There are many reasons which show the necessity for an authoritative tribunal if the words of the Apostle ‘One Lord, one faith’ (Eph 4:5) are to be realized in every age and in the uttermost parts of the world.
Human nature is and always will be the same. Man is inclined to be independent in his views and tries to force his ideas on others, until he is shown to be evidently wrong. Nor does he sometimes stop even then. He persists in his error and resists the known truth, thus sinning against the Holy Spirit.
There will always be scandals in the Church, but Christ said ‘Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come, but nevertheless, woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh’ (Matt 18:7). God, however, permits this evil, that the faith of the elect may be strengthened. ‘Power is made perfect in infirmity’ (2 Cor 12:9).
This is especially true of our own times. All manner of literature floods the world. There are too many people who consider themselves the judges of everyone and of everything. Teachers of all kinds raise their chair of pestilence in every corner of our cities and villages. Perhaps the grand old Church is still there, or it has just made its appearance. Its doors are open. But most people pass by and go to hear those who suit their passions and inclinations. New fads are the order of the day. Wind and pride are sown in their hearts. Very little is left of the old and eternal truths, which Christ and the Apostles proclaimed to the world. ‘For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine – but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears, and will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables’ (2 Tim 4:3).
Thus is Christianity divided and subdivided. The books of Revelation are made the anvil of centuries, on which every Christian is allowed to pound at his own pleasure. Should not such a condition of things open the eyes of all Christians and make them realize the necessity of a living tribunal, to which Christ has committed the sacred right and duty of keeping intact, at any cost, the Deposit of Faith? ‘Preach the word, be instant, in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke, in all patience and doctrine’ (2 Tim 4:2).
But the world does not want Christ. Nations and societies are governed by their own laws. Living judges are appointed to interpret a dead-letter code of laws or by-laws, and their decisions are final and binding. The same treatment is not accorded the Church by those same children of the world. Are not perhaps the Scriptures and the laws made by man equally a dead letter in themselves? The Scriptures are indeed the Word of God but at the same time, they need living interpreters. If the laws of man, made by man and for man, need living and authoritative inter-preters for their enforce-ment, how much more does the Word of God need interpreters to explain it without error and enforce it with authority?
If the Scriptures are clear to understand, why did Martin Luther and his imitators make new catechisms of Christian doctrine? Why are libraries filled with innumerable books of interpretations, explanations and commentaries? Above all, why are there any churches where the Scriptures are explained, if the Scriptures are sufficient? And if there should be a church, why so many churches, of so many denominations, in every city and in every town?
If there is a clear statement in the Scriptures which all Christians should endeavor to put into execution, it is certainly the desire which Christ expressed in His prayer to the Eternal Father on the eve of His Passion and Death, ‘That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee – that they also may be one in us’ (John 17:21).
What else do such words mean than that all Christ’s followers should first of all have the same faith? – ‘One Lord, one faith, one baptism’ (Eph 4:5).
Unfortunately, there are too many controversies which agitate and divide Christianity. How are they to be settled? If there must be a judge, can it be the Scriptures? Can the Scriptures speak and pronounce the sentence in such unmistakable terms that both litigants know who is right and who is wrong? Well did the old Roman wisdom proclaim more than 2000 years ago: ‘No one is judge in his own case’. Hence, it was not to the Scriptures, but to Peter and his successors that Christ said ‘confirm thy brethren’ (Like 22:32). Tertullian declared that ‘Religious controversies should not and cannot be settled only by the Scriptures because, not only does the Apostle forbid such disputes among Christians, but also because they bear no fruit. Avoid foolish questions (Titus 3:9) and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law. For they are unprofitable and vain. What good will it do if what you will defend shall be denied – or on the contrary, what you will deny shall be defended? You will certainly lose nothing but your voice in the contention – you will gain nothing but bile from the blasphemy ‘ (Tertull. Prescript, XV). And he comes to the following unanswerable conclusion: ‘We must not have recourse to, nor constitute a fight on the Scriptures, in which victory is uncertain or none at all but the order of things required to be first proposed, and what is now only to be disputed: To whom belongs the Faith itself, whose are the Scriptures? By whom, and through whom, and when, and to whom was the authority to teach delivered, by which men are made Christians? For where the true Christian discipline and doctrine are shown to be, there will also be the truth of the Scriptures and of their interpretation and of all Christian Tradition’ (Tertull. C. XIX).
A living, infallible tribunal is therefore essential and necessary to keep intact, not only the Deposit of Faith and to propose it without error, but also to keep everywhere and at all times the Unity of the Faith, which is so essential in the Religion of Christ.