Sunday, August 1, 2010

What do you mean, "The Church is the mother of the Bible"?

Dear Rev. Know it all,
Did I hear you correctly? The Church is the mother of the Bible? 
I feel compelled to write. Your statement implies that the Church has more authority than scripture. To say that the Roman Catholic Church is the only institution that can interpret the Bible because they were the “compilers..., editors..., authors... and guardians of the Bible" is false and misleading.  Moreover, your statement has some very dangerous implications. We know that all scripture is "God breathed" and therefore inspired and divine regardless of who or how the books were compiled.
Just because the Church compiled the books, doesn't in anyway mean that the Church somehow gave scripture its authority. Scripture's authority comes from God, not the Church! Therefore scripture must be interpreted in light of scripture - not in light of tradition or any institution. You are making the very dangerous mistake of giving an institution equal authority to God's word, which is eternal. I strongly caution anyone who raises tradition and any institution to the level of scripture. I fear that many  people are in danger of hell because of a misplaced faith. I pray that you will take your responsibility seriously by leading people to true faith in Christ alone.
Calvin Zwingli
Dear Calvin,
Yep, you heard me right. The Church has more authority than the Bible. That's what the Bible says. 1Timothy, 3:15 “...the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth." Do you really believe that, “The scripture must interpreted in the light of scripture?!?” There are somewhere around 40,000 different Christian denominations in the world today, each of them a fruit of someone who disagreed with someone else’s interpretation of scripture. The scriptures are not self interpreting as Luther and Calvin and the reformers believed. The classic example are the genealogies of Jesus found in Matthew 1:1–17 and  Luke 3:23–38,
   In the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph’s father is Jacob, whose father is Matthan whose father is Eleazar. In the Gospel of Luke.   Joseph’s father is Eli, whose father is  Matthat  whose father is Levi.  Note that these are two completely different families until you get to King David.  Which Gospel is right and which is wrong? The relatives of Jesus explained the answer to an ancient Christian historian about a hundred years after the time of Christ. One was a legal genealogy and one was biological. In order to keep families from dying out there was something called levirate marriage and Joseph was the product of such a family.
My point is that without an external source this problem would be inexplicable. There are other problems with the genealogies, but if you’re Catholic, it’s not a big deal. We have always known that the Bible has to be understood in the light of customs and context. We have always taught that there are levels of meaning and that there are parables and allegories, as well as history in the Bible. The Bible is full of fact and poetry. The problem is, who gets to say what’s poetry and what’s history? 
What do we mean by “Roman Catholic” anyway? The “Roman” is relatively new.  It was given us by Protestants. Around 1620, King James I (of King James Bible fame) was trying to wangle a wedding for his son Charles with the princess of Spain in a diplomatic fiasco called “the Spanish Match.” He referred to the Spaniards as Roman Catholics. Before that, we were just Catholics and before that were just the Church. After the Reformation, Roman Catholic was used to refer to those groups in union with the pope in Rome.
The use of the word Catholic referring to the Church goes back to the first days of the Church. “Catholic” is the Greek word for universal, or worldwide. It is only one of the four “marks” or qualities of the Church. She is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, not just Catholic. Catholic is only one of her four titles, or attributes. 
The earliest recorded  use of the term “Catholic Church" is found in the Letter to the Smyrnaeans written by Ignatius of Antioch about 107AD. “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be. In the same way, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church."  So Catholic is an ancient term, but for one thousand years, there was just “the Church.” She was called Catholic to differentiate her from the little sects that rose up now and then like the Nicolaitians or Docetists or ... a hundred other little groups with their own special interpretations of Christianity.
Though there were different styles of liturgy, there was essentially one worldwide understanding of the Gospel that involved the sacramental system and a hierarchical structure.  There were different centers of Christianity, principally Alexandria, Antioch and Rome from the beginning, but Rome was always looked at as the source of the authoritative teaching. The Church of Rome had been founded by Paul and Peter, especially Peter to whom Christ had given the keys of the kingdom. The first Christians believed this.
Around 175AD, St. Irenaeus of Lyon wrote “Against Heresies.” In it he said that Rome was the Church with which all other churches had to agree. He was a Greek bishop in France who had been educated by a disciple of St. John. He certainly didn’t invent the idea of the primacy of Rome. He inherited it.
The bishops of Jerusalem and Constantinople were given the status of patriarchs in 451 AD. The council of Constantinople in 381 tried to say that  "The Bishop of Constantinople shall have the primacy of honor after the Bishop of Rome.” At first, the other patriarchates, Rome, Antioch and Alexandria didn’t sign off on the idea.  Constantinople was founded in 330AD as the new capital of the Roman empire. Why should the new kid on the block be recognized as a patriarch? Jerusalem had been the first Church, but she had been wiped out around 135 AD by the Romans and her members had blended in with the Syrian (Antioch). Still, Jerusalem had been a Church at the time of the apostles. So, in the end there were five: Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and the new guy, Constantinople.  But they were all “the Church.” and so it endured for the first thousand years.
By the year 1000AD, Rome was a malarial swamp with maybe 10 or 20 thousand inhabitants. Constantinople was a city of a million people who actually took regular baths. Why should the new Rome bow before the old Rome? They had been growing apart for years and finally the break came in 1054. The Roman emperor in Constantinople spoke Greek by then and not Latin. He and his bishop went their own merry way, and pretty much took Antioch with them, but the Eastern and Western Churches still thought of themselves as one Church. Alexandria had been in a huff about the nature of Christ since the fourth century anyway. Things changed pretty fast however. The Muslims overwhelmed the east and the great churches of Alexandria, Antioch and Constantinople lost their freedom. At the same time, the Roman Church took off among the barbarians (my ancestors). The Visigoths kicked the Muslims out of Spain and Spain eventually brought the faith to half the world. 
Despite all the unpleasantness, these different churches recognized each other as “the Church” united despite her squabbles, holding essentially the same theology, the same liturgical kind of worship and all sharing ordination and authority from the apostles delegated by Jesus.  Over the years, some groups within the Byzantine and Eastern Churches have once again recognized the teaching authority of the bishop of Rome. They are known as Uniate, or Eastern Catholic Churches. Fasten your seat belts. The groups who have returned to reunion with Rome are as follows:
The Alexandrian Churches are:
  1) Coptic Catholic Church
2) Ethiopic Catholic Church.
The Antiochian or West Syrian Churches are:
1)Maronite Church
2) Syrian Catholic Church
3)Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. 
The Chaldean or East Syrian Churches are:
1) Chaldean Catholic Church
2) Syro-Malabar Church (in India, dating back to the Apostle Thomas)
The Byzantine (Constantinopolitan) Churches are:
1) Albanian Byzantine Catholic Church 
2) Belarusian Greek Catholic Church 
3) Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church  
4) Byzantine Church of the Eparchy of Križevci
5) Greek Byzantine Catholic Church 
6) Hungarian Greek Catholic Church
7) Italo -Albanian Catholic Church 
8) Macedonian Greek Catholic Church 
9) Melkite Greek Catholic Church  
10) Romanian Church United with Rome, Greek-Catholic
11) Russian Byzantine Catholic Church  
12) Ruthenian Catholic Church 
13)Slovak Greek Catholic Church  
14)Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
And we can’t forget the Armenian Catholic Church. The Armenian Church started in 301 when St. Gregory the Illuminator, baptized King Trad. Gregory was from the Syrian tradition, but there are elements of the Greek and Latin Churches in the Armenian Church and it really is its own rite, though it most resembles the Syrian tradition. These along with the Latin rite, (us) are usually known as the Roman Catholic Church.
Then around 500 years ago in Europe, something really unpleasant happened: the Reformation. Not that the reformers didn’t have a point. The Church in Europe had really gotten caught up in European politics and needed reform. Everyone agreed on that. The problem was that a German priest (Luther), decided to do it his own way. He not only disagreed with the money and the politics, he disagreed with almost everything about basic theology. Things went from bad to worse. A French lawyer (Calvin) jumped into the fray. They both decided to reform the Church in their own way. Since then about 40,000 people have decided to reform the Church in their own way and the results have no historical or doctrinal continuity with what the apostles started.
So, who has the duty and ability to make sure the scriptures are understood? When you say that the Church is the “pillar and foundation of truth," which Church do you mean? Does the text apply to the Church in Ephesus which no longer exists? Do you mean the Greek Orthodox (founded 1054 by the Bishop of Constantinople, a city which didn't even exist when Paul and Peter were martyred in Rome? Or Lutheran (1517 Martin Luther in Germany) or  Anabaptist (1521 Nicholas Storch &Thomas Munzer, Germany) or Anglican (1534 Henry VII England and his charming wife Anne Boleyn) or Mennonites (1536 Menno Simons, Switzerland) or Calvinist (1555 John Calvin, Switzerland) or Presbyterian (1560 John Knox, Scotland) or  Congregational (1582 Robert Brown, Holland) or Baptist (1609 John Smyth, Amsterdam) or Dutch Reformed (1628 Michaelis Jones, New York) or Congregationalist (1648 Pilgrims and Puritans, Massachusetts) or Quakers (1649 George Fox, England) or Amish (1693 Jacob Amman, France) or  Methodist (1739 John & Charles Wesley, England) or Unitarian (1774 Theophilus Lindey, London) or Methodist Episcopal (1784 by 60 Preachers in Baltimore, MD) or Episcopalian (1789 Samuel Seabury, American Colonies) or United Brethren (1800 Philip Otterbein & Martin Boehn, Maryland) or Disciples of Christ (1827 Thomas & Alexander Campbell, Kentucky) or Mormon (1830 Joseph Smith, New York) or Methodist Protestant (1830 by break away Methodists,United States) or Church of Christ (1836 Warren Stone & Alexander Campbell, Kentucky) or Seventh Day Adventist (1844 Ellen White, Washington, NH) or Christadelphian or Brethren of Christ (1844 John Thomas, Richmond, VA) or Salvation Army (1865 William Booth, London) or Holiness (1867 Methodist, United States) or Jehovah's Witnesses (1874 Charles Taze Russell, Pennsylvania) or Christian Science (1879 Mary Baker Eddy, Boston) or Church of God in Christ (1895, by a convention in Arkansas) or Church of Nazarene (1850-1900 Pilot Point, TX) or Pentecostal (1901 Charles F. Parham ,Topeka, KS) or Aglipayan (1902 Gregorio Aglipay, Philippines) or Assemblies of God (1914 by a convention in Hot Springs, AK ) or Iglesia ni Christo (1914 Felix Manalo, Philippines) or Four-square Gospel (1917 Aimee Semple McPherson, Los Angeles, CA) or United Church of Christ (1961 Reformed and Congregationalist convention in  Philadelphia, PA) or Calvary Chapel (1965 Chuck Smith, Costa Mesa, CA) or United Methodist (1968 by Methodist and United Brethren convention Dallas, TX) or Harvest Christian (1972 Greg Laurie, Riverside, CA) or Saddleback (1982 Rick Warren, California) or all the non-denominational denomination mega-churches that have sprouted up since the 1990's.
Or THE Church which is one, holy (despite the best efforts of some) universal (catholic, that is ) and apostolic, established by Jesus through the ministry of the Apostles in Jerusalem and in the city of Rome by Sts. Peter and Paul around 50-60 AD? You decide if there is an organization that has the historical and biblical right to call itself THE Church.
You worship God in your way and I'll worship Him in His.

Rev. Know-it-all 


  1. May I compliment you at the same time tell you we disagree at some points? I am extremely impressed with your knowledge of the history of "The Body of Christ". I was impressed that you mentioned "The Methodist Protestant" denomination since most Methodists do not know it even exists today. It still exists even after being almost forced into the "The Methodist Church" (now the United Methodist Church Church) in the union of 1939. Since each Church is autonomous there were no Bishops and church hierchy to force the denomination to join and each church could make their own decision. Thus, many did not join and continued with a democratic type of government. voting rights of laity and adheracne to Justification and Sanctification. Sanctification never voted on or accepted by the now United Methodist Church.
    Thank you for recognizing that a Biblical, democratic form of government and Wesleyan doctinal Methodist Church still exists.
    I probably feel closer to the Roman Catholic Church than many Protestants. I attended mass with my friend almost every morning in Enid, Oklahoma as a youth. I had a paper route that ended near the Roman Catholic Church and his began at the end of mine. We would throw my route together, go to mass, and then throw his route. His name was Jack Wagner. I have heard that his brother Bernard Wagner entered the Priesthood and since I have lost all contact if you could help with that my e-mail is
    I found your tretise very educational and informative. I think there could be a lot of discussion on moving the semantics from Catholic, Roman Catholic, Protestant, etc, etc. to a discussion of "The Body of Christ". The apostle Paul centered much of his communal Christianity thought around "The Body of Christ" which he seemed to use as synonomous to the "Church".
    I have been reading a great book by a Roman Catholic author, Paul Johnson, "A History of Christianity". I think this book should become a must reading for anyone who takes the name Christian. After several years in Seminary I worked for a firm where I visited many Seminaries of different denominations. I sat in on discussions and seminars on deep theological thought and as a result became liberal about doctrine and conservative about looking to scripture and not what someone wrote about scripture. I think your indicating influence of doctrinal differences by some bring about division in The Body of Christ" was "right on".
    I feel it would be nice if without semantics and titles it would be nice to REALLY study the early church. I think we would find most of the problems, not in the heart of man but rather in the governmental organization. Goverenment brings about law (doctrine). The law (doctrine) of the day crucified Christ. The abuses that have occured across the years in Christianity have been mainly because of the government of the organization not the love of Christ for one another that should exist.
    If Catholics, Protestants, Baptists (many who claim not to be Protestants) could all forget name tags and learn to love each other as Christ told his disciples to love one another. (John 13:34-35 we might be able to have a truly Christ centered Church (Body of Christ). That does not mean coming under one type of government or another as the church but rather coming together as brethren brought together by the Holy Spirit. (It might be well to remember the Holy Spirit, according to John, existed before the Bible or the Church. (another large theological discussion area)
    Please continue to "know it all" and give us a chance to think.

  2. Thank you for this interesting essay. Having studied Church history, the R.C. version, I am familiar with much of what you said. It is a good review, and some details I had not known, like all the lists of Eastern Rite Churches and Protestant/non-Catholic Christians. So thanks for that.

    I would love to read your response to "ThinkMethodist." Personally I think the Church needs governance. I base that on the concept or doctrine of Incarnation. One aspect of Church is material and temporal, and that part at least needs leaders, directors, etc. Also, the Lord Himself seemed to think leadership was needed, because he appointed Peter to be head of the Church. Even though the Holy Spirit exists eternally, He apparently saw fit to influence the development of the Church the way it has played out in time. Time isn't over, though, so I would expect the H.S. will have more to say to us.

  3. As someone raised in the Methodist tradition who converted to Catholicism after much study and prayer, I absolutely loved your eloquent and concise essay. I am in the process of reading Diarmaid MacCulloch's "Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years" so your writing is especially relevant to me right now. Thanks.


    No longer Free Methodist, but still free.