Sunday, January 01, 2006

Sola Scriptura and the Authority of the Church.


One of the important questions in Christianity is the relationship between Scripture and the Church. A particularly contentious issue is question of the authority of the Church in relation to the Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura. An interesting idea would be to look at just what scripture has say about the authority of the Church? Let us look!

First of all it is Christ’s Church.

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ (Matthew 16:13-20)

There are many things that can be pulled out of the that passage, the important ones for out purpose are:

1 Jesus founded the Church.
2 It is His Church.
3. He promised that the gates of death (Hell or Hades in other translations) will not prevail against it.
4. One might disagree on the full extent of the “binding and loosing” but no one cannot deny that in some sense the Church is connected with authority to “bind and loose.”
5. Christ founded a Church and promised it some sort of protection, and some sort of authority.

Christ described a role for the exercise of the Church's authority

"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18 15:20)

There are some key points we can pull out of this passage for our purpose, again there is much more in it.

1. The paragraph after this is where Jesus talks about forgiving 7 times 70 times. I think this context is to make sure that 18:15-20 is not understood to apply where forgiveness is enough but when the sin is something that is very harmful and needs to be corrected.
2. Notice when you cannot resolve the issue privately you take it to the Church. If the Church decides the issue and the other person (or yourself if the decision goes the other way) refuses to listen “even to the Church” treat the person as a gentile and a tax collector.
3. Notice the word even as though it is hard to imagine some one refusing to listen to the Church Christ established.
4. The famous quote of where “two or three are gathered in my name” is clearly associated with the Church.
5. In the context of dealing with serious sin he instructs the Apostles that what they “bind and loose” as the leaders of the Church is “bound or loosed.”

In Acts we see the Church acting according to Christ’s instructions.

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, reporting the conversion of the Gentiles, and they gave great joy to all the brethren. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up, and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses."

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider
this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them, "Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will."

And all the assembly kept silence; and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James replied, "Brethren, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, as it is written, 'After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up, that the rest of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who has made these things known from of old. 'Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood. For from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues."

Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, with the following letter: "The brethren, both the apostles and the elders, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greeting. Since we have heard that some persons from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell."
(Acts 15:1-29)

Some points we can pull from this passage.

1. The “party of the Pharisees” created a crisis in Antioch that could not be forgiven and dismissed. There was a sin of heresy that challenged the integrity of the Gospel
2. The Church at Antioch tried to resolve the issue locally.
3. They brought in or witnesses to help mediate the situation, who better than Paul and Barnabas.
4. Unable to reach a decision locally the matter was referred to the Church as a whole represented in the persons of the Apostles and elders at Jerusalem.
5. The church made a decision.
6. The decision bound the whole church not just Jerusalem.
7. Certainly, as far more than two were gathered in His Name, Christ was with them.
8. If this had not been the decision, would not “the gates of Hell” have prevailed against the Church?

Elsewhere the New Testament

shows the Church as being essential to spreading the truth of the Gospel.

”that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.”(Eph 3:10)

”I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” 1 Tim 3:14-15

It is in the Church that the manifold wisdom of God becomes known. “The Church is the pillar and bulwark of truth.” Of course, this makes sense since the Church is the Body of Christ and He is the way, truth and the life.


While there are different opinions on the extent of it’s authority, it is apparent that the Bible teaches that the Church has a clear authority of its own to "bind and loose" on questions of the content of Christian teaching that goes far beyond what is possible if the sola scriptura is the sole rule of faith.

See the related post Scripture and Tradition


Jack said...


As you know I am not really into sola scriptura. In fact I think it is absurd. However, neither am I into the infallibility of the church. I do find it interesting that you use a kind of 'sola scriptura'as justification for the authority of the Church. Somehow this seems like a bit of a contradiction, if not circular reasoning. As you well know pulling 'proof texts' out of the Bible can be a tricky business. Fundamentalists love this. You and I don't, I presume. On this issue could you be a fundamentalists? :)Jack

hank_F_M said...


Thanks for commenting.

Well, of course it is circular reasoning, any argument using Solas Scriptura is circular reasoning, but the original context was talking with evangelicals who would not hear an argument that was not sola scriptura. The point is that sola scrtiptura does not pass it’s own test because it establishs that something (the church) has authority besides scripture.

The argument could be reconstructed to be non-circular. Relative to your point the Church does have a some authority, though my post, even rewritten does not prove infallibility per se

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