Not Offended by the Vatican
- Monday, July 16, 2007
Evangelicals should appreciate the candor reflected in this document. There is no effort here to confuse the issues. To the contrary, the document is an obvious attempt to set the record straight. The Roman Catholic Church does not deny that Christ is working redemptively through Protestant and evangelical churches, but it does deny that these churches which deny the authority of the papacy are true churches in the most important sense. The true church, in other words, is that church identified through the recognition of the papacy. Those churches that deny or fail to recognize the papacy are "ecclesial Communities," not churches "in the proper sense."
I appreciate the document's clarity on this issue. It all comes down to this -- the claim of the Roman Catholic Church to the primacy of the Bishop of Rome and the Pope as the universal monarch of the church is the defining issue. Roman Catholics and Evangelicals should together recognize the importance of that claim. We should together realize and admit that this is an issue worthy of division. The Roman Catholic Church is willing to go so far as to assert that any church that denies the papacy is no true church. Evangelicals should be equally candid in asserting that any church defined by the claims of the papacy is no true church. This is not a theological game for children, it is the honest recognition of the importance of the question.
The Reformers and their heirs put their lives on the line in order to stake this claim. In this era of confusion and theological laxity we often forget that this was one of the defining issues of the Reformation itself. Both the Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church staked their claim to be the true church -- and both revealed their most essential convictions in making their argument. As Martin Luther and John Calvin both made clear, the first mark of the true Church is the ministry of the Word -- the preaching of the Gospel. The Reformers indicted the Roman Catholic Church for failing to exhibit this mark, and thus failing to be a true Church. The Catholic church returned the favor, defining the church in terms of the papacy and magisterial authority. Those claims have not changed.
I also appreciate the spiritual concern reflected in this document. The artificial and deadly dangerous game of ecumenical confusion has obscured issues of grave concern for our souls. I truly believe that Pope Benedict and the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith are concerned for our evangelical souls and our evangelical congregations. Pope Benedict is not playing a game. He is not asserting a claim to primacy on the playground. He, along with the Magisterium of his church, believes that Protestant churches are gravely defective and that our souls are in danger. His sacramental theology plays a large role in this concern, for he believes and teaches that a church without submission to the papacy has no guaranteed efficacy for its sacraments (this point, by the way, explains why the Protestant churches that claim a sacramental theology are more concerned about this Vatican statement -- it denies the basic validity of their sacraments).
I actually appreciate the Pope's concern. If he is right, we are endangering our souls and the souls of our church members. Of course, I am convinced that he is not right -- not right on the papacy, not right on the sacraments, not right on the priesthood, not right on the Gospel, not right on the church.
The Roman Catholic Church believes we are in spiritual danger for obstinately and disobediently excluding ourselves from submission to its universal claims and its papacy. Evangelicals should be concerned that Catholics are in spiritual danger for their submission to these very claims. We both understand what is at stake.
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