Scripture and Authority

“In the final analysis, is the ultimate, unquestioned authority for the church found in the Apostolic words of sacred Scripture or in the body of teachers who currently serve as overseers of God’s flock?” The Reformers affirmed “that Scripture alone is the ultimate, authoritative revelation of God; the church does not have authority on an equal footing with Scripture.”

                “However, the Roman Catholic Church holds to a ‘dual-source theory’ in which there are two sources of special revelation, one of which is Scripture and the other of which is the tradition of the church. This theory has the effect of placing the church on an equal footing with the Bible itself in terms of authority.”

                “So, the Roman Catholic Church appeals to both the tradition of the church and the Bible for its doctrine,” and therefore, when “a particular doctrine falls under scrutiny, Protestants want to establish their position strictly on the authority of the Bible, whereas Rome wants to include the renders of church councils or papal encyclicals. We see this with issues such as the immaculate conception of Mary

Although no such doctrine is found anywhere in the Scriptures, Roman Catholics establish the doctrine on the basis of tradition.

                “In response to those who uphold sola Scriptura, the Roman Catholic Church argues that since it was by the church’s decision that certain books were formally included in the canon, the authority of the Bible is subject to the authority of the church and, in a very real sense, the Bible derives its abiding authority from the even greater authority of the church itself…. The Reformers restricted binding authority to the Scriptures because they were convinced that the Scriptures are the Word of God, and that God alone can bind the conscience and has absolute authority.

                “The Roman Catholic Church does claim that God alone is the ultimate authority, but it argues that He has delegated that authority to the church, which is what they believe happened when Jesus said to Peter, ‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and gates of hell shall not prevail against it’ (Matt. 16:18). The authority of Peter and the Apostles then passed to their successors in what is called ‘Apostolic succession.’ Thus, “the bishop of Rome, the pope, sits in Peter’s place as his successor and so exercises the authority of Peter as Christ’s representative.”

                However, Protestants argue that “when the church embraces Christ as Lord, it is recognizing that Christ has authority as the head of the church and is therefore superior to any other part of the church.

                “In the process of finalizing the canon of Scripture, the church used a Latin term, recipemus, which means ‘we receive.’ This indicates that the church was not so arrogant as to claim that it was creating the canon or that the canon received its authority from the church. Rather, the church recognized that the books of the canon have binding authority over all…. That is exactly what the church did during the early centuries when it was involved in the process of formally recognizing the canon of Scripture [they recognized the authority that was already there].”

                “This does not mean that the church has no authority. State government and parents have authority, but those authorities have been delegated by God. They do not have the absolute authority that goes with God’s own Word. So any authority held by the church is subordinate to the authority of Scripture.”

[Adapted from Everyone’s a Theologian by R.C. Sproul]