Thursday, May 23, 2013

A disagreement over the meaning of the word "church"

“You cannot find Jesus outside the Church,” said Pope Francis on April 23 in the Apostolic Palace’s Pauline Chapel. “It is the Mother Church who gives us Jesus, who gives us the identity that is not only a seal, it is a belonging.”
The pontiff repeated again a statement from his April 17 sermon at St. Martha’s residence, that being a Christian is not like having “an identity card.”  “Christian identity is belonging to the Church, because all of these (the apostles) belonged to the Church, the Mother Church, because finding Jesus outside the Church is impossible,” he said.  “The great Paul VI said it is an absurd dichotomy to want to live with Jesus but without the Church, following Jesus out of the Church, loving Jesus without the Church,” he added.
There is not much to quibble with in the Pope's words except the identification of the Roman Catholic Church as THE Mother Church, apart from which one cannot find Jesus.  As a Lutheran I am bound to take offense here.  The sad truth for me and others outside communion with the Bishop of Rome is that this church still suffers from myopia, insisting that church quite properly can only be used of those in communion with the Roman Pontiff and that others, outside this pale, represent at best ecclesial communities that are not yet nor fully church until they enter communion with the Bishop of Rome.  If everything else were worked out, this alone would make the Reformation position viable.
Someone asked me not long ago why I am still Lutheran with all the problems of Lutheranism which I mention on this blog... here is a good example why.  I can agree with all the Pope's words except the implication that THE Mother Church outside of which faith and finding Jesus is impossible is the Roman Catholic Church.  Now this is not the only issue for the great Reformer or his heirs but it is still a big one...


Dr.D said...

The arrogance of Rome is notorious. On this, like so many other issues, they have backed themselves into a corner, having proclaimed it so loudly and so long, that now they have no way to back down without great embarrassment.

I fully agree with you in the idea that Rome is not THE Church. Rome is a part of the Christian Church, a part with at least as many problems and errors as any other you might name. They are still of great importance, but they certainly are not THE Church.

Fr. D+

Anonymous said...

The Orthodox fall into the same error. Christ is the head of The Chuch. One need not submit himself to the authority of a man, or a council of men to be saved. Having said that, the church on earth is important to teach and administer sacraments.

Chris Jones said...

As I always say, I carry no brief for the Pope. However, it is problematic to say that the Roman Catholic Church (or the Lutheran Church, or any other Church body or denomination) is "a part of the Christian Church." To say that the Church is something that is divided up into "parts" is to deny our confession in the Creed that the Church is One. A Church which is made up of different "parts", each one of which teaches a different doctrine and follows a different practice from all of the others, does not match the picture of the unity of faith that is given to us in the New Testament.

If the Romans, the Lutherans, the Reformed, and everyone else are all "parts of the Church" even though they do not all share the same faith, why are we not in altar and pulpit fellowship with all of them? It seems to me that our policy of closed communion means that full agreement in the faith is a prerequisite for recognizing another Christian body as "Church" in the full sense. If we will not allow Roman priests in our pulpits nor admit Roman Catholics to commune at our altar, aren't we saying that Rome is not a fully orthodox and apostolic Church? Why then do we complain if the Roman Catholics, by their own lights, say the same of us, and treat us accordingly?

Chris Jones said...

DJH --

It is a mistake to say that the Orthodox "fall into the same error" as Rome. It is true that the Orthodox make the same "one true Church" claim about themselves that Rome makes about itself. But the nature of the Orthodox claim is quite different from the Roman Catholic claim.

The Roman Catholic claim is that there is an element of the Church's polity -- the Bishop of Rome -- that enjoys an a priori divine guarantee that it will never fall into heresy or schism. It is an institutional touchstone that will always connect you with the true Church.

With Orthodoxy, there is no such institutional "guarantee." There is no Orthodox Pope, and there is no equivalent to the Pope. An ecumenical council is not a "conciliar Pope"; many councils have been convened with the intention that they were going to be "ecumenical", but were eventually rejected by the Church as false and heretical. A patriarchate or national Church is not an "institutional Pope"; no patriarchate or local Church has a guarantee against falling into error. The Roman Catholic Church itself was an Orthodox patriarchate for a thousand years, but fell into heresy and schism and fell away from Orthodoxy. And no individual bishop (nor all of the bishops taken together) are an "episcopal Pope"; no bishop is guaranteed not to fall into error, and most of the great heresiarchs of Church history have been bishops who fell into error.

For the Orthodox Church, the unity of the Church is not guaranteed by any institutional arrangement. It is based on full agreement in the faith, and manifested in communion in the sacraments.

Of course, the Orthodox may be in error in believing that theirs is the one true Church; but if so, it is a different error from the error of the Roman Catholic Church.

Justin said...

This discussion prompted me to do some research on the Catholic church position of Papal infallibility. I could not believe what I stumbled upon here:

I could not believe the absurdity of what I was reading, especially the response to the sixth bullet point defending the actions of "worldly Popes". In particular, the author defends the sale of indulgences due to the fact that the purchasor had to also perform a second step after the purchase-good works such as recitation of prayers! Defending the sale of indulgences with the false notion that doing good works cleanses you of sin! Absolutely absurd!