Posts Tagged ‘Roman Catholic Church’

United Methodists affirm “sola scriptura”

September 17, 2014

One of my favorite bloggers, an evangelical theologian from New Zealand named Dr. Glenn Peoples, recently left (or so I gather) a non-liturgical Reformed church in order to become an Anglican. Is this, as some critics have wondered, a step toward “crossing the Tiber” to Roman Catholicism?

No, he says emphatically. And surely one doctrine that would prevent him from doing so more than any other is Rome’s view of the authority of scripture. He highlights this and other important distinctions between Anglican and Catholic theology and doctrine in this blog post, using the Church of England’s Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion as his guide.

Methodism, as you may know, is steeped in Anglican theology. In fact, our movement’s founder, John Wesley, adopted, with little revision, 25 of the Church of England’s 39 articles for the independent American church after the Revolutionary War. (Among those articles excluded are those that pertain to the monarchy and British politics.) But Wesley himself lived and died happily Anglican, and his reluctant endorsement of the American Methodist church was a concession to life in post-war America.

In this blog post, I want to highlight what Peoples writes about Article VI of the Thirty-Nine Articles (which is Article V of the Methodist Church):

The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

This article goes on to affirm the 66 canonical books of the Protestant Bible.

I like what Peoples writes because, however briefly, he demonstrates that the Roman Catholic Church’s dual-authority model (in which scripture and church tradition are of equal weight) represents a later innovation.

The Anglican affirmation that the Scripture stands alone, without peer in authority and is sufficient for instruction in the faith, was no novelty. Instead it was the perpetuation of an ancient school of Christian thought. Many theologians (bishops, in fact) among the Church Fathers have expressed the same conviction. Basil the Great held that in principle all instruction for a righteous life could be derived from Scripture and the help of the Holy Spirit:

Enjoying as you do the consolation of the Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of anybody else to help you comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right.2

Of course, Basil did offer his assistance even in telling people that in principle Scripture and the Spirit supplied all that we strictly need. Like Anglicans, Basil had a great love of tradition, but only where he believed that the tradition was derived from the Apostolic tradition that we find preserved in Scripture. Speaking of the Trinity, he says: “But we do not rest only on the fact that such is the tradition of the Fathers; for they too followed the sense of Scripture, and started from the evidence which, a few sentences back, I deduced from Scripture and laid before you.”

Anglicans cannot accept a doctrine only on the grounds that it is taught by the Church. Instead they say with Gregory of Nyssa:

We are not entitled to such licence, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings.4

Anglicans agree with Augustine that “among the things that are plainly laid down in Scripture are to be found all matters that concern faith and the manner of life.”

“We make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet.”
Gregory of Nyssa

This ancient Christian way of thinking about authority and doctrine finds clear expression within the Anglican Church, setting it apart from the Catholic view in which the Church has the authority to infallibly declare doctrine as binding on the Church, even when it is not expressed in Scripture. Article 20 expresses the contrary Anglican view of Church Authority: “although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.” The Church has no authority either to decree anything against Scripture, nor does it have the authority to enforce anything as necessary when Scripture does not teach it.

Kudos to the Catholics for a great ad

January 6, 2014

As I’ve been watching college bowl games over the past few weeks, I’ve appreciated the commercial above, which has been in heavy rotation on ABC/ESPN. It stars legendary Notre Dame coach and TV commentator Lou Holtz. He appeals to that large segment of the American population (about one in ten, I think) known as “lapsed Catholics,” urging them to come back to church.

Yes, the ad is a little corny, but it packs a lot of good theology into 30 seconds. Holtz doesn’t say anything that a Protestant should find objectionable. “We gain strength through God’s Word. We receive grace through the sacrament.” (I’m sure many Catholics would prefer to reverse the order of those two means of grace, but I think it’s just right.)

I also like the fact that it’s a church ad that appeals specifically to men. We United Methodists, by contrast, produce soft, effeminate commercials around a theologically troubling theme (“Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors”) that tell men, in so many words, “Stay away! ESPN has an excellent NFL pre-game show on Sunday morning.”

One evangelical pastor who grew up Catholic wrote this mostly appreciative assessment of the “Catholics Come Home” campaign. I especially like his last paragraph:

Speaking as an evangelical pastor, card-carrying Calvinist, want-to-stand-up-and-salute-when-I-hear-Luther’s-Mighty-Fortress kind of guy, I nonetheless feel secure enough in my Protestant convictions to express appreciation for elements of the Catholics Come Home programs and other New Evangelization efforts. Turning away from sin, commitment to reading Scripture, looking to the Savior, protecting the life of the unborn, serving the poor—these and other such themes are ones that Protestants can affirm, even though we disagree with the institutionalized structure of Catholic authority, the role of the sacraments, and requisite precepts surrounding them. This sort of measured response—consciously gracious while rooted in biblical principles—is more intellectually honest, more missionally compelling, and more genuinely Christian.

I’m supposed to care about the new pope because…?

March 16, 2013

I guess I’m supposed to care—given the eruption of Facebook posts from fellow Methodist clergy this week—but I’m in Roger Olson’s camp, and I’m glad he said it: I’m mostly indifferent. What does the bishop of Rome have to do with me and my ministry?

(Actually, Benedict XVI had more influence over me than his long-serving predecessor because I read and thoroughly enjoyed his book on the infancy narratives of Jesus.)

As Olson said, many Protestants look to the pope as “some kind of universal Christian cheerleader and spokesman.” Why? I recognize him as a brother in Christ, but he has no authority over me. If I wanted a Christian leader to have that kind of authority over me, guess what? I’d become Roman Catholic! In the meantime, ask me what I think about papal infallibility—not to mention some of the other doctrines of the church that these supposedly infallible popes dogmatized!

I know it’s politically incorrect for clergy to say something negative about fellow Christians (unless they’re Southern Baptist or run Chick-Fil-A), but have you read John Wesley or the Articles of Religion that he adapted from the Church of England? We’re supposed to disagree with Catholics! I miss the days when we Protestants could actually protest a little bit and not view the Protestant Reformation as an irredeemably tragic event. We don’t have to act like we’re one big happy family. I’m not Roman Catholic because I believe that the Roman Catholic Church gets it wrong in many important ways, especially in regards to the authority of scripture.

By all means, let’s get together as Protestants and Catholics and talk about our differences and work to resolve them, where possible. But for heaven’s sake, theology matters! Let’s not act like it doesn’t.

Of course, maybe I’m wrong about all that, but no one should be surprised that I believe these things, right?

Olson wonders why there has been so much media attention given to the election of the pope over the past two cycles, but that’s easy: there’s a lot more media to give it attention. Cable news has to fill its airwaves with something.

I like this point from Olson:

What I would like to know is why the mass media make so much of the election of a new pope? They say he leads 1.2 billion Catholics. Well, I seriously doubt both “lead” and the number. How do they count Catholics? If it’s anything like the way the Southern Baptist Convention counts Southern Baptists, well, I’m doubtful of the number. (The SBC counts me as a Southern Baptist! I’ve never been one.)

I suspect that millions of Latin Americans are counted as Catholics just because they were baptized into the church even though they attend Pentecostal churches. The same is true, I believe, in places like the Philippines and many other traditionally Catholic  countries.

I offer my congratulations to my Catholic friends, but please don’t expect me to celebrate. I’m emotionally and spiritually indifferent about it—as I should be. I worry about Protestants who invest tremendous emotional and spiritual interest in the papacy.