Church Authority and InfallibilityThe Problem: Many Christians deny that the Church has either final or infallible authority, insisting that such authority is arrogated to God alone in Scripture.
The Truth: As the Bride of Christ, who is the Body of Christ, the Church enjoys the authority of Him who has headship over Her. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in matters of doctrinal dispute the teaching authority of the Church is both final and infallibly correct, though not necessarily a complete explanation of revelation.
To say a teaching is infallible is not solely a statement about its truth value, for all that the Church teaches is true. Infallibility is the clear definition and description of how the authority of the Church, acting in history, came to a deeper understanding in teaching a specific truth. The inerrancy of Scripture fits hand-in-glove with the infallibility of the Church, of the councils, and of the Pope. "Inerrancy" means that Scripture teaches only what is true. "Infallibility" means that the Church, councils, and Pope teach with authority and do not teach what is error. Thus, the Bride of Christ dips into the inexhaustible well of Scripture, bringing forth only that which is pure, never poisoned with distortions or falsehoods.
Mt 5:14 "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid.
The word ekklesia (church) appears over one hundred times in the NT, not once meaning a "spiritual" or invisible church. The word "spiritual" is often used in ecumenical discussions of Scripture with a meaning which is indistinguishable from
"symbolic." Although our separated brethren insist the term has more substance, it is unclear how it differs from "symbolic," given the usage it commonly enjoys.
Mt 13:10 The the disciples came and said to him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" 11 And he answered them, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given."
1 Cor 12:27-29 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all propherts? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?
The Magisterium began here - Christ gave the secrets of the kingdom of heaven to the Apostles, to guard and to treasure. This understanding is not imparted to everyone, for not everyone has the same role in the body of Christ.
Amos 9:10-12 "For lo, I will command,
and shake the house of Israel among all the nations
as one shakes with a sieve,
but no pebble shall fall upon the earth. 10 All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword,
who say, 'Evil shall not overtake or meet us.' 11 "In that day I will raise up
the booth of David that is fallen
and repair its breaches,
and raise up its ruins,
and rebuild it as in the days of old; 12 that they may possess the remnant of Edom
and all the nations who are called by my name,"
says the Lord who does this.
Acts 15:13-15 "Brethren, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree...
The Church must be a visible structure, for all Gentiles must find it and be joined to it. This is the will of the Father.
1 Tim 3:15 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.
Scripture is truth. Scripture itself attests that the Church is the pillar and foundation of the Truth. Without a pillar and foundation, the structure crumbles.
Rom 6:17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,
There is a standard of teaching to which Christians must adhere.
Eph 3:2,7-11 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you... Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace which was given me by the working of his power. 8To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; 10 that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose which he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord...
Paul points out that he is merely an
officer of the Church, that it is only through the Church that the manifold wisdom of God is revealed.
Only the Church can reveal the mystery of Divine salvation. This is all in accord with the eternal purpose of God. He intended, from the beginning of eternity, to set up a Church with offices and ministers through which His Divine wisdom would come.
Is 54:9-17 "For this is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you and will not rebuke you. 10 For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you. 11 "O afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires. 12 I will make your pinnacles of agate, your gates of carbuncles, and all your wall of precious stones. 13 All your sons shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the prosperity of your sons. 14 In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you. 15 If any one stirs up strife, it is not from me; whoever stirs up strife with you shall fall because of you. 16 Behold, I have created the smith who blows the fire of coals, and produces a weapon for its purpose. I have also created the ravager to destroy; 17 no weapon that is fashioned against you shall prosper, and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, says the Lord."
Christ's Church is prophesied in Isaiah.
Mt 16:18-19 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. 19 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."
The prophecy is fulfilled in Matthew. "Peter" means "rock."
1 Cor 3:10-11 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Eph 2:19-20 but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone...
Rev 21:14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
Christ and the apostles are individually each referred to as the foundation. Jesus Christ is the cornerstone (the beginning of a foundation).
Eph 3:4-5 When you read this you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
Eph 4:11 And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
Acts 1:20 For it is written in the book of Psalms,
'Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it'; and 'His office (episkipous) let another take.'
Acts 20:28 Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (episkipous), to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son.
1 Pet 2:24-25 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian (episkipous) of your souls.
The word used to designate Christ in 1
Peter is the same word used to designate the overseers appointed by the Holy Spirit in Acts 20
. Again, we see Scripture treating Christ's authority in some sense as interchangeable with His Apostles'.
1 Tim 3:2 Now a bishop (episkipous) must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher,
Titus 1:7 For a bishop (episkipous), as God's steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain...
And this authority was something the Apostles handed on.
Mt 18:16-18 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. 17 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. 18 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.
Mt 5:22 But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council...
Gal 1:8-9 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.
The Church's authority is final. She has the ability to pronounce "anathema"; She can, through Her officers, pronounce someone accursed. Christ gives the authority, and Paul, acting as bishop, exercises it.
1 Thess 5:12-13 But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
Heb 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you
Do you obey leaders or swap churches?
1 Tim 4:11-16 Command and teach these things. 12 Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Till I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon you. 15 Practice these duties, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Authority is passed on through imposition of hands.
Lk 22:32 "... but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren."
In Luke 22, Christ prays for Kephas. The "you" is singular.
Tit 1:7-11 For a bishop, as God's steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; 9 he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it. 10 For there are many insubordinate men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially the circumcision party; 11 they must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for base gain what they have no right to teach.
Tit 2:15 Declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
Does your church have bishops? Do you permit them all authority over you? The bishop is
God's steward. A steward guards and distributes with equity and justice the master's belongings to the household. Only bishops are called stewards of God.
Tit 1:13-14 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 instead of giving heed to Jewish myths or to commands of men who reject the truth.
Tit 3:8-10 The saying is sure. I desire you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to apply themselves to good deeds; these are excellent and profitable to men. 9 But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law, for they are unprofitable and futile. 10 As for a man who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him...
Heb 13:7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith.
If everyone can
interpret Scripture on their own, of what use are leaders, bishops, people who admonish?
Lk 10:16 "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me."
1 Thess 1:5 for our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.
1 Tim 6:2-4 Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brethren; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these duties. 3 If any one teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing; he has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions,
Mt 7:24 "Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock..."
Jn 14:16-18, 26 And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you. 18 "I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. 1.... But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
Again, Christ's word in John are to the Apostles alone - not to all disciples.
Is 35:8 And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not pass over it, and fools shall not err therein.
Scripture attests to an infallible Church.
Jn 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
Lk 22:29-30 and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, 30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Christ speaks to the Apostles only.
Rev 2:11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Eph 4:11-12 And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ...
Why have pastors and teachers if Scripture interprets itself?
Acts 15:1-2 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." 2 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
In Acts 15 and 16, the Council did not appeal to
Scripture alone in order to settle the difficulty.
Jude 1:8,10-11 Yet in like manner these men in their dreamings defile the flesh, reject authority, and revile the glorious ones.... But these men revile whatever they do not understand, and by those things that they know by instinct as irrational animals do, they are destroyed. 11 Woe to them! For they walk in the way of Cain, and abandon themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam's error, and perish in Korah's rebellion.
Jude condemns those who follow after the "rebellion of Korah" - Korah and his followers were condemned and
punished by God for their rebellion against the priests who had been appointed to preside over the priestly nation of Israel.
Num 16:1-3 Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, 2 took men; and they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men; 3 and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, "You have gone too far! For all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?"
Korah's words sound eerily similar to the words Martin Luther used against the Pope.
Num 16: 4-11,28-33 When Moses heard it, he fell on his face; 5 and he said to Korah and all his company, "In the morning the Lord will show who is his, and who is holy, and will cause him to come near to him; him whom he will choose he will cause to come near to him. 6 Do this: take censers, Korah and all his company; 7 put fire in them and put incense upon them before the Lord tomorrow, and the man whom the Lord chooses shall be the holy one. You have gone too far, sons of Levi!" 8 And Moses said to Korah, "Hear now, you sons of Levi: 9 is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to minister to them; 10 and that he has brought you near him, and all your brethren the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? 11 Therefore it is against the Lord that you and all your company have gathered together; what is Aaron that you murmur against him?"... And Moses said, "Hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. 29 If these men die the common death of all men, or if they are visited by the fate of all men, then the Lord has not sent me. 30 But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth, and swallows them up, with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord."
31 And as he finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split asunder; 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men that belonged to Korah and all their goods. 33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.
1 Jn 2:27 but the anointing which you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that any one should teach you; as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie, just as it has taught you, abide in him.
John writes of the anointing of baptism and confirmation, anointing received through the Body of Christ, the Church.
Mt 28:20 ... teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."
Rev 2:16 Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.
Acts 16:1-5 And he came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brethren at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.
Note that Paul and Timothy delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and the presbyters, who were given office by the imposition of hands.
Acts 15:28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things:
The apostles then sent Paul and Silas...
Acts 16:4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem.
The teachings were "necessary things," and could not be rejected. Note the phrasing: the Holy Spirit and the officers of the Church made the decisions on these necessities jointly. What they bind is held bound, just as Christ said.
1 Thess 2:6-7 nor did we seek glory from men, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children.
Phil 1:27-28 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear omen to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.
Phil 2:2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
Is 59:19-21 So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun; for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the Lord drives. 20 "And he will come to Zion as Redeemer, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression, says the Lord. 21 "And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says the Lord: my spirit which is upon you, and my words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your children, or out of the mouth of your children's children, says the Lord, from this time forth and for evermore.