Monday, May 23, 2016

Mercy VS the Gospel. . . .

I am hearing some of my Roman Catholic folks concerned the way that Pope Francis is separating out mercy from the Gospel itself, holding to the doctrine but framing the response of the church to particular situations with mercy (charity?) sort of the same way that he has used the foot washing of Holy Thursday to signify the church's mercy toward those outside the faith.  But this is not something new to those outside of Rome.  It has been the continuous practice of many for a long time.  Perhaps it began in earnest with the social gospel movement in which doctrine was deemed less of value than meeting the needs of the poor, the downtrodden, the disenfranchised, the refugee, etc...  It really goes back to the fear that if someone comes to the church with a physical need and we cannot meet that need, we have nothing good to offer them.  I have written about that here before.

At the end of Amoris Laetitia, Francis puts his point this way:
We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. That is the worst way of watering down the Gospel. It is true, for example, that mercy does not exclude justice and truth, but first and foremost we have to say that mercy is the fullness of justice and the most radiant manifestation of God’s truth. For this reason, we should always consider “inadequate any theological conception which in the end puts in doubt the omnipotence of God and, especially, his mercy.”
For Francis (and for many Protestants), the dogma of the Church is subordinated to the primary value of mercy, perhaps we might go so far as to say that doctrine and mercy compete or can be in conflict with one another.   In AL, mercy is first in the hierarchy of spiritual values subordinate to it is the unfolding truth of God and the resulting the call to discipleship (which, if anything, is a call to carry the cross of suffering and adversity in this world while holding up at the same time the fullness of the divine revelation in the doctrine or teaching Christ has made known and the Spirit has proclaimed in His name.  In this way the call to follow Christ becomes more about the character of mercy than it does belief in what Christ has accomplished by His incarnation, obedient life, holy death, and life-giving resurrection. The inevitable conclusion is that worship and prayer are good, the sacraments are great, but virtue of mercy is better and greater.  In wonder if it is fair to conclude that in the spirituality of Francis, mercy trumps justice, love trumps truth—not that justice and truth are of no consequence but that they are lower in priority and secondary to the primacy of mercy.

Now there are some within my own church body who would rejoice in this train of thought.  They are those who constantly pit pure doctrine against mission, confessional against missional, and liturgy against evangelization.  It is as if we have redefined the Gospel so that the cross has become less fact than principle, mercy is less the atonement for the sins of the unworthy sinner than generic compassion, and grace has become unfailing acceptance rather than the grace that grants the Spirit to believe and repent and live (through the means of grace).

Francis is sounding like a boomer -- one who sees the institution of the church as something big and bad that has corrupted the simple faith of Jesus and the simple life of mercy.  At times I might agree with him that this is what has happened.  But I would insist that the church is not the enemy of mercy but the agent of Christ's mercy and that mercy is always cross shaped.  There is no mercy worth having that does not flow from the innocent arms of the Savior outstretched in suffering for the sake of the guilty, to win salvation, to pay sin's terrible debt, and to grant life to those living in the shadow of death.  It is from THIS mercy that the Church loves the poor, needy, outcast, disenfranchised, and refugee.  Of course the mercy work does not replace speaking the Gospel, calling them to repentance, and delivering the Kingdom to them in the living waters of baptism.  But neither can the Church care for the soul and be oblivious to the needs of the body and this mortal life.  Yet we dare not forget that the Church is not a philanthropic organization but the body of Christ, delivering Christ to the world through the means of grace so that a world apart from God and cut off from His creative and redemptive purpose may be restored through the blood of Christ.

Personally, I am growing weary of the constant tug of war between those who say mercy or Gospel, love or Truth, compassion or repentance. . . this is a false competition, a deception of God's purpose and will to pit them against each other, and a distraction from the work of doing both -- speaking Truth and acting mercifully!


John Joseph Flanagan said...

I suppose I am in the camp that really doesn't think too much about the theology of the various Popes through the years. It is like being a devout Jew in the day of Elijah trying to have a dialogue with the Chief Priest of the prophets of BAAL. There is already sufficient enough evidence in Roman teaching to recognize that the false doctrines embraced by the Pope and the Catholic laity will go on until the Lord returns. We need to focus on the truth of the Gospel and the Bible. Luther's works are also a reference source we should utilize. The Papist system is pure apostasy.

John Joseph Flanagan said...

Perhaps I am too harsh to link Catholicism with BAAL. After all, they do recognize the Lord Jesus as Savior, but remember they have historically stripped Him of His dignity, sovereignty, and placed Mary, their canonized saints, and signs and wonders at the doorway to Heaven.

Carl Vehse said...

John Flanagan: "I suppose I am in the camp that really doesn't think too much about the theology of the various Popes through the years. It is like being a devout Jew in the day of Elijah trying to have a dialogue with the Chief Priest of the prophets of BAAL."

You're in good company. Here's some of what the Lutheran camp, going back to Martin Luther himself, has to say in the Lutheran Confessions about the pope:

"Therefore, just as little as we can worship the devil himself as Lord and God, we can endure his apostle, the Pope, or Antichrist, in his rule as head or lord. For to lie and to kill, and to destroy body and soul eternally, that is wherein his papal government really consists, as I have very clearly shown in many books." (SA,II.4.14)

"But divine authority commands all not to be allies and defenders of impiety and unjust cruelty. On this account our consciences are sufficiently excused; for the errors of the kingdom of the Pope are manifest. And Scripture with its entire voice exclaims that these errors are a teaching of demons and of Antichrist." (Tr.42)

RMMV (Romanist mileage may vary)

tubbs said...

ROFL, but I shouldn’t be; I’m sure it’s not easy - having to check under the bed and in the closet every night - a’feared that Miley Cyrus, in nothing but triple crown tiara and riding a seven-headed velociraptor, might just spring out and GETCHA !