The teaching authority of the church is firmly rooted in sacred scripture

by Matt Slick

Following is a list of questions and statements sent to me by a Roman Catholic whose subject of the email was "The teaching authority of the church is firmly rooted in sacred scripture."  I've reproduced them here and answered them below.  There were 10 statements made.  I listed them all (in bold) and have responded after each one.

  1. The thousands we read about who were converted in Acts were converted through the teaching authority of the church.
    1. This statement is rather unclear.  What does the person mean by "the teaching authority of the church" in this context?  As would be consistent with Roman Catholic teaching, this person assumes that the Roman Catholic Church is the same as the church that began at Pentecost.  Of course, CARM rejects such an assumption since what the Roman Catholic Church teaches in many areas is clearly not biblical (i.e., Mary worship and adoration, The Mass, the Primacy of the Pope, Works Needed for Salvation, purgatory, etc.).  Still, the Catholic Catechism says that "the task of giving an authentic interpretation of the word of God . . . has been entrusted to a living teaching office of the church alone," (CCC 85).  I must conclude that this person thinks Acts 2 is about an earthly Church organization.  The problem is that it was not the teaching authority of the church that led to conversions.  It was the work of the Holy Spirit who came down upon the people who then were speaking with tongues (Acts 2:2-4), a spiritual gift for believers.  This happened before Peter preached his sermon (Acts 2:14-35) with the "teaching authority of the church."  So, it was not the teaching authority of the church that led to conversions.  It was the work of the Holy Spirit.
  2. "I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you" (1 Cor. 11:2).
    1. 1 Cor. 11:2, from the context, is dealing with avoiding idolatry (1 Cor. 10:23-31) and the issue of head coverings, authority, and prayer (1 Cor. 11:3-16).  In verses 17-22, Paul talks about the Lord's Supper.  Paul told the Corinthians to adhere to the things that he taught on these topics. It is not talking about some sacred tradition that is passed down through the church as the Roman Catholic Church claims.
  3. "Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us" (2 Tim. 1:13-14).
    1. Usually, Roman Catholics will use this verse to try to demonstrate that the Roman Catholic sacred tradition is being supported.  It isn't.  The text is speaking about following what Paul the apostle said--not about following the sacred tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.  The apostle Paul is no longer with us, so we need to follow scripture.
  4. "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter" (2 Thess. 2:15).
    1. This verse is not about sacred tradition in a church.  The specific context is about the return of Christ, and Paul is telling the Thessalonians that they need to follow the traditions that he has stated about Jesus' return.  The traditions were listed out and codified in Scripture.  Again, this is not about sacred tradition in the Roman Catholic Church.
  5. "You, then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:1-2).
    1. There is nothing in this verse about sacred tradition or the Catholic Magisterium (teaching authority).  Paul is instructing Timothy to raise up elders in the church who will correctly teach God's Word.  It is the teaching of Roman Catholicism that basically any verse in the Bible about trusting faithful men can be used to support the idea of Roman Catholic tradition.  But, when the context of the each verse is examined, we find that is not what is being taught.
  6. "Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink, but I hope to come to see you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete" (2 John 12).
    1. How this verse can be used to support the authority of the church and sacred tradition is not explained.  It was just cited, but it has no relevance to Roman Catholic authority and/or tradition.
  7. St. Paul states that the Church is "the pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15).
    1. Yes, Paul does state that the church is the pillar and foundation of the truth.  But what exactly is the church?  Is it the Roman Catholic hierarchical structure headquartered in Rome?  Or is it the body of believers regenerated by the Holy Spirit and made new creations (2 Cor. 5:17)?  The Roman Catholic Church assumes that an earthly organization, its own earthly organization, is the "true church."  This same type of claim is often made by many false groups, such as the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, who likewise claim to be the "only true church."  They do this in support of their own authority, so that whatever the "true church" teaches must be followed and believed.  The Roman Catholic Church is no different.  It points to itself as the authority.  See The Roman Catholic view of the Roman Catholic Church.
  8. Were is "bible alone" taught in scripture? 
    1. There is no verse that says "Bible alone," nor is there a verse that defines what the Trinity is either. Like many biblical doctrines, we look at the whole of Scripture to understand and proclaim what it teaches.  In Protestant theology, the word of God is inspired and sufficient (2 Tim. 3:16); and since we know that tradition is inconsistent (the early church fathers contradicted each other on many issues), we are forced to conclude that the Bible is the final authority in everything it addresses.
  9. Where does the Bible say that scripture alone is sufficient?
    1. The Bible doesn't use the term "Scripture alone is sufficient."  Again, this is a doctrine arrived at by looking at Scripture and seeing how Jesus quoted scripture--not tradition--when being tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11).  We see where Paul said the Bereans were noble-minded because they checked even what he said against Scripture (Acts 17:11).  We see that Paul says the Scriptures are inspired (2 Tim. 3:16) and sufficient.  Never is tradition given such a quality equal to scripture.
    2. Furthermore, the teaching of Scripture alone for the Protestant perspective does not mean that we do not look to church councils, tradition, or history.  We consider all of these things in understanding biblical truth.  But, we consider them all to be in subjection to the inspired word of God which we see, as is exemplified in the Scriptures, is the measure by which truth is determined.
  10. The only time the idea of Bible alone is mentioned in scripture is when it is condemned in 2 Pet. 1:20-21.
    1. 2 Pet. 1:20-21 says, " But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."  There is nothing in these verses that says anything about the Bible alone.  What they are saying is that scripture is not to be interpreted officially by one person but in the context of the Christian church.  It is God who moves us to know and understand his word.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.