The classic debate: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Christians should be asking the same kind of question…
The Bible or the Church, which one came first?
My Protestant upbringing taught me that in matters of faith everything, including the structure and ways of the Church, should come from the Bible alone, hence the phrase “Sola Scriptura” or Scripture Alone. Only that which fit into our interpretation of Scripture could be justified as truth or the way of doing things in the church.
Like most independent Protestant pastors, my pastor subscribed to Sola Scripture and based the structure and guidelines of his church on the Bible alone or rather his personal interpretation of the Bible. So for him (and others like him), the Bible came first and from that the Church was born or structured. Consequently my theological beliefs and faith journey were largely based on my own personal interpretation of Scripture and his teachings (which were based largely on my pastor’s interpretation of Scripture).
On the otherhand, the Catholic faith believes and teaches that Jesus first established the Church and gave it His authority to “bind and loose” while promising to protect the Church from the gates of hell (Matthew 16:17-19). It wasn’t until after this that the Bible was inspired and written by members of that Church and more than two centuries later was declared Sacred Scripture by the Church at the Council of Hippo in 393 A.D. During this time the Church was led and grew not under the teachings of the “Bible Alone” but by the Sacred Traditions protected by the Holy Spirit and passed from one generation of church leaders to the next.
This is why Catholics look to Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, the teaching Magisterium (authority) of the Church and the Holy Spirit to form their consciences on matters of faith and morals. Doctrinal truth and morality is never a matter of one’s personal interpretation or preferences. Nor is it a matter of one pastor’s interpretation or teaching.
All four (Tradition, Scripture, the Magisterium and the Holy Spirit) work together to help form our conscience when it comes to the faith. This is because Sacred Tradition and Scripture were both were born of the Church. Technically, the Bible itself comes from tradition because it was passed down to us by the Church, it was born out of the Church. We accept it as Sacred Scripture because the Church, led by the Spirit, declared it to be so.
Some might ask, what’s the big deal, why does it matter? Well…
If you say that the Church came first then it should have an impact on your faith journey and understanding of the Bible and Tradition.
If the Church really did come first and it had the authority to declare the Bible Sacred Word of God, then shouldn’t it also have that same authority in other matters of faith and morals? (i.e. Communion, birth control, divorce and re-marriage, baptism, Holy Orders or ordination?)
If you say that it doesn’t matter if the Church came first because the Bible alone is your authority then here are soem questions to consider…
At what point did Jesus take back the words He spoke to Peter? When did Jesus declare the Church no longer had the authority to “bind and loose?”
When did He say the authority to declare and define doctrinal and moral truth belonged to the Bible alone and our personal interpretation of its words?
And, if the Church, which compiled and canonized the Bible, has no binding authority, then how can you be sure the books of the Bible you read really are the Sacred Scripture? If the Church has no authority then why should we believe what this group of men, this teaching magisterium of the 4th century, says about these books? For all you know they could have picked the wrong books?
So, which came first, the Church or the Bible?
What do you believe and why?
And what difference does your belief make in your faith journey?