Religious debate

by Kyle Massengale

PINSON, Ala. (BNc) — On a Friday evening, an audience gathered at the Pinson High School Fine Arts Center to hear reason and evidences regarding the fundamental point of contention among the  ‘religious’ world today: “The Bible is the exclusive standard of authority for Christian faith and practice.”

Robert Sungenis, well known author and president of Catholic Apologetics International, an organization dedicated to teaching and defending Roman Catholicism, was set to defend his belief in additional authoritative sources.

David Hester, evangelist with the Springville Road church, affirmed the Bible as the exclusive will of God to man.

There was a great deal of expectation that both men would present thought-provoking rationale for their respective positions. However, at the close of the opening statements, it was apparent that the Catholic defender was neither prepared to respond to the well-executed arguments of brother Hester, nor was he able to present any point in support of his signed statement affirming that “The Roman Catholic magesterium, the Bible and Apostolic Tradition constitute the authorities for Christian faith and practice.”

Even though Mr. Sungenis agreed to affirm the Catholic magisterium as an authoritative source, he purposefully avoided the use of the word “magesterium” throughout the entire debate — which did not go unnoticed by Hester.

In fact, the moderators discussed with brother Hester a looming sense that Sungenis was wavering in his conviction.

A recent quote of Sungenis which was used by Hester during his rebuttal stated, “I have resolved that the modern Catholic Church will be required to stand on its own, for I simply cannot defend it any longer. There are simply too many doctrinal aberrations and moral laxities in today’s Catholic Church that are indefensible.”

With fervor, David wasted no time in his affirmative speech referencing a stack of manuals, including the Catholic Catechism, and challenged his opponent to present any reason how Catholicism could make any distinct claim of exclusive authority above all the others. Sungenis struggled as he relied upon his claim of a Catholic apostolic succession in response to the challenge.

Brother Hester put forth a clear and forceful argument refuting any apostolic authority laid upon any man beyond those referenced by Luke.

“Nothing further or in addition to the message from these men was authorized by Christ or the Spirit,” David stated. “Nothing is said about a Magisterium, the college of bishops or the Pope in John 14:26 and 16:13. By what authority can Sungenis include anyone else? To claim any further revelation of divine truth today would require a succession of apostolic authority yet we know there is not provision for such a person to meet the qualifications of apostolic succession as given in Acts 1:21-22.”

David correctly reasoned that any claim for further revealed truth beyond scripture would be void of God’s divine sanction and seal.

Building on that foundational principle, Hester then pointed out that all truth was delivered to and by those present during the first century as directed by the words of Christ in John 16:13. Using Jude 3, David showed that truth has been (past tense) handed down. He went on to state that Peter also makes it clear concerning the things which God has chosen to reveal to man has already been bestowed upon mankind (2 Peter 1:3). These “things,” which include all truth, were recorded as scripture — placing such acknowledged first century writings in fulfillment of the Old Testament.

Brother Hester offered this, along with the fact of apostolic finality, as proof that no further revelation through a magisterium or by further apostolic tradition can be substantiated or defended as a product from God.

David closed with the undeniable truth that one cannot add to or remove from the teachings of the apostles.

“The apostle John pronounced that if one was to add or accept any new teachings not of Christ then he is not God’s, 1 John 9-11,” he stated. “Paul also is very clear on the matter and tells the church at Corinth not to go beyond what is written, 1 Corinthians 4:6.”

Brother Hester raised a question for which Sungenis had no plausible answer. “What happens when a contradiction occurs between the scripture and the adopted dogma of the magisterium or Catholic tradition?”

He posed the example of Catholic practice and teaching regarding baptism in light of scripture. Sungenis could not deny the obvious contradiction between the two and resorted to an incredible defense of sprinkling infants defying any serious consideration. In relating the events of Acts 10, Mr. Sungenis attempted to argue that the text does not indicate what form of baptism was used by Philip. Sungenis affirmed that the word baptizo includes sprinkling and pouring and that he (Sungenis) had done a detailed word study and was convinced of his conclusion.

Upon returning to the podium, brother Hester expressed astonishment at the “novel definition” of baptizo that Sungenis proposed. Where were the lexicons to prove Sungenis’s claim? David went on to explain that the word originated from the sound a stone would make when hitting the surface of the water and sinking down into the water.

Sungenis made no attempt to explain the inconstancy between administering baptism to an infant and Christ’s prerequisite of belief.

On the second night, Sungenis not only reaffirmed his claim concerning baptizo, he went a step further. He said, “While the scriptures do not state this, you must imagine Philip taking a cup and using it to pour water on the eunuch’s head.”

In his response, David replied, “You can just as well imagine that they had a shower stall.” When one sets aside the Scriptures, he can “imagine” anything.

Sungenis offered no specific point of fact or reference that is of much substance to mention, although he gave his best attempt to say that the Catholic Church was spoken by Paul as the pillar and ground of truth (1 Timothy 3:15) and required the adherence to both oral and written doctrine that the church would develop over time as acceptable apostolic traditions.

Brother Hester refuted this erroneous idea using the very passage Sungenis relied upon for his argument. David correctly identified the traditions which Paul referred to in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 as the apostolic teachings that were both spoken, as well as written down, being delivered to the first century Christians during the apostolic age. Paul did not leave room for any future apostolic traditions as claimed by Sungenis.

I commend brother Hester in representing the truth in love.  His accurate portrayal of the true church, the apostolic work of the Holy Spirit through the called and qualified men of the first century, and the deliverance of all truth once for all time, make this debate a rich supply of affirmation and confidence that God’s exclusive standard of authority for Christian faith and practice has but one source, the Bible.

Kyle is the evangelist with the Madison Ala. church and participated as a moderator for brother Hester. The debate can be viewed online.