In my last post, I tried to show that there were two basic positions about who is the final arbiter of the interpretation of Scripture, either (A) the Church or (B) the individual Christian, and if (A) is true, then the Church has to be infallible; otherwise one returns to the default position (B).
I think many are willing to grant that the Church is infallible. I would have accepted that proposition in theory even as a Protestant. However, I would have held it in a form something like this:
(C) The Church is infallible, but the voice of the Church is not to be identified with any of her ministers, bodies or representatives.
It follows from a position like this that no Pope, Bishop, theologian, council, synod, etc. can be identified as speaking for the Church.
While (C) may seem like an attractive, even commonsensical position to hold, ultimately it means that one can never know what the Church actually teaches, because you can’t know for sure who speaks for the Church. Thus, the infallibility of the Church is gutted of all practical consequence, because one has no certain epistemological access to that infallibility. One returns, then, to the default position (B): everyone is on their own.
So if the infallibility of the Church is to mean anything practical at all, we need to affirm not (C). Not (C) would be something like the following:
Not (C): The Church is infallible, and the voice of the Church can at least sometimes be identified with at least one of her ministers, bodies, representatives.
Then the question becomes, Who are the ministers, bodies, representatives, etc. with whom the voice of the Church may be identified?
Each Christian? Clearly not, individuals vary too much in spiritual insight, sound doctrine, etc.
Each local Pastor? Clearly not, same reasons.
Each Bishop? No, even bishops have become heretical.
Each Archbishop? No, same reason.
Each local council? No, even local councils have erred.
An Ecumenical (Church-wide) Council?
Here the buck stops. What can be higher than a universal council of the Church? If the Church is not infallible even at this level, than it is not infallible at all, and we are back to (B), every believer for himself.
So, we arrive here at a position that Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox both hold: ecumenical councils are infallible.
It is actually a minimal position. In a sense, it is the smallest identification of the voice of the Church that still allows the Church’s voice to be objectively identified, not simply a theoretical construct.
It is a position that requires faith, but a faith that is necessary to avoid the theological relativism and subjectivism of (B), every believer for himself.
Is it enough? I will try to address that question in my next post.