The Infallibility of the Church?

Systematic Theology, 3 Volumes The Roman Catholic Church teaches that “the infallibility of the Magisterium of the Pastors extends to all the elements of doctrine, including moral doctrine, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, expounded, or observed” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, III.  In short, Rome teaches the infallibility of the Magisterial Church.

Charles Hodge (d. 1878), in Systematic Theology, gives five arguments against the infallibility of the Church of Rome: 1) it is founded on a wrong theory of the church, 2) it is founded on the false assumption of the perpetuity of the Apostleship, 3) it is founded on a false interpretation of Christ’s promise, 4) it is contradicted by facts, and 5) it is contradicted by the present doctrinal errors in the Church of Rome.  Though Hodge’s arguments are all solid, I appreciate his third one:

The third decisive argument against the infallibility of the Church is, that Christ never promised to preserve it from all error. What is here meant is that Christ never promised the true Church, that is, “the company of true believers,” that they should not err in doctrine. He did promise that they should not fatally apostatize from the truth. He did promise that He would grant his true disciples such a measure of divine guidance by his Spirit, that they should know enough to be saved. He, moreover, promised that He would call men into the ministry, and give them the qualifications of faithful teachers, such as were the presbyters whom the Apostles ordained in every city.

But there is no promise of infallibility either to the Church as a whole, or to any class of men in the Church. Christ promised to sanctify his people; but this was not a promise to make them perfectly holy in this life. He promised to give them joy and peace in believing; but this is not a promise to make them perfectly happy in this life —that they should have no trials or sorrows. Then, why should the promise to teach be a promise to render infallible. As the Church has gone through the world bathed in tears and blood, so has she gone soiled with sin and error. It is just as manifest (obvious) that she has never been infallible, as that she has never been perfectly holy. Christ no more promised the one than the other.

Hodge, Charles. (1997). Systematic theology (Vol. 1, pp. 142–143). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church
hammond, WI

6 Replies to “The Infallibility of the Church?”

  1. He, moreover, promised that He would call men into the ministry, and give them the qualifications of faithful teachers, such as were the presbyters whom the Apostles ordained in every city.

    Where does it say that Apostles ordained anyone (presbyters) in the Bible. I love the part where God gives men the qualifications to be faithful teachers, not a seminary.


    1. In 1 Tim 4:14 and 2 Tim 1:6, Paul recalls when he ordained Timothy and in Titus 1:5 he instructs Titus to ordain elders. There is also a reference to the ordaining of elders in Acts 14:23. Are you referring to Eph 4:7-12 when you think of God giving the church men to be teachers? We don’t want to pit Scripture against Scripture – 2 Tim 2:2 mandates education which we have in the form of seminaries. God uses means so it in a seminary which is ideally older men of God teaching young men who evidence signs of giftedness so they will grow and become fit for the ministry. A seminary that is rooted in the word and fears the Lord is an institution of great joy and encouragement.


      1. dantespencer,
        This morning I had the privilege of listening to a young man who has not gone through seminary, but has been in missionary intern and worked at a church camp. His sermon/teaching made more sense to me and I felt glorified God more than some I have heard with doctorates coming from seminaries. He didn’t have a 3 page outline or cue cards, just an open Bible and a willing heart. That is how it was where I was raised. You know back when people walked 5 miles up a hill both ways to school.

        Seminaries need to be watched carefully. There are those out there that teach a potential leader never to involve the worldly police. All should be handled within the church. A 3 year old child must forgive the molester and love that person in spite of the sin which was committed against them. The child is reprimanded for being afraid and hiding under a desk. The wife/mother who’s husband has locked her in the basement and when calling her pastor is told that she should stay there and wait for her husband to let her out while her young children are upstairs alone instead of calling 911.

        You can hope for godly men to teach the younger, but it is not always the way it is.


    1. Alan: there are clear texts in Scripture that explain church/Christian discipline for unrepentant sinners (Mt. 18, 1 Cor 6, etc.). This discipline is not exercised by one or two people, but by the church. This also has to do with the keys of the kingdom and the elders that Paul said should be installed in each church (Titus 1:5).

      In Presbyterian polity, we take this seriously, so we don’t want to excommunicate someone without an orderly process where there is sufficient evidence – we want justice and truth to prevail since this is such a heavy matter.

      In answer to your question, Jesus, in Scripture, gives the church (specifically the officers) the authority to excommunicate an unrepentant sinner. For more info, see Berkhof (or any other Reformed ST) under “The Power of the Church.” See also chapter 30 of the Westminster Confession (along with the proof texts of that section).

      Hope this helps!


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