Do Protestants Believe in the Infallibility of the Church?

Here is something I’ve been thinking about lately.

Do Protestants view a “great apostasy” a la Mormonism as a possibility for Christ’s Church? If not, then it seems that there is at least some sense in which Protestants believe Christ’s Church to be infallible.

Perhaps then, the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism on this subject isn’t about infallibility, but about who speaks for the Church.

Does that make sense, or am I reaching?


About Joshua Michael

Writer. Catholic. Fan of John Henry Newman and the Inklings.
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10 Responses to Do Protestants Believe in the Infallibility of the Church?

  1. Questions for clarification/simplification (as promised):
    1) what in the heck is a ‘great apostasy’?

    2) how does it relate to mormonism?

    And without knowing the answer to those 2 questions, my response to your conclusion (Perhaps then, the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism on this subject isn’t about infallibility, but about who speaks for the Church.)
    is that I think you’ve summed it up beautifully :).

    Thanks for indulging me!

    • The “great apostasy” is the Mormon belief that shortly after the time of Christ, the Church ceased to exist in any meaningful sense. According to their understanding, this is why Joseph Smith had to come along. It wasn’t enough to reform the Church, because there was no Church to reform. Instead, the Church had to be refounded.

      • Thanks! And thanks for the link – I guess I could’ve done that before commenting, though sometimes I get lost in all the details of wiki.

        And I totally thought I already replied here on my phone? Maybe I’m losing it.


        I think it is difficult for a Catholic faithful to the Magisterium to answer this question, though your conclusion makes sense to me, but it would be interesting to hear what protestants (and different types of protestants at that) have to say.

        Thanks again for clarifying for me.

  2. Preston says:

    I’m not sure the comparison works. Mormonism is a great apostasy in so far as it is in direct conflict with the Gospel, not only an aspect that relates to Jesus, but across time and eternity when it comes to creation, belief, practice, and so on.

    But that’s more to do with an understanding of Scriptural Authority. You can’t get Mormonism from Scripture, certainly not Protestant and, I think you could argue, even less from Catholic, so it has less to do with the idea of Church infallibility and more to do with Scriptural infallibility.

    This isn’t to negate the possibility of a social construct of Church infallibility in Protestant thinking, but in the instance of a cult, I don’t think that’s where the comparison is found.

    • Preston: I think you might have misunderstood what I’m saying. I’m not calling Mormonism an apostasy. I’m asking if Protestants believe that something like the Mormon doctrine of the “great apostasy” is possible. See my comment to Rebecca above.

      • Preston says:

        Oh, I gotcha now.
        Well, let me present the side that I don’t necessarily agree with and have quite a lot of difficulty accepting. It doesn’t take Israel long to make a golden calf, even when God’s on the mountain in sight. Throughout the Scripture this is the case, people worshipping for a time and then falling away, praxis wanes quick, and what was a good practice turns into something falls by being adapted to fit foreign gods or powers. So too, it would seem, could the church have suffered from such inaccuracy in a short amount of time.
        I don’t much care for this view in full, but I see elements of it I can affirm. How much that factors in, on either side, I’m also not sure. But I do understand that people who believe something fervently do have a tendency to sometimes represent it falsely in their zeal for it to be accepted, so I have to concede the possibility that some doctrines grew out of social norms that Scripture was used to justify, not the other way around. But as for how much of that is true, as for how much of the Church in the early years saw this happen, I’m not sure. I don’t think it enough to be dramatically dangerous, lest God would so intervene. But I also think we have the terrible gift of free will, that he lets us make mistakes, and sometimes these mistakes are grave and have consequences for centuries to come.

        • From your description, it sounds like you’d affirm some form of a Protestant doctrine of infallibility. Something like, “God will let the Church make doctrinal mistakes up to a certain point, but at that point will intervene to make sure that we don’t make things so totally incorrect that the Truth is lost.”

  3. alison says:

    From my protestant days, if I remember correctly, they believe in an ‘invisible’ church rather than a ‘visible’ big C Church. Catholic vs. catholic, etc. So that brings the issue of sure the ‘church’ will be infallible but then of course we’ll have no idea of who’s speaking for the ‘church’ and thus, have a perfect out when it comes to being held accountable 🙂 Or something like that.

    Rebecca, I hope you read more about Mormonism on your own. Its theology is ever entertaining.

    • You’re correct that that’s the general Protestant understanding, though there is some variation. I’m just trying to talk my way through things in such a way that we can locate the actual core of disagreements with our Protestant brothers and sisters. Knowing where the disagreement lies is the first step to overcoming it. 🙂

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