Roman Catholicism

Confused about Catholicism, Part 3

(This series on evangelical confusion about Roman Catholicism originally appeared as one article in JMT, Fall, 2008. Read Part 1 and Part 2).

Areas of disagreement between Roman Catholics and evangelicals

(2) A different view of ultimate authority

Related somewhat to one’s understanding of church history is one’s viewpoint of ultimate authority as quotations above suggest. From the Catholic side there is the general sentiment that since Christ formed the church (a single church) it inherently carries His authority. Perhaps the general Catholic thought is summed up with these words: “They [Protestants] are not clear-headed enough to perceive that a proper notion of the Church is a necessary stage before we argue from the authority of Christ to any other theological doctrine whatever.”1 Adding some intensity, the same writer goes on to claim that “the Protestant had no conceivable right to base any arguments on the inspiration of the Bible, for the inspiration of the Bible was a doctrine which had been believed, before the Reformation, on the mere authority of the Church; it rested on exactly the same basis as the doctrine of Transubstantiation.”2 Karl Rahner, the famous Catholic theologian, says the same truth in a different way. He speaks of the two aspects of the faith of a Christian. Those two aspects are faith in Christ and faith in the church, not faith in God’s Word:

It makes no difference…whether he believes in the Church first and then in the rest of matters proposed for his belief because these come from the Church, or whether he first attains to belief in Christ and his word, and goes on from there to belief in the Church as founded by Christ…On the basis of faith in Christ the believer includes the Church too in his faith in such a way that it immediately becomes the direct medium and rule of faith as such.3

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Confused about Catholicism, Part 2

(This series on evangelical confusion about Roman Catholicism originally appeared as one article in JMT, Fall, 2008. Read Part 1).

Areas of agreement

Another area in which honesty is needed and which is sometimes a stumbling block for evangelistic outreach to Roman Catholics is the fact that Catholics and evangelicals really do agree on quite a few theological points. So here a review of some of the most important agreements will be given before the areas of disagreement are brought forward.1

First, Roman Catholics and evangelicals agree on the nature of God. At the most basic level, both view God in the sense of classical theism. What is meant by classical theism is that there is one Creator God2 who is personal, transcendent, and immanent. Note the following declaration from the Vatican I council (1869-70) which is still official church dogma:

The holy, Catholic, apostolic Roman Church believes and professes that there is one true and living God, the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth. He is almighty, eternal, beyond measure, incomprehensible, and infinite in intellect, will and in every perfection. Since he is one unique spiritual substance, entirely simple and unchangeable, he must be declared really and essentially distinct from the world, perfectly happy in himself and by his very nature, and inexpressibly exalted over all things that exist or can be conceived other than himself.3

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Confused about Catholicism, Part 1

Editor’s note: this article first appeared in the Journal of Ministry & Theology, Fall 2008. Some of the content and footnotes are a bit dated now, but the state of confusion in evangelicalism has changed little and the article still speaks well to the issue today in 2010.

Part 1: the issue explored

One of the greatest shocks in the history of the Evangelical Theological Society occurred in May 2007 when the president of the organization, the respected Francis Beckwith, resigned his position and membership because he had become a Roman Catholic.1 Beckwith, currently Associate Professor of Philosophy and Church-Studies at Baylor University (traditionally a Baptist school), had left the Catholic church when he was fourteen years old and was now returning to his roots after many years in evangelical churches.

The official response from the ETS Executive Committee was cordial, thanking Beckwith for his past work for the society, but highlighting the necessity of a parting of the ways largely because “we wholeheartedly affirm the distinctive contribution and convictional necessity of the work of the Evangelical Theological Society on the basis of the ‘Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety’ as ‘the Word of God written and…inerrant.’”2 The response goes on to highlight that this distinction involves the use of a different Bible, the Catholic Bible which “posits a larger canon of Scripture than that recognized by evangelical Protestants.” Beckwith apparently affirmed that he could sign the ETS statement since it does not enumerate the particular books of its Bible (although its tradition does), but he decided not to pursue continuance with the society because it would have produced a major debate that could possibly hurt the organization.3

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"His strong comments placed responsibility for the crisis squarely on the sins of pedophile priests, repudiating the Vatican's initial response to the scandal in which it blamed the media..."

Pope blames church’s own sins for sex scandal

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The Pope between a Rock and a Hard Place

Shortly after he ascended the papal chair, Pope Benedict XVI declared that one of his goals was to re-Christianize a secular Europe. If anyone has had the know-how for the project, it is surely he. But it looks like it’s going to be a long haul. After chastising the American bishops for their irresponsible handling of sexual abuse cases among the clergy in 2008, he has to tackle the scandal here. First in Ireland, then Holland, then Austria, and now in the pope’s homeland of Germany, the storm has broken out anew. It is only a question of time when charges against clergy will be brought forward in another country. Benedict responded firmly in Ireland, and has begun to do so in Germany. The church has enacted a thorough investigation. Sexual abuse of young people is most reprehensible, as is its cover-up, the pope has declared. He is “thoroughly ashamed” of what has happened in both countries.

From the outset Benedict XVI has been a tough cop on dealing with sex offenders in the priestly office. The case against Archbishop Sean Brady of Ireland—not for sex offense, but for cover up—is particularly damning. Do not expect Benedict to encourage his tenure in office. Though some want to pin blame on the pope himself for knowingly keeping sinning priests in office, finding hard evidence for that charge is unlikely.

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