It seems that every era is guilty of forgetting the lessons of the previous one. We often think, a bit nostalgically perhaps, of the lessons we learned as we were growing up, and how the current generation has not learned those same lessons. There is an election in Canada happening shortly, and a potential candidate made a crude joke about the Nazi death camp, Auschwitz, and then apologized for making it saying she didn’t know it was a death camp. One may wonder how quickly we can forget such a thing, but even in the church, we are so forgetful about the lessons of the past.
The arrival of the so-called, “People’s” Pope to the United States recently is one such event in which we have forgotten our past. It certainly should be expected that Roman Catholics would be excited about the arrival of their highest religious leader. It also shouldn’t be surprising to us that people who have no strong religious connection would welcome the Pope, since he has been advocating issues toward the Left that many would welcome, despite the cognitive dissonance this should demonstrate.
What should be surprising is the amount of Protestant Christians who were whipped up into a Pope frenzy with his arrival, forgetting that, according to that Pope, and the Roman Catholic Church, as heirs of the Reformation, we still are condemned to damnation because of our theology (Council of Trent, Canons 9, 12, 14, 23, 24, 30, 33).
While certainly there has been change within the Roman Catholic Church over the years, there is much that has not changed, and therefore should make us Protestant Christians wary of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. While there are so many issues on which we disagree, and are reflective of underlying fundamental differences (Popery, Mariolotry, the Mass etc.), at the foundation, there are two differences that set us apart as Protestants.
First, a history lesson. Why are we called Protestants? Because our historical forbears “protested” against the theological errors within the Roman Catholic Church. While it was not the design of the these people to leave the church and form their own denominations (they were “Reformers” of the Roman Catholic Church initially), ultimately, the fact that there could be no reconciliation over these issues should give us pause today in our relationship with Roman Catholicism.
At the core of our difference is two things:
1) The Basis of our Authority
2) The Basis of our Salvation
First, on what basis does our authority exist? In Roman Catholicism that basis is the authoritative interpretation of the Magisterium. “Wherefore, by divine and Catholic faith all those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God as found in Scripture and tradition, and which are proposed by the Church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal Magisterium.” (Vatican I, Dei Filius, 8). Further, “In matters of faith and morals the bishops speak in the name of Christ, and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent of soul. This religious submission of will and of mind must be shown in a special way to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, ch. 3, n. 25).
In contrast, as heirs of the Protestant Reformation we hold fast to the doctrine of sola scriptura, or that Scripture alone is our only basis of authority. In the Words of Martin Luther, “The true rule is this: God’s Word shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel can do so.” Smalcald Articles II, 15. Many years later, John Wesley could remark, “In all cases, the Church is to be judged by the Scripture, not the Scripture by the Church.” (Popery Calmly Condemned, 1779). The Westminster Confession of Faith gives us further detail how this looks for Protestants, “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.” Chapter 1, Section VII. Ultimately, this is rooted in our understanding of the nature of Scripture being God’s divine revelation to man and sufficient on it’s own (2 Timothy 3:16).
We believe that we do not need some ruling body to tell us what we shall believe, but that each of us, can turn to God’s Word to interpret it and understand it for ourselves. In fact, the Bereans (Acts 17:11) are commended for being more noble because they searched the Scriptures to determine if what they were being taught was true. We as Protestants have the Bible in our hands in our language so we can understand it for itself. It is it’s own sole authority and not I, nor any other person, can bind your beliefs to one interpretation. Therefore, we cannot in good conscience agree with Roman Catholicism which puts the Word of God ultimately in the hands of only a few, and binds their hearers consciences to only church approved teaching.
Next week, I will address our second point of departure, namely our fundamental differences on the issue of saving faith, justification, and imputed righteousness.