Protestants and Catholics don’t disagree about the value of the Bible, but they do disagree about the church’s authority in comparison to the Bible.
Many evangelical Protestants would concur that The Bible is God’s book and it is the Christian’s final court of appeal. And that in its original meaning and Holy Spirit inspired interpretation, It will never lead into error in matters essential to Christian living or salvation. So its safe to say that the Word of God stands on its own as a divinely inspired direct link to the voice of God Himself. If one didn’t agree with that statement I’d have to dare them to pick it up, lay all observance of religious hypocrisy aside, and read it. Anyone that would have an ounce of conscience would be deeply transformed by this book.
The Catholic view differs from this in an important sense. Catholics would rightly say that The Scriptures, were written by the church (or God’s people), and used by the church in worship and teaching. This couldn’t be disputed. But they also would say that the church was first and the Bible came from the church – not the other way around. Therefore the Catholic Church still says that the church is the authentic authority to interpret the Bible today. Now for someone that doesn’t believe in the supernatural power of the Scriptures, that they really are the Word of God, this statement would be hard to argue with. It seems logical to say that the church created the Scriptures and therefore have the authority to interpret the Bible.
But if one understands that the Bible is the Story of God speaking to humankind, then they could also say that in a sense, the Scriptures transcend all human authority. God is really the only one that has the right to interpret scripture. This may sound like an extreme statement. But what I really mean is people have to completely lean on Him to get the real meaning of the Word. When the interpretation of this Word has been left to human authority, lots of awful things happen in the name of Jesus.
So it’s really safe to say that it is the combination of the word and the sacraments that actually forms the church, rather than the other way round. God is the true informer of the church, and it’s not within our realm to impose our ideas onto what His Word says (though we naturally do constantly!) And as much as the traditions of the church are crucial, not least the doctrinal formulations of the undivided church of the first three centuries, still the Bible remains the final court of appeal. It may be easy for someone to mock this obsession with a book when they don’t know how truly powerful it is, but again, I would dare that person to pick it up, read it, and while reading it earnestly pray and ask God if its from Him!
This is where I think the Reformers got it right. The Reformers made the authority of the canon dependent not on the church but on the Scriptures in themselves and their internal witness in the hearts of believers. Now do some corrupt maniacs say that God told them to take LSD and influence women to kill hollywood stars, or go into a village in Africa and commit mass suicide in the name of Christ? Yes. But if one approaches the scriptures with a pure, earnest heart, they will come to know God fully. In the practical sense they will also become better husbands, wives, and citizens, generous givers, more loving parents, fighters for justice, voices for the downtrodden and all the things that our culture would generally deem to be honorable.
- What does tradition mean in the Roman Catholic Church (wiki.answers.com)
- What Do Catholics and Protestants Have in Common? (benjaminbradfordwhite.wordpress.com)