This is in part taken from a real dialogue I had yesterday. It was cut short so I didn't get to take it nearly as far as I would have liked to. Perhaps he and I will pick up our conversation again but I've been thinking about certain questions and how I think he'd answer them. Here is my fictional dialogue (again, partially based in reality). I think these answers are at least as good as he would have given if not better.
Objector: The Scripture must be the final rule of our faith.To be continued…
Catholic: But only the Church has authority to interpret Scripture.
Objector: Of course. For me, the general assembly has authority over me and if I dissent then they can excommunicate me.
Catholic: But who gave them authority?
Objector: Well... If they excommunicate me I can go elsewhere.
Catholic: So do they or do they not have real authority? Of course they have authority over you while you put yourself under their care – that’s a given. It is the same way with my employer. I am under his authority but he may only order me up to a certain point. If he crosses a certain line, I can quit and remove his authority from him. Therefore in a real sense his authority over me is actually given to him by me. Returning to the assembly then, do they derive their authority from you or from somewhere else?
Objector: The Church has authority over me because they are entrusted with the preaching of the Scriptures. This authority is given to them by the Scriptures themselves.
Catholic: Two questions: 1. If they are not properly preaching the Scriptures, do they still have authority over you? 2. What makes you identify the OPC general assembly with “Church”? If they can make a licit claim to “Church”, can I assemble a group of Christian friends, properly preach the Scriptures and form my own authoritative Church? Would we have valid authority over members of our congregation?
Objector: 1. They have to properly preach the Scriptures in order to be considered a “church” 2. As I said, the assembly or “church” is that group which rightly preaches the Word of God. Any group of believers is bound by the authority of the assembly in their locality.
Catholic: Then who are you bound by, the Presbyterians or the Baptists?
Objector: The Presbyterian view of Scripture has several differences with the Baptists and so in our estimation, they are not authoritative because they do not properly preach the Word.
Catholic: So we have returned full circle. In fact, the Church doesn’t tell you how to interpret Scripture, you decide what the Church is based on your interpretation of Scripture! Then, you voluntarily place yourself under the authority of whichever “assembly” you think authentically represents the correct doctrine of Scripture.
Objector: As long as men are involved, no one will have perfect doctrine. No “assembly” has perfect doctrine.
Catholic: Ok let’s stop right here and back track because you’re not answering my arguments directly and you’re throwing us off topic. In response to my two questions above you said the Church is that which rightly teaches Scripture. That’s great except for one thing, I didn’t ask you what the Church was. I asked you if they (the OPC assembly – not “invisible Church” or any other abstract notion) have authority over you when and if they begin to incorrectly teach Scripture. Let’s just stick with this question for now. Do they?
Objector: I see the trap you’re laying for me.
Catholic: Take as much time as you need for qualification. I’d like to think there is no question you could ask me of my faith, however loaded, that I’d hesitate to answer. If you see a trap, perhaps it reflects a reality that you’re unwilling to face. But perhaps not, I’m giving you the opportunity to prove that notion wrong.
Objector: If there was a clear, and objective violation of Scripture by the OPC general assembly, I would consider their authority over me invalid. Luther didn’t say he must only be convicted by Scripture, but by Scripture and plain reason.
Catholic: I see. Then we are again back at square one don’t you agree? It’s your personal interpretation of Scripture that holds the real authority.
Objector: I can see what you’re saying, I really can. But we’re leaving the Holy Spirit out of the equation. This is something that we can’t prove. We have a sort of fundamental belief in the notion that the Holy Spirit will lead the believer who has an open heart into the correct interpretation of Scripture. This doesn’t mean he’s going to ever be perfect, but the reformed tend to look at our interpretations as getting closer and closer to the true meaning of any given text as we draw ourselves nearer and nearer to God.