Recently, during a discussion between Douglas Beaumont (Catholic) and Matthew Graham (Protestant), and myself (also Catholic), the issue of an infallible Church came up. Matthew asked for the necessity of an infallible Church. This question inspired an analogy in my mind, an analogy of the unbreakable bottle containing the most important message received by mankind. The message: the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world.
In this article, I lay out the analogy and the importance an unbreakable bottle, not just for the Church, but the Bible and deposit of faith, as well. In other words, a great deal rides on the reliability and durability of the container God chooses to send His message to the world.
Just a castaway, an island lost at sea, oh
Another lonely day, with no one here but me, oh
More loneliness than any man could bear
Rescue me before I fall into despair, oh
Message in a Bottle – The Police
Unbreakable Bottle Analogy
Consider God sends a message in a bottle. The message contains the salvation of mankind. Since the salvation of mankind is at stake, God decides to send this message in an unbreakable bottle. God also possesses the power to make the bottle unbreakable. Furthermore, the fallibility and unreliability of human nature, especially in the transmission and dissemination of knowledge, requires an unbreakable bottle. The bottle contains the Bible and the deposit of faith. The unbreakable bottle is the infallible Church.
God did not send a chipped, cracked, and leaking bottle. God sent an unbreakable bottle.
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? – 1 Corinthians 1:10-13
In this letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul exhorts his readers to unite “in the same mind and the same judgement.” Clearly, even during the time of the apostles, disunity threatened God’s message to mankind. Church leaders, this time the apostle Paul, preserved God’s message and, therefore, proved the indestructibility of God’s bottle. The Council of Jerusalem also reflects another example of this in Acts 15.
Moreover, many secular historians think that no unbreakable bottle exists. They think the Christianity that emerged after the Council of Nicaea was the winner among the various sects of the first three centuries of Christianity: Gnostic, Pauline, and Jewish Christianity. If God were to not send an unbreakable bottle, this scenario seems the most likely. While there did exist a diversity of views regarding Christianity, this does not mean an authentic Christianity was absent. This diversity the Church calls heresy, as it does not align with the message in the bottle. Therefore, the choices are either the message within an unbreakable bottle or heresy authenticated as mere diversity.
Again, given the importance of the message, clearly God sent an unbreakable bottle.
The Bible in a Breakable Bottle
Furthermore, for those who claim the message was sent in a breakable bottle, with the potential for chips, cracks, and leaks (Protestants who deny Church infallibility), such fragility puts biblical reliability in question. The reason: the Church determined the biblical canon. If the Church, as one of many supposed diverse “Christian” sects, determined the canon fallibly, why accept it? Why not accept the gnostic canon of Marcion? Additionally, the fact that most Protestants accept the New Testament canon as given from the unbreakable bottle (the Church), demonstrates a degree of trust in the unbreakable bottle (the Church). Regardless, to deny the integrity of the bottle denies the integrity of the contents.
An Unbreakable Bottle Across Time
For modern Christians, the resurrection of Jesus occurred two-thousand years ago. During its existence, Christianity has witnessed Rome fall, feudal Europe rise, Muslim conquests, Reconquista, Luther’s rebellion, America’s birth, nation-states evolve, science ascend, and a world at war (twice). There have been many opportunities to facture a breakable bottle. Some think the bottle fractured in the 16th century. Luther did what many attempted but failed to do. In truth, what Luther did was to reinforce the need for an unbreakable bottle. In response to Luther (and other Protestants), the Church spent the next four centuries contemplating and defining the nature of an unbreakable bottle. Furthermore, with the advent of secular atheism, this helped strengthen the Church’s intellectual position.
The nature and importance of God’s message required a means to communicate it reliably. Jesus established a Church and gave this Church the ability to communicate this message infallibly over time. The alternative places all Christians throughout history in eternal danger. Therefore, given the stakes, God did the wisest thing and sent His message in an unbreakable bottle.
Please read Doug’s article, The Real Problem with Protestant Biblical Interpretation. He provides another layer regarding the contents in the bottle.
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