So the Pope thinks that Christian denominations outside Roman Catholicism are not true churches. In layman’s terms – we’re not quite Christian. And there seems to be a right old furore over it.
Oddly enough I don’t have a problem with it. I disagree, but from where he stands it makes perfect sense. The Pope is a man who understands the very simple law of non-contradiction which, in this pluralistic, don’t-ever-say-anyone-is-wrong age we live in, is often ignored.
At the heart of the whole thing lies two very different views about how we relate to God and find forgiveness. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that you are saved by a two-pronged approach – you need both Christ (with his work on the cross) and the Church (with its rites which you must perform). One alone cannot save you: it takes both. On the other hand, evangelical Christianity teaches that it is entirely by Christ that we are accepted. He has accomplished everything necessary for salvation on the cross.
The two ideologies are fundamentally opposed. One says, “Christ+Church,” the other says, “Christ alone”. Both cannot be right.
If the Pope is convinced that he is right, then by definition I (and other evangelical Christians) must be wrong. If I believe I am right, then I must believe that he is wrong about how we relate to God. The dangerous game of ecumenical confusion played by others has obscured areas of grave concern for our souls. The truth is we do not all believe the same thing, and people’s souls are at stake. The Pope recognises this, and expresses his spiritual concern. As a pastor concerned for people’s souls, I appreciate the Pope’s frankness on this issue.
Why is there such an outcry then? The Pope is only stating what has been recognised by committed people on both sides for centuries.
The problem arises because we live in a world where the greatest ‘sin’ is to think that anyone else is wrong. Yet this kills off all intelligent discussion. And ironically those who are horrified at the Pope (or me) for saying that the other side is wrong, will rise up on their high horses to tell us, “You are wrong. It is wrong to tell people that they are wrong.” In a previous generation that was called hypocrisy – now it passes for tolerance.
How are we to decide such issues? Perhaps the wisest course is to see what God himself says. Through the apostle Paul, writing to a group of people who were saying that it wasn’t enough to have faith in Jesus you must also perform certain rites, God says,
“After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” – Galatians 3:3