So how do we know what real Christianity really is? To traditional Roman Catholicism, the Roman Church was founded by Jesus via Peter, who appointed his successors etc. so for this apostolic reason Christian doctrine was whatever the Catholic Church said it was. I’m not sure whether anyone takes this particularly serious any more and thankfully the current state of the Catholic Church should be able to convince anyone that if they ever were in God’s grace, which is unlikely, there is no sign of it now.
In reaction against this, Protestantism held that the Bible, after they had removed certain texts from it, was the inerrant and complete word of God. This was an understandable position to take at the time but has obvious drawbacks. Even if the Bible was dictated by God, the scribes that wrote it down were presumably not infallible and nor were the editors. There are obvious contradictions and editing errors. In any case the text that made it into the Bible were a selection from a wider library, with the selectors presumably not being inerrant. As well as being intellectually indefensible, the idea of sola scriptura is damaging in that it excludes many potential sources of guidance.
I propose that our understanding of Christianity be based on the following sources:
- The Bible and related texts from the time, for example texts which didn’t make it into the Bible such as the Gospel of Thomas, provided these appear to be consistent with the overall Christian narrative.
- The writings of the early Church fathers.
- Certain Greek philosophy and previous religious texts needed to understand the New Testament in the proper context.
- Historical, archaeological and religious studies related to the above.
- Historical studies related to what was actually practised and appeared to work in functional Christian societies.
- Reasoning and logical extrapolation based on all of the above.