Personal Infallibility the Elephant in the Protestant Room

Non Catholic Christians often grumble about the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility, but they miss the point that for any religion to be considered reliable somewhere along the line you have to have some sort of infallibility.

To get what I mean we first have to understand what infallibility is.

Infallibility is not sinless perfection. It is not having the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Infallibility is simply the fact that what the Catholic Church does teach is without error.

This doesn’t mean that the Catholic Church has it all wrapped up and that there is nothing left to discuss, nothing left to discover. It simply means that what has been defined in the area of doctrine and morals is reliable and true and without error. Are there still open areas? Yes. Are there still things undecided? Yes. Are there still grey areas? Yes.

When I say for any religion to work you have to have infallibility, what I mean is that for you to belong to a religion you have to trust your leadership. You have to believe that in essence what they are saying is true and without error. Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to worship and  belong faithfully nor would you be able to properly criticize and think things through. It is only when you have the solid starting base of trust in the essential reliability that your religion is without error that you can move forward.

The even bigger elephant in the room is when non-Catholics don’t belong to any religion other than their own. When that happens the pastor or the denomination aren’t infallible. They are.

With the rise of “non denominational” churches, storefront churches and an increasing number of do it yourself churches the rise of what might be called personal infallibility is even greater.

Without the check and balance of a denomination or a set theological system the individual picks and chooses his theology with just him, his Bible and whatever spotty education he might have gathered here and there.

Some time ago an acquaintance from my Protestant fundamentalist days was in touch by email. Kevin is now a Baptist pastor working on his PhD. He wished to engage me in conversation to help me see my way out of the murky waters of Catholicism into the pure clear light of his religion.

I had not come across any disputant for some time who was really a sola Scriptura  believer. Most Evangelicals, when pressed, will offer some modified and qualified version of sola Scriptura because they will admit that they rely on a Presbyterian, or a Baptist or a Methodist (or whatever) tradition to help them interpret the Scriptures. Even if they don’t sign up to a particular denominational name brand, and claim to be ‘just an ordinary Evangelical’, it isn’t too hard to get them to admit that even as ‘an ordinary Evangelical’ they are still interpreting the Scriptures within a particular historical and theological context, and therefore they are reliant, at least a little, on a form of  tradition that they are treating as infallible even if they are not aware that they are doing so.

Not Kevin. Continue Reading