Category Archives: Bible Alone

Where Are Your Shoes?

Sometimes I’ll ask my kids, “Are you ready to go to school?” “Yep,” they will reply. Then I will look at their feet and say, “Where are your shoes?” “Oops!” This is a case of not being thoroughly equipped.

In 2Timothy 3:16 we see the apostle Paul telling Timothy the importance of the holy scriptures and how they allow the man of God to be perfect and thoroughly furnished. In verse 10 Paul has already mentioned that Timothy fully knows Paul’s doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, etc. Timothy needs these things in addition to having the holy scriptures (which, in Timothy’s case, would only be the Old Testament scriptures since the entire Bible was not even written yet).

Paul is not telling Timothy that the Bible is to be his sole authority. Paul’s message is that the scriptures are an important part of a complete set of equipment. Timothy needs the scriptures, but not without knowing Paul’s doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, etc. Timothy does not need the scriptures “alone.” This would be like telling my kids that they are fully equipped to go to school wearing only their shoes and nothing else.

Christians are not fully equipped with only a Bible (sola scriptura). We also require legitimate, apostolic teaching authority, proper manner of life, understanding of purpose, correct understanding of the faith, etc. These things are found in the Church that Christ established and continues to sustain through apostolic succession and the Holy Spirit. As Timothy needed Paul, we need the Church. Not just “any” church, but the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Where Is THAT In The Bible?

Non-Catholic Christians often confront Catholics with the question, “Where is THAT in the Bible?” This is usually a challenge to the Catholic to use the Bible to prove a Catholic doctrine. The premise is wrong, however.

Where in the Bible does it say that every Christian doctrine must be found in the Bible?

Nowhere.

Where in the Bible does it even say which books belong in the Bible?

Nowhere.

It is simply not biblical to look to the Bible alone for Christian doctrine.

There are verses, such as 2Tim 3:16-17 that emphasize the importance of Scripture. Let’s look at that verse:

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…”

The Bible is certainly the inspired, inerrant Word of God.

“…and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction for instruction in righteousness…”

Notice that Scripture is called “profitable” but not “sufficient.” Water is profitable for keeping you alive, but it is not “sufficient.” You also require food, shelter, etc.

“…that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

Again, if you only have water, but no food, you are not “thoroughly furnished.” You won’t be perfectly healthy. You are not thoroughly furnished if all you have is a Bible. The Bible is an essential part of your equipment, but not the only piece of equipment you require.

Look at it another way: If I leave the house to go to work wearing no pants, my wife will say, “Honey, you’re not fully dressed!” If I then put on pants but take my shirt off my wife will say, “You’re still not fully dressed!” I need the complete outfit to be fully dressed.

The point of 2Tim 3:16-17 is that you need the Bible to complete (i.e. fully furnish) your equipment, not that the Bible is your “only” piece of essential equipment.

So, what else besides the Bible do you need to complete your equipment?

You need the official teachings of the Church established by Christ.

1Tim 3:15 says, “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou ought to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

In this verse, we see that the pillar and ground of the truth is the Church established by Christ, not just the Bible.

2Thessalonians 2:15 says, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”

Here we see that both the written word and the oral word have always been important for Christians to adhere to. Though the apostles wrote some things down, they did not write down everything. Christians had to obey what the apostles said, not just what they wrote. Nowhere do we see Jesus instructing them to write down all the “essentials.” Jesus told them to “go and teach,” not to “go write a book.” The successors of the apostles received the same admonition to “go and teach” (2Tim 2:2, for example), not to “go and write.”

The Bible itself was given to us by the Catholic Church. It took about 400 years before it was decided which writings to include in the Bible. The Bible does not say which books belong in it. The Catholic Church, directed by the Holy Spirit, decided which books belong in the Bible. The Bible is actually part of Catholic Sacred Tradition. The Church and the Bible work together in harmony. They do not contradict each other.

A preacher might be able to give “good explanations” about the meaning of Scripture. However, any interpretation that contradicts the teachings of the Catholic Church is wrong, no matter how appealing or how logical it may sound. This is why there are so many opposing interpretations and so many different churches. With only a Bible, these churches and preachers are not fully equipped.

In order to understand your Bible correctly, you need to include the teachings of the Church established by Christ and directed by the Holy Spirit. To be fully equipped, you need the Bible AND the pillar and foundation of the truth, the Catholic Church. God made them to go together. If you ignore one or the other (or both), you’re missing something Jesus wants you to have.

Study, But Lean Not On Your Own Understanding

I found the article Why Catholicism Is Preferable to Protestantism to be quite thought provoking. It addressed a question that I personally had wrestled with for some time in my spiritual journey. The question is one of authority. Since I am the one that ultimately decides which church to align myself with, does that not make me the ultimate authority? Aren’t Catholics and Protestants both doing the “same thing” in that regard? How can either of us claim to have different, ultimate authorities (i.e. Church vs. Bible) if the final authority is ultimately the individual?

The answer lies within the following statement from the article:

“How is the Catholic’s judgment different from a Protestant’s, if at all? The difference lies in the conclusion, or finishing point, of the inquiry they make. Whereas the Protestant can ultimately submit only to his own judgment, which he knows to be fallible, the Catholic can confidently render total assent to the proclamations of the visible Church that Christ established and guides, submitting his judgments to its judgments as to Christ’s.”

Another way to approach the issue is to ask, “What is being let go of?” When we let go of something, we relinquish control over it. We relax our grip. We hand over control to someone or something other than self. We submit. There, then, is the essence of the “finishing point” mentioned in the article.

Both Protestant and Catholic must use reason to come to a final conclusion. “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2Tim 2:15)  God expects us to use our brains. On the other hand, we can go too far with our use of reason and trust in it more than we trust in God. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” (Prov 3:5)

There comes a point where one must “let go of” one’s own understanding in order to trust and obey God. That is the finishing point for the Catholic. It is not the total absence of reason, but the reasonable response to trust in God. One cannot “trust” without “letting go.” Hence, the Catholic sees that the way to trust and obey Christ is to trust and obey the Church given by Christ. The Catholic ultimately “let’s go of” the trust in personal understanding where doctrine is concerned.

A perfect example can be found in John chapter 6. None of Jesus’ followers understood why they must eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ in order to have eternal life. However, some stayed with Jesus and others stopped following Him at that point. Those who stayed did so, not because they understood Jesus, but because they trusted Jesus. Peter said it best: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter did not scrutinize Christ’s words against scripture and render his own, personal conclusion. He submitted to Christ. Those that left remained constrained by their inability to make sense of Christ’s words. They tried to “figure it out” and, ultimately, clung to their personal authority.

The Protestant must continue to cling to personal understanding of Scripture in order to insure that the truth is being “rightly divided.” Personal interpretation of Scripture must rule the day in order to guard against heresies. If I, as a Protestant, disagree with the direction my church is headed, I can switch to a different denomination more closely aligned with my personal interpretation of Scripture. Even though I may “search the scriptures to see if these things are so,” I still make my decision based upon my personal interpretations of those scriptures. Ultimately, there is never a “letting go of” my own understanding where doctrine is concerned. Either the doctrine aligns with my personal interpretation, or, I find a new church.

The Catholic ultimately makes a decision to give up personal authority in favor of Christ’s authority. The Catholic submits to Christ by submitting to the teachings of Christ’s Church (even when those teachings are “hard sayings” not easily understood through diligent study). This is not blind faith void of reason. It is a reasonable trust in the authority of Jesus.

The Protestant must ultimately cling to personal, fallible authority in order to claim submission to the authority of the Bible (an authority the Bible does not claim for itself). Unlike the Catholic, there is not a “letting go of” personal authority for the Protestant. The personal authority must remain in order to empower any potential “protest.” This dynamic may serve democracy well, but the Church is not, and never has been, a democracy. For the Church, it results in continuous fragmentation as people do what is right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25).

“What Would Jesus Do?” Try Asking, “What Did Jesus Do?”

“What would Jesus do?”

The answer to that question often depends on who you ask.  It’s a question that fits nicely into the relativistic mind of our age.  It allows each of us to thoughtfully rub our chins, look up at the sky and say, “Well, I believe Jesus would…”  So, the question is really just Jiminy Cricket’s “follow your conscience” line wearing a Christian mask.  It is relativism presented as religion.  Whatever answer you come up with is as good as anyone else’s answer as long as we are all “sincere.”

Often, the honest answer to the question “What would Jesus do?” is “I really don’t know.”  His disciples lived with him for three years and Jesus constantly kept them surprised and guessing.  Why are we so convinced that we have Jesus pegged?  For example, it astounds me when celebrities claim to know what Jesus would or would not approve of, as if being a famous celebrity makes one an authority on the mind of Christ.

When we ask, “What would Jesus do?” we can only think and act hypothetically.  We can only speculate and take our best guess.  Maybe we’re helping, maybe we’re doing harm.  What if we decide to do the exact opposite of what Jesus would actually do?  Our world faces daily situations for which there are no explicit instructions in the Bible.  Dealing in general, biblical principles does not always provide enough specifics.  Asking what Jesus would do often doesn’t help much.

Perhaps a more helpful question is, “What did Jesus do?”  There are documented answers to that question.  In terms of what our world faces today, an important answer is, “Jesus established an authoritative, teaching Church to guide us and to spiritually feed us.”  In the midst of all the confusion over what Jesus would do, we have a Church to inform us of what we as followers of Jesus in this present day are to do and what we are not to do.

I sometimes hear people defend immorality by stating that the Bible is silent or ambiguous about certain modern day issues.  Of course it is!  Jesus never told his disciples to write a book to instruct us on every possible, future, moral issue.  Jesus established a Church (only one Church) with the authority to provide us with those instructions on faith and morals.  Jesus did not establish multiple church denominations to speculate and argue about what He might or might not do.  Men established those churches (some very recently).

God is not the author of confusion.  Jesus did not leave us with a Bible, the Holy Spirit and hypothetical questions about what He would do.  He left us with His Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, to lead us into all truth.  Does this mean we always have every answer to every question?  No.  Does it mean we put it to a vote when we are confused about what Jesus would do?  No (Christianity is not a democracy).  It means that by following His Church we are following Jesus.  We are to strive for obedience to the faith, not speculation.

It comes down to trust (i.e. faith).  Either we trust with all our heart that Jesus knew what He was doing when He established the Church (trust what He did), or we try to constantly change the Church to conform to our speculations about what Jesus would do (lean on our own understanding and feelings).

Where Did The Authority Go?

There are two ideas that I encounter over and over again in my conversations with non-Catholic Christians.  The first idea is that, for whatever reason, the Catholic Church does not possess apostolic authority.  The second is that Christians should only believe what can be explicitly found in scripture, because the Bible is the final authority.  I would like to reflect on these two ideas that I myself once held.

If apostolic authority died with the last Apostle, then no one has apostolic authority.  No Catholic, no Protestant, no Evangelical or Fundamentalist has apostolic authority.  Hence, no one since the Apostles has had the authority to tell anyone what to believe or what not to believe about the Bible, including its contents.

The early Christians had to believe what the Apostles told them.  But, the Apostles died.  So, what happened to their authority?  How could they continue to “tell” Christians what to believe?  How would the Holy Spirit guide and unify the Church without the Apostles?  Here are a few options:  1) Apostolic authority was transferred to the successors of the Apostles.  2) Apostolic authority was transferred to the Bible.  3) A combination of the two.

If authority was transferred only to the Apostles’ successors, then there would be little point in writing things down (like the Gospels, for example).  So there must be at least some apostolic authority contained within the writings of the Apostles.  After all, if the Apostle has authority, his writings will, too.

If authority was transferred only to the writings of the Apostles, then it would make sense to include that information in the writings.  For example, the apostles should have written down something that says, “When we are all dead, our authority will reside only in these written documents” or, “Only believe what is explicitly written in this future collection of writings and nothing else,” or “The Bible is now your final authority.”  The problem is that the Bible makes no claim that it is the final authority for the Christian upon the death of the last apostle or at any other point in time.  Although the Bible claims to be “profitable” it does not claim to have “the final say” or to be entirely “sufficient.”  Plus, the Church went 400 years without an officially assembled Bible.

Non-Catholic Christians (with few exceptions) have largely rejected the idea that the authority of the Apostles was transferred to successors.  Therefore, unlike the early Christians, there are no men that these Christians are ultimately accountable to.  They are essentially free to discern the Bible on their own and believe what they wish.  If they disagree with one church, they can find a different one.  While many of them claim submission to their respective church leadership, there is really no reason for them to do so in matters of faith and morals.  Why submit to leadership when each Christian can decide what to believe?  “Leadership” therefore becomes limited to the logistical and administrative needs of each church.  In this scenario, apostolic authority on faith and morals (limited now to only the Bible) takes a back seat to the beliefs of individual Christians.  Christians now tend to submit to leadership that aligns with what they believe.  This is the opposite of the early Church where individual Christians were expected to line up with the unified teaching of the Apostles.

Catholics, believing that the Apostles transferred their Christ-given authority to successors, are expected to behave as the early Christians did.  They are expected to fall in line with God’s written Word as well as the teachings delivered by men with apostolic authority.  In this scenario, apostolic authority is still in the driver’s seat.  Individual Christians are expected to remain in the back seat and submit to the teachings of Church leadership, just like when the apostles were alive.  In other words, the apostles “live on” in their successors who are able to clarify their writings and apply them to the present day life of the Church.  This has continued for 2000 years.

The authentic Catholic Christian, like the early Christian does not search for a church that aligns with his or her individual conclusions about the Bible.  Rather, like the early Christians, the authentic Catholic is obedient to Christ through obedience to Christ’s Church (which includes the Bible).  The Bible is not the “container” which holds all things Christian.  The Church is the “container” which holds all things Christian, and the Bible is inside that container (aka the Deposit of Faith).  The Bible points the Christian back to the Church as the “pillar and ground of the truth.” (1Tim 3:15)  The Bible never places itself over and above the Church’s authority, or demands that the Christian reject the Church and submit only to the authority of Bible.  The Bible and the Church together are a coordinated, apostolic authority.  It is not either/or, it is both/and.

The Catholic Church must possess apostolic authority in order to have assembled and affirmed the contents of the Bible 400 years after the Apostles died.  The Catholic Church declared which writings were inspired and which were not.  It makes no sense to reject the apostolic authority of the Catholic Church and then claim that the Bible contains apostolic authority for the Christian.  It is inconsistent to say, “I only believe what is in the Bible, but I don’t believe that the Church that assembled that Bible has apostolic authority.”  That is akin to saying, “I believe the Gospel of John, but I don’t believe John had apostolic authority.”

Assembling the Bible was as important as writing the Bible.  Without the Church’s apostolic authority, we could all pick and choose whether or not we think the book of James or the Gospel of Thomas belongs in the New Testament.  Why not rely only on the words spoken by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel?  Why not accept Peter’s writings but reject Paul’s?  When you dump the Catholic Church’s apostolic authority, everything else is up for grabs, including the Table of Contents of your Bible.

Apostolic authority was promised by Christ to the Church.  It is not transient, it is permanent.  It is not something that can be “lost” and then “picked up” by another church, for Jesus established only one Church and promised to remain with that Church.  Bad people in the Church cannot cause apostolic authority to “go away.”  It is the authority of Christ, given by Christ.  Jesus never said that the authority given to the Apostles would someday go away or be confined to a book.  The Apostles never taught that, either.  They appointed new men to fill vacant offices (Acts 1:20-26).

If the Catholic Church does not have apostolic authority, then no one has apostolic authority.  That authority died with the Apostles, and the Bible doesn’t have it, either.  It’s just a collection of old writings that may or may not have been inspired by God, put together by a false religion that calls itself Christian.  If that’s the case, it really doesn’t make sense to believe what is in the Bible.  On the other hand, if the Catholic Church does have apostolic authority, then it is reasonable to believe the things that are explicitly stated in the Bible as well as all of the other official teachings of the Catholic Church.  It’s all apostolic teaching.

Ultimately, for the Catholic, it comes down to trusting Christ to hold it all together in spite of our imperfections.  “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” (2Cor 4:7)  Jesus, I trust in thee.

The Thoroughly Furnished Christian (2Tim 3:16-17)

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

Does this verse indicate that the Bible is all I need in order to be a good Christian?  Does having only my Bible make me “thoroughly furnished” and “perfect” in my doctrine?  “The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword…” (Hebrews 4:12).  But is a sword the only equipment a soldier requires to be “thoroughly furnished?”  Is Paul telling Timothy, “All you need is your Bible?”

Soldiers require lots of things in order to be effective.  Imagine the U.S.A. sending troops overseas with nothing but their rifles.  The soldiers would have no training, no clothes, no helmets, no armor, no food, and no water.  They might not even have proper officers.  Sound silly?  Well, it takes more than a sword to be fully equipped.  However, soldiers with all the gear and provisions, but no rifles are also not fully equipped.  Paul is not telling Timothy, “All you need is your Bible to be fully equipped.”  He is telling Timothy, “In order to be “perfect” and “fully equipped,” you need to add the Bible to the rest of your essential gear.”  The sword is profitable but not sufficient by itself.

Ephesians 6:13-17 sheds some light on this principle:

“Take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:”

The word of God, the sword of the Spirit, is not the only necessary item on the list.  It is part of an ensemble.  The Christian needs more than just a Bible.  The Christian also needs “truth,” and “righteousness,” and “the gospel of peace,” and “faith,” and “salvation.”  The Bible is not the “whole armor of God.”  The Bible is one piece of essential equipment. 

For example, if one has a Bible, but misinterprets it, then one’s loins are not girt with truth.  Instead, one is wearing heresies and falsehoods.  Heresies and falsehoods do not promote faith, righteousness, peace or salvation.  They also help the wicked rather than quench the fiery darts of the wicked.  How then, does one obtain truth from the scriptures?

The Apostle, Philip, saw a man sitting in his chariot reading scripture.  Philip asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?  The man said, “How can I except some man should guide me?” (Acts 8:31)  He had the same scriptures as Timothy, but he was obviously not “thoroughly furnished” with “the whole armor of God.”  He did not yet have truth, or faith, or righteousness, or peace, or salvation.  He needed a man with apostolic tradition and authority to teach him.

Paul says in 2Thess 2:15, “Stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”  Having the “sword” is not enough.  A soldier must be properly trained to wield it.  Otherwise, there is a good chance you will cut yourself or others.  The Apostle Peter tells us that there are things in scripture that are hard to understand, and that untrained people use the scriptures to their own destruction (2Peter 3:16).  We need the scriptures.  However, to be thoroughly furnished, we also need proper training lest we fall upon our swords and slay ourselves.

Catholicism has it all.  If you want to be “thoroughly furnished,” we have the scriptures and the truth, and the righteousness, and the gospel of peace, and the faith, and the salvation.  We also have the authority to provide proper training free from heresies and falsehoods.  It is the same authority used by Paul, Peter and Philip.  It is the apostolic authority given by Christ himself.  No other church has it all.  Be “thoroughly furnished.”  Be Catholic.

Wait…Jesus Said To OBEY The Scribes And Pharisees? What..?

In Mathew 23:1-3 Jesus says (paraphrase), “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: therefore, do all that they tell you to do; but don’t behave the way they do, for they don’t follow their own teachings.”  There are several points here to reflect on.

1)      Jesus was not anti-religion, he was anti-hypocrisy.  Jesus followed his Jewish religion perfectly (unlike the hypocrites).  Jesus never said he came to abolish religion.  Jesus came to fulfill the Jewish religion, not to get rid of it.  When people say, “Religion is bad but Jesus is good,” they are mistaken.  Jesus is good and so is his religion.

2)      Jesus recognized and validated the office held by the scribes and the Pharisees.  God established the seat of Moses.  It was an office of authority.  An earthly person (Moses) held an office of God-given authority.  Furthermore, that office had successors.  The scribes and the Pharisees had God-given authority because they were the successors of Moses, not because they were good men.  What we see here is the biblical principle that it is God, not men that establishes and preserves the earthly office of authority.  Men behaving badly can still validly occupy an office of God-given authority and use that authority to establish and teach doctrines and traditions (binding and loosing).  Jesus teaches obedience to men who sit on a seat authorized directly by God.

3)      The teachings of the scribes and Pharisees were not made invalid by their hypocrisy.  Notice that Jesus did not say, “Rebel against and disobey the scribes and Pharisees because they are hypocrites who won’t even follow their own teachings.”  Quite the opposite was true.  Jesus taught obedience to their God-given authority.

4)      The scribes and Pharisees “made the word of God of no effect” through their tradition (Mark 7:13).  Having the tradition wasn’t the problem.  Their attitude was the problem.  They “rejected the commandment of God” (verse 9).  Tradition is good if one is not rejecting the commandment of God.  After all, Jesus and his family followed Jewish tradition.  They were religious!  One can take most any religious tradition and either glorify God or reject God through that tradition.  It’s about one’s attitude.

5)      As stated above, Jesus validated the seat of Moses as an earthly authority from God.  In fact, he liked the idea so much that he fulfilled and perfected it for the New Covenant by creating the chair of Peter.  Again, God protects this office and provides successors for it.  Even a scoundrel of a pope cannot negate the authority of this office.  God protects the official teachings of the Church from error through the Holy Spirit, not through the impeccable behavior of men.  That is what the infallibility of the papacy means.  The same Holy Spirit that keeps error out of the Bible also protects the papacy.  God the Father directly authorized the seat of Moses.  God the Son directly authorized the Chair of Peter.

6)      Protestantism has the Bible, but it has no seat of earthly authority like the seat of Moses or the Chair of Peter.  This is, ironically, unbiblical.  The rejection of God-given Church authority has resulted in division and a multitude of opposing doctrines.  It is popular today to claim Jesus while rejecting religious authority.  Jesus taught the opposite.  To obey the God-given seat of authority is to obey God.  Obey Jesus by obeying his Church.

7)      Catholicism does not create traditions of men that “make the word of God of no effect.”  Read the Catholic Catechism honestly and you will discover that Church teachings flow from and compliment the Scriptures.  The Bible and Sacred Tradition are both apostolic.  They go together.

8)      Catholicism does not “heap heavy burdens upon men that even the religious leaders can’t bear.”  Read the Catholic Catechism and you will discover that Church teachings are about holiness and a relationship with Jesus, not legalistic rules and regulations.  There is nothing about being Catholic that “can’t be done” by the clergy or by the laity.  There may be things people don’t want to do, but that’s all about attitude and obedience.  If you live a Catholic life with the proper attitude you will grow ever closer to Christ.  Catholicism is all about receiving the grace of Jesus and sharing him with the world and with each other.