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How did God make a way for
Christ's teachings to reach each generation
without error or "editing"?


In the end, that was the central question that remained. Had Christ come to bring us truth only for that truth to be lost in opinion wars? Or had God preserved that truth for each of us ­ literate or illiterate, smart or dense, Bible scholar or 8th grade drop-out?

Plainly, the Bible was part of the communication of truth. I wasn't about to toss the baby out with the bath water. And yet the Bible, I had discovered, does not do us the favor of standing up and rightly interpreting itself. Thus, if Christ meant his teachings for each and every one of us, how could a sheep know what the Good Shepherd truly intended him to know about baptism, the Lord's Supper, marriage, and so on? How?

I saw only two choices.

The first was to give up the search and join a not-so-Bible-believing congregation. In other words, "wise up". Realize that, despite Christ's repeated use of solemn phrases like "verily, verily, I say unto you", truth really is unattainable in these matters.

I had to admit Scripture does touch upon deep, unsearchable mysteries. And we honor these mysteries when we avoid a superficial satisfaction in "possessing" the truth. But taking this too far ­ turning the Gospel into a Gnostic riddle or a rarified academic debate ­ denies that Christ's teachings were meant for all, for "smallest of these".

Fortunately, I didn't get lost in all that. I knew someone could receive the truth without destroying its mystery.

I had read somewhere that Catholic novelist Walker Percy was strongly influenced by Kierkegaard's essay, "Of the Difference between a Genius and an Apostle". I tracked down that essay.

In it, Kierkegaard points out the difference between a "revealed truth" and a truth arrived at through human effort. "Revealed truths" are details about reality which God makes known to us ­ we accept them on the basis of God's authority, not because our genius pierced the veil. Thus, in much of what he taught (see John 6, for example), Christ handed us mysteries, saying, "This is what is true." The apostles spread these truths on the basis of Christ's trustworthiness and authority ­ not on the basis of their recent SAT scores.

Two thousand years later, we still accept these revealed truths on the basis of Christ's authority.

Authority. Okay, so Bible-only Christians believed they were accepting revealed truths when they deferred to the writings of the apostles. But then flawed interpretation got in the way. So what did "Bible plus authority" folks do? To what did they defer?

To the writings of the apostles and to the successors of the apostles. To bishops who claim to have received "by the laying on of hands" the authority to speak in the name of Christ. To bishops, I discovered, who claim to pass on only what was given them ­ with no new revelations, no innovations from human "genius".

Hmmmm. That would provide a form of checks and balances which Protestants don't enjoy. As in the times of the original apostles, if a false idea was gaining ground a bishop, like his apostolic ancestor, could speak out against that falsehood with real authority. This sort of binding, "buck stops here" authority, of course, was exactly what some dislike about the Catholic approach. But what if truth hangs in the balance...

It was time to look into this peculiarly Catholic form of Christianity.