On Popes and Protestants (Part 2)
On Popes and Protestants, Part 2
by Pastor David
Last week I wrote an overview of the importance of the recent election of Pope Francis and tried to explain the theological reasons behind the attention. I’d like to turn our attention to an evaluation of these recent events, all the while trying to remind us of both grace and truth.
So what should we make of the recent spotlight on the Catholic Church and its Pope in particular?
1. The Roman Catholic church is not just different from us in its traditions, but in its core doctrines.
It’s a dangerous mistake to think that the Catholic church just has more formal services or ceremonies than we do but essentially teaches the same doctrine. How we view leadership is just one more such case. Far from giving any one man supreme, universal power and infallible judgment in one area (and isn’t the faith of Jesus Christ a pretty big sphere to be infallible in?), our church actively teaches and practices the priesthood of every believer. Part of what that means is that our pastors are not in a different class than our members, don’t have any more standing or sway with God than any other believer, or are any less fallible than the apostle Paul whose own teaching was tested with Scripture. Our leadership is the opposite of a hierarchy, a distinction the Reformers fought hard and helpfully to make. Speaking of the Reformers:
2. The Reformation was not a mistake, and we should still be “Protesting” against the church of Rome.
On March 12, Rick Warren tweeted, “Join me today in fasting and prayer for the 115 Cardinals seeking God’s Will in a new leader.” The implications of this tweet are staggering. Instead of fasting and praying that unbiblical leadership be toppled, Warren wants us to pray that it be strengthened. Instead of pointing out irreconcilable Gospel differences, apparently Warren want us to paper over them. Instead of seeing that God’s will is opposed to the pope, Warren wants us to think God wants a false teacher to have success. We’ve come a long way from the Reformers like Luther, who “tweeted” in a sermon, ““We here are of the conviction that the papacy is the seat of the true and real Antichrist…personally I declare that I owe the Pope no other obedience than that to Antichrist” (sermon on Aug 18, 1520).” While we might disagree with using the word “Antichrist,” the sentiment is clearly the opposite of a cooperative praying and fasting.
The Catholic church is not nearly as confused about its doctrinal differences with the Reformers as some Evangelicals are. The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia contains a section on “the 16th century heresies,” a time we refer to much differently as “the Reformation”. Notice how much Luther’s teaching cuts against the core of Catholic theology, ending in the papacy. “It was soon evident that he (Luther) meant to subvert all the fundamental institutions of theChurch. Beginning by proclaiming thefalse doctrine of "justification byfaith alone", he later rejected allsupernatural remedies (especially thesacraments and the Mass), denied themeritoriousness of goodworks (thus condemningmonasticvows andChristianasceticism in general), and finally rejected the institution of a genuinehierarchicalpriesthood (especially thepapacy) in theChurch.” If the fundamental institutions of the church include justification by faith plus works, supernatural remedies, the meritoriousness of good works, and a hierarchical priesthood, (and they do), we ought to continue to protest these false teachings and continue the reforming work God began over 500 years ago. Embracing the Catholic church as an equally valid expression of biblical Christianity is the last thing we should be doing.
3. While what you think about the pope is not a salvation issue, justification by faith alone is.
As you interact with Catholic friends and neighbors, is it most important to discuss your view of the pope? Not in itself. While it’s certainly possible that there are Catholics who are Christians, it is impossible that there are Popes who are. Popes are responsible for the official teachings of the Catholic church, teachings that clearly disagree with justification by faith alone and to this day declare as “anathema” doctrine we hold to be dear. While individual Catholics may disagree with or misunderstand Rome’s teachings, the Pope does not. And as the leader, the Pope stands fully accountable for the false teachings of Rome. But what is of eternal, infinite significance is that the Pope leads a church whose clear, official doctrine teaches a different way of salvation. Your Catholic friends don’t need to be antagonized by your ridicule of the Pope or assaulted by a diatribe against him. What they need is to hear Good News. So go to the Gospel again and again in any conversation, not to tales of corrupt popes or arguments about papal infallibility. Dazzle your Catholic friends with the wonder of salvation as a gift, not of works, and of the joy of resting in the righteousness of another and not your own. In our own response to the world’s attention on the papacy, it is good and right to share the conscience of Martin Luther to stand on biblical doctrine, convinced that we can do no other, so help us God.