One common idea among Christians is the idea that as long as we are all working from the same book, the differences between us are not important. If you are reading this you probably already disagree with that idea, nevertheless, it is a very common idea. It is also an idea worth looking at a little closer.
The most obvious objection to this idea is the fact that among Christians there is a wide variety of beliefs. This would not be important if the differences were about trivial issues, but Christians today differ over issues of extreme importance, abortion for example. Human life is not a trivial matter. Until very recently all Christians regarded human life as God's greatest gift -- life was sacred. No matter which side of the abortion debate you believe, the fact that there is an abortion debate illustrates how poorly the bible alone is as rule of faith.
One must ask why, if we are all using the same book, we have such a discrepancy? Or maybe the question should be how do we know which interpretation of scripture is the correct one? Scripture, of course, is a good place to look for answers to these questions. Not so much because it answers them, but because scripture attacks the fundamental idea behind these questions.
The underlying premise behind both of these questions is the idea that all truth is contained in the bible, and that with sufficient prayer, the correct interpretation would be obvious. Following this reasoning few Christians today pray sufficiently! The New Testament does not describe the formation of an authoritative text, but of an authoritative body.
For example in Matthew 16:18, Jesus promises a church that will withstand even the gates of hell. In Matthew 18:17 Jesus refers to a church that is the highest authority on earth. The New Testament writers were familiar with this ideas as well. In 1Tim 3:15 St. Paul refers to the Church as the "pillar and foundation of truth." With this kind of scriptural evidence, the questions posed above have no meaning because the evidence points to an authoritative body on earth - the Church. Divine inspiration is not a matter of personal interpretation of sacred texts (2 Peter 1:20-21).
To deny the existence of an earthly authority leaves
the faithful to their own wits about what is divinely revealed,
and consequently to their own selves as a source of infallible
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