During this time I remember visiting my mom and finally conceding that indeed the doctrine of scripture alone was flawed at its best and unbiblical at its worst. Those who truly know me and my sometimes (ok, often) prideful heart, know that this was a humbling moment for me. Admitting that I’d been wrong about such an important doctrine was a hard thing to do. But when it came down to it, my pride was not what mattered; what mattered was “truth.” In light of this, how could I not humble myself and admit that despite all the time I’d spent studying the Bible as a teen, young adult and as a woman in her thirties I’d been wrong about such an important doctrinal matter. It was, for me, a humiliating admission.
This admission left Scott and me with some serious questions to which we needed answers. If the Bible does not teach that the Bible alone is the final authority on matters of faith and morals then what or who is? If individual, private interpretation of the Word alone is not where and how we come up with doctrinal truth then how do we know what truth is?
While at my parents house that day I picked up a book from their kitchen counter called “Surprised by Truth” (Edited by Patrick Madrid). It was a compilation of testimonies from converts and “re-verts” to the Catholic Church. The title caught my attention because well, “truth” was the very issue with which we were struggling. But the subtitle, “…converts and re-verts share the historical and Biblical reasons for becoming Catholic,” made my stomach turn. At this point the Catholic Church wasn’t even a blip on our radar screen. I was still inclined to think it was a church based on legalistic doctrines and erroneous beliefs. Which is why Scott and I continued to actively engage my parents in arguments as to why they should not become Catholic. After reading the subtitle I was ready to put the book down but something in me couldn’t and before I knew what I was saying, I asked my mom if I could take it home and look it over.
As a mother of a three month old I had plenty of time to read and study while she napped. In this regard the timing of this journey was just right for me. Had I still been teaching as well as coaching and traveling with the speech and debate team at the college I don’t know that I would have had the time to study the way I needed to. During Claire’s frequent naps I would sit on the couch and read portions of these testimonies. The book in one hand and my Bible in another. Any time a scripture was referenced I would look it up and carefully scrutinize the author’s interpretation of scripture and use of scripture to defend their belief. It was a long and tedious process.
With each testimony I read I was confronted with reasonable historical and scriptural support for Catholic doctrine. Although I knew in my head that scripture alone was not a valid argument for dismissing their beliefs I still struggled with this in my heart. It’s one thing to acknowledge something intellectually but quite another to embrace it in your heart and to apply it. That is how it was for me as I came to grips with the truth about the doctrine of scripture alone. Scripture alone had been a lifelong way of understanding my faith. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t logical or couldn’t be supported by the Bible; it was ingrained in my “theological worldview.” And that’s not something that changes overnight. This was very apparent as I read these testimonies.
More than a few times I read the testimonies and their Biblical arguments for certain Catholic doctrines through my “reformed theology lenses” and put the book down in disgust, thinking this is wrong. But deep inside the Holy Spirit was speaking to me,
“Amy, who are you to say the Catholic interpretation of scripture is wrong?…If you still believe in sola scriptura then you believe the Holy Spirit leads each individual to interpret scripture. So, how can you say you’re reformed view of scripture is “right” and they are wrong? What authority do you have to say this is or isn’t truth?
I responded to the Lord by saying, “but the Catholic Church can’t be right Lord. They believe things that aren’t even in Scripture.” And then the Holy Spirit hit me upside my head and heart with a two by four…”So do you Amy.”
At that point the Lord brought to mind a passing converstaion I’d had with my father. It had to do with the books of the Bible and the canonization of scripture. To the best of my recollection the conversation went something like this:
Dad: Amy, are you sure all of your Christians beliefs are based on the Bible alone.
Dad: Ok, then tell me something, where in the Bible does it say that the letter to the Philippians written by Paul is inspired and should be considered as scripture?
Amy: Ah, come on Dad, we all know that Philippians is one of the books of the New Testament.
Dad: Yes, we do but tell me, how do we know this? For that matter, how do we know that the book of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are inspired and should be considered scripture?
Amy: Well, they’re inspired so they’re in the Bible. (I pretty much new this was circular reasoning but I didn’t have any other answer to give.)
Dad: Yes, they are inspired but can you show me anywhere in the Bible that these books claim to be the inspired Word of God? Can you show me where in all the writings of the Bible God inspired one of the authors to write down a table of contents so that we would know which of the early church writings should become scripture?
Dad: So, you believe that the books of the Bible are God inspired and should be considered scripture and yet a list of these books is no where to be found in scripture?
Amy: Yes (I said this with a bit of resignation)
Dad: So, this belief that the books of the Bible are the inspired Word of God is not based on anything you can find in scripture?
Amy: That’s correct. (I said this with even more resignation)
Dad: So, it’s safe to say your belief in the Bible is based on a tradition that has been handed down to you from men in the church.
Amy: I suppose so. (Ugh, he used the “t” word.)
Dad: Amy, do you know how the 66 books that you recognize as the Bible came to be considered scripture.
Amy: No. I guess I’ve never given it much thought. You and mom gave me a Bible and taught me it was the inspired Word of God.
Dad: I would encourage you to spend some time learning about the history of the Bible and how these writings, which were among numerous writings used by the early church, came to be called scripture.
End of conversation.
That’s my dad. He’s never been one to tell you all the answers. I’d conveniently forgotten about the conversation. Probably because he pointed out that my belief in the Bible was based on tradition, the very standard by which I’d judged Catholics and the Catholic faith.
God used the recollection of this conversation and the testimonies I was reading to lead me to begin to study the history of the church. With the exception of reading the Bible and a small amount of exposure to the history of the Reformation, I’d never really given much thought to the history of the church, especially the early church. Obviously I’d never given thought to how the books of the Bible came to be called scripture. I most definitely never gave any thought to the fact that Bible was based on tradition. I knew I needed to learn more. And so began my journey back into history of the Christian church…