I was asked today, about the authority of the Church in relation to the authority of the Scriptures.
I replied, “I am saying that the authority of the Scriptures derives from the authority of the Church via her union by grace with God in Christ. It is not a greater or lesser authority, but the same authority.”
One respondent asked, “[W]hat is the ‘church’ that has this equal authority. Me? Dad? the elders? the Pope? Based on what?”
I replied, “That Church which was founded by Christ on his Apostles through the Holy Spirit, and which continues in direct descent to this day. These things are traceable through objective historical evidence.”
The same respondent replied, “How is it recognized (specifically)? Where will I find that equal authoritative church this sunday (or saturday?)? When I get there, how do I determine that the equal authority to the bible is 1) speaking from the pulpit? 2) on the church board of elders? 3) all the people sitting in the pews? 4) someone in Rome provides the rules? Are we all equally authoritative then? (since we are the Church?)”
And here is my fuller answer to him:
If you’re truly serious, let me suggest the following:
1. Start with the New Testament communities (such as Thessaloniki, Antioch, Ephesus and so forth). As best as you can determine who the New Testament describes as leaders there, apostles and/or their representatives.
2. Next, look at the earliest Christian writings outside the New Testament (e. g., 1 Clement, St. Ignatios’ epistles, and so forth) and note two things: a) who were the leaders, and b) what did they teach?
3. Next, look at church historians (Eusebius, Sozomen, etc.) and continue asking these two questions about the various New Testament communities.
4. Work your way forward to today.
You could, of course, work your way backwards, but this would demand trying to figure out where to start. The advantage of my suggestion is that there is no bias, no presuppositions–you simply determine through historical research where is the living continuity in leadership and doctrine from the New Testament to today.
You will, of course, very soon run into the Church councils, and this will aid your research greatly for it will list those leaders and focus on the doctrines the entire Church has taught from the New Testament. You, of course, will be able to verify this fact from your own reading.
Now you may very well respond that this is a lot of work, would take too much time and so on. All of this is true.
But if you want to look into this yourself and not depend on someone else’s biases and prejudices, this is the way to go.
Having completed this exercise, you will very easily and clearly be able to determine which group today is the Church and worthy of your trust.