How do we know the Bible is true? / How do we know the Catholic Church is true?

A reflection on the Church and faith

A while ago, an LDS gentleman on the CARM LDS discussion board made a thread in which he asked how one is supposed to tell that God approves of the Bible. He listed several answers Christians had given that he found unsatisfactory. None of them was the Catholic answer.

He had posted threads with the same theme in the past. I remember another Catholic giving him the answer: we know the Bible is true because the Church tells us it is. I don’t remember whether he replied to that, but in any case I decided to respond to his new thread. Here’s what I said:

I remember Random answering this question clearly a long time ago. Maybe you forgot. His and my answer are the same as Augustine’s:

“But should you meet with a person not yet believing the gospel, how would you reply to him were he to say, I do not believe? For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church. So when those on whose authority I have consented to believe in the gospel tell me not to believe in Manichaeus, how can I but consent?”
Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus

He responded, “How do we know that God gave any authority to the Catholic Church?” I began to write an answer, but I had trouble putting into words what I wanted to say. So I prayed to the Spirit, and began writing, and didn’t stop until it was done. I can’t really take credit for it, then, but I thought I’d post it here for posterity:

Everything you know is something you were taught by others. This is the way that God effects our education in all other things – our parents, brothers, superiors, inferiors, etc. teach us. It’s analogous to the way He effects good in the world – sometimes through direct action, but almost always working through people.

    He operates no differently when it comes to His ultimate self-revelation, Jesus incarnate. The Church is His messenger, His mouthpiece. She’s the only one even claiming to teach about the life of Jesus, and to teach His truth. Others have said she fouled it up or died, but her history clearly says otherwise. Her teachings have been consistent from the beginning.

    What I’m getting at is that we know the Church teaches the truth the same way you’d know the truth about some event not because you were there, nor because God put it into your mind, but because a friend told you about it. Or if the event was long ago and you doubt your friend, he can show you how the details have been preserved perfectly in his family since it happened.

    Put another way, you ought to have no quarrel with the principle that you experience the living God, through Christ, Who is making Himself known through His body, His Church. That is, whatever else you believe, you believe there is a true church. But there’s a problem in the LDS approach. It seems to say “We believe in a reliable church, but the only way to know it is through direct revelation.” If the church were truly reliable, there’d be no need for constant direct revelation. LDS plainly teach the church isn’t always reliable, but can and does fail. However, if the direct revelation is the only infallible way to discern the truth, there’s really no need for the church, either. For if direct and personal revelation were the highest, most perfect, and most trustworthy form of revelation, and if it were the only infallible guide to God’s will, and if it were formally sufficient, then any Church that existed would be based on the direct and personal revelation, rather than vice versa.

    In truth, the LDS’ two principles are backwards. Catholic Christians believe in direct revelation, but the only way to know it’s true is through the constant teaching of the reliable Church. We do not exalt the personal revelation above the immortal Body of Christ. We cherish it and are thankful for it when God sends it, but His undying life in His assembly of faithful is a greater and more useful gift still. The Church did not coalesce when the disciples all prayed and had the same revelation (or even complementary revelations). It was sent forth by Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, to give God’s revelation to others.

    In the end, if you believe that personal revelation is the only infallible guide, you cannot honestly believe in a living Church, a Church that is the mighty tree sprung up from a mustard seed, the undying body of Jesus, the branches rooted in the Vine, the beautiful bride of Christ being perfected throughout all ages. In that case, the only church you can be sure of is what you say is the true church, based on your own confirmation. It makes you the only prophet of God you can trust. On the other hand, if you do believe in a living Church, you must open your eyes to her message from the beginning to the present and see how she has endured. Look on her as you would look on a new friend, seeing not only faults and folly but triumph and beauty. Ponder how just as in a human body, her members (like white cells) gave themselves up to protect and strengthen her; how she took things in from the world, made the good a part of her, and tossed out the bad; how she grew and developed, never changing, reversing, and most certainly never being separated from her Head, in the which case both would die.

    Either there is a living, reliable Church or there is no need for one at all. Either the Church of Catholic Christianity is reliable, or she has been the most consistent and inexplicably successful hoax in the world, and Jesus Christ is nothing like she says He is, or perhaps never was at all; there is nothing supernatural about her, only the cleverest lie in the history of the world. I think everything we know says otherwise.

Some day I hope to write more about the way we learn and believe divine truths. This article shows it in a nutshell: we believe in the Bible because we believe in the Church, and we believe in the Church because we believe in Jesus Christ.

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