I think it was in January of 2002 that Scott and I began to dig deeper into church history. Our journey back into history was the final blow to our faith in the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. It was clear to us that the early church did not rely on nor teach this doctrine. And yet this was one of the bedrock beliefs of the reformed church we attended and most of the Protestant churches we visited. We hadn’t yet told our pastor we were leaving but we knew now more than ever that we couldn’t stay where we were. This left us wondering more and more where we belonged.
There is a quote by Cardinal John Henry Newman, a well known 19th century English convert to the Catholic Church, that explains why we felt so out of place.
“To go deep into history is to cease to be Protestant.”
Although we never would have said that we weren’t Protestants—after all, we were still protesting a great deal about the Catholic Church in our debates with my parents–our study of early church history raised more questions than ever about the Protestant beliefs we’d accepted for all our lives.
We studied numerous subjects at one time. I was so eager to find answers. One Sunday we debated baptism with my parents over dinner which sent us on a in depth study of baptism (more on that later). Over another Sunday dinner we talked about communion. These two debates with my parents caused us to read a book that challenged my thinking on these two sacraments, Crossing the Tiber: Evangelicals Discover the Historical Church, by Stephen Ray.
The title of this book didn’t thrill me but Scott and I read the book anyway. Note: “Crossing the Tiber” is a phrase commonly used to describe becoming Roman Catholic. The Tiber River is near Vatican City and if one is on the other side of the river opposite of the Vatican they must cross the Tiber to get there. The phrase is a reference to the spiritual journey one makes when becoming Roman Catholic.
The book was full of Biblical, historical and early church references as well as references to contemporary theologians and Bible scholars. And reading it was timely because as we studied baptism and communion as it was taught in the early church God also had us studying the history of the canonization of scripture in the early church. Both paths of study were eye-opening.
The short version of what I learned about the history of the canonization of scripture is this:
After years of discussion, debate and discernment there were 73 books accepted as the New and Old Testaments. Influenced by the Council of Rome, in 382 A.D., Pope Damasus gave a decree listing the 73 Old and New Testament Books of the Bible. In 393 A.D. the Council of Hippo canonized those same 73 books. In 397, the Council of Carthage approved the same 73 books of scripture. In 405 A.D. Pope St. Innoncent I approved the same 73 books and closed the canon of scripture.
While this is a very condensed and simplified paragraph on the history of the canonization of Scripture it speaks volumes.
- First, it was men, leaders of the early church, who met and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit determined which books of the Bible were inspired and then put the books together and canonized it as Sacred Scripture. An important fact.
- Second, the fact that the church looked to Popes as leaders of the church revealed the early church and its councils were indeed Catholic in terms of its leadership. (Our study of baptism and communion in the early church revealed the church was truly Catholic in its doctrines as well but I’ll get into that later.)
The logical conclusion was this:
- It was the Catholic Church and its leaders who were led by the Holy Spirit to put the Bible together and canonize it as Scripture.
This was not a conclusion that worked in my “theological worldview.” In fact, it left me questioning what I’d been taught about the early Catholic Church.
[Next installment: How did an “apostate” church give us the canon of Scripture? This reformed Protestant reconsiders what she believes about the history of the early Catholic Church.]