Authority In Scripture
|The source & nature of Church authority is
one of the major issues that beginning Catholics have to examine and
come to terms with.
The Catholic Church makes an amazing claim: it teaches, governs, and sanctifies with the authority of Christ himself.
Catholics believe that this gift of Church authority is one of the jewels that Christ has given to us as an aid to our salvation.
Keep three things in mind:
* There is a large amount of evidence in Scripture to support the Catholic Church's claim to authority, as well as from early Church history.
* The nature and scope of Church authority are widely misunderstood.
* Rejection of this claim is usually based on the common misconception of "misplaced worship" — the accusation that Catholics worship the something else (the Church, the Pope, Mary, the Saints, etc.) instead of God.
Christ himself is the source of the Church's authority.
The New Testament shows that Christ deliberately created his Church to be the vehicle of his continuing mission in the world. He promised to remain present in his Church for all time, and he lovingly guides it through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
To ensure the success of this mission, Christ gave his Church the ability to teach, govern and sanctify with Christ's own authority. The Apostles appointed successors to ensure that the Gospel would continue to be handed on faithfully as "the lasting source of all life for the Church" (Vatican II, "Lumen Gentium" 20; also Catechism #860).
The source and guarantee of this Church authority is Christ's continuing presence in his Church — "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20).
The purpose of this authority is to give the Church the ability to teach without error about the essentials of salvation: "On this rock, I will build My Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it" (Mt 16:18).
The scope of this authority concerns the official teachings of the Church on matters of faith, morals, and worship (liturgy & sacraments). We believe that, because of Christ's continued presence and guarantee, his Church cannot lead people astray with its official teachings (which are distinct from the individual failings and opinions of its members, priests, bishops, and Popes).
Catholics view the Bible as one of two definitive witnesses to divine Revelation. Christ taught many other things to the Apostles that are not recorded in Scripture; we call this Catholic Tradition, literally meaning "that which is handed on". Tradition is the full, living faith of the Apostles as received from Christ.
The New Testament bears witness in numerous places of Church authority. It clearly shows that Christ gave his Apostles his own authority to continue his mission.
Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you." (Jn 20:21)
In this passage, Jesus commissions the Apostles with continuing his own mission. This mission has its source in the divine authority of the Father. (CCC 859)
"He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me." (Mt 10:40) "He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me." (Lk 10:16)
Here, Christ explicitly identifies himself with the Apostles. Both passages compare the union between Christ and his Apostles to that of the Son and the Father within the Holy Trinity.
"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build My Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven." (Mt 16:18-19)
This is a key passage for understanding the Catholic doctrine of Church authority.
Christ confers on Peter his own divine authority, "the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven" for ruling the Church to "bind" and to "loose". This power to "bind and loose", is repeated also in Mt 18:18 to the Apostles as a whole, it is understood as applying first to Peter and his successors, the Pope, and then to the rest of the Apostles and their successors, the other Bishops in union with Peter.
The Acts of the Apostles provides abundant evidence of how Church authority was practiced during the Apostolic age, during the lives of the Apostles themselves after the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ.
This authority is limited to things that are essential to our salvation: faith, morals, and worship (the sacraments and liturgy). Additionally, since the Church's authority is at the service of Christ's gift of divine Revelation, the Church takes care to show how its declarations about faith and morals are consistent with that Revelation, Scripture and Tradition.
Non-Catholics usually base their rejection of Church authority on the common misconception of "misplaced worship" it is claimed that Catholics worship the Church instead of God.