The chicken or the egg?

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?

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6 Responses to The chicken or the egg?

  1. J says:

    Lovely post A. Very thought provoking!

  2. Nick says:

    Good argument. What is so tragic about the Sola Scriptura position is that it *begins* with the notion ‘God abandoned His Church’ after the Apostles died, leaving us alone with this book, even though most Protestants don’t realize this. What’s even more ironic is that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura isn’t even taught in Scripture, meaning the Protestant has their own traditions (without knowing it!) which they project onto their reading of Scripture.

  3. David says:

    That is a good point. My only question is what happens if there is conflict between the four sources of Tradition, Scripture, the Magisterium and the Holy Spirit. I agree that all four are sources of truth, but what if there is ever a contradiction between any of the four sources? Is there a hierarchy between these four?

    • Amy says:

      David-

      It would seem that while I was busy preparing for and celebrating my daughter’s first Communion Nick took care of addressing your question. It’s a good question to ask. I think it’s one I asked when I first started studying the role of Tradition and the authority of the Church. Thanks for putting it out there. And thanks Nick for responding. I think he explained it well.

      Amy

  4. Nick says:

    David,

    There can be no power struggle or contradiction between Truth (true Truth) regardless of what form it comes it. Ultimately, it’s God working directly (Holy Spirit guiding the Church) or indirectly (Tradition, Scripture), so, again, it’s impossible for there to be contradiction.

    Further, not all four sources operate the same way, here is an analogy which St Francis de Sales made: Imagine a Painter, with a Brush, and Colors, and a Canvas. From the Catholic perspective, God is the Painter, the Brush is the Church, the Colors are Scripture and Tradition, and the Canvas is the Gospel.

    Now, would anyone argue there can be a power struggle or conflict between any one of these? Is the Brush more important than the Colors? No, one needs BOTH to paint the picture. Is the Church a purely human institution without Divine guidance? No, such is impossible.

  5. Amy says:

    Nick-

    I hadn’t read that analogy by De Sales. It’s great and works well for expressing how God works to lead and guide His Church on earth. De Sales was such a great defender of the faith, in word and in deed. He spoke the truth in love.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts while I’ve been MIA. My oldest received her first Communion this weekend so it’s been a busy season for us.

    Grace and peace to you.

    Amy

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