Tag Archives: Catholicism

Answering the Question of Authority

One of the questions that I have had to deal with in my search for a tradition is the question of authority. Where does it come from? Why is something authoritative? Up until recently I thought that there was a great discrepancy between the 3 main Christian traditions, but now I realize that there really isn’t much difference at all.

– Roman Catholicism says the Pope is infallible with regards to teaching because he is prevented from teaching errors by the Holy Spirit.

– Eastern Orthodoxy says the seven ecumenical councils are infallible because they were guided by the Holy Spirit and thus prevented from proclaiming error.

– Protestantism says that the Scriptures are the only infallible source because they alone were breathed out by God and that the teachings of the Roman and Eastern Churches are thus subject to error (though not necessarily wrong).

Though it appears that these 3 traditions locate infallibility in different places they in fact locate it in the same place: God, specifically the Holy Spirit. So the question for me now is not: “Is the Pope, the councils, or the Bible alone infallible?” Instead the question is: “What has been the extent of the Holy Spirit in protecting the Church from error?” Certainly none of these traditions doubts that the Holy Spirit has been active in guiding and protecting the church since the Resurrection, but they cannot agree on how far He has gone in guiding and protecting the church.

The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox views are tough for me to accept, but I think they are certainly valid. Growing up Protestant I felt that I was taught that the church (specifically the Roman Church) could not be trusted and that the Bible alone was to be trusted. The decisions of the early ecumenical councils were accepted, but only because they agreed with Scripture. However, now being aware of all that has transpired over the course of Christian history and seeing what an absolute mess ALL the traditions have made over the course of their existence, but yet seeing that there is still an active Church where the Gospel is proclaimed and people are saved I cannot deny that the Holy Spirit is indeed active in preserving the Church.

So for now this question is of much less significance for me, since I know that wherever I go I know that the Church is being protected by the Holy Spirit. If I had to accept the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox position I could, because I know, at least to a certain extent, that it is true.

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I Like The New Pope

If I were a Roman Catholic I think I would be really proud right about now. I think the new Pope has set a good example of what it means to be a follower of Jesus: to be a servant of all.

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

(Matthew 20:25-28 ESV)

This new Pope seems to have rejected the luxuries that previous Popes have embraced in favor of showing himself to be on equal footing with others. Peggy Noonan notes several things that point to the humility of Pope Francis:*

  • His plain regalia as he stood on the balcony
  • Request for crowd to pray for him before he prayed for them
  • Loves the poor and even gave the cardinal’s palace in Buenos Aires to a missionary order that had no money
  • Lives in an apartment
  • Cooks his own food
  • Rides the bus
  • Picks up his own luggage
  • Pays his own hotel bill
  • Shuns security
  • Refuses a limousine
  • Gets on a minibus with the cardinals
  • Visits a church in a modest car in rush hour traffic
  • Greeted the people before greeting the Vatican officials and staffers following his election
  • Reportedly refuses to sit on a throne and meets his fellow cardinals standing
The White Crucifixion by Chagall

The White Crucifixion by Chagall, reportedly Pope Francis’ favorite painting

Many people seem to be hoping for change with this new Pope and I think change is exactly what they’re going to get, though perhaps not the change they are hoping for. The new Pope will probably not institute any progressive reforms or change the church’s stance on gay marriage, abortion, or contraception; this is not the change Catholicism needs.

The change Catholicism needs is a change of heart and mind, and I think the new Pope is quite capable of instituting this change if he continues being the servant that he seems to have been his entire life. It seems to this Protestant that for too long the Roman Church has communicated (whether intentionally or not) that it is superior to the people and its job is to rule over the people and the people are to serve them. This is a reversal of the order that Jesus intended for His followers. Jesus called His disciples to be servants of all, just as He was a servant of all and laid down His life for all.

If the Roman Church can embody this simple principle of servanthood it will bring some long overdue change to Roman Catholicism. People need to see Rome as interested in serving them rather than ruling over them. Once this change happens I think people will begin to see and embrace the God that Rome has over zealously protected these many years. They will begin to see that Jesus came to give life to His followers, not to scare or force them into obeying His teachings with the threat of eternal damnation. Pope Francis seems to understand this.

My hope and prayer is that Pope Francis continues what appears to be a great example of servanthood and that his example permeates throughout the Roman Church. Like it or not the Roman Church is the face of Christianity in the west, and a well received and appreciated Roman Church is good for the rest of western Christendom; we are yolked to them whether we like it or not.

*My apologies if you have issues viewing Noonan’s article. If you cannot view it please let me know.