Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI and the Only True Church

In another move that demonstrates just how different he is from his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI has stated that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church and that other denominations are not true churches. Emphasizing points in an earlier document, Benedict asserts that Christ 'established here on earth' only one church, and other communities cannot be called 'churches' in the proper sense because they do not have apostolic succession, which is the ability to trace their bishops back to Christ's original apostles.

I am a Baptist, but I understand Catholic theology fairly well. I understand the importance of apostolic succession and the role of tradition in the teaching of the Catholic Church. I cringe when I hear Protestants refer to "the Catholic religion," as though it is a faith that stands apart from Christianity. I find it very extremely unfortunate when some interpret the Catholic Church as being the fulfillment of some of the evil images in the book of Revelation. And I find it discouraging when Protestants - including many Baptists - believe we must send out missionaries to convert Catholic populations.

So on the one hand, I find the Pope's comments discouraging and harmful for ecumenical dialogue. On the other hand, being a Baptist, I believe that everyone ought to have their say and that no one's opinion can violate my soul freedom.

Some, no doubt, will jump all over the Pope's comments and condemn him for, well, condemning others. There is an attitude pervasive in our culture that says you shouldn't condemn anyone else, but that we should all be affirming of one another. I say, if the Pope wants to say I belong to a community that isn't a true church, let him. What he has to say has no bearing upon my or my soul. I am confident in who I am, what I believe, and in the church I attend. While I believe the Pope's comments reflect bad theology, he is certainly entitled to say what he believes. As for me, I will continue to pastor my church and to believe that my congregation is as much a part of the body of Christ as any other church.

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