Al Mohler on the Division Between Protestants and Roman CatholicsAl Mohler is neither offended nor surprised at the statement approved by Pope Benedict XVI that the Roman Catholic Church is the only institutional form in which the Church of Christ subsists. On the contrary, Mohler appreciates the Pope's candor and sees this as an opportunity to discuss one of the defining issues of our division with respectful candor and clarity. His essay is worth quoting at length:
It all comes down to this -- the claim of the Roman Catholic Church to the primacy of the Bishop of Rome and the Pope as the universal monarch of the church is the defining issue. Roman Catholics and Evangelicals should together recognize the importance of that claim. We should together realize and admit that this is an issue worthy of division. The Roman Catholic Church is willing to go so far as to assert that any church that denies the papacy is no true church. 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.
The Reformers and their heirs put their lives on the line in order to stake this claim. In this era of confusion and theological laxity we often forget that this was one of the defining issues of the Reformation itself. Both the Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church staked their claim to be the true church -- and both revealed their most essential convictions in making their argument. As Martin Luther and John Calvin both made clear, the first mark of the true Church is the ministry of the Word -- the preaching of the Gospel. The Reformers indicted the Roman Catholic Church for failing to exhibit this mark, and thus failing to be a true Church. The Catholic church returned the favor, defining the church in terms of the papacy and magisterial authority. Those claims have not changed.
I also appreciate the spiritual concern reflected in this document. The artificial and deadly dangerous game of ecumenical confusion has obscured issues of grave concern for our souls. I truly believe that Pope Benedict and the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith are concerned for our evangelical souls and our evangelical congregations. Pope Benedict is not playing a game. He is not asserting a claim to primacy on the playground. He, along with the Magisterium of his church, believes that Protestant churches are gravely defective and that our souls are in danger. His sacramental theology plays a large role in this concern, for he believes and teaches that a church without submission to the papacy has no guaranteed efficacy for its sacraments. (This point, by the way, explains why the Protestant churches that claim a sacramental theology are more concerned about this Vatican statement -- it denies the basic validity of their sacraments.)
I actually appreciate the Pope's concern. If he is right, we are endangering our souls and the souls of our church members. Of course, I am convinced that he is not right -- not right on the papacy, not right on the sacraments, not right on the priesthood, not right on the Gospel, not right on the church.
The Roman Catholic Church believes we are in spiritual danger for obstinately and disobediently excluding ourselves from submission to its universal claims and its papacy. Evangelicals should be concerned that Catholics are in spiritual danger for their submission to these very claims. We both understand what is at stake.
The Rev. Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the
Evangelical Lutheran Churchin America, responded to the press by saying that the 's "exclusive claims" are "troubling." He also said, "what may have been meant to clarify has caused pain." Vatican
I will let Bishop Hanson explain his pain. I do not see this new Vatican statement as an innovation or an insult. I see it as a clarification and a helpful demarcation of the issues at stake.
I appreciate the Roman Catholic Church's candor on this issue, and I believe that Evangelical Christians, with equal respect and clarity, should respond in kind. This is a time to be respectfully candid -- not a time to be offended.