Friday, September 02, 2005

Suspension of Disbelief: The Protestant Dogma of Sola Scriptura

“Hey, all I need is the Bible—as the song goes, ‘I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E.’ ” Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? As a devout Protestant, I always thought so. After all, we know that the Bible is God’s infallible message to us, and, well, what else is there? Sure, we have church leaders, but they can and do make mistakes. Besides, the whole point of being a Protestant is that no person or organization has a right to intrude upon my freedom to read the Bible and interpret it for myself—with the Holy Spirit’s leading, of course.

The longer I remained a Protestant, however, the more problems I began to see with the “Bible Alone”, or Sola Scriptura, dogma. This essay examines some of the shortcomings inherent in that dogma, shortcomings which I believe are absolutely fatal to the Protestant argument. As, over a period of several years, these shortcomings began to manifest themselves to me and accumulate in my mind, I gradually began to realize that I could no longer subscribe to Sola Scriptura. I needed an arbiter, an authority, who could listen to all the interpretations of Scripture and Tradition and proclaim, “Thus sayeth the Lord.” I found that authority in the same place that Christians have found it for the last 2,000 years, the Roman Catholic Church. But that’s another story. This essay is intended to help you think about something you may have never fully considered before—is the dogma of Sola Scriptura biblical and reasonable?

Bible Alone—Which Books?

Perhaps the most fundamental disagreement that Protestantism has with the Catholic Church concerns the source of authoritative doctrinal truth. Catholicism has always held that there are 3 such sources that work together to lead the Church into truth: Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Teaching Authority of the Church (the Magisterium).

Protestants, on the other hand, maintain that Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura) must serve as the sole infallible authority on matters of doctrine. Placing such an enormous duty upon a single collection of static written documents, however, requires—at very least—one to explain how the Bible came together and how we can guarantee that each of its books is, indeed, an infallible document deserving of inclusion in Holy Scripture.

Numerous historians and apologists have clearly demonstrated the historicity and accuracy of the books of the Old and New Testaments, vis-à-vis historical documents. But authenticity does not infallibility make. Proving the infallibility of the Old Testament (OT) books is relatively easy. We can approach the New Testament (NT) as nothing more than an historically accurate collection of documents and determine that Jesus, the second person of the blessed Trinity, implicitly affirms the Jewish Scriptures as Holy Writ in Matt. 5:17-18 and Luke 24:44.

Furthermore, the Apostle Paul, his apostolic authority confirmed by reference to the historicity of the Bible, writes in 2 Tim. 3:16 that “All Scripture is God-breathed . . .” Notice that the “Scripture” to which Paul refers is necessarily limited to the OT, since, when Paul wrote 2 Timothy, many of the other NT books had not yet been composed, and the NT canon would not be finalized until several hundred years later.

This last point brings us to the question of the formation of the NT canon. Just how did its 27 documents—written by different authors, to different people, in different times, and in different places—find their way into our current Bible? There is no inspired “Table of Contents”, so the decisions of which books to include in the canon must necessarily have been extra-biblical (already a violation of Sola Scriptura).

In fact, the question of which Christian writings were to be regarded as Scripture was a subject of much debate and disagreement throughout the first four centuries of the Church. In A.D. 367, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, composed the earliest known list of documents which corresponds exactly to our current NT canon, and not until A.D. 397, at the Council of Carthage, did a Church council formally define and close the canon.

We can easily see that the historical canonization process for the NT was completely in line with Catholicism’s tripartite system of doctrinal authority:

1. The Church examined Scripture (in this case the OT).

2. The Church examined Sacred Tradition (in this case, the historical witness of Christendom to the worthiness of the various early Christian writings for inclusion in the NT canon)

3. The Holy Spirit guided the Church and preserved it from teaching false doctrine by allowing it to produce an infallible decision (in this case, it defined the NT canon) which was in harmony with Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and any previous Church teaching on the subject.

The historical facts of how we received the NT canon cannot, however, be consistently reconciled with Protestantism’s reliance on Sola Scriptura. The Bible manifestly does not define its own contents. And Protestantism can scarcely argue that, in this one case only, God allowed the Church to define a matter infallibly, for such an argument would be self-defeating. If the Bible is the only infallible, binding authority in matters of faith and doctrine, then the contents of that same Bible cannot be defined infallibly by an extra-Biblical entity.

Protestantism, then, finds itself in a very difficult position—it holds that the Bible is infallible, but it cannot know with infallible certainty what books belong therein. Such a position has left many a believer wondering if such a conundrum is the best that Protestantism can offer, and when conservative Protestant theologians like R.C. Sproul admit that Holy Scripture is “a fallible collection of infallible documents,” one cannot help but feel that—contrary to what its opponents might argue—the Catholic Church is the true protector and defender of Sacred Scripture.

Bible Along—A Self-Defeating Principle

Putting aside the logical inconsistencies of demanding that believers rely solely on a Bible that can never be infallibly assembled or cataloged, we move on to an exploration of whether the Bible itself teaches Sola Scriptura. For if, as Protestantism maintains, believers must turn to the Bible alone as their infallible authority on matters of doctrine, we should at very least expect the Bible itself to affirm such a view. To find otherwise would pit the Bible against the dogma of Sola Scriptura in a self-defeating scenario.

Let us examine 2 Tim. 3:16, which is the classic prooftext for Sola Scriptura:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Despite Protestantism’s claim that this verse affirms the dogma of Sola Scriptura, close examination shows that one cannot possibly take this passage as evidence that Christians should consider the Bible to be their sole infallible rule of faith.

Even before we examine the verse itself, however, let us assume for a moment that Protestantism is correct is seeing this verse as teaching Sola Scriptura. Because, as we noted earlier, Paul is clearly referring to the OT alone in this verse, any attempt to read Sola Scriptura into Paul’s words would prove too much—namely that the OT stands by itself as inspired scripture over and above the NT. Since “Scripture” to Paul was the OT (the NT being an in-progress non-entity at the time of his writing), his Sola Scriptura would have necessarily been “sola Old Testament.”

Thankfully, as we will see, Paul did not teach Sola Scriptura here or elsewhere. In fact, although 2 Tim 3:16 extols Scripture as “God-breathed” and “useful,” it never indicates that it stands alone as the sole rule of faith. Some have attempted to read Sola Scriptura into the phrase “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (or “complete, equipped for every good work,” RSV). Spirit-led Scripture study alone, they argue, is sufficient to make a Christian “complete.”

If we used this same hermeneutic elsewhere, however, we would have to conclude that perseverance is the solely-sufficient, supreme Christian virtue. After all, James 1:4 teaches that “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” We can clearly see that, in these passages, Scripture and perseverance make the believer “complete” in the sense that a Christian cannot be complete without them—not in the sense that they alone, to the exclusion of all else, are sufficient to take a person from zero to complete.

Everyday modern usage confirms this sense of the notion. I might say that I went to college to make myself “complete, thoroughly equipped” for every intellectual endeavor. Such a statement would be nonsensical if it implied that I considered my college education alone—to the exclusion of personal study, high school, or other life experiences—to have prepared me for mental challenges. The clear and natural meaning of my statement would be that my college education was the crowning achievement of my learning, without which my intellectual development would not have been complete.

The context of 2 Tim 3:16 underscores a similarly natural interpretation. In verse 14, Paul had just instructed Timothy to “. . . continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it . . .” Paul is here clearly affirming that the Christian should hold fast to authoritative teaching, as well as Scripture. If Paul were truly teaching Sola Scriptura (actually sola Old Testament, as we discovered above) in verse 16, his exhortation that Timothy cling to what his teachers (namely Paul, himself) have taught him extra-biblically would be nonsensical.

Now that we have found lacking the classic prooftext that Protestantism advances in support of its claims of Sola Scriptura, let us move on to some of the Biblical passages that strongly support the Catholic position that Scripture was never intended to stand alone, but rather works together with Sacred Tradition and Church teaching to form a robust, authoritative corpus of Christian truth.

2 Thessalonians 2:15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

Here we find that Paul exhorts his readers to cling to his oral and written teachings (translated “traditions” in many versions). To which oral traditions do Protestants hold?

John 21:25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

John 20:30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.

These passages admit the inherent limitations of Scripture and imply the existence of a potentially rich and valuable extra-biblical Sacred Tradition.

Acts 20:35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'

Here Paul quotes a saying of Jesus that never appears in any of the gospels. He seems to be familiar with a Sacred Tradition outside the scope of the gospel writers.

Mark 16:15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.”

Jesus’ words indicate that He envisioned oral teaching to be the primary means of spreading his gospel. Never do we find Jesus commanding the apostles to write documents that will serve as the believer’s sole authority on matters of faith.

1 Corinthians 15:1-2 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

2 Timothy 1:13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.

These are two of many occasions on which Paul exhorts believers to adhere to his oral teaching. There is no indication that Paul imagined that his writings were a complete reflection of his teachings. Rather, in his writings, he constantly makes cursory references to previous oral teaching, all of which cannot be reflected in Scripture.

2 Timothy 2:2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.

Here we see Paul providing for the transmission of Sacred Tradition through two generations of Apostolic Succession! He not only asks Timothy (not an apostle) to pass along the oral traditions he has heard from Paul (an apostle), but he also asks Timothy to ordain others (also not apostles) to continue the work.

1 Peter 1:25 But the word of the Lord stands forever. And this is the word that was preached to you.

This is a clear example of the fact that the phrase “Word of the Lord,” does not necessarily refer to Scripture. Here Peter refers to an extra-biblical sermon as the word of the Lord.

1 John 2:24 See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.

2 John 1:12 I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

3 John 1:13 I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink.

Here we see that John prefers oral teaching as his mode of communication. These are further examples that the NT writers left many important issues off the pages of their Scriptural writings and considered their oral teaching more noteworthy than their writings.

Bible Along—An Absurdity Until 1450

On several different levels, Sola Scriptura is historically absurd. For starters, Sola Scriptura would have be a laughable impossibility to the vast majority of Christians up until the invention of the printing press in 1450. Bishop Henry Graham, a convert to the Catholic Church from Calvinism, comments on this fact in his 1911 masterpiece Where We Got the Bible:

What, then, came of those poor souls who lived before the Bible was printed, before it was even written in its present form? How were nations made familiar with the Christian religion and converted to Christianity before the fifteenth century? Our divine Lord, I suppose, wished that the unnumbered millions of human creatures born before the year 1500 should believe what he had taught and save their souls and go to heaven, at least as much as those of the sixteenth and twentieth centuries; but how could they do this when they had no Bibles, or were too poor to buy one, or could not read it even though they bought it, or could not understand it even if they could read it? On the Catholic plan (so to call it) of salvation through the teaching of the Church, souls may be saved and people become saints and believe and do all that Jesus Christ meant them to believe and do—and, as a matter of fact, this has happened—in all countries and in all ages without either the written or the printed Bible, and both before and after its production. The Protestant theory, on the contrary, which stakes a man's salvation on the possession of the Bible, leads to the most flagrant absurdities, imputes to Almightly God a total indifference to the salvation of countless souls that passed hence to eternity for 1,500 years, and indeed ends logically in the blasphemous conclusion that our Blessed Lord failed to provide an adequate means of conveying to men in every age the knowledge of his truth.

Additionally, let us consider the timeline of the composition of the NT. Almost two decades elapsed between Christ’s ascension and the composition of the first NT book, and the final books were composed around the turn of the century.

This scenario alone shows that the first generations of Christians got along tolerably without the complete NT. In fact, the Church burgeoned and flourished—despite intense persecution—through the Spirit-led, authoritative teaching of the apostles and their successors.

Throughout the second and third centuries, the Church benefited greatly from the emergence of the writings that would eventually comprise the NT. As we noted earlier, however, these writings did not coalesce into our current NT canon until late in the fourth century.

If the Bible constitutes the Christian’s only infallible rule of faith, how did Christians survive for more than three centuries without it? Some may say that the final exposition of the canon was a mere formality—that the Church had, in effect, early on determined which books were inspired, albeit unofficially. There is a hint of truth in this argument, namely that there was indeed widespread acceptance of some NT books prior to the closing of the canon. The historical record clearly indicates, however, that there were great disputes over several books, some of which eventually achieved entrance into the canon, and some of which did not.

The plain facts are that the Church did not have a clearly defined NT for more than 300 years after the ascension of our Lord. There was no NT, per se, to which one could appeal. This realization comes as a shock to many Christians, who may have never questioned the origin of the Bible.

I think many of us, at one time or another, have envisioned the early Christians living out a kind of proto-Protestant existence, in which they gathered, Bibles in hand, to earnestly work out this or that doctrine.In reality, though, before the Church compiled and verified the infallibility of the NT, no one could be absolutely certain that a given Christian document was truly Scripture. Believers depended on the faithful teaching of their bishops, in organic union with the Bishop of Rome, to guide them into truth. As part of her guidance, the Church cataloged and closed the canon of Scripture, thus giving Christendom a rock-solid guarantee that all of the NT books—and no others—constituted inspired Scripture.

Ironically, Protestantism, which imagines that it holds Scripture in greater esteem than does Catholicism, has discarded the very foundation upon which our certainty concerning Scripture is based. It refuses to acknowledge the Catholic Church as a legitimate authority, so it disposes of everything that smacks of Catholicism in its never-ending attempts to reinvent the wheel of Christianity. Why, then, does it not also throw out the canon of Scripture, which has no guarantor other than the Catholic Church? Rather, Protestantism attempts to engage its adherents in a grand suspension of disbelief—asking them to forget from whom (and on what authority) they got the Bible, while demanding that they fix their collective eyes on the Bible alone. Msgr. Ronald Knox, himself a convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism, writes eloquently on this point:

In fact, of course, the Protestant had no conceivable right to base any arguments on the inspiration of the Bible, for the inspiration of the Bible was a doctrine which had been believed, before the Reformation, on the mere authority of the Church; it rested on exactly the same basis as the doctrine of Transubstantiation. Protestantism repudiated Transubstantiation, and in doing so repudiated the authority of the Church; and then, without a shred of logic, calmly went on believing in the inspiration of the Bible, as if nothing had happened! Did they suppose that Biblical inspiration was a self-evident fact, like the axioms of Euclid? Or did they derive it from some words of our Lord? If so, what words? What authority have we, apart from that of the Church, to say that the Epistles of Paul are inspired, and the Epistle of Barnabas is not? It is, perhaps, the most amazing and the most tragic spectacle in the history of thought, the picture of blood flowing, fires blazing, and kingdoms changing hands for a century and a half, all in defence of a vicious circle. (The Belief of Catholics, 1927)

Faced with the unhappy realization that the entire Protestant system of Sola Scriptura is propped up by nothing more than a mental sleight of hand, thoughtful Protestants have to choose their course anew. Some will begin to be nudged by a faint inkling that an infallible Bible presupposes an authoritative Church that is truly the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim 3:15), and they will begin to look outside Protestantism for the authentic Church. Others will ignore the evidence, remain Protestants, and further immerse themselves in the suspension of disbelief. Sadly, some will become disillusioned and leave Christianity altogether. And many will essentially abandon Sola Scriptura yet remain within Protestantism.

This last option is perhaps the most pernicious, and, I believe, it is ironically (yet predictably) most evident in the oldest Protestant denominations. The “Big 4” sects to emerge from the Reformation—Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, Methodism and Anglicanism—have seen a slow and steady decline in their denominational adherence to Christian orthodoxy. Although some of these groups have spun off doctrinally conservative factions, their mainline denominations are widely considered to be among the most liberal in Christendom. From allowing abortion and homosexuality to installing women as ordained clergy, these denominations have fallen shockingly short of the doctrinal ideals that their founders envisioned.

Such a decline is predictable in these particular denominations because of the sheer span of time during which they have been subject to the erosive forces of Sola Scriptura and its corollary, the Protestant modus operandi of private interpretation. My contention is that these denominations have degenerated because Bible Alone is fundamentally subjective—it always comes down to “My Interpretation Alone.” Exposed to this reality long enough, most sects will inevitably begin, subtly at first, then more overtly, to superimpose their own whims over Scripture.

Adherents cast these whims as legitimate “interpretations” of Scripture, but their flimsy reasoning really evidences their lack of belief in the authority of Scripture itself. They have, in essence, placed their unorthodox beliefs above Scripture but, wanting to remain under the Christian umbrella, have appealed to the ever-elastic doctrine of Sola Scriptura. And, truly, what can any other Protestant say against them? The following conversation illustrates the difficulty:

Bob: Your interpretation of doctrine x is clearly incorrect.
Jane: Who says so?
Bob: Look at these Scripture passages. I say your teaching is completely contrary to the clear meaning of Scripture.
Jane: And why should I listen to you? By what authority does your idea of the ‘clear meaning’ stand?
Bob: The Holy Spirit convicted me to believe thus. He leads me to the clear meaning.
Jane: That may be so, but the Holy Spirit leads me to a different interpretation. Why can’t you be more tolerant? Do you think you have the corner on truth?
Bob: There can be only one true answer, and it’s clearly mine. You’re either confused or in a state of willful denial.
Jane: I can’t believe your arrogance! The Holy Spirit speaks to each person differently. You’re simply assuming that what He has ‘revealed’ to you is the absolute truth, but we’re both basing our beliefs on the same authority. You don’t consider the fact that millions of devout Christians disagree with you (and each other) on this issue—all under the guidance of the same Holy Spirit. It’s clear to me that truth is a fluid concept. It is different for each person.

Bob and Jane are at an impasse. Ironically, they are both right. Bob is correct in asserting that there is a single true answer to every theological question, but Jane is correct in countering that Protestantism does not offer Christians the means to confidently arrive at those truths.

Bible Alone in Practice—The Protestant Experiment

The most striking argument against Sola Scriptura is the state of Protestantism itself. When, in the sixteenth century, the Reformers jettisoned the teaching authority of the Church, they initiated a great experiment. All the world could now observe how this attempt to re-create Christianity, without an authoritative Church, would fare. More than 20,000 denominations later, is there any doubt that Protestantism has subjected Christendom to more confusion, less unity, and greater doctrinal corruption than it ever knew before?

We would have no reason to expect any other result, though, for the foundational principles of Protestantism appeal to the willful rebel in all of us. If Scripture is the sole infallible authority, why is my interpretation of Scripture not just as valid as anyone else’s? And every time a Christian founds a new denomination, he is affirming and living out the Protestant ideal. No matter how ludicrous his interpretation of Scripture may appear to the great majority of his fellow Protestants, there is no final arbiter to whom they can appeal. If they are logically consistent in their adherence to Sola Scriptura, they will, in the end, be forced to at least neutrally affirm his “Spirit-led” protestations and agree that he should seek communion with others who share his particular version of Christianity.

When Catholics point out this fractiousness inherent in the Protestant ideal, Protestants often reply that the points over which denominations differ are peripheral and non-essential to the gospel. If that is the case, one wonders why such a multiplicity of denominations is necessary. In truth, however, the differences among denominations are among the most vital imaginable. For example, many fundamentalist churches hold that one cannot attain salvation unless he is baptized. For them, immersion constitutes the only valid mode of baptism, and one should only receive baptism after reaching the “age of reason”. Presbyterians, on the other hand, maintain that, although one should be baptized, such is not absolutely necessary for salvation. In addition, they baptize infants and practice alternatives to immersion. Other Protestant groups teach their own doctrines of baptism—this essay cannot possibly list them all. But notice that we have already arrived at a denominational difference that directly impacts salvation. What, dear reader, is peripheral about that?

Neither is there anything peripheral about the denominational disputes over the nature, purpose, and administration of the Lord’s Supper. Are the elements merely symbolic (as the fundamentalists teach), do they usher in Christ’s spiritual presence with the communicants (as Presbyterians teach), do they contain Christ’s body and blood while remaining truly bread and wine (as Lutherans teach), or are they transformed completely into Christ’s body and blood (as Catholics and the Orthodox teach)? Which understanding a church chooses to follow (and these are by no means the only understandings forwarded in Christendom) makes a world of difference in how it understands the purpose, and approaches the administration, of this central sacrament of Christianity.

One final argument that some advance in favor of Sola Scriptura is summarized in the question, “What else is there?” In closing, I submit that Scripture itself clearly affirms that Christ founded a Church that exercises His authority on earth and constitutes the “what else” that Protestantism so desperately needs. The following passages may help:

The Authority of the Church in Scripture

1 Timothy 3:14-15 Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

2 Timothy 1:6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

Acts 20:28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

John 16:12-13 I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

Note that Jesus addresses these words to the 11 faithful apostles (minus Judas), the foundation of his Church (Eph 2:20). Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would descend upon the apostles and guide them—and through them, the Church—into truths beyond what even Jesus Himself had personally revealed.

Ephesians 2:20 . . . built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

1 Timothy 1:19-20 . . . holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.

1 Thessalonians 2:6-7 We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.

2 Thessalonians 3:6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.

Luke 10:16 "He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me."

Matthew 18:15-18 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Compare the above passage to the following passage from the Old Testament. Notice the continuity under the old and new covenants.

Deuteronomy 17:8-13 If cases come before your courts that are too difficult for you to judge-whether bloodshed, lawsuits or assaults-take them to the place the LORD your God will choose. Go to the priests, who are Levites, and to the judge who is in office at that time. Inquire of them and they will give you the verdict. You must act according to the decisions they give you at the place the LORD will choose. Be careful to do everything they direct you to do. Act according to the law they teach you and the decisions they give you. Do not turn aside from what they tell you, to the right or to the left. The man who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the LORD your God must be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel. All the people will hear and be afraid, and will not be contemptuous again.

John 20:21-23 Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

Titus 2:15 These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.

1 Timothy 4:11-12 Command and teach these things. Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.

Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Titus 1:5-11 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder . . . must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach . . . Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith

1 Timothy 1:3-7 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God's work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

1 Timothy 6:3-5 If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind,who have been robbed of the truth . . .

Jude 1:10-11 Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them. Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam's error; they have been destroyed in Korah's rebellion. [ref. Num 16]

The Unity of the True Church

John 17:20-21 My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

Romans 16:17-18 I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.

1 Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.

Ephesians 4:4-5 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism . . .

Philippians 1:27-28 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God.

Philippians 2:2 . . . then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

Authority of Peter in the Bible

Matthew 16:13-20 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter [Greek: “Rock”], and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ. [cf. Is. 22]

Mark 16:7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.' "

Luke 24:33-35 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon." Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Acts 1:15-26 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, "Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus—he was one of our number and shared in this ministry."(With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) "For," said Peter, "it is written in the book of Psalms, " 'May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,' and, " 'May another take his place of leadership.' Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection."So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs." Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

Luke 22:31-32 Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you [plural—the disciples] as wheat. But I have prayed for you [singular], Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.

John 21:15-19 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!"

Acts 2:14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.

Acts 10:44-48 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

Acts 11:18 When they heard this [Peter’s authoritative pronouncement] they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life."

Acts 15:1-11 Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the brothers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses." The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are."

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