Acts 15 Model: General or Ecumenical Councils of the Church Universal

Following the example of the Apostolic Church in the persons of the Apostles in the book of Acts, especially chapter 15, the Roman Catholic Church is motivated by a number of scriptures.

The Roman Catholic Church takes seriously the need to know the truth and to refute error.

Jn 15:26
When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me.
Jn 16:12-13
I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.
Acts 1:8
But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
2 Pet 2:1
There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will introduce destructive heresies and even deny the Master who ransomed them, bringing swift destruction on themselves.
Tit 1:7,9-11
For a bishop (episcopon) as God's steward ... holding fast to the true message as taught so that he will be able both to exhort with sound doctrine and to refute opponents. For there are also many rebels, idle talkers and deceivers ... It is imperative to silence them.
Gal 1:6-9
I am amazed that you are so quickly forsaking the one who called you by (the) grace (of Christ) for a different gospel (not that there is another). But there are some who are disturbing you and wish to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach (to you) a gospel other than the one that we preached to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, and now I say again, if anyone preaches to you a gospel other than the one that you received, let that one be accursed!

The Catholic Church also understands the need to interpret correctly the truth of all of the Bible. The Bible warns us that there will be incorrect interpretation without authority. All interpretations of a scripture cannot be equally true (it is contrary to the nature of truth); some interpretations of the same scripture are mutually incompatible (e.g., Mt 16:16; Jn 6). Hence there must be an authority to whom truth and error can be appealed.

2 Pet 3:16
In them (Paul's letters) there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures.

The Catholic Church accepts the authority both of Divine Revelation and of the Holy Spirit. Deviation from the truth must be cursed and condemned.

Rom 13:1-2
Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves.
2 Thess 2:8-12
And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord (Jesus) will kill with the breath of his mouth and render powerless by the manifestation of his coming, the one whose coming springs from the power of Satan in every mighty deed and in signs and wonders that lie, and in every wicked deceit for those who are perishing because they have not accepted the love of truth so that they may be saved. Therefore, God is sending them a deceiving power so that they may believe the lie, that all who have not believed the truth but have approved wrongdoing may be condemned.

The Catholic Church has, in all ages, understood both (1) the need for renewal and reformation of Christian faith and living, and general revival in the Church as a whole, and (2) the need to teach the truth when confronted with error.

The Church exercised her teaching authority (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) and called the faithful people entrusted with teaching others together in universal (ecumenical) council for renewal and reformation, and when truths were abandoned and error (heresy) was being taught (Titus 1:9). The truth was expressed and defined; error and false teachers condemned (anathema sit, "let them [him, it] be anathema, condemned, damned").

The history of the ecumenical councils attests to the fidelity of the Roman Catholic Church to the teaching and direction of both the authority of Scripture and the authority of the Holy Spirit.

The following section presents in summary form the history of the ecumenical councils of the Church throughout history from the Council of Jerusalem to Vatican II.

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By Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl.
Catholic Biblical Apologetics, © Copyright 1985-1997, Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture texts are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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Last Updated: January 3, 1997