There, you have me.
Actually, the church tells what you have to believe if you're going to call yourself Catholic. We're free to leave the church. I don't think that's the smartest move (John 6:67-69), but any of us can.
The Catholic church is a hierarchical organization, with definite top-down authority. A democracy, it isn't.
But that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Everybody, the Pope included, operates under a set of rules. One of the rules is that what we believe isn't determined by market research or opinion polls.
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Here's something I saw at the grocery this week. Amazing.
Giant Bible horoscope for life? Wow.
I know: this is a supermarket tabloid, not what some Christian leader said. But Christian leaders have been known to come up with some interesting ideas, too. The founder of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries seems to think that the age of consent is puberty. Which may explain why he's in trouble with the law.
Or, his legal problems may be a Popish plot. CNN quotes Tony Alamo:
" 'We don't go into pornography; nobody in the church is into that,' Alamo said. 'Where do these allegations stem from? The anti-Christ government. The Catholics don't like me because I have cut their congregation in half. They hate true Christianity.' " ("Evangelist Tony Alamo won't fight extradition"(By the way: Even though the Catholic church allows Bingo, horoscopes are on the don't-do-it list (Catechism, 2116). It's part of the ban on divination.)
(CNN (September 26, 2008))
Listening to people from "Bible-believing" churches describe how they relied on the Bible alone, I learned that many of those churches have a more-or-less formal custom of having some of the more senior members talk over scripture from time to time, and decide what it says.
I'm not being disrespectful with that description: just trying to describe the process briefly. It's a pretty good system, and can filter out the crazier ideas before they get presented as 'Bible truths.'
The Catholic church relies on the Bible, and can't change what it's been given. But we're not left to decide for ourselves what the census reports, songs, and accounts mean. We rely on the Bible, the Magisterium, and Tradition.
Here's how the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it:
- "BIBLE: Sacred Scripture: the books which contain the truth of God's Revelation and were composed by human authors inspired by the Holy Spirit (105). The Bible contains both the forty-six books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New Testament (120). See Old Testament; New Testament."
- "MAGISTERIUM: The living, teaching office of the Church, whose task it is to give as authentic interpretation of the word of God, whether in its written form (Sacred Scripture), or in the form of Tradition. The Magisterium ensures the Church's fidelity to the teaching of the Apostles in matters of faith and morals (85, 890, 2033)."
- "TRADITION: The living transmission of the message of the Gospel in the Church. The oral preaching of the Apostles, and the written message of salvation under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Bible), are conserved and handed on as the deposit of faith through the apostolic succession in the Church. Both the living Tradition and the written Scriptures have their common source in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ (75-82). The theological, liturgical, disciplinary, and devotional traditions of the local churches both contain and can be distinguished from this apostolic Tradition (83)."
There's quite a lot more, at the USCCB website.
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