Pope Benedict's Shocking Decree
by Albert Emanuel

The Associated Press released an article on Wednesday, July 11th, 2007, which was titled "Pope Benedict Oks Document that Angers Protestants". It was written by Nicole Winfield and reads as follows:

                      "Pope Benedict XVI reasserted the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church,
                       approving a document released Tuesday that says other Christian communities
                       are either defective or not true churches and Catholicism provides the only true
                       path to salvation."

The document brought a swift reaction from The World Alliance of Reformed Churches. They responded by saying that "it makes us question the seriousness with which the Roman Catholic Church takes its dialogues with the reformed family and other families of the church". The article goes on to inform us that the group issued a letter "charging that the document took ecumenical dialogue back to the era before the second Vatican Council".

Reporter Nicole Winfield tells us that "the new document restates key sections of a 2002 text the pope wrote when he was prefect of the congregation, which riled Protestant and other Christian denominations because it said they were not true churches but merely ecclesial communities and therefore did not have the 'means of salvation'....The other communities 'cannot be called churches in the proper sense' because they do not have apostolic succession and therefore their priestly ordinations are not valid".

Protestants involved in the ecumenical movement were stunned in 2002 by the original document and declared it a serious setback to meaningful dialogue with the Catholic Church. The new document was written to clear up erroneous interpretations of Vatican II by liberal Catholic theologians.

Pope Benedict's approval of this document has grave consequences for the ecumenical movement. Thirty years of ecumenism went down the drain. Protestants were naive and gullible enough to think that the Catholic Church would place them on an equal footing and recognize protestant churches as true churches. But Rome's true motivation for ecumenism was to bring protestants back to their mother church. It is worth noting that thousands of protestants have converted to Catholicism and the list includes prominent evangelical ministers.  Crossing the Tiber and coming home to Rome is becoming more frequent among protestants. The emptiness of the evangelical experience drives many protestants towards Catholicism.

The book "Is the Reformation Over" by Mark Knoll and Carolyn Nystrom, shows the impossibility of reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics take a rather dim view of protestants for many legitimate reasons.  

Knoll and Nystrom chronicle Catholic objections to evangelicals.

                      "Their questions might go like this: As Catholics we cannot imagine that
                       genuine Christianity could be as torn apart as evangelical protestantism,
                       and for such a never-ending list of sinfully schismatic reasons: personality
                       disputes, ego trips, preferences in music, preferences in sermon length,
                       preferences in politics, economic class, race, denominational pride,
                       eccentric interpretations of a limited part of the bible, and so on" (p. 239).

That sounds like a perfect description of protestantism. How do protestants ever hope to achieve unity with Catholics when disunity is a marked characteristic of the protestant world. Doctrinal confusion reigns supreme in the evangelical community. Christianity has to be reduced to a bare minimum of beliefs to establish even a hint of unity. Why bother seeking unity with Catholics when protestants are hopelessly divided among themselves.

Knoll and Nystrom also tells us how Catholicism looks from a protestant perspective.

                       "How can the church tolerate a definition of Christianity that looks more to
                        one-time baptism and an ethnic-type of identification as a definition of what
                        constitutes a Christian and tolerate what looks like a nearly complete
                        indifference to the vast number of Catholics who do not seem to be
                        concerned about practicing any type of Christianity at all" (p. 239).

From studying Catholicism and statistics on church attendance, I get the impression that only twenty to thirty percent of the one billion Catholics actually practice their faith. Protestants also have numerous legitimate complaints against Catholicism, the most significant being papal authority. It is extremely doubtful that protestant churches will ever submit to the authority of Rome. Thus, we find irreconcilable differences between Catholics and Protestants, which makes the ecumenical quest an almost certain failure.

How would you like to be told that your church is defective and not really a true church and that your minister's ordination is invalid. How would you react upon being informed that your church lacks the means of salvation.  Of course, there is always the possibility that the criticisms might be true. But the statement by the Catholic Church seems somewhat arrogant and presumptuous. It is often difficult to determine which churches are true and which are false. Some could lapse into apostasy and be revived later on.

In his book "A Woman Rides the Beast", Dave Hunt mounts an impressive but hardly decisive argument that the Catholic church is a false church. If anything, it illustrates that the debate over who does or doesn't constitute a true church can quickly descend into subjectivity. The belief that the Catholic church is the whore of the book of revelation can easily be disproved. The real whore of Revelation is the first century nation of Israel and the city with seven hills is a reference to Jerusalem, not Rome. In his writings, Josephus lists the seven hills that surround Jerusalem. Hunt's gross misinterpretation of Revelation is partially due to his prejudice against the Catholic church. Anti-Catholicism is still rampant in many evangelical churches.

It seems to me that we should leave the door open to the possibility that there might be genuine Christians in the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches. And there could be converted Christians in the churches designated as cults. God's saving power can penetrate into the deepest and darkest places and bring sinners to repentance. And the Holy Spirit has the ability to transform a false church into a true church. We cannot contain God's grace within the walls of a church or limit his love to a few souls who think they are the elect. For who can plumb the depths of God's love or comprehend the vastness of his grace. He will save whom he desires regardless of whether or not they are Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox.

Copyright (C) 2007 Albert Emanuel