I had been looking into Catholicism for a while when suddenly I realized something:
To accept the Bible was to accept the Church.
All of this time I had been comparing whatever Catholic theology I read with what I understood the Bible to say. The Bible was the only standard for all Christian truth. Right?
But somehow in the course of studying Catholicism, of looking into church history, I realized that the Bible was a product of the Church. True, the Bible is technically a product of the Holy Spirit, but the Church was the vehicle used by the Holy Spirit. The Church had existed for decades before one page of the New Testament was written. Furthermore, even after the Epistles and the Gospels had been written, there was debate for hundreds of years about exactly which writings were inspired. It was the leaders of the Church—the Bishops—who made the authoritative decision about which books the universal Church should consider were actually the Word of God. Without the Church, we wouldn’t have the Bible.
One Christian scholar told me it wasn’t a question of the leaders of the Church declaring which books were inspired by the Holy Spirit, but rather of them recognizing which books were inspired. In other words, the Church didn’t—and doesn’t—give the Bible its authority; the Bible has authority of its own. I agreed, but my question went further. How do we know that the Church recognized the right books? Couldn’t they have made a mistake about which books were really Scripture? Obviously we attribute the inspiration of the Church in this matter to the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the One who guided the Church to recognize truly which writings were actually inspired by God.
But once I admitted that (which seemed obvious), suddenly I had another question. Why did I not believe that the Holy Spirit didn’t guide the Church in other decisions that were reached in the same manner? The canon of Scripture was discerned and decided on at different councils at which the bishops were present. This is also how doctrines such as the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, and naming Mary as the Mother of God were formulated. If I believed that the Holy Spirit guided the Church in recognizing which books belonged in the Bible, why did I not believe He would also guide them in correctly interpreting those books?
As far as I could see it, I either had to believe that I was really reading the Word of God, and therefore accept the authority of the Church that handed on the Word of God to me, or else I had to reject the authority of the Church and also reject any confidence in the inspiration of the canon of Scripture. But if I chose the latter route, I no longer had any reason to reject the Catholic Church.
At least, I couldn’t use the Bible to argue against it.