Here is a statement that Catholics and Protestants can both eagerly affirm (though most Protestants don’t know it yet):
“We can trust that the books we have in the Bible are the correct ones because the church has recognized them to be such.”
All the Catholics just said “Amen” and many Protestants veins are beginning to swell.
There are multiple ways to to approach understanding why Christians have acknowledged certain books to be included in the Bible and have rejected others. We call certain books canonical and others-we call them many things, let’s just go with “not scripture” for now.
The canonized books are the ones we believe are the books written by chosen individuals inspired by the Holy Spirit and are “God-breathed”.
As Christians, we believe that the Bible is the word of God. We also believe that we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit lives and works in His church. These things are related. The fact that the church for centuries has accepted these books as canonical is reason for confidence that we indeed have the Word of God.
This conversation around canonicity is normally talked about from the historical perspective. The topic of which lists of books should be included, which church councils debated the topic and how they differed, and how many hundreds of years it was after the time of the Apostles that we finally had a “completed” Bible are all legitimate approaches, but I want to emphasize a particular approach, and that is the acceptance of the books by the church.
The Catholic apologists loves to tell the Protestant that they often bite the hand that fed them. “You reject the authority of the Roman Catholic Church yet she is the one who gave you your Bible that you use to try to refute her doctrines !”
Many struggle with this charge because it is true that it was in large part the work of church councils lead to the compiling of the books we consider to be Scripture-but that is not what the Catholic claim is actually saying.
What underlies this statement is a claim of ultimate authority. To the Catholic, the Church determined what books where biblical and which ones were not. This leads to the drastic difference between how the Prostestant can agree with opening assertion and the Catholic. The Catholic claim is elevating the Church to a level equal-to, and functionally superior-to, the Scriptures.
This is a grave error because the Catholic Church has misunderstood her role in the development of the canonized Bible. The Church was not the determiner, she was the receiver. The books of the Bible are canonical because they are Scripture, not because the Church declared them to be so.
To deny the work of the church in the work of bringing about the Bible as we now have it would be ridiculous however, it must be recognized that the church was brought only to realize what was already cannon, she did not create it. Michale Kruger eloquently stated it like this: “The church reflects and responds to the Word of God in Her midst”.
In other words, God had His cannon and He used the church to recognize which writings they were. The Church is not the thermostat determining the temperature, she is the thermometer recognizing what is already Scripture by the Holy Spirit. It is not because the Church said so-it is because God revealed so.
And why would the fact that the church recognizing which books are Scripture gives us confidence that it is, be a hard thing for Protestant to affirm? Does God work in the hearts of individuals via the Holy Spirit to help them recognize and apply His word? Why would He then not do so corporately in His church? The church is not infallible but she is most certainly used by God to accomplish His purpose here on earth; and how else, or through whom else, would you have expected God to deliver His word?
Now, I would be negligent if I did not at least mention the differences in the Protestant and Catholic Bibles. I will address this in a later post more in depth, but suffice for now to say that the additional books in the Catholic Bible are symptomatic of their view on authority. These books are not scripture and as stated before, even if the whole church accepted them to be such (which she does not) the church is not infallible.
So to summarize, we can confidently accept the books we have in our Bibles are the complete and actual Word of God because His bride, the church, has recognized-not determined-them to be such. This is because the Holy Spirit lives within and works within His people.
Open your Bible and hear what He has to say.