For a definition of which Church of Christ is being referred to, please refer to the article "Is the Church of Christ a Christian Denomination?"
November 22, 1999
To The Church of Christ:
I am writing to you again to apologize for the boldness of my last letter that was written to you in the early part of 1991. This letter can be found here. I am apologizing because I did not, and still have not, the authority to interpret the Bible for you. Please forgive my zeal. Like many who are recent converts, I thought I knew more than I really did.
As well as apologizing, I would once again like to thank you for the fuel you added to the holy fire that burns within me. Before you came to me this fire was burning but I was afraid to add fuel to it and it did not have any direction. I would not be where I am now without the kindness you showed me, and I give you my sincere thanks.
At the time I wrote my last letter I was still officially a member of the Lutheran Church; however, I was not active in any one church. I feel I broke from the Lutheran Church when I was baptized in your Edmonton Church of Christ. I have since officially rescinded my membership in the Lutheran Church, and have professed my faith in the true Church of Christ.
It is believed among some that I was about to, or at least thought of, forming a new church when I left you. This is not true. I had thought of forming a new church before I came to the Edmonton Church of Christ, but this thought never crossed my mind again after I had joined, and subsequently left, your church. This is something I want to be made very clear. Once I left you, my quest was only to find the true Church of Christ.
The remainder of this letter is not only addressed to the Edmonton Church of Christ, but to all who believe that the New Testament of the Bible is the true Word of God. I say, "to those who believe in the New Testament" because this is the common thread that unites most who follow Jesus the Christ.
I have been told that there are over 28,000 separate groups that believe in the New Testament and claim Christ as their head. Each one of these groups claims to have the authority to interpret the Bible, and that their interpretation is the only complete and true interpretation of the Bible. This is understandable, for if one of these groups admits that they may not be interpreting the Bible correctly, they admit that they may not be truly following Christ. This would mean that they are not the true Church of Christ, and that their members should look elsewhere. Each group that claims to follow Christ must also claim that they have the true interpretation of the Bible or they cannot claim to be truly following Christ's teachings.
Many of these groups teach that anyone can interpret the Bible themselves and find the truth. They may teach this, but none of them really believes this, for if someone interprets the Bible differently from themselves, they will correct that individual so they do not stray from the truth. If this individual persists in their personal interpretation, they will have to leave this group and join one that shares their interpretation, or form yet another group that claims the authority to interpret the Bible. No group really believes in personal interpretation of the Bible. In an attempt to prove one or more groups have misinterpreted the Bible, it is very common, and I am guilty of this in my last letter, to list a number of biblical passages with "correct" interpretations. This is really quite unproductive. This is usually only successful when the individual, or group, receiving the interpretations are not fully grounded in the interpretation of the group they presently belong to. This is actually very common, and explains the reason so many people switch between different religious groups. If the recipients of the new interpretations are grounded in the interpretation of their own group, the outcome is usually disagreement, argument, and division. Any person or group can use the Bible to support any, and all, doctrine and it is pointless to argue one interpretation against another. The question is not which interpretation is right, but who has the authority to interpret the Bible?
It is illogical to believe that all or some of these groups have interpreted the entire Bible correctly, because they all differ in their interpretation. With each difference, one group must be correct and the rest must be wrong. This leaves us with only two conclusions: one group must be correct in their entire interpretation; or, no group has all the correct interpretations but the correct interpretation is scattered throughout a number of these groups. If one group has the complete and correct interpretation, how do we know which group this is?
In an attempt to prove which conclusion is correct, I will turn to our common thread, the New Testament. I must stress that this is not my own personal interpretation of the Bible, but the interpretation of the church that I have professed to believe in. I hope that this interpretation is close, if not the same, as your interpretation. I am not trying to prove you or anyone else wrong, but trying to find some common ground so we can be united in truth.
In defense of my earlier statement that not just anyone can interpret the Bible we read: "Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation." (2 Peter 1:20) So any church that corrects someone with a different interpretation then their own is justified. "If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector." (Matthew 18:17) It is one of the church's roles to maintain unity in interpretation of the Word of God. "Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved." Because there arose no little dissension and debate by Paul and Barnabas with them, it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and presbyters about this question." (Acts 15:1,2) The final word in doctrinal teaching is the apostles, and thereafter their successors. "As they traveled from city to city, they handed on to the people for observance the decisions reached by the apostles and presbyters in Jerusalem." (Acts 16:4)
It is the church's duty to maintain that their teaching is the only one that is taught: "I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you." (1 Corinthians 11:2) "Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours." (2 Thessalonians 2:15) "We instruct you, brothers, in the name of Lord Jesus Christ, to shun any brother who conducts himself in a disorderly way and not according to the tradition they received from us." (2 Thessalonians 3:6) "If anyone does not obey our word as expressed in this letter, take note of this person not to associate with him, that he may be put to shame." (2 Thessalonians 3:14) The people of the church that have be taught the teachings of the apostles and their successors can then teach it to others: "And what you heard from me through may witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well." (2 Timothy 2:2) Any time there is a disagreement in teaching, it should be cleared up by the authorities so no one will fall away: "Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one be deprived of the grace of God, that no bitter root spring up and cause trouble, through which many may become defiled." (Hebrews 12:14,15)
Anyone that does not know the teaching of the apostles and their successors cannot interpret the Bible. "... Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, that is , the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury, who had come to Jerusalem to worship, and was returning home. Seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. The Spirit said to Philip, "Go and join up with that chariot." Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" He replied, "How can I, unless someone instructs me?" So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him." (Acts 8:27-31) It is actually dangerous for someone to interpret the Bible without understanding the teachings of the apostles and their successors: "And consider the patience of our Lord as salvation, as our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, also wrote to you, speaking of these things as he does in all his letters. In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures. Therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, be on your guard not to be led into the error of the unprincipled and to fall from your own stability." (2 Peter 3:15-17)
We must also agree that Christ's Church is not made up of over 28,000 divided bodies. "If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him." (Mark 3:24-26) Christ's Church is one body: "As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ." (1 Corinthians 12:12) "Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf." (1 Corinthians 10:17) "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd." (John 10:16) "I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me." (John 17:20-23) Christ's Church is not only one in body, but in teaching: "striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism;" (Ephesians 4:3-5)
Christ's Church, the same one belonging to the apostles and their successors, is the only one that will prevail throughout time: "And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18) This is not true of the old covenant church of the Jews; no such promise was made to them, and many times that church fell and was restored. Christ promised that the new covenant church would never fall, and therefore never need restoring. This church would be the only recipient of the teachings of the Holy Spirit: "I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming." (John 16:12,13) This one church will be kept clean of all doctrinal errors: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." (Ephesians 5:25-27) At no time would this church be divided under the authority of different men: "... While there is jealousy and rivalry among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving in an ordinary human way? Whenever someone says, "I belong to Paul," and another, "I belong to Apollos," are you not merely human? What is Apollos, after all, and what is Paul? Ministers through whom you became believers, just as the Lord assigned each one. I planted , Apollos watered, but God caused the growth. Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and each will receive wages in proportion to his labor. For we are God's co-workers; you are God's field, God's building." (1 Corinthians 3:3,4)
I ask you this one simple question; is your church under the authority of the successors of the apostles, or under the authority of men who fell away from the Church of Christ? The only church that is under the authority of the successors of the apostles is the Catholic Church; which is shepherded by Christ's vicar, the successor of Peter, the Pope. It is of the Pope that Jesus said, "I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Mathew 16:19) Although the Catholic Church has seen corruption, even to the office of the Pope, it has never erred in teachings of faith and morals, just as Jesus promised. Unlike any other church, the Catholic Church does not derive its teaching from the New Testament, but the New Testament is an early record of the Catholic Church's teachings. This gives the Catholic Church the absolute and exclusive authority to interpret the Bible.