This is Part 2 of my series on Authority. If you have not read Part 1, I urge you to read it.
Protestants typically believe that “essential doctrines” are agreed upon by every Christian church. If divisions do appear between Christians, such as on the rapture, then dividing the body of Christ into a new denomination is better than having a public dispute.
The Protestant Argument:
Premise 1: All Christians agree on essential doctrines.
Premise 2: It is appropriate to divide a church over non-essential doctrines to avoid conflict.
Conclusion: In order to prevent conflict, one must find a church that teaches the same doctrine as one believes.
The Catholic Church would have us believe that doctrines do indeed matter but what does the Bible say? St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:10, “I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” This whole passage speaks about the need of doctrinal unity. St. John, in a similar vein, says the same in John 17:22-23, “The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.” Two phrases from above by St. John stick out to me. The first one being “that they may be one even as we are one” and the second “that they may become perfectly one.”
Do God the Father and God the Son disagree on doctrine? In other words, does God the Father believe that, for example, we are saved through faith alone while God the Son believes we are saved by faith and works? Of course not. Our doctrinal disputes amongst Christians make us imperfect as a whole unlike God the Father and God the Son. What about that second phrase? Well we know that even amongst Protestant churches they themselves are not perfectly one since some churches (or congregations) believe one thing and others believe the exact opposite even among those who share the same name such as Baptist or Lutheran. To be fair though, some Protestant churches have tried to unite with others but it always seems to go sour since none of them claim any authority to bind. It seems rather strange that none of them can bind each other considering Matthew 18:18. There of course is a Church that which does have this unity though, even if some of the believers dissent from it. In fact, if Protestants did have a spiritual unity it would breed an external unity like we see in the Catholic Church.
As we see, there is a need for the truth but who has this truth? Who protects and defends it? Paul again aids us in the discovery of this in 1 Timothy 3:15 when he writes, “if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” So it is the Church we should look to for instruction on these matters. In order for the Church to uphold, pillar, and defend, bulwark, the truth, it must be authoritative in nature. If the Church were not authoritative it could not uphold or defend the truth since no one, with any certainty at all, could know what the truth is if not defined by the Church. We can see this through history. Just looking at the history of the debates about the Trinity should show us that without an infallible definition by the Church, one could fall into error and believe that Jesus or the Holy Spirit were not divine since there are many passages that seem to make that assertion. If everything was crystal clear in the Bible there would be no need for an upholder of the truth. We see in Matthew 16:18 that even Satan with all his strength will not prevail against Christ’s Church. This is what is called infallibility. If even an inkling of untruth crept into the Christ’s Church then Satan would prevail in some way. Matthew 16:18 says that this cannot and will not happen.
Paul’s urging to have no dissentions and to be of one mind and judgement is a clear indicator that unity is important. Jesus’ pleading for us to be one as He and The Father are one compliments Paul. This of course leads us to conclude that doctrine does in fact matter. If it did not, one would have to explain why Jesus plead that the apostles be one. Paul wanted us in the same mind yet Protestants would claim that it is not as important as the Bible states that it is. With what authority do they declare this? With their fallible non-authority that cannot bind anyone. Dividing the Church over doctrines that some consider non-essential leads one group or the other into error. Instead, unity and oneness are marks of the infallible Church, the defender and upholder of the truth, to aid us in finding the truth.
The concluding argument is as follows:
Premise 1: Jesus wants us to be one as He and The Father are one.
Premise 2: Paul calls for no dissentions and oneness in mind and judgement.
Premise 3: It is the duty of the infallible Church to uphold and defend the truth.
Conclusion: Therefore, all doctrine matters and the Church is the infallible authority.
If you have a suggestion for an apologetic article please leave a comment and I will do my best to get to it or a similar topic. I will also credit you with the question.