Posts Tagged ‘Church Authority’

Many modern Christians vehemently reject the Church as the Teaching authority of the Christian faith. They claim to accept only what is explicitly taught in or can be proven by Scriptures, a doctrine called Sola Scriptura. This, obviously, not only generates friction between the two contrary views, but it poses a threat to the sound teaching of the faith, as more and more groups seem to emerge with their own ‘doctrines’ and beliefs, since they submit to no authoritative body.

I was recently involved in a discussion with a Bible Christian who refused to accept the doctrine of  Infant Baptism, in spite of   the many evidences, both in the Bible and more explicitly in the writings of the Church Fathers, that the early Christians indeed practiced children baptism already in the time of the Apostles. This debate becomes confusing to me when Evangelicals fail to explain why they accept the Church’s authority, for example, in regards to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and not on other issues. 

The Holy Trinity doctrine was not elaborated until later in Christianity because,  although the  Bible speaks of three distinct persons, it does not clearly state that they are One, as we understand the Holy Trinity today. Therefore, since  it was not a doctrine that was literally taught in the Scriptures, it had to be revealed to the Church by the Holy Spirit so as to prevent the spreading of heresies that emerged in the first four centuries of Christianity regarding the divinity of Our Lord.  In other words, the Holy Trinity doctrine was born of the discernment of the early Church Fathers, rather than Scriptures alone. In fact, the Church developed it from the biblical language used in New Testament passages such as the baptismal formula in Matthew 28:19, but it only took substantially its present form by the end of the 4th century as a result of controversies concerning the proper sense in which to apply to God and Christ terms such as “person”, “nature”, “essence”, and “substance”.[5][6][7][8] ( source Wikipedia)

Trinitarianism contrasts with Nontrinitarian positions which include Binitarianism (one deity/two persons), Unitarianism (one deity/one person), the Oneness or Modalism belief, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints‘ view of the Godhead as three separate beings who are one in purpose rather than essence.

Now, going back to the to the topic of  infant baptism; this doctrine was notoriously supported by the early Church Fathers as it was considered an Apostolic Teaching which had been passed on through Sacred Tradition. In spite of many historical evidence for this, many modern Christians uncritically oppose to  it simply because infant baptism is not widely accepted amongst their fellow Bible Christians.

  • Origen’s (185-254 A.D.) view of baptism is direct and transparent:

“For what is sin? Could a child who has only just been born commit a sin? And yet he has sin for which it is commanded to offer a sacrifice, as Job 14:4ff and Psalm 51:5-7 show. For this reason the Church received from the Apostles the tradition to administer baptism to the children also. For the men to whom the secrets of divine mysteries had been entrusted knew that in everyone there were genuine sinful defilements, which had to be washed away with water and the Spirit.”

In the Catholic tradition, infants are baptized because of the stain of the original sin, however children are confirmed at around the age 12 or older, so that they can fully receive the gifts of the  Holy Spirit – same as the Apostles at Pentecost – and become ‘heralds’ of Christ. The Catholic Church sometimes refer to this profession of faith or Chrism as a ‘personal pentecost’, whereby we can clearly see that the element of faith is not merely of secondary importance for Catholics, but a fundamental aspect of personal conversion.

Altogether Christians have many more reasons to accept the Church’s discernment on infant baptism than Bible Christians have to reject it. It was to the Church that the Lord promised to send the Holy Spirit to teach and safeguard the truth.  It is the Church that St Paul called the ‘Pillar and the Ground of the Truth’ ( 1 Tim 3:14,15). It is not for individual believers the task of formulating ‘doctrines’ or interpreting the divine revelation, for this very reason Our Lord conducted an apostolate with the twelve who at Pentecost, empowered by the Holy Spirit, begun the mission of the Church which is to preach the Gospel in truth and with authority to all nations!

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