Crossfunction: 2 Timothy 3: Finding the Gospel, the Bible way

Monday, June 27, 2005

2 Timothy 3: Finding the Gospel, the Bible way

Here are two different ways to find someone sent by God to definitively preach the Gospel: which is the Bible way?

Method 1:
Seek out a preacher whose message about Christ sounds right, and appears to agree with Scripture. If so, observe his life to determine whether his example agrees with his teaching. If so, acknowlege him as a man of God and an authentic teacher of God's Word.

Method 2:
Seek out a person who has received the gift of the imposition of hands -like Timothy- from one who himself has received this apostolic gift -like Paul. Embrace his teachings unless they appear to contradict what the Church and Scripture clearly teach.


Method 1 is essentially a Protestant approach. It relies on me -with the help of the Holy Spirit- determining whether a given preacher is teaching and living the truth, in which case I will decide to believe what he says. If at some point his message doesn't sound quite right or his life doesn't look quite right, I'll have to reconsider.

Method 2 is essentially a Catholic approach. It relies on the scriptural fact that Jesus gave His apostles the power to preach the Gospel and through the imposition of hands to pass on that ministry to others, who are also able to do the same. Therefore, God sends us teachers who have been publicly set aside for that ministry according to the clear pattern set down in the Gospel and followed continuously since the first century. If such a man then teaches things that seem to contradict what Scripture and the Church teach, then I have to be careful not to be deceived by his potentially false teachings. If his life contadicts his teachings, then again I have cause for caution.

Paul before Agrippa.  Tiffany Studios.  Union Congregational Church, Montclair, NJ.
Note that the two methods are rather different. Method 1 requires me to build a case FOR a preacher in order to decide whether, in effect, his message is good enough to be believed.

Method 2 more exemplifies the belief that Jesus makes His appointed teachers readily recognizable, just as He did in the first century, and they are to be welcomed with respect and trust. We recognize them the way early Christians were to recognize the teachers sent to them: they were sent by the apostles or those sent by the apostles. At the same time, we must recognize that individual teachers can teach error, and their words must be weighed against the teachings handed down by the apostles through Scripture and Tradition.

These legitimately ordained teachers teach with true authority as long as they continue to teach in union with the successors of Peter and the other apostles.

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