Yesterday, the world was shocked at the announcement that Pope Benedict XVI would be resigning at the end of the month. This is HUGE news in religious circles, whether you are Catholic or not, because this hasn’t happened since before the protestant reformation. That makes it a big deal.
Every protestant takes a different stand on Catholicism, ranging anywhere from brotherhood despite differences, to apathy concerning differences, to condemnation of perceived idolatry (worship of the saints) and perceived heretical teachings. Some see the Roman church as brothers and sisters in Christ. Others are more acrimonious.
Regardless of where you fall, events like this one offer a great platform for dialogue with those who believe differently than ourselves. It’s an open door for conversation, and a great excuse to bring the gospel into your daily life.
Here are a few reasons this is important and questions that this event might raise:
BY WHOSE AUTHORITY?
The Catholic Faith has a different authority structure than do the Reformed/Protestant or Restoration (Christian Churches/Churches of Christ) traditions. While the latter would affirm that Scripture holds authority on its own, the Catholic Church argues that we need someone to interpret Scripture. Both would argue for the authority Scripture, but the Catholic Church lets its Cardinals have the final say and absolute authority over issues of faith and morality.
As the highest-ranking Cardinal, the See of Rome (aka the Pope) is believed to be speaking in the role of the apostles, following their succession based on the authority given to Peter in Matthew 16. If this is a divine appointment of infallible authority, how may a man simply “step down” out of that position? I’m sure the Church has a procedure and an answer for this, but your average Catholic coworker probably doesn’t know it, so it could at least make for some good conversation.
WHAT IS REALLY CHANGING?
In his official statement, the Pope cited, “today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith” as one of the reasons he is stepping down. Yet Solomon (the wisest man that ever lived, by the way) said:
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
The first-century communities to whom Paul wrote were corrected for sexual immorality; Our culture is seriously sensualized. They worshiped many gods; our world promotes pluralism, subjective truth and the “different paths up the same mountain” theology. They were greedy; America (enough said). The religious among them were legalistic with judgmental hearts; our churches are criticized for having too many hypocrites.
The question is this: Is the world really changing that much? I don’t know that it is, but that is good news. It means the Bible tells us more about humanity than about specific humans. It is still relevant. It still applies. It is still truth.
THERE’S STILL THEOLOGICAL DISAGREEMENT
How about just having a conversation about where you differ in belief? What about the issue of saints (Catholic v. Protestant view), Justification (Faith v. Works), The Priesthood, Purgatory, Authority, etc. These might drive you into your Bible to grapple with tough questions and that is a good thing. The challenge is to have these conversations and decide where you agree and disagree and whether you can have fellowship as brothers and sisters that is built on the similarities. We are sinners. Christ died for our sins. He saves us by grace. On these and other things, Christians and Catholics tend to agree, and these are pretty big questions.
What other questions does Pope Benedict’s resignation bring forward?