Are We More Like the Catholic Church Than We'd Like to Admit?

David F. Wells makes a great comparison in The Courage To Be Protestant between the western evangelical church today and the Catholic Church. Wells makes the point that the Catholic Church has historically seen two streams of revelation by which the church is guided: Scripture and Tradition. The teaching authority, the Magisterium, then resolved issues to make these two streams of revelation agree.

As Luther pointed out, the problem with this is that it essentially placed a "gag" over the Word of God. Wells elaborates,

What he meant was that Scripture was free to deliver its truth only to the extent to which the church's teaching authority was in agreement with it. Where it was not, Scripture had to remain silent.

Now the comparison between the Catholic Church and today's western evangelical church in all her many stripes:

Many today marvel at this attempt by the Catholic Church to mute the full authority of God's Word by its own authority, but they then fail to see that something rather similar is happening in the Western evangelical church. It is not that evangelicals today, or Catholics then, actively oppose the authority of Scripture. Catholics did not oppose biblical inspiration, nor to evangelicals today. Rather, then as now, the church's practice belies its profession of belief in the Bible's authority.

Scripture cannot function authoritatively if the church is not willing to put itself under its authority and learn from it as God's sole, authoritative guide for its belief and practice. The Catholic Church could not claim that it believed in Scripture's authority while it was also negating that authority by its own teaching. And we today cannot claim we believe in the Bible's authority if we set it aside to build the church in our own way.

You may object and say, "Well, that is an exaggerated assessment!" or "That really doesn't happen today in our churches." But ask yourself this question, "How many times have you heard this statement or some semblance of it in your local church, 'Well, we know the Bible says such and such, but we believe/but this is what works best for us/but this is what is producing results...' "

Wells again,

Unless evangelicals recover their confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture, their claim that Scripture alone is authoritative will remain empty. It will remain a charade.

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