Answering the Question of Authority

One of the questions that I have had to deal with in my search for a tradition is the question of authority. Where does it come from? Why is something authoritative? Up until recently I thought that there was a great discrepancy between the 3 main Christian traditions, but now I realize that there really isn’t much difference at all.

– Roman Catholicism says the Pope is infallible with regards to teaching because he is prevented from teaching errors by the Holy Spirit.

– Eastern Orthodoxy says the seven ecumenical councils are infallible because they were guided by the Holy Spirit and thus prevented from proclaiming error.

– Protestantism says that the Scriptures are the only infallible source because they alone were breathed out by God and that the teachings of the Roman and Eastern Churches are thus subject to error (though not necessarily wrong).

Though it appears that these 3 traditions locate infallibility in different places they in fact locate it in the same place: God, specifically the Holy Spirit. So the question for me now is not: “Is the Pope, the councils, or the Bible alone infallible?” Instead the question is: “What has been the extent of the Holy Spirit in protecting the Church from error?” Certainly none of these traditions doubts that the Holy Spirit has been active in guiding and protecting the church since the Resurrection, but they cannot agree on how far He has gone in guiding and protecting the church.

The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox views are tough for me to accept, but I think they are certainly valid. Growing up Protestant I felt that I was taught that the church (specifically the Roman Church) could not be trusted and that the Bible alone was to be trusted. The decisions of the early ecumenical councils were accepted, but only because they agreed with Scripture. However, now being aware of all that has transpired over the course of Christian history and seeing what an absolute mess ALL the traditions have made over the course of their existence, but yet seeing that there is still an active Church where the Gospel is proclaimed and people are saved I cannot deny that the Holy Spirit is indeed active in preserving the Church.

So for now this question is of much less significance for me, since I know that wherever I go I know that the Church is being protected by the Holy Spirit. If I had to accept the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox position I could, because I know, at least to a certain extent, that it is true.

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