One of the biggest draws to Catholicism for me was the ability the Catholic Church has to actually and authoritatively decide doctrinal questions.

There has been dispute about the meaning of Sacred Scripture and the Deposit of Faith likely since they were first given to us. The Catholic Church teaches that, just like when the first Bishops of the Church gathered at the Council of Jerusalem and argued out a dispute and promulgated their decision as inspired by the Holy Spirit, so all other Ecumenical Councils of the Church are under the same protection of the Holy Spirit from error.

Thus, when there are disputes, we have faith that an answer actually can be reached. No agreeing to disagree, we can know the actual truth by the gift of the Holy Spirit (whom Jesus promised would lead the Church into all truth).

So how can ecclesial communities without recourse to the Magesterium of the Catholic Church come to such determinations? Well, they can’t with infallible authority, but the answer I’ve most often heard from protestants is something like the following quote from Anglican of note John Stott:

“Whenever equally biblical Christians, who are equally anxious to understand the teaching of Scripture and to submit to its authority, reach different conclusions, we should deduce that evidently Scripture is not crystal clear in this matter, and therefore we can afford to give one another liberty.”

It’s pretty much a rehashing of the old “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty, in all things, unity” idea most evangelicals are familiar with. Here’s my question, with the rising tide of reformed folk, mostly FV, but some of these “evangelical catholic” or “reformed catholic” types, taking a much higher view of things like Christ’s presence in the Eucharist it seems there is a difficult situation.

If you believe that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ (though not in the way Catholics understand it) using Calvin’s construction about Jesus’ body and blood being united to the elements by the Holy Spirit or something like it, and your baptist friend adamantly denies this, saying that the Eucharist is a memorial and nothing more, according to this construction of how to deal with competing interpretations of Scripture, you have two choices:

  1. Either you or your baptist friend are not “equally anxious to understand the teaching of Scripture and to submit to its authority”,
    or
  2. Scripture is not crystal clear in this matter, and therefore we can afford to give one another liberty

Seems like something as important as the Eucharist can’t possibly be something like, say, whether or not one chooses to drink alcohol or not, a matter of conscience and Christian liberty. Please God don’t let it be that!

But let’s put an even finer point on it, it would not be hard at all these days to find a Christian who in almost every respect believes just as a reformed Christian would, but would say that it’s just fine for homosexuals to remain in a loving, committed, monogamous homosexual relationship. He would claim to be “anxious to understand the teaching of Scripture and to submit to its authority” just like you. You’re just coming to different conclusions. What gives you the authority to call him the heretic?

Again, you either have to claim that he’s disingenuous in his desire to understand and submit to Sacred Scripture, or say this is a non-essential in which you must extend liberty.

The only third way I can see is to say that he’s just not as smart as you and if he was he’d see it the way you do. But, of course, he could claim that you’re just not as enlightened as him and if you were you’d see it his way, and the whole line of argument seems to violate the “in all things charity” part of the axiom.

So what’s the good word on the Good Word? How do you find actual truth in disagreements? Is it possible? If not, do you feel like that’s a problem?

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