Are Bishops the Only Accurate Interpreters of God’s Word?
|By: Mike Gendron; ©2002|
|An unholy scandal of global proportions is cracking the very foundation of the Roman Catholic Church. Reports of sexual perversion, child abuse, rapes, lies and cover-ups have reached epidemic proportions. But Mike Gendron says there is some good that is coming out of this tragedy!|
Are Bishops the Only Accurate Interpreters of God’s Word?
Two friends recently returned from a Catholic Apologetics Conference where they learned how to defend and explain the Catholic faith. Upon their return they were invited to an evangelical Bible Study but declined, saying that only the Magisterium of the Catholic Church can interpret the Bible accurately. Wow! What a way to maintain control over Catholics! Tell them no one else has the authority to interpret Scripture except their own Bishops.
This brings to mind a Catholic named Rose who heard the Gospel through our ministry and trusted Jesus as her all-sufficient Savior. Convinced she had to leave her church, she asked me to go with her to tell her priest. I welcomed the opportunity, not wanting to give the adversary an opportunity to pluck the imperishable seed from her heart. So, I asked her priest to explain to Rose what she had to do to enter heaven. He responded that she must be baptized, receive the sacraments, attend Mass every week, do good works, obey the commandments, and die without any “mortal” sins. I then asked him to open his Bible to the book of Romans and to read several key verses out loud. When he finished reading, I asked him to reconcile what God’s word said with what he told Rose. Now the priest knew why I was there. He became defensive and appeared irritated. Each time he tried to reconcile the Bible with Catholic teaching, I gently confronted him with another verse that exposed his error. Finally he threw up his hands and said in frustration, “Look, I don’t have the authority to interpret the Bible. We rely on the Magisterium to interpret it for us.”
After Rose and I left his office, I opened my Bible to what the apostle Paul wrote: “by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:2). Rose then understood that Paul was presenting the Scriptures to everyone for their own interpretation and accountability to God. She knew Paul did not write to a Magisterium or grant anyone sole authority to interpret the Bible. Rose knew she had made the right decision to leave the Roman Catholic Church, which had deceived her on the critical issue of her salvation.
Since we will all be held accountable for knowing God’s word, we must be sure we use good principles of interpretation (hermeneutics). This is because, historically, men have twisted and distorted God’s word for selfish ambition and power (Micah 3:9, Ps. 55:4-5; Gal. 1:7; 2 Pet. 3:16). Paul said man-imposed religions may have an appearance of wisdom but their commandments and teachings only keep people in legalistic bondage and have no value (Col. 2:20-23). He exhorted us not to base our faith on the persuasive words of human wisdom but on the power of God manifested in His word (1 Cor. 2:5; Rom. 1:16). Only by abiding in God’s word and knowing the truth can captives be set free from religion (John 8:31-32).
We have biblical examples of how religious leaders became corrupt and led people away from the truth. Jesus condemned the leaders of God’s chosen people with seven woes in the 23rd chapter of Matthew. They were soundly rebuked for shutting off the kingdom of heaven from men who were entering, for making their converts sons of hell and for hiding their self-indulgence and uncleanness with external righteousness. Jesus called them serpents and a brood of vipers and questioned how they thought they would escape the sentence of hell. This is why the psalmist says, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.” (Psalm 118:8).
The things that condemned the Jewish leaders are similar to the practices that have brought condemnation to the Roman Catholic religion today. The Catholic clergy stands condemned because they shut off the kingdom of heaven with a gospel other than the one Paul preached (Gal. 1:6-9). Accordingly, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). Because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, God has given them over to degrading passions and depraved minds to perform indecent acts as the due penalty for their error (Rom. 1:25-28). The number of reported pedophiles, homosexuals and rapists within the Roman Catholic clergy has grown to epidemic proportions. For centuries many Cardinals, bishops and priests hid their sexual sins, cover-ups and crimes under robes of self-righteousness. Only recently have their atrocities been exposed.
To paraphrase the words of the Apostle John, “They say they have fellowship with Jesus, yet walk in the darkness, thus they lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6). It is indeed incredulous how Catholics continue to blindly trust their Bishops for spiritual truth after observing their depraved judgment in reassigning pedophiles to prey on more vulnerable children. These clergymen are incapable of making accurate spiritual judgments. Paul said we are to avoid such men who have a form of godliness but are unholy, arrogant, brutal and without self-control (2 Tim. 3:2-5).
Roman Catholics must be persuaded to study the Bible for themselves and not to rely exclusively on what their priests and bishops teach them. To blindly trust fallible men for their eternal destiny is utterly foolish. To replace Jesus Christ with any other mediator leaves people open to deception. The Bible warns its readers over and over again that man cannot be trusted. “Let God be true, and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4). Scripture must be our final court of appeal for correcting and reproving those who misinterpret, twist or distort the word of God (2 Tim. 3:15-16). The Bible is what God says. Religion is what man says God says.
Another example of how the actions and influence of fallible men can divert people from the truth is the Apostle Peter. In a public confrontation, Paul opposed Peter to his face because he was “not straightforward about the truth of the Gospel” (Gal. 2:11-14). Peter’s actions were causing Barnabas and the Jews to join him in his hypocrisy. Paul used the authority of God’s word to correct Peter. Once again we see that if an apostle can err in matters of faith, we must test every teaching with the infallible word of God. We also see from this example that Peter was not infallible, as the Roman Catholic Church would have you believe.
The Lord said, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind…for he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant” (Jeremiah 15:5-6). What a vivid picture of those who trust what man says God says instead of what God says. The Lord Jesus said, “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24). We must strive by searching the Scriptures to test every teaching. Why? Because many wolves, [false teachers] dressed up in sheep’s clothing, are pointing people to the wide road that leads to destruction. The only way we can know who is telling the truth is by challenging every teaching with God’s word.
Many Catholics point to the early church fathers in an attempt to give credence to unbiblical, post apostolic traditions such as the sacrifice of the Mass, purgatory and indulgences. But some of these church fathers may be the very men Paul warned us about when he wrote, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock, and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears” (Acts 20:29-31). The church fathers must be tested using the plumb line of Scripture just as Paul, himself, was tested in Berea.
Paul commended the Bereans for using Scripture to verify the veracity of his teaching. “They received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). Here is an apostle, who wrote over half the New Testament, being held accountable to Scripture. This should be an exhortation for all of us to carefully challenge the teachings of every teacher! Every preacher, teacher, pastor, pope and priest should come under the same type of scrutiny. Don’t miss the fact that it was the lay people of the church who were individually responsible to interpret and test Paul’s teaching in the light of God’s word. We must all be good Bereans and reject any teaching not in harmony with Scripture.
In conclusion, it is clear that the Scriptures were written for individuals, not to a Magisterium or a group of clergymen. Many of the epistles were written to all the saints (Christians) at different churches. John wrote his gospel to all people, persuading them to believe in the person and finished work of Jesus Christ (John 20:31). His first epistle was written to all believers in Christ to give them assurance of eternal life (1 John 5:13). The Bible never directs us to another man, another book or another authority to interpret the Scriptures for us. For Catholics to rely on the Magisterium to interpret God’s message of love would be like relying on a stranger to interpret a personal letter from a loved one. God’s message of love, mercy and grace is not too difficult to understand. He does not try to confuse anyone who seeks Him through His word. The Gospel is so simple that children can understand it, yet so profound that theologians spend an entire lifetime trying to grasp the infinite riches of God’s amazing grace.
All are called to obey Christ’s first command, “repent and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Jesus proclaimed His Gospel with profound clarity, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). Those who believe the Magisterium have not believed Jesus. They are disobeying Christ by going through other mediators (John 14:6; 1 Tim. 2:5). In fact, until one turns to Jesus Christ, there is a veil that blinds them from the truth of the Gospel (2 Cor. 4:3). Only by turning from the teachings and traditions of men to Christ and His word will the veil be taken away (2 Cor. 3:16).