Who arbitrates between conflicting theologies?

Who indeed?  But the answer to this question never dawned on me for a very long time.  I’m not even sure if the Catholic answer to that question was even on my radar.  I will say, though, that the question generated a decent amount of humility when it came to biblical interpretation.

The thing is, we visited and were members of so many Protestant churches along the way that the question, “who is right” was bound to pop up.  And when it did, I did not know the answer.  Was I right, and everyone else wrong?  Was my church right and all others wrong?  It seemed like a staggering claim to make to say that my church was the one that was completely right.  And yet, what is the other option?  That my church is not completely right.  Then why am I there?  And here we get to the crux of it.  I am there because I don’t believe that these things, when the rubber hits the road, really matter.

Does baptism do anything?  How is it to be administered?  To babies or not?  Is it necessary?  Can it be repeated?  So many conflicting opinions.  And we’re talking about baptism, fer crying out loud.  Kind of a central little dealio.  So central I was “baptized” three times.

Nowhere was this “humility” more in evidence than in various bible studies, where 20-something financial planners were confidently professing that their understanding of such and such verse was obviously the correct one.  The Baptists know not of what they speak.  Nor do the Catholics.  Or the Methodists.  Only me.  Or my little bumbleweed bible church.  This attitude eventually bred in me a severe distrust of any interpretation of the bible.  To the point where I really gave up trying to figure out what the bible meant.  How was little old me supposed to know the answer to these questions if the learned all contradicted one another.  I was a 20-something environmental scientist living in the late 20th century, in some little backwater of Pennsylvania.  I didn’t know Greek or Hebrew.  I didn’t have time to read 20 different commentaries.  I didn’t feel confident making any decisions.  The process was doomed before it started.  Why start?

Eventually the question arose: is this how it is really supposed to be?  Is this what God intended?  Did he give us a bible and tell us to go and do what we can to figure it out?  Were we really intended to be at such loggerheads about such critical issues?  Life and death issues.  Heaven and hell issues.  Given the revelation of a united Christendom that I had received from St. Hilaire, it seemed to me that things hadn’t always been this way.  Christians had been united in a common understanding of the truth.  Except for those Christians that weren’t.  And their name was “heretics”.

What changed?  The Reformation and its repudiation of all authority outside the bible.  But see, however beautiful and inspired, the bible is a book.  And books need interpreting.  Without an interpreter, Protestantism happens.  Confusion reigns.  Chaos ensues.  Gradual erosion of truth…happens.  But I didn’t know that then.  I just knew something wasn’t right.  And it had something to do with authority.

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~ by Rob on May 19, 2008.

2 Responses to “Who arbitrates between conflicting theologies?”

  1. Great explanation of the practical concerns of Sola Scriptura.

  2. […] Who arbitrates between conflicting theologies? […]

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