One regard where Evangelicals and Fundamentalists typically depart with other Christians is over the issue of the infallibility of the Church. Many Lutherans, High Anglicans, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians all affirm the idea of the infallibility of the Church. According to Martin Luther, the Bible had to ultimately be read through the lens of the Church (The Cambridge Companion to Reformation Theology, 46). Luther’s idea was for the Christian community to get together to ultimately determine how to read the Bible. High Anglicans generally affirm a conciliar movement similar to that of the Orthodox taking on the seven councils of the undivided Church and the Catholics of course have the infallible magisterium.
This sets apart conservative traditionalists from fundamentalists ultimately though I would say. The issue is not that a Fundamentalist would say that some person is not a Christian or not, but that they would do this on account of no church authority whatsoever as the Fundamentalists completely reject any idea of church authority. Then, there are the Evangelicals who sometimes do this as well. But both Evangelicals and Fundamentalists often times wonder how the Church could possibly be infallible with all of these sinners in it. Certainly the Church could not possibly be infallible in its decrees?
But there is a theological flaw in both the Evangelical and the Fundamentalist’s ecclesiology. How does the Lord shine forth the light in the times of darkness that we are living in? Is it not through the Church? Neither the Evangelical nor the Fundamentalist would agree that the Church is a missional force sent into the world by Jesus to lead others to the true light. It is Jesus who lifts up the Church and makes it infallible in terms of faith and morals in spite of all the sinners in the Church. As Joseph Ratzinger asks, “Is the Church not simply the continuation of God’s deliberate plunge into human wretchedness; is she not simply the continuation of Jesus’ habit of sitting at table with sinners, of his mingling with the misery of sin to the point where he actually seems to sink under its weight?” (Introduction to Christianity, 343).
The Church is wed to Christ (Rev. 19:7, Eph. 5:22-31). Without the Church, there is ultimately no connection to God. Jesus is the way to the Father and he is also the truth. Without the Church, there is no connection to truth. To state that the Church is wrong on an issue is ultimately to sever connection from God and ultimately from the truth. Jesus bestows the truth on the Church and it is through the Church we come to Jesus. There is no other way around in this relationship. If you are not a part of the Church, you remain distant from God and distant from the Church. The Church is ultimately infallible because God bestows this on the Church. Of course it is made up of sinners but it is not our righteousness that we depend on!