Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
On Protestant (and Catholic) Disunity
03/22/2008 - James SwanFor years, Protestant apologists have been pointing out that disunity among Christians is not the result of sola scriptura. That is, Scripture, being the ultimate authority for the life of the Christian, is not to be blamed for 25,000 denominations (or whatever figure Roman Catholics are currently using). The argument usually framed is that without an infallible Magisterium, Protestants will never have unity. In response, Protestants are quick to point out that those with their feet firmly planted in Rome likewise have a fair amount of disunity. This response though usually falls on deaf ears. Sola Scriptura is still seen as the "blueprint for anarchy," even though logically, the misuse or abuse of an ultimate authority is not grounds for a denial of that ultimate authority.
While reading through the Robert Sungenis edited, Not By Scripture Alone, I came across the following section from Sungenis himself:
Objection #56: "The institution of an infallible pope has not created theological unity in the Roman Church."
Answer: First, Jesus himself, the infallible, incarnate word of God, did not create unanimous theological "unity" among his hearers. In fact, Jesus was disheartened that so many people argued with him and rejected his message of truth. At many points, his message divided more than it unified. Paul encountered the same opposition, among both Jews and gentile converts. Hence, it is very short-sighted to suggest that infallibility is the criterion of unity. Unity, at least demographic unity, occurs when the people obey what they hear. If one voice is teaching them, the possibility for practical unity is much greater than if there are thousands of voices all teaching something different.
Second, the unity that the Catholic Church claims to promote in her charism of infallibility is not that every bishop, every priest, and every lay person will automatically believe what she teaches. She claims that truth resides in the decrees and doctrines the Magisterium promulgates, regardless of how the remaining clerics and laity interpret the Magisterium's teachings. One has no more right to deny the charism of infallibility to the Magisterium because of disagreements among its hearers than to deny it to Jesus or the apostles because if disagreements among their hearers. To make one dependant on the other is not only illogical, it has no Scriptural precedent.
Source: Robert Sungenis (ed.), Not By Scripture Alone [Santa Barbara: Queenship Publishing company, 1997] pp. 285-286].
One need not fall into the "blueprint for anarchy" trap. Simply point out that it is inconsistent for Roman Catholics to demand the Bible produce perfect unanimity, while their own apologists make a very similar argument. I would keep this Sungenis quote handy, and keep in mind, the debate is over ultimate authorites: the Bible (sola scriptura) and the Magisterium (sola ecclesia). Disunity is not the issue. Rather, the issue is whether God's Word or an alleged "human" infallible interpreter is the ultimate authority, because Holy Scripture is the only infallible interpreter of Scripture that we have extant today.