obstacles. The other was my Blessed Mother, Mary. The Bible was given to us by the Church. The Church stood first. The Traditions draw us closer to God, our Father. At least, it has drawn me closer.

    Worshipping in a Protestant church, though I know they love God and are great people, saved by grace in faith, and doing great works, is so… Bland… Even the praise and worship with all the hip music (same songs I listen to on my favorite Christian radio station, and sing at the top of my lungs when no one is listening)… Is bland. It’s missing the richness and beauty of the Tradition of the Catholic Church.

    Deep within that tradition is God.

    1. That’s so interesting that you should say that, because I always see Mass as kind of bland. I don’t mean that in a mean way. Just not knowing the traditions and all the meanings behind it… I’m sure a lot gets lost without it.

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