April 15th is tax day and is a day to be dreaded and disliked for that reason alone. However, today is also the day that Pope comes to visit America. In this there is little reason to celebrate in my opinion. The Pope is the Pontiff of the smallest nation on the planet and the spiritual tyrant over millions throughout the globe. I grew up in the South where Romanism barely exists, and when it does it is very loose. However, I now live in a different part of the country, a part where Romanism has a death grip over most of the population. The Dakotas as a whole are mostly Roman Catholic. I have seen the scandals of the Roman church up close (not all scandals involve children), and the Catholic church moves quickly to cover up the sins and abuses of their priests, but does nothing to actually try and fix the problem. However, I drift from my main point.
The main point is the arrival of the Pope and his place in Protestant theology. Rev. John Armstrong has a couple of recent posts talking about the papal visit. Armstrong points to a "new ecumenism", which he defines as
it tries to see the common core of our ("mere") Christian faith that we share together while we continue to pursue our differences within our mission for Christ in a world shattered by war and upheaval.
This is a statement that would have scandalized the church in ages past. Now it barely seems to affect anyone. What exactly common core beliefs to Protestants and Romanists share? Is it beliefs about salvation? No. Justification? No. Sanctification? No. Do we agree on worship? No. The authority of the Scripture? No. The authority of Christ? No. Prayer? No. Do we even agree on what books are in the Bible? No.
The idea that we can embrace the pope as a different, but loyal friend is not one I share. Throughout history the Protestant church has maintained the Roman church was apostate and the pope a root of evil. In fact, many pre-reformation Christians had similar ideas. Yet, in today’s world there is a movement away from the idea of the pope as the antichrist, or even as an unbeliever. The original Westminster Confession of Faith proclaim the papacy to be the antichrist, but that was removed around 1900 to soften the stance. The Heidleberg Catechism proclaims the Mass to be at bottom "a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ, and an accursed idolatry." However now a few churches like the Christian Reformed Church are removing question 80 as an offensive question. What exactly has changed over the years? It is not the teachings of the Roman church, they have not moved. So, then the change must be in the Protestant church. I believe there are two major reasons for this wholesale change on Romanism.
1. We fail to recognize that ceremonies have inherent theology attached to them. You can see from the fact that the CRC thinks the Heidelberg Catechism does not reflect the actual beliefs of the Roman church that we have failed to recognize the theological power in ceremonies.
2. We no longer appreciate the doctrine of justification by faith alone as the doctrine upon which the church stands are falls. Sure Presbyterian and reformed church still argue about it from time to time, but the evangelical world as a whole has lost sight of its importance. And even in Presbyterian/Reformed circles we often fail to see it as the lifeblood of the church. We may fuss here and fuss there, but when push comes to shove do we really up hold this doctrine as the only hope in life and in death? Do we really see those who preach a salvation by works, by saints, or by sacraments as denying the very essence of salvation? Too often we do not.
That after all is the essence of saying that we should look past or difference to our "core" or "mere" Christianity. It is saying salvation by faith is nice, but it is not vital. It is saying that true Christianity does not actually care about faith or works. It is saying that "core" Christianity is something wholly other than how we are made right with God. What exactly the ‘good news’ is in this new approach, I am not sure, but if it is a gospel with which the pope can agree, then it is not gospel at all.