7/11/2007

An Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

With regards to your recent affirmation that Protestant churches cannot be called "Churches" in the proper sense I can only say that neither I nor any other Protestant I know are surprised. This position of the Roman Catholic Church has come to be expected. After stubbornly dwelling in doctrinal error for more than five hundred years, no one expects change overnight.
As you well know, the word Church is used to describe both the universal Body of Christ, His universal Bride and also the individual Christian congregations of which these are composed. (Matthew 16:18, Acts 14:23, Acts 20:28, I Corinthians 11: 16-22, Ephesians 5:23-32). By this definition then, all those who are Christians are consequently a part of the universal Church and the Bride. It is also incumbent upon all Christians to join a local congregation and so enjoy the spiritual fellowship of their fellow believers.
Christians are defined as those who follow Christ. The Bible commands us to repent, believe, be baptised and bear spiritual fruits (Matthew 7: 15-20, Acts 16:30-34, Galatians 5:22). Indeed, should a group of individuals who call themselves Christians not conform to this definition, one would be well within their rights to question the authenticity of their faith. Such individuals would not be Christians, neither would they belong to the Church universal. They would reasonably be classified as a cult.
However, this was not the reason given. According to your own words, Protestants "do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church," and that "these ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery." From this I understand that you believe we are not members of the Church, and by extension not Christians, due to the fact that our churches are not run by Catholic priests. Since the Eucharist, or Communion, is not administered to us by members ordained through the Roman Catholic Church we are not members of the Church, and by extension not Christians.
Surely you must be aware that this is a grievous error on your part. Such an opinion is never enjoined in Scripture. While it is true that only the Twelve Apostles were present at the Last Supper, it is unequivocally not true that these Twelve were the only ones allowed to administer communion. Indeed, early communion bore almost no resemblance to what is currently practiced even in a Protestant church. In early church history, communion more closely resembled a Jewish seder. Although it was certainly the focal point of the meal, there was no administration of bread and wine as either of our churches currently perform it. This was a later innovation, likely developed to both conserve food and to facilitate the incorporation of communion into weekly services.
Furthermore, the claim that the priesthood of the Roman Catholic church is based on Apostolic Succession is supported neither by history nor Scripture. Since you have practiced a celibate lifestyle for many hundreds of years, no priest ever leaves an heir neither is he descended from a previous priest. You therefore cannot claim to succeed the Apostles through blood. Since there are significantly more than twelve priests in the world, you also cannot claim that your succession is passed on by proxy. How can you then claim that the Roman Catholic Church fulfills the requirements for a genuine Communion while Protestant churches do not?
I am deeply sorry for your lack of understanding as to the true nature of what it takes to be a Christian, and therefore a member of the Church. Your belief in the supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church is depriving you of the true Communion of the Saints. Belief in ones' own superiority is pride, a sin. You have not judged with the measuring stick given you in the Bible. Instead, the Roman Catholic Church uses itself as the standard by which all Christianity is to be measured. This is dangerous. Your edicts are not inherently right or true just because they come from you. There is a Higher Standard to which you must conform.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was shocked by the Pope's comments as to the Catholic Church being the only church that will get people to Heaven.
As an ex Catholic I am still angry at the Catholic Church for not teaching the complete Gospel of Jesus Christ. I had to leave the church to find out the truth of what it means to be a Christian. I could also make a list of the false Doctrine still being taught to it's members. The most egregious being the paying of masses for the dead-nothing but a momey making scheme. As a Christian, I know that this practice is useless, as is Purgatory. There is no such place, nor is there a limbo. Once we die, we die in our sin unless we are born again in Christ.

By the way, your piece was excellent.

SUZANNE said...

Ruth

I don't want to answer every point-- there are so many.

I simply want to say that the Church does not teach that Protestants are not real Christians. The issue is church structure, doctrine and sacraments-- it's not about whether an individual truly belongs to the Body of Christ.

All people baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are Christians and members of the Body of Christ, according to the Catholic Church.

Clive said...

I hesitate to get involved in what in the end would be a pointless and unresolved debate, but I should point out that nowhere does the latest document from Pope Benedict suggest that members of other denominations are not Christians. Indeed, it re-iterates what has always been the position since Vatican II, that elements of 'truth and sanctification' can be found in other Christian denominations. Of course all those who follow Christ are Christians, whether Catholic or not and the Pope has not said otherwise.

Also, you don't seem to understand the apostolic succession as it is understood by Catholics; the succession arises from the original sending of the apostles into the world by Christ and the fact that today's bishops trace their orders in an unbroken line of similar commissions; Christ sent Peter and the others, and they in turn commissioned their successors, and so on to the present day. It should be noted that Anglicanism makes the same claim, although their orders are not recognised in Rome.

All the Pope has really said is that those who don't share this understanding of orders necessarily deprive their members of the sacraments as they are understood by Catholics.

Just as there are those who choose not to believe this, and find their home in one of the Protestant denominations, there are also those who, troubled by the innovations in liberal Anglicanism have been forced to become Catholics to ensure the validity of their sacramental life.

Ruth said...

the succession arises from the original sending of the apostles into the world by Christ and the fact that today's bishops trace their orders in an unbroken line of similar commissions;
I absolutely understand this. It is a false claim. You do not have Apostolic Succession.
All people baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are Christians and members of the Body of Christ...
No. All people baptized by a Catholic Priest in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are Christians. The same argument used for the preservation of the Eucharist is applied to baptism. In any case, baptism is not what ensures your salvation. Saving faith is.
21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement,[i] through faith in his blood. Romans 3: 21-25
Furthermore, official Catholic doctrine, as it appears on paper, states that Communion is required for salvation. If Protestants then do not preserve the Eucharist, according to official Catholic doctrine we are not Christians. Do not be deceived; this is what the Pope intended to uphold in his recent statement.

Clive said...

The question of the validity of Apostolic succession is necessarily one of belief; neither you nor I can prove categorically whether it is false or not. I believe it to be true; you believe it to be false. This is the essential divide that precludes Church unity and that the Pope has simply articulated.

Baptism into any Christian group is recognized as valid by the Catholic church. On this point you are definitely incorrect - the Catholic church recognizes a properly performed baptism no matter whether performed by a priest or other person. Baptized Christians converting to Catholicism from a different denomination are not required (or allowed) to undergo a new baptism as they are not seen to be becoming Christians for the first time, but merely entering into full communion. I know; I did it :) Baptism is recognized; eucharist is not.

Ruth said...

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02258b.htm
This is where I am getting my info.
Section VI point 2 (Form) and section VII would disagree with you. The method of baptism must conform to what the Catholic church says. If a Protestant denomination performs their baptism differently, it is considered in valid and insufficient for salvation.

Ruth said...

However, since I am being so specific, I should admit my error. It does not say a priest must perform the baptism, only that it must be performed in the Catholic manner.

Clive said...

All major denominations perform baptism in the same manner and with similar intent; I am not aware of a Christian denomination whose form of baptism would not fall under that definition, but perhaps you are. No doubt there might be some weird sect out there that doesn't use water, or that skips one of the Trinity, but I don't know of them.

Ruth said...

Did you read the link above? It lists which baptisms are either not valid or at best doubtful:
Baptists use the rite only for adults, and the efficacy of their baptism has been called in question owing to the separation of the matter and the form, for the latter is pronounced before the immersion takes place; (this means Pentacostals and Charismatics also do it wrong, since they use the same method as baptists)
the Congregationalists, Unitarians and Universalists deny the necessity of baptism, and hence the presumption is that they do not administer it accurately;
the Methodists and Presbyterians baptize by aspersion or sprinkling, and it may be reasonably doubted whether the water has touched the body and flowed upon it;
This means Reformers do it wrong, since they use the same method as Presbyterians
he Episcopalians many consider baptism to have no true efficacy and to be merely an empty ceremony, and consequently there is a well-grounded fear that they are not sufficiently careful in its administration. To this may be added, that Episcopalians often baptize by aspersion, and though such a method is undoubtedly valid if properly employed, yet in practice it is quite possible that the sprinkled water may not touch the skin.
So who else could possibly be left? Perhaps Anglicans and Orthodox, but that is it.

TJ said...

The essential issue on who is in the Church has to do with the identity of the mediator of salvation. Roman Catholic doctrine is unequivocal. Salvation can only be obtained through the auspices of the priesthood headed by the Vicar of Rome (the pope).
Scripture however states "For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" 1 Timothy 2:5 (New International Version).

Ruth said...

Pretty much.

SUZANNE said...

TJ

That is a distortion of Catholic teaching.

Lemon said...

Way you go, Rootie.
I read this, posted on it, was dismayed.
It is once more the leader of the Roman Catholic church trying to flex muscle. I think, in this case, to defend against the global growth of the Pentacostal Church in the developing world. He is desperate to save more souls than everyone else.
It is, as it has often been through our Christian history, about the RC power hierarchy.
I understand and forgive, but am dismayed.

Clive said...

http://www.christusrex.org/www1/CDHN/baptism.html
is I think a more accurate representation of the teaching of the modern Church on baptism; the encyclopedia you use may or may not have official sanction but seems to confusedly collect together a lot of documentation from different times. The Catechism published in 92 would be a more accurate depiction of what is taught and practised today.

Certainly in North America, I doubt many priests would ask a sincere convert from any other mainstream denomination to be re-baptised.

Clive said...

Also, I am confused as to why this dismays people; if you believe the Catholic church to be in doctrinal error, why would you want it to recognise your denomination? Why want to be a member of a club you despise?

The Pope's message has been widely misquoted in the media but more importantly the point has been missed that it was addressed to Catholics, not to non-Catholics. It's aimed at the wishy-washy 'all religions are equivalent' teaching that's creeping into schools and churches in the west. If you're not a Catholic, this message was not intended for you.

Herman said...

I give you...Pope Sidious.

Anonymous said...

Well said well said.

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