On the first post of Doctrine for Everybody, I gave a definition of Doctrine—(1) What the church believes and (2) what the Church teaches. But it generates a real question about how the Church even gets to that point. I mean, does the Church believe and teach such and such because the Church made it up? Or maybe the Church believes this-or-that because of some random accident? Even better, the Church teaches this bric-a-brac because they voted (and the majority won by a slim margin!)?
These are all false; they don’t even work in the real world.
When a child is born and grows up, years later he introduces himself by such and such name—going forward, let’s call him Bob. It’s not as if Bob voted on his name or made it up or accidentally discovered he’s Bob. He has the right to believe that “Bob” is his name and to tell others that “Bob” is his name because he is, after all, named Bob. But Bob only knows his name because he’s been named Bob by the people who had the right to name him “Bob”—his parents. They had the authority to do this.
In that same way, the Church doesn’t believe and teach such-and-such based on the Church’s invention of these things (or random accident or even voting) but because she has been told what to believe. A not-so-big word for this unveiling of information that is to be believed and taught but is previously hidden is “Revelation”.
So acquiring revelation is not something one does on their own authority as if a person can say “I will reveal this to myself!”. Revelation only happens on the authority of the person who has the authority to reveal.
Imagine a stage with a magician and his assistant, a hat, a table and a captive audience. The magician puts his hand into the hat and pulls out a bunny. The audience claps. They expect the magician to do these things because it is his show—he has the authority to do this. If an audience member ran up to the stage and started doing the tricks we’d wonder what right does he have to do this—is he part of the act? If he isn’t he’s a distraction trying to usurp the magician’s authority to reveal the tricks.
So when looking at what the Church believes and teaches, we understand that it has been revealed to the Church . And when we understand that it has been revealed to the Church, we have to wonder who has the right and authority to reveal that stuff.
Note the progression found in Scripture.
The Source is God. Only God is the revealer of secrets(Dan. 2:28 [to 47])
As evidenced by the Father. When Peter confesses that he believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Lord Jesus tells him that this information didn’t come from his own mind but was revealed to him by the Father (Matt. 16:17).
As seen by the Son. When John decides to record his introduction for his Gospel, he notices that the work of Christ the Son wasn’t merely to do miracles or be a great teacher—but he came to reveal the Father (John 1:18) and reveal the message of God to the world (Heb 1:2)
As taught by the Spirit. When the Church is to be taught about Christ they are revealed these things by the Holy Spirit of God (which knows the mind of God (Romans 8) and has been sent with the authority to do that (John 14,16).
As repeated by those God has put in place to reveal. When the Church receives this teaching it is by the authority of the Apostles who have been sent with this mission (1 Cor 2:10) via Christ’s commendation (John 13-17). These apostles were functioning in a role that was previously reflected by the prophets who were commissioned by God (1 Pet. 1:10-12) in the past (Heb 1:1) and has now (in those days) been revealed (Rom. 16:26).
As now recorded in Scripture. All this being true, we see now that these things have been recorded in Scripture (2 Tim 3:16).
Ultimately, God has spoken in the past, telling the Church what to believe, and that revelation has been recorded in Scripture. God is the only source of authority and that authority was placed on God’s forms of revelation. Now, at this end of time, we see that God’s authority to reveal is evidenced in the Scriptures.
This is not what the Roman Church wants to believe. They say that the authority for the Church to believe (and teach) what she believes (and teaches) is found in those people that the Apostles of Christ approved. This is not what the Orthodox Church wants to believe. They say that the authority for the Church to believe (and teach) is derived from the Church and that is more clearly evidenced in the sacred tradition of the Apostolic writings and sayings and conveyed to the Early Church Fathers. These are both wrong because God and God alone is the one who has this authority.
So now, in the end, we need to adjust our definition of Doctrine: that which the Church believes and teaches because it has been revealed by God, the Church’s only authority, and now manifested in Scripture.
Next time, we’ll have to look at what exactly is revelation.