A Remarkable Vatican Sermon

Dr. Ray Pritchard
Last Friday Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Pontifical household, delivered a sermon in the Vatican in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI entitled Called by God to Communicate With Son Jesus Christ. It is a simple and profound development of Philippians 3:7-12. The whole sermon is well worth reading for its emphasis on Jesus Christ as the true center of our faith. But since Father Cantalamessa is Catholic and I am an evangelical Protestant, the follow passage resonated with me:

I believe it is time to go beyond the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. What is at stake at the start of the third millennium is no longer the same as at the beginning of the second millennium, when at the heart of Western Christianity the separation took place between Catholics and Protestants.

To give but one example, the problem is no longer that of Luther and of how to liberate man from the sense of guilt that oppresses him, but how to give again to man the true meaning of sin which has been totally lost. What sense does it make to continue to discuss how “justification of the godless comes about,” when man is convinced of not having need of any justification and says with pride: "I accuse myself today and I alone can absolve myself, I the man"?

We all need to hear this word. In our generation the issue is not how are we saved, but why we need to be saved in the first place. Saved from what? Jesus himself said he did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:31). If a man thinks he isn’t a sinner, he’ll never see his need to repent.

In one of his books Francis Schaeffer said that if he were on a train talking to someone, and if he had only one hour for the conversation, he would spend the first 45 minutes explaining the biblical concepts of righteousness, sin and judgment. And he would reserve the gospel for the last fifteen minutes.

In our day it’s not enough to say “Jesus loves you.” If people don’t know who Jesus is, or why it matters that he loves us, or how he demonstrated his love for us, and how that love can save us eternally, those three words will have no meaning. First there is God, then there is man, then there is sin, then there is Christ, and finally there is salvation. We need more theology in our gospel witness, not less, because people understand so little. 

I would say that Luther’s stand for justification by faith alone was a worthy battle, but the man who has no sense of sin won’t care whether we are Protestant or Catholic or something else. Without conviction of sin, why would anyone come to Christ?

The gospel is good news, but it is the bad news that makes the good news good. 

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