Wayne Greeson, a preacher for the church of Christ, hosted a Bible call-in radio program called Searching Daily four days a week in Northwest Arkansas. Bill Rutland, was the Education Director for the St. Vincent De Paul parish of the Roman Catholic church located in Rogers, Arkansas.
Rutland heard Greeson speaking on the radio program appealing to the sufficiency of the Bible for our religious authority. Rutland contacted Greeson and argued that the Bible was not sufficient authority but that we needed the Roman Catholic Church to properly understand and obey the will of God. Greeson asked Rutland if he would be willing to debate this issue on the radio program and Rutland agreed to do so. The debate was held on May 7, 8, 9 and 11, 2001, on KURM radio which broadcasts to the northwest corner of Arkansas and reaches into northeastern Oklahoma and southwestern Missouri. This debate is significant as it is very difficult to get Catholics to discuss the Bible and their religion, much less engage in public debate. Within the past decade there has been a small apologetic movement among Catholics to promote Catholicism and engage in public debate. This movement includes a number of former "Protestants" who are zealous to defend their new found religion. Bill Rutland as a former Protestant is among that number. This radio debate also led to a second lengthier and more detailed debate a year later. Though this debate was in a much shorter format, Rutland seemed to make his arguments much better within the limited time constraints.
Rutland began his argument in support of Catholic tradition by arguing that Jesus' prayer for unity in John 17 gave unity as the identifying mark of the one true church. In the course of the discussion he explained that the Catholic church had unity identifying it as the one true church in contrast to 30,000 Protestant churches which follow the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.
Catholic apologists like this argument and make it often. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura is a Latin term which simply means "the Scriptures only" are to be our authority. This is in contrast to Rutland's proposition which adds Roman Catholic Church tradition as an authority in addition to the Scriptures. Rutland used the Protestant "Westminster Confession of Faith" to define Sola Scriptura. Greeson took great exception to the use of a man made statement and said that it was no more authoritative than the Catholic traditions Rutland followed.
Greeson responded to Rutland's unity argument by arguing that the Catholic Church could not be the one true church regardless of whether it was unified because its traditions were contrary to the Scriptures. These traditions originated from men not from God and therefore are condemned by Jesus in Matthew 15 and Mark 7.
Rutland argued that there was a difference between "apostolic tradition" and "ecclesiastical tradition." Rutland used several passages to suggest that the apostles gave oral tradition outside of and in addition to the Scriptures. On the other hand Greeson argued that all apostolic tradition necessary for truth and to receive salvation was found written in the Scriptures (Eph. 3:4-5) and all other traditions, whatever they were called, were from men and thus condemned by the Lord.
Matthew 16 and Jesus' promise to build his church upon "this rock" is a favorite proof-text for Catholics and it was discussed extensively. Rutland argued that when Jesus stated to Peter "you are the rock and it is upon this rock" he was not speaking of himself or some confession Peter made, but of Peter. Rutland supported his argument by quoting from several Protestant commentators and claiming this was the position of most Bible scholars.
Greeson responded by pointing out that Peter could not be the rock Jesus promised to build his church upon because two different words are used. Peter is masculine from Petros and refers to a small stone, such as what one would hold in their hands. Whereas, "upon this rock" is a different word. It is the feminine form of the word, which is petra, and it refers to a large foundation. The Scriptures state that "there is no other foundation other than that which is laid, Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:11).
Rutland made two arguments in answer. First, he argued that Jesus spoke in Aramaic and that there was no difference in Peter and "this rock" in that language. Second, he argued that the difference in the Greek was not "theologically significant."
Greeson pointed out that Aramaic did contain masculine and feminine forms of the term for "rock." Further, since the Holy Spirit gave Matthew two different words that it certainly was significant. Greeson clearly demonstrated the significance of the difference in English using the sentence, "Thou art Mr. Rock and upon Mrs. Rock I will build my church."
Rutland also argued that Jesus giving the keys to Peter was a reference to Isaiah 22:15-24. He suggested that Peter's authority was demonstrated in Acts 2 by telling the disciples one had to be chosen to take Judas' office.
Greeson went to the early church fathers and demonstrated that there was no "unanimous consent" that Jesus built the church on Peter but that many of them stated otherwise.
Rutland left the Scriptures and went to the early "church father" Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons in 178 A.D. to support the Catholic claim of papal succession. Greeson responded by pointing out first that Irenaeus did not provide scriptural proof of papal succession. Further, Irenaeus was not authoritative as he was not an apostle nor did he claim to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Greeson took exception to Rutland's interpretation of Irenaeus' comments. He argued that Irenaeus did not establish either the doctrine of the supremacy of the Roman bishop nor papal succession, but that Irenaeus did use the Scriptures as his authority to refute the Gnostics.
Greeson began his affirmative by going to 2 Timothy 3:15-17. He argued that the Scriptures not the traditions of men or the Catholic Church make one wise to salvation. The Scriptures can be studied and understood without the interpretation of the Catholic Church. And the Scriptures contain all things necessary to make one perfect or complete.
Rutland came prepared to refute 2 Timothy 3:15-17 clearly expecting its use. He argued that Paul's use of the term "all Scripture" only had reference to the Old Testament Scriptures. He stated that "all" was not a correct translation but should read "every" thus Paul was not stating "all Scripture" was sufficient but "every Scripture" provided instruction. Rutland stated that Paul's use of the word "profitable" or "useful" was not strong enough to convey all sufficiency. And the man of God was not perfected by the Scriptures but by "teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness."
Greeson noted that since Rutland agreed that the New Testament was Scripture, that the principle in 2 Timothy 3:15-17 applied to "all Scripture" including the New Testament. Further, Paul's use of words was inspired and more than adequate to convey the sufficiency of the Scriptures. Finally, the teaching, rebuking and correcting came from the Scriptures not from the traditions of the Catholic Church.
A second major argument Greeson made was the example of Jesus and his use and dependence upon the Scriptures. Jesus constantly appealed to the Scriptures to settle all doctrinal questions and issues. And he expected those who he discussed with and talked with to read and accept the authority of the Scriptures. He asked numerous times "Have you not read?" One can read, understand and do what the Scriptures say according to Jesus (Lk. 10:25-28). Jesus did not teach or use the traditions of men. He did not use oral traditions. He did not use the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church or establish that as authoritative, nor the interpretations of a Pope in Rome.
Rutland did not like Greeson's statement that the Catholic Church says people cannot understand the Bible. Then he went on to argue that there are things hard to understand, according to Peter (2 Peter 3:15), and that we need the official interpretation to properly understand the Scriptures.
Greeson noted that Rutland called the apostles' preaching of the gospel "oral tradition" and suggests that what they preached was not contained within the Scriptures. He found it is interesting that in order to prove "oral tradition" Rutland has to cite and to read from the Scriptures, the written Word of God. Every time he did so he proved that the Scriptures are our only authority for Christian faith and doctrine and undermined that we need something else outside of and in addition to the Scriptures. Even Rutland's so-called "oral traditions" are not "oral" at all, but are a collection writings of uninspired men.
Rutland suggested that Jesus did refer to Jewish oral tradition as authoritative by mentioning the "seat of Moses" (Mt. 23:1-4). Greeson did not respond to this point.
Rutland argued against the sufficiency of the Bible by building a case that the Catholic Church was the authority that determined the contents of the Bible and preserved the Bible down through the ages. He stated, "The Bible that you hold in your hands is quite simply a Catholic book."
Greeson strongly denied Rutland's point. He stated "I do not hold the Bible in my hand because of the Roman Catholic Church. It is not a Catholic church doctrine. It does not contain the doctrines of the Catholic Church...The traditions of the Roman Catholic Church are not scriptural as they are not based in Scripture and Bill knows that very well. They are not based in Scripture and he has to go outside of Scripture and he has to quote Irenaeus and he has to go to the councils and this council and that council."
Greeson's final appeal to Rutland and to all Catholics served as a fitting conclusion to a stirring and informative debate. "Come out of the Catholic Church, come away from the traditions, put aside the history books and go back to the pure unadulterated Word of God."
I commend this debate as an initial study in helping to understand the positions and arguments made by Catholics in support of the Catholic Church and against the sufficiency of the Scriptures. Several passages used as proof-texts are discussed very thoroughly and should be helpful to anyone interested in the Truth.