As Jesus is the cornerstone upon which the Church is built, so are his teachings the unifying cornerstone of Christian doctrine.

Free from Man-Made Religion

When others tell me that Christmas is wrong, I will turn on my Christmas lights even brighter. When others tell me that dancing is a sin, I will dance all the more exuberantly. When others tell me that I should wear a suit and tie to church, I will show up in blue jeans. When others tell me that I should avoid alcohol, I will buy a bottle of wine or a six pack of beer and enjoy it for a week. When others tell me to say an Amen to their long and tedious prayers or loud but meaningless preaching, I will be silent. When others tell me to drive a black car, I will buy one that is bright red.

When others tell me to follow them, I will follow Jesus and Jesus alone. When others teach empty-headed fluff and claim that their doctrine is infallible, I will do research in a critical commentary and search the Scriptures like the Bereans. I am free from the religions of men and their silly rules. I will allow nobody to take my freedom in Jesus away. I will enjoy the company of fellow Christians in almost any denomination, but I will not be put in a prison of man-made religion.

Liberal or Conservative?

Why I am a Liberal

I am a liberal because I do not believe that the Bible says anywhere that it is the word of God, that is, always a quote from God. I am a liberal because I do not believe that Christianity is limited to one exclusive church or human authority. I am a liberal because I do not believe that most doctrines that divide us come from God. I am a liberal because I do not believe that "religious" experiences are reliable. I am a liberal because I do not believe that everything taught in Church is inspired by God.

Why I am a conservative

I am a conservative because I believe that the Bible is the word of God, that is, the word about God and the word inspired by God. I am a conservative because I believe that God's true Church is one, united in Christ. I am a conservative because I believe that most doctrines that unite us come from God. I am a conservative because I believe that we must experience Christ. I am a conservative because I believe God.


Chapter from Christianity without the Crap by Ian Grant Spong available at

Sense and Nonsense about Infallibility

Infallibility is an issue with extremes on both sides. Catholics and even Protestants think that Protestants do not believe in infallibility at all. They do. Protestants think that the Catholic Church teaches that the pope doesn't make mistakes. It does not.

The Catholic Church teaches three sources of infallibility of the Church: the Bible, Tradition and the Magisterium (the teaching office of the Church which includes official decrees of the Ecumenical Councils and the ex-cathedra pronouncements of the Pope). Commonly infallibility is understood over a broader spectrum with two extremes. Let's examine the spectrum of beliefs on this subject and get to the real issues.

Infallibility of Doctrine

On the one extreme is the liberal idea that no doctrine of the Church is infallible. Among liberal Catholics and in many liberal Protestant churches today, the whole basis of the Christian faith is being brought into question. A statement like no teaching is infallible is often said as if it were infallible itself, making at least one doctrine infallible. So this is a self-contradictory statement. If it is not infallible, then there arises the possibility that some doctrines are infallible.

Infallibility of the Bible

Most Protestants believe that only the Bible is infallible. Yet by default then, they believe that the decision to canonize the books of the Bible beginning with the paschal letter of Athanasius in 367 AD and final acceptance by the entire Church at the Council of Carthage in 397 AD was also infallible. So, not only is the Bible infallible, but at least one council decision made by leaders of the Church.

One infallible decision leads to more. If the Protestant churches by and large believe that there was at least one infallible decision made by early church leaders, then there is the possibility of other infallible decisions. Most mainstream Protestant churches believe that the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds are infallible, or at least pretty near infallible. The quibble over filioque as mentioned in a separate chapter, ought to be a relatively minor issue and not do away with the essential infallibility of the creeds.

Most mainstream Christians also believe that the Trinity doctrine is infallible. It is discussed in greater detail in the chapters on God, Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Infallibility of the Councils

If one ecumenical council made an infallible decision, it is not too hard to admit that possibly others did too. However, does that mean that every council therefore makes infallible decisions? This is probably the point where Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Christians would begin to disagree with Rome.

However, we must be fair. Catholics do not believe that everything that the councils wrote is infallible, just the official statements. By and large, the Orthodox Church also believes that the official proclamation of either the first seven or nine Ecumenical Councils was infallible, but not the vast majority of those later councils which were made by the western Catholic Church in isolation.

Protestants would not find it difficult to believe that the legacy of history has proven the canonization of the Bible and the Trinity doctrine to be infallible decisions. However, those decisions were made with a general consent of the Christian community which has not existed since the first seven councils. As a result, Eastern Orthodox Christians do not recognize most Catholic decisions since that time, and Protestants are not unified at all on which decisions they recognize. Generally, Protestants recognize the first two or three councils.

The Orthodox Church believes that official decisions of all truly Ecumenical (i.e. east-west) Councils were infallible, because those were decisions based upon broad consensus across the whole Christian Church. The major decisions made during the first thousand years are generally adhered to by both Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.

Since the Great Schism, there has been no consensus between eastern and western Christians and the Orthodox Church has been reluctant to recognize any major decisions made by the western (Catholic) Church since then.

Protestants ask and rightly so, that if the councils were infallible, why did some reverse the decisions of earlier ones? For instance, why did the Second Council of Nicaea (787 AD) restore the veneration of icons, after the Council of Constantinople (754) had condemned the same?

However, Protestants have their own problem: division between themselves. Protestants are miserably divided over the issue of which doctrines from the first 1500 years of Church history to keep and which to do away with.

The Ecumenical Councils

Let's take a short break in our discussion to list the seven truly Ecumenical Councils and some of the major decisions made.
  • Council of Nicaea (325 AD) began the Creed of Nicaea, set the date of Easter.
  • First Council of Constantinople (381 AD) finalized the Nicene Creed.
  • Council of Ephesus (431 AD) declared Mary the Mother of God (theotokos).
  • Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) defined the two natures of Christ, divine and human.
  • Second Council of Constantinople (553 AD) confirmed the first four general councils.
  • Third Council of Constantinople (680-681 AD) defined two wills in Christ, divine and human as witnessed in his prayers before his crucifixion.
  • Second Council of Nicaea (787 AD) regulated the use of icons.
The Catholic Church continues to hold what it calls Ecumenical Councils, which are not truly ecumenical if we believe that Orthodox and Protestant churches are also Christian. The Orthodox Church continues to hold Local Councils and recognizes important letters or statements of faith by individual bishops. Protestants have factionalism along denominational lines and no general council deciding doctrinal issues.

The Catholic and Orthodox Churches recognize the first seven councils. Mainstream Protestants also recognize the first few councils, but with a few reservations on their teachings. Catholics and Orthodox Christians count different councils 8 and 9. Catholics count councils 10-21 also as Ecumenical. Vatican I and Vatican II were the last two in the series of 21 councils recognized by Catholics.

Arguments against Infallibility

Catholic reformer, Hans Küng pointed out that the Catholic Church had overturned decisions in the past. For instance, Vatican II was at odds with Gregory XVI and Pius IX on religious liberty. It went against Leo XIII, Pius X, and Benedict XV on the inerrancy of scripture. Vatican II also disagreed with Pius XI on the relationship of the Catholic Church to other Christian churches. Küng pointed out that the Church seems to have an infallible Magisterium (teaching office) that is sometimes fallible, an oxymoron. He redefined infallibility not to mean doctrines without error, but teachings without intentional deception. However, Küng is more liberal than even many Protestants. He claims that the Church does not have an infallible pope, infallible councils, nor an infallible Bible, but only a Church that will not fail.


The biggest problem that Protestant and Catholic critics have with the infallibility of the Church's teachings is when it means they are irreformable. Yet even Vatican II admits in defining infallibility that the assent of the Church cannot be wanting. Protestants and Orthodox would say that it certainly is wanting. The Church in general does not agree. The Church of Jesus Christ (Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox) has only given its assent to most of the decisions of the first few Ecumenical Councils, with some reservations on the part of Protestants. This is generally the level of infallibility which Protestant and Orthodox Christians are comfortable with.

While Küng brought the debate to wide attention, he is not accepted as the ultimate reformer of infallibility, merely the one who writes in language Protestants can understand. Other Catholic reformers and fellow founders of the Catholic reformist magazine Concilium, such as Edward Schillebeeckx and Karl Rahner write in a manner less offensive to Catholics. Protestants may be shocked to know that among Catholic theologians, there is a wide diversity of opinion and not all accept the doctrine of infallibility at face value.

Arguments for Infallibility

Why do many Catholics believe in infallibility? It is necessary to be generous towards our Catholic friends by assuming that they are reasonable and not victims of blind faith; otherwise, we end up being just blind bigots ourselves. Catholics teach that Christ founded his Church and intended it to be universal and unified. In order to preserve this unity, Christ bestowed upon the apostles and their legitimate successors full ability to teach, govern and follow the lead of the Holy Spirit into all truth.

This infallibility means exemption from the possibility of error in the important decisions of the Church. It has nothing to do with fallible human intellect, but God's infallible leading of the Church. The principle texts used to prove this point are Matthew 28:18-20; 16:18; John 14, 15, and 16; I Timothy 3:14-15; and Acts 15:28.

Infallibility of Papal Ex-Cathedra Teaching

Difficult for Orthodox and Protestants are the many doctrines of the later Catholic Ecumenical Councils and especially the doctrine of infallibility to the pope's rare ex-cathedra statements. Neither the Orthodox Church nor Protestantism accept this doctrine. However, we must be fair to our Catholic friends. Nearly all Catholics agree that there have only ever been two ex-cathedra pronouncements made by the pope: the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the Assumption of Mary. The entire documents surrounding these two ex-cathedra statements are not considered to be infallible, only the official statements, a few sentences or so.

The infallibility of the pope in making ex-cathedra statements was only defined as a dogma in the First Vatican Council of 1870. It is not agreed to by Protestant and Orthodox Christians who believe that popes make mistakes in ex-cathedra pronouncements. Orthodox Christians believe that any such official decisions made in isolation, to which the whole Church was not part, is dubious and cannot be infallible. Both of the pope's ex-cathedra pronouncements, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary have caused great offense and revulsion among Protestants, serving to repel them even further from Rome than before. Protestants believe that these teachings have not fostered Christian unity by reinforcing essentials of the faith, but rather emphasized divisive dogmas over scripturally dubious matters.

Infallibility of the Pope

And now we finish near the other extreme regarding infallibility. Many people suppose that Catholics believe the pope is generally infallible, i.e., impeccable, or without personal error. Perhaps some Catholics do believe this, but that is not official teaching. The phrase papal infallibility can sound misleading. It means that when the Roman Pontiff speaks ex-cathedra (i.e., when in the discharge of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, he defines that a doctrine concerning faith or morals must be held by the whole Church) that teaching is infallible, irreformable. There have only ever been two such ex-cathedra pronouncements in all history as discussed above.

Catholic reform theologian Hans Küng objected that everyone had to pay a high price "for this infallibility, which allowed for no genuine corrections and revisions...which profoundly shook the credibility of the Catholic Church...created a gap between the Church and modern science...exodus of countless intellectuals, the inner alienation of many believers...the loss of touch with reality, the mighty religious machine whose operations very often conceal the absence of inner life...Was all that necessary?" (How the Pope Became Infallible, by A. B. Hasler, Doubleday, 1981 p. 195)

Infallible Televangelists

As a postscript to this discussion, let's consider a modern phenomenon: the televangelist who discourages criticism of his teachings. Protestants may be shocked to know that some of their own claim defacto infallibility. For instance, some in the word-faith movement claim that they are above doctrine, that doctrine does not matter, yet that statement itself is a doctrine.

The claim that doctrine doesn't matter is often made by poorly educated preachers who don't understand correct doctrine and themselves teach defective, wacky ideas. It seems like a device to protect them from close scrutiny. Some are also known to make threats such as, if you dare criticize them you are bound for hell.

This too is a defacto claim of infallibility and ought to be a warning signal that something fishy is going on. Many televangelists are poorly educated and have a very deficient understanding of even basic Christianity. In a perfect world, television preaching would be the domain of those who know what they are talking about and there would be no spiritual snake oil salesmen.


What does Jesus say about papal infallibility? Nothing! Division caused by non-essentials is crap. Infallibity has created unnecessary division. Dividing the Christian church over a matter that Jesus did not think was important enough to command his disciples is crap. The Christianity of Christ did not include infallibility for his apostles, nor does such a doctrine leave room for humility and later repentance of errors. He who covers errors will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will have mercy (Proverbs 28:13).

Infallibility is a broader topic than most Protestants initially think, covering some beliefs that Protestants, Orthodox and Catholics have in common, and some areas of major disagreement. Infallibility can be seen as either faith or arrogance, as either creating unity or causing disunity. One thing is certain: the Catholic Church has painted itself into a corner over this issue, making unity with Protestants and Orthodox that much more distant. Would a future Pope be willing to confess that this doctrine is flawed (1 John 1:9)? He would be a very brave man, but he would have the instant respect of Protestants, Orthodox and many Catholics.