Since I first began posting articles about the "Church of Christ" on the internet in the fall of 1999, I have had many theological debates via e-mail with members of the church of Christ (By using the title "church of Christ," I am in no way affirming that these churches are the Church of Christ, only a family of denominations that refuses to use the more descriptive title Campbellites). These debates have always ending in one of three ways:
- A few times they end in an admission that we have different interpretations of the Bible, and that it is possible to legitimately come to these different interpretations based on one's theological background. In short, we agree to disagree.
- Far too many times they end in personal attacks on myself and my character, with the accusation that I have evil motives behind my proselytizing of church of Christ members.
- The vast majority of times, these debates do not come to an end, but keep going around in circles until I restrain my desire to get my point across, and terminate the discussion by refusing to reply.
In this last case, it takes me a great deal of effort to refrain from replying. I want to at least get the person I am corresponding with to see that there is more than one interpretation of the Bible; however, once it becomes apparent that a particular person is too blind to see anyone else's point of view, to proceed is a waste of my time. "A servant of the Lord is not to engage in quarrels, but has to be kind to everyone, a good teacher, and patient. He has to be gentle when he corrects people who dispute what he says, never forgetting that God may give them a change of mind so that they recognize the truth and come to their senses, once out of the trap where the devil caught them and kept them enslaved." (2 Timothy 2:24-26).It may seem that I have lost the debate because I give up on the discussion, but in reality, I have won the debate, it's just that the one I am debating with cannot see that he has lost. I shake the dust from my feet (cf. Matthew 10:14, Luke 9:5), and continue on.
One time I even had put a person's e-mail address on the black list of my spam filter because he would not stop e-mailing me. When I quoted Matthew 10:14 and Luke 9:5, he took this as a forfeit and claimed a victory. I may have actually won the debate, but I did not see it as a victory. I saw it as a failure. I failed not only to convert him to the truth, I failed to get him to see and understand any of the points I had made. He appeared to have gained nothing from the discussion. All of the time I spent writing to him seemed to have been wasted. I pray that it was not a waste of time, and that my words planted a seed within him that may flower in the future.
The biggest waste of time is going around in circles answering the same questions over and over again, while none of my points are even addressed. I'm not talking about different people asking the same questions over and over again, when this happens, I usually post another article on my website to address such questions. I'm talking about the same person asking the same questions over and over again. One issue is presented; I address this issue, many times with Scriptural references; and when the person is unable to counter my response, he moves on to another issue. Eventually, his arguments come in full circle, and he begins to bring up issues that I have already addressed.
By going around in circles so many times with church of Christ members, I have come to know most of their arguments, and have posted rebuttals on my website. By doing this, most of the time I only have to refer people to what I have already written, and I save a lot of time rewriting the same answers.
Having built up a large deposit of rebuttals, it is very rare that anyone brings up a new point that I have not already addressed. I have also come to realize that there is only one point worth trying to get across, and if this point does get across, only one question to pose after. So far, it has been extremely rare that I get this point across, or even for this point to be acknowledged. If I do get to the stage of posing the one question, this question always brings the dialogue to an end. It is only possible for the dialogue to come to an end because there is only one logical answer to this question; an answer that supports the true Church of Christ, that is, the Catholic Church.
The one point worth getting across is this: there is more than one interpretation of the Bible, and all of these interpretations are logical when one's theological background and belief system is taken into account.
It seems that most church of Christ members believe that there is only one interpretation of the Bible, and that those outside of their church do not misinterpret the Bible, but ignore what the Bible says. Once, to rebut an accusation that Catholics do not respect the Bible, I pointed out that after the Gospel reading during the Mass, the priest kisses the Gospel. This is an obvious sign of respect, but the one making the accusation retorted that it was the same as if a son kisses a list of chores that his father gives him to do, and then ignores that list and doesn't do any of the chores. The implication being that Catholics ignore and disrespect what the Bible says, while at the same time, make false signs of reverence. This is just plain stupidity. Sincere Catholics do not ignore the Bible. They respect and cherish it. They take to heart what it says, and put its words into action. As the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order states, "Secular Franciscans should devote themselves especially to careful reading of the gospel, going from the gospel to life and life to the gospel." What may seem like disrespect and disregard to those engrossed in Campbell theology, is simply an interpretation of the Bible that is different from than their own.
An example of this is Matthew 26:26 & 28, Mark 14:22 & 24, Luke 22:19 & 20, and 1 Corinthians 11:24 & 25. The Catholic interpretation of Christ's words here is a literal one. Catholics believe that while the accidents of the bread and wine used in the Mass for the Lord's Supper remain that of bread and wine, the substance of the bread and wine are no longer that of bread and wine but become the Body and Blood of Christ. This literal interpretation is supported by a literal interpretation of John chapter 6.
Contrary to the literal Catholic interpretation, the Campbell interpretation is a figurative one. church of Christ members believe that the bread and wine used in the Lord's Supper only represent the body and blood of Christ, and remain bread and wine, both the accidents and the substance. They also believe that Christ is speaking figuratively in John chapter 6, and that this chapter has no connection with the Lord's Supper.
Here we have two very different interpretations of the Bible. In neither interpretation is one form of theology ignoring what the Bible says. Both the Campbell and the Catholic interpretation are legitimate depending on one's theological background.
Another example is Matthew 23:8-12. This time it is the Campbell interpretation that is literal, while Catholics interpret Christ's words as hyperbole. The literal Campbell interpretation accuses Catholics of violating Christ command to "not call anyone on earth 'father'" by calling priests 'father.' The Catholic interpretation, however, goes much further than warning against calling anyone 'Rabbi,' 'father,' or 'teacher.' The Catholic interpretation warns against seeking all titles of honour, including 'minister,' 'evangelist,' 'Deacon,' and 'Elder.'
Again we have two different interpretations of the Bible that do not ignore what the Bible says, but differ in how it should be understood. Both interpretations can be legitimately had depending on one's theological background.
Over and over again, the differences between the church of Christ and the Catholic Church are not in accepting or rejecting what the Bible says, but in interpreting what the Bible says. It is important to note that both the Catholic Church and the church of Christ follow the Bible; however, it is how they follow the Bible that is significant. Neither Campbell theology nor Catholic theology can justifiably declare that the other ignores or rejects what the Bible says. The only thing they can declare is that the other form of theology misinterprets the Bible. It is only after this point has been understood and accepted that any meaningful debate can take place.
Having accepted that both the Catholic Church and the church of Christ follow the Bible, but differ in how they interpret it, one may consider the question that needs to be answered is which interpretation is correct? This is a good question, but not the one that will resolve the debate. The church of Christ will claim that the Catholic Church is misinterpreting the bible, while the Catholic Church will claim that the church of Christ is misinterpreting the Bible. Both can quote numerous Bible passages to support their interpretation, but these other passages can be misinterpreted as well. Argument upon argument can be mounted without any hope for a resolution.
The question of which interpretation of the Bible is correct cannot be resolved within the Bible, since it is the interpretation of the Bible that is in question. Those entrenched in Campbell theology will most likely balk at the notion of resolving a theological question without the Bible, but that is the only course of action that can be taken. The Bible itself is a dead text. It needs to be read and interpreted for it to have any power. The Bible is only a tool, and is not superior to the one that uses it. "Does the axe claim more credit than the man who wields it, or the saw more strength than the man who handles it?" (Isaiah 10:14).
The only thing that can resolve the debate of which interpretation of the Bible is the correct one, is to look at the source of the interpretation. The source of interpretation is the people that do the interpreting; in this case the Catholic Church and the church of Christ. Each wields the Bible, but which church has the authority, and therefore the ability to wield it correctly? This is the one question that must be addressed.
The answer to this question is quite simple: the church that has the authority to interpret the Bible is the Church through which the Bible was created. If the Church was divinely inspired in creating the Bible, obviously the same church would have the same divine inspiration in interpreting that which she created. It would be irrational to think that God gave a church His divine power to create the Bible, only to withdraw that divine power in interpreting it. God created the Bible through His Church, and through this same church, He sustains His interpretation of it. The church that created the Bible is the only Church that can interpret the Bible.
The Bible was created through the writing, and the fixing of its catalogue (canonizing) by devout and holy men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit. The men involved in the canonizing the Bible were just as inspired by the Holy Spirit as the men who involved in the writing of the Bible. Without the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit in canonizing the Bible, we would have no guarantee that we have the correct canon of the Bible. The church that wrote and canonized the Bible is the only Church that can interpret the Bible.
Christianity is the legitimate continuation and fulfilment or Judaism, and therefore accepts the Bible used by the Jews during the time of Christ. However, after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christians added to the canon of the Jewish Bible a new canon of Christian literature. Thus, we have the Old Testament and the New Testament. It was under the influence of the Holy Spirit that Christians wrote and canonized the New Testament, just as it was under the influence of same Spirit that the Jews created the Old Testament. The church that wrote and canonized the New Testament is the only Church that can interpret the whole Bible; both the New and the Old Testament.
Both the church of Christ and the Catholic Church will number among their membership the inspired men who wrote the New Testament, so it is in the canonizing of the New Testament that we discover which church has the authority to interpret the Bible. The church that canonized the New Testament is the only Church that can interpret the Bible.
For the New Testament to be canonized, all possible candidates for inclusion had to be examined and a decision had to be made whether or not they should be included. In the year 382, a synod was held in Rome that was devoted to this task. Of the over two hundred and fifty texts that were examined, twenty seven were selected to make up what it called the Damasan Canon, which is the New Testament Canon used by both the Catholic Church and the church of Christ.
The Damasan Canon produced by this Roman synod in 382 was not the first New Testament Canon. Earlier New Testament Canons influenced the development of the Damasan Canon, but they also posed a problem. These older canons were widely accepted, and it was not without resistance that they were replaced with the Damasan Canon, particularly in Africa. In 393, an African synod was held in Hippo that confirmed the Damasan Canon as the canon of the African Church. Opposition to the Damasan Canon remained in Africa, and it was necessary to hold three more African synods, which reconfirm the Damasan Canon as the canon of the African Church. These three additional synods, held in the years 393, 397, and 419, took place in Carthage, which was the seat of authority in the African Church.
Having a seat of authority was crucial in the acceptance of the Damasan Canon as the universal Canon of the New Testament. Without a central governing body with authority over all local churches, the Damasan Canon could not have been proclaimed as the universal Canon of the New Testament. Carthage was the seat of the central governing body of the African Church, and had the authority over the local African churches to declare the Damasan Canon as the canon of the African Church. Rome was the seat of the central governing body of the Universal (Catholic) Church, and had the authority over all other churches, including the Church of Carthage, to declare the Damasan Canon as the canon of the Universal (Catholic) Church.
The seat of authority in Rome is commonly referred to as the Papacy, which is where the Damasan Canon got its name. It was named after Pope Damasus I, who called the Roman synod in 382 to create a universal canon of the New Testament.
If it had existed, the church of Christ could not have canonized the New Testament because the Campbell doctrine of congregational autonomy would have prevented any particular church from imposing its New Testament canon on another church. Congregational autonomy would have produced an even greater variance of New Testament canons than existed before the development of the Damasan Canon. Each local church would have its own canon of the New Testament, and we would have hundreds, if not thousands, of New Testament canons. The "Church of Christ" simply used the New Testament that the Catholic Church created more than fourteen centuries before Thomas and Alexander Campbell founded the church of Christ. No twisting of history can change this fact.
The church of Christ did not create the New Testament; therefore it does not have the authority to interpret the Bible. The Catholic Church created, wrote and canonized, the New Testament; therefore she has the sole authority to interpret the Bible. As Tertullian wrote around the year 200, "These things being so, in order that we may be judged to have the truth, - we who walk in the rule which the Churches have handed down from the Apostles, the Apostles from Christ, and Christ from God, - admit that the reasonableness of our position is clear, defining as it does that heretics ought not to be allowed to challenge an appeal to the Scriptures, since we, without using Scripture, prove that they have nothing to do with the Scriptures."
This is the end of any debate. What I have written is sufficient. I will not waste my time quarrelling over biblical interpretation with someone that does not have any authority to interpret the Bible, nor to even make "an appeal to the Scriptures." I will pray for any and all members of the church of Christ, and provide information to anyone who asks for it. I will not, however, allow myself to be drawn into fruitless arguments.