Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Early End to Daylight Savings Time in Rome? Pope Rolls Back the Clock Early, Declaring Protestant Congregations Not Churches

This has been an important week for the Church, the Roman Catholic Church that is. Or, as Pope Benedict XVI would have it, the only Church. Reiterating the view he promulgated in 2000 in Dominus Iesus, writing then as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when he headed the Vatican ministry for Doctrine, the restatement dubs Protestant congregations merely "ecclesial communities."A commentary attached to the latest text acknowledged that his early work had caused "no little distress". But it added: "It is nevertheless difficult to see how the title of 'Church' could possibly be attributed to [Protestant communities], given that they do not accept the theological notion of the Church in the Catholic sense and that they lack elements considered essential to the Catholic Church."

According to Benedict, since we Protestants do not have apostolic succession, we lack the sacramental preisthood and have therefore not preserved the "genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery."

The fact that this declaration came just days following the decision to reinstate the Latin Mass raised speculation that the new pope sought to turn back the clock to before Vatican II, of which he was an observer as a young priest. The Vatican insists that the Pope was attempting to correct liberal misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the justifiably famous council.

In recent years evangelical theologians have attempted to take advantage of changes in Catholic theology to propose new grounds for cooperation. Many implications of the highly vaunted New Perspective on Paul, so popular in the academy, also comports well with renewed approaches to Christian consensus, if not full organizational union. The movement known as Evangelicals and Catholics Together, for example, produced a document in 1994, signed or endorsed by evangelical's such as Prison Fellowship's Chuck Colson, Richard Land of the SBC, Campus Crusade's Bill Bright, Rchard Mouw of Fuller, and Pat Robertson. It was strongly opposed by others such as Sproul and MacArthur.

The declaration ended:

Nearly two thousand years after it began, and nearly five hundred years after the divisions of the Reformation era, the Christian mission to the world is vibrantly alive and assertive. We do not know, we cannot know, what the Lord of history has in store for the Third Millennium. It may be the springtime of world missions and great Christian expansion. It may be the way of the cross marked by persecution and apparent marginalization. In different places and times, it will likely be both. Or it may be that Our Lord will return tomorrow. We do know that his promise is sure, that we are enlisted for the duration, and that we are in this together. We do know that we must affirm and hope and search and contend and witness together, for we belong not to ourselves but to him who has purchased us by the blood of the cross. We do know that this is a time of opportunity-and, if of opportunity, then of responsibility-for Evangelicals and Catholics to be Christians together in a way that helps prepare the world for the coming of him to whom belongs the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

If the Pope intends to settle the matter definitively, does this mean that ecclesiastical rapprochement between Catholics and Protestants has been either ruled out entirely or back burnered? And what of the theological work that led to the ECT? Was it misbegotten or based upon a misunderstanding of the trajectory of Roman Catholic theology? We shall see.

For some years, proponents of ECT type dialogue have been snickering at people like Sproul and MacArthur for their "gross misunderstanding" of contemporary Catholic theology and and changes in RC views of justification that supposedly position them much closer to evangelical Protestantism. Could it be that the ECT evangelicals have been talking to the liberal Catholics and that normative catholicism never veered very much from its Council of Trent anathemas? In light of Benedict's pronouncement as a Cardinal in 2000, reaffirmed now as the Pope, might there still be some value in proclaiming the Reformation's sola fide in contrast to the Roman understanding of justification?


Amill-Presup said...

I take back what I said about my possibly being further to the theological right than you are. WOW!

And you're all over the board here. The pope calls us "eccesial communities" and that means that the Catholics probably have justification wrong? What?? I kept waiting for you to make fun of his "pointy hat."

Amill-Presup said...

BTW, the "ecclesial communities" language seems to fit just fine with Vatican 2 and its "separated brethren" language to me. If we're separated, what is it by? The fact that we aren't fully in communion, because we don't belong to the "true church."

I know a lot of Baptists who think this way too. You hear it in language like, "he's Catholic, but he's a Christian." (in a surprised tone.)

Dennis E. McFadden said...

I don't get what you mean by "all over the board." The nature of these short posts and comments do not lend themselves to clarity by anyone, alas.

My point was pretty simple: Evangelicals (and Protestants generally) have argued that sola fide was the material cause for the split from Rome.

Since Vatican II, Roman Catholic theologians have been exploring points of contact between RC and Protestants. Many Protestant writers have suggested that we are really not all that far apart on sola fide and justification. The ECT effort in the 90's represented a broad array of evangelicals who thought that Rome had "come around" on justification and sola fide.

The Pope's recent statement has been interpreted by a wide range of Catholic and Protestant interpreters as a repudiation of Vatican 2. Even the Vatican suggests that the statements were intended to distance official teaching from the kinds of "misunderstanding" of Vatican II as shown by liberal Catholics and the Protestants who dialogue with them.

My point was not to be mad or offended at all. I simply noted that some evangelicals have been saying all along that official Catholic teaching on justification and sola fide is still miles away from our Reformation convictions. That was all; no Catholic bashing, no making fun of "pointy hats," no return to the dark ages. I just wanted to say that guys like Sproul may have been right that we still have fundamental differences separating us from Rome.

BTW, I NEVER have been anti-Catholic. Anyone who affirms the historic creeds and ecumenical confessions is OK by me at the level of "Christian fellowship." However, to avoid fussing and fighting over secondary issues all of the time, there is considerable utility in denominational patterns. I am a Baptist, not a Lutheran, Catholic, or Presbyterian. It simply would not "work" to try to force all of us into the same human organization.

I just participated in a search committee to hire a person for a position. He makes you look like a fundy. My particular views (5 pt. Calvinist and mildly dispensational) had nothing to do with my support for his candidacy. Incidentally, the search committee was made up of one liberal, one moderate, and me; our vote was unanimous.