In Defense of Sola Ecclesia


I have heard the term "Sola Ecclesia" in many debates, and have seen it in websites as well. The definition of Sola Ecclesia is that the Church has the authority to interpret the Scriptures and Tradition. This is totally fine with me. Why? Because we can see that the Church, as the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15), is holding up the Scriptures and Tradition. "Sola Ecclesia" is just a phrase that would confuse many who would think that the Church does not hold up anything else. I would rather follow Sola Ecclesia than following Sola Scriptura.

The phrase, "I do not want any Church standing between me and God" is very unfortunate. One would not say, "I don't want the government to stand between me and my country." As Fulton Sheen said,

"To say one between God and me is anti-Christian because it implies that your brother is a barrier to God's grace and not a means to it."

Fulton Sheen is definitely right. One does not have their own mathematics, science, and astronomy. When our Blessed Lord taught us how to pray, He said, "Our Father, daily bread, trespasses" NOT "My Father, daily bread, trespasses." If one searches the Scriptures, one would find that God always dealt with mankind through human corporations or races, or moral bodies, presided over by a divinely appointed head. First it was Noah, then Abraham to Jacob and on through the prophets. These people were part of the kahal. Throughout Jewish history one will find that being cut off from the kahal is the greatest punishment of all.

The kahal was also visible. One would know the kahal that was called the Jews. And so if God always dealt with a visible head, why would He not do it again to His new kahal? God sent our Blessed Lord to save the people. We can see that God is giving revelation through His Son as well. The Son also promised, and built a new kahal. Note that Our Blessed Lord NEVER promised NEW SCRIPTURE. Jesus said to Peter,

"You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my Church." (Matthew 16:18)

Many scholars, including many Protestants, would admit that the rock refers to Peter. We also see just like Abram (Genesis 17), Jesus gave Simon a new name. This means that Simon will now have new powers and privileges. Also note, that Jesus said He would build His Church. The Greek word for Church in this verse is ekklesia, in Hebrew, kahal. So we see that Jesus is building a new visible organization. Not only is it an organization, but an organism. It is the Mystical Body of Christ. Just as revelation was given from Jesus, now it will be also given from His Mystical Body. What kind of authority does this new kahal have?

"Whatever you shall bind will be bound, and whatever you shall loose will be loosed." (Matt 16:19; 18:18)

So this new kahal is an authoritative Church like the old one. One example of this is when they were trying to figure out if Gentiles had to be circumcised. Note that they did not leave it up to the individual to decide. We read,

"My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe." (Acts 15:7)

If one practiced Sola Scriptura those days, you would hear something like this,

"Can you give me any document that says you were given that task? How do we know that God made that choice through you?"

They didn't argue with Peter, but fell silent (Acts 15:12). Then we read that James will back up what Peter had decided. He quotes Scripture,

"After this I shall return and rebuild the fallen hut of David; from its ruins I shall rebuild it and raise it up again, so that the rest of humanity may seek out the Lord, even all the Gentiles on whom my name is invoked. Thus says the Lord who accomplishes these things, known from my old." (Acts 15:16-17)

James is quoting from Amos 9:11-12. Now, how come no one is arguing with him? I can sure argue with him pretty well. He only used two verses to prove his point. How many verses in the OT say to keep the Mosaic Law and circumcise people? There are a lot more verses where I can support circumcision. Now, what if this was done today? Would the people argue with the Church? A good example is the Assumption of Mary. The Church has defined the woman in Revelation 12 to be Mary. Can someone refute that? Of course they can. Just as I can refute what James has said on Amos 9:11-12.

Another example is the case of Ptolemy, Barnabas, and Marcion. Marcion of Pontus believed an inferior god in the Old Testament who was so ignorant, the god could not find Adam (Gen 3:9). Barnabas believed that the Jews lost the covenant immediately after Moses received it when the Jews worshipped the golden calf. Ptolemy believed in three lawgivers: God Himself, Moses, and the elders of the people. The Church then made some big decisions.

"The Church excommunicated Marcion and condemned Marcionism. Barnabas found no disciples. Ptolemy's principles were rejected. Generally, the early Church did not define its teachings on its own initiative. Instead, it defined them by reacting. Only when someone announced, "I've got it all figured out," did the Church take a long look at the solution, measure it against its sense of the faith, and often enough say, "No, you don't; that's not in line with our faith." Thus, in rejecting Marcion as a heretic, in not following Barnabas, and in not accepting Ptolemy's principles, the Church made some important affirmations." (The Bible, the Church, and Authority by Joseph T. Lienhard, pg 19)

Let us say that we are people living in 40 AD. How would we know about this man Jesus? How would we know His teachings? How would we know His TRUE teachings? One cannot go to the Scriptures then and find about this man. He would have to go to the Church. When the Apostles died, revelation ceased. Now, who would know what the Apostles taught? Who would know about what their true teachings were? Where did their authority go? Did it cease?

We see in the NT Scriptures that the Apostles passed their authority on. One example is Paul passing his teaching authority to Timothy (1 Tim 1:3; 3:2; 4:11-16; 5:17; 6:2ff; 2 Tim 1:13-14). Timothy will also pass on his authority (2 Tim 2:2). And from that day on, we have many that have their authority. One might ask, "Where can we find Jesus' teachings?" The answer will be just like the answer in 40 AD. The Church. You will not find one passage where the Apostles passed their authority to their Gospels or their Epistles. It is also impossible because a book cannot bind and loose.

Many Protestants will have to give up to the Catholic Church eventually. They will find themselves contradicting themselves. One example is a discussion with a Protestant friend:

Avbcl111: How do you know who wrote Matthew? Aren't you going to rely on the early fathers????

Protestant: We can date the document by internal evidence, and its authorship is attested by internal and external evidence.

Avbcl111: can you give me an example?

Protestant: Yes. For example, Matthew frequently mentions fulfillments of prophecy. But he doesn't mention any fulfillment of Jesus' prediction of the destruction of the temple, which occurred in 70 A.D. Therefore, it's likely that the document was written prior to 70 A.D. I can cite books and scholars on this subject. There's a lot of evidence for the authenticity of the books of the Bible.

Avbcl111: yes but how do you know Matthew wrote it though? how do you know it wasn't a Gnostic?

Protestant: The author's name is part of every relevant manuscript we have. We also know that documents during that time usually had the author's name attached all along. The widespread, early, universal acceptance of Matthew as the author suggests that there was no competing authorship claim, and that the Matthean claim was highly credible. People who lived with the apostles or shortly after specifically implied or named Matthew as the author.

Avbcl111: so in other are relying on tradition

Protestant: No, things like manuscripts, archeology, and the writings of Christians are not the same as the tradition you believe in as a Catholic.

Avbcl111: that is a written tradition

Protestant: The tradition you believe in contradicts much of what the church fathers wrote.

Avbcl111: But you are still relying on the authority of tradition. So far, you are relying on scripture and tradition and you said that a church has authority as well.

This was a discussion on Authority. We see that my Protestant friend is relying on the Early Church Fathers and manuscripts, which of course, are written traditions. One would not have the Bible if he does not accept the authority of the Church who did it, and the canons (which is a written tradition as well). The person who practices Sola Scriptura would not even give citations of early Church Fathers to try to contradict the Catholic Church if they do not rely on written tradition. By trying to contradict the Catholic Church, he will have to rely on these writings as authoritative, or else, even though citing them, they do not really matter. A person who follows Sola Scriptura is actually relying on three authorities: Scripture, Church, and Tradition which is of course, just like the Catholic Church.

One example also is the Canon. Some might say that Athanasius had the right number of books. But who would argue from one man's authority? How is his Canon correct and the others were not? Who has the final authority? The Church has this final authority and she has made her decision.

In one of my "debates" we discussed Sola Scriptura. I would find it interesting how the Protestant would attack the Catholic Church in that debate. Why would he even mention the Catholic Church, knowing that the Catholic Church doesn't practice Sola Scriptura? Let us say that I am converting from "Rome." Where would I go? How would I know who has the truth? What kind of worship did the Early Church do? Is it Liturgical? Shall we baptize infants? What about salvation?

Let us say that I was debating with Mr. X. Mr. X made me convert from Rome. Mr. X is a Reformed Baptist, and I will be converting from Rome to become a Presbyterian. Now, would not Mr. X (if he really cared for me, and believed he had the truth) keep on bothering me on many issues? Mr. X will not be satisfied until I convert to his denomination. It looks as if Mr. X is a Pope.

If two people are arguing on Infant Baptism, shouldn't there at least be a final authority that would interpret Scripture? Could one imagine if the Church had not even defined the nature of God? If a person believes in the Trinity, it is because the Church has defined it and that has been passed on to our day. If you give a person who does not know anything about the Trinity or any council, one will find that he would not define God as a Trinity and cannot define it like today.

What if the Church didn't decide anything on circumcision? Can anyone say that we should still circumcise people in order to enter the covenant? We follow the decision on Acts 15 not because it's in the Bible, but because the Church has infallibly decided on that issue. A person in that day will not believe because he reads the Gospel of Matthew or the book of Acts, but because he knows it is taught by the Apostles and the Church.

A person who says something like "Sola Ecclesia" is forgetting that the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. A body cannot live if one of its organs is not in harmony with the others. To say "Sola Ecclesia" is really saying "Sola Christos," the Mystical Body that is authoritative and knows who Jesus is, and His teachings.

One will also find that the kahal (Church) was always first, then came the Scriptures. God breathed through men and the men later wrote it down (cf. 2 Tim 3:16). One will also find Our Blessed Lord not writing anything because He was not an author, but an authority, in which He passed His authority to twelve men.

The phrase "Sola Ecclesia" is actually the whole truth; the Church that has with her two other authorities (Scripture and Tradition), and the fullness of Christ. "Sola Ecclesia" is saying that you are a member of the Mystical Body, and that you are chosen from the people. Ekklesia means those who are "called out," meaning called out from the secular order to be partakers in the divine (2 Peter 1:4). And one should be proud to be part of the ecclesia, the Catholic Church. You are part of the ecclesia that many have died for and in which many saints have lived and are living.


Back to Apologetics Articles

Back to Home Page

About | Apologetics | Philosophy | Spirituality | Books | Audio | Links