So I’ve been talking a lot about Catholic priests lately.
For me, the whole authority issue was really the deciding factor for my conversion. For some people, they need to be convinced of the Eucharist or the Church’s teaching on justification or some other specific issue. I needed to be convinced of the Church. Is it really what it claims to be? That is, does it really have authority from Christ himself? If it did, then the burden of the proof was on me to align my beliefs on all of those other things with whatever the Church taught about them. But I wasn’t so convinced the Church had that authority in the first place.
What authority does the Church claim, exactly? She claims the authority to administer the Sacraments (more on those later), and the authority to teach, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the name of Christ. To ask a question typical of Wheaton College students: is this biblical?
So, Catholics claim that Christ was given authority from God the Father, and that before leaving earth he passed on this authority to the Twelve Apostles, who then, before they died, passed the authority onto others so that now, 2000 years later, there are still people on this earth with the authority Christ gave to the original Apostles. In Scripture, we read that Christ gave the Apostles the authority to forgive sins, to teach and baptize in his name, and to “bind and lose”. He even went so far as to give Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” in Matthew 16:19.
Who knows what all that means.
One thing that was crucial to me was to realize that these were actual events, things that Jesus said to actual people—and the people he chose to say them to were the Twelve Apostles that he had chosen. I hadn’t realized that I had been bringing a specific way of Biblical interpretation to the text. That is, I subconsciously (or consciously) read all of Jesus’ words as if they were spoken to me. Matthew tells us in chapter 18 of his Gospel that Jesus told the disciples that “whatever (they) bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever (they) loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus told the Twelve Apostles that they had authority to forgive sins (John 20:22-23) and that the Holy Spirit would come to guide them into all truth. I assumed—without warrant—that those words were spoken to me, too: All Christians have the authority to forgive or withhold forgiveness of sins; all Christians will be guided into all truth; all Christians have the authority to bind and loose.
There was really no valid reason for me to assume that. I simply took it for granted. And when I began to realize that most Christians, for most of time, did not take that for granted, I was stopped short.
What if Jesus really did give the Twelve Apostles a special authority to forgive or withhold forgiveness of sins, a special authority to make decisions that will be bound and loosed in heaven, a special promise of the Holy Spirit's role in guiding them to all truth?
I knew that I did not have the authority to withhold Christ’s forgiveness of sins. I had no reason to believe that I was able to make decisions to bind and loose that would be echoed in heaven. And the more I looked around, the more I became aware of the thousands and thousands of disagreements about the truth of the Gospel, and the more I doubted that the promise of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into “all truth” was really a promise given to all Christians. At least, not the way I had originally interpreted it. Either the Holy Spirit was a schizophrenic, or the promise of Christ to the Apostles actually meant something drastically different than I had believed.
I decided to err on the side of my misinterpretation of Scripture.