The question posed to me: “What verse do you understand Christ’s promise to lead His Church into all truth to have been partially bestowed upon the authority of counsels and the pope?”
If we want to identify the Church in Scripture with the Church of today, or the post-apostolic Church for that matter, we will have to employ a little deductive reasoning.
(Regarding the question above, it might be a useful exercise to reverse it. Instead of asking why we would identify councils and popes with the promises to the Church, we might instead ask what verse indicates Christ’s promises to have been partially bestowed upon whoever happens to be reading?)
So who is the Church? How do I identify it? Can this identification be made from Scripture?
Scripture can tell me to obey my mother and father, but it does not identify my mother and father. To expect it to do so is to misuse Scripture. Likewise, Scripture can tell me how to identify the Church, but, due to the nature of a written text, it cannot make this identification for me.
Some verses helpful in identifying the true Church, each followed by my commentary.
Matthew 7:15-20 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”
We are given a standard here by which to identify the true and false Church. Of course, we will have to take other verses into account in identifying ‘good and bad fruit.’
Hebrews 13:17 “17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing—for that would be harmful to you.”
We see here that there are leaders, which we must identify and submit to.
John 15:1-17 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansedby the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
Much in these verses can be brought to bear on this conversation. We see Jesus identify Himself as the vine and His apostles as the fruit-bearing branches of the vine (v. 5). In order for these fruit-bearing branches to remain viable, i.e. fruit-bearing, they must remain attached to the vine (v.6). We see also that these branches are not self-chosen, but appointed (v. 16). We see promises given to this appointment, mainly that “the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name” (v. 16).
Acts 1:15-26 “15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, 16 “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms,
‘Let his homestead become desolate,
and let there be no one to live in it’;
‘Let another take his position of overseer.’
21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” 23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.”
We see here the principle of apostolic succession, whereas later on in Timothy (3:1-7) we see the establishment of Church hierarchy, including bishops and elders (or priests), and in Titus (1:5-9) we see directives to make these appointments according to apostolic precepts and authority, whereas in Matthew 16:18 we see Jesus’s promise that “the gates of hell” will not prevail against the Church that the apostles will build.
Because of these verses, among others, I am hard-pressed to conclude other than that there ought to be a church in the world today that can be identified with the Church of Scripture, and very hard-pressed, due to both Scripture, history, reason, and personal experience, to make a case for any church but the Roman Catholic Church. The final proof is in the pudding, as they say, and I have found life from within Church walls more than convincing.
- I will add additional notes here, as the conversation unfolds.
- Sir, I have had additional thoughts which I think will weigh heavily on this conversation, which can be summed up by the following: you are describing the transmission of knowledge, how knowledge is transmitted, in a way that is contrary to Scripture, nature, and reason. If you want specific scriptures, I would say all of them, because, while I am aware that you believe this individualist manner of study is what Scripture proscribes, I am not aware of anywhere in Scripture where what you are endorsing actually occurs. Instead, I see what is consistent with life and nature: we learn from the apostles because they are with us through the Church, and Christ through them, “even to the end of the age.” If I want you to be what I am, to follow me, I walk with you. I do not simply tell you how. This is the truth of the gospel as Christ walked with the apostles, the truth of parenthood as parents raiser children, the truth of nature, and the truth of Scripture.
- It is not the living truth that changes, but challenges to the truth. The truth must be responsive, adaptive, and developmental in order to meet those challenges. We must not see this ability to adapt, develop, and respond as demerits against the truth, but as proof of its life.