Why I Believe the Authority of the Catholic Church

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Jamey wrote:

<< Please now answer this from the past: "And further, why do you believe 'your' authority?" >>

I'm going to give you reasons for my belief in this authority, Jamey. I could easily appeal to my experience or my feelings or even just my faith. Sure, I have had experiences in the Catholic Church that convince me of its divine authority. Sure I "feel good" about being Catholic. Sure, I have faith in God, faith in Christ, faith in the Holy Spirit and this faith confirms within me that God has me in the right place. But my experiences, my feelings, and my faith are not reasons for belief. I hope that nobody would believe or do anything simply because David Palm says "I experience...", "I feel...", "I believe..." I would only want somebody to believe as I believe because they found out that there are good reasons and good authority for doing so.

So, here's my "nickel" version. Since you already believe in God, I won't start at the most basic point which would be that "something exists" and reasoning from there to the existence of God.

Since you already believe in the authority of Christ, I will touch on that more briefly than I would with somebody who does not believe in the authority of Christ.

Each of these points can be amplified upon enormously, of course. This is the outline version. I don't have time to elaborate but each point could be expanded.

* There have been many religions and many self-proclaimed prophets down through the millenia of recorded history. So, since God exists, it pays to reckon seriously the possibility that He would choose to reveal Himself to man through these prophets.

* I find one very noteworthy example in history, Jesus of Nazareth. The impact this man's life and teaching have had on the subsequent history of the world eclipses the impact of any other individual in history. His life, teaching, example and (it is claimed) on-going power have inspired lives of amazing charity and holiness. This bears closer examination.

* Exactly how do I know what Jesus said and did? What are my sources of this God-man's life and teaching? How do I know that my sources are accurate? While there are a few scattered references to Jesus' life and teaching in ancient Roman, Greek, and Jewish literature there are really only four main textual sources about Jesus, the documents that are commonly named after their alleged authors: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Some people claim that these documents are inspired Scripture. But the documents themselves do not claim to be inspired by God. In fact, they do not even tell us who wrote them. So, at the start of our investigation I will not treat them as inspired Scripture but rather will look at them as any other document from ancient times. My more modest question before determining whether they are inspired is, are they historically reliable guides to Jesus' words and deeds?

* If we apply standard, well accepted principles of historical investigation we find that these documents have a pretty good pedigree. Fairly early and unanimously they were attested to be written by close associates of Jesus. We have individuals in the second and third centuries attesting that these documents were written respectively by Matthew, a former tax collector and disciple of Jesus, Mark, a close associate of a disciple of Jesus (Peter), Luke another close associate of the disciples of Jesus, and John, a former fisherman and disciple of Jesus.

* According to these historically sound documents, this man did not just claim to speak for God, as did Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, Joseph Smith, etc. He claimed to BE God. It was on this very charge that He was put to death by His contemporaries.

* So, is Jesus' claim to be God true? He demonstrated it to be true through His fulfillment of ancient prophecy, through His miracles, but most supremely through His rising again from the dead. Was Jesus Christ who He said He was? Well, C.S. Lewis' famous trilemma is helpful here: He was either liar, lunatic or Lord. All the evidence points to Lord. Christ, as God, offered salvation to those who put their faith in Him.

* I place my faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

* Since God can neither deceive nor be deceived, I will take everything that Jesus Christ says as absolutely trustworthy.

* Also, if I find that He delegates legitimate authority to anybody I will follow them as well. To refuse to do so would be disobedience to Christ.

* In the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John -- taking them only as historical sources and not yet as inspired Scripture -- Jesus says that He did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them, that is, to fill them full (Matt 5:17ff.). Thus we expect that the teachings of Jesus will be in continuity with and an elevation of the pattern set by God's people Israel, not an abolishment of that pattern.

* In our historically reliable sources we don't find a word from the Lord about any sacred writings that would be written and serve as the sole authority for His future followers.

* Jesus did say, however, that He would establish a Church (Matt 16:18ff; 18:18ff.). Jesus said He was the new King of Israel, of the line of David, and all indications are that He was establishing this Church along the lines of the Davidic monarchy. He establishes a "cabinet" of ministers who speak with His authority ("He who hears you hears Me....") and especially one "prime minister" signified by the giving of the keys of the Kingdom (Matt 16:18ff; compare Isa 22:22ff.). Note that this was a successive office in the Old Testament and we would expect it to be so in the New Covenant era. This newly established office was first given to Peter. In addition, Peter is told that he is to be the earthly shepherd of the flock of Christ (John 21:15ff.) and that when even the "cabinet of ministers" would experience Satanic oppression, Christ would intercede for Peter and he in turn would "confirm his brethren" (Luke 22:31ff.).

* This establishes that the Church, like the nation of Israel, is not exclusively an invisible, spiritual entity. One could not simply decide that he had had enough of Israel as God's chosen people and go off to set up his own "new and improved" Israel. The ten southern tribes tried that, with disastrous results.

* However, Jesus promised that the Church (unlike Israel) would have the on-going and permanent guidance of the Holy Spirit into all truth (John 14-16) and His own permanent and abiding presence to protect the Church in her mission of discipling and evangelism (Matt 28:18ff.; look up the phrase "I am with you" in Scripture to see entails a promise of the Divine presence in order to infallibly accomplish the Divine will.) He promised that the "gates of hell" would never prevail against His Church (Matt 16:18ff.). It follows that I can trust this Church because of the authority delegated to her by Christ. This is a matter of faith in Christ and His promises, not merely trust in weak and fallible men.

* The earliest recorded history of the early Church (the Acts of the Apostles) shows that it was not just a nebulous "invisible" Church with self-appointed, strictly local leadership. Rather, this Church was catholic (that is, universal) and had a visible and identifiable leadership that could meet in council, with Christ's prime minister at its head, and decide a doctrinal issue with binding, indeed infallible, authority ("It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..."; Acts 15). This is right in line with the way in which the Lord Jesus established the Church. This is also in line with the "incarnational principle." That is, the Christian religion is not all spiritualized. No, the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us. He had flesh and bones; he was fully human while being fully divine. So too the Church is not just a spiritual, invisible entity but has "flesh and bones", that is, it has an essential visible, human element to it that can never be totally spiritualized.

* In the history immediately following the ministry of the Apostles we see that the Church continued in this pattern established by Jesus Christ. The leadership of the Church consisted of bishops, who were the successors of the Apostles and the early Christians recognized the special authority of the bishop of Rome who was the successor of St. Peter in his office of "prime minister." All the historical evidence shows that this is the way the Church was established by the Apostles of Christ, on the instructions of Jesus. This is what we would expect, since the Lord established His Church with this structure and He promised to protect that Church. I have faith that I can trust this Church as established by Christ because of my faith in Christ and His promises to His Church.

* This is why when I say "Church" I mean the Catholic Church. No other body through history fits the Biblical model or passes the historical test of continuity as does the Catholic Church.

* The earliest Christians did not, indeed could not, simply follow a collection of sacred writings as their rule of faith. The Lord Jesus never said one word about such a collection, nor did any of His Apostles in their preserved writings or oral instructions. Rather, the early Church always asked, "Does such and such an idea or doctrine conform to the deposit of Faith that has been handed on to us by the Apostles?" The deposit of Faith was considered to be the entire sacred Tradition passed on by the Apostles, whether by word of mouth or in writing (1 Thess 2:15).

* It is this Church as established by Christ that came, eventually, to define which of the many books that were circulating as Scripture in the first centuries really are inspired by God. In fact, it was precisely on the basis of the orally transmitted Tradition that the Catholic Church was able to make this decision. That this process took four or five centuries is no problem at all, for the Church never relied on these books alone as the rule of Faith. But now my view of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is elevated tremendously. They are not merely historically reliable guides to Jesus' life and teachings. If have it on good authority that they are inspired by God; they are God's very Word. I have this on good authority now; it is not merely a product of my personal feelings or opinions. This only strengthens my faith in the Church as established by Jesus according to His words recorded in these inspired books.

Countless individuals and groups have come along in the almost twenty centuries since Jesus established the Church, claiming that they understand things better, that their interpretation of the Scriptures (which they inherited from the Church) is more accurate, that they are holier or that they have received some new revelation from God. Sometimes the controversy gets so intense that the successors of the Apostles, the Catholic bishops, following the example set in Scripture, meet in solemn council with the successor St. Peter at their head to decide the issue at hand. In these cases we believe that they are prevented by the Holy Spirit from teaching error, lest they lead the whole Church into error and the promises of Christ be made null. Sometimes issues arise that require a special intervention by the "prime minister", the successor of Peter, the Pope. In these instances too (as carefully explained by the First Vatican Council) we believe that he will be preserved by the Holy Spirit from teaching error, lest the promises of Christ to His Church be made void. That these are men, even sinful men, should not be an obstacle to our faith. Sinful men were "moved by the Holy Spirit" and wrote infallible Scripture. The action of the ministers of the Church is much less than that; no new revelation is given, they only answer the question, "What has been handed on?"

So I don't rely on my feelings, my mystical experiences, my personal and fallible reading of the Scriptures, or the charisma of the next self-appointed leader who comes along to tell the Church established by Christ where it went astray. All of these things are shifting sand. If someone else buys a Bible at the bookstore, reads it in an armchair, decides for himself what it means (even if this reading goes contrary to the massive consensus of professing Christians down through the centuries) and can remain content then fine, God's blessings to him. I used to think that way too. But I always had these nagging questions, "How do I know that I have not fallen into heresy? What do I measure my own beliefs against to know if they are orthodox or heretical?" For me the solution to "just read the Bible and the Holy Spirit will guide you" is too fallible, too subjective, too easily deceived, too disconnected from historic Christianity, too unbiblical (since there is no such teaching in Scripture), begs the question of where we got the Bible in the first place, and seems not to work since it leads to schism, division, uncertainty, and doubt.

So, instead of relying on my personal whims, I now rely on the Lord Jesus Christ and His promises to protect His Church. What Church? There is only one body of Christians which fits the Biblical model that Christ established for His Church. Only one Church has existed according to this model since the very first century down to this very day. It is the Catholic Church.

Perhaps you find this all too complicated. Where is room in all this for simple faith? Ok, here's the really simple version: I believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ established the Catholic Church and promised to protect it. Therefore I believe the teachings of the Catholic Church.

-- David Palm (djpalm64@yahoo.com), July 30, 1999



Very beautifully written! Really.

Therefore I believe the teachings of the Catholic Church. 


Where is room in all this for simple faith? Ok, here's the really simple version: I believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.


Jesus Christ established the Catholic Church and promised to protect it.

Why do you, David, believe this? Faith. Faith in what you believe to be from Christ, whether or not that is true. It stills falls down to whether or not you believe it. I, and many others, do not believe the church you have is Christ True Church.

Please remember also Jesus said to Peter He would establish his church and death could not prevail against it. Your past popes are still dead.

It stills boils down to Faith.

You can still talk till your blue in the face to that Muslum, but he still may not believe you. No matter what you say. He must be given Faith. And it only comes from The God. You claim yours comes from Him, others claim the same. But, it all stills comes down to each and their beliefs in what they believe, have faith, is true.

You can quote all you want, if you like I can quote just as many sources. Its still Faith.

-- Jamey (jcreel@hcsmail.com), July 30, 1999.

First off, thank you for the kind compliment.

For me, Jamey, it has never been a matter of faith versus reason but of blind faith versus enlightened faith. Others on this forum appear to me to have a blind, uninformed faith. Personally I can't just say, "The Bible came from God and I know what it means and I have faith, so there." I have to have reasons to believe. My heart (faith) and my head have to be in harmony or I'm miserable.

I believe that is the way Christianity was meant to be. St. Paul gives historical proofs for his belief in the Resurrection (1 Cor 15); he does not just appeal to a blind faith.

I believe (have faith) in the Catholic Church's claims because I believe the Church has the best case and, of course, because I beleive this is what Jesus Christ taught. But I'm glad that at the very least you caught my central point, that a Catholic's adherance to the teachings of the Church has its genesis in his faith in Christ. If somebody can at least grasp that and thus call me, a Catholic, a Christian brother (however misguided from his vantage point) then I'm satisfied.

God bless,

-- David Palm (djpalm64@yahoo.com), July 31, 1999.


We all must do a personal search with our mind (our reasoning). We look at things through our "glasses" (hearts). We distinguish through each what we learn, we percieve to be Truth. We advance in knowledge. We all pray that knowledge plus The God's Love becomes wisdom.

We can say believe the Bible because some certain group of men say- so. That's a starting point. It was not my starting point, but none the less many travel down roads and arrive at the same point, imho.

I take the Bible and stand IT up against anything that somebody says is untrue. And so far IT has always proven correct. It has not been because of this or that group.

Points such as those whom said the world was flat. The Bible clearly states it was not, yet everybody (whom believe this and called themsleves "Christians") seem to ignore what the Bible said. And, later "science" proved those wrong.

Us "protestants" as many are labled believe many of the "traditions" that are held are in the same catagory.

Faith is based on what we "know" or believe to be true. These things may or may not be.

The Bible as "canonized" by the "Catholics" has been reexamined many times by others. Using not only "Catholic" resources, but many others than have been found in the recent centuries. God has a way of making us check ourselves :>)

The "faith" you put in 'your' beliefs as well as the others of your belief can they pass one test from the Bible? Are your members known by "brotherly love"?

Note: this has nothing to do with the recent event of the bishop, that is a very sad case and he "passed to the dark side" :>) and he is a lost 'soul' unless he gets some help.

I'm speaking of teachings/traditions and how people follow them.

-- Jamey (jcreel@hcamial.com), August 01, 1999.

Jamey and others - I truly hope you feel the basic five religions of the world pray to the same God. After all He made them all be they yellow black of white they are precious in His sight.+Peace+

-- jean bouchardRC (jeanb@cwk.imag.net), August 01, 1999.

I did try to make it clear that my reasons involve some objective observations on the way Jesus set up his Church (i.e. making Peter his "prime minister" as evidenced by the giving of the keys of the Kingdom).

So again, this is not just about "your faith, my faith, anybody's faith is just as good as anybody elses'". There are reasonable faiths and there are unreasonable faiths. I think it's demonstrable that the Catholic faith is emminently reasonable.

But you've been very respectful in your response to my little essay and for that I am grateful.

-- David Palm (djpalm64@yahoo.com), August 01, 1999.


Please demonstrate the emminate reasoning, does your organization show love to one another? Does any - really? And Jean, I am not sure which five you speak of, But many of the what I consider to be the main relegions (Christians - Orthodox/Catholic/Protestant, Muslums, Hindu) do not pray to the "same" God. Though many believe they do. My God is not the God of "Signs "from" God." That's a cruel god, imho. One who would actually do such things makes no sense to what is written in the Bible of the ones who really follow Jehovah.

-- Jamey (jcreel@hcsmail.com), August 01, 1999.

<< Please demonstrate the emminate reasoning, does your organization show love to one another? >>

Some Catholics do and some don't. The ones who follow the teachings of the Lord Jesus, which are also the teachings of the Catholic Church, do. So what's the point?

Sinners in the ranks have not, do not, will not ever prove something false. Jesus said there would always be sinners in the Church. Doesn't prove a thing to say "There's sinners in your Church!." It's not a very rational response, but my immediate reaction to such an "argument" is to just say, well duh!

The Lord said, "By their fruits you will know them" not by their fruits you will know It (i.e. the Church). So indeed, by their fruits you will know those Catholics who are truly living up to the teachings of the Catholic Church and the Lord Jesus Christ.

-- David Palm (djpalm64@yahoo.com), August 01, 1999.

"Church" = "congregation"

Or put another way "it" is "them." Sure your going to have "sinners" no matter what. That's no what I'm referring to. It's more than just the "rank and file." It's much deeper than that.

A Christian cannot train to kill his 'brother'. A Christian can't say that it's ok for his 'brother' to go and kill another 'brother,' imho.

-- Jamey (jcreel@hcsmail.com), August 02, 1999.


thank you for a well-written and well-thought article.

-- Lane Core Jr. (elcore@sgi.net), August 08, 1999.


When did the Catholic's 'canonize' the Bible used now?

-- Jamey (jcreel@hcsmail.com), August 09, 1999.

Kathy, here is a great thread for you to read. God bless you


-- @ (@@@@.@), September 06, 2002.

Thank you.....whoever you are =). It is late, so I will read it tomorrow.

Good night and god bless,

-- Kathy (sorry@nomail.com), September 06, 2002.

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