Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Is Catholicism Biblical? First Things First.

I had a reader ask about the Bible and acting according to it.  I hope I understood their request correctly so, if I am not and that was you, feel free to comment and offer an adjustment!


First things first. Never second or third things first. 

Which came first the Church or the Bible? Certainly we all can agree the Old Testament predates the Church but, for Christians, the entire Bible is not only those books related to the Old Covenant (that compilation of books we call the "Old Testament" where "Testament" is synonymous with the word "Covenant.") Christians acknowledge a new, definitive covenant that God made with humanity through His Son, Jesus Christ. The establishment of that covenant came in the upper room at the last supper when the Christ (the Messiah, God made man) took bread and wine and declared the bread to be His body which we must eat and the wine to be His blood which we must drink.  He commanded us to "do this in memory of Me." 

Do WHAT in memory of Him?

Celebrate the Eucharist He was offering.  He offered up His body and blood at the Last Supper and fulfilled that covenantal act during His passion.  There was one offering that Christ made of Himself. His entire life was held in His hands at the Last Supper and His entire life was given in His passion.  

He said, "This cup is New Covenant (Testament) in My Blood..." (Luke 22:20) There - that offering of Himself - of His body and blood - there is the New Covenant.  HE, the Word of God Made Flesh, being offered to the Father on behalf of mankind, is the New Covenant; the New Testament.

These words (from the written Word of God) testify about a Testament centered in a Person.  The whole of Scripture - most especially those books centered around the New Covenant/New Testament - is all about the Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ.  In the Old Testament/Covenant books that reality is hidden and foreshadowed.  The books of the New Testament/Covenant speak of the Word of God made flesh with unveiled clarity.  Nonetheless, all of the Bible (the written Word) refers to the enfleshed Word (Jesus Christ.)

The Biblical books were all selected because these were the books read in public liturgy/worship.  The 27 books of the New Covenant/Testament (which eventually became known simply as "the New Testament") were identified definitively as God's written Word and Divinely inspired because those 27 books were those which were in accord with the New Covenant itself and were proclaimed in the public celebration/offering of the New Covenant memorial sacrifice (Jesus said, "Do THIS in memory of me" and so the Church does so.)

I offer all of this to reframe the original question I posed. I asked in the title of this post "Is Catholicism Biblical?" However, HOW did the early Church determine what was to be in the Bible in the first place? If we want to know what is biblical we first must recognize that we are assuming that these 27 books of the New Testament (and the 73 books of the Old Testament) are indeed the written Word of God!  How do we know that the Bible is truly the Word of God? In other words, "Who said so?"

It was the community of Christians who gathered around and found their strength in the New Covenant offering of the Eucharist.  The Body of Christ (the Church) was centered in the Body of Christ (the Eucharist) and determined that certain books/letters were appropriately labeled as "Scripture" and "Divinely Inspired" and "Word of God" and therefore were authoritative.  These books were authoritative as the Word of God because of their connection and proximity with the celebration of the Word of God made flesh (Jesus in the Eucharist) as the Church fulfilled Jesus' words "Do this in memory of Me." The Church offered the Body and Blood of the New Covenant while hearing certain words in certain letters/books.   

So, first things first.  So it is clear that the Church obviously existed before those books of the New Covenant/Testament were even written. The earliest Christians would not have asked "Is this or that biblical" in the way some Christians would ask today simply because the entire Bible wasn't even written yet much less declared/recognized as God's written Word.  The Church was able to discern "These and not those" books are God's Word. 

Why did the early Church have any authority to determine what should be declared as the written Word of God, the books of the New Covenant/Testament? Does this mean that the Bible is not the only authority in matters of doctrine, faith, morals etc.? I would argue yes because unless we accept the authority of the early Church in determining what we hold as authoritative (the Bible) then we have no reason to accept the Bible as authoritative in the first place.

To summarize: The Church declared "THIS is the written Word of God." Ought we not listen to the other things the Church has declared? 

More on that in the next post...