Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Three Legged Stool Falls Over

The Roman Catholic Church's description of authority, called the 'three legged stool', is an attempt to place man on an equal footing with God: God's word, the magisterium, and tradition are said to be equal.
However, the Bible says Jesus is the cornerstone upon which the church is built, then the apostles and prophets are laid as stones upon Him, then the people that hear the Word from them and are saved come next, and so on.
The Triune God Himself is the 'three legged stool', or else the whole structure is built upon the sand. 1 John 5:7 says there are three that bear witness in heaven; the Father, the Word, and the Spirit and these three are one...There are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three agree as one. 9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. 10 He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. 11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.

In 1 Cor. 3 and 4 Paul talks about the foundation again, which Jesus mentions in Matthew 16:17-19 also, and which has generated so much controversy. Paul says again that Jesus is the foundation and that those who plant and water are nothing, but it is God who gives the increase: God who IS the foundation and God who adds to the building through each worker.
If one is not built on the foundation of Christ, then they are built on sinking sand instead of the Rock. The RCC claims that the three legged stool makes the church strong, yet Paul in 1 Corinthians 4 says: 6 Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. 7 For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
Paul is saying that the written word is the final authority because it is God who gives it.
Remember back in 1 John 5:9 where it says: 9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. 10 He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. 11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
This is saying that the witness of God (three in one) is greater than the witness of man, and that he who believes in the Son has the witness in himself; he who does NOT believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that GOD has given of His Son, that God has given us eternal life, and that life is in His Son.
So the witness is by God Himself, and the testimony is given by God Himself and He has shown this in heaven by Himself, and on earth by Himself: the Spirit, the water, and the blood. No three legged stool propped up by a magisterium and man's tradition is needed. We believe in the Word, receive the Spirit, obey the Father: we are washed in the blood, by the Spirit, and receive the living water. We receive this witness of God Himself within ourselves; we don't need the witness of man's authority. We hear His voice by the Word and the Spirit and believe, and we receive the Spirit in ourselves as our witness. We then follow Christ in water baptism because we are covered already in His blood, by His Spirit, who washes us with the water of regeneration.
The 1 John passage also says 'that you may know that you have eternal life'. We don't need a magisterium or oral tradition to help us be saved or know we are saved (the magisterium and tradition tell us we can't know and can't be saved outside of them) but only God, His Spirit, and His Word are needed.

In effect the three legged stool is not three equal legs in practice. Scripture is subordinated to the magisterium and their tradition (interpretations and additions) because they say we can't know anything in scripture or in our lives without their interpretation.

The Word of God is our guide and lamp, and He interprets it for His sheep Himself, by His Spirit.

"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." (Psalm 119:105)

"Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night." (Psalm 1:1-2)

Here are some passages that show that God and His word are enough; we should fear Him alone:
Isaiah 8:11 For the LORD spoke thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying:
12 “ Do not say, ‘A conspiracy,’
Concerning all that this people call a conspiracy,
Nor be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.
13 The LORD of hosts, Him you shall hallow;
Let Him be your fear,
And let Him be your dread.
14 He will be as a sanctuary,
But a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense
To both the houses of Israel,
As a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
15 And many among them shall stumble;
They shall fall and be broken,
Be snared and taken.”
16 Bind up the testimony,
Seal the law among my disciples.
17 And I will wait on the LORD,
Who hides His face from the house of Jacob;
And I will hope in Him.
18 Here am I and the children whom the LORD has given me!
We are for signs and wonders in Israel
From the LORD of hosts,
Who dwells in Mount Zion.

19 And when they say to you, “Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,” should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? 20 To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

John 20:30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

Acts 17: 1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.


Elena said...

Um... the 3 legged stool isn't Catholic. It's Anglican/Episcopal.

Jennie said...

Dave Armstrong seems to think the three-legged stool is Catholic:

Also, I believe Fr. Mitch Pacwa used the three-legged stool illustration in the 'Authority Debate' between himself and Erik Svendsen.

Jennie said...

So apparently the Catholics have used a different version of the stool as an illustration: scripture, the magisterium, and tradition.
Even if the stool idea isn't generally used, everything I said still applies to the fact that the RCC considers those three things to be equal, instead of considering scripture itself as the final authority, which is interpreted by the Holy Spirit Himself to His believers.

Paul said...

(3) By virtue of its official and permanent promulgation, Scripture is a public document, the Divine authority of which is evident to all the members of the Church.

(4) The Church necessarily possesses a text of Scripture, which is internally authentic, or substantially identical with the original. Any form or version of the text, the internal authenticity of which the Church has approved either by its universal and constant use, or by a formal declaration, enjoys the character of external or public authenticity, i.e., its conformity with the original must not merely be presumed juridically, but must be admitted as certain on account of the infallibility of the Church.

(5) The authentic text, legitimately promulgated, is a source and rule of faith, though it remains only a means or instrument in the hands of the teaching body of the Church, which alone has the right of authoritatively interpreting Scripture.

(6) The administration and custody of Scripture is not entrusted directly to the whole Church, but to its teaching body, though Scripture itself is the common property of the members of the whole Church. While the private handling of Scripture is opposed to the fact that it is common property, its administrators are bound to communicate its contents to all the members of the Church.

Paul said...

"But more than just noting the presence of these kinds of statements (and there are many, many more), I likewise point you to numerous practices and beliefs not embraced by Rome today. Why are those beliefs less important, or even to be rejected? Because of the truly consistent epistemology that lies behind Rome's claims: sola ecclesia. Rome gets to define not only the extent (canon) and meaning (interpretation) of Scripture, infallibly, but the extent and meaning of tradition as well. She gets to pick and choose between what practices and activities of the myriad one can find in early church history she will invest with some kind of special authority and which ones she will reject. She gets to define what is tradition, and what isn't.

Jennie said...

I'm not sure what this means:
While the private handling of Scripture is opposed to the fact that it is common property

Does 'private handling' mean individual laypeople reading the Bible? So the RCC doesn't like them reading it themselves and interpreting it themselves?

Jennie said...

If the magisterium are the only ones who can interpret scripture, are they the only ones who are betrothed to the Bridegroom and can hear His voice? Does not the Shepherd care for each lamb and sheep and expecting mother with individual care, as scripture says? (Oh I forgot I can't understand that myself, because I'm not part of the 'magisterium')
It has constantly been obvious by many examples that the RCC is all about putting barriers back in between people and their Savior.

Paul said...

I think you answered your own question.


Jennie said...

Yes, I just wanted to be sure I wasn't misinterpreting the statement:)

Jennie said...

Here's another thought to add about the authority issue, whether scripture is the final authority or whether the magisterium of the RCC is. I think Erik Svendsen mentioned this during the 'Authority Debate' between Fr. Pacwa and himself; Svendsen brought out that at the time of Athanasius when Arianism was rampant in the church, even though a few of the bishops like Athanasius were combating Arianism, it was the 'laypeople' who began to overwhelmingly reject Arianism while their bishops were steeped in it. The people used the scripture to discern the truth from the error. So the 'infallible' magisterium totally failed, while the church members stood on scripture.

Jennie said...

Some parts of the Authority Debate can be found here on this search page from

Anonymous said...

Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority

Jennie said...

We have been discussing that article under another post below about apostolic succession. Thanks :)