In the recent discussion of sola scriptura, Preston objected to the idea of Church infallibility as follows:
Jesus says the Comforter will come and reveal to all. Therefore, the weight of interpretation can not be given alone to a small group in the Church, which is often the case, but is the responsibility of the Church as a whole. Not to say every interpretation is right, but it does not suggest that because a group agrees on an interpretation that it is infallible. To claim that kind of infallibility is to claim to speak for God Himself. Or, moreover, to suggest only some people are enabled to do so.
Let’s start at the beginning. Did Jesus say that the Holy Spirit would “reveal to all?” In fact, he didn’t. There isn’t a verse which says exactly that. The one which it is closest to quoting is John 14:26 “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
The interesting thing is that in this verse, Jesus is speaking specifically to the inner circle of his disciples at the last supper. John does not tell us exactly who was there, but Matthew and Mark identify this group as only the 12 apostles. So though this may in some sense apply to the wider Church community, in its most direct sense it applies only to the 12.
What about the “weight of interpretation?” Can it be given to a “small group in the Church?” Or is it the “responsibility of the Church as a whole?” Perhaps we should look at biblical precedent.
The Council of Jerusalem depicted in Acts 15 is a clear case of a “small group in the Church,” namely the Apostles and Presbyters present in Jerusalem, deciding what the whole Church must believe by excluding the Judaistic heresy.
A straightforward reading of the text suggests that “because the group agreed on an interpretation” they saw it as infallible. In writing to those who had been disturbed by the Judaizers’ doctrine, the council said that “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us…”
Clearly they saw no problem in claiming “to speak for God Himself.” And again, they saw no problem with saying that the Judaizers were not enabled to do so because, “We did not send them!”
To claim that all Christians are enabled to speak for God is either a truism or a falsehood. It is a truism if we mean that all Christians are authorized to proclaim the Gospel. It is a falsehood if we mean that the Church is an egalitarian society with no clear leadership capable of making binding decisions in the name of the Church as a whole.
This latter position reverses the Pauline teaching by saying, “Yes, all are apostles! Yes, all are prophets! Yes, all are teachers!”