Elsewhere in Christianity Richly, I have written that my journey into the Church involved many reasons: certainly, history, unity, authority, liturgy, community, and sacramentality. First among these was—and remains—authority.
Authority rests upon the ongoing work for God the Holy Spirit, in and on behalf of the Church that Christ established (John 16:13).
The circumstances by which it became clear that teaching authority is essential began in a simple, everyday way. A friend with no strong religious convictions became a Baptist. Not long after entering one of the many different independent Baptist assemblies, the issue of alcohol came up. This prompted sincere self-examination on my friend’s part. His desire to do right was absolute. Since Christians hold different positions, all he wanted to know was, “What is right?”
Well, what is right? A good pastor, a seminary professor and man who loves Jesus Christ, was telling my friend, “You cannot drink wine and be a good Christian.” Yet my own former protestant pastor, an author of more than 40 books and a strongly biblical preacher, had more than once enjoyed a glass of wine with my wife and me.
Unquestionably, the word of God is certain. But interpretation is not. The vast diversity of protestant interpretations is evidence. Protestant denominations, all claiming the authority of scripture, differ on soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. In other words, all of the following—how we are saved, along with how the Church is organized and governed, and what will happen at the end of time—are up for grabs. These are not small matters. Where is one to turn? To the Bible, yes. But each voice proclaims, “On the authority of scripture, I declare.” At that point, their interpretations go in different directions.
Is this not the situation Saint Paul described in 1 Corinthians 14:8? If the bugle gives an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle? What are we to do? Go forward? Go back? The context for these two verses addresses speaking in tongues. But the overriding point is found in 1 Corinthians 14:33: God is not “the God of disorder but of peace.”
We find much of 21st century Christianity facing circumstances similar to those of the early Church described inActs 15:2—marked by “no small dissension and debate.” The solution? The same as in Acts 15: Go to the Apostles and successors they appointed.