I don’t go to Church anymore.
Recently, the Pope clarified the Catholic Church’s position on the “Church.” The papacy of John Paul II was peppered with certain gestures of Christian unity. But Pope Benedict has decided to quash any notions that the “Church” can exist outside of apostolic succession. He says:
Christ “established here on earth” only one Church and instituted it as a “visible and spiritual community,” that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted. “This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic […]. This Church, constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him”.
Not wanting to completely alienate the world’s Protestant churches (note the little “c”), the Pope threw an ecumenical bone noting that:
It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them.
I appreciate the acknowledgment that truth exists beyond the bounds of the Catholic Church, but don’t think the Pope is reconsidering his position on the watered-down nature of the post-Reformation faiths.
Nevertheless, the word “subsists” can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to the mark of unity that we profess in the symbols of the faith (I believe… in the “one” Church); and this “one” Church subsists in the Catholic Church.
So apparently, I don’t go to Church anymore, I attend an ecclesial Community. So I can use a capital “C” just not in front of “church.” Oh well.
As you can imagine, Protestants were not enamored with the Pope’s reaffirmation of this Catholic doctrine. One Southern Baptist seminary president appreciates the Pope’s candor on this issue. He cautioned against an emotional reaction to the Pope’s statement though and encouraged a theological response. But his theological position — to me — is no less dogmatic:
Evangelicals should be equally candid in asserting that any church defined by the claims of the papacy is no true church. This is not a theological game for children, it is the honest recognition of the importance of the question.
In my mind the true Church is not represented by either of these extreme positions.
There is One at the head of the Church. He was; He is; and He is to come. He’s not wearing a pointy hat in Rome. He’s not running a seminary in Louisville. He’s not on television asking you to send in money to get your prayers answered. He’s not the latest Christian author on the NY Times bestseller list with the truck load of promotional gimmicks.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” 9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.