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Pope Benedict XVI has reasserted the universal primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, approving a document released Tuesday that says Orthodox churches were defective and that other Christian denominations were not true churches.
Benedict, who attended Vatican II as a young theologian, has long complained about what he considers the erroneous interpretation of the council by liberals, saying it was not a break from the past but rather a renewal of church tradition.
In the latest document - formulated as five questions and answers - the Vatican seeks to set the record straight on Vatican II’s ecumenical intent, saying some contemporary theological interpretation had been “erroneous or ambiguous” and had prompted confusion and doubt.
It restates key sections of a 2000 document the pope wrote when he was prefect of the congregation, “Dominus Iesus,” which set off a firestorm of criticism among 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.”
- Source: Pope: Other Christians Not True Churches, AP, via Tuscaloosanews.com, USA, July 10, 2007
Evangelical leader, Dr. Albert Mohler -- referred to by Time.com as the "reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S" -- responded as follows:
Aren't you offended? That is the question many Evangelicals are being asked in the wake of a recent document released by the Vatican. The document declares that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church -- or, in words the Vatican would prefer to use, the only institutional form in which the Church of Christ subsists.
No, I am not offended. In the first place, I am not offended because this is not an issue in which emotion should play a key role. This is a theological question, and our response should be theological, not emotional. Secondly, I am not offended because I am not surprised. No one familiar with the statements of the Roman Catholic Magisterium should be surprised by this development. This is not news in any genuine sense. It is news only in the current context of Vatican statements and ecumenical relations. Thirdly, I am not offended because this new document actually brings attention to the crucial issues of ecclesiology, and thus it presents us with an opportunity.
The Vatican document is very brief -- just a few paragraphs in fact. Its official title is "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church," and it was released by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on June 29 of this year. Though many media sources have identified the document as a papal statement from Pope Benedict XVI, it is actually a statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that was later approved for release by the Pope (who, as Cardinal Ratzinger, headed this Congregation prior to assuming the papacy).
The document claims a unique legitimacy for the Roman Catholic Church as the church established by Christ. The document stakes this identity on a claim to apostolic succession, centered in the papacy itself. As the document states, "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."
Lest anyone miss the point, the document then goes on to acknowledge that the churches of Eastern Orthodoxy also stake a claim to apostolic succession, and thus they are referred to as "Churches" by the Vatican. As for the churches born in whatever form out of the Reformation -- they are not true churches at all, only "ecclesial communities."
Evangelicals should appreciate the candor reflected in this document. There is no effort here to confuse the issues. To the contrary, the document is an obvious attempt to set the record straight. The Roman Catholic Church does not deny that Christ is working redemptively through Protestant and evangelical churches, but it does deny that these churches which deny the authority of the papacy are true churches in the most important sense. The true church, in other words, is that church identified through the recognition of the papacy. Those churches that deny or fail to recognize the papacy are "ecclesial Communities," not churches "in the proper sense."
I appreciate the document's clarity on this issue. 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.
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.
- Source: No, I'm Not Offended, Albert Mohler, July 13, 2007, at www.AlbertMohler.com. Links added by Apologetics Index.
Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., serves as the ninth president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary-the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.
Dr. Mohler has been recognized by such influential publications as Time and Christianity Today as a leader among American evangelicals. In fact, Time.com called him the "reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S".
In addition to his presidential duties, Dr. Mohler hosts a daily live nationwide radio program on the Salem Radio Network. He also writes a popular blog and a regular commentary on moral, cultural and theological issues. Both can be accessed through Dr. Mohler's website, www.albertmohler.com. Called "an articulate voice for conservative Christianity at large" by The Chicago Tribune, Dr. Mohler's mission is to address contemporary issues from a consistent and explicit Christian worldview.
- Source: Albert Mohler's Bio
• The Apologetics Index Blog takes note of research resouces and issues related to the religion topics covered in Apologetics Index.
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